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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Animal Cooperation

"No one who has heard of evolution has any business to suppose, as Hobbes excusably did, that calculating prudence is the root of all social behaviour. Now that we know how complex the social life of other species can become when their intelligence does not make calculation possible, we know that there is no such single root. Ethological comparison strongly confirms, what an unprejudiced view of the human scene has always suggested, that motivation is complex. There is no short cut to understanding it. In each case we have to look at the detailed evidence." -- Mary Midgley

So how in the world could someone, post-evolution, write this?
"Society is concerted action, cooperation. Society is the outcome of conscious and purposeful behavior... Within the frame of social cooperation there can emerge between members of society feelings of sympathy and friendship and a sense of belonging together... However, they are not, as some have asserted, the agents that have brought about social relationships. They are fruits of social cooperation, they thrive only within its frame; they did not precede the establishment of social relations and are not the seed from which they spring.

And this?
"In order to comprehend why man did not remain solitary, searching like the animals for food and shelter for himself only and at most also for his consort and his helpless infants... The factor that brought about primitive society and daily works toward its progressive intensification is human action that is animated by the insight into the higher productivity of labor achieved under the division of labor."

Social cooperation amongst primates stretches far, far back before any of them had any "insight into the higher productivity of labor achieved under the division of labor"! And this fact was very well known by the time Mises wrote the lines above. How could he have believed this?

15 comments:

  1. Funny you would ask the same question. I am just now rereading Human Action, and I am at exactly the same chapter.

    I actually think that the evolutionary explanation for human cooperation is much more compelling and devastating to the statist hyptothesis than von Mises praxeology.

    Human beings are social because that's their nature. Tigers are not social because it isn't in their nature (meeting only for the purpose of rerpoduction).

    Humans were able to develop to their current level precisely because they began to develop social structures, which put a premium on social intelligence, and made it less necessary for each individual to do everything themselves.

    Most importantly, social life makes it possible to 'outsource' adaptive traits from the DNA to patterns of social behaviour.

    Social life is probably the necessary pre-condition of rational behaviour (though not sufficient, as we can see in the case of insects, and many other species that live in what appears to be 'societies', but what is really just distributed bodies).

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  2. Gene,

    The first two quotes have nothing to do with each other.

    The first and third quotes possibly contradict each other, depending on what you take Mises to be saying.

    Gene, are you saying that chimpanzees fight as a team not because they "know" that's more effective, but because their genes make them do it? (I'm not making that view, I'm trying to understand your point.)

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  3. * I'm not mocking that view, I'm trying to understand your point.

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  4. James,

    What do you mean? Watch this:

    * One of our greatest thinkers said man is a political animal.

    * The greatest societies have had strong governments. All anarchist societies have been wiped out.

    * It is obvious that evolution proves Rothbard was an idiot. (Though Gene supports that conclusion, I don't think you do James.)

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  5. Whoops sorry Gene, I now see that the first two quotes are in tension. But the crucial point comes in right at the beginning, when Mises declares that society is concerted action. From then on, Mises is just spinning out the implications of that assertion.

    So you confused me with the long quote. Mises is either right or wrong (vis-a-vis Midgley) at that first sentence. She is saying society need not be the result of action.

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  6. Mises is claiming that 'fellow feeling' amongst humans is the result, and not the precursor, of the division of labor; i.e., first, pole realized that they could get an edge up by cooperating, and only then did they actually develop sympathy for their fellow man -- probably just the way Christ looked at things, hey?

    And certainly, chimpanzee society is not built on any sort of calculation that they'll be better off if they hang around together -- they are born and will die wanting to be with other chimps, and no amount of enticement -- offers of big movie contracts, unlimited bananas, chimp hookers, etc. -- will lead them to 'calculate' that they'd be better off ditching the pack.

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  7. A few points, Gene. And btw I'm not trying to pick a fight; I'm already brawling with Koppl on TAE and I don't like two-front wars.

    Last prefatory remark: If I make a point below, it doesn't mean that I think you goofed on it. I'm just clarifying my overall position on this topic, for the 7 people still reading.

    * Mises is NOT saying, "People rationally calculate the benefits of society versus chaos, and choose society." He is making a much more modest point, that all of the individual actions that *constitute* society are each done because of seeing the advantages. I.e. the butcher and baker aren't trying to "form society," but their actions are indeed purposeful and self-serving.

    * I grant that this watered-down bullet point is weaker than what Mises was saying, but a fallback position is that he could say, "The only reason evolution selects for organisms that enjoy each other's company is the higher productivity of the division of labor. So in that (weaker) sense, it's true that the higher productivity of div. of labor precedes feelings of sympathy etc., but Mises could still be wrong when he says that the *recognition* of the higher prod. of labor under cooperation precedes the feelings of sympathy.

