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A new book argues that violence laid the foundation for virtue (newyorker.com)
47 points by Hooke 31 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 67 comments



As I grow older I found myself questioning more and more the absolute position against any form of physical violence in modern society. Before you get angry I really do mean questioning as in I don't know, not that I have a pro stance on violence.

There are obvious and known problems with violence. But do we know that there are no problems with the complete lack of violence as a way to impose rule/discipline or to settle disputes? And what if (as with many other things) the mode in which you apply violence is more important that the presence of lack of it? And what I mean by that, when I was a child it was normal for parents to slap children - a type of violence that does not harm but was quite effective in settling some situations.

Maybe I could explain this better but I want to keep it short. And in general it seems to me society is changing so fast that I ask myself if in some cases we go against known negatives without really knowing the alternative negatives. Even asking questions about some of those issues it not really socially acceptable any more.


I think the paradoxon is that you dont have to use violence if you are able and willing to do so if necessary.

If both parties(comparable strength) in a conflict think the other will use violence if necessary they often will try to settle it in an other way.

But because the west was dominant for so long we are not used to actually use that violence in a serious way anymore. So we as a society forget how real conflict feels like. They ones in the middle east are to one sided to really count in my opinion. While this is on a national level i think it also trickles down to everyday life and explains this shift.

I think there are some conflicts that you just cant settle with words. And funny enough most of the fights i had (as a kid/teenager) actually caused me to get better along with the person i fought.


I agree to some degree. I think we have replaced a lot of physical aggression with psychological aggression which in my view can cause much deeper and longer lasting damage.

When I see some parents these days I prefer getting a spanking and be done like it was normal in my youth instead of ongoing emotional blackmail some parents do these days.


I agree with your first point. I wrestled in high school and college. We all got on each others nerves, had cultural clashes, and were on edge due to lack of food.

Once in a while things would come to a head between two people and a punch or five would get thrown but the vast majority of the time one would walk up to the person they were pissed off at and wrestle with them for a round. 2-7 minutes of all out exertion against the person you are upset with will really settling things quickly. We had a lot less infighting on our teams than the other sports I played. I always felt it was because we had a way to get that anger out without hurting each other and without letting it stew for months/years.

Sometimes I wish I could use that method of conflict resolution in the workplace haha


I'm probably not going to pick the correct words for this, but I think there is a difference between violence and aggression.

Think of how a pack of wolves asserts the dominance hierarchy. They are aggressive towards each other. But they do not want to actually hurt one another because that would weaken the pack.

However, they would be violent against an opposing pack.

The purpose of internal aggression is to impose order. Order is important for the proper function of a group.

Violence is usually costly, and should be avoided whenever possible. Aggression seems like it has a place in society.


This. Though I would slightly amend this with "the threat of violence" vs. simply "aggression." The problem with aggression sans any violence is that those being aggressed against will eventually call your bluff. The threat of violence requires the existence of violence sometimes occurring to make that threat real.


Do we not have ample research by now as to the inefficacy and harms of corporal punishment? What serious evidence is there on the other side?

It also strikes me as something of a bad joke to suggest that we might have become uncritically prejudiced against violence given America's domestic gun violence and foreign policy. Tolerance of violence is alive and well as far as I can tell.


I suspect OP meant resolution through violence as in schoolyard fighting, not school shootings.


Most research on this topic has been done in the field of psychology. There are two problems. The first is a general one with psychology. The replication crisis in psychology started with the discovery that only 36% of studies in reputable journals could be replicated. And unlike psychology studies, that discovery can and has been replicated. What that means is that the wide majority of studies in psychology are, at best, misleading. This is made even worse by the fact that psychology also tends to have evolved into a very homogeneous group of people ideologically, politically, and so on - and that ideology is generally going to be on the opposite ends of topics such as violence as a means of behavior correction.

The second is that this is a really hard topic to study well, even if you genuinely wanted to. So for instance one thing you'll find is studies link corporal punishment to increased aggression, violence, and other such behaviors. But what sort of person receives corporal punishment in the first place? This is obviously not some amazing revelation, but there's 'perfect' way to control for these sort of problems. You have to make assumptions and rely on behavioral models and toy experiments. Now enter the quality of science that's ubiquitous in psychology and it's not a good situation.

