23. On Social Evolution

Evolution is an ongoing process. It has not stopped because we have bigger brains and more complex societies. Our physiology has been changing over the past 2-3 millennia, from losing opposing toes to gaining opposing thumbs, from longer arms and shorter legs to shorter arms and longer legs, and so on. Although we are all now virtually the same (except for a few superficial changes according to our environments, changes such as hair and skin colour) we continue to evolve socially. The smaller and simpler social groupings of early tool-making man evolved into larger, more complex societies. Eventually, perhaps due to the pressure on resources, newer groups branch off from their mother cultures to develop and become new societies in their own right.

Historically, the Pilgrim Fathers escaped religious persecution from their mother culture in 17th century England, creating a newer and more advanced industrial society. The English convicts transported to Australia didn’t have much choice but they founded a newer, more modern society with their drive and will power. Dutch protestants divorced themselves from their Catholic brethren to become a new social grouping in the north of Holland. Sub-groups have emerged from mother groups ever since a few tribal leaders decided to leave Africa 60,000 years ago.

Now we have emigrants escaping by boat to Europe and Australia in search of freedom and economic gains. The major difference between the earlier new societies and today’s migrating groups is that those who leave Africa or Indonesia now only find other societies to which they must adapt. There is no more virgin territory available to start a new life. Ever since those first migrations 60,000 years ago (and perhaps even before) we have been changing locations and environments, evolving by adaptation. Those who stay behind continue to evolve and adapt but perhaps without the dramatic changes seen in the earlier daughter groups.

Self-examination, self-reflection or self-realisation give us access to our developing consciousness. They have become fundamental to our social evolution. They have allowed us to leave older, more rigid social organisations and create (or join) newer, more advanced societies. These allusions to self become evident when we face scarcity of resources or traumatic social upheavals. Do we move or do we stay? What is best for our survival? As a result we have learned to be prosocial. We began to see the benefit of caring for those in our group as well as ourselves. Where there is little or no self-examination or self-reflection leading to prosocial behaviours we descend into an ‘every man for himself’ ethos.

The hopes and dreams of the Pilgrim Fathers created an advanced, democratic society. The USA is by no means perfect. Selfishness and greed manifest themselves continuously, as we have seen on Wall Street in New York with mismanagement of bank assets (see here for reference). The effect of American democratic institutions however, when they function properly, is to give individuals within the group or nation the illusion of control. They feel they can rely on their elected legislators to maintain the balance between self-interest and group cohesion. I have chosen the word ‘illusion’ carefully. Perhaps the illusion of freedom of choice is all that is necessary.

Might we develop from this an argument suggesting that prosocial sentiment creates a sense of stability and balance in a society? Put simply, does prosocial sentiment create a more evolutionarily successful society? While some older societies survive with what we might call an ideologically locked mind-set, the newer, daughter societies prosper from their  adaptability to new ways of thinking such as we have seen in the Americas, in Australia or in northern Holland. Obviously, there will be a blurring of the lines. Some newer cultures will bring old mind-sets with them. Some migrants from older cultures refuse to leave their learned behaviours behind. Older cultures, it can be argued, must adapt to new ways of thinking, to new cultural paradigms or they will fall by the wayside as social dinosaurs. Perhaps those migrants currently leaving Africa or Indonesia have already seen this coming. According to Daniel C. Dennett (2004),

The more we learn about what we are, the more options we will discern about what we try to become. Americans have long honoured the “self-made man,” but now that we are actually learning enough to be able to remake ourselves into something new, we flinch. Many would apparently bumble around with their eyes closed, trusting in tradition, than look to see what’s about to happen (see here for reference).

More soon.

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22. Group Ethic

Benefits of self-examination

Expected outcomes with no self-examination

capacity to consult conscience flight from conscience
weighing up effective social engagement looking after own interests
reflection on actions action without reflection
resolving moral dilemmas defer to religious authority
building prosocial group ethic develop antisocial group ethic

We are adaptive creatures. I believe that self-examination and the access it grants us to conscience provides us with an evolutionary advantage. Self-examination and self-reflection can facilitate conscientious group bonding – bonding where a majority in the group agrees that it is in the best interests of that group to pull together. Whole group survival more likely ensures individual survival within that group. Furthermore, a conscientious group ethic will offer a better chance of individual or group survival than a disharmonious or self-destructive group ethic. Meanwhile, as we have seen, group ethic and group Theory of Mind (ToM) differ from community to community. From this we might see discernible and significant differences between any two cultures around the globe. Hence, Russian belligerence in the face of NATO encroachment or Chinese fear of American-style democracy.

