WHY DEMATERIALISM IS NOT INCONSISTENT WITH HUMAN NATURE (Draft 0.0 Preliminary Notes)
Whenever two or more human beings consort, they immediately begin to establish ‘pecking orders’. This paper is written to deal with the objection to dematerialism based upon the idea that the propensity to form dominance hierarchies is hard-wired into the brain due to the development of the species through natural selection. I agree that the brain consists of special-purpose modules that were evolved to cope with selection pressures in various ways. One or more of these modules may be a general-purpose module as well. Conceivably, more than one module makes the formation of dominance hierarchies inevitable wherever human beings are gathered. Practitioners of the new discipline evolutionary psychology have undertaken the problem of discovering the characteristics of these modules.
Insofar as it is able, science provides objective evidence through the study of phenomena. However, evolutionary psychology is constrained to the study of (i) neurological images of living brains, (ii) the histories of identical twins, other twins, and siblings, separated at birth or not, and (iii) surveys of opinions that might be false or biased. But, science is not the only way to examine the modular nature of the brain. One can examine one’s own brain through introspection. This is the more powerful method; and, it can be facilitated, over a long period of time, by deep meditation or, quickly, by taking drugs. Among the various drugs that aid in observing first hand the various departments of the mind are marijuana or hashish, peyote or LSD, opium or heroin, cocaine or amphetamine, ibogaine, and DMT, the use of which is discussed in the great movie String Theory, named after a theory in physics that attempts to find the great Unified-Field Theory first sought by Einstein. Each of these drugs reveals a different aspect of the divided self.
To be continued
Certainly, human beings possess an animal nature which has either descended to us intact or has been transcended in the case of most humans in spite of occasional flare-ups of inappropriate atavistic animal characteristics. But, why did we transcend our animal natures or even wish to rise above them? It was Language, the Mother of Reason.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” For me, this is the most important sentence in the Bible. It describes accurately the spiritual birth of homo sapiens. How Man came to possess language I do not know. See the work on language by Noam Chomsky whose political ideas may have sprung from his earlier research on language.
In the movie 2001, a large featureless monolith put in place by space aliens is depicted as somehow informing the mind of a hominid with tool making, perhaps electromagnetically. I believe they have it right except that it would have inculcated language, not tool making. I don’t mean that there actually was a monolith, but something triggered the introduction of language to primates with all of the essential features of language.
Regardless of how language came about, no other animal possesses it in the way that humans do. Language makes all the difference in the world. If I know that my Stone-Age mind, which evolved during the Pleistocene Era, comes equipped with an innate “loss-avoidance mechanism” that might be mal-adaptive in the extreme in a commodity trading context, I will consciously defeat such mal-adaptive tendencies through rational thought. In fact, the very name “loss avoidance” is the key to the solution.
Similarly, if I were driven to accumulate wealth and to dominate other men or to pursue fame in the hope of profiting thereby, I would not make the mistake of striving for a succedaneum for reproductive advantages when I can obtain what I really want directly without destroying the planet and trivializing my own life. Evolutionary psychology has given me a name for mal-adaptive status seeking; and, in this case, to know the name of the ‘demon’ is to defeat it. Thus, animal studies on dominance hierarchies do not apply to humans.
It is as though there were a God who created Man in His image and
likeness. Therefore Man is good but corruptible. Evolutionary
Psychology (EP) is a study of both the good and the corrupted. If it
confuses the good with the corrupted, it is a vast tangle of errors. (The
atavistic animal nature of the body of Man is NOT what is corrupted in
The study of pecking orders and alpha males among apes has no bearing on how alpha-type males should be handled in human society. Such men are truly only small, frightened boys and can be put in their place easily by rational men acting in concert. The ability to pass laws against such behavior and to be sure that they will be obeyed is one of the benefits of language. As stated in Chapter 1 of On the Preservation of Species, we have gone too far along this line. As part of the program of dematerialism, we can replace many laws with a few laws; however, we are not in a position to dispense with laws altogether immediately. Delegislation is my name for the gradual process of eliminating laws, except for procedural laws such as on what days elections will be held, in favor of a small Social Contract, referred to by me as a Minimal Proper Religion, from which every other law can be derived.
