Monthly Archives: August 2010

The urge to conformity


Following up to Consensus trance.

According to Hilary Mantel, regarding Marilyn French,

one of her personal and revealing assumptions is that “most people do not like authority and do not feel that others have the right to authority over them.” Is that historically true, or is it wishful thinking by someone who would prefer history to be different? If you extrapolate from animal behavior, as French does in Volume I, to draw out truths about human nature, you cannot overlook the fact that most social animals are hierarchical and that the urge to conformity has been a powerful shaping force in human affairs.

According to Jonathan Gottschall, regarding Geoffrey Miller

And, like its prequel, Spent’s almost monomaniacal focus on sexual selection to the exclusion of other evolutionary processes is its greatest weakness.

For example, the book unaccountably neglects exciting developments in the field of evolutionary economics, which have helped retrieve the concept of group selection (or “selfless genes”) from the dustbin of scientific history. Why do students on college campuses dress in their indistinguishable Abercrombie and Hollister uniforms (accessorized with obligatory iPhones and iPod Shuffles, Ugg boots for the girls, and low, tattered caps for the boys)? Is this best explained as a biological trait display that is meant to distinguish young people from their sexual rivals? Or, on the contrary, is this a conformity display, which advertises in-group membership? Doesn’t so much consumer behavior reflect our evolved groupishness—our fear of being left off the bandwagon?