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Art Imitates Life Imitates Art.

By MatTehCat | The Cat's Mewsings | 27 Feb 2023


A few months back, I wrote an extremely lengthy paper, almost a small book, on the evolution and development of morality. It was the product of several months of personal research I’d done during the summer of 2022 and, while I do think it needs to be revised, I feel that there are some very important lessons to be learned from it.

Most importantly, I think that it is paramount that we accept the fact that people are different for evolutionary and developmental reasons. On the Right, definitely not so much on the Left anymore, you may come across the phrase, “There’s only one race, the Human race.” This idiom, though laudably idealistic, is just false. For a start, Humans are a species, Homo Sapiens. Secondly, the concept of Race simply means that there are subspecies or subpopulations of the species Homo Sapiens. Edward Dutton has written a rather concise and insightful book on the topic if you wish to become more acquainted with the idea. For the purposes of this short editorial piece, it suffices to know that the frequency of traits in a given population demarcate them from the rest of the species population and thus signify that they are of a subpopulation.

What I want to address is the idea that our ideas of these demarcated, subpopulations of Humans are the product of a top-down rather than bottom-up process. The traits in question are the result of both environmental and sexual selection. Over time, if a trait is fitness-enhancing, that trait will occur with greater frequency in a population than another, similar trait that is less fitness-enhancing. These traits can be the result of epigenetic, behavioral, and cultural changes. Out of these three, most people find it easiest to accept that, between groups of humans, there can be cultural differences that make one group fitter than another in a given environment; hence the obsession with MERIT. Less likely to be accepted is the idea that there can be meaningful behavioral differences, and thus psychological differences between groups of people that result in fitness-enhancing or decreasing traits, and which feed into cultural differences. And of the three that is least believable for the vast majority of people is the idea that epigenetic differences between groups of people that result from organism, phenotype, environment interactions can result in phenotypically distinct populations of humans, without significant genetic differences. These specific differences can be fitness-enhancing for a subpopulation in a given environment, they can result in psychological and behavioral differences, and thus can result in cultural differences. I suspect that the aforementioned set of group differences is the least believable for the majority of people because it requires the most amount of familiarity with the literature on evolutionary and developmental biology.

When we generate representations of these differences, they are not 1:1 representations or abstractions of the entity or group in question. Our linguistic and symbolic capacities simply do not operate in this manner, and thus it is absurd for this to be the standard by which they ought to operate, especially when describing differences between groups. More importantly, these representations are not top-down, limiting descriptions of a subpopulation necessarily; I’m sure they could be top-down, limiting descriptions of a subpopulation, but I think this is more likely to be the exception rather than the principle. Theoretically, if the representation or abstract description of the group in question fits the group in question, i.e., it is a paradigmatic representation of the group, then the predictive ability of the paradigmatic representation in question is not self-affirming or the product of confirmation bias; rather, it is simply a predictive model of the behavior of a subpopulation of people with the traits in question. Hence, it is accurate to claim that there are actual group differences between those we describe or can describe as Progressives and Conservatives, at least. The description does not inform our understanding of these two groups. Rather, the existence of these groups and their differences informs our representation of them, which further informs our understanding of them and, thus, how we represent them in the future. It is a cyclic process, but it cannot exist without the subject of description existing in the first place.

In the past, I have explored this notion vis-à-vis morality; specifically, how moral systems actually reflect significant group differences between people and how those people would or do respond to the environment they happen to find themselves within. However, this model is not limited to the study of moral differences between people. Rather, it can explore a whole host of sociological, psychological, and behavioral differences between subpopulations of people, at least.

In the West, specifically in America, these kinds of ideas are very difficult to discuss. As I mentioned before, I think this difficulty is rooted in scientific illiteracy. Yet, I also think this is a cultural issue. To succinctly state the essential point, the Civil Rights Act obliterated the ability of Americans to reconcile with group differences. One of the symptoms of this issue is the fact that Americans have stereotype phobia; they are afraid of stereotyping or they are even unwilling to acknowledge the reality of stereotypes.

Memes are an excellent place to start this kind of discussion, in my opinion. Memes are catchy or entertaining ideas that have the capacity to be efficiently spread. However, they, like art, must have a substance that serves as the subject of creation. For example, if I were to paint a woman wearing a dress in a park on a moonlit night, I would need to have an understanding of what the proportions of the woman I want to paint would be, what kind of woman I want to paint, what she would look like, how she should look under the moonlight, how the park looks, what kinds of plants are in the park, how those plants would look under the moonlight, and how she would look with respect to the park under moonlight conditions. I may also need to know how the stars would look, whether there would be stars, how the clouds would look, how the clouds would look when they’re affected by the moonlight and stars, how the clouds might affect the moonlight’s effect on the park, its greenery, and the woman in the park, and the woman’s accouterments. The point: none of these things come from nothing.