This doesn't mean that corporal punishment is a good idea, but it does mean the 'science' should not be given more weight than it deserves.

----------

Another thing we can do here is look at how the same behavior varies by region. Let's assume that psychology is right and corporal punishment has a causal relationship with violence and other sorts of behavior. In Japan corporal punishment in child rearing is ubiquitous yet violent crime is practically nonexistent. And Japan is not cherry picked, the trend follows throughout most all of Asia. I only mention Japan since I think most people are aware of how incredibly nonviolent the Japanese as individuals are, yet may not be aware of how ubiquitous corporal punishment is. You now suddenly have a problem. You need to explain why corporal punishment on e.g. American children causes violent behavior, yet has no such effect whatsoever on Japanese children.


> What serious evidence is there on the other side?

I suspect that the sorry state of our schools are at least partly because it is no longer possible to take a kid into the principal's office and paddle them. There's no way to discipline a kid in a way that a kid who doesn't care about school will still want to avoid.

Note well my choice of the word "suspect". I do not know of any solid evidence one way or the other.


> I suspect that the sorry state of our schools are at least partly because it is no longer possible to take a kid into the principal's office and paddle them.

Really ?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporal_punishment_of_minors_...


That surprises me. I had presumed that it was illegal everywhere.

I presume that it is still very rare, even where legal, for fear of lawsuits.


https://ocrdata.ed.gov/StateNationalEstimations/Estimations_... > Discipline, Harassment or Bullying, and Restraint and Seclusion > Corporal punishment (It's a spreadsheet file).

That's 106,000 student receiving corporal punishment that year. Is that considered very rare ?

Also, keep in mind it's still allowed in private schools from 48 states.


our society has thrown out the baby with the bathwater with our modern hatred of organized religion.

this question and related questions about when violence and war are morally acceptable has been thoroughly discussed for thousands of years in multiple religions:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just_war_theory


>our society has thrown out the baby with the bathwater with our modern hatred of organized religion.

How?


A lot of modern people think of religion as some combination of fairy tales that provide meaning and comfort paired with some moral principles to follow. That is a very poor assessment of what it actually does, though.

Religion is better understood as a form of long-term, multi-generational communication. I would call it "tradition", but tradition is too broad of a word to really capture what is happening in religion.

The first and most foundational thing that religion does through multi-generational communication is organize and unite a group of people. It gives them a shared story and a shared identity tied to that story. This is very, very important for more reasons than just the obvious one of "we do better when we get along." The main reason this matters is that it takes many singular, physical organisms and it transforms them into a single, social organism that, at least in the context of the story, act as a singular entity.

This is critical because what it does is facilitate the evolution of the social group. You can't really identify what drives a group of people forward by testing them one by one. You have to test them in as a single unit. And by combining them into a singular, united organism and bringing them into conflict with other, similar organisms, you can establish fitness.

So let's take an example: let's say you have group A and group A has a religion that teaches first and foremost that the greatest good a person can accomplish is to achieve some sort of personal, spiritual enlightenment. Now let's say we have group B and group B has a religion that teaches first and foremost that the greatest good a person can accomplish is to become powerful enough to challenge the gods and obtain glory. Then let's say we have group C and group C has a religion that teaches first and foremost that the greatest good a person can accomplish is to truly, deeply love their neighbor as themselves.

So we have these three groups and let's say they come into conflict over the finite resources available in their region of the world (as people groups tend to do). Their foundational religious beliefs about where they fit as people and as a group into the universe is going to affect every aspect of how they organize their society. One of them is going to organize in a strict hierarchy and that will carry benefits and drawbacks. Another will organize in less centralized fashion, also carrying benefits and drawbacks. So on and so forth.

When they meet and come into conflict, the organizational structures they built based on these religious ideas are going to determine who wins and loses. One is more efficient than another. One is stronger. One is weaker. Invariably, what we have is a massive test of fitness between not just people, but social orders and the religions that structure them.

