Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Behavioral Ecology of Chimpanzee War and Liberal Peace

I have argued that if political science ever becomes a science, it will be a biopolitical science of political animals.  An important part of such a biopolitical science would be the behavioral ecology of war and peace among human beings, chimpanzees, and other political animals.

Behavioral ecology is the study of animal behavior as shaped by evolution for adaptive responses to ecological conditions so as to increase the probability that animals will survive and reproduce.  If those ecological conditions are fixed and predictable, then evolution will favor rigid behavioral responses to those conditions that are adaptive.  But if those ecological conditions are changeable and unpredictable, then evolution will favor flexible behavioral responses based on gathering and assessing information about the costs and benefits of alternative strategies of behavior.  For social and political animals, the most important features of their ecology are other members of their species, whose behavior is changeable and unpredictable.  Consequently, their brains and nervous systems are adapted for making social judgments about the contingencies of their social environment.

Thus, in competing with other animals for access to scarce resources (like mates, food, or territory), they will decide to fight only when the likely benefits outweigh the likely costs.  A species will have an evolved propensity to warfare, therefore, only if in its ancient environment of evolutionary adaptation, lethal attacks by one group on another could under some conditions enhance the inclusive fitness of the attacking group.  But even if a species has such an evolved propensity to warfare, war is not inevitable, because the behavioral flexibility of these animals can be such that they will not engage in lethal fighting in conditions where the likely costs of such fighting outweigh the likely benefits.

So we should be able to decide the debate over whether warfare is a natural adaptation for human beings, chimpanzees, and other political animals by seeing if there is evidence of warfare in their ancient evolutionary history.  The problem, however, is that the most prominent scientists in this debate seem to interpret the evidence in opposing ways as conforming to one of two opposing intellectual frameworks--the Hobbesian view or the Rousseauean view.

As suggested by Thomas Sowell's A Conflict of Visions, much of the social thought of the past three centuries shows a contrast between a "constrained vision" and an "unconstrained vision" of social life, which I call the "realist vision" and the "utopian vision."  Those with the realist vision of life believe that since the moral and intellectual limits of human beings are rooted in an unchanging human nature, a good social order must make the best of these natural limitations rather than trying to change them.  But those with the utopian vision of life believe that since the moral and intellectual limits of human beings are rooted in social customs and institutions that are changeable, the best social order would arise from rationally planned reforms in these customs and institutions that would perfect human nature.  On the side of the realist vision, Sowell places thinkers like Thomas Hobbes, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, and Friedrich Hayek.  On the side of the utopian vision, he places thinkers such as Jean Jacques Rousseau, William Godwin, Thomas Paine, and John Rawls. 

This conflict of visions is manifest in the debate over the evolution of war among chimpanzees.  Those scientists who insist that warfare is not a natural adaptation for chimpanzees are criticized by their opponents as Rousseaueans, who naively ignore the harsh reality of chimpanzee warfare.  And those scientists who insist that warfare is a natural adaptation for chimpanzees are criticized by their opponents as Hobbesians, who cynically defend the image of the "killer ape" against the evidence of chimp peacemaking.

Prior to 1960, when Jane Goodall began the first long-term study of chimpanzees in the wild, there was not enough evidence to resolve this debate, because of the lack of precise observation of chimpanzee politics.  Now, however, we have had many decades of studying wild chimpanzees at many different sites in Africa.  We have also had many studies of chimpanzees in captivity by people like Frans de Waal and Michael Tomasello, which are studies that more easily lend themselves to experimental research than is typically the case for studies in the wild.

One serious limitation in studies of captive chimpanzees is that the observer has no chance to see warfare, since the closed environment of captivity does not give the chimps enough room to divide up into groups that might engage in warfare.  Even in the wild, however, it's hard to see chimp warfare. 

Throughout the 1960s, Goodall reported on how peaceful the chimps were in what is now Gombe National Park in Tanzania, and thus she confirmed the common view that human beings were the only animals that deliberately killed members of their own species in war.  Beginning with her first article in National Geographic in August of 1963--"My Life Among Wild Chimpanzees"--Goodall became one of the world's most famous naturalists, a heroic young woman whose adventures with wild chimpanzees took on mythic proportions.  But then, in the early 1970s, she shocked the world with her reports of brutal chimp warfare.

By the beginning of 1973, Goodall recognized that her community of chimpanzees had split into two separate communities--the northern or Kasakela community and the southern or Kahama community.  By early 1974, she saw the first of a series of violent attacks against members of the Kahama community by Kasakela males moving southward into the Kahama community range.  By the end of 1977, the Kahama community had been annihilated, and the Kahama territory was annexed into the Kasekela territory.

Adult males of the Kasakela community seemed to be raiding the territory of Kahama.  When these Kasakela males found isolated Kahama individuals, they used their numerical superiority to brutally kill these individuals without any injury to the attackers.  The killing was similar to what chimpanzees do in hunting other animals, so it was as though the chimpanzee victims had been "dechimpized" by the chimpanzee killers.

In The Chimpanzees of Gombe (1986), Goodall suggested that chimpanzee warfare showed the primate precursors of human warfare:  "The chimpanzee, as a result of a unique combination of strong affiliative bonds between adult males on the one hand and an unusually hostile and violently aggressive attitude toward nongroup individuals on the other, has clearly reached a stage where he stands at the very threshold of human achievement in destruction, cruelty, and planned intergroup conflict" (534).

Goodall and others in her research team worried, however, that their artificial feeding of the chimpanzees had disrupted their behavior in ways that might cast doubt on whether the behavior they were observing was typical for chimpanzees in the wild.  Goodall had discovered during her early years that the animals were so wary of her that the only way she could observe them and photograph them was to feed them bananas.  Only in later years did the animals become so habituated to human presence that they could be observed without artificial feeding.

I remember in 1986 attending a conference on chimpanzee and bonobo studies in Chicago sponsored by the Chicago Academy of Sciences.  Most of the leading researchers were there, including Goodall.  I noticed that in many of the films shown by the speakers, the animals were being fed bananas or sugar cane by the human observers.  In one of the question-and-answer sessions, I asked one of the speakers about whether this artificial feeding might distort the behavior of the animals.  Some of the speakers became visibly agitated by my question, and some of them claimed that they had stopped the artificial feeding at their sites.

In 1991, Margaret Power's book The Egalitarians--Human and Chimpanzee argued that both humans and chimpanzees were peaceful egalitarians by nature in their original condition as hunter-gatherers.  She insisted that the apparently aggressive, warlike, and hierarchical behavior of the chimps observed by Goodall and others was produced by the human disruption of artificial feeding.  When chimps crowd around the food, they have to fight and form dominance hierarchies in ways that would not occur without the artificial feeding.  By contrast with provisioned chimps, she argued, wild chimps are like human hunter-gatherers in being "Rousseauean foragers" who live in a "mutual dependence system" in which all individuals cooperate peacefully and generously as equals acting for the common good of all, and thus they conform to Rousseau's theory of the best social order, in contrast to the common assumption in Western culture that inequality and war are natural.

When William McGrew wrote an review of Power's book for Nature (November 28, 1991), it was entitled "Apes Cast Out of Eden?"  He accused her of forcing chimpanzees into a utopian Rousseauean model.  He admitted that artificial provisioning was a dubious technique.  But he argued that research at sites in Africa where chimps were not artificially provisioned had confirmed Goodall's observations.  And thus it was unlikely that artificial feeding had brought about "the Fall that cast out the apes from their equatorial Garden of Eden."  He concluded that "we must face up to the fact that chimpanzees are probably very like us, warts and all."

In 1996, Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson in Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence elaborated Goodall's suggestion that human violence and war were rooted in an evolutionary history shared with chimpanzees.  They argued that humans and chimpanzees share in a unique combination of social traits, in having male-bonded communities in which coalitions of males engaged in lethal raiding against outside groups.  They developed an "imbalance of power theory" for the evolution of warfare:  adult males will engage in coalitionary attacks against other groups when they can surprise isolated members of the other group, so that the attackers can injure or kill their victims to gain valuable resources (access to food, mates, and territory) without the attackers risking any injury to themselves.  Thus, for the attackers, the benefits of fighting outweigh the costs, with costs and benefits measured in terms of survival and reproductive fitness.