    * Strictly speaking, all you've shown Gene is that Mises might be wrong. I.e. he could be right about humans and what happened with them historically. Your ethnologists etc. have just shown that bees appear to have society etc. without (obviously) thinking through the benefits of protecting the queen.

    * Gene, I think you overreached here:

    And certainly, chimpanzee society is not built on any sort of calculation that they'll be better off if they hang around together -- they are born and will die wanting to be with other chimps, and no amount of enticement -- offers of big movie contracts, unlimited bananas, chimp hookers, etc. -- will lead them to 'calculate' that they'd be better off ditching the pack.

    "Certainly"? How do you know what goes on in a chimp's mind? You're certain that chimps don't have any idea that they benefit from hanging around together?

    And you're saying if one chimp lags behind his buddies in the forest, and he sees a huge pile of bananas, he won't leave the group to go get the bananas?

    Of course that's not what you mean. I think you mean, the chimp wouldn't agree to a binding contract in which he renounces his friends forever. But that isn't so much a point about the foundations of chimp society, as it is about the limits of a chimp's abstract thought.

    * I think Mises talks about animal "society" in HA, but I don't remember exactly what he says. I think he cheats by saying animals don't act the same way people do. So he's "right" by definition, and I would agree with you if you want to say that clearly some other non-human animals have social bonds.

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  8. Gene, that's a good one, but it's not as funny as the Objectivist Center on your stupid animal "science."

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  9. So how in the world could someone, post-evolution, write this?

    If you were wanting to give Mises a bit of slack, the fact that the English 'society' does not (or did not) exactly translate the German 'Gesellschaft' may be an issue, since the English of course carries connotations of explicit sociality lacking in the German. For sure, those connotations are (and have been for a long time) archaic with respect many of the things the word is applied to, but even still, they are ones a German speaker might well find striking. And indeed, have them at the top of your mind and something like Mises' definition of 'society' may well result: 'Society is concerted action, cooperation. Society is the outcome of conscious and purposeful behavior'.

    (Basically, this is in support of Bob's reply that Mises is simply being stipulative in his definition of 'society', only adding the thought that it's not so stipulative if one keeps in mind the differences between English and German.)

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  10. Bob, I'm not sure what you are getting at. Evolution proves nothing regarding Rothbard. Evolution cannot prove anything - what's adaptive today maybe really maladaptive tomorrow.

    Regarding anarchist societies being wiped out - I am not sure how that figures into this.

    Again, I am not sure what you are getting at.

    Gene, you write:

    "Mises is claiming that 'fellow feeling' amongst humans is the result, and not the precursor, of the division of labor"

    I'll have to read it again - that's not what I understood, but if that's what he meant, then it makes a lot of sense.

    In other words, social life preceded social awareness.

    Back to Bob - I wouldn't say evolution selects for social behaviour. Most species on this planet seem to be distinctly non-social.

    I don't think there is much evidence that being a social animal is necessarily an advantage over non social animals, when measured by long-term survival. Ants have been around for a very, very long time, but so have many worms.

    All humanoids other than the Cro Magnon seem to have died out, even though they all were certainly social (the Neanderthal most certainly was).

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  11. "I'll have to read it again - that's not what I understood, but if that's what he meant, then it makes a lot of sense."

    It might 'make sense', but it's incorrect -- human fellow feeling preceded the division of labour by a long, long time.

    "In other words, social life preceded social awareness."

    1) 'social life' != 'division of labour'
    2) Surely social life and social feelings arose hand in hand, right?

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  12. Anonymous12:39 PM

    Gee, I guess what you're saying is that "primates" have carefully considered your chicken-egg problem, and are capable of self-reflection and self-understanding, when peeling a banana for their offspring.

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  13. Jim, I appreciate that link -- I especially love the part of the response that states that this is a philosophical, rathewr than an empirical, matter. Of course, it is a philosophical matter to determine what we mean by 'thinking', say... but tht having been decided, it surely is an empirical question as to whether this or that being does or doesn't 'think'. But this objectivist ideologue apparently believes that philosophy can decide this empirical matter as well!

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  14. Gene,

    I am losing track of where we appear to disagree. I agree that social life and social feelings arose hand in hand, just like upright gait and the increasing use of hands, rather than hands and feet, arose simultaneously. Or like the development of lungs and living on land arose simultaneously.

    I guess the desire to establish cause-and-effect relationship between things that are in fact interdependent tends to confuse us sometimes.

    Also, I think one of the implicit targets of this argument is the Hobbesian error.

    Agreed?

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  15. Jim - I don't know whether to laugh or cry at the arguments by the Randians. Sometimes I feel that the main function of Randian philosophy is to make Austrians look foolish by association.

    Such as Rand's silly argument against anarchy by referencing a group of vigilantes, without giving due consideration to the problem of road ownership.

    I have yet to come across a Randian idea that is original to her AND logically sound.

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