So now let's back up and look at this over time. You have millions or even billions of people that are born, live, and die throughout history as part of all these different people groups. The context of their conflicts and the resources they fight over are going to shape who wins to some extent, but in the long term, you are going to start seeing winners and losers. The fitness of one belief system is going to repeatedly win out over another until what you are left with are what we call "world religions", i.e. religions that have tested their fitness against multiple other models and found some measure of fitness.

So what is happening when someone tosses out their religious context? They are essentially saying "I understand this organism perfectly, I know its strengths and weaknesses, and I know better than the process of natural selection as to what is a better way of living."

That's a pretty bold claim. And if you consider the complexity of social organisms, how sociology as a field has barely even scratched the surface of what it means to understand people in groups, it's a stupid claim as well. It's not a simple matter of reverse engineering religion and replacing it with reason or some bullshit like that anymore than it's a simple matter of replacing a human brain with a computer. You're dealing with a complex, evolved system that has proven fitness.

So when we say something like "our society has thrown the baby out with the bathwater" we are referring to things like understanding a balanced position on violence. But we are also referring to a million other nuanced things about religion that provide untold advantages to the social order.

Hope that answers your question.

Also, go to church. Humanity needs you to go and God loves you.


I was with you 100% until you said:

> So what is happening when someone tosses out their religious context? They are essentially saying "I understand this organism perfectly, I know its strengths and weaknesses, and I know better than the process of natural selection as to what is a better way of living."

That's the opposite of what atheism (well, weak atheism, the only valid kind) says, which is: I don't know, and I don't think you do either.

The idea of having a sense of community and values that can be communicated over generations is fantastic, but it does not require superstition any more. Sometimes you need to rip the band-aid, and sometimes you need to be more gentle. But let's agree that the band-aid is coming off so that we can move on to the next step in the healing process.

> God loves you

Again, let's stick to what we know.

Oh, and let's get rid of the notion that skeptics are bad people (Psalms 14:1).


>The idea of having a sense of community and values that can be communicated over generations is fantastic, but it does not require superstition any more. Sometimes you need to rip the band-aid, and sometimes you need to be more gentle. But let's agree that the band-aid is coming off so that we can move on to the next step in the healing process.

Literally just your way of saying: "I understand this organism perfectly, I know its strengths and weaknesses, and I know better than the process of natural selection as to what is a better way of living."

Cognitive dissonance is a hell of a drug.

How can you possibly ENGINEER something if you don't even know what the requirements are?


> So what is happening when someone tosses out their religious context? They are essentially saying "I understand this organism perfectly, I know its strengths and weaknesses, and I know better than the process of natural selection as to what is a better way of living."

This is a totally unjustified assertion. When have you ever met an atheist who thinks they know how everything works?

Contrast that with a common experience: you meet a person who is absolutely certain that a guy in the Middle East was born to a virgin, and he later was resurrected.


> A lot of modern people think of religion as some combination of fairy tales

Fairy tales are essential. Without them, you're left with just life philosophy (e.g. stoicism, Aristotelian ethics, or modern quasi-religions where the fairy tale parts are almost irrelevant, e.g. Zen Buddhism).

I don't really have a problem with fairy tales (well, except that I cannot considered any opinion of an adult who believes in them, seriously), but the problem is that religious fairy tales often include some idea of "us vs them", "chosen ones", "infidels" and/or "holy wars", which seem to prime many of their followers to be violent against non-followers.


So you believe in a religion because life.... is a battle of social structures in a Darwinian conflict over resources (and you better belong to the winning team)?


Yes.


Do you understand that religion being useful to groups of people at times has no relation to there being a god or not?


It has a direct relation if the religion requires you to believe in God. If atheism renders the religion useless, then atheism is untenable.


> Also, go to church.

I do go to church (of sorts). My church meetings are organized on meetup.com, developer mailing lists, and tech conferences.


Do those accomplish the multi-generational social fitness testing I described? I've never been to a conference that did.

Sounds like more of a distraction than a religion.


> So what is happening when someone tosses out their religious context? They are essentially saying "I understand this organism perfectly, I know its strengths and weaknesses, and I know better than the process of natural selection as to what is a better way of living."

