Reason for a New Age

Posts Tagged ‘bell curve’

Evolution, Instinct, and People – Part 2

Posted by publius2point0 on 2010/01/21

People are Greedy

As proof of this, let me point to three things.

First, of course, is the fall of Communism and other socialist experiments. When a person doesn’t need to work to provide for himself, he ends up hardly working at all. People don’t simply work for the sake of all others without either threat of loss, or promise of gain. The Communists solved this by applying the needed threat. Of course, since you need workers to do this application, this meant that the bullies needed bullies above them, and yet again above them, ending up with a hierarchical system in a land where everyone is supposed to be equal. Other socialist experiments, on the other hand, simply fell apart.

Now you might say that all this proves is that people need threat of impending doom to be made to work–i.e. that people are lazy. But if you look at the modern US, for example, I think you’ll find that no one starves to death. There are probably people who go through their entire life without working a single day and live just fine to their death. True, this is only possible because nearly everyone who can work does, but so why is that? It’s not just random happenstance that nearly everyone chooses to work than live off of the system. We could certainly support a much greater number of unemployed with a fewer number of workers than we currently have, so it’s not threat of hardship that keeps us working. Simply, we all want all the good things that are available beyond simple survival.

And this brings us to the second proof of greed. There are, right now, people starving all around the world. The workers of our nation produce enough that each one of us could support several other desperate people elsewhere on the planet, and yet we all own TVs, computers, lawns, and other things that are entirely unnecessary given the fact that it’s at the cost of people dying elsewhere on our planet. Even if you argue that any extra charitable money was to be expended towards impoverished nations would simply be stolen by bad people, then why isn’t it the greatest priority of our nation to get rid of these bad people? There is nothing preventing a person from working hard and giving away all extra funding beyond just what he needs to survive, nor is there anything preventing him from voting for those whose first priority is in humanitarian causes. But if you look around, I think you’ll find it scarce the person who doesn’t save nearly all his money for ways to improve his own life first, just as you won’t find anyone who votes for the first politician who promises to tax greatly and send all that money abroad in either the form of aid or intervention.

Then if you look at who we do vote for, then we arrive at our third proof. The strongest general predictor of a presidential election, at least within the US, is the state of the US economy during the president’s last year in office, tempered occasionally by high American casualties in war (which drops the incumbent’s share). Correcting for war casualties, the formula for predicting presidential elections is quite simple, and yes based entirely on the state of the individual’s pocketbook. And if you look at Europe, over the last year–due to the global recession–the lead party has flopped in fairly well every country.

When we vote with our incomes, it’s hard to say that we aren’t a principally self-interested species.

But, let me bring back the point that I made in part 1, which is that we are a pack animal. Our self-interest isn’t just for ourselves as individuals. We want good things for ourselves, but also for our family, friends, and country. This may be a selfish desire, but it’s also supportive.

People are Prey to Peer Pressure

As pack animals, what the norms of the pack are is of vital interest to us. We have a need to conform to the norms of the groups that we are in. Take for example premarital sex. Roughly 79% of Americans are Christian. The Bible was interpreted to say that premarital sex was a sin until at least the 1930s, and yet even though there were more Christians in the US before modern day, and even though the closer you approach 1930, the  greater the likelihood that people would hold this to be a similar sin as adultery, the rate has been fairly consistently around 90% for the last 7 decades. While as if you look at Vietnam, the Philippines, and Thailand the rate appears to be something more like 20%.

Another example would be smoking. I can’t quite quantify how “cool” smoking seemed to be by year, so I can’t thoroughly prove this point, but quite certainly people have been aware that smoking was unhealthy for you since at least the mid-1800s, and having this fully proved for them starting with the first major studies starting in the 1930s. It wasn’t until public perception of it as “bad” hit that people finally started to quit.

This is possibly part of our selfishness. We rely on the team, and so anything which could possibly endanger our ability to participate frightens most of us. Particularly with anything that seems a little thing, fashion, our preferred sport, TV shows, or drinks, we go with what those around us think of as the norm more than we respond to the logical and reasoned responses that we can get by looking at statistics or figuring things through logically.

But the other possible explanation is that this is a generally more efficient method for getting things done. Not everyone can be a leader or we’d never get anywhere. Nor can everyone be expected to figure out everything on their own–there just isn’t enough time in life to find out everything there is to know. With a few independent souls and people who specialize and thus gain reliability can influence those around them, who then influence those around them. The work of a small group spreads to the rest of society without having to explain reasons or directly correspond with them. What needs to get done, gets done. But of course this also means that the populace is prey to whatever it is that the trendsetters are up to at that moment.

We Fall on a Bell Curve

Generally, the bell curve is used to talk about intelligence. And I admit that I don’t have any particular statistics to show this for other things, the method by which evolution works suggests that we would see the bell curve for almost every possible way that a person could vary. There is some average that is preferred, but people will vary to both sides of that, trailing off in either direction. Most people will be of average weight, the actual distribution will be something more like a bell curve.

Going from a random given point and allowing random, free movement in either direction, you end up with this shape.

Hence, while I might say that “People are X”, I am of course simply talking about the center of mass for the distribution. Our personalities are almost certainly as much a part of the curve as our body parts.

But like I pointed out, this is necessary. A team relies on a hierarchy, but for that, you need people who are quite happy to be non-exceptional and take commands, and a varying level of people willing to give/receive those commands, until you get to the one guy at the top.

Though of course, the cost of this is the existence of people with a level of intelligence below that necessary to basically operate effectively, as an example. As I pointed out in part 1, evolution is stupid.

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