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Paleo-Economics Shaped Us Morally? For Team Survival…

Humanity’s languages and moralities evolved for social coordination. And for productive teamwork. Our moral sense, our social-rule processors, work just like our language-rule processors.   

1. Paleo-economics shaped us physically and morally. As did teamwork = humanity’s “signature adaptation.

2. By ~10,000 generations ago, our survival was a team sport. Driving big game toward teammates meant more meat than solo hunting. But division of labor needs workable division of profits. That’s called economics nowadays.

3. Christopher Boehm’s study of extant hunter-gatherers, suggests our ancestors evolved from hierarchy toward “devoutly egalitarian” resource usage. And for team survival, which requires limiting the logic of self-maximizing.

4. Today’s hunter-gatherers are ever vigilant against free-riding and elite-exploitation—both as threatening to team survival as any predator. They rigidly enforce social rules by ridicule, shaming, shunning, exile and even execution. This ensures skilled cooperators fare better than self-maximizers (e.g. another stakeholder always distributes meat, never whoever made the kill).

5. Enforced rules create strong selection pressures. The cheapest strategy to avoid social penalties is preemptive self-control. Such impulse control has always been adaptive.

6. Even for elites, because “counter-dominant coalitions” can punish “resented alpha-males” (who hog an unfair share of meat).

7. Ultimately, this becomes “inverted eugenics,” eliminating the strong, if they abuse their power (=ruthlessly cooperative survival).

8. This self-control payoff shaped our “moral sense,” which internalizes our culture’s behavioral rules and ensures we feel strongly about certain behaviours being right or wrong. Shame and guilt (evolutionarily useful “fast thinking”), enable “self-policed” social contracts (backed-up by social enforcement).

9. Our prior “apelike … fear-based social order” transformed to include “internalizing rules and [managing] … reputations.”

10. Conscious, reputation-based social selection ruled—poor cooperators weren’t selected for breeding (babies=hugely expensive). Team players bred with each other—>we bred ourselves for cooperation.

11. Boehm’s “Moral Origins” theory plausibly accounts for humans empirically having culturally configurable moral-sense-social-rule processors and varying moral predispositions.

12. By improving social productivity, rules beat no rules. Our social-rule processors work just like our language-rule processors (both evolved for social coordination). We automatically absorb the (often tacit) rules of our culture’s grammar and behavioral norms (we detect grammar errors unconsciously just like we often detect behavioral rule violations).

13. An “impulse to follow rules … seems … innate” (=emerges untutored). Toddlers know certain rules shouldn’t be broken; they’re “genuinely moral.” Moralities, like languages, likely share underlying grammars, common structures that cultures configure differently (eg Haidt’s 6 components).

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14. Once social-rule processors arose, their cultural configurations also became subject to evolution’s “productivity selection.” We’re descended from those with the fitter traits, and tools, and rules (=higher productivity moralities).

15. Collective self-preservation now needn’t require rigid egalitarianism. But delegating our interdependent futures to mindless “market forces,” and their dumb coordination, isn’t always wise.

16. Highly configurable ethics are in our nature. But any configuration that deemphasizes our inalienable interdependence makes us less fit, less relationally rational.

17. Our economics = our ethics enacted. Markets = kinetic morality.

Illustration by Julia Suits (author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions) modified by Jag Bhalla

Any story we tell of our species, any science of human nature, that ignores how important stories are in shaping what and how we think and feel is false. We evolved to be ultra-social (and self-deficient), so we care deeply about character and plot.  

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