I think that's putting lots of words in the mouths of the non-religious. Other people, religious or not, don't know know what you know about the structure, function, and significance of religion.

Everything you wrote before that paragraph I consider to be both true and extremely important. I think it's a very rare take. The number of religious people I meet who interface with their faith with that level of insight and abstraction is very tiny and almost exclusively online. It might be that the religious people I meet in real life are nutty in ways that are not representative of all religious people because I run in the wrong circles, but generally when encountering religion in the wild, I don't find people who deal with it in a productive or rational way like that.

And THAT's the problem. There are effectively two versions of religion. The one you're talking about, with an abstract framework for winning conduct across a set of games, and the other, steeped in literalism, mysticism, rigidity, and ill-founded intolerance. It's similar to the spirit vs letter distinction in law.

And that's the religion people avoid. The one that reads about christ's forgiveness on sunday morning and disowns their gay daughter on monday night. The one that preaches grace and reservedness while diddling kids behind the curtain and driving off in a cadillac paid for by the donation bowl. The ones that find togetherness in vitrol instead of virtue. They vastly outnumber the good guys.

They throw away religion because they don't know the good side exists.

So what we actually have, in my view, is a widespread and severe failure of teachers (both the church kind and the regular kind). Because I was nearly 30 before I came into contact with the impressive and respectable elements of organized religion. Part of that is on me, for sure, and on my progressive upbringing – since the progressive counterpart to religious conservatives are closedminded, foolish, and ideological in precisely the same ways. But part of it is that you have to put some sweat into searching for, or hope to stumble randomly upon, actually virtuous religious people if you're not born into some specific circles.

We don't get converts by shitting on atheists or alienating people who are disgusted by religion, or by behaving in a way that frames organization and conduct that are religion-like as an "obvious" choice, even if they can be intuitive for some.

All we can do is set a good example.

----

A separate thought: I think we should view the shape of church with the same abstract flexibility as the rest of the teachings of the bible. I believe that the benefits of organized religion can be realized without many of the fairy-tale elements, and religion would be verrrry well served to enforce that these are allegorical tools meant to communicate concept through stories, a-la-aesop's fables, and not something that should be used for virtue signaling where whoever yells louder about Hell is the winner. I think it's possible to teach conduct, community, and shared growth in places that are equivalent to church, but aren't church.

Athiests are strikingly bad at this, and I say that as basically an athiest. They definitely throw the baby out with the bathwater, and have no large scale organization that approximates even mediocre church communities.


[flagged]


Good point, but did you expect churches not to have people in them?


[flagged]


My entire post was about how they are power structures.


Virtue is meaningless, when talking about violence, if you don’t have the capability to carry it out and yet restrain yourself from doing so. People with no capacity for violence who say they are pacifists or non-violent. They just aren’t capable of it anyway. That doesn’t lead to a virtuous society.


Reminds me of a quote I saw someplace that I don't remember who it was attributed to:

The highest honor you can give a man is that he can do harm, but chooses not to.


Very, very few people have no capability for violence. Guns are a thing and even people that normally wouldn't be a treat can poke a knife on your kidney from behind.

Why bother using that separation when very few are on the side of no capability?


Having access to tools in theory and having the physical and mental capability to engage in violent behavior (whatever the reason) are two very different things.


Given the state of social sciences, I'm not sure we know much of anything. Certainly not much that can be repeated easily and often.

Strange how people in one hacker news thread can internalize the sorry state of the scientific method in psychology and sociology, but then in another thread start making absolute claims, as if the issue was settled science (always aligning with their personal biases).


That might be because they are different people. Hacker News commentators are not a homogenous mass, but a collection of individuals who can hold opposing views.


What kind of violence are you ta...

> And what I mean by that, when I was a child it was normal for parents to slap children - a type of violence that does not harm but was quite effective in settling some situations.

Aaaand... here we go again...

> And in general it seems to me society is changing so fast that I ask myself if in some cases we go against known negatives without really knowing the alternative negatives. Even asking questions about some of those issues it not really socially acceptable any more.

