Evolution, Economics, and Education
By Arnold Kling
Mike Gibson points to a sequence of posts by D.S. Wilson. They start here (with some broken links in the first paragaph–I needed to use Google to follow up on one of them), and proceeds rather slowly for my taste. It picked up a bit with this post on Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom. However, it was not until the ninth installment that I felt I encountered a stimulating idea.
The same ingredients that come easily in small human groups are more difficult to achieve in larger groups. Large cooperative groups are only possible thanks to the cultural evolution of mechanisms that interface with our genetically evolved psychology of guarded egalitarianism. When religions are viewed from this perspective, they can be seen as highly adapted to promote cooperation by providing the ingredients that would otherwise be lacking at a large scale. Belief in an all-seeing moralistic god tends to be restricted to large-scale societies, for example, suggesting that it is functioning as a monitoring device…
What does it mean for branches of knowledge as different as early human evolution, the nature of religion, and managing a commons in modern life to be explained by a single set of principles? It means that all of them are manifestations of the fundamental problem faced by all social species, whereby group-level adaptations are vulnerable to free-riding and exploitation from within.
It seems to me that over the past two hundred years or so, the role of religion has been taken over by the nation-state. That is, four hundred years ago, if you wondered whether you and a stranger would share the same norms, you would want to know the stranger’s religion. One hundred years ago, it would have been more important to know the stranger’s nationality.
I wonder if nationality is in the process of giving way to something else. Social networks?
Elsewhere, he talks about evolution and education.
The tight control and supervision of children’s and adolescents’ activities that we see today is something entirely new to human history, and its unintended consequences may include the current high rates of childhood obesity, depression, and even suicide.
Or it may have contributed to twenty-somethings further delaying adulthood.