Friday, March 20, 2015

ethnic groups are biological species to low-functioning, primitive brains...,

hirhome |  If ethnic actors represent ethnic groups as essentialized “natural” groups despite the fact that ethnic essences do not exist, we must understand why. This article presents a hypothesis and evidence that humans process ethnic groups (and a few other related social categories) as if they were “species” because their surface similarities to species make them inputs to the “living kinds” mental module that initially evolved to process species level categories. The main similarities responsible are (1) category-based endogamy and (2) descent-based membership. Evolution encouraged this because processing ethnic groups as species—at least in the ancestral environment—solved adaptive problems having to do with interactional discriminations and behavioral prediction. Coethnics (like conspecifics) share many strongly intercorrelated “properties” that are not obvious on first inspection. Since interaction with out-group members is costly because of coordination failure due to different norms between ethnic groups, thinking of ethnic groups as species adaptively promotes interactional discriminations towards the in-group (including endogamy). It also promotes inductive generalizations, which allow acquisition of reliable knowledge for behavioral prediction without too much costly interaction with out-group members. The relevant cognitive-science literature is reviewed, and cognitive field-experiment and ethnographic evidence from Mongolia is advanced to support the hypothesis.

The evidence from Mongolia supports the hypothesis that humans process ethnies as natural living kinds (theoretical considerations suggest that they do so at the “species” level). My Torguud subjects have a blood-based model for assigning individuals to ethnies. Beyond this, they consider such assignment to carry implications for ethnic category-based behavior even without any exposure to other members of their ethnic category, and they seem to believe that the ineffable “something” responsible for this is carried somehow “inside.” All of these parallel essentialist thinking in natural living kinds, suggesting that my subjects’ thinking about ethnies is not only primordialist but essentialist and that there is no difference between an ethnic group and a species from the point of view of the schemas that are primed to process them. Processing endogamous norm groups as species, I have argued, was adaptive in the ancestral environment because (1) it allowed us to learn a lot about out-groups in a very inexpensive way, in particular by making inductive inferences about nonobvious properties, and (2) it made possible processes of discrimination that prevented us from incurring the costs of coordination failure. The reason these benefits have been obtained specifically by processing these groups as species results from the fact that ethnies exhibit the most diagnostic features of species: group-based endogamy and descent-based membership. This made it easy for a blind evolutionary process to exapt a preexisting architecture by simply failing to discourage the priming by ethnies of the living-kinds module. This is not, I think, how we think of social categories in general but only how we think of those categories which, as in ethnies, exhibit the strongly diagnostic features of biological species, such as feudal classes and castes.


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