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Monday, September 1, 2014

Overcoming Evolution by Being the Alpha Male

Doone Woodtac once again writes a smashing article over on XP Chronicles titled Sexism: The Male Experience. The article no doubt came about because last week was a tough week in combating sexism within the online gaming community. Even my significant other, who doesn't play online games at all, noticed it when her news feed came up with the Chris Plante opinion piece on Polygon titled An Awful Week to Care About Video Games. She found everything that happened very shocking, as she should. But it was old news to me. I play EVE Online after all. And I am fully aware of the amount of hate leveled against Anita Sarkeesian. I have an immense amount of respect for her because she continues to pursue her goal of bringing misogyny within the gaming community to light even though she receives death threats and worse.

Here struggle reminds me of another time, one I am just barely old enough to remember: the civil rights movement. Anita Sarkeesian reminds me of Fannie Lou Hamer, whose epitaph sums up Anita's drive to call out misogyny in online gaming very well I think. "I am sick and tired of being sick and tired," is what Fannie's tombstone reads. Anita works as hard to fight the misogynists within the online gaming community as Fannie fought against the bigots who controlled the U.S. south during the 1950s and 1960s - and as Ferguson reminds us continue to harass and intimidate African-Americans to hold on to the power that has slowly been slipping from their grip as the decades pass.

I see the same reactions within the ranks of the video game misogynisto, as Fannie and the her compatriots got from the bigots of the 1960s south, and the people of Ferguson have gotten today.

I have long wondered how people could harbor such vile and reprehensible attitudes about equality. It's perplexing. In an age of plenty unparalleled in human history, why do people still feel they have to keep down others, whether they are a different color or different gender? In the end, I've come to the conclusion evolution is the reason.

Now hear me out, because this is not an attempt to say bigotry and misogyny is acceptable. Bigotry and misogyny are NOT acceptable. However, I have a scientific mind, and I like to understand why a thing is even if I don't like the thing. So for years I've wondered why such vile behavior exists in our species. Why it's the males who are most likely to perpetrate it. And, what can be done about it.

I've come to the conclusion that it's all wrapped up in evolutionary mechanisms which ensure small group survival. Let's do a thought exercise. Let's imagine we live 100,000 years ago on the savannas of eastern Africa. What does our survival, both immediate and long-term, depend on most? I submit survival then depended on two competing mental qualities: intelligence and decisiveness. Intelligence is perhaps the quality easier to understand, and I'm not really going to address it here. Let's just say it helps remember where the water is, were the best food sources are and how to make tools.

Decisiveness is the attribute on which I want to concentrate. In that world 100,000 years ago, most animals possessed more raw strength than any human could ever hope to possess. Survival wasn't about raw strength. It also wasn't about having the best tools. The physically strongest male with the best spear died under the fangs of a leopard just about as fast as the frail female with no spear. Seconds don't matter. We like to think we'd have a chance of fighting off a leopard with a spear, but that's just wishful thinking. Leopards are ambush predators and the first time you know they are there is when they are on you. By then it's too late for anyone, spear or not. The only way to avoid death by leopard is to avoid the leopard all together. It's intelligence that allows you to avoid the places most likely to conceal leopards, not raw strength... and not decisiveness either.

But what if everyone was dying of thirst, and the only source of water was half a day's walk straight through leopard country? What if going around was a three-day journey, and you understood that everyone would die of thirst in the time it would take to avoid the leopards? What do you do? An intelligent but indecisive person would wail and cry and die of thirst without walking in any direction. A decisive person decides to do one thing or the other. And that's where this attribute of decisiveness meets natural selection.

If the decision is to go around, everyone dies of thirst. Perhaps there is disagreement within the group though, and some go around and others go through the leopards. Those that go around all die of thirst. Those who try to sneak through leopard country might actually make it, and if they do the genes responsible for the decision process that lead to them to making the choice to confront rather than evade gets passed on. But the chance of a partial small group making it is far less than the whole small group making it. More people mean more eyes, and a better chance of spotting a leopard before it's in position to attack. More people also mean more targets, and the concept of herd should be well understood by all.

This is where levels of decisiveness come into play. If someone can convince the entire small group to trek through the leopards, they are a born leader and everyone survives except Fred, and no one really liked him anyway. The tribe is grateful, and they shower the leader with praise, and gifts, and perhaps even their bodies, because we all know how that biology works. (If you don't, sorry, I don't have the time to go into it. So just accept my premise because there have been conclusive studies on the phenomena.) But what if some people in the group are stubborn and insist on going around. They too have a leader who has convinced them THAT is the best thing to do. What then?