In their first chapter--entitled "Paradise Lost"--Wrangham and Peterson described the blissful image of wild chimpanzees conveyed by Gooodall during the first decade of her observations: "Wild chimpanzees in the dappled forest teaching and learning, playing, communicating with invented signals, doctoring themselves, using tools to enrich their food supply.  These scenes conjure classic visions of a peace in nature, an Eden of prehistory. . . . Like a rich fantasy of Jean Jacques Rousseau . . . . The apes seemed to wander without boundaries, with no fear of strangers.  Sex was public, promiscuous, and unprovocative.  There was little fighting over food" (11). 

But then, shortly after Wrangham first arrived at Gombe in 1970 as a zoology graduate student, the rift in the chimpanzee group and the eventual annihilation of the Kahama community exposed the dark side of chimpanzee life, which also exposed the dark evolutionary origins of the human natural propensity to violence and war as rooted in the aggressive temperament of "demonic males."  When many anthropologists refuse to believe that such aggression among chimpanzees and humans has deep evolutionary roots, Wrangham observes, they show their deep yearning for Rousseau's noble savage and their Rousseauean commitment to the thought that human evil is culturally acquired and thus not a natural adaptation.

Charged with showing a stubborn Rousseauean bias that distorts their view of the evidence, the proponents of peaceful egalitarianism as natural for both humans and chimps respond by charging their opponents with showing a Hobbesian bias.  As I have indicated in an earlier post, that's the response of those like Marshall Sahlins and Douglas Fry.  So here again we see Sowell's conflict of visions.

We might hope that with more study of chimpanzee behavior, we might eventually have enough evidence to resolve this conflict over the evolution of war and peace among chimpanzees.  The best recent survey of that evidence that I have seen is a chapter in War, Peace, and Human Nature edited by Douglas Fry--Michael Wilson's "Chimpanzees, Warfare, and the Invention of Peace."  Wilson opens his chapter by framing the debate as a dispute between the intellectual traditions associated with Hobbes and Rousseau--Hobbesians asserting that warfare is a natural adaptation and Rousseaueans asserting that it is a cultural invention.  Wilson is an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Minnesota who specializes in the study of chimpanzee conflict.  Having worked with Wrangham, Wilson is clearly on the Hobbesian side of the debate in arguing that war is a natural adaptation, and peace is a cultural invention.

Most of the contributors to Fry's book are on the Rousseauean side, and so comparing what they say with Wilson's chapter allows one to judge the strength of Wilson's case.  If one does that, I think one has to conclude that the evidence supports Wilson's position.  But one also has to conclude that the Hobbesians and Rousseaueans are more in agreement than they realize.

The first point of agreement is that violent aggression among humans and chimps is a flexible natural propensity that tends to be stronger in males than in females, and the expression of that propensity depends on the social circumstances that determine the relative costs and benefits of violent fighting.  So, for example, Fry, David Barash, Robert Sussman, and Wilson all seem to agree on this (35-37, 104, 108, 451, 455-56, 467).  As Fry says in Beyond War, violent aggression is a "flexible, or facultative, adaptation" of males rather than a "fixed, or obligate, adaptation," and thus its expression depends on environmental conditions (173-74).  Wilson stresses that viewing adaptive violence through behavioral ecology highlights the fact that the expression of violence depends on the social circumstances (362-64, 381).  Thus, he agrees with Azar Gat that war is "innate but optional."

The second point of agreement is that the social life of humans and chimps is mostly peaceful, because they have evolved capacities for cooperating peacefully and reconciling conflicts.  It took Goodall over ten years before she observed lethal violence among her chimps.  Similarly, most human beings live out their lives without directly observing homicidal violence.  We can all agree with Fry that "in societies around the world, most disputes are resolved without any violence at all" (545).  This is also true for chimps, because, as Wrangham and Peterson observed, "chimpanzees lead very peaceful lives" (11).

The third point of agreement is that we can use our evolutionary understanding of war and peace among chimps and humans to promote the cultural conditions for peace.  We can see that the formation of states that enforce legal codes can pacify conflict by establishing the governmental punishment of aggressors.  We can also see how global institutions and global networks of trade can raise the costs of war and the benefits of peace so that warfare is unattractive.  Wilson observes that human beings differ from chimps in that "chimpanzees have nothing to trade with their neighbors," while human beings can use trade to turn intergroup interactions into a nonzero-sum game rather than a zero-sum game, which contributes to what is now called the liberal or democratic peace (381-82).  This confirms Adam Smith's claim about the human uniqueness of the "propensity to truck, barter, and exchange," and how this allows human beings to expand the gains from trade.

So where's the disagreement over Wilson's view of chimpanzee warfare?  Some of the Rousseaueans repeat Power's argument that chimpanzees as "Rousseauean foragers" have been transformed into Hobbesian animals by artificial feeding.  But as Wilson indicates, this cannot be true, because extensive study of chimpanzees at many sites in Africa where there has been no artificial feeding confirm Goodall's earlier observations (376-78).

Sussman argues that it is not just food provisioning that is disruptive but stress caused by all kinds of human impact--"habitat loss, snare poaching and hunting, epidemics, demographic disruption, impacts of research and tourism, and so on" (104).  Wilson's responds to this by claiming that if one compares chimpanzee study sites across Africa, estimates of human disturbance do not explain much of the variation in rates of lethal violence (378).  Here he cites a recent conference paper that he coauthored with others, which I have not yet read.

Sussman also argues that killing among chimpanzees is too infrequent for it to be an evolved adaptation.  He calculates that the reports from the long-term research sites show a rate of only one chimpanzee killing every 7.5 years (104).  Wilson's response to this is to argue that the frequency of killing is not a measure of its evolutionary importance.  Moreover, Wilson indicates, the rate of chimpanzee intraspecific killing is higher than the homicide rate in the United States, when one calculates this as the number of violent deaths per 100,000 individuals per year (370).

And yet, even if the Rousseaueans are forced to agree with Wilson's conclusions about chimpanzee warfare, they can point to bonobos as the true "Rousseauean foragers," whose evolutionary lineage is as close to human beings as is that of the chimpanzees.  The dedication of Fry's book is "To Bonoboess," because Fry thinks female bonobos offer us the best Rousseauean path to peaceful egalitarianism.  Bonobos seem to be peaceful, because they have never been observed engaging in lethal fighting.  Bonobos seem to be egalitarian, because while they have both male and female dominance hierarchies, the females seem to bond with one another to resist male dominance over the females.  Most famously, bonobos use sexual activity, including homosexual activity, to release social tension and promote social bonds.

Immediately after Wilson's chapter in Fry's book, Frances White, Michel Waller, and Klaree Boose have a chapter on "Evolution of Primate Peace" that compares chimpanzees and bonobos.  Frances White is one of the most experienced observers of bonobos.  Like Wilson, White employs a behavioral ecology approach to show how chimpanzees and bonobos differ in their behavioral strategies because they are adapted to differing ecological conditions depending on the importance of monopolizable resources.

Wild bonobos are found only south of the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  White argues that in this area the large size of the food patches lowers the level of feeding competition, which allows a female-bonded social structure.  Greater female-bonded groups constitute a monopolizable resource, and individual males compete for access to these groups.  But there is no advantage for males to cooperate in male coalitions to defend and expand territories containing females.

White suggests that while studying chimpanzee warfare will help us to understand human war, studying bonobos might help us to understand the conditions for peacemaking.  Similarly, Wrangham and Peterson indicate how lessons from the bonobos identify some paths to peace.  We might move from a male-dominated system of power to a sharing of power between men and women, which can be promoted through a feminization of culture and democratic institutions.  We might also promote a world system of moral sanctions favoring peace.  In considering these possibilities, we see that "male demonism is not inevitable" (Demonic Males, 251). 

Here we see the anticipation of Steven Pinker's argument for how a liberal culture promotes a liberal peace by appealing to the "better angels of our nature."  But still this remains within the Hobbesian tradition, because it's a "constrained vision" in which the "better angels" are constrained by the "inner demons" that can be tamed but not abolished.

Some posts on related topics can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

A Voyage on the Beagle: Darwin Almost Said No

On this date (August 24) in 1831, John Stevens Henslow wrote a letter to Charles Darwin telling him that Henslow had recommended him to serve as naturalist aboard the Beagle.  The British Admiralty had authorized this as a surveying trip around the world that would concentrate on the coastline of South America. 

Henslow told him that he had recommended him as "the best qualified person I know of who is likely to undertake such a situation," and "I state this not on the supposition of your being a finished Naturalist, but as amply  qualified for collecting, observing, & noting any thing worthy to be noted in Natural History."