...under the guise of the old persecuted wise one. Classic.

> Even asking questions about some of those issues it not really socially acceptable any more.

Right. You know what as socially acceptable before ? Black people forbidden to drink from white people's fountain.

Seriously, slapping children ? As in reducing teeth count or a slap on the wrist before they lay a hand on the oven ?


I feel like we should probably simulate violence using VR, etc. for our children in the future. You can't really understand the danger of violence until you see just the extent of consequences it can bring. Otherwise we will be forever cyclical as our collective memories about the consequences fade.

That being said, I have no idea what the fine line would be between education and desensitization/traumatizing. We still have a lot to learn.


Definitely don't do it through VR. You have FEEL the consequences of violence, not see them. Seeing the consequences means you see it on others which makes it a very abstract concept. You have to feel it yourself.


Isn't it nice to grow older?

Tim Larkin gave a tech talk at google about violence as a tool https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XvFjcJbtG4A. Looks like it wasn't well attended.


I read somewhere that when violence is common in a child's early life they are signifigantly more like to be anxious and usually go through puberty faster and have more testosterone.


> when I was a child it was normal for parents to slap children - a type of violence that does not harm

I'd strongly disagree with this. You can do lasting harm without doing any physical damage.


The more we value the individual the more we will shy away from violence (or, rather, leave it to the professionals like soldiers and cops and criminals)


I think we as a society value the individual less and less nowadays, and the decrease in violence is an indicator of that. I mean, who hasn't been defriended or seen someone defriend someone on social media because of conflicting opinions? That's not valuing the individual, that's putting opinions over the individual.


>I mean, who hasn't been defriended or seen someone defriend someone on social media because of conflicting opinions? That's not valuing the individual, that's putting opinions over the individual.

It's the inevitable result of a form of abstract social interaction that makes direct physical violence impossible. If it were possible to reach into the internet and actually assault people through the monitor, deaths would probably range in the millions per year.


Nonviolence is a luxury afforded only to those who are already physically safe. Some lucky people never have to learn this.


I've been thinking lately we actually need to implement an acceptable level of violence in society. Using only your body as the weapon, such as animals do in the wild. We've become too soft and engrained to believe money and political clout equals power.


Money and political clout do equal power. Why would you rather power was projected through violent rather than nonviolent means?


In a world where violence is not allowed money and political clout become the power, but in a world where physical violence is allowed money and political clout will only get you so far.

Money and political clout might appear like non-violent means, but in reality, they breed violence, except those are the top aren't affected.


>Money and political clout might appear like non-violent means, but in reality, they breed violence, except those are the top aren't affected.

But you seem to be advocating that people not at the top engage in ritual violence, which still wouldn't affect the people at the top, and wouldn't diminish the power of money or politics. There are plenty of examples of cultures which allowed retaliatory violence, duels or ritual combat. The balance of power in those societies was not equitable as a result, the rich remained rich and exempt from harm and the poor just lived shorter, more violent lives.

I'm sorry but it seems like you just want to live in a Chuck Palahniuk novel but you've lost the plot.


This sounds a lot like Nietzsche's Beyond Good & Evil. The entire book is arguably about this very thing, the genesis of, and inextricable link between Good, Bad, and Evil. And you don't need to look any further than the preface to find this thesis laid bare:

It could even be possible that whatever gives value to those good and honorable things has an incriminating link, bond, or tie to the very things that look like their evil opposites[0]

[0] https://www.holybooks.com/wp-content/uploads/Nietzsche-Beyon...


There’re definite similarities and heavy amounts of overlap with Nietzche’s dueling dualities (heh) of Good/Bad (Master Morality) and Good/Evil (Slave Morality), but this is at a much more primitive level – primates and pre-language humans, while N spent significant time on the Classical eras.

I was surprised to see neither Nietzsche nor, especially, Foucault name-checked in this article as the latter has written about similar ideas on the significance of capital punishment in Discipline and Punish.


I find the theory compelling but I also think the way is expressed strange. Maybe I'm missing something.

More than a "violence and virtue" history, it seems to me that the main point is cooperation brings a positive feedback of more cooperation.