In the paper I wrote, I cited a chapter from the book The Evolution of Cultural Entities, titled Between Evolution and History: Biology, Culture, and the Myth of Human Origins by Tim Ingold. This chapter inspired me to come up with the analogy for the block of stone, the sculptor, and his subject. This analogy helps to describe Man’s evolutionary relationship with his environment and himself. The sculptor understands the technique of stone sculpting, he has the tools to sculpt stone, the requisite experience with stone to be confident that he can create a piece of art with the piece of stone in front of him, and experience with the subject that he wants to depict through the stone. The stone also has its own particular qualities. It cleaves a particular way, it has a certain hardness, it is from a particular place, it has a particular weight, height, and width, and it has a unique or particular color. The sculptor has also chosen this piece of stone specifically for the work he wishes to produce. As the sculptor works with this piece of stone, he gets a better understanding of how it will conform to his abilities. He also develops a relationship with the kind of stone he’s working with and, as a result, his skills are transfigured and improved. In turn, he is transfigured and improved, his skills increase, he becomes a better stone sculptor, he gains a knowledge of just how this kind of stone will conform to his abilities, the particular way he should treat that kind of stone, and he may also become more of a renowned artisan in the community to which he belongs. Also, of note, his finished product has the ability to alter how his audience perceives the subject that he’s captured, for example, a woman wearing a silk dress. His ability to capture the softness of the dress with the stone can alter the audience’s understanding of the stone itself, but also transform the way they see women who wear silk dresses. No longer may they be perceived as soft material that simply sways in the breeze, nor the women who wear them. Rather, the dress becomes powerful, as potent and strong a symbol as the stone it was depicted on.

Man, life in general, acts in this very same way with respect to his environment. An organism has particular resources in its environment that it may or may not have the capacity to take advantage of. Let us say, for example, in the case of birds, that the bird may be able to take advantage of a particular resource in its environment, like a nut, but not very effectively. Over time, through developmental processes, slight phenotypic variations can occur with greater frequency within the particular bird subpopulation such that it becomes better equipped to take advantage of the nuts in that particular environment. However, it never changes drastically enough to be incapable of returning to a previous environment to take advantage of the resources there. In fact, let us say that it changed environments due to a change in temperature and that the temperature in its previous environment returned to normal, while the temperature in its new environment became too cold. Now, having undergone a slight phenotypic development, without any significant genetic change, it is capable of taking advantage of new resources in its old environment that it had not previously taken advantage of before. It is now a better fit for the previous environment and the environment it migrated from if the weather in that environment ever gets warmer again.

Let us now examine the idea of stereotypes or representations. These paradigmatic representations serve as models that correlate to specific, observable behavioral tendencies or traits within a subpopulation. These stereotypes work off Man’s ability to caricature or capture the most salient facets of a group’s features, specifically the ones that are most relevant for interacting with that group and then to abstractly represent them. These salient features are not imposed on the representation or stereotype of the group; they emerge out of the group itself. Paraphrasing the words of Mary Jane West-Eberhard, the phenotype (the salient feature) cannot be a feature for selection unless the organism was already capable of expressing the phenotype in the first place. I.e., the feature cannot exist in the stereotype or representation unless the feature actually or potentially exists in the first place. Just as the painter cannot paint something he has no experience of, neither can the stereotype be accurate if it caricatures features that do not reflect actual features that any member of the stereotyped group can have.

As the stereotype spreads within a population or between populations, the representation may be refined such that there’s a better predictive correlation between the representation and any member of the group depicted by the representation. This means that the representation can alter the way people perceive others and interact with them, and depict them in their media. As the sculptor’s art has the ability to affect the society around him by altering how it perceives women and silk dresses, so too does the stereotype have the ability to alter a society’s interactions with a group. However, unlike the piece of art, the group is the medium from which the representation is derived and is ultimately the reason why the representation is depicted as it is. The representation is also a social construct, as well. It is the product of every member of a group’s interaction with another group. In this way, the stereotype cannot be the result of mere prejudice or self-affirming prejudice; non-predictive descriptions of members of the group would quickly be regarded as noise. In other words, simply stating bad things about a group does not create an accurate representation of that group; the perception of the group has to come from a real place for it to be accurate, and if it is accurate, even if that representation suggests unseemly things about the represented group, that is not the fault of anyone making the description; it is really rooted in the behavior of the members of the group from which the representation is derived.

As was previously mentioned, the differences between these groups can be cultural, behavioral (and thus psychological), anatomical, or physiological, the latter two of which must have genetic and epigenetic causes. As any group interacts with its environment, it acquires traits that fit it to that particular environment. As those traits increase in frequency, they may become fixated within the subpopulation. Then, when that group migrates to or is placed in a new environment, it will preserve that fixated trait or those fixated traits, at least. This could differentiate it from another population, of the same species, living within that environment, enough to cause natural or anthropogenic bifurcation between the two groups. If their fixated traits are not fitness-enhancing within the new environment, then the group they now find themselves living alongside will outcompete them. This creates a bottleneck for the previous group. When this happens, phenotypes that are either expressed or expressible become the target of selection. The group under selection cannot acquire traits that it did not have the capacity to express previously nor can the development of new traits occur, only variation on old traits that can lead to the development of new traits. If they cannot acquire new or altered traits in time to form an equilibrium with the other group or to outcompete them, they will be outcompeted by them.