Darwin responded by saying that he would not go without the consent of his father, and his father initially rejected this as not appropriate for someone who was preparing to become an Anglican parson.  Charles had promised his father that he would return to Cambridge in October for the studies necessary to prepare him for entering the Church.  Eventually, his uncle Josiah Wedgwood persuaded his father to change his mind.  A few months later, on December 7, 1831, Darwin sailed on the Beagle.  And what was expected to be a two-year voyage lasted for almost five years, returning to England on December 7, 1836. 

As a consequence, of course, he became a life-long naturalist rather than a clergyman, and his scientific studies as a naturalist overturned a two-thousand-year Biblical doctrine that all forms of life were specially created by God rather than natural law.

There are at least three notable points here.

First, one can see here the importance of Henslow for Darwin's career.  Darwin's only formal instruction in natural science at Cambridge University was his courses in botany taught by Henslow, who became Darwin's mentor and friend.  In recent years, David Kohn has been studying the influence of Henslow's botany on Darwin, and some of this work was published in his fascinating article "What Henslow Taught Darwin" in Nature, 436 (4 August, 2005): 643-45.  Although Henslow was a devout Anglican, and he accepted the creationist idea that species can vary only within limits, he emphasized natural variation within plant species in a way that prepared Darwin's mind to see how difficult it was to distinguish varieties and species.  As I indicated in an earlier post, Kohn's lecture at the Mont Pelerin Society conference in the Galapagos stressed the importance of Darwin's botanical studies in the Galapagos in showing variation across the islands.  This shows how simply recognizing natural variation threatens to subvert any belief in eternally fixed species and leads one to consider evolutionary alternatives to the theory of special creation.

Second, one can also see here the importance of the British Empire and the British Navy in providing the conditions for global travel and study that supported the advancement of modern science.  Once Darwin returned to England, he never left England for the rest of his life.  But once he settled into his house in Down, he continued his global scientific research through the correspondence made possible by the British postal system, which allowed him to learn of discoveries made by people around the world.

Finally, this illustrates the importance of global networks of communication for modern science and liberalism.  Francis Bacon rightly identified the European discovery of America as one of the great turning points in the history of science and politics.  The Bible shows no awareness of the world between Europe and Asia.  So when Europeans discovered this new world inhabited by human beings, it raised questions about the adequacy of Biblical history.  When they discovered species endemic to the New World found no where else in the world, they had to wonder when, how, and why God had specially created these species, but without revealing this in the Bible.

European travel to the New World was important for early modern liberalism because it opened up the possibility that the life of the indigenous people there represented the original state of nature for human beings, which threw into doubt the Biblical history of human origins as starting from the Garden of Eden and the Fall.  As Locke said, "in the beginning, all the world was America."  And that's why Darwin was so interested in the primitive life of the people at Tierra de Fuego as possibly revealing what the first human ancestors looked like.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Darwinian Evolution and Classical Liberalism: Stephen Dilley's Reply

Here is Stephen Dilley's reply to my recent series of posts on his edited book.

A Reply to Professor Arnhart

Stephen Dilley

Associate Professor of Philosophy

St. Edward’s University

Austin, TX

Larry Arnhart has been kind enough to review Darwinian Evolution and Classical Liberalism. Given that he wasn’t able to accept my original invitation to write a chapter in the book, I’m pleased that he has now engaged it so thoroughly. He has also generously allowed me to respond to his review. To my mind, Arnhart’s commitment to open dialogue is a fine example of many of the ideals of classical liberalism.

As for Arnhart’s review of DE & CL, his comments span nine posts, most of which focus on specific chapters of the book. I will let the authors of those chapters (respectively) take up their own dialogue with Arnhart, if they wish. Instead, I will limit my reply to the key claim that Arnhart directs at my introductory chapter. His central claim is that I defend the following argument, which he mislabels “Dilley’s Syllogism”: 

1.      Classical (Lockean) liberalism is founded on Christianity

2.      Darwinism denies Christianity

3.      Therefore, Darwinism denies Classical (Lockean) liberalism

Although there’s much to say about premise two, I’ll focus elsewhere. The main reply I wish to make is simply that I don’t defend “Dilley’s Syllogism.” Good heavens! I don’t even regard that argument as deductively valid. Moreover, I’m not even sure what premise one means. Does it mean that classical (Lockean) liberalism is historically founded upon Christianity? Or that classical (Lockean) liberalism is conceptually founded upon Christianity? Or that classical (Lockean) liberalism is metaphysically grounded upon Christianity (in some sense)? Or something else?

In my introduction I point out that some Darwinian conservatives, like Arnhart, see themselves as the heirs of the Anglophone strain of classical liberalism while other thinkers, including Christian classical liberals, “see themselves as more supportive of classical liberalism.” An attentive reader will observe that, in this section, I simply describe the basic tenets of Christian classical liberals, as they see it, including their claim that Christian theism provides a superior (and crucial) metaphysical foundation for classical liberalism. I don’t defend the truth of the view. And I certainly don’t do anything as bold as claiming—much less arguing—that Christian classical liberalism is in fact the historical, conceptual, or metaphysical foundation of classical (Lockean) liberalism. I simply report what some Christian classical liberals believe.

So, it turns out I don’t assert or defend “Dilley’s Syllogism” in my introduction. By attributing that syllogism to me (and then attacking it), Arnhart misrepresents my position. Unfortunately, in my view, Arnhart mischaracterizes or oversimplifies some other chapters in the book, as well. But why argue about the matter? Fair-minded people should scrutinize DE & CL for themselves. I would also encourage them to read carefully Arnhart’s Darwinian Conservatism. Doing so will make for a richer—and more accurate—assessment of the great ideas in play.

A Fall in Female Genital Cutting

In Darwinian Natural Right, I have a long section on female circumcision (pp. 149-60). I use the debate over whether female circumcision should be condemned as a violation of human rights to illustrate the dangers of multicultural relativism in denying human nature and moral naturalism. From the perspective of Darwinian natural right, we can judge that female circumcision is an unjustified interference with the natural functioning of women's bodies in a way that denies their natural desires for health, sexual identity, and sexual mating. But if the multicultural relativists are right that human sexuality is a purely cultural construction, and different cultures choose to practice female circumcision as part of their cultural construction of female sexuality, then there is no natural biological standard of female sexuality that we can use to condemn female circumcision.

On the one hand, many feminists support a global campaign to abolish female circumcision as a violation of the universal human rights of girls and women. On the other hand, feminist multiculturalists denounce this campaign as cultural imperialism, because the Western feminists are imposing their cultural biases about female sexuality on African women who have embraced female circumcision as part of their cultural identity.

As I indicated in Darwinian Natural Right, I agree with the strategy of allowing women to discover for themselves that there are alternatives to circumcision, so that by collectively organizing themselves to abolish circumcision, the women can change their cultural practices. This strategy has been well worked out by Gerry Mackie, and it has already succeeded in some parts of Africa.

Recently, an article in the New York Times reported a gradual fall in female genital cutting in Africa based on a report issued by the United Nations Children's Fund.  This is good news.  But it's disappointing that that the fall has been so gradual.  One possibility, however, is that many women have moved away from the most severe forms of genital cutting (cutting off the clitoris and sewing up the vagina) to less severe forms (such as scratching the clitoris), which might be a prudent way to appear to conform to a bad custom while minimizing the harm.

Some of my previous posts on this can be found here and here.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Neither Hobbes Nor Rousseau: The Lockean Way in the Evolution of War and Peace

The recurrent debate over the evolution of war and peace is commonly framed as a choice between Hobbes and Rousseau.  And yet the opponents in this debate end up agreeing on a position that is neither Hobbesian nor Rousseauean but Lockean.  Thus does the evolutionary anthropology of war and peace confirm John Locke's account of the state of nature and the evolution of government.

In his editorial introduction to War, Peace, and Human Nature (Oxford University Press, 2013), Douglas Fry adopts the argument of Marshall Sahlins (in The Western Illusion of Human Nature, 2008) that the study of war and peace is distorted by the bias in Western culture towards a Hobbesian view of human nature as innately violent.  This bias is said to run throughout Western history--from Hesiod and Thucydides to Machiavelli, Hobbes, and the American founders.  Contemporary scientists like Edward O. Wilson, Azar Gat, Richard Wrangham, and Steven Pinker show this cultural bias in their claim that human beings have an evolved propensity to war and violence shaped in the ancient history of their hunter-gatherer ancestors.  By contrast, Fry says, those who can free themselves from this Hobbesian cultural bias can see that the scientific evidence from archaeology, anthropology, and primatology proves conclusively that war was not natural for our nomadic foraging ancestors, and that war first arose as a cultural invention less than 10,000 years ago with the development of agriculture, dominance hierarchies, and centralized states.

