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h. Belief System Emergence - Culture

Belief System Emergence – Culture

Worldviews were discussed in a previous article and tend to be a form of personal, rather than communal, belief system. I will now move on to discuss the latter, i.e., culture, therefore.

Community, whether it be a family, clan, organisation, or nation, is based on the economics of needs. It allows individuals to specialise and to create satisfiers more efficiently by developing specific tools, knowledge, and skills. In turn, this benefits all members of the community through the process of trading. One individual or group of individuals will provide a satisfier to address the needs of another, and in return, reasonable reciprocation is expected. The community can also satisfy the social needs of an individual member, and in return, that member is expected to contribute to the group. Community relies on the reciprocal satisfaction of one another’s needs and this reciprocation relies on trading in the social sense and not necessarily the commercial sense.

The majority but not all of us have an inherited predisposition to create and abide by the cultures which bind us together into co-operative groups. A culture comprises: norms or acceptable forms of behaviour; values or things held good by the community; beliefs or those things that the community holds true; and symbols, i.e., modes of dress, logos, rituals, and other physical things with a shared meaning which identify individuals as being members the community.

Norms and values are developed to ensure that satisfiers and resources are equitably traded and do, of course, include morality and ethics. They can be described as good or bad. For example, it is usually held bad simply to take or steal from others. Thus, what we sometimes refer to as the ethics and morals of a community do not have a religious source, but rather a practical secular one.

The norms, values, beliefs, and symbols of a community are initially of a pragmatic nature and are enforced through the process of socialisation. That is, members are rewarded for correct behaviour and receive disapproval for incorrect behaviour. However, with time, these norms may become formally established as laws.

The detail of a culture is not genetically inherited. The diversity of cultures across the world and the manner in which they can rapidly change from generation to generation suggest that cultures, and hence our morals and ethics, are acquired, respond to circumstances and are passed on via social learning. As Richard Dawkins has pointed out, for a culture to be hereditary and change at the rate at which it does, it would be necessary for those who participate in it to breed far more rapidly and successfully than those who do not. This is clearly not the case. However, cultures do form memes, and there is a degree of competition for acceptance between them. This is more so in a global economy where contact between different cultures is greater than it has ever been.

In response to globalisation of the economy, culture in the West is currently moving from a more national/tribal one to a more global one. Many see the global economy as group co-operation on a grand scale, and as bringing great benefits to humanity. We are learning that it requires a more tolerant and inclusive attitude to enable us to co-operate successfully at that scale. However, this change is not without resistance from ideological and other interest groups concerned that they may lose what they currently hold. Difficulties have also been caused by the transfer of consumerism to nations without the infrastructure to support it.

Humanity also faces great risks at the global scale and the move from national/tribal to global morals and ethics needs to be encouraged so that we can better co-operate in tackling these risks.

The political scientist, Ronald Inglehart, using the extensive research of the World Values Survey, identified two key independent dimensions in national culture. These are:

  1. Traditional vs. Secular-rational values. The World Values Survey describes these values as follows. “Traditional values emphasize the importance of religion, parent-child ties, deference to authority and traditional family values. People who embrace these values also reject divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide. These societies have high levels of national pride and a nationalistic outlook.”. On the other hand, “Secular-rational values have the opposite preferences to the traditional values. These societies place less emphasis on religion, traditional family values and authority. Divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide are seen as relatively acceptable. (Suicide is not necessarily more common.)”
  2. Survival vs. Self Expression Values. Again, these are described by the World Values Survey as follows. “Survival values place emphasis on economic and physical security. It is linked with a relatively ethnocentric outlook and low levels of trust and tolerance.”. On the other hand, “Self-expression values give high priority to environmental protection, growing tolerance of foreigners, gays and lesbians and gender equality, and rising demands for participation in decision-making in economic and political life.”

It is argued that a national culture can be measured by assessing where it sits between the two extremes on the two dimensions. More details, including a fascinating map of where each nation currently sits on these two dimensions can be found at: https://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/wvs.jsp.

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g. Belief System Emergence - Introduction

Belief System Emergence – Introduction

Belief systems include cultures, ideologies, and individual worldviews. The latter was discussed in a previous article. The former apply to organisations of all scales, including small clubs and nations. There are differences between cultures and ideologies, however. The former is normally established and voluntarily accepted by its members. The latter, through its historical association with political movements, is now regarded as a more authoritarian belief system with expansionist tendencies.

One of our growth needs in Maslow’s hierarchy is the need to make sense of the world. If we can do so, then it enables us to make successful decisions when faced with a threat or opportunity. On the other hand, if we are unable to make sense of the world then this increases our vulnerability. It seems likely, therefore, that this need has an evolutionary basis. To make sense of the world we create a schema which models the world as we understand it. This is our personal worldview.

Unsurprisingly, an inability to make sense of the world causes distress, a search for explanations and a readiness to accept those which appear to fit the facts, even incorrectly. This need can, in itself, be a motivator, therefore.

Every organisation develops a system of beliefs which, ostensibly at least, is shared by its individual members. These beliefs cover the purpose of the organisation, how it should function, how interactions should take place internally and externally, the nature and cause of its motivators, and how it should address them.

Belief systems can emerge through a process of negotiation between individuals, and via a process of feedback between individual worldviews and emerging shared views. Individuals contribute their worldviews to the organisations common belief system, but as the latter emerges, a process of socialisation causes them to adopt it. They may, however, only adopt it in their organisational role. In other roles, they may retain their general worldview, or hold other belief systems more appropriate to those roles. This can, of course, lead to contradictions and distress.

