First off, I want to say how pleased I am that we appear to be speaking almost exactly the same language, and that your analysis seems to line up very similarly with mine from the last half decade. I’m still curious if you’ve landed on the solution set I have, but I don’t want to jump that far ahead for fear of scaring you off.
we can point to the most relevant aspect of it thus: we invented culture. Which is to say that we landed on the niche “general purpose hardware running special purpose software to determine behavior”. [My guess is that none of this is controversial.]
Yep, agreed. Been with you on that for a while.
Ants *are* Game Ant. To be an ant and to play Game Ant (behave in the Game Ant manner) are the same thing. Importantly, while Game Ant can ‘evolve,’ it evolves in biological time. Thus, the ants settled on this winning game 50 or so million years ago and have been sitting there with relatively small modifications ever since. This coupling of being and behavior is true also of apes (broadly speaking).
Yep, agreed, etc.
By contrast, for us humans, our being and our behavior is (meaningfully) decoupled. Humans are simultaneously evolving our “hardware” in ‘biological time’ (relatively unchanged for the past 100,000 years) and evolving our “software” in ‘culture time’ (changing a whole lot over the past 100,000 years).
Yep, but I’d like to add one thing to that statement that I don’t think is covered enough, and is contrary to some stuff I’ve seen Bret Weinstein say. Our two parallel evolutionary tracks are cross-connected in a way many people don’t realize. Follow me here.
Ant behavior is a bucket that is 100% nature. Human behavior is a bucket that is (let’s pretend for the sake of discussion) 50% nature 50% nurture. But what makes humans successful is our ability to run software. The software is Evolutionary Track 2, but the ability to run that software is a hardware thing. So if there are any biological groups of humans more capable of running software, they succeed over the ones that don’t, and tend to rub those ones out. We might say that the last 10,000 years of human evolution has been about the humans with the bigger and more accessible hard drives out competing the ones with smaller and less accessible ones. In particular, the humans capable of easily adopting indoctrinated principles into their brains (what you’ve called “enculturation” elsewhere) out compete the ones who can’t, because the playing field for competition is no longer about killing mastodons, it’s about working in groups.
So when Pinker and such talk about how our brains are wired for religion, this is the evolutionary path that has led to this wiring. And I’m going to go out on a ledge here and say our brains are also wired for war and genocide, which is something I’ve heard Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying mention in podcasts before. War and genocide, at a root level, function just like breeding programs. A culture of war kills off a culture of peace, and a culture with more available white space in their heads kills off a culture with less available white space. And that 50%/50% balance between nature and nurture in human brains is slowly and continually shifting towards nurture with this mode.
Bret had a big twitter thread on how “biology is upstream from culture” a while back, and I simply think that’s currently wrong. While it was certainly true at the beginning, I think today they’re both very tangled up. Everybody loves talking about Hitler, and Bret got semi famous by pointing out that Hitler’s actions were rational from a genetics point of view. Well that’s an obvious example of culture being upstream of biology, because he was leveraging cultural effects to make massive changes in the human gene pool.
The fact that there are cross connections between these two parallel evolutionary paths is something that must be on Game B’s radar, because those Game A effects (war, genocide) aren’t just a product of cultural Darwinism, they’re probably also a product of genetic Darwinism. You’re fighting Darwin. You’re going to need a sharp knife for that fight.
This ties in with your next passage:
However Human is different to Ant in a few ways that really matter.
First is that the Human hardware comes pre-installed with a “firmware” that I sometimes call “Game Zero” or “Game Dunbar”. This is the “baseline proto-culture” that is always running underneath any given culture. Things like “language in general” are part of this firmware. Which is to say that you don’t have to teach a kid language — we are hard-wired to develop language.
I haven’t seen this breakdown before, I’ve been calling it all Game Ant, but I think it’s worth looking at this in some detail. By my analysis, Game Ant is partly firmware partly software, you seem to be making a distinction, so let’s run with your terms.
I think there’s a good case that genocide and war may need to be reclassified from Game A to Game Dunbar, at least in part. They probably didn’t used to be, but the fact that war and genocide are cultural things that can affect the gene pool means they’ve had probably around 10,000 years to bake themselves into the firmware. You’re going to need a sharp knife.
This firmware is important because it means that anytime that we suffer a “software reboot” (i.e., civilization collapse), we can (and do) always reorganize around / by means of the firmware (and whatever cultural elements happen to survive the collapse). This is a big deal when you compare it to Game Ant. For Game Ant to suffer a “reboot” would mean something catastrophic at the level of the genome. Because we are running most of our “evolutionary” exploration in software, we can fail a lot and not suffer existential consequence (at least not until recently). So when we look at the historical record, the collapse of the Bronze Age hurt the actual humans running “Hittite Culture” pretty bad, but was *terminal* for Hittite Culture itself. The humans had to endure a hard reboot. Nasty but not existential.