One obvious question about Fry's argument is how he and a few others like Sahlins were able to break out of the Hobbesian bias of Western culture.   When Sahlins first stated this argument in 1976--in The Use and Abuse of Biology: An Anthropological Critique of Sociobiology--he said that his liberation from the Hobbesian bias came from his understanding of the modern anthropological concept of culture, which was first stated by Rousseau.  "Rousseau justifies the title some would give him as the true ancestor of anthropology by arguing the status of war as a phenomenon of cultural nature--precisely against the Hobbesian view of a war of every man against every man grounded in human nature" (8-9).

Even when he did not explicitly acknowledge Rousseau's influence, Sahlins embraced a Rousseauean view of human evolutionary history.  This is evident, for example, in his famous essay on "The Original Affluent Society" (published in Stone Age Economics, 1972).  Sahlins explains that in a hunting-gathering society, the means for satisfying  wants are limited, but the wants themselves are also limited.  Unlike the modern bourgeois, whose wants are always greater than the means for satisfying them, savages can fulfill their limited material needs easily and thus have plenty of leisure.  "We are inclined to think of hunters and gatherers as poor because they don't have anything; perhaps better to think of them for that reason as free" (14).  Moreover, they are free from domination, because their rough equality of wealth prevents any subordination of the poor to the rich.  There is no war.  And they have a rich social life organized around family and kinship.  In contrast to the selfish competitiveness of bourgeois society, this hunter-gatherer society is a "kinship community" of sharing and mutual aid.  This corresponds to the second stage of human evolution in Rousseau's Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, the stage of "nascent society" that comes with the emergence of family life.  Rousseau pronounces it "the happiest and most durable epoch," and generally "the best for man" (Masters ed., 146-47, 151). 

In Fry's edited volume, Darcia Narvaez restates Sahlins' argument for the life of  Rousseauean hunter-gatherers as superior to the life of Hobbesian bourgeois society.  While hunter-gatherers are virtuous, cooperative, generous, and egalitarian, she claims, the people in bourgeois societies like the United States are vicious, competitive, selfish, and hierarchical.  She also explains that hunter-gatherers are superior in their "sense of Spirit," their "higher consciousness," and their "right-brain  holistic orientation" (343, 354).

According to Locke, the original state of nature was a state of peace that easily became a state of war.  A state of nature exists whenever human beings live without a common superior with authority to settle disputes among them.  Insofar as they can live together according to customary norms of fairness as judged by ordinary reasoning, this is a state of peace.  But when some individuals exercise force without right against others, this becomes a state of war.  In the state of nature, each person has the "executive power of the law of nature," which is the power of each person to punish those who injure them, and thus each person takes the law into his own hands.  The state of nature can be a state of peace when all or most people agree on the customary rules of behavior as enforced by informal mediation and arbitration.  But it becomes a state of war when it falls into a cycle of revenge and feuding in which life, liberty, and property are so insecure that people seek out some formal system of law and government to keep the peace (ST, 6-14, 123-31).

The state of nature is a social state because all human beings must begin their lives as children dependent on parental care.  Sexual mating, conjugal bonding, and parental care constitute the family as a natural social unit securing survival and reproduction.  And thus kinship becomes the primary social bond and the source of social authority (FT, 86-89; ST, 52-84).

In the original state of nature, human beings lived as hunter-gatherers--gathering wild plants and hunting wild animals (ST, 26-31).  This hunting-gathering way of life prevailed for most of human history until the development of agriculture and pastoralism, so that human beings began cultivating domesticated plants and herding domesticated animals.  This agrarian way of life provided the conditions for a sedentary existence with a growing human population and the emergence of formal governmental rule (ST, 32-38).

Locke thought that the original hunting-gathering way of life could be seen among the most primitive of the American Indian bands.  "In the beginning, all the world was America," and thus this was "a pattern of the first ages" (ST, 14, 49, 108).

Locke agreed with Hobbes that a centralized state was necessary to adjudicate disputes in a way that would overcome the tendency to feuding when each person is the judge and executioner in his own case.  But Locke also saw the tendency for the power of the centralized state being abused by rulers for the exploitation of the ruled.  And thus he sought ways to limit the power of government to securing the conditions for peaceful cooperation to emerge as a largely self-regulating order in civil society.  This would combine the individual liberty that had been enjoyed by hunter-gatherers and the high civilization that had been made possible by an agrarian and commercial economy.

In the current debate over the evolution of war, it seems to me that the opposing sides can agree on most of this Lockean account of human social evolution. 

First, they can agree that Hobbes and Rousseau were wrong in depicting the original condition of human beings as a totally solitary state, because even the most primitive hunter-gatherers live in families and kinship groups that enforce informal customary norms of good behavior.  Rousseaueans like Sahlins prefer to start with what Rousseau thought was the second stage of human evolution--the "nascent society" of family life--and thus they reject Rousseau's conception of the first stage as a condition of solitary animals with no social ties, and they accept Locke's account of family as the "first society."  Human beings are naturally social animals who began their evolutionary history living in families and in local and regional groups bound together by ties of kinship, language, and culture.

The second point of agreement is that Locke and Hobbes were right about the need for government to secure peace through the formal rule of law.  This is what Steven Pinker identifies as the "Hobbesian pacification," which is the first step in the history of declining violence.  Fry and others who seem to be critics of Pinker agree with him about this.  For example, Fry agrees that while hunter-gatherers can maintain some social order through "self-redress"--"taking justice into one's own hands"--this tends towards uncontrolled feuding and raiding that makes it desirable to have a rule of law imposed by government (see Fry's Beyond War, 90-99, 223-26).  (What Fry calls "self-redress" corresponds to what Locke calls "the executive power of the state of nature.") Governance is better than anarchy.  People in stateless societies with high rates of violence--like the Waorani and the Yanomamo--can see "the potential of police, courts, and a code of law for achieving justice without raiding and revenge killings" (223).  L

The third point of agreement is that our evolved human nature is neither basically violent nor basically peaceful, because that human nature contains mixed motives, and the expression of those motives depends on the circumstances of life.  As Pinker says, "human nature accommodates motives that impel us to violence, like predation, dominance, and vengeance, but also motives that--under the right circumstances--impel us toward peace, like compassion, fairness, self-control, and reason" (483).  Thus, Pinker declares: "violent tendencies are not hydraulic but strategic, deployed only in circumstances in which the potential gains are high and the risks are low" (37).  Robert Sussman agrees with this.  "I am not trying to ignore the role of aggression and competition in understanding primate and human social interactions," he declares.  "We are all aware that humans are capable of warfare and violence; it is a part of our behavioral repertoire, part of the human behavioral totipotentiality.  Thus, of course, it is part of our biology and our inheritance, just as is peaceful behavior and the ability to love" (in War, Peace, and Human Nature, 108).  Both Sussman (97) and Pinker (619-20) agree in rejecting the idea of a "warrior gene."  They agree that the expression of violence depends upon the circumstances in which human beings act.  Fry agrees with Richard Wrangham and Pinker that males tend to be more violent than females, but that the expression of this male propensity to violence is flexible in being open to environmental or cultural influence (Fry, Beyond War, 166-74; Wrangham and Peterson, Demonic Males, 231-58). 

This openness to environmental or cultural influence has made it possible over the past few centuries for the growth in Lockean liberal culture to produce declining violence in all the ways studied by Pinker in his Better Angels of Our Nature.  The Rousseauean critics of Pinker seem to agree with him about this modern liberal culture of declining violence, and thus they disagree with Rousseau's pessimism about the degrading effects of bourgeois liberalism.  The only disagreement is that the Rousseauean critics see this declining violence as an n-shaped curve: no war at all over human history during the foraging era, a spike in war beginning 10,000 years ago, and then a recent drop in war (Fry, War, Peace, and Human Nature, 15-16).

