[extropy-chat] The Bible Belt Paradox

Anders Sandberg asa at nada.kth.se
Tue Jan 16 20:36:23 UTC 2007

Damien Broderick wrote:
> Yes, but does this speak to the question of *why* such environments
> are especially dangerous? I still back my off the cuff suggestion
> that as duller people with constitutionally impaired impulse control
> accumulate in a region without many outlets or productive
> constraints, they will steadily make the environment more hazardous
> for everyone else there--and their relatives will share some of their
> vulnerability for superstitious memes especially of a brutal and
> authoritarian kind. On the other hand, this is perhaps an absurdly
> reductive and partial account.

I think we have a feedback effect here. Duller and impulse impaired people
have a hard time doing well in society, so they congregate where living is
cheap enough. Such places are often cheap because of lack of productivity,
and having 'bad' people around retains their bad reputation, prevents
development and keeps them cheap. Living in this environment (even if you
are not dull) might predispose you towards religion as a coping mechanism.
Maybe there are pro-religion genes that correlate with antisocial traits
or traits that also makes you worse off, but even without them I think one
can get fundamentalism as a result of the bad encironment. Now, there is
probably a bit of feedback from fundamentalism in the form of
authoritarian upbringings, which might be harming particularly vulnerable
people and make them less able to do well, closing the cycle. As I argued
in my blog the fundamentalism/conservatism might also reduce outside
investments in the area. Add to this the formation and maintenance of
culture, where people often construct self-serving or maladaptive
explanations of why things are as they are and why they should remain so,
and you get a whole tangle of vicious cycles.

How do we break them? It might be that there are no particular ways of
doing this and that we need to deal with all the issues (helping dull
become smarter, increase available money, improve security, encourage
tolerance and education, changes in rent economics etc). Or maybe it is
possible to set up positive feedback loops, like how an IKEA store
apparently got East Palo Alto to start moving forward again (brings in
money, the local council gets taxes to fund projects, other stores grow up
next to it, people get jobs, neighbourhoods become more secure etc). If
there was a way of seeding virtuous cycles reliably it would be great.

Anders Sandberg,
Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics
Philosophy Faculty of Oxford University

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