Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Eugenics code of Brighamius

Pop-science factoid of the day:

"""According to Duke University psychologist Mark Leary, the feeling of being disliked, ostracized or rejected was specially designed by evolution to be particularly painful; subjectively speaking, being evaluated negatively by others can feel even worse than physical trauma. The reason that others’ negative evaluations affect us so deeply, Leary believes, has to do with our primate past.

Unlike virtually every other species, the hominids could not rely on speed, flight, strength, arboreal clambering, burrowing or ferocity to evade predators. Many theorists in psychology, anthropology and biology have noted that human beings and their hominid ancestors survived and prospered as species only because they lived in cooperative groups. Given the importance of group living, natural selection favored individuals who not only sought the company of others but also behaved in ways that led others to accept, support and help them.

"""In other words, for a human being, only death itself ensures a speedier genetic demise than stigma and exclusion. To ensure that our ancestors were ever wary of their tenuous dependence on others, Leary proposes that they evolved a sort of subjective, psychological gauge that served to continually monitor their fluctuating “relational value,” an affective index of where the self stood in the eyes of other ingroup members. Generally speaking, the higher one’s relational value, the greater one’s reproductive opportunities and genetic fitness. Just as it continues to do today, this hypothetical “sociometer” generated emotional states that, collectively, were translated into what’s popularly known as our “self-esteem.” Assuming our sociometer isn’t broken or impaired, negative self-esteem is a kind of warning, then, that one is at serious risk of social (and therefore genetic) exclusion.""""

"It Takes a Village" pop-psychology, updated via some lightweight eco-anthropology. You want to be happy? Be fruitful and multiply, and be a happy, helpful contributor to the community! These pathetic insta-studies do not really merit refutation, but, one, self-esteem is not quantifiable. Choosing to be an outsider, or loner, or even a recluse does imply that one thereby feels sad, or lonely, or "suffers from low self esteem." Outsiderness may be--and often is--a conscious choice. The researchers beg the question of intentionality, anyway: given their own assumptions of genetic determinism it would seem that all human decisions--or apparent decisions-- were simply the result of bio-chemical processes anyway, beyond the individual's control.

For that matter, anthropologists have no business making assumptions about humans' evolutionary motivations, nor suggesting that some sullen outsider who chooses to "not join" suffers in some way: it's often the happy joiners--or their children----who suffer, when they succumb to peer pressure, oneupsmanship, endless competition of the mediocre suburbanite. Humans may not be Cartesian ghosts, but they aren't merely primates: they possess something like moral autonomy--the ability to choose, make decisions, envision future events. The Duke comrades in fact rely on the old social darwinist fallacy that what nature suggests as evolutionary "proper" for certain animals or primitive man must be right for contemporary humans: even Nietzsche objected to that sort of crypto-eugenics code.


Righteous Bubba said...

Unlike virtually every other species, the hominids

Yes, we're so special that our specialness is reflected in the special thing that special me has figured out.

J said...

Nurture, or else, Bubba!

The Duke University sensitivity-police at work.

Jazzbumpa said...

Wow. Coupling this post with your - how shall I put it - mildly antagonistic comment on my blog, the very same day, does have a rather dissonant sort of piquancy. A bit like combining cinnamon with garlic.

I'll just point out that the famous wide-eyed pinko librul Dale Carnegie opined the the greatest human need is the desire to feel important.

How ya doin?

Or perhaps this it too critical?!?


J said...

Hola j-b.

Unlike your fave chi-chi liberal sites (even the ones with that cool History channel soundtrack), we here at Contingencies don't moderate nothin'-- excepting the occasional mormon-on- meth, or jackbooted hick in tutu.

In comparison to the EotAW crew, even CT or Berube seem smart. Then UC professors may be some of the most bogus, arrogant schlmiels on the planet.

Peruse the study linked at Sci-Am carefully, Cont.-fans: sounds a bit Orwellian, Ministry of Information type of jive to me. From Duke, but might as well be a UC.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Seems an innocuous hypothesis from the great Durham bubble world.

What is key is whether they generate predictions, how could we falsify these ideas?

I don't care much for evolutionary storytelling, and frankly it isn't needed at all to get at this social meter hypothesis of self esteem. Why wouldn't humans, with their oversized brains and ridiculous degree of social dependence, keep social score, keep track of their status in the social landscape? And maybe self esteem is the result of these mental processes.

Seems like the problem isn't the hypothesis, but any claim to uniqueness. How is it silly or pop psychology to notice the fact that humans are social animals, and that they normally keep track of their status within their subcultures? It would seem silly to deny it.

You bring in points about genetic determinism, and whether the theory has implications for people that are antisocial and such. Pretty much antisocial people are abnormal, and denying that is silly. It's a complicated topic, to be sure, but a little common sense goes a long way. A child that doesn't want to socialize, that doesn't care what others think? There's something strange about that kid. Statistically speaking, the kid is a freak.

J said...

You bring in points about genetic determinism, and whether the theory has implications for people that are antisocial and such. Pretty much antisocial people are abnormal, and denying that is silly.

Determinism does seem relevant. What factors allow one strong alpha baboon to be king of the harem, with a few rogues lurking out on the steppes? Probably more food, superior conditioning, safer territory, etc.-- Humans are a bit different, but environmental factors--sort of beyond the individual's control--certainly remain important--say economic background, poverty, regionalism, etc.

And anti-social might mean not approved by the herd, but that's not always "bad." That recluse Beethoven was probably hated by the townspeople. Note the "normative" language as well used by the Duke comrades. I just don't think one can make those sorts of assumptions.

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