In my view, the killing of the "alpha males" is actually the killing of the people unable to cooperate. The moment organized collaboration is possible, the individuals that can cooperate will be stronger than the individual that is unable to cooperate.

Not sure why this is not the stressed point in the explanation. Maybe it doesn't make good titles.


>I find the theory compelling but I also think the way is expressed strange. Maybe I'm missing something.

There's an odd usage of alpha male. An alpha male is the one in charge and with high status not the guy with a propensity towards reactive violence. I hate the phrase, but "toxic masculinity" is a better way of phrasing what he describes. You can see how it's useful for the Alpha male(s) and a group at large. They can send them to war against neighbors and reap the spoils. It's also convenient that their aggression drops off a cliff as they get older. This ensures enough old men to control the younger ones and direct their violence towards appropriate targets.

>In my view, the killing of the "alpha males" is actually the killing of the people unable to cooperate. The moment organized collaboration is possible, the individuals that can cooperate will be stronger than the individual that is unable to cooperate.

I'm not so sure about this. Basically every human group throughout history has one single person in charge. Whether that be the Holy Roman Empire, a ship at sea, a hunter-gather tribe, or a old ladies knitting group. The trait selected for is the ability to seize power when you can, cooperate when you can't, and the wisdom to know if you can.


"There's an odd usage of alpha male"

I think you are right. How can be a male be the alpha without the group collaboration? By definition, the alpha is the one in the top of the hierarchy in a given moment.

"I'm not so sure about this.[..]"

I think we basically agree, the ability to seize power is impossible without cooperation with others.


"Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human" is a great book and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in human evolution or general diet. This article however, is sophomoric.

Anyone interested in the origins of human society and violence should also read "The World Until Yesterday" by Jared Diamond, "The Origin of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind", "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl, "Tribe" by Sebastian by Junger and " Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland".

One problem with TFA, male Bonobos exist and do not act like male Chimps. Why? Furthermore, human females are not that different from human males. How might this change the pretext of the article? Human males and females are more alike than different, except on the fringes where a tiny percentage of males are much more violent (think of the most violent criminals). Do male humans tolerate the most violent males? Also, do "alpha" males chimps, stay alpha for very long if they wield too much violence? Must alpha male chimps maintain the support of the females? Do some research. See for yourself.

Also, what is the meaning of alpha in this article? The "arch-reactive aggressor"? In humans? So are alphas the most violent or the most respected? Could the alpha not be the most violent but instead have the respect of the most violent? How might that happen? Executioners? Try again.

To add personal anecdote: Most of us live in such relatively peaceful environments that we've completely lost touch with how the power dynamics of physical violence work in humans. We have mostly a school-yard version of reality. A society where "words" are violence further obscures the mechanics of physical violence.

Truly dealing in violence, absent of any law or government, is like eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Once you taste it your eyes are opened to a whole world right within ours which no one understands. We in the west live in a total bubble, so much so that we don't understand simple danger. The typical "active shooter" drill is basic evidence of this fact. It's a ridiculous and dangerous model in the face of true unencumbered violence. It is designed to keep schools from getting sued, not keeping children alive. You didn't know that because you've never had to kick in a door and kill as many people as possible (sickening I know).

Furthermore, once you understand violence truly, living in modern western society is like being an extraterrestrial in human skin. It is completely bizarre. This article is candy for those in the bubble.


> "The Origin of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind"

This is known to be bogus by most experts, though:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicameralism_(psychology)

> Jaynes's hypothesis remains controversial. The primary scientific criticism has been that the conclusions drawn by Jaynes had no basis in neuropsychiatric fact.[14]


You are correct. It is, however, a fascinating journey through consciousness.


ok. You've convinced me of the antecedent of the article and book: that we've found ourselves deliberately or accidentally in a society without true violence, and even largely without capacity for violence. Yet there is no alternative consequent, just some disdain for the fact that we have peaceful overtones in our culture.

