too much altruism?

clearly there can be/are probably many different types of altruism genes present in varying frequencies in different human populations — possibly some are not even found at all in some populations.

“genes for altruism” are obviously a good thing, at least in some circumstances, otherwise they wouldn’t be around. but it is possible to have too much of a good thing. (except for chocolate.)

it seems that too many “sib altruism” genes in high concentrations means that you wind up with clannish or tribal societies, which might be great in some places and at some times, but they tend to hinder the development of a modern, liberal, democratic society — if that is your aim.

otoh, perhaps too few “sib altruism” genes means your society weakens too much at the seams and starts to unravel. perhaps too many “genes for reciprocal altruism” can get your society in trouble, especially if it comes up against strong tribalistic societies.

a while back, john quoted this passage from bill hamilton:

“The incursions of barbaric pastoralists seem to do civilizations less harm in the long run than one might expect. Indeed, two dark ages and renaissances in Europe suggest a recurring pattern in which a renaissance follows an incursion by about 800 years. It may even be suggested that certain genes or traditions of pastoralists revitalize the conquered people with an ingredient of progress which tends to die out in a large panmictic population for the reasons already discussed. I have in mind altruism itself, or the part of the altruism which is perhaps better described as self-sacrificial daring. By the time of the renaissance it may be that the mixing of genes and cultures (or of cultures alone if these are the only vehicles, which I doubt) has continued long enough to bring the old mercantile thoughtfulness and the infused daring into conjunction in a few individuals who then find courage for all kinds of inventive innovation against the resistance of established thought and practice. Often, however, the cost in fitness of such altruism and sublimated pugnacity to the individuals concerned is by no means metaphorical, and the benefits to fitness, such as they are, go to a mass of individuals whose genetic correlation with the innovator must be slight indeed. Thus civilization probably slowly reduces its altruism of all kinds, including the kinds needed for cultural creativity (see also Eshel 1972).”

like pretty much every paragraph written by hamilton, there are at least five original ideas here and about ten really interesting side notes. (~_^)

one thing: hamilton suggests that the occasional invasion by tribal barbarians may be a good thing for civilizations since they prolly introduce some fresh altruism genes into aged societies in which the altruism genes have been watered down too much. that’s probably correct (i can’t see why it wouldn’t be); however, i have been thinking for some time now that a society with watered down altruism genes ought to be able to get back to a more altruistic state simply by stepping up its internal inbreeding a bit. i think that should work, provided there are enough altruism genes left in the population and they haven’t (almost) all been deselected (if that’s the right way of putting it).

problem is, this is not a quick fix. it might take a few generations to get your society back to where you want it to be. and, of course, with too much close inbreeding you run the risk of developing high concentrations of “sib altruism” genes in certain lineages, yada, yada, yada. so you’ve got to know how to inbreed AND when to stop. (don’t ask me what the ideals are!)

also, since it’s quite possible/likely that different populations may have different altruism genes, it’s not certain that any given failing civilization would necessarily want the altruism genes of whatever barbarian group happened to turn up on its doorstep. the barbarians might bring some good altruism genes (just what the doctor ordered!) — then again, they might bring some wacko genes that no one in their right mind would want. in other words, it might be good to choose your barbarian invasion wisely.

another thing (from that hamilton paragraph above): “Often, however, the cost in fitness of such altruism and sublimated pugnacity to the individuals concerned is by no means metaphorical, and the benefits to fitness, such as they are, go to a mass of individuals whose genetic correlation with the innovator must be slight indeed.”

this goes back to something i pointed out in an oversimplification: i.e. that wildly altruistic people inevitably wind up benefitting all sorts of people to whom they are unrelated. sure they might be altruistic to a great number of people with whom they share genes in common, but they also might help a great number of people to whom they are unrelated — which is a bit of a FAIL, actually. if you’re keeping score, that is. (and Mother Nature is, btw.)

in my imagined scenario (in my oversimplifed model), the extremely altruistic individuals wound up helping twice as many unrelated individuals as related individuals. i don’t know if that ever really happens in real life, but as we saw earlier today, there are some individuals out there in the world — perhaps especially in the western world — who really go out of their way to help unrelated individuals. it’s very nice of them … but where will it get them in the end?

too much altruism?

previously: four things and which altruism genes? and technical stuff

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6 Comments

  1. obviously. I think Western deracinated whites will either outbreed with invasive tribalists to the point of extinction or will “clan up” to compete with aforesaid groups for limited resources (or a mix of both as in Latin America). either way the West as we know it is not long for the world. our morality simply cannot survive its basic logical inconsistency (holding Westerners to the highest standards of non-kin altruism but absolutely no standards of altruism for anyone else)

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  2. @bleach (and other readers) – just wanted to emphasize that, while i was obviously talking about westerners in this post, i was also talking about other peoples who may (or may not) have different/differing frequencies of altruism genes — and that they, too, can run into trouble if they have too much of a good thing … i think.

    here’s one example (thnx, g.w.!).

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  3. @ – “wildly altruistic people inevitably wind up benefiting all sorts of people to whom they are unrelated.” Christianity was sort of like that, at least in the beginning, drawn from all racial groups in the Roman empire, indiscriminate in its love. Of course it was a self-selecting subset, but they may have shared certain genetic quirks. “And some fell among thorns, the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. And other fell on good ground, did yield fruit that sprang up and increased. ” Is that a hint of natural selection, btw?