The fourth point of agreement among those debating the evolution of war is that "complex" warfare is not a natural adaptation but a cultural invention that began about 10,000 years ago with the development of agriculture and settled societies.  In his lecture at the Mont Pelerin Society meeting in the Galapagos, Wrangham gave the following explanation of the difference between "simple" and "complex" warfare:
"The major difficulty in identifying warfare from skeletal remains is that war includes two styles of military practice, only one of which can be recognized archaeologically.  In terms of fighting, the distinction is between complex and simple warfare: complex warfare regularly includes battles (escalated conflicts between committed opponents), whereas simple warfare is largely confined to surprise attacks such as raiding.  In terms of social organization, the distinction is between hierarchy and acephaly (lack of formal leadership)."
"A society that practices complex warfare and battles, and has a military hierarchy, is said to have 'true warfare' or to lie above the military horizon (Turney-High 1949).  In this system, soldiers fight under orders from leaders and battles are frequently lethal.  The result of a specific encounter can thus be a large number of deaths on both sides, which (especially when combined with metal weapons) is easily detected archaeologically.  Such battle evidence currently goes back to about 8,000 BC in the Middle East (Qermez Dere, Iraq, Ferguson 2006).  True warfare is therefore normally thought to begin within a few hundred years of the origin of agriculture 10,000 years ago, resulting from the development of hierarchically organized states."
"'Simple warfare,' by contrast, is practiced by small-scale acephalous hunter-gatherer and farmer societies whose warriors fight voluntarily, and whose communities are not integrated with each other by any political officials.  It consists mainly of raiding and feuding.  Simple warfare tends not to include battles, but when battles occur they normally stop after a few deaths.  Massacres can occur when one side has a massive power advantage, such as burning a hut full of opponents, but the majority of deaths in simple warfare occur when raiders kill victims in a surprise attack.  Raids often kill very few victims, such as only one, followed by the aggressors immediately making a rapid and complete retreat in order to avoid the risk of being confronted.  The fact that in simple warfare most deaths occur in very small numbers explains the difficulty of distinguishing archaeologically between murder and war." (4-5)

But now we see the one big disagreement in the recent debates.  Like Hobbes and Locke, Wrangham and Pinker identify feuding and raiding among hunter-gatherers as war, even if a "simple" kind of war.  But their Rousseauean critics deny that this counts as war at all.  Fry agrees that nomadic foragers show lethal violence, but he argues that the "personal nature" of this violence means that such violence cannot be identified as war.  He explains: "The targets of homicide attempts are rarely randomly chosen members of other groups.  They are offenders who have committed specific misdeeds or acts of abuse" (War, Peace, and Human Nature, 11).

Notice, however, that despite this disagreement over how exactly to distinguish murder from warfare, there is agreement that hunter-gatherer societies can show high rates of homicidal violence from feuding.  For Locke, it is this very tendency to violent feuding that turns the state of nature from a state of peace into a state of war.

Friday, August 16, 2013

How Hobbesian Baboons Find Their Inner Rousseau

                                                           Olive Baboons

The debate between Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau over the evolution of war, violence, and inequality continues today as one of the most intense debates in the natural and social sciences.  In making their arguments, Hobbes and Rousseau appealed to the best evidence available to them concerning the "state of nature" in which the first human ancestors lived.  They both studied reports about hunter-gatherers in the New World and elsewhere, with the assumption that this must resemble the original condition of the first human beings.  Rousseau also studied reports about primates closely related to human beings.  But this knowledge was too meagre to resolve the debate.  For that reason, Rousseau called for systematic studies through international expeditions that would create a new science of human nature.  It might seem that now we have so much more knowledge--in archaeology, anthropology, and primatology--that we can settle this debate.  And yet, remarkably, the debate continues.  This will be the first of a series of posts on how recent scientific research illuminates--even if it does not fully resolve--this debate in political philosophy between Hobbes and Rousseau (and perhaps including Locke, Hume, and Smith).

Is war an ancient natural adaptation, as the Hobbesians seem to say?  Or is war a recent cultural invention, as the Rousseaueans seem to say?  As I think we'll see, these stark dichotomies--nature versus nurture, biology versus culture, instinct versus learning, Hobbes versus Rousseau--are mistaken.

Consider the case of the baboons.  Until recently, they have been depicted as manifesting the violent aggressiveness of primates that is deeply rooted in their biological nature.  But now there is some evidence that their Hobbesian nature can be at least mitigated by a Rousseauean culture.

Robert Sapolsky has been studying baboons in Kenya for over thirty years.  He is best known for showing how the aggression within baboon troops produces high levels of psychological stress that are manifested in physiological markers of chronic stress, which can produce disease.  Much of this stress comes from displacement aggression, in which an individual who is frustrated for some reason attacks a lower-ranking individual who in turn attacks an even lower-ranking individual.  I first learned about Sapolsky's research in 1988, when he lectured to a class I was auditing in the Program in Human Biology at Stanford.

In 1983, Sapolsky observed that some unusual events brought about a change in the social culture of one baboon troop towards lower aggression and higher affiliative behavior, and this new culture has persisted for decades.  He published his study of this cultural change in 2004 as an article in PLOS Biology, which is available online.  An article on this appeared in the New York Times.  Recently, he has published a revised version of this article as a book chapter: "Rousseau with a Tail: Maintaining a Tradition of Peace Among Baboons," in Douglas Fry, ed., War, Peace, and Human Nature: The Convergence of Evolutionary and Cultural Views (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 421-438.

"Forest Troop" is a troop of olive baboons that in the early 1980s slept in trees not far from a tourist lodge, which was within the home range of the "Garbage Dump" troop that got its name from regularly foraging from the open garbage pit at the lodge.  About half of the Forest Troop males developed the habit of feeding at the garbage pit every morning.  These were the most aggressive and least affiliative males, because they had to be aggressive enough to fight the Garbage Dump males, and because they missed the early morning female-male grooming in their troop.

In 1983, tuberculosis from infected meat in the dump killed most of the Garbage Dump baboons and all of the Forest Troop males feeding at the dump.  This eliminated almost half of all the males in Forest Troop.  While baboon troops usually have an equal proportion of males and females, Forest Troop now had almost twice as many females as males, and the males were less aggressive than those who had died.

This changed the social culture of Forest Troop.  The male dominance hierarchy continued, but there was less displacement aggression by dominant males, and they were more relaxed in allowing some occasional reversals of dominance.  There was also more time spent by the troop in grooming one another.

Sapolsky ended his observations of this troop in 1986.  When he resumed study of this troop in 1993, he saw that this new social culture had persisted.  This was especially remarkable because no adult males remained from 1986.  Since all male baboons at puberty migrate out of their natal troop, all of the adult males in Forest Troop in 1993 had grown up in some other troop.  Somehow the culture of low aggression and high affiliation that had been founded in 1983 had been transmitted to the new males.

Sapolsky considers various possible mechanisms though which this cultural transmission could have occurred.  He surmises that this cultural change was preserved by a change in the behavior of the females.  When new males arrive in a troop, the resident females are usually slow to treat them in an affiliative way until two or three months have passed.  But in Forest Troop in 1993, the females were grooming new males within a few weeks of their arrival.  Sapolsky concludes that the new males were responding to this more relaxed and affiliative behavior of the females by becoming themselves more relaxed and affiliative.

In his book chapter, he writes:  "It involves a cascade: when females are less stressed by the random aggression of males, they are more likely to be spontaneously affiliative to new males; when new males are treated in this more affiliative manner, they gradually become more affiliative themselves.  This is not cultural transmission where males acquire a new behavioral style; instead, the social atmosphere of the troop, most proximally mediated by the behavior of females, facilitates the emergence of these behaviors from males.  Within the limits of baboon sociality, in the absence of Hobbesian treatment, a young male reverts to his inner Rousseau" (433-34).

Notice the qualification--"within the limits of baboon sociality."  As Sapolsky explains, this case shows the malleability of baboon social life in being open to cultural change.  But still this new culture of Forest Troop did not bring "an unrecognizably different utopia" (436).  There was still a dominance hierarchy.  There was still displacement aggression, although it had been reduced.  And while the rate of reconciliations had increased, the need for reconciliations showed the persistence of conflict.  In his original article, Sapolsky even indicated that the overall rate of aggressive conflict in Forest Troop was similar to other troops.  So despite the cultural malleability shown here, "there are not infinite amounts of social plasticity in a primate social system" (436).

I suggest that we see three levels of social order here--baboon nature, baboon culture, and baboon individuals.  The repertoire of social behavior characteristic of a baboon species sets the natural limits of baboon sociality.  This baboon nature constrains but does not determine baboon culture.  And, finally, nature and culture constrain but do not determine individual behavior.

Individual baboons have distinctive personalities or temperaments.  Although males tend to be more aggressive and less affiliative than females, there is individual variation among the males, and that's why the elimination of the most aggressive males from Forest Troop changed the social culture.

Do these baboons really have a culture that might be different from troop to troop?  If so, is that culture changeable in response to changeable historical circumstances?  Since the late 1990s, the question of whether some nonhuman animals have culture has been a hot topic, particularly among primatologists. 