I buy all that, but you can use that as a controlled experiment for what counts as Game A and Game Dunbar. War and genocide survived, while bronze manufacturing largely didn’t.
So did war and genocide reappear because they’re Game Dunbar, or did they reappear because they’re Nash Equilibria in the Prisoner’s Dilemma of resource harvesting in groups so Game A tuned itself for these to reemerge? Or both? I tend to think a bit of both.
Among many other things, this means that when a given culture suffers a reboot the hard won learnings of those cultures need not necessarily go away (they might be absorbed by neighboring cultures or even relearned by subsequent cultures via artifacts).
Sure, if those learnings are useful. I don’t think we’ve got much by way of Aztec culture floating around in our memeset right now. So in that way, hard reboots are actually quite useful in shaking out the bad code.
Combined, these differences make Game Human an innovation machine. Firmware reboot allows us to play with culture looking for new innovations with relatively high “risk seeking” bias. Horizontal transmission means that all new innovations will “percolate out” into the larger set of all cultures. And the innovation ratchet means that every generation will tend to get the possibility space of “the adjacent possible” for free and spend its time looking for new ways to expand that space.
Here’s a horrifying but necessary question: are hard reboots within the Game B tool set? I’m not a fan of this tool, but you do need a sharp knife.
I appreciate your outlay of Game B, and am enjoying it because it mirrors quite a lot of my own thoughts, but I’m to the point over here in my thought experiments where I’m knife shopping.
Second, any given Game A society must maintain its “sub-cultural” integrity. It needs to maintain the integrity of ‘the whole’ against various fractures and defections by parts (often sub-cultures or deeper structures built around “human scale” like clans). The defection rate of “drones” on “nests” is roughly equivalent to the defection rate of human cells on human bodies. Evolution has spent a lot of time solving for the solution to individual/group equilibrium in the context of ants (and apes). Game Zero (Game Dunbar) is also highly capable of maintaining “integrity” against individual defection- but it can’t scale beyond about 150 people. Evolution was only able to get this far using human hardware. Game A is running software to deal with the constant pressure of sub-cultures (many of which are bound to “Dunbar level” clans) defecting against the larger Game A society. But, so far at least, no Game A society has managed to develop an “Integrity system” in software that comes close to the strength of the hardware solution of Game Ant.
I want to step sideways and present to you the Boogeyman.
The Boogeyman that Game B must watch for is the potential that a modern culture solves the Dunbar problem and better emulates Game Ant. This would be disastrous for anyone who thinks in terms of Game B, but it is the very thing the Game A evolutionary track is selecting for right now. And I think China’s getting close to nailing it, with internet control, media control, social credit system, leveraging capitalist tendrils to force international cultural alignment, etc. Google is literally helping them refine Game A, in the same way Watson of IBM helped Hitler sort Jews onto rail cars.
Beating Game A is going to be hard enough. We may have a short clock to beat it before Game A evolves into something even tougher to beat.
Third, every given Game A society must maintain its integrity vis a vis all other Game A societies. At last we arrive at the Nash Equilibrium of war. And this piece is crucial. Game Dunbar had to deal with the first two issues (and did so well). But it was precisely the challenge of the limits to Dunbar (scalability of the interior) that called for Game A as a solution. When the only way to deal with a clan getting bigger than 150 people is to split into two clans and expand our territory, what do we do when we run out of room? We invent a new approach to social organization that consumes Dunbar scale clans as its primary food source. Thus began that Nash Equilibrium of war. Throughout history there have been broad times of peace — but always against the background context of (potential) war. This is particularly clear when you reflect on the fact that in culture war, physical violence is only one means of waging war. If you can get your neighbor to adopt your enculturation (for example watch your TV shows and build malls just like yours), then you really don’t need to wage “physical war”.
I think the first half of this is sloppy, but I’m okay with the second half by way of semantics.
War is simpler than you’re making it out to be. War is just what tribes of any size (above or below Dunbar limit) do when they bump into another tribe in a resource scarce environment. Peace, generally speaking, happens when there are enough resources. War is just the Nash Equilibrium for (tribes)+(resource scarcity), and happens at all scales. This is why we see it in the ants. There’s no need to go any deeper than Malthus here. Ethnic genocide operates on exactly the same mode, but within a national border. (resource scarcity neurons activate)>(genocide ensues).
The second half, the idea that culture war can be waged by hijacking and displacing memes, is important. Is this a knife in Game B’s knife block? I’ll add it to the potential list, alongside hard reboots and literal war.
This, then, finally gets us into the interesting part. The Nash Equilibrium of war isn’t an equilibrium! It is a stumble — in a general direction. The evolution of Game A has been a series of steps along a path paved by the question “how do I structure myself to gain maximum advantage from innovation whilst maintaining the integrity of my societies relationship with nature and the hierarchy of our social structure”? By and large, each step along this path was taken reluctantly and often as a consequence of some kind of crisis (frequently active or threatened war). But once one player took a relatively stable step, more or less everyone else had to take that or an equivalent step. Thus dragging the whole of humanity along the story of history into our current state.