    It has often been speculated (by Thorsten Veblen for example, if I remember right) that the first civilizations in ancient Mesopotamia may have been a result of conquest of settled horticultural societies by pastoral tribes, in which case the subjugation of people would have been an extension of the concept of the domestication of animals. In any case the nobility as a class have often demonstrated more altruism intra-class than between (heroism on the battlefield most notably). Not that this contradicts Hamilton.

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  4. @luke – “It has often been speculated (by Thorsten Veblen for example, if I remember right) that the first civilizations in ancient Mesopotamia may have been a result of conquest of settled horticultural societies by pastoral tribes, in which case the subjugation of people would have been an extension of the concept of the domestication of animals.”

    oh that’s interesting! i hadn’t heard that before. thnx!

    @luke – “‘And some fell among thorns, the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. And other fell on good ground, did yield fruit that sprang up and increased.’ Is that a hint of natural selection, btw?”

    sure sounds like it! (^_^)

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  5. “it seems that too many “sib altruism” genes in high concentrations means that you wind up with clannish or tribal societies”

    https://hbdchick.wordpress.com/2011/10/05/even-monkeys-do-it/

    the graphic shows a table of degrees of relatedness compared to grooming pairs formed. it goes

    1st degree: 86%
    2nd degree: 44%
    3rd degree: 22%
    4th degree: 9%

    which is very close to halving with each degree of separation.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coefficient_of_relationship

    the coefficient of relationship, r is
    1st degree e.g. son, r = 0.5
    2nd degree e.g. nephew, r = 0.25
    3rd degree e.g. 1st cousin, r = 0.125

    r halving with each degree of separation.

    sib altruism directly proportional to r would halve with each degree of relatedness and drop to near-zero very rapidly so there would be very little or no appetite for sib altruism beyond the limits of the extended family.

    so i think it’s less the case that too many sib altruism genes make populations clannish as sib altruism alone doesn’t provide any impetus to be altruistic beyond extended family.

    ###

    “perhaps too few “sib altruism” genes means your society weakens too much at the seams and starts to unravel”

    another explanation might be simply that if sibling altruism is ~ r and r varies according to levels of consanquinity then the effect of the same gene would vary with consanquinity i.e. r is 0.5 for a child of two outbred parents but if the r of the two parents was 0.25 then their child would be 0.625 (i think).

    ###

    another way of looking at this is if you imagine two kinds of altruism, one proportional to relatedness and one not

    total altruism = sib altruism + distress altruism

    where
    – sib altruism = rB
    – distress altruism = D (where D is percieved distress)

    so total altruism = rB + D

    this allows for altruism even if r is 0.

    then in terms of your previous Punnett square if sib altruism was a and distress altruism was A then you’d get
    25% aa, 2rB
    50% aA, rB + D
    25% AA, 2D

    ###

    looking at it this way if you step back and imagine two individuals considering sending some money to a charity for strangers or using the same money to help one of their relatives. for an endogamous individual with r = 0.625 the decision
    – is 0.625B(relative) + D(relative) > 0.001B(stranger) + D(stranger)
    whereas a more exogamous individual whose r(relative) is 0.5 the decision
    – is 0.5B(relative) + D(relative) > 0.001B(stranger) + D(stranger)

    so even if they have rB + D genes people who are more endogamous are less likely to be charitable to strangers.

    also two equally hungry twin babies have the same rB but the one screaming the loudest gets fed first because D is perceived distress.

    ###

    As D is perceived distress it can be manipulated.

    widely reported black south african victims of apartheid -> high D
    unreported white south african victims of post-apartheid -> low D

    widely reported black victims of white gangs -> high D
    unreported white victims of black gangs -> low D

    lack of black educational achievement reported as due to white racism -> high D
    lack of black educational achievement reported as due to IQ differences -> low D

    i don’t think this can understood outside that context.

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  6. altruistic urge = sib altruism + distress altruism
    = sa + da
    = rB + D

    if in population A, sa has a frequency of 80% and da has a frequency 20% then i think you get
    64% 2 x sa
    32% sa + da
    04% 2 x da

    if population B has an sa frequency of 60% and a da frequency of 40% then you get
    36% 2 x sa
    48% sa + da
    16% 2 x da

    the 2 x da people would be the excessively altruistic

    or if sa is universal and da has a variable frequency then population A might be
    90% sa
    10% sa + da
    making kids (i think)
    81% 2sa
    18% 2sa + da
    1% 2sa + 2da

    if population B has 50% da they’d be
    50% sa
    50% sa + da
    making kids
    25% 2sa
    50% 2sa + da
    25% 2sa + 2da

    i’m sure the sums are all wrong as i’m just guessing but i think they give the general idea.

    one way you could imagine it happening is if a population starts with sib altruism only. in this case the average altruistic urge in the group would be simply rB where r was the average relatedness. this value would be higher for more endogamous populations. if that population became more outbred then the average value of r would decrease and by extension the altruistic urge would decrease also.

    take a mother-child relationship as an example. a mother from a more endogamous group might have an r of 0.625 with her child while a mother from a more exogamous group might only have an r of 0.5 with hers. the endogamous mother’s altruistic urge towards her child would be 25% greater then the exogamous mother’s. exogamous mothers developing distress altruism could be a way of compensating for exogamy.

    this wouldn’t have been a problem originally because people lived in homogenous groups without mass media.

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