This is a critical issue for Rousseau, because the uniqueness of human culture seems to be the basis for what he calls "perfectibility."  By tracing human evolution  back to prehuman ancestors, he shows the malleability of human nature.  Throughout human history, "the soul and human passions, altering imperceptibly, change their nature so to speak" (Second Discourse, Masters ed., 178).  What distinguishes human nature from the nature of other animals is not so much its rationality as its "perfectibility," the plasticity or openness to change in response to the environment (114-15).  To understand human nature, therefore, we must understand its history.

This Rousseauean idea was developed by anthropologists as the idea of culture as the uniquely human realm of freedom from nature that sets human beings apart from all other animals.  Cultural anthropologists like Marshall Sahlins can then argue that sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists are wrong in trying to explain human social behavior biologically, because this fails to see how human culture transcends animal biology in a way that makes human sociality radically changeable.  When biological anthropologists like Richard Wrangham and Michael Wilson explain the evolution of war by comparing the warfare of chimpanzees and human foragers, the cultural anthropologists argue that human war is a cultural invention, not a biological adaptation.

But if Sapolsky and others are right about animal culture, then explaining the evolution of violence and war among nonhuman animals like baboons has to take into account the contingency and malleability of cultural history among these animals.  Even if their nature is Hobbesian, baboon males can develop a social culture that taps into their "inner Rousseau."

In a commentary accompanying Sapolsky's article in PLOS Biology, Frans de Waal observes that Sapolsky's study of the Forest Troop baboons is a work of social history that shows how an accident of history--the deaths of the most aggressive males feeding at the garbage dump--can change the cultural order of a social group.  And so, "like human societies, each animal society has its own ecological and behavioral history, which determines its prevalent social style."

This was one of my main points in my recent article in Perspectives on Politics responding to an article by John Hibbing on the biological study of politics.  I generally agree with Hibbing and his colleagues, who apply biological reasoning to the study of human political behavior.  But I disagree with them when they restrict biology to genetics and neurobiology and imply that the study of political history in all of its contingency is beyond biology.  Surely, biology includes ethology and behavioral ecology, which include the observational and experimental study of animal societies--such as the work of someone like Sapolsky.  And as one can see in Sapolsky's study of Forest Troop, this includes the scientific study of the cultural and political history of particular societies, which turns on contingent events.  Therefore, I argue, the study of human history in all of its contingency can be part of a comprehensive biopolitical science.

Sapolsky points in this direction in the conclusion of his article in PLOS Biology, where he compares the cultural change brought to Forest Troop by the deaths of the most aggressive males to the cultural consequences of the American Civil War.

It is not clear to me, however, that Sapolsky's study of baboon aggression goes very far in illuminating the evolution of human war.  If the evolutionary ancestry of monkeys separated from the ape-human line over 25 million years ago, then there's a great evolutionary distance between baboons and humans.

An even more fundamental problem is that the violence of baboons is not really war.  Baboon aggression is very different from the lethal raiding of chimpanzees and human foragers.  If war is defined as lethal conflict between coalitions from different groups, then--as Wrangham argues--we would see war among mammals in at least three primates (humans, chimps, and capuchins) and three carnivores (wolves, lions, and spotted hyenas).

If war as an evolved primate adaptation is manifest in the lethal raiding of chimps and human foragers, this suggests that Rousseau was partly wrong and partly right about the evolution of war.  He was wrong if he thought that lethal raiding was not part of the life of the earliest human ancestors.  But he was right in seeing that the emergence of complex warfare--mass military organizations under bureaucratic command--was a cultural invention arising after the development of agricultural societies and centralized states.

Some posts on related topics can be found here, and here.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Darwinian World Tour Continues

                                  Mercure Hotel Panorama, Freiburg, Germany

As I indicated in my posts in July, my Darwinian World Tour began in the Galapagos Islands and at the Mont Pelerin Society conference on evolution and liberalism.  The tour continues this fall. 

On September 13, I will be at Notre Dame University for the political theory workshop, where we will talk about my MPS/Galapagos paper on "The Evolution of Darwinian Liberalism."

On October 4-5, I will be at the Philadelphia Society meeting in Atlanta on "The Permanent Things," celebrating the 50th anniversary of the publication of Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind.  I will be on a panel with Peter Lawler and others on "Human Nature and the Permanent Things."  My leading idea will be: "Human nature is not a permanent thing.  But it is an enduring thing.  That's enough."  The most pertinent piece of writing for this would be my article "Darwinian Conservatism Versus Metaphysical Conservatism" in the Fall 2010 issue of The Intercollegiate Review.

On October 10, I will be in Houston at Lone Star College.  I will be in a discussion with faculty members of Darwinian Conservatism.  Then I will lecture to an audience of students on "Does Darwinism Support or Subvert Morality?"

On December 12-15, I will be in Freiburg, Germany, for a conference on "Liberalism and the Evolutionary Agenda," sponsored by the Walter Eucken Institut, Freiburg, and the Max Planck Institute of Economics, Jena.  The distinguished roster of speakers includes Paul Rubin, Michael Ruse, Robert Richards, Ken Binmore, Jean Gayon, and Ulrich Witt.  My lecture will be based on a revised version of my Galapagos paper.

On March 13-16, I will be in Tucson, directing a Liberty Fund colloquium on "Liberty and Violence: From Auberon Herbert to Steven Pinker."

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Debating Darwinian Liberalism (9): Gage on the Eternity of Species

In Dilley's book, Logan Paul Gage argues that I am wrong in claiming that Darwinian science can support classical liberalism, because I fail to see that classical liberalism requires an essentialist conception of species as eternal that is denied by Darwinism.

Gage writes:
     "Arnhart thinks modern Darwinians can walk a middle road between essentialism and nominalism (Arnhart 1998, 235).  But this is untenable.  At issue is whether the term species represents a stable ontological reality (that is, a substantial form and/or divine idea) rather than a temporarily useful description.  The essentialist says yes, the nominalist no.  There is no middle ground.  Arnhart's asservation that species can be 'enduring' without being 'eternal' is a distraction.  He is right that individual organisms' similarities are not arbitrary given universal common descent, but the designation of 'species' (if meant in the classical sense) on a given group of individuals is.  In this way, Arnhart and Darwinian conservatives do not just deny the eternality of species but their classical ontological status.
     "The broader Western tradition--from which classical liberalism inherits much--embraced essentialism. . . ." (145)
He then indicates that the nominalism that he rejects was espoused by Locke.  But now Gage is contradicting himself.  If classical liberalism is rooted in essentialism, and if Locke was "the quintessential classical liberal" (198), then how was it possible for Locke to embrace nominalism rather than essentialism? 

I have defended a Darwinian conception of species in Darwinian Natural Right (232-38) and many times on this blog.  Gage dismisses my arguments quickly: "There is no middle ground.  Arnhart's asserveration that species can be 'enduring' without being 'eternal' is a distraction."  A distraction?  What is that supposed to mean?  My argument is that as long as a species has an enduring pattern of distinctive traits, that enduring pattern is real even if it is not eternal.  Is Gage a Platonist who believes that nothing is really real unless it is eternally unchanging?  Is Gage denying the extensive evidence for the extinction of species, because he believes no species ever has, or ever will, go extinct?

Later on, Gage warns about the dangers that will come from "changing human nature" through biotechnology.  "If modern conservatives merely argue that the reason the Left should not seek to remake the family, sex differences, and so on, is because it is impossible to change human biological nature, what will they say as these changes become more and more possible?" (149) 

This makes no sense.  If Gage is convinced that the human species is eternal, then he must believe that changing human nature is impossible.  I have noticed this same contradiction among the many conservatives who worry about the "abolition of man" through biotechnology, while professing to believe in the eternity of species (for example, see Bruce Gordon at pp. 170-171).

A few of my posts on the biological reality of species can be found here, here, and here.

This concludes my series of posts on Stephen Dilley's edited book--Darwinian Evolution and Classical Liberalism.  I have invited Dilley to write a response that I will post on this blog.  I extend the same invitation to those who contributed to his book.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Debating Darwinian Liberalism (8): Lawler's Darwinian Fusionism

For some years now, Peter Augustine Lawler and I have been carrying on a friendly debate about the adequacy of Darwinian science for supporting traditionalist conservatism or classical liberalism.  Ultimately, that debate has turned on the question of whether that science can fully explain human nature.  I have generally argued that it can.  Peter has generally argued that Darwinian science provides at best only a partial explanation: it goes a long way in explaining our nature as social animals, but it fails to explain our nature as individual persons who want to be the center of the universe.  As he often says, it's all about me!