Americans seem to be afraid of these ideas. Much of this fear, as far as I can see, is rooted in Civil Rights Law. Civil Rights Laws explicitly require that Americans ignore the heuristic mechanism of stereotyping as illogical and inefficient. However, stereotypical or representational thinking is anything but illogical or inefficient. As was already stated, in no way do we interact with the world in a 1:1 manner descriptively. When we speak of a tree, even of a specific kind of tree, we do not speak of that specific specific-kind of tree, i.e., that individual specific kind of tree. Rather, we speak of the individual kind of tree as a member of a group that we have a representational understanding of. The same with cats, dogs, bears, lions, houses, hammers, saws, drills, bricks, apartments, streets, roses, ants, ducks, and people, at least. We may speak of an individual, for example, our friend John, but even in that instance, we do not speak of John in a way that corresponds exactly with John. Rather, we speak of John representationally. This means that the laws of the United States require its population to act in a way that is delusional; specifically, they require citizens to treat everyone as if they are just individuals, without respect to the tendencies of the group(s) to which they belong. Even from a purely medical perspective, this can lead to poor outcomes because the necessary features of an individual were not or could not be considered.

More so, Civil Rights Laws seem to require that we ignore the developmental and evolutionary process previously discussed. Specifically, they require us to ignore the thing that is for what we would like it to be. This is backwards. We have to acknowledge or understand the thing as it is or really what it’s like before we can begin to move towards depicting it as it could be or to help it become what it could be. Like the bird and the group in the example, your target of selection has to be abilities and traits that already exist within the individual or group for them to be selected. Nothing comes from nothing. The target of selection cannot be abilities or traits you would like the group to have. You actually have to have hands-on, on-the-ground experience with the group you’re dealing with before you can make claims about how you’d like them to be. I do not expect a group of children with Down Syndrome to become or be nuclear physicists,  nor do I expect a group of little people to be NBA all-stars. Thus, to tell a group that they can be whatever they want to be is an outright lie; worse than that, it is setting them up for failure.  

Only after we reconcile with group differences will we be able to improve our interactions with each other. When we deny that group differences exist, and that these differences are of a cultural, behavioral, psychological, anatomical, and physiological quality, we are liable to claim that any disparities between groups are the result of systemic and anthropogenic causes rather than evolutionary or developmental ones. When we do this, we might think that changing the system will lead to better outcomes for the negatively impacted group or improve relations between groups. However, because the issue is not a top-down issue necessarily, because the issue is more likely to be rooted in bottom-up, developmental, and evolutionary causes, when relations do not improve but get worse or the negatively impacted group improves very little, we will be left dismayed or in a sorry state; we are not only setting the negatively impacted group up for failure or incentivizing non-constructive behavior, we are also setting our society up for failure by wasting our time on systematic changes that are cost inefficient.

In essence, the problems Civil Rights Laws are supposed to resolve cannot be completely resolved by Civil Rights Laws. For example, it has been claimed that racist policies lead to disparities in outcomes between groups, and we know that there’s racism if there are disparities in outcomes between groups. In other words, you know the sufficient condition through the necessary condition and the necessary condition affirms the sufficient condition; it’s tautological; it cannot be falsified unless there are no group differences. This is impossible. This line of thinking led SCOTUS to uphold affirmative action hiring policies in States like California. Embedded, also, in their line of thinking is that affirmative action is intended to overcome clandestine racism or discriminatory hiring. I.e., the definition of racism is tautological because, when there’s a penalty for disqualifying someone for a job because of their identity, discriminatory hiring will be done tacitly, or so the argument goes. The problem: disparate group outcomes are supposed to indicate that there are discriminatory policies in place, i.e., sexist or racist policies in place, at least; however, this statement is self-affirming; based on the reality of evolutionary, developmental, and biological differences between groups, there can be disparate outcomes between groups without there ever being clandestine or intentional discrimination. Thus, it is impossible to resolve the issue of disparate group outcomes, it is thus impossible to resolve racist or sexist policies as they are defined. As I have previously argued, they come with the territory of standards. Racism, if not also Sexism, is an illegitimate concept.

The ability of Americans to discuss these kinds of issues is hampered, to reiterate, primarily by Civil Rights Laws. The incentives and punitive measures taken to uphold and enforce Civil Rights Laws genuinely seem to be culturally stifling and dangerous. I say dangerous because they require us to act on delusional claims; they require us to ignore reality as it is for how someone would like it to be. This mechanism may be great for maintaining a certain kind of group cohesion, specifically getting participants in this charade to acquiesce to absurd claims, but a multicultural society cannot maintain itself in the long term on propositions that require its members to deny reality. Ultimately, a man cannot stand before an unyielding train and expect it to stop because he wills it to be so. It will eventually run him down.

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The Cat's Mewsings
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