I support Wilson’s (2013) view that our instincts have been honed to favour group selection rather than individual natural selection. Wilson goes on to observe that

The key question remaining in the dynamics of human genetic evolution is whether natural selection at the group level has been strong enough to overcome the powerful force of natural selection at the level of the individual. Put another way, have the forces favoring instinctive altruistic behavior to other members of the group been strong enough to disfavor individual selfish behavior?

Now, going back to my earlier premise, that lingering or sometimes current tribal affiliations skew social interactions in Africa (see here for reference), we might look to Wilson’s (2013) further claims that

Chiefdoms, the next level of complexity, also called rank societies, are ruled by an elite stratum who upon debility or death are replaced by members of their family or at least those of equivalent hereditary rank. That was the dominant form of societies around the world at the beginning of recorded history. Chiefs or “big men” rule by prestige, largesse, the support of elite members below them-and retribution against those who oppose them (see also Meredith, M., The State of Africa, 2011).

Where self-examination provides access to conscience in a relatively free society we learn what is right and wrong firstly within the context of family, secondly within our local groupings and finally within national expectations. Conscience here is relatively free to develop albeit within cultural norms. In a chiefdom self-examination may not be necessary as rules for behaviour and social interaction are set by your rank in the hierarchical order. In such societies the lower your rank order the less you have to say in how you are governed, hence the ‘Untouchables’ in India. Self-examination or self-reflection in this case becomes either irrelevant or dangerous. For example, Meredith (2011) observed that

In Malawi, Hastings Banda’s grip on power extended not just over the government and the economy of the country but even over the moral standards under which the population was required to live (Meredith, M., 2011)

As members of any group we are programmed to adapt to the norms and customs of that group for our own benefit and protection. Although we are mostly inclined to favour group selection, what happens if, as a result of self-examination we find that the group ethic is no longer plausible? Do we then suppress our conscience or do we resist the pressure to conform? When we see our group ethic as corrosive we begin to think of our own survival. We may even be tempted into anti-social behaviour.

Groups that are unable to rise above such ethic are more likely to fail when challenged by groups with a more equitable social constitution.

A group with members who could read intentions and co-operate among themselves while predicting the actions of competing groups, would have an advantage over others less gifted. There was undoubtedly competition  among group members, leading to natural selection of traits that gave advantage of one individual over another. But more important for a species entering new environments and competing with powerful rivals were unity and co-operation within the groups (Wilson, 2013).

It would seem from all of this that those who are capable of self-examination also become more acceptable as group-members if, by using that self-examination they reflect on their personal contributions to the group. They may also call upon their conscientious obligations to the community. In so doing the individual and the group form what might be called a symbiotic relationship where both are beneficiaries. Natural selection at the level of the individual is satisfied within a cohesive, conscientious group and the group succeeds where other, less cohesive groups fail. More soon.

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21. Open letter to Rt. Honourable Members, 5th Parliament, Tanzania (edited since 2014)

Dear Sirs/Mesdames,

Firstly, many congratulations on your election/appointment to the 5th Parliament, Tanzania. It must be a great honour to sit in such an august body. I do understand that you are a people of experience and integrity and that you appreciate the need for a truly democratic process. Such a process is, of course, upheld by the constitution and you are collectively responsible for administering that constitution.

However, I believe that you now face a supreme challenge – that is to rise above your own political party affiliations and loyalties to ensure that the draft constitution, written under the commendable and intelligent guidance of Judge Warioba and formulated with the best interests of all Tanzanians in mind, is duly implemented.

To date it seems that party-political dogma has been exerting far too much influence on the proceedings. The to-ing and fro-ing from the various groups only reflect party pressures on those who have been appointed or elected to freely and fairly represent Tanzanian citizens. The politically biased deliberations and interventions of many of the constituent assembly members in the past has coloured the proceedings with party-political interest rather than with the interests of the Tanzanian people whom you represent. I’m sure I am not the only visitor to  your fair country to have expressed these thoughts.

It must be seen by all that a constitution written through the lenses of party-political dogma can only serve that portion of the population aligned with that one political party. It cannot represent the whole of the population. I believe that Tanzanians as a whole deserve better. Yes, you do have an existing constitution, a fact of which your president reminded everyone recently. Perhaps now that Tanzania is 50 years old and on the verge of becoming a middle income country, it is time that all Tanzanian citizens are given the respect that they so long for as well as a more representative ‘mother law’.

From time to time constitutional reviews are necessary of course. Even the USA continues to review its constitution. I’m reminded of the controversy surrounding the 2nd amendment, for instance – the one which allows all Americans to defend themselves by militia and guarantees that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Surely here is an example of a constitutional amendment that has grave consequences for American society. And the gun lobby is currently a politically motivated force in American society.

