Tuesday, August 8, 2017


Google fired an employee who sent out a memo based on a standard evolutionary social science explanation of differences between groups.  This class of argument doesn't change much whether the groups were determined arbitrarily, randomly, or via self-selection.  As usual Slate Star Codex does a good job explaining the science to a non-specialist audience.

Aside from the obvious take-a-way that we are indeed in the midst of a hot culture war and cold civil war, it is interesting to see:

  1. how this pushes the formation of adaptive groups (groups where members offer true protection to their in-group from any out-group attack, or more generally, offer a probabilistic fitness advantage over long-time frames)
  2. how important framing is for the way people understand the conflict.

I've talked for years about how essential a correct understanding of adaptive groups are in the study of human social dynamics.  It is very hard to understand such dynamics unless you invoke multi-level selection.  One can certainly argue that the ephemeral nature of human groups makes fitness based perspectives over-extended.  However, GoogleGate shows that a number of evolutionary biologists are realizing just how threatened their branch of science is to social justice activism.  As a result, you're seeing prominent figures pulling together against Blank Slate Post Modern religion.

I suspect we'll continue to see such dynamics increasing in intensity.  The well this creates was one of my big worries against the nascent trend to academic creed statements.  Because formal creedal statements will eventually be needed for full academic protection of many minority or non PC positions, the risks of catastrophic tribablization increase. This type of thing is just too destructive of social asabiyah.

Here's one way I see the importance of framing in terms of the dynamics around GoogleGate.  

Someone in your family says you can never be attractive because you take after parent X and are likely to have sever acne. Versus, let's figure out why some parts of our family have acne and see what we can do to figure the problem out.

The Google diversity memo strikes many as an overt attack which reinforces bigoted positions.  But it also strikes others as a valid attempt to understand the problems.  Large group problems are ideally confronted via a mixture of utopian transformation and pragmatism. Unfortunately, the stability of heterodox solutions are sensitive to social asabiyah and exquisitely sensitive to changes in social asabiyah.

While I suspect the memo arose in the context of finding a solution to gender disparity (via accurate strategical analysis), I don't think there's much question that this is not how the opening paragraphs framed things.  So I see both sides of things here.  There is really no way to pull the sides together.  One side is taking the path of utopian transformation (which is indeed necessary in social change).  The other side is taking the path of hyper-objectivity (which is indeed necessary for change sustainability).

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