Monday, November 12, 2012

Gossip as enforcement mechanism

This was an interesting Salon article that discussed whether societies resemble more the classic tribe where altruism and dedication to the survival of the group prevails or the independent, objectivist position of types like Ayn Rand, whose characters solemnly proclaim: "I swear by my life, and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine." That part was a little tired of an argument for me, what I found unique about this article was the discussion of how gossip was used as a primary means of enforcement in tribal societies:

"There are two ways of trying to create a good life," Boehm states. "One is by punishing evil, and the other is by actively promoting virtue." Boehm's theory of social selection does both. The term altruism can be defined as extra-familial generosity (as opposed to nepotism among relatives). Boehm thinks the evolution of human altruism can be understood by studying the moral rules of hunter-gatherer societies. He and a research assistant have recently gone through thousands of pages of anthropological field reports on the 150 hunter-gatherer societies around the world that he calls "Late-Pleistocene Appropriate" (LPA), or those societies that continue to live as our ancestors once did. By coding the reports for categories of social behavior such as aid to nonrelatives, group shaming, or the execution of social deviants, Boehm is able to determine how common those behaviors are.

[I]n 100 percent of LPA societies—ranging from the Andaman Islanders of the Indian Ocean archipelago to the Inuit of Northern Alaska—generosity or altruism is always favored toward relatives and nonrelatives alike, with sharing and cooperation being the most cited moral values. Of course, this does not mean that everyone in these societies always follow these values. In 100 percent of LPA societies there was at least one incidence of theft or murder, 80 percent had a case in which someone refused to share, and in 30 percent of societies someone tried to cheat the group.

What makes these violations of moral rules so instructive is how societies choose to deal with them. Ultimately, it all comes down to gossip. More than tool-making, art, or even language, gossip is a human universal that is a defining feature of our species (though this could change if we ever learn to translate the complex communication system in whales or dolphins). Gossip is intimately connected with the moral rules of a given society, and individuals gain or lose prestige in their group depending on how well they follow these rules. This formation of group opinion is something to be feared, particularly in small rural communities where ostracism or expulsion could mean death. "Public opinion, facilitated by gossiping, always guides the band's decision process," Boehm writes, "and fear of gossip all by itself serves as a preemptive social deterrent because most people are so sensitive about their reputations." A good reputation enhances the prestige of those individuals who engage in altruistic behavior, while marginalizing those with a bad reputation. Since prestige is intimately involved with how desirable a person is to the opposite sex, gossip serves as a positive selection pressure for enhancing traits associated with altruism. That is, being good can get you laid, and this will perpetuate your altruistic genes (or, at least, those genes that allow you to resist cheating other members of your group).

Sometimes gossip is not enough to reduce or eliminate antisocial behavior. In Boehm's analysis of LPA societies, public opinion and spatial distancing were the most common responses to misbehavior (100 percent of the societies coded). But other tactics included permanent expulsion (40 percent), group shaming (60 percent), group-sponsored execution (70 percent), or nonlethal physical punishment (90 percent). In the case of expulsion or execution, the result over time would be that traits promoting antisocial behavior would be reduced in the populations. In other words, the effect of social selection would be that altruists would have higher overall fitness and out-reproduce free riders. The biological basis for morality in our species could therefore result from these positive and negative pressures carried out generation after generation among our Pleistocene ancestors. 

I thought this was a very interesting assertion "More than tool-making, art, or even language, gossip is a human universal that is a defining feature of our species." Gossip is often compelling and easy to spread, perhaps this is what makes it so effective as a tool. Its effects are incredibly powerful (David Petraeus, anybody? or for that matter his paramour Paula Broadwell). In a civilized society in which so much of our behavior is moderated by the way it will make us look to other people (do we seem shifty? trustworthy?) it is extremely advantageous to have a good reputation. Even when I am not trying to con someone (perhaps even more so), I get annoyed and frustrated when people act overly suspicious, making me jump through hoops to get something that should have come to me through simple courtesy. Likewise, in the book and film Dangerous Liaisons, one of the "villains" dies, but the fate worse than death was the other villainess being ostracized from high society.


  1. How do we say first. oh yea FIRST

  2. :) Good Morning all!!!! Good Morning Blades!!!!

    Whats up?

    PS- I wasnt around after the morning yesterday, but thank you to the Anonymous who said I have a nice energy ;)

  3. You missed two days of "Up From the Sofa".

    1. Really? I was here the day before (the 10th) so I guess I just missed yesterday! Thanks for letting me know!!! Iam gonna go read and save them :)

    2. :) Just read and saved them :)

      Thank you again, these are brilliant and I want/need to save all of them!

      Off to read todays "Up from the sofa"!!!!!

  4. All the interest in altruism stems from the idea that generous acts are performed without regard to personal gain, and in fact can negatively impact the fitness of the generous one. This article suggests that 'altruism' positively impacts fitness through reputation gain, which makes altruism actually a selfish act. I guess I don't see what's so interesting about it then. Helping someone out is indeed a good way to get laid, or at least can get you a referral.

  5. I am curious about your take on use of gossip among friends in this situation. There are four friends, a married couple and two single women. When one of the single women is not around the husband likes to gossip about the missing one, picking on her weight, etc.
    He is a politician and he suggests this is how his family (not so far from the tribal folks mentioned in today's post) connected when th eother single woman claims discomfort about the notion that their gossiping behind their common friend.

