Our pre-dispositions vs our possibilities

June 4-7,’16 ~ QofDay~ Humanities Apparent Predilection

When considering humanities apparent predilection for news of catastrophe, whether natural or man made and the trend towards drugs, such as antidepressants, being prescribed to an ever increasing percentage of the population to help deal with the stress of modern living, how would you counter the hypothesis that respect for life and humanities basic instinct for survival are being systematically ‘conditioned’ out of the human race?

It doesn’t seem to be a conspiracy as such, and there are certainly some conspiracies within the system as a whole.

In a strange way – the basic problem is money.

It seems that evolution has conditioned the human brain to notice danger.
In the savanna that made sense.
It was much more important not noticing a stalking predator than it was not noticing a piece of fruit.
Fruit is nice, but not getting a particular bit isn’t a big deal.
Not noticing even one stalking predator, when you are the prey it is stalking, is a survival limiting mistake.
It gets selected out really quickly.

So we are conditioned, genetically, to notice danger.
The news industry wants us to notice them, pay them attention, so they can sell advertising.
Bad news sells.

It really is that simple in a very real sense.

And of course, there are lots of other factors at work.
Sure, some people are actually involved in conspiracies.
That sort of thing does happen.

And my dad had a really powerful saying – never ascribe to intention that which can be adequately explained by incompetence.

Reality seems to be so complex, that even the brightest of conspirators usually miss important elements.
Incompetence usually rules.

[followed by]


This is not an area of strong expertise on my part, and the work of Elinor Ostrom and her team over the last 40 years seems to strongly indicate that it has much more to do with community size than anything else.

And there is a provisio there: humans seem to come with an ability to be highly competitive in contexts where there really isn’t enough for all. So if there is enough, most cooperate. If there isn’t enough, then most have behavioural characteristics that will reduce the size of the group they are willing to cooperate with, down to a limit of zero. And such patterns tend to be stochastic over both time and space – so people can be cooperative to some degree, or with some consistency in some contexts, times and places, and less so in others. We all carry both genetic and cultural predispositions to such things.

Part of the issue with our modern situation is that the benefits of “cheating” are so great, and the possibility of being caught so low, that “cheating strategies” have come to dominate the entire system. The whole idea of “laissez faire” can be though of as a cheating strategy in this sense. The various levels of cultural memes and tools that worked at the scale of villages, don’t work so well at the scale of international communities.

And to be really clear, just because I am saying that “free markets” are a failure, does not at all imply that I am in favour of central control at any level – I am not – that is an even greater danger than free markets – so to that extent I can agree with many conservatives and liberals.

The “trick” seems to be to see the many levels of cooperation that make us what we are, and to realise that our very existence comes from fundamentally cooperative strategies at many different levels. Once one becomes clear about that, at the logical and strategic levels, then one can start to clearly see the many levels of cooperation in action that make real freedom possible.
It is clear to me, that real freedom, real security, requires acknowledgement of this aspect of our recursive strategic nature, and to clearly see that our technical abilities give us the real capacity to mitigate any and all risks to such cooperation. And that must logically come with an aspect that real freedom requires real vigilance, and a willingness to act when necessary in the interests of all.

So yeah – its complex.

And the issue with our society seems to be that for many individuals, the value of money is greater than all other values. That is pathological, and very dangerous. In large measure it seems to come from a misunderstanding of nature of the historical association between markets and freedom – and that is a very complex topic.

So my issues are not with money in and of itself, in that sense it is just like any other concept, useful in particular contexts.
My issue is that we have allowed money to dominate all other values.
It rules our social systems.
That is very dangerous.
That needs to change.

Money can be a very useful tool, in the service of higher values.

[followed by]


Yep – all behaviours have aspects that are dispositional from the deep past (genetic or cultural), aspects that are learned, and aspects that can be chosen.
The balance varies a lot with context.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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