But, can a Minimal Proper Religion save the world from the mal-adaptive proclivities of man acquired in the Pleistocene Era, our Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness? The answer to this question depends upon whether of not mal-adaptive propensities, such as materialism itself, can be transcended with the aid of persuasion, education, indoctrination, diversion, and/or coercion. In its inception, Christianity was an attempt to overcome these mal-adaptive tendencies through pious devotion and superstition. The Minimal Proper Religion associated with dematerialism is an attempt to do it through pious devotion to reason.
The ability to grow calluses is an adaptation. We can either grow calluses or we can wear gloves to protect our hands or shoes and sox to protect out feet. We have used our rational minds to avoid the inconvenience of growing calluses. Similarly, we have used our rational minds to pass laws and inculcate attitudes to avoid the inconvenience of wife beating and other attacks of men upon women. There is no fundamental difference between wearing gloves to circumvent an adaptation of the body and passing laws to circumvent an adaptation of the mind, especially if the mind is part of the body as is presumed by evolutionary psychology. (If the mind is not part of the body, I can rest my case in my earlier position as discussed in Assumptions 8 and 9 of Chapter 4 of On the Preservation of Species.)
Now that the subversion of the innate (instinctual) psychological adaptation that facilitates gender domination through political and cultural change is an accomplished fact in a large part of the world, I see no reason why resource domination cannot be overcome by political and cultural change in precisely the same way. We do not permit people to murder us in our beds. Why should we allow materialism to wipe out the entire planet? To understand how materialism causes Overshoot and Overshoot causes Dieoff, please see my new essay “On Materialism” and my older essays “On Capitalism”, and “Thermodynamics, Availability and Emergy”.
As I explained in “My Answers to Some Objections to Dematerialism Based upon Human Nature” at http://dematerialism.blogspot.com/, the basic ideas of dematerialism can be appreciated most readily if the reader thinks of materialism simply as buying and selling – including the buying and selling of the time of people's lives at different rates according to the market values of their services. (Clearly the philosophically rigorous definition subsumes buying and selling, which are rewards for behavior given or received.) Buying and selling began ‘recently’ during Man’s evolution. It is not atavistic animal behavior as animals do not engage in buying and selling normally although chimps can be taught to buy and sell just as we are taught to do so. Clearly trade is consistent with other cognitive adaptations.
Nevertheless, none of David Delaney’s four ‘causes’ of Overshoot can occur if buying and selling are excluded from the economy by laws enacted democratically. Delaney’s four reasons why economies need to expand constitute Addendum 2 of my essay “On Capitalism”. Therefore, presuming that resource domination has been eliminated, it makes sense to eliminate buying and selling as discussed in “Energy in a Natural Economy” and “The Demise of Business as Usual”, which is a summary of “On the Conservation-within-Capitalism Scenario”, which is justified by a computational model in “Energy Flow in a Mark II Economy”.
Critics of dematerialism claim that Overshoot is caused by human nature and not materialism. David Delaney answers as follows:
Capitalism, or the money system, or any other human institution, might be incompatible with a habitable planet whether or not human nature tends naturally to an overshoot and collapse of the human population. Just because humans have a propensity to use everything up does not mean that humans could not create institutions whose untrammeled operation would use everything up even without the human propensity. You may argue that human nature is more fundamental than human institutions, but that does not mean that human institutions cannot be destructive as a consequence of their nature.
The point of this essay is to claim that the worst aspects of human nature can be transcended by the rational mind, which could not exist without language. Language is an adaptation and, therefore, part of human nature too. By eliminating destructive institutions, like the institutions of the buying, selling, and hoarding of material goods and their means of production that are part of every materialistic political economy, we can prevent Overshoot if we are able to achieve sustainability through political and cultural change or, at least, forestall it, if we are we able to eliminate the consumer culture and the worst excesses of capitalism.
Materialism is responsible for over-population and
over-consumption in the
But all of this is giving way too much credit to the testimony of the middle-class college-educated character who is truly willing to make the kind of sacrifice that getting ahead in the world normally entails, namely, endless postponement of the gratification of the inner child and the sensual man. Most people are not thinking about getting rich but rather about getting by. When they can put a little money aside, they can hardly wait to go on a spree either at the tavern, at the store, with the girlfriend, or generally living the high life in some other way.