Well, we already know what happens if the group breaks up. The chances of anyone surviving go down considerably. Now comes the time for uber-decisiveness. Convinced he is right, one leader attacks the other and forces him to back down. Everyone else takes that as a sign the victor is right, and they follow him. If the one who wins was the one advocating they avoid the leopards, everyone dies of thirst. There ends the genes for that small group. However, if the one who wins then takes the group through leopard country, everyone survives except Fred. We have a word for that sort of leadership. We call it bullying. And though most of society dislikes it because we have learned cooperation is a better attribute for building human societies, there is a reason bullying exists - at least there was 100,000 years ago before human society existed. Today... not so much.

The same can be said for bigots and misogynists. Yes, we can hypothesize why such behaviors exists. We can theorize how the survival of our species might have depended on such behavior tens of thousands of years ago. But today society's survival depends on cooperation, not confrontation. There are many issues threatening the future of humanity, from asteroid impacts to lack of fresh water to global warming. Our survival of these very real threats will not be assured by one individual forcing his will on the group. These aren't leopards we're dealing with, they're extinction level events. Allowing the old survival traits to dominate will lessen our chances of survival, not increase them. We have to grow beyond the primitive parts of our heritage, or they will doom us. But there is hope.

In this current misogynistic tantrum I see a twisted irony. There is a stereotype promulgated among non-gamers: men who play video games all live in their mother's basements and have no social skills. I'll posit this stereotype is not unwarranted. It is most often noticed when it spews misogynistic vitriol across the Internet. Here's the irony. It's now a negative selection factor in our evolution. In the long run, misogynists have little chance of passing on their gene lines - at least not in western society. The vast majority of women in our society won't have a damn thing to do with a misogynist after learning the truth about their character. And you can't hide something like that forever, it's buried too deeply in the genes - or is that jeans. :P

The evolutionary tide has turned against such behavior IMO, but it won't go down without a fight. Never forget that the first thing a new alpha male lion does is kill all the cubs sired by the old alpha male. Among predators especially, there is a strong drive to destroy the competition, present and future, to increase the chances of outright dominance. This does not mean murder. That would be over reacting. But the misogynists, that special brand of bigot who hates strong women, will attempt to drive off the majority of males who defend women's rights. Just look at the Twitter threads from Chris Plante's Polygon article for the proof. DO NOT LET THEM DRIVE YOU OFF. Stand your ground. You are right. They are wrong. Act like it; be the alpha male. That is how you overcome tens of thousands of years of evolution. And guys, the women will love for it. ;-) But seriously, it's the right thing to do. So do it.

3 comments:

  1. This may or may not be relevant, but something I read once in an online discussion about this topic (I wish I had saved the link): "I am not white-knighting for her - I am white-knighting against you."

    Which of course nowadays would be countered with the accusation of being a SJW, but it's a start.

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  2. I was willing to go along with this line of reasoning up until the part about society's survival. These extinction-level issues need cooperation, yes, but it's the same kind of cooperation that was needed to safely travel through leopard territory. We need to get the majority, if not everyone, on board with the cooperation, and the leaders in this are not individuals, but still very small groups that control individual entities (states and/or corporations). It is certain that not all of these entities will agree on what solution to pursue, so we come back to the need for meta-decisiveness through force - or the threat of force - if we are to maximise the chance of survival. Everyone doing their own thing, working on a thousand different projects that are probably directly in conflict with each other, is likely to end in everyone dying of thirst. I just don't see any reason why the small group evolutionary process wouldn't scale to current population sizes - except that instead of individual person alpha behaviour, it's individual group entity alpha behaviour.

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  3. Oh, the white knight. I love having that trope thrown at me by some hateful little person when I call them on their BS. It's like we're playing tic tac toe, and they went first and put their X in the corner. GG, asshole.

    Like you said, I'm not riding to the rescue of a damsel in distress (which by the way requires distress, and why is she distressed? Because you're being an asshat, mr white knight accuser). I'm not expected her to love me for saving her. I'm taking her side because YOU ARE WRONG. It's not about her, it's about you.

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Be civil, be responsible and most of all be kind. I will not tolerate poor form. There will be no James Hooks here. We are all better than that.