Maybe I just don’t get your perspective, and maybe it’s worth unpacking further, but I really just don’t buy this one lick. War isn’t a stumble, it is a crucial element of Game A. It is a blatant Nash Equilibrium because if my culture doesn’t do it and your culture does, my culture gets rubbed out. It has a genetic cross connection because my genes also get rubbed out and the resources I used to be using to propagate my genes are redirected into the propagation of your genes. (this is what “life” is by the way, a giant soup of DNA consuming other DNA) War exists both on the Game A layer and the Game Zero layer, and the longer we go, the more it gets baked into our firmware. Every war bakes it into the firmware further, by one bundle of humans with a better mental capability of waging it erasing the genes of another bunch of humans who aren’t as capable of waging it.
This cannot be disregarded. Fixing this requires a very, very, very sharp knife. We can continue to talk about war if you like, and hash out our disagreements about how fundamental it is to not only Game A, but to both of our evolutionary tracks themselves, but mostly I showed up in the Game B group to talk specifically about our toolkit.
I’m going to grab some other snippets from the Facebook stuff and drop them here, so they’re all in one place, which are more toolkit related.
I said elsewhere…
“ don’t understand how this would be possible without a successful global revision in enculturation.
Which is another way of saying you have to win a culture war against every other culture on the entire planet.
Probably mostly by infiltrating and coopting them, piggybacking GameB enculturation into the existing cultural network in the same way the Christians piggybacked on Euro Paganism.
Is my analysis wrong?”
It certainly looks mostly right. Lets test. My sense is that the key insight is that gameB must relate to Game A cultures, not as “another culture” on the same playing field, but must represent another playing field altogether. Much like “multi-cellularity” is a “portal pathway” on the landscape of “single cell” and doesn’t compete with any given single cell but with the entire niche “single cell”.
gameb doesn’t wage culture war on other cultures, gameb wages war on “culture war” as a category.
gameb represents a “(much) higher fitness peak” on the landscape and our job is to provide a legible path for existing Game A players (and their cultures) into increasingly symbiotic relationship with that peak. Some might really transform into things like somatic cells. Others might be more like the gut biome — still entirely autonomous single cells but so connected to their symbiotic context as to be continuous with it.
I’m going to be blunt. That sounds great and all, but we’re dealing with Walmart shoppers here.
I’d like to draw a parallel to Sam Harris. Sam is this famously rigorous atheist, who maintains that mankind doesn’t need religion because they can all just do like he did, and spend a night on a canoe in Nepal dosing DMT and contemplating secular humanism and the fundamental interconnectedness of nature and thought. He completely fails to understand that while that may have worked for him, that solution is not scalable.
If Game B is going to be a thing at all, that thing has to (A) be better than Game A at all the things that Game A does, holistically speaking, at every step along the evolutionary path as Jim Rutt pointed out, and also (B) spread to the majority of mankind, which includes the Walmart shoppers.
I like your idea of “waging war on culture war as a category,” because it has a nice ring to it, but the mode of that must necessarily flow from one of our three tools in our toolkit:
- Hard Reboot (aka “Vote for Giant Meteor 2020”)
- Literal War
- Culture War (defined above as the hijacking of memes and viral enculturation)
Are there any other tools available? My most recent piece, The Human Tool, (which sparked our social media dialogue that landed us here) was specifically trying to unpack the third tool in the toolkit:
The Human Tool
Ants, Monkeys, Social Constructionism, Political Tribalism, Guns, Syria, and Cultural Postmodernist Frankfurt School…
..because I’m not a fan of the first two.
I have deep ideas on how to use the third tool. Whether we call that “culture war” or we call it “waging war on culture war by using the modes of culture war” is in the end, I think, semantic. If our goal is to hijack the dominant memes and spread Game B virally, then we need to become very good at understanding how culture war works, and become better players of it than the current cultures waging it today. Once we admit that’s the program, then we can shift directly into strategy and tactics. Sharpen our knife. Pick generals. Develop weapons. Establish fronts. Which is all perhaps scary language, but I think it works. If we want to rebrand the language I’m ok with that.
I have ideas about how to do all of this, but I don’t want to share them until we handshake over the nature of the project.
But I will say as someone who walks in prepper circles, the idea of posturing Game B within the fabric that might emerge from a disaster (hard reboot) is an intriguing idea I hadn’t considered before. I’m going to have to mull that over. It’s a tool I hadn’t considered until today. It’s a dangerous path, though, because one misstep on that path leads you to the New Zealand Shooter Manifesto, or worse.
Unpacking this stuff is dangerous, and my read on the Game B community is they largely don’t understand the dangers.