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SOCNET  December 2006

SOCNET December 2006

Subject:

Science Articles -- SNA and Being Human

From:

Ryan Lanham <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Ryan Lanham <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 22 Dec 2006 05:00:08 -0500

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*****  To join INSNA, visit http://www.insna.org  *****

There are two articles in the current issue of Science (8 December 2006)
that appear relevant to SNA.  The first is by Martin A. Nowak and is called
"Five Rules for the Evolution of Cooperation."  In this review article,
Nowak attempts to formulate several simple equation-based theories of why
cooperation is a successful approach under natural selection.  One of the
five approaches is called "network reciprocity" and features links back to a
generalized 2x2 payoff matrix showing how dyadic versus network cooperation
(etc.) "works."   
 
The second article is by Samuel Bowels of Bowles and Boyd (evolution of
culture) fame.  In fact, Robert Boyd introduces the article in an earlier
note in the journal.  Bowles' article is called "Group Competition,
Reproductive Leveling, and the Evolution of Human Altruism."  In this
"empirical quantitative" article, Bowles argues that altruism is a way to
compete as a group.  To oversimplify, tribes exist with moral faculties to
heighten inter-group competitive strategic advantage.
 
These are also interesting in light of a recent PBS Frontline television
show on persuasion.  The basic argument there was that persuasion is a
capitalistic process designed to lure one to participate in consumption
tribes-along lines discussed by social theorist Michel Maffesoli.  Unlike
Maffesoli, the argument of Frontline suggests that people are confronted by
so many consumption choices that cultural individualism (e.g. having a
tattoo unique to one's self) inevitably occurs to help one maintain
individual identity in the face of participation in huge and various tribal
memberships (e.g. being a BMW owner.)  That is, individualism is a response
to complex tribalism to allow one to maintain self-identity.      
 
If these works are leading edge, it may be that a new dynamic evolutionary
theory of SNA is emerging.  That theory goes something like this:  Groupings
occur for collective benefit versus other groups.  Thus, territoriality
(e.g. nation-states, corporations, etc.) are one form of evolutionary
strategy to prioritize group membership as advantageous.  This is of course
no great leap but it does explain industrialization and the competitive
advantage of the large nation state-thus, the last 600 years or so-as an
advantage of tribalism.  
 
The problem of course emerges as one moves into multiple scales of
overlapping group memberships (i.e. participating in lots of tribes).  This
is the problem of identity.  Under such complex environments one can display
periodic allegiance to various groups to "vote" one's altruism for group
success-that is, to temporarily elect identity by participating in a
network.  Such environments force the development of an individualized and
selective personal morality and might "evolve" particularly in highly
interactive "border and boundary" environments-like the Middle East, Greece,
Italy, Southern China, etc.  Reasoning or "intelligence" becomes useful in
an evolutionary sense to promote faculties for deciding which groupings are
most beneficial to individual (through collective) survival under any given
and dynamic set of issues that confront one's reason.  Organizations in such
environments are correspondingly more fragile and history more convoluted as
individuals scurry to elect appropriate allegiances while simultaneously
pursuing "higher" culture to express and refine their individual identities.

 
Said another way, smart apes evolved because they needed to deal with
complex territoriality of overlapping networks-tribal rivalries versus needs
for broader gene pools, mating opportunities, etc.  Migrators or
inter-actors inevitably evolve as smarter beings that can solve which groups
it is smart to belong to.  Said another way still, ontologies are applied
when they make sense.  The ontologies that win-including science-based
reason-are those that are useful for surviving in complex group domains-or
ecosystems.  Being a scientist may be a bad idea on Lord of the Flies Island
or in South Bronx, but it may be a generally good response to choosing
groups that work in complicated cultures.      
 
It is possible that the edges of social networks occur where group members
have cost equations that compel selection into other competing groups.
Networks form (as opposed to organizations) to confer group advantages that
take on certain natural selection functions like reproductive leveling under
certain highly dynamic circumstances-e.g. as in a gathering society
(Bowles).  If this is true, it follows that ecosystems of various sorts
should display similar types of social networks (and organizations) if the
starting conditions (e.g. the mental faculties of reasoning) in various
participants are roughly equivalent.  
 
Again, said another way, separated cultures should be relatively consistent
when confronted with roughly the same environmental and technological
starting points because social networks should evolve along similar
rule-based lines.  Or, one might reach dynamic ecosystems that are so
complex that selection processes are (at least apparently) idiopathic.  
 
In such complex environments, intelligence as morality naturally evolves
because those most likely to survive are those equipped to evaluate which
scales of memberships are most advantageous in the long run for survival.
Market-based social conservatism would be one obvious result to complex
environments, though probably a fleeting one.  It might be quite natural to
abandon nation-state-based market conservatism when globalization concerns
confront an individual with moral choices like global warming which might be
broadly collectively perceived as a threat to priority membership networks
at key points.  In other words, the death of the nation state might be
predicated on its founding-trade and interaction.  Guns and butter made with
smokestacks begets quite naturally a global village of tattoo-wearing
hippies espousing peace and environmentalism while still attempting to
preserve their own easily recognized individual identities.    
 
Inherent in Bowles and Novak's argument is that the defining element of
being human might be the evolution of faculties for participating in dynamic
social networks.  It may be that to network is to be human-or, more
problematically, for a time, vice versa.  
 
Just a brief review of two interesting articles as an intellectual pot
boiler.  
 
Ryan Lanham    

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