Thursday, July 20, 2017

Priest Class Craziness Facilitates Pluralism

One of the interesting insights from Chris Beneke's book on the rise of American religious pluralism was the observation that pluralism emerged once ministers' hyperbolic rhetoric about other denominations was seen as both toothless and sensationalistic.

Priest classes exist in an interesting landscape.  To increase their power and reach they must stir up the populace.  This is usually done via rhetoric accentuating existential fears.  That tribe down the road is pure evil.  Or, this practice/behaviour is destructive and evil.  Of course this creates a competitive cultural landscape.  Reach is directly dependent upon virility.  Sensationalism is selected for.

But as Nowak's virus simulations show, too much virulence is counter-productive.  You lose your hosts.  But if you're too weak, you can't expand. Over long time scales moderate virulence stabilizes.  The moderation of syphilis is a classic example.  This solution balances both long-term and short-term selective forces.  (Another improbable solution is spasms of extreme virulence).

Priest classes face a similar quandary.  Once "everyone-else" is labelled an "egregious sinner" it is pretty hard not to see through the holes in this cloth.  Is your neighbour you've known for years really that evil?  Doubtful.  Is that person you trade with once a year really a sub-human? Doubtful.  Populist based priest classes are pressured into self-destructive virulence.  Here's a modern example.

A common path within this descent processes is the move from sins of commission to sins of omission.  Enemies become not just anyone who is against, but rather anyone who is not explicitly for us.

This is a high risk high reward strategy.  The mob mentality it relies upon is great for purges.  There is, after all, a reason why a number of people now liken this evolution in social justice activism to the dynamically similar 20th century communist purges, especially those by Mao.

Fortunately it takes a really nasty despot to successfully control the backlash engendered by the move from sins of commission to sins of omission.  Human's evolutionary past suggests the move to kingdoms was unstable precisely for these reasons.  Chiefdoms might temporarily ally during times of severe existential-level threats.  Power was usually divided between religious leaders and war leaders.  Occasionally though, the temporary war leader/coordinator and temporary spiritual leader/coordinator might be the same.  The temptation to maintain power over this new higher-level (temporarily) adaptive unit was sometimes too much to give up.  For a long time though, such leaders were routinely assassinated.  The supposition is that they could not muster a large enough, loyal enough force to provide adequate 24-7 protection.  Multi-level selection theory is a good lens from which to understand such dynamics.

Eventually though, after enough cultural selection and presumably enough cultural evolution transmission biasing epigenetic or genetic level stuff, the god-king solution stabilized.  However, from what I understand of the archaeology, it took a long time for the god-king solution to stabilize over any substantial period of time.  Egypt, China and the Indus valley are early examples of where individual god-kings broke into multi-decade stability.  One assumption is that stability started to occur as despot levels decreased and the fitness sacrifices of the plebes was offset by state benefits.  Basically, god-kings found out how to provide benefits while at the same time herd-like characteristics were selected for amongst the population.

What does this imply for today's crazy priest class activists?

  • They will likely bifurcate into high-despotic and low-despotic solutions.
  • Successful solutions will amalgamate religious-like leadership with war-like leadership.
  • Heterogeneous interactions are required in order for people to learn that the "other's" evilness is usually priestly hyperbole (at least between similar-enough groups with generally altruistic and liberal tendencies).
  • Populist priest classes have a very narrow solution space to stabilize.  High virulence is self-destructive.

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