That is what human nature demands – not the pursuit of status. Ordinary people get all the status they can stand being the big spender on a Saturday night. So, dematerialism takes absolutely nothing away from them and replaces it with the chance to be as good as anyone else modulo sex appeal.
Whereas, people born into the upper classes, including much of the middle class, may entertain what some people call an innate desire to rise above their fellow men in terms of achievement or the acquisition of wealth, power, or fame, most of the people in the world would gladly exchange their chance to succeed in any such pursuit for the opportunity to live out their lives without undue misery due to tissue deficits. When such people understand the destructive nature of materialism and the impossibility – due to the unsustainability of economic growth in a finite world – of all boats rising, they will no longer tolerate people who wish to rise above them economically.
According to the psychological theory of intrinsic motivation, which is explained chemically nowadays, extrinsic reward cuts both ways. It serves as an inducement temporarily; but, in the long run, it decreases motivation, because, if we are receiving an extrinsic benefit for doing something, there must be some reason why we should prefer not to do it. Please see http://tinyurl.com/ajdej and read through the section on Intrinsic Motivation and beyond if you wish.
In Chapter 1 of On the Preservation of Species, we have discussed how power can be converted to fame or money; fame can be converted to money or power; and money can be converted into power or fame. We say that wealth, power (including negotiable influence), and negotiable fame are occurrence equivalent. That is, whenever one of these occurs the others will soon be found as well. We cannot have one without the other two. By means of this equivalence, we have shown that whatever is true of power is also true of money and fame (within the social context under consideration).
Negotiable fame, money, and power in any combination contribute to what we call status, rank, or, foolishly, “success”. In On the Preservation of Species, I employed a symbol S* to stand for worldly success because I could not find an everyday word that is not used to stand for something else. In particular, I denounced the Cult of Fame that manufactures so-called celebrities as objects of worship from inconsequential athletes, untalented singers, bad writers, worse actors, and even parasitical businessmen. The harmful effects of our preferred treatment of celebrities are easy to discern and to avoid. There is no point in talking about self-esteem for the masses while some people have very much more S* than others. The average American knows he is a person of no importance, essentially a “nobody”; and, if he forgets it, society is certain to remind him in a thousand ways. Some people who are not famous cannot be certain that they exist, even, except as members of the Cult of Fame.
However, to accommodate man's natural propensity to establish dominance hierarchies, perhaps we must tolerate competition for fame to increase reproductive advantage, or access to women in the case of men, but not to increase wealth or power, except the intellectual power to influence the opinions of others, under any circumstances. Therefore, the sort of fame that we wish to preclude is what I have referred to as negotiable fame, which includes fame that can be negotiated to publish books.
People who are good at what they do eventually earn prestige in the workplace that may lead to a reputation for excellence in the community at large. Eventually they might earn the respect of their own families (except for the young children) and, finally, their own young children when the children get old enough to appreciate their parents’ accomplishments. If their work is truly exceptional, they may achieve global fame provided their field of endeavor is one that invites public approval such as sports, art, music, and, occasionally, science in the case of someone in a class with Albert Einstein. Negotiable fame, on the other hand, has to be manufactured and does not reflect excellence on the part of its holder. It would not redound to reproductive advantage if it were not for the Cult of Fame. In a non-materialistic world in which the Token Principle obtains, men and women who cannot or will not spend their own token may transfer it to a person of their own choice. Frequently it will be the sort of person for whom people name their children. Thus, people who have cultivated excellence may achieve genuine reproductive advantage as well.
Even within the confines of the people in the same room at a party, one or more persons will get most of the attention, which is what many people seek and others have thrust upon them. This sort of local fame is useful among young and not-so-young unattached people to determine who will go home with whom at the end of the evening. But, even if it does not lead directly to reproductive advantage, it satisfies the craving for reproductive advantage that governs the behavior of many people when their behavior is not dedicated to personal survival. The Social Attention-Holding Theory of evolutionary psychologist Paul Gilbert attempts to explain these phenomena. (See Chapter 12 of Evolutionary Psychology by David M. Buss.)
Finally, I must point out that wide-spread belief that the fall of communism was due to its incompatible with human nature is part of the most intense campaign of propaganda that has ever been conducted. In the United States, in particular, due to the conduct of a half century of wars, all unnecessary and all extremely harmful to the interests of ordinary Americans, the people have been systematically brainwashed to the point that the word ‘communism’ cannot be spoken without triggering an immediate Pavlovian hostile reaction. I have discussed this in the paper “Psychology as a Tool of Political Repression”.