As often happens with friendly debaters, we have recently been finding more and more common ground.  I now see that common ground as a Darwinian account of human nature that supports a fusion of traditionalist conservatism and classical liberalism. 

I use the word "fusion" here to evoke the memory of Frank Meyer, who argued that the debate between American libertarians and conservatives was misconceived, because what was needed was a "fusion" of both positions.  If we properly distinguish state and society, he claimed, we can see that the libertarians (or classical liberals) are right in asserting that the purpose of the state is to secure individual liberty, while the conservatives are also right in asserting that the purpose of society is to promote social virtue.  (I should note that Timothy Sandefur disagrees with me on this, because he thinks libertarianism and conservatism cannot be fused because of the theocratic tendencies of conservatism.)

Of course, this works only if the conservatives are liberal conservatives (like Russell Kirk, for example) rather than illiberal conservatives (like Joseph de Maistre, for example).  Illiberal conservatives want to use the state to coercively enforce moral and religious orthodoxy, which they regard as the necessary condition for any healthy social order.  Liberal conservatives think that the enforcement of moral and religious orthodoxy is properly done through the natural and voluntary associations of society, while the state is limited to securing individual liberty.  To use the language of Richard John Neuhaus in his article on "The Liberalism of John Paul II," illiberal conservatives want a "confessional state," while liberal conservatives want a "confessional society."

Peter and I have been moving towards a fusion of classical liberalism and liberal conservatism founded on a Darwinian science of human nature.

I see hints of this in Peter's chapter in Dilley's book.  But I see it even more clearly in one of Peter's recent articles in The New Atlantis--"Moderately Socially Conservative Darwinians".  The editorial note above this article captures the theme of Peter's article in one sentence: "Peter Augustine Lawler argues that evolutionary psychology, rightly understood, reinforces the conservative lesson that we are not merely autonomous  individuals but also social and relational beings."

I have identified evolutionary psychologist Jonathan Haidt as a Darwinian conservative.  In his New Atlantis article, Peter comes close to the same conclusion: "To be effective, social cooperation cannot simply be the product of calculation or self-interest rightly understood (as the Lockeans would have it); but it also cannot be imposed in a way that would abolish individual choice or responsibility (as in the Republic).  For all his sympathy with social conservatism and understanding of the importance of relationships for morality, politically speaking Haidt is more of a libertarian.  He's the increasingly rare kind of libertarian that idealizes not the liberated individual who chooses to design himself from an ever-expanding menu of choice, but rather the intelligently eusocial animal who takes responsibility for his own relationships."  Peter adds: "On his moderately socially conservative view, both 'libertarians (who sacralize liberty)' and 'social conservatives (who sacralize certain institutions and traditions)' reliably espouse partly correct views of who we are."  This is what I see as the fusion of libertarianism and conservatism founded on a Darwinian science of human nature.

Turning to E. O. Wilson's new book--The Social Conquest of Earth--Peter is impressed by what Wilson says about evolved human nature as showing the tension between individual selection and group selection, which Peter sees as a Darwinian intimation of the tense dualism of human nature as both relational and personal that is captured in Christian theology:
"An unexpected way to unite the Darwinian and Cartesian perspectives can be found in Christian theology, as expressed in the thought of the lately abdicated philosopher-pope Benedict XVI.  The Darwinians are right that we are relational beings, the Lockeans are right that we are personal beings.  We can only be personal through being relational.  And that is the point of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.  We don't lose ourselves in God, just as we don't lose ourselves in our relationships with persons made in His image.  We retain our personal identity; being personal is hardwired, so to speak, in the very structure of being itself.  And we are made to be in relationships without becoming mere parts; each of us is a relational whole by nature.  It is a mistake to believe, as the Cartesians do, that we have to win our personal freedom against an impersonal nature, because we are, in fact, free persons by nature."
And yet Peter still holds to his often repeated claim that Darwinian science cannot account for the human sense of individual personal dignity: "Although evolutionary psychologists try to reach the same political conclusions as people devoted to the human rights of individuals liberated from nature, evolutionary science offers no real evidence that could ground our sense of personal significance apart from the requirements of the group and ultimately the species."  This leads to Peter's complaint, in his chapter in Dilley's book, that "Darwin, from a Lockean view, turns individuals into species fodder" (59).

But doesn't the Darwinian account in Wilson's book of the evolved tension between individual selection and group selection convey the human dualism of personal individuality and relational sociality?  Locke captures this tension by affirming both individual freedom based in self-ownership and social bonding based in social instincts.  Evolutionary neuroscience now supports this Lockean psychology: we can see that our mammalian neuroanatomy has evolved so that we naturally care for the survival and well-being both of ourselves and of our families and social partners.  I have elaborated this point in some previous posts here, here, here, and here.

Some of my posts on fusionism can be found here and here.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Debating Darwinian Liberalism (7): Wiker on Ant Slavery and Christian Sympathy

In his contribution to Dilley's book, Benjamin Wiker repeats his argument from previous writings that Darwinian science destroys morality.  I have written some responses to Wiker that can be found here and here.

One section of Wiker's chapter is devoted to Darwinism and slavery (39-42).  The longest chapter of my Darwinian Natural Right is on Darwinism and slavery (161-210).  Wiker is silent about what I argue there.

Wiker asserts that Darwin failed to see that his theory of evolution contradicted his personal hatred of slavery.  Wiker quotes a long passage from Darwin's account in The Origin of Species of the "slave-making instinct" among some species of ants.  Wiker then observes:
"The reader, I hope, can see the difficulty.  Human slavery has been, throughout history, an extraordinary wide-spread phenomenon.  Again, Darwin admits in his Descent, the 'great sin of Slavery has been almost universal, and slaves have often been treated in an infamous manner' (Darwin 1871, I.III, 94).  If ant-slave making can be perfectly described as the result of natural selection, and all human moral and social traits are likewise to be explained a the result of natural selection, it would appear that the human institution of slavery, wherever it exists, is just as natural among human beings as it is among ants.  Every widespread trait must have been beneficial or it would not have been widespread.  In what way can a particular evolved trait that has proven to be so beneficial be a 'great sin'?" (40)
Wiker concludes: "There can be no moral blame attached to slavery in the present precisely because, on Darwinian grounds, it must be the result of a naturally selected trait that contributed to survival in the past" (41).

Since Darwin emphasizes the importance of sympathy in the evolution of human morality, one might think that this moral trait would lead to the condemnation of slavery.  But Wiker will have none of this:
". . . Picking one nice moral trait--such as sympathy, or the present favorite among morally-minded Darwinists, altruism--that we might like to be more widespread receives no more special support from natural selection, than does any other malleable trait.  In fact--and it is a very important fact--the widespread development of what Darwin meant by sympathy, is actually historically due to the spread of Christianity.  Being kind to one's friends and kin is understandable as a natural principle; loving one's enemies and doing good to those one does not even know, who offer no hope for contributing to one's own survival, are explicit contradictions to Darwinism" (42).
In all of Dilley's book, in which most of the authors argue that it is only the "Judeo-Christian worldview" that saves us from the immorality of Darwinism, this is the only extended historical example of how Christianity supported a moral insight that otherwise would have been denied by Darwinian nihilism.

In my chapter on slavery in Darwinian Natural Right, I provide an extensive account of ant slavery considered in the context of the whole debate over slavery from Aristotle to Hume to Jefferson to Darwin to Lincoln.   I argue that considering the similarities and differences between ant slavery and human slavery illuminates the biological nature of slavery.  The similarities suggest that both for human beings and for ants, slavery is a form of social parasitism in which slave-makers exploit their slaves through coercion and manipulation.  The differences suggest that human beings resist the exploitation of slavery because it violates their natural moral sense.  That moral sense arises as a joint product of emotional capacities for feeling social passions such as anger and love and rational capacities for judging social principles such as kinship and reciprocity.  Since these emotional and rational capacities are part of human nature for all normal human beings, the moral sense as an expression of those capacities is a human universal, and no race of human beings is naturally adapted for slavery.  We should expect, therefore, that in every human society where slavery exists, slavery will produce moral conflict.  Unlike slave ants, human slaves will resist exploitation and demand social cooperation based on kinship and reciprocity.

Since Wiker has chosen to remain silent about my argument in this chapter, I have no way of knowing whether he has any response.