Remember, party-political interests only serve party members, not the population as a whole. Party-political interest in Tanzania, especially with reference to the ruling party, CCM is driven by self-interest ingeniously disguised as the will of the people. It is no such thing. It is propaganda engineered to serve the interests of CCM only. The CCM grip on power seems now to be fixed and party members are not ready to give it up. Such power, for such a long time (since the inception of multi-party democracy) can only be a corrupting influence. History has proved time and again that this is a failed political paradigm. One only needs to look at the post-independence history of the sub-saharan continent to see the that one-party systems of government are doomed to failure.

From your position in the ‘Bunge’ it is therefore of greatest concern to everyone that you steer a path that does not cater to the interests of a single party, keeping in mind always the will of the people of Tanzania as a whole.

We all wish you good luck and good grace in carrying out your responsibilities.

From a concerned visitor.

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A Question of Balance

If we take a balance of self-interest on one side and community responsibility on the other I believe the scale would tip in favour of self-interest in the developing world. Is this because of the more recent history of poverty here? Is it because tribal affiliations, especially in Africa, are closer to the surface? Possibly, but it might also be because consciousness and particularly self-examination has taken root in the developed world but not yet (at least to the same extent and for the most part) in Africa, Central and South Asia, Central and South America or in the far East. Why? And before we go on, what is this self-examination?

Humankind is conscious (most of the time). Through our consciousness we connect socially with others who are also conscious. We use Theory of Mind (ToM) for this. Through ToM we are able to identify and to empathise with the hopes, aspirations and fears of our fellows. Here I must qualify: we empathise with those fellows in our own groups but not necessarily with those of neighbouring groups. Each group develops its own Theory of Mind. We get culture clashes between groups when we don’t have a full understanding of the ToM of those in the other group. We apply our own ToM without ‘seeing’ into theirs. As conscious beings we are also able to identify ourselves in the mirror. We see a reflection of our ‘person’, who we are or who we think we are (despite Blackmore’s 1999 and Hood’s 2012 observations), looking back at us (see More Me, Myself and I above). This is one aspect of self-examination.

Now, Chimps, Dolphins and other higher mammals are also conscious beings. Some have the ability to recognise their selves in a mirror. But are they capable of self-examination? If we look at it on a strictly physical level, then yes. Gallup (1970) painted a spot on a chimp’s forehead to test the recognition of self by the chimp. The chimp performed a physical examination of the spot, associating it with his/her own reflection. That’s all well and good but we need to understand how self-examination can occur on a psychological level. Who do we think we are? I believe that no other higher primate or higher order mammal apart from humans has this capacity. I may be mistaken. Chimps may have a rudimentary capacity but how can they communicate this to us? Have experiments been set up to discover this? Chimps are certainly emotive, rational and irrational, conscious beings who employ ToM to ascertain the social motives of other individuals in their communities. But can they reflect upon their own actions or the outcomes of their actions? Do they experience remorse, guilt? Do these attributes verify the capacity for self-examination? Possibly. More work needs to be done in the way higher primates see themselves.

Humans however, do have the capacity through self-examination to self-reflect. Hamlet’s soliloquy (“To be or not to be”) is a study in self-reflection. Self-reflection can come from remorse (“I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking” or “How could I be so stupid?”). It can come with a solitary moment of meditation (“The only living boy in New York”). I hazard to suggest that self-reflection at the level of meditation is uniquely human. We can now consider the issue of conscience. Self-examination and self-reflection allow us to access conscience. In 60 Posts I suggest that

The idea of ‘inner sense’ is good. It is what Joyce (2006; and others) calls ‘innate’. Joyce surmises that “morality [and therefore he argues, conscience, which has its basis in moral judgment] exists in virtually every human individual (see here for reference).

Conscience lends a moral dimension to self-examination. When we are faced with a moral choice (“Should we return the lost wallet to its rightful owner or take the money and run?”) we make a conscious decision. We can reflect on it, asking ourselves ‘what is the right thing to do?’. So, if conscience is accessible to every member of our society we might then ask why, according to Transparency International, is the call upon conscience weaker in 66-75% of the world’s population? And why, in some parts of the developed world is there a greater sense of community responsibility, as witnessed by our flood victims and volunteers in Britain? It comes down to a question of balance. More yet to come.

