Intention is salient

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

Bernie Sanders has proclaimed that democratic socialism isn’t un-American, Harrison Searles notes:

He says that it is in us all. And in that he is correct: The desire for an egalitarian and unified society is an element of human nature. Such desires are part of our genetic inheritance. A yearning for democratic socialism is a legacy of the band societies that our distant ancestors lived in. Those social instincts were an essential part of the success of the hominid line.

With those instincts, our ancestors were able to traverse the evolutionary minefield of selfishness and competing interests through speech and participatory, consensus-based decisionmaking. Egalitarian decisionmaking complemented the other traits defining the hominid line, including linguistic talent and hypercognition, to make Homo sapiens a master of social interaction. Many animals exploit cooperation for survival, but Homo sapiens are astounding in their ability to do so creatively. In their shared struggle for existence, our ancestors worked socially together in their egalitarian bands. Until the dawn of civilization, just 10,000 years ago, those simple societies were the context of all human interaction. Our genes have not changed very much since the start of civilization. At root, we are still band-man.

With the emergence of vastly complex commercial societies, cooperation began to take on a new form and meaning. Abstract rules, rather than instinctual impulses, came to guide how cooperation worked. The principles of property and voluntary agreement were extended to a widening array of things and activities. With the invention of such abstract rules came the invention of the autonomous individual.

Today, in the context of family and friends, people still rely on primordial social instincts. But those natural proclivities have taken an ever more secondary role in governing cooperation within the whole of society. In “The Fatal Conceit” and other writings, Friedrich Hayek argued that the desire for policies like those favored by Sanders is an atavistic reassertion of people’s primal social instincts. Hayek suggested that there was a conflict between the instincts biologically evolved in bands and the abstract rules culturally evolved in civilization. Yet the yearnings for solidarity and centricity remain a lingering part of human nature. When they are not treated with caution, those yearnings can be turned into misguided policies.

What Daniel Klein calls “the people’s romance” remains a hazard of modern politics. It is the yearning for solidarity; it is the yearning for sentiment, action, and experience that encompasses “the people.” It makes us uneasy with the abstract rules that individuate and detach our social experiences. In an experimental setting, Klein and collaborators have shown our demand for encompassing experience and sentiment.

Over millions of years our minds evolved to read emotional cues and to forms narratives of intention, but not to see unintended consequences. Our minds are adapted for emotional intelligence, not cost-benefit analysis. The people’s romance is a systemic bias that we have to be mindful of. As Paleolithic animals in modernity, we have to be wary of temptations to appraise a policy by the emotional impact of what we see rather than by the consequences of what we don’t see. What we see, above all, is what we imagine to be intended by the central players. Intention is salient.


  1. Slovenian Guest says:

    No worries, it’s not a turd, it’s a polished democratic turd! It’s not rape rape, to quote Whoopi, so bend over shitizens and feel the Bern.

  2. Lucklucky says:

    What an idiot. I am sorry, I can’t express it any other way.

    If that so why Socialism is only possible if enforced by violence?

    Except for kibbutz and same communes experimentation all socialism needs state laws — laws are violence — to exist. Socialism doesn’t accept a person can be any other thing than a socialist.

  3. Slovenian Guest says:

    Speaking of kibbutz:

    According to the new book We Are As Gods, by Kate Daloz, which tells the tale of the rise and fall of the Myrtle Hill Farm in northeast Vermont, Sanders was told to leave the (hippie) commune in 1971 because he didn’t work, instead “sitting around and talking” about politics. Sanders engaged in “endless political discussion” while the residents seethed; one resident, Craig, resented feeling like he had to pull others out of Bernie’s orbit if any work was going to get accomplished that day.

    It gets better:

    Despite a prestigious degree, however, Sanders failed to earn a living, even as an adult. It took him 40 years to collect his first steady paycheck — and it was a government check. One of his first jobs was registering people for food stamps, and it was all downhill from there. Sanders took his first bride to live in a maple sugar shack with a dirt floor, and she soon left him. Penniless, he went on unemployment.

    He holds a bachelor of arts degree in political science:

    Regardless of course distribution, a Political Science degree provides an excellent liberal arts background for advanced study or direct entry into a career.

    You will be 40 and working for the state before you can even say democratic socialism!

    Bernie also promises to be an arts president, he would advocate “schtrongly” for robust funding of the arts, unlike those conservative ideologues, who attack and hate the arts, of course.

    A long-term goal of the Democratic Socialists platform is also to eliminate all but the most enjoyable kinds of labor, and trash will be collected by robot pixies. I guess they will just re-program those Japanese sex bots to do it.

    A good YouTube clip to give people who bring it up is Why “Democratic” Socialism Doesn’t Work by Louder With Crowder.

  4. Gilberto Carlos says:

    “Until the dawn of civilization, just 10,000 years ago, those simple societies were the context of all human interaction. Our genes have not changed very much since the start of civilization.”

    Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending would disagree.

  5. Candide III says:

    “The desire for an egalitarian and unified society is an element of human nature.” Sure. Used to be called envy.

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