[Paleopsych] Unequal Societies, Unhealthy Societies

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Sun Aug 8 15:57:11 UTC 2004

Steve, do you have actual data here? I'd love to see it! Anyhow, what you 
have at most is correlation, not causation. But it is true, I think, that 
non-market or corrupt-market economies do tend to result in greater 
concentration of wealth. What's happening in America, and throughout the 
world, in the past several decades, is a growing premium on intelligence. 
At one time "a strong back and a weak mind" was good enough to get by on. 
But now the man with the strong back needs to operate a complex machine, 
more and more a machine that has a computer chip in it.

So there are two factors: free vs. corrupt or non-free societies and the 
growing premium on intelligence.


On 2004-08-07, Steve opined [message unchanged below]:

> Have you noticed that 3rd world countries
> tend to have the wealth concentrated in
> a few hands.
> This results in poverty, because prosperity
> if a function of exchange, not possession.
> If the money doesn't change hands at a
> good rate, an economy stagnates.
> The US is more 3rd world than 1st world
> at this point in time.
> Steve Hovland
> www.stevehovland.net
> -----Original Message-----
> From:	Premise Checker [SMTP:checker at panix.com]
> Sent:	Saturday, August 07, 2004 8:37 AM
> To:	WTA-Politics; paleopsych at paleopsych.org; Psychology at WTL
> Subject:	[Paleopsych] Unequal Societies, Unhealthy Societies
> Unequal Societies, Unhealthy Societies
> http://homepage.ntlworld.com/marek.kohn/unequal.html
>    Why An Unequal Society Is An Unhealthy Society
>    Marek Kohn
>    This article first appeared in the New Statesman's 'Big Ideas'
>    feature, 26 July 2004.
>    Among those committed to understanding the mind as the work of natural
>    selection, there is a sense that the time has come: we are now
>    beginning to see what we really are. Two major propositions have
>    emerged, sustained by a construction boom in Darwinian theory and the
>    confidence that supporting data will increasingly be delivered in hard
>    genetic currency.  One is that human nature is evolved and universal;
>    the other is that variations in personality and  mental capabilities
>    are substantially inherited. The first speaks of the species and the
>    second about individuals. That leaves society - and here a third big
>    idea is taking shape. In two words, inequality kills.
>    The phrase (which is that of Richard Wilkinson, one of the leading
>    researchers in the field) sticks out from current consensus like a
>    sore thumb. For the most part,  the major biological ideas concerning
>    human nature and mental capabilities are seen to confirm the way the
>    world has turned out. In a world so seemingly short of serious
>    alternatives to the way it is currently arranged, that is only as
>    expected. But what might be the biggest biological idea of all, in
>    terms of its implications for human health and happiness, shows the
>    world in a very different light. It finds that society has a profound
>    influence over the length and quality of individuals' lives. The data
>    are legion and the message from them is clear: unequal societies are
>    unhealthy societies. They are unhealthy not just in the strict sense
>    but also in the wider one, that they are hostile, suspicious,
>    antagonistic societies.
>    The most celebrated studies in this school of thought are those
>    conducted among Whitehall civil servants by Michael Marmot, whose
>    recent book Status Syndrome presents his ideas in popular form. He and
>    his colleagues found a steady gradient in rates of death between the
>    lowest and the highest ranks of the civil service hierarchy. Top civil
>    servants were less likely to die of heart disease than their immediate
>    subordinates, and so on down the ladder; at the bottom, the lowest
>    grades were four times more likely to die than the uppermost. The key
>    features of these findings were that the gradient was continuous, and
>    that only about a third of the effect vanished when account was taken
>    of the usual lifestyle suspects such as smoking and fatty food. This
>    influence upon life and death affected everybody in the hierarchy,
>    according to their position in it. Differences in wealth were an
>    implausible cause in themselves, for most of the civil servants were
>    comfortably off and even the lowest paid were not poor. The fatal
>    differences were in status.
>    What goes for Whitehall seems to go for the world. In rich countries,
>    death rates appear to be related to the differences between incomes,
>    rather than to absolute income levels. The more unequally wealth is
>    distributed, the higher homicide rates are likely to be. Although the
>    findings about income inequality are controversial, the broad picture
>    is consistent; and remains so if softer criteria than death are
>    measured, like trust or social cohesion. Inequality promotes
>    hostility, frustrates trust and damages health.
>    It is hard to make sense of these findings outside a framework based
>    on the idea of an evolved psychology. Understanding humans as evolved
>    social beings, however, made what we are by the selective pressures of
>    life in groups of intelligent beings, it is easy to see that our minds
>    and bodies depend upon our relations with our kind. These relations
>    assume central importance for our health once economic development has
>    minimised the dangers of infectious disease and relegated starvation
>    to history.
>    Studies of baboons, social primates obliged by their nature to form
>    hierarchies, tell the same story. A state of subordination is
>    stressful; such stress may put the body into a mode that is vital in
>    emergencies but corrosive as a permanent condition, interfering with
>    the immune system and increasing the risk of heart disease.
