The tragicomedy being played out in the House has gripped the nation like a national train wreck. We look on both horrified and delighted as the insurrectionists grab McCarthy by the pussy and try to squeeze the life out of him. Friend o’ Ye Olde Blogge, Ten Grain, has a snarkier a run down than most over at Mock Paper Scissors, if you need a refresher of just how shambolic the whole thing is.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying the schadenfreude as much as the next liberal, but the inability to cooperate as an organization is embolic of a greater problem. However, according to the cultural multilevel selection model of group behavior, this level of group dysfunction is exactly what has portended the fall of every great country, kingdom, and empire.
The amount of governmental gridlock at the federal level and sheer chaos the GQP is willing to inflict upon us at the local level means that we are in a desperate race. Will the GQP succeed in destroying our democracy and plunging us into a generation of chaotic struggle against authoritarianism and allow other countries and regions to take our place on the world stage, or will the Democrats manage to defeat them so soundly that we recover and maintain our international position?
Cultural Evolution & The Multilevel Selection Model
The model suggests that the Republicans will continue to lose to the Democrats as they did in 2018, 2020, and 2022 since no group in such disarray can consistently win in competition to better organized and more functional group, which is weird to write about the Dems. They could and still can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in any given election, right?
Cultural evolution is the academic field that studies changes made in societies over time analogous to biological evolution of physical traits. The cultural multilevel selection model is the idea that the same evolutionary principles that can be used to describe changes to physical traits of a species and the cultural traits of a society can be used to describe changes to the beliefs, behaviors, and norms of individuals within groups, groups of individuals, and groups of groups.
The Price Equation
The model is a mathematical one. There is a formula involved. It is called the Price equation. So, hold on to your mathematical asses, here it comes:
That’s a beaut as far as social science equations go. It has terms in all four quadrants, both sides of the inequality sign, the numerators and denominators of both sides, hyphenated terms, weird terms, all kinda stuff is happening there. Here’s what the terms mean (feel free to skip ahead if you already know, they’re pretty self-evident to those that know):
- BETWEEN-GROUP VARIANCE: The amount that the composition of the competing groups vary from one another, or how different are the groups in the types of members that make them up. Right now, for example, the difference between Democrats and Republicans is pretty high. The Democrats have lots more cooperators than Republicans do, and Republicans self-absorbed assholes than Democrats.
- WITHIN-GROUP VARIANCE: The amount the composition of a single group varies, or how many different types of members does one group have? Right now, neither the Democrats or Republicans vary very much in their types of members. Most Democrats are cooperators; most Republicans, self-absorbed assholes.
- SELECTION STRENGTH ON INDIVIDUALS: This number expresses the degree that a trait will be passed on to the next generation. Here’s the thing, self-serving assholes generally do better at passing on their assholery than cooperators do (nice guys really do finish last, I guess). Consequently, the number of assholes in your group tends to grow from one generation to the next. Assholery gets a higher mark here, cooperation, lower.
- SELECTION STRENGTH ON GROUPS: This number expresses the degree that a trait will help the group survive long enough to pass this trait on to the next generation. In this case, cooperative groups are more likely to win inter-group competition. Consequently, the cooperative groups tend to displace, wipeout, or otherwise beat the asshole groups. Cooperative groups get a higher mark here, assholery groups, lower.
Price Equation, Example
We’ll use Turchin’s example from his book, just for accuracy of explanation and reproducibility and all of that jazz. He wants to answer the question how will cooperators fair in a population with four groups consisting of varying numbers of cooperators and assholes, assuming that all other variables are equal. It will look like so:
Here’s how the diagram works:
- Each oval represents a group in a larger population.
- Each dot or circle, represents an individual. The solid blue ones are cooperators, the transparent ones are assholes.
- Each column represents a generation.
- There are four groups of five individuals making a population of twenty individuals.
Now, let’s go column by column.
- The first column on the left is the starting population.
- The column in the middle represents the second generation. The changes to each group from the first to second generation are due to within group competition. Assholes tend to reproduce more effectively than cooperators do. So, you can see in the middle column that each group loses a cooperator.
- The third column on the right is the third generation. It is produced by between group competition. Groups with lots of cooperators tend to do better than groups with lots of assholes. You can see that the group with no cooperators and only assholes, disappeared. It got wiped out. Another group with only one cooperator, also got wiped out. The group with three cooperators was able to fill-in the gap and the one with two cooperators managed to replicate itself.
The Between-Within Group Variance Ratio
When the ratio on the left side of the equation is large, the number on top, the between-group variance is larger than the within-group variance. In other words, when a group is more homogeneous (the group members are the same), it will tend towards the number one, which will make for a bigger number or a larger ratio. When the within-group variance is larger than than the between-group variance, the resulting number will be small or a smaller ratio. Think, two divided by one is two, but one divided by two is one-half.
Hold that thought for a moment while we examine the ratio on the right side of the equation.
The Selection Strength on Individuals-Groups Ratio
When the trait favors individuals and doesn’t favor groups, so that the selection strength on individuals is large, and the selection strength on groups is approaching one, the resulting number is large or a larger ratio. When the trait favors groups and not individuals, so that the selection strength on groups is large, and the selection strength on individuals is small, then the resulting number will be small or a smaller ratio.
When the between-within group variance ratio is large, meaning that the groups are more homogeneous and are very different and the selection strength on individuals-groups ratio is small, meaning that the trait favors groups over individuals, the cooperation is likely to spread. We know from Turchin et al.’s studies that groups high in cooperation outperform groups high in assholery.
Applying the Price Equation to the Speaker’s Election
This is an important outcome when we are considering the fate of our democracy.
Consider what we just witnessed in the House with McCarthy’s election to the Speakership. Remember what we said up there?
- BETWEEN-GROUP VARIANCE: When comparing the Dems and Repubes in the House, this number is huge. The Democrats are cooperating, the Repubes are assholes.
- WITHIN-GROUP VARIANCE: There is little within-group variance. To the representative, the Republicans are assholes and Democrats are cooperators.
- BETWEEN-WITHIN GROUP VARIANCE RATIO: This number is quite large.
- SELECTION STRENGTH ON INDIVIDUALS: We’ve seen the number of assholes in the Republican House caucus grow exponentially over the years. Assholes really do attract other assholes. However, we are talking cooperation here, so cooperation has low strength on individuals. This number is small.
- SELECTION STRENGTH ON GROUPS: Because cooperative groups tend to outperform non-cooperative groups, this number is quite large.
- SELECTION STRENGTH ON INDIVIDUALS-GROUPS RATIO: This number is quite small.
At the end of the day, the between-within group variance ratio is larger than the selection strength on individuals-groups ratio.
As long as the two groups remain homogeneous, this relationship should hold. Republicans should struggle in their competition against Democrats both in the House as we saw in the speaker election and I’m sure we’ll see in the rules approval.
This is good news for our democracy. The question is will we vanquish MAGA, Q-Anon, and the authoritarians before we are too damaged on the world stage to be competitive or before climate change so radically changes the world stage that we lose out to a country that has adapted better and more quickly.
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