Friday, February 10, 2006

Passive Resistance, Basketball, and Evolution (Served with a side of ADD).

I've been watching the Civil Rights documentary Eyes on the Prize. The US Civil Rights movement was one of the best examples of Non-Violent Passive Resistance I can imagine.

One of the things someone in the documentary said was (and I'm paraphrasing here) that non-violence only works for the side of good. There's some truth to this as I see it. If an oppressed group does nothing to give excuses to their oppressors to maintain their ways, the oppressor is confronted with their own misdeads and they are forced to change themselves internally.

The only excuse for using violence against violence is a pathetically childish one: "He hit me first!". It has been my experience that fear inhibits maturation. For the people that rely on the "he hit me first argument", who are in fact the ones who were hit first, the fear of being hit again inhibits the rational, mature, response. This is part of our programming, as selected for by natural selection, and has provided fitness at a high cost. Evolution doesn't make perfect systems. In fact it tends to over-generalize.

The other day I told a behaviorist friend of mine that the day after I over-exerted myself playing basketball with him I had a severe allergy attack, and that I need to recoop a while before we could play again. He then reminded me that correlation is not causation and that this is how superstitions start. I agree with him that that's how superstitions start, but in this instance I wasn't willing to test what caused my allergy attack having still not recovered from it. This is exactly the kind of overgeneralization that natural selection selects for. What struck me was his attitude towards superstition. It was almost one of "pfff.... superstitious ignoramous!" only much more mildly. This is just my interpretation of it, I know that's not exactly how he meant it, but my internal reaction to his statement caused me to interpret his it that way.

But he had a point. As a species, we need to take more risks. We need to risk letting go of violence. Nevertheless, there is a snootiness(sp?) to his remark. There is also a snootiness to some of the terms that psychologists use to describe some behaviors. For instance, there is a study that results suggested that "women conform more than men". What this means is that if there are two ATM machines side by side, and there is a line behind one, and not the other, a woman are more likely to assume that the ATM with no line behind it is broken without trying it for herself. I don't see this as conformity, I see it as prudence.

It has been demonstrated with resonable certainty by biologists and evolutionary psychologists that the maxim "eggs are expensive, sperm is cheap" is a truism. It makes sense that women would be more protective of themselves than men. This "conformist" behavior appearently provided more fitness to one sex than the other. In my experience, which may not count for much, women do tend to be more conservative and more religious than men. If this is offensive, I'm sorry, but give me some hard data to disprove it. That's what science is all about.

You might be saying at this point:"ATM's are new, how could we ever have evolved behavior to deal with them?" or "Isn't there no harm in testing whether an ATM is busted or not?" Here is an example of how organisms are subjected to new environments which they are not adapted to. Our brains/minds adapted in an environment where every one of our behaviors mattered. When confronted with a new situation, it is safer to do what everyone else is doing. This is not something to be judged in a negative light. Who knows how many times in the past has this prudence saved our ancestors?

But now we are confronted with a new environment, where the consequences of making the wrong decision could mean the annihilation of the human race. To quote a friend "the destructiveness of our weapons grows in orders of magnitudes". I believe now we must find ways of reducing fear, though we more reason now than ever to be fearful, so that reason may prevail.


At 4:20 PM, Anonymous Justin said...

Your ATM comment confused me. ATM's are not a new environmental object that humans would have had to adapt to, but an environmental object that was designed by humans to conform to our existing developments.

The screens don't display in ultra-violet and the buttons are generally usable by anyone who can pick up a stick. The fact that most people use them the same way isn't because we copy the behavior of others, but because the device itself was desgined to conform to our natural inclinations.

At 4:42 PM, Blogger linguizic said...

It is true that humans designed ATM's to be used by humans. But I think most people would agree that ergonomicology (is that how you say it?) is still a budding science. The environment that I suggested wasn't just the ATM. Perhaps I should have been clearer: the environment is actually the 2 ATM's side by side with eachother.


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