>    Conversely, human relationships formed on a broadly equal basis may
>    support the immune system and promote health. An American researcher,
>    Sheldon Cohen, demonstrated this by dripping cold viruses into
>    volunteers' noses, and then asking them about the range and frequency
>    of their social relationships. The more connections they had - with
>    acquaintances, colleagues, neighbours and fellow club members as well
>    as with nearest and dearest - the less likely they were to develop
>    colds.
>    The relationship between the length of life and its everyday quality
>    is the relationship between its biological and social dimensions,
>    which demands an evolutionary explanation; and the findings seem to
>    demand egalitarian measures. It's an unfamiliar combination. But
>    Darwinian readings of the data on health and equality are not
>    incompatible with claims that humans are innately unequal. They do,
>    however, lead to markedly different views of how to make the best of
>    people.
>    So do the prior ethical commitments that evolutionary thinkers bring
>    to their projects. In his book The Blank Slate, having stated the case
>    for the substantial innateness of all human characteristics and their
>    imperviousness to parental influence, the psychologist Steven Pinker
>    devotes a chapter to denouncing the past century's art and its
>    associated discourses. Folk wisdom and popular taste are right, he
>    affirms; `elite art' is perverse and wrong. The argument is built upon
>    the idea that we all share an evolved human nature, but it would not
>    be terribly difficult to remove the Darwinian passages and produce a
>    standard-issue comment piece for those pages of right-leaning
>    newspapers that are devoted to castigating the liberal elite.
>    Pinker turns his moral compass to take bearings on literary reference
>    points such as 1984, that affirm the individual and condemn attempts
>    to impose equality upon humankind's natural inequality. At a
>    fundamental level, modern Darwinism encourages individualism, for it
>    holds that evolutionary processes act on individual organisms rather
>    than upon groups of organisms. It makes no particularly strong
>    predictions about variations among individual human minds. That part
>    of the picture comes from the behaviour geneticists, who compare
>    identical twins with fraternal twins (or study their prize specimens,
>    identical twins who have been reared apart) and conclude that a large
>    proportion of the variation between individuals' personality traits,
>    temperaments and intelligence is due to inherited differences. Such
>    findings readily lend themselves to a view of the world which attaches
>    great importance to allowing individuals to fulfil their potential,
>    while regarding social programmes to reduce inequalities as vain at
>    best. Equality of opportunity is a fundamental principle; equality of
>    outcome is a pernicious fantasy.
>    The result is an upbeat fatalism; upbeat about the prospects for
>    scientific understanding of human psychology, fatalistic about the
>    prospects that society might be improved by such understanding ... and
>    upbeat, also, in the confidence that society needs no radical
>    alteration. Many of those who dislike such visions collude in them, by
>    acquiescing in the assumption that the effects of environments can be
>    altered but those of genes cannot, and by failing to recognise the
>    words `tend to'. The big idea that provides much of the driving force
>    for evolutionary psychology, the project to describe a universal human
>    nature, is that the sexes have different reproductive interests. The
>    sex which invests the most in reproduction will be the one which takes
>    more care in its choice of mates. Among humans, this implies that
>    women will tend to be more discriminating than males in their choice
>    of partners. It also implies that men and women will have different
>    emotional propensities - as Stephen Jay Gould put it, conceding the
>    central principle of evolutionary psychology in the very act of
>    deploring the neo-Darwinian school. It does not imply that every woman
>    will be more circumspect in choice of partners than every man, or that
>    every man will be readier to take risks than every woman, any more
>    than the tendency for men to be taller than women means that all men
>    are taller than all women. Through the widespread failure to recognise
>    that evolved behaviours and ways of thinking are tendencies,
>    evolutionary psychology has determinism thrust upon it.
>    In the application of evolutionary perspectives to health and
>    equality, however, the prospect of a better society - or at least of
>    better communities or workplaces - is unmistakeable. This way of
>    understanding human nature has the qualities that have marked great
>    Darwinian ideas since the Origin of Species: it is profound in its
>    implications, potentially transformative, and challenges existing
>    wisdom. On one hand, it calls into question the idea that equality of
>    opportunity should be pursued without regard for equality of outcome.
>    On the other, it goes beyond the mechanistic assumption that the task
>    of `progressive' politics is to ensure that the least well off have
>    enough, emphasising that how much is enough depends on how much others
>    have. It replaces vestigial sentiments about the abstract virtue of
>    co-ops and community spirit with data about life and death, implying
>    that we would all (or almost all) be healthier and happier if we were
>    prepared to share more of what we have. It speaks to the world we live
>    in, where want is marginal but trust is precarious.
>    In Richard Wilkinson's words, it is `the science of social justice'.
>    Like other big evolutionary ideas, though, it may be honoured more by
>    denial than by engagement.
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