[OPE] Samuel Bowles

From: McDonough, Terrence <terrence.mcdonough@nuigalway.ie>
Date: Fri Dec 26 2008 - 16:32:34 EST

First, I doubt Sam considers himself an historical materialist, at least in the Marxian sense.

Second, this is not really an argument about real history. Bowles starts with a computer model, simulates pre-history and elides into explaining historical phenomena through the computer generated behavior. The set of presumptions below seems at least at first glance to predetermine the outcome.

The really interesting thing about this is not the socio-biological speculations about human history (and certainly not the boilerplate at the end about how biology is not necessarily destiny), but the generation of a model in which group evolution takes place. Evolutionary orthodoxy has it that selection cannot take place above the level of the individual organism.


Computer wars

Support for this idea comes from artificial histories of early human evolution that my co-authors and I simulated by computer. In these simulations, we allowed groups of agents, tolerant or parochial, altruistic or selfish, to interact over thousands of generations under conditions likely to have been experienced by our Late Pleistocene and early Holocene ancestors. We designed the simulations so that violent conflict between two groups is likely if at least one group contains a preponderance of parochialists. We also made each group's fighters the parochial altruists (non-altruists are happy to let someone else do the fighting; tolerant members prefer to stay on friendly terms with outsiders). Thus, the groups with the most parochial altruists tend to win conflicts. Our objective was to see how the frequency of warfare, and the fraction of the different types of agent, would evolve.

In millions of simulated evolutionary histories, the populations emerging after thousands of generations of selection tend to be either tolerant and selfish, with little warfare, or parochial and altruistic with frequent and lethal encounters with other groups. Occasional transitions occur between the selfish peaceful states and the warring altruistic states. But neither altruism nor parochialism ever proliferate singly; they share a common fate with war, the elixir of their success.
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Received on Fri Dec 26 16:34:25 2008

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