Wiker has also chosen to remain silent about the fact that the people pointing to ant slavery as justification for human slavery were devout Christians like Thomas Cobb in his Inquiry into the Law of Negro Slavery in the United States (1858).  Wiker is also silent about the fact that Cobb and many other Christian defenders of slavery were able to cite the Bible as supporting slavery, because the Bible (both Old Testament and New Testament) sanctions slavery.  For example, the book Slavery Ordained by God by the prominent minister Fred Ross shows that the Bible never condemns slavery and always supports it.  Those Christians who condemned slavery had to reinterpret the Bible by passing it through their naturally evolved moral sense of the evil of slavery.  And consequently, as Mark Noll has shown, the American Civil War became a theological crisis, because American Christians could not rely on the Bible to resolve their moral debate over slavery.  As Lincoln noted in his Second Inaugural, both sides in the Civil War thought they were fighting for God's cause: "Both sides read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other."

What this shows is that while the "Judeo-Christian worldview" is often helpful in illuminating our moral experience, it is often unreliable, and in many cases it must be corrected by our natural moral sense as rooted in our evolved human nature.

I have invited Wiker to write a response to this post.  He has responded with silence.

A few of the many blog posts I have written on Darwinism and slavery can be found here, here, here, here, and here.

Debating Darwinian Liberalism (6): From Darwin to Hitler?

In their contributions to Dilley's book, John West and Richard Weikart repeat what they have already written elsewhere about the supposedly clear path "from Darwin to Hitler" (the title of one of Weikart's books). 

I have responded to them many times.  My responses to West can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.  My responses to Weikart can be found here, here, and here.  In their contributions to Dilley's book, they are silent about my responses.

The Fall 2010 issue of The Intercollegiate Review has articles by me ("Darwinian Conservatism Versus Metaphysical Conservatism") and West ("Darwin, Scientism, and the Misguided Quest for Darwinian Conservatism").  That issue is available online.  I responded to that article by West here and here.

There is a strange contradiction in Weikart's chapter.  First he criticizes Darwin for being a cultural relativist who has no moral standards for judging some cultures as better than others.  Then he criticizes Darwin for ranking "civilized" people as better than "savage" people because of the "immorality of savages" in their practice of torture, infanticide, and mistreatment of women.

Consider this paragraph:
"Darwin denied the universality of morality in yet another way.  He did not believe that the constant warfare among tribes counted against his view of human social instincts, since 'social instincts never extend to all the individuals of the same species' (Darwin 1871, vol. 1, 84-85; see also 72).  Darwin gave examples of so-called 'savages' practicing morality within their tribes, but exulting in killing, robbing, and otherwise harming those outside their society (Darwin 1871, vol. 1, 93-94).  Among civilized people, he thought, moral sentiments had extended to wider groups, and he expressed the hope that they would continue to expand, ultimately including all humanity.  However, he recognized that moral sentiments had not yet become universal" (201).
So is Weikart condemning Darwin here?  Is he saying that Darwin was wrong for condemning savage xenophobia and praising humanitarian universalism, even while recognizing how difficult it is to achieve such humanitarian morality?

Weikart endorses "the Judeo-Christian conception of the sanctity of human life" (198).  But wouldn't the Darwinian point to the tribal brutality of the Old Testament and parts of the New Testament as showing a savage immorality that needs to be tamed by a more liberal morality?  Would Weikart disagree?

Debating Darwinian Liberalism (5): The Absurdity of Menuge's "Free Will"

Beginning with Darwinian Natural Right in 1998, I have often responded to the charge that I promote a biological determinism that denies the moral freedom presupposed by classical liberalism and traditionalist conservatism.  As I have indicated many times, I deny that human beings have "free will," if that is understood in a Kantian way as an uncaused cause that transcends nature.  I have argued that human beings have the natural freedom of deliberate choice, which can be understood as a product of the emergent evolution of the primate brain once it passed over a critical threshold of size and complexity in the human frontal lobes.  As I said in Darwinian Natural Right, "the uniqueness of human beings as moral agents requires not a free will that transcends nature but a natural capacity to deliberate about one's desires" (83).

Beginning in 2008, Stephen Dilley has written a couple of papers criticizing me for not realizing that moral responsibility is impossible without a "free will" that transcends nature.  He claims that I promote "determinism of the mind and the disintegration of morality" in a manner that denies the human freedom required for classical liberalism.  In 2008 and 2010, I wrote a series of blog posts responding to Dilley, and he wrote a reply, which can be found here, here, here, and here.  Now, Angus Menuge has written a chapter ("Darwinian Conservatism and Free Will") in Dilley's new book that repeats Dilley's criticisms.  Menuge is oddly silent about my responses to Dilley. 

Countering Menuge's chapter, Shawn Klein has written a chapter for Dilley's book arguing that classical liberalism presupposes that individuals are capable of self-directed action, and that this is consistent with an evolutionary account of volitional consciousness.  Although I agree with most of what Klein says, I don't agree with his identification of volitional consciousness with "free will," because I reject the common understanding of "free will" as uncaused cause.  I also disagree with Klein's insistence that philosophy must be absolutely separated from science.  I know that this has been a standard assumption of Anglo-American analytic philosophy.  But it has never made sense to me. 

Menuge begins by quoting Friedrich Hayek on moral responsibility as indicating that conservatism presupposes the belief that people have "free will" (93).  This reliance on Hayek is strange.  If Jay Richards is right that Hayek was "a broad-minded materialist rather than a theist" (84), then I don't see how Hayek supports the argument for "Christian classical liberalism" or for the "unashamedly dualistic philosophy" of Kant that Menuge promotes (100).

Menuge also relies on John Locke (101-102).  But this is even more strange.  According to Locke, to ask whether the will is free is an "unintelligible question" (Essay Concerning Human Understanding, II, ch. 21, secs. 7-31).  Locke believes "that a man is not at liberty to will, or not to will, anything in his power that he once considers of; liberty consisting in a power to act or to forbear acting, and in that only" (sec. 24).  Jonathan Edwards elaborated Locke's position in arguing that liberty is the power to act as one chooses, regardless of the cause of the choice.  Such freedom of choice is not an uncaused cause, because whatever comes into existence must have a cause.  Only what is self-existent from eternity--God--could be uncaused or self-determined.  Thus, the idea that human beings could have "free will" in this sense is contrary to Biblical religion, which teaches that God is the only uncaused cause.

Edwards was arguing against the Arminian notion of moral freedom as the absolute self-determination of will.  That same Arminian notion of "free will" as separated from natural causality was adopted by Kant.

I agree with Locke and Edwards in denying that it makes any sense to think that human beings have "free will" as an uncaused cause.  The very idea of "free will" comes from the biblical conception of God.  As Martin Luther observed, "free will is a divine term and signifies a divine power."  Against the absurd idea that human beings could have such a divine power of "free will" as uncaused cause, I suggest that we affirm the common-sense notion of freedom as the power to act without external constraint, which constitutes deliberate choice.

We hold people responsible for their actions when they act voluntarily and deliberately.  They act voluntarily when they act knowingly and without external force to satisfy their desires.  They act with deliberate choice when, having weighed one desire off against another in the light of past experience and future expectations, they choose that course of action likely to satisfy their desires harmoniously over a complete life.  Such deliberation is required for virtue in the strict sense, although most human beings most of the time act by impulse and habit with little or no deliberation.

Children and other animals are capable of voluntary action.  But only mature human adults have the cognitive capacity for deliberate choice, because only they have the fully developed prefrontal cortex that makes this possible.  The prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until the third decade of an individual's life.  (See my previous post on Joaquin Fuster's lecture on "The Neurobiology of Liberty" at the MPS conference in the Galapagos.) 

That's why every human society makes some kind of distinction between children and adults, in which children are not held fully responsible for their behavior and are put under the guardianship of their parents or other adults.  Locke emphasizes this in his Two Treatises of Government, arguing that children are not born free and equal, because it is only the mature development of their cognitive faculties in adulthood that enables the power of deliberate choice that gives them their natural freedom and equality with all other normal adults.  Sandefur points to this in his contribution to Dilley's book (264).

In contrast to Locke, Menuge makes no distinction between children and adults in defending "libertarian free will" as belonging to "the self as continuant" that never changes.  Does this mean that children have the same "free will" as adults, and so children have the same moral responsibility as adults, because "the self as continuant" is unchanging?  Is "the self" responsible for itself, for being the kind of self that it is?  So, must the self create itself? 

What Menuge calls "libertarian free will" seems to be an uncaused cause, which is exactly the divinization of human will that Locke and Edwards rightly rejected as absurd.