But do we? I get it, to a certain extent. I find deep connection when I fight in the gym, and it scratches an itch that I can't explain. We still have war, and still play at war in sports, video games, and TV/movies. We still idolize the scene in the Christmas Story where the bully gets his nose bloodied by reactive violence. We love to commit genocide against aliens, as long as they punch first.

I think we subconsciously teach (in all these) violent response to aggressors. But we've decided that violence is a tool for retribution against aggressors (them), not a tool for dealing with in-group disputes (us).

TFA equated capital punishment with ostracism. One of us becomes an outside. (We don't do that, on penalty of prison or death).

That's the point, to me. Preservation of the groups members by minimizing in-group competition makes the group more resilient against attacks by other groups. In a purely game-theoretic sense, This seems like an optimal strategy.


"Virtue" itself seems to largely be a tautology backed by the status quo and inertia as opposed to outcomes or impact on how others are treated.

The gladiatorial colloseiums, hunting hellots as a rite of passage, and human sacrifice and flower wars were all "to promote virtue". All it needs to do is be sustainable and self-perpetuate - not be optimal or righteous in any way.


While I understand that some people have done a lot of good work here, my problem with this work and the author's previous one, is his use of myth making. The story told about mass execution is just that, a story. This is how the author imagines selection operating, but it seems a pure work of fiction. Just by way of argument, no such cull is imagined for bonobos - is it possible in their long evolutionary history humans experienced similar forces? At least as possible as a mass execution of aggressive males.


Doesn't violence emerge naturally as soon as the concept arise of property ownership, protecting the safety of oneself (or one's family or one's community), and trade of any sort?

Because all of those beget law or government and those require violence if they are to be enforced at all.

If not, then the incentive arises for individuals to be violent because then you can just "have" whatever you desire if you are willing to be violent and no one else is.


Popular work in evolutionary psychology would suggest the premise humans have selected against the "reactive aggression," of "alpha males" perhaps overlooks whose children those civilized "proactively aggressive," men were actually raising for all those centuries. The article seems like a proxy for some culture war themes that would be laughable if it were not so insidious. I assure you, we're still here.


Human moral development seems to be a cycle of an outburst of violence, followed by a dramatic retrenchment of violence in response. Each iteration brings greater violence and then an even greater retrenchment.

Eons ago we discovered through this cycle that rape and murder are wrong and should be met with cutting the offender off from society permanently. 75 years ago we discovered that systematic genocide and wars for land are wrong and should never be tolerated.

We are still recovering from that retrenchment, I think. As it fades further into the mists of history, the next violent phase of the cycle looms closer. It's uncertain whether we'll be around to discover any more moral lessons after it passes.


The “solution” to rape and murder is to have a state strong enough to monopolize violence and eliminate offenders.

The “solution” to wars for land is to have an empire effectively own all the land such that any attempt of conquest is a local conflict that will be pacified by the empire.

Genocide is more complicated as it can often be in the interest of the state. The fact that we haven’t engaged in genocide in 75 years is indeed curious.

Still, I question your theme of moral progress. History would suggest that it will go the other way as the empire inevitably starts to weaken.


Human moral development is the outburst of violence and ultimately the victors defining virtue and morality and law. All one has to do is look at ww2 to see this.

"Eons ago we discovered through this cycle that rape and murder are wrong and should be met with cutting the offender off from society permanently."

When did we discover this? Our greatest heroes are murderers and rapists.

"75 years ago we discovered that systematic genocide and wars for land are wrong and should never be tolerated."

Or the countries that committed the most systematic genocide and stole the most land decided that such behavior shouldn't be tolerated since they have the most to lose now.

Laws, virtue, morality, etc are all nonsense the victors created to protect their own self interests. The human experience is that of selfishness and hypocrisy and violence. There is no virtue, laws or morality without the threat of violence. The world order is buttressed by armies not by morality, laws or virtue. Always has been and always will be.


Any Rene Girard readers want to weigh in here? I see some similarities to the themes in his work but am not well versed enough to comment.


So I ain’t read the book from OP or Noetzsche but ain’t Nietzsche explicitly say this in Zarathustra or something. I’m sure I didn’t do a good reading but I thought I remember hearing him talk about the incredible violence of what the op article would call “human domestication”




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