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A Retro Open Letter to Madiba

Dear Sir;
We watched your funeral recently with awe and admiration. Even through your trials as a prisoner and your various family squabbles throughout your life you were a man destined to rise above this world of petty belligerence and social infighting. You decided that your allegiance to your tribal ancestors should play a secondary role to your allegiance to South Africans as a whole, all of whom should be respected in the “Rainbow Nation.” You even sacrificed your allegiance to your colour to promote white South African rugby in a way that was unimaginable previously. Your fellow white South Africans could not rise to such a high level of tolerance and understanding.

Many spoke at your funeral of the legacy you left to the South African people. I believe your legacy extended even further, to the world stage. There are many political leaders who would benefit from even a little of the political and social wisdom you displayed during your struggle for freedom and your ascent to the presidency. It’s a pity that many of those leaders come nowhere near the stature that you upheld with your liberal, humanitarian views and beliefs. Even your current successor has been found seriously wanting and the dogs that are barking at his tree can think only of the power they might enjoy by toppling him from his position.

World-class stature is currently seriously wanting. I think you already knew this if only secretly before you passed over. Why is it that men succumb to their baser instincts when a shining beacon is available to illuminate the path? Are we that weak and feeble? It seems so. I have been writing about the cultural differences among our peoples. I believe the people of the west do not understand the rich cultures that are part of the African tradition. You were aware of these cultures, growing up within your tribal enclave but observing those of your neighbours and learning that others have cultures very similar to your own. You believed that animosity between different peoples or groups is, in the end, futile. You also observed that freedom is the ultimate human goal. However, when given freedom, why do many people abuse it, as if it is a right without responsibility?

Someone with whom you might at one time have had something in common – fighting for the right of self-determination – the Right Honourable President of Uganda, Uweri Museveni has recently passed a bill removing freedom and the right of self-determination from his gay and lesbian fellow citizens. In fact he also manipulated the last election (2015) to ensure he removes the right of self-determination from his electorate as well. I can share with you also the unfortunate rise of one of your fellow South Africans, Julius Malema who seems determined to drive South Africa along the same path as Mugabe’s Zimbabwe – and we can all see how that turned out

I assume that South Africa and the world was ready for you when you came into the light. Now, however, it seems we no longer wish to carry that flame. We succumb too easily to darkness. I suppose that when the world is again in dire need you, or one like you, he or she will come along again to show us the way. Until then pity us our suffering.
From an admirer.

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The African Dimension (Extension 4)

Consciousness, having evolved over millions of years of life and death struggle, and moreover because of that struggle, was not designed for self-examination. It was designed for survival and reproduction. Conscious thought is driven by emotion; to the purpose of survival and reproduction, it is ultimately and wholly committed (E. O. Wilson, The Social Conquest of Earth, 2013).

In the context of this essay, I would like to disagree in part with Wilson’s claim. I believe that consciousness is evolving and that self-examination emerges as a result of that evolution. Self-examination may have been afforded to some of us because the “life and death” struggle is not such a struggle any more. Perhaps if we can understand this process more clearly then we can get closer to the root and stem of corruption and deceit, not only in Africa but elsewhere in the developing (and developed) world.

Firstly, let me back-track a little. In my last post I noted that perhaps part of the reason for the problem of corruption in Africa is vestigial tribalism. I observed that this is linked to the smaller group sizes and affiliations which still predominate in African social organisation. Meredith (2011) finds that, shortly after the independence of many African states

Politicians and voters alike came to rely on ethnic solidarity. For politicians it was the route to power. They became, in effect ethnic entrepreneurs. For voters it was their main hope of getting a local representative at the centre of power – an ethnic patron who could capture a share of the spoils and bring it back to their community (Meredith, M., The State of Africa; 2011)

I indicated earlier that people may use the excuse of endemic poverty and struggle for resources, even lack of education as a justification for corrupt practice. Poverty or censure at the lack of education must be the cause of some quite deep-seated fears. There may well be some mileage in pursuing this as a line of inquiry. For instance, it may be fear of poverty or simply the memory of that fear that drives folks to become greedy and selfish – looking to individual gratification at the expense of the wider community. However, I do not believe we can blame only poverty or the lack of education for this. We need to go still deeper than fear of poverty or even the social organisation that I discussed in The African Dimension 3 above. I believe we need to go into group or national psyche and the evolution of consciousness.

How best to tackle such a huge topic? Anecdote or allegory may be best. The divisive to-ing and fro-ing of self-interest versus community responsibility requires us to find a balance that will be good for both the individual and the group. I believe we can say that in some communities the balance tends to favour group responsibility while in others, the individual. Witness the collective struggle against floods in Britain and in Tanzania in the past few years. In the British example I saw a picture of a young man piggy-backing an elderly woman across a flooded way. I am absolutely certain that he would not have asked for anything in return. This is conjecture of course but it would be unthinkable in Britain under these circumstances. People pull together to get through a natural disaster. Here we see group solidarity at work – ‘we’re all in this together so let’s help each other’. Meanwhile in Morogoro, Tanzania I watched a young man carrying an older woman across a flooded river. He was rendering a service for which he charged a fee.