Often however, a belief system is formulated by an individual, particularly one with charisma or high status, and is based on his worldview. Due to the lack of debate and consultation such belief systems tend to provide a simplistic explanation, which can neglect the true complexity of a situation.

Belief systems can also be affected by external factors, such as prevailing culture, law, fake news, media interests, social media, and influential individuals, e.g., politicians, celebrities, scientists, or role models. In some cases, the belief system can be in the interests of the general population, i.e., pro-social. In other cases, it can be in the interests of the organisation only, i.e., selfish. In the latter case, the belief system can, for example, either correctly or incorrectly, place blame on an out-group. Also coming into play can be a “Just World Hypothesis”, in which the fortunate and unfortunate are thought to have brought their situation upon themselves by their own actions.

Finally, if opposition to the purpose of an organisation is encountered, its belief system can harden, become more selfish, and more extreme.

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f. The Influence of Group Level Natural Selection on Humanity Uncategorized

The Influence of Group Level Natural Selection on Humanity

One of the main criticisms of group level natural selection has been that we know relatively few examples in which group behaviour has led to biological evolution. However, among them is one now regarded as being a rare and significant evolutionary transition: the evolution of the human brain. Another objection has been that groups reproduce and die off at a far slower rate than individuals and, thus, biological evolution driven by group behaviour will take place at a similarly slow rate. However, this is contradicted by the relatively rapid evolution of our brain.

The human brain differs from that of our ancestors not only in size but also in attitudes and skills. Examples of the latter include our relative Finally, Wilson, Timmel and Miller, in their study of cognitive co-operation found that groups perform better at problem solving tasks than individuals, and that the gap increases with the difficulty of the task. In other words, groups perform better than individuals when solving complex problems.

Large brains consume a great deal of energy, approximately 20% in humans. Their growth probably began approximately 2.6 million years ago, when our previously vegetarian ancestors shifted to a higher reliance on meat. At the same time, it became more efficient to occupy a campsite and send out hunters than for the entire tribe to hunt. In return, the hunters benefitted from the protection of the campsite in which their young were raised. Family based social groups did exist prior to the shift to meat eating but the changes brought about by meat consumption began a process of increasing co-operation between families, initiating a shift to less kin-reliant groups.

An important factor in whether a group forms is its ability to benefit its members. Unlike kin selection, each member requires reassurance that the others have a similar outlook and takes their reciprocal support as evidence. Co-operation requires the individual to have an understanding of other group members and their motives together with considerable negotiating skills. It also requires an ability to recognise exploitation of the group by individual members; this necessitates moral systems, and processes for dealing with intransigence. It is important to mention that competition between individual group members and families is not extinguished but merely suppressed.

Within groups a culture develops comprising several memes, i.e., agreed values, norms, beliefs, and symbols. Values are those things that we hold “good”, norms are forms of behaviour expected from group members, beliefs those things that we hold true, and symbols are ceremonies, ornamentation, etc., which identify us as being members of the group. Memes are subject to a process like that of gene selection. They will survive and propagate if they are fit for their environment or fall into disuse if they are not. It is not necessary, however, for a group to become extinct for a culture to expire. Nor is a culture necessarily linked to an ethnic group as multi-ethnic cultures are also possible.

Culture propagates from generation to generation but, unlike biological inheritance, it can also propagate from group to group through social learning. If a culture is successful, it can be transferred by imitataion or by coercion. Thus, cultural evolution takes place through the exchange of ideas and practices, with the most successful cultures surviving and propagating whilst the less successful ones expire. This process is far more rapid and adaptive to changing circumstances than biological evolution. Significant changes can occur within a few generations or less. This has, for example, allowed us to populate different environmental niches, from the arctic to the desert.

The evolution of our large brains has been very rapid and is thought to have been brought about by a process of positive feedback between cultural evolution and biological evolution with the former taking the lead. As groups became more complex and effective, they needed the greater skills and pro-social tendencies provided by larger brains. These, in turn, enabled groups to become yet more complex and effective. Because groups that co-operated well were more successful than those that did not, the individuals with the brains, skills, and attitudes needed to facilitate this were subject to natural selection and, thus, came to predominate. Although this process is speculative, mathematical modelling by Luke Rendell et al., of the University of St. Andrews, has shown it to be capable of producing strong selection pressures and the rapid evolution of biological traits.

Successful group co-operation relies on individuals knowing one another and limits on an organism’s ability to do so mean that there is a maximum group size which varies from species to species. In the 1990s, the anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist, Robin Dunbar, found a correlation, in primates, between brain size and social group size. From this he proposed a maximum social group size for humans of about 150.

In the last 5000 years, human society has become more complex. It now comprises numerous inter-dependent groups, each with its own specific purpose. They are not necessarily kin groups and are often based entirely on mutual co-operation. Some even prohibit nepotism. Most of us now occupy cities whose populations can be in the tens of millions. Cities are co-operative groups on a very large scale. We even describe them as organisms, using phrases such as “the beating heart” or “the veins and arteries”. There is no doubt that urbanisation, and the greater specialisation and co-operation that it brings, have resulted in an explosion in our population. Although this is probably a result of cultural evolution, in time, biological adaptations may follow.

Most of the changes arising from group behaviour that we can observe This raises many questions about our future, of course, such as “Is the process accelerating?” and “Where will it ultimately lead?”.