I discussed human nature and intrinsic motivation and suggested that I knew more about human nature than most people in the first draft of On the Preservation of Species, which is true. Now, 16 years later, I am revising my opinion of human nature to accommodate the irrepressible tendency to form dominance hierarchies for the purpose, presumably, of jockeying for reproductive advantage. Innate propensities to form dominance hierarchies must be diverted into non-destructive channels like sex without childbirth and recognition for excellence in worthwhile endeavors that may have the side-effect of reproductive advantage.
If we can change with laws one adaptation (that is no longer adaptive) such as the way men treat women, especially their wives, we can change capitalism because getting ahead in the world is also a mal-adaptive adaptation. The reason people try to get ahead in the world is to gain a reproductive advantage. If they can compete directly for reproductive advantage or simply gain a reputation for excellence at what they do, which redounds to reproductive advantage, they will forget all about commanding more resources than other competitors, especially if the only way to hoard wealth is in the home rather than in abstract fiduciary instruments. Political change is the way we defeat our own worst instincts which we are trying to "rise above".
The concept of duality has been useful throughout the intellectual history of man. It is a powerful tool for thought. For example, algebra is dual to geometry. Every true theorem in geometry has a true counterpart in algebra. The exploitation of this duality has paved the way for important progress in mathematics. We may refer to this relationship as an isomorphism. An isomorphism is an exact one-to-one mapping between two objects - the one onto the other. Similarly, the duality between the mind and the brain has proved useful; however, a perfect isomorphism between the brain and the mind has not been established. For example, the Mind may correspond to more of the body than just the brain - the reproductive organs and, perhaps, the heart itself. Moreover, there are parts of the Mind for which no known part of the brain, or any other part of the body, can account. In any case, it is convenient to speak of a duality between that which is corporeal and that which is non-corporeal or spiritual.
It is not necessary to determine if a human spirit exists in the same sense that the brain exists, namely, as part of the Universe. Everything exists unless it is said to be something which it is not; therefore, the spirit, for example, exists as perceived by every conscious being. We are immersed in a world of phenomena, essentially a world of appearances, and it is not known whether or not anything substantial exists that gives rise to the phenomena we perceive. Until an exact isomorphism can be established between Mind and brain, there is no reason to assume that such an isomorphism exists. Thus, to be able to discuss honor, justice, duty, loyalty, trust, morality, and inspiration, to give only a few examples, it is helpful to posit an independent Mind, completely spiritual and separate from the brain. The Mind as a spiritual entity has been the traditional domain of the theologian and, lately, the psychologist.
Evolutionary psychologists do not reject the existence of the Mind. Instead they tend to emphasize the modularized
the principal cause of the behavior exhibited by all human beings to the extent
that it can be considered a part of a universal Human Nature. Many aspects of Human Nature, specifically
identified by evolutionary psychologists as adaptations acquired during our
EEA, are no longer useful to perpetuate our species as denizens of Earth, in
particular, those which have led to over-consumption and over-population, which
together have resulted in overshoot during the recent fossil-fuel period of
human history, which is about to wind down in the wake of Peak Oil. Scientists have been able to identify many examples
of species that have found themselves with nothing to check the growth of their
numbers, which results ultimately in Overshoot followed by a crash and Dieoff,
in many cases leading to complete extinction.
It has happened to a certain extent to isolated groups of human beings
such as the inhabitants of
We might as well suppose that God is the giver of language and
the author of reason, manifest principally in mathematics and mathematical
logic, a noble edifice that exists in eternity and awaits discovery by rational
creatures who dwell for a short time on Earth and perhaps elsewhere. Since the origins of these Ideals shall
forever remain beyond our experience and inaccessible to science, they may as
well be assigned to a Divinity, forever mysterious and unknowable. It does not matter that we have no idea
whether or not God exists. He exists as
a linguistic convenience if nothing else.
It behooves Man to reflect upon the great mysteries with humility,
wonder, and reverence. It behooves Man
to employ the tools that permit him to transcend his animal nature. It remains only for Man to achieve this
February 5, 2006
Revised February 21, 2007