    Do you do this sort of gossipping (single or double p in there, not sure)? Is the husband testing the women, or is he really believing this is the way the group is bonding? How long would this sort of friendship last?

    1. I would say gossiping might be twofold. YOu'd learn not to trust the gossiper but you could fake bond with them. You know they have loose lips and are useful, especially if the gossiper provides valuable and accurate info which can serve you.

      It can be a false bonding because you don't exactly share anything but a feigned look of interest in the gossiper so they might continue to provide useful info.

      ^They're poisonous but they can't shut their stupid trap so they're somewhat useful. GOssiping can be evil all around, unless you are protecting a loved one from danger.

      And no, the friendships will wane because eventually one of you are the victim.

  6. Replies
    1. I definitely am a living being. Everything else is just details.

    2. Postmodern Sociopath: "I was sitting across the table from someone that loves to read books about psychopaths and she was telling me all about them, things that would suprise me about them. Even told me how to ..."spot one". lol"

      lol. They think reading about them makes them better at identifying them. They can't even comprehend the mindset of P/S people. Let them have their comforting delusions. The prey is easiest with its guard down.

  7. Top of the morning Rich glad to see you have been keeping up with yourself. You starting to feel healthier yet?

    1. Hey Blades! I definatly have a clearer mind!

      Also, my dreams are really INTENSE, I told my counselor at the methadone clinic about them and he said "I bet they are like techni-color on steroids huh?" and that describes them PERFECTLY!!!! They are really animated and graphic to the point where I some times wake up with a racing heart and a feeling of relief.........

      ALSO UPDATE TO SW- I took a rine test at home on saturday and my test came up - Pretty much clean, iam probably clean right now..... The reason I say "pretty much clean" is because the way the test works is you dip the stick in your urine, than let it sit for five mins and the results come up....... One line means you are positive for having marijuana in your system, and two lines means you arent. This is the 3rd time I have tested myself...... The first two times it was only just one STRONG line (positive) and this last time it was two lines, but the first one was a VERY STRONG line, and the second one was a very weak line, but there was still two lines and according to the test that means I dont have THC in my system....... I also bought 2 more tests so I have two more on hand...... That was done on Saturday and today its monday so hopefully Iam all good, the only thing that worried me was the one line being so dark and the other being so light, but according to the box that means I "passed"!!!! WHOOP WHOOP!!!!

      Thanks for asking Blades!!!!

      How have you been lately?

    2. Out of curiosity; what is it with all those exclamation marks, Rich?

    3. I was just coming to tell Rich that I love all the exclamation marks. They make me smile when I see them :D

    4. Raven he's Über Empath enough said on the random hysterical !!!!! Useage but hey he means well.

  8. The group therapy went well.

    TNP wanted to give up the ever chasing of woman and find someone with whom he could share his heart and soul.

    This was not so easy, as he had been hiding his true nature from his lovers.

    He had to take the risk to show his true face. He had to figure out how to do this.

    First, he had to face who he was. This was a daunting task.

    Mee was trying to figure out how he could get independent enough to leave his parent's home.

    Mindless Pleasures had the "problem" of having to beat woman off with a stick. He was tired of the endless game of musical beds.

    Virus missed the session, but will be back for the next one.

    After the session ended, Zoe was ready to call it a night. Monica was agitated. Rich could see that.

    He asked her if she wanted to go out for a drink.

    They walked to the corner bar. She said she had something to tell him. She had put the practice in danger. She had made an error of grave proportions.

    She started sobbing. She was ashamed to tell him, but she had to, if he were going to protect her.

    "Let me have a glass of wine, first. Then, I will tell you the whole sordid story"

    She gulped her wine and sat back.

    1. :) This is FANTASTIC!!!!! Also, Iam glad Virus will be coming into the story soon ;)

      I cant wait to hear Monica's sordid story, the suspense is KILLING me!!!!!!!

      :) Thank you for another great add on to "up from the sofa"!!!!!!!!

  9. Monica ordered another glass of wine.

    She held onto the stem of the glass and began.

    "Rich, we have a secret floor in our building. Alia, Haven and Elicit have offices there. It is a research wing. You need top secret clearance to enter.

    Don't tell the others I told you. We are sworn to secrecy about it's existence. If anyone asks, we deny it.

    I met a man involved in this operation. He came to me as a patient."

    Monica stopped and put her head down on the desk and sobbed.

    She raised her head. Her make-up was smeared. Her lipstick was on her cheeks. Her eyes were swollen.

    "Rich, you are going to hate me."

    1. I hope I get to abuse my position of power with the good looking research subjects.

    2. Finding new and improved way to kill the comments section, I see.

  10. Saw the Tippy Hedrin/HitchCOCK relationship. Any theories on his personality?

    1. documentary/movie rather. She talks about feeling creeped out because she sees him absorbing her self by seeing things through her eyes.

      I am using my own words and it is just a dramatization..

    2. I think Hitchcock was a "covert malignant narcissist"
      that did his best to break Tippy and join his cult.
      Most covert malignant narcissists have cult followers. And of course we ALL know what he wanted
      her to do.....

    3. By his cult followers, do you refer to the stable of women who did "what he wanted her to do..."

    4. No, female reference was made in my post among Hitchcock's cult followers. My reply was only about Tippi as he stated in the movie "what he wanted her to do."

      I thought all intelligent people knew that there are male and female followers in a cult.

    5. ^And not all cult followers perform sexual acts. They offer other supplies to the narcissist. Right?


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