I see this as an indication not only of different cultural values but of a different psyche – that of the individual ahead of the group. In the Tanzanian example we have someone not only helping another but also helping himself, with no expectation of return of favour, only immediate gratification. You could blame this on poverty. You could blame it on tribal differences – the older woman was not known to the young man so he had no hesitation in charging for his service. In a culture such as this, where almost everything has monetary value, even social exchanges, we have a pathway to profiteering and corruption. Of course the pathway remains only compelling, not inevitable. To explain the differing cultural values between any two societies and the psyche expressed by these values is to generalise, of course. I could find examples of the reverse in both Tanzania and Britain – the British man asking for pay and the Tanzanian displaying true altruism but somehow I don’t believe this would be indicative of the social differences. More soon.

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The African Dimension (Extension 3)

Earlier, I discussed some of the underlying bases of corruption in Africa. Yes, corruption affects 66-75% of global communities but Africa seems the most corrupt despite being the least able to sustain it.

Once corruption becomes entrenched, its negative effects multiply. It induces cynicism, because people begin to regard it as the norm. It undermines social values because people find it easier and more lucrative to engage in corruption than to seek legitimate employment. It erodes governmental legitimacy because it hampers the effective delivery of public goods and services. It limits economic growth because it reduces the amount of public resources, discourages private investment and saving and impedes the efficient use of government revenue and development assistance funds (see here for reference).

I have suggested that the justifications for this may include lack of resources and in some cases poor educational systems. Again, I believe these are simple justifications. I’ve discussed the cultural differences (see The African Dimension above), suggesting that the social environments in Africa lead to a more personal, if not personable way of interacting socially. Otite Onigu (2000) quoted in G. Lewal’s Corruption and Development in Africa: Challenges for Political and Economic Change suggests that

 “Corruption is the perversion of integrity or state of affairs through bribery, favour or moral depravity” … It takes place when at least two parties have interacted to change the structure or processes of society or the behaviour of functionaries in order to produce dishonest, unfaithful or defiled situations”. In other words – corruption is a systematic vice in an individual, society or a nation which reflects favouritism, nepotism, tribalism, sectionalism, undue enrichment, amassing of wealth, abuse of office, power, position and derivation of undue gains and benefits.

I favour this interpretation, especially as it reflects the tribalism and sectionalism that still prevail in much of Africa. A reading of Meredith’s 2011 The State of Africa supports this view. As a result of tribal organisation and affiliation, members of the same tribe tend to favour each other. This plays out as one member helping another, perhaps with a bribe or kickback or as skewed nepotism in hiring and firing in the workplace. Those who favour each other on a tribal, clan or family basis may well justify corrupt actions out of a distaste or outright hatred of peoples of other tribes, clans or families whom they exclude from their circles.

Group identity with reference to a tribal culture may hold more sway in Africa where in the developed world it has largely vanished. Group identity is held more strongly when the groups are smaller and one knows many members within the group. Thus if a clan consists of anything up to 150 individuals clan alliances are stronger because members are known to each other. Similarly, when many clans come together to make up a tribe, clan alliances are extended to members of that tribe, although the bonds may be weaker at tribal levels. In the developed world where group sizes are much larger, the ties that bind are also weaker (see Dunbar’s Number, but more of this later).

The truth about the Zimbabwean nation is that it was built around tribalism, so entrenched is the tradition and culture to the extent that it is now institutionalized tribalism (see here for reference).

During colonialism and Apartheid black people [in Zimbabwe] were forced into a so-called Bantu education and even at [the] workplace blacks earned less than their white counterparts even if they were doing same jobs. Nowadays Ndebele ethnic people regardless of qualification and merit must be deputies of ethnic Shona people. Even in sports administration [it] seems there is an unwritten rule that Ndebeles must be deputies. Is this tribalism not [also] imperialism? (see here for reference).

Tribalism may be seen as a common thread running through African social organisation. It may be so deeply ingrained in the psyche that it influences decision-making, political factionalism and social networking. It influences how one person sees or judges another person through his or her theory of mind. Corruption in Africa, as well as political affiliations and social intercourses may well be a redolent of a tribal organisation of society. Tribal affiliations are not only reflected in small encounters on a day-to-day basis – they are reflected in crooked mega-deals engineered by those in high places. As a result corruption has become endemic in much of the continent (see here for reference).

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