This week I’m going to go over what we have covered, mainly due to the fact that we have essentially covered a few millions years worth of evolution, both physically and socially. After this weeks’ blog, things are going to start to get a little weird…
Before we do a mini conclusion, I want to touch on on final subject which will act as a bridge from what I have discussed to the more esoteric and weird sounding subjects I will be moving onto. This subject is the concept of tribe mentality.
So what is tribe mentality? Well, it’s pretty straight forward, everyone in a social group doing the same sort of things.
Why is this a problem? The answer reminds me of something my school teachers used to say, “If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you?”. Tribe mentality essentially dictates that the answer is yes.
Let’s pop back two million, five hundred eighty-eight thousand years ago at the start Pleistocene era. This is when something pretty rad started to happen; around the time that people began to learn from each other. In terms of basic survival, this was vital! If you learn how too make a weapon from a rock, you’re one person hunting. If you can teach 10 people how to make a similar weapon, then that’s 10 people hunting. If each of them teach 10 people, you become the most dominant tribe!
The ability to effectively communicate and teach turned a collection of individuals; each possessing different tasks into a group of people all able to teach each other different abilities. You end up with a group of multi-skilled individuals able to work together as a team, thus beginning the step forward away from other animals and toward becoming the most dominant species on the planet.
We aren’t here just to to discuss sharing skills on a social level, we also need to talk about the more innate aspects of communication and learning; this is the nitty-gritty of tribe mentality! Naturally occurring hierarchy is something that’s prevalent in most social groups, from a small “tribe” of people all the way out to entire countries.
In the sense of Pleistocene humans, if a person has the best ability to catch food, stay alive and they can show you how you will follow him/her, those best at these things will have have offspring with the same natural abilities. If there are traits of this person that keep them alive then they will be imitated by other tribe members; “imitating common behaviours is a simple heuristic that will get you the correct behaviour most of the time at smaller cost than subjecting alternative behaviours to costly test.” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2781880/).
Evidence would suggest that it is much more efficient to just copy someone who’s better than you at something than it is to trial and error your own method, especially when it’s a literal life and death situation. This was where we start to see evolution influence by social actions, “Conformity probably evolved in concert with human capacities for imitation. In theoretical models at least, conformity is an advantage even when reliance on social learning is scant.’ (The Evolution of Subjective Commitment to Groups: A Tribal Instincts Hypothesis, Peter J. Richerson & Robert Boyd, The Evolution of Subjective Commitment to Groups: A Tribal Instincts Hypothesis). The probability is that social learning and instructional communicative learning evolved around the same time and for the same reasons.
It is also important to note that those best at imitating the strongest will also have offspring who are naturally good at following/imitating. As time went on, the strongest lead the way with everyone else following, the ones that didn’t imitate had a lower chance of survival, this is natural selection at its finest.
“Then, in such culturally evolved cooperative social environments, social selection within groups favoured genes that gave rise to new, more pro-social motives.” (The Evolution of Subjective Commitment to Groups: A Tribal Instincts Hypothesis, Peter J. Richerson & Robert Boyd,The Evolution of Subjective Commitment to Groups: A Tribal Instincts Hypothesis).
So, where have we been? We started by looking at the development of the brain; more specifically the human brain. We looked at the reptile brain, which basic function was to make sure your hear beats, temperature regulates itself etc. The next step was the limbic system, this is is comprised of various bits but the main three I focused on were.
This deals with memory and learning, because it’s located within the limbic system it also associates emotional information with memory and learning. So back in the hunter gatherer days, if you went somewhere and felt afraid, you would remember how to get there but also feel like you probably don’t wanna go there again. Interestingly, the section of the brain that deals with the sense of smell is located around the same area as the hippocampus, which is why smell memories are the most powerful. You can see why it evolved this way in terms of survival from predators. You would smell an animal and react much quicker that seeing it then reacting etc.
The amygdala plays a key role on your emotional responses, including pleasure, fear, panic etc. This is the part of your brain that floods your system with hormones like adrenaline or cortisol which help you either run away, or stand and fight.
This works with the amygdala and regulates reward emotions, it also regulates habit formation based on repetition. This can be good when learning a new task from you tribe leader and then feeling good when they approve. So each time you do a good job your brain rewards you which makes you want to do it again. Thus, learning to do what your tribe does will release hormones to make you feel good about “fitting in”. This is also the same part of the brain that’s triggered when taking drugs, which is how addictions are formed.
We then took a quick over view of the philosophies around the social acceptance of of consumerism and capitalism. With reference to Bernard Mandeville and the Fable of the Bees.
Followed closely by the usage of propaganda in the World Wars, and how these techniques designed to used emotional content to generate support of the war were then used in advertising campaigns in order to target the consumers emotions and create a need for the product.
This began with ad campaigns featuring doctors who would recommend cigarette brands for “health reasons”, appealing the the inbuilt need to be “safe” and healthy. These soon became more advanced and began to appeal to the nature of “fitting in” with your “tribe”.
With subcultures become more and more prevalent, the question of “where do I belong” became more and more important. How do I show people how successful I am and why I’m top of their tribe? I can buy a Porsche! How do I show girls how cool I am? Well, James Dean wears Levis, as does the captain of the football team. I’ll do what they do so I’m as cool as they are!
As you can see, all those tens of thousands of years ago, humans were learning how to hunt from each other. Where to go for the best food and where not to go. Which caves make for good places to sleep and which caves smelled like bears.
The basic functioning of humans and their brains hasn’t really changed much. Hunting becomes going to work, staying safe means having money to pay bills, and attracting potential mates becomes wearing the right clothes. This is how psychological advertising works; targeting the exact regions of the brain responsible for emotions and memory associations.
Anthropological studies suggests that it was easier to mimic the leaders and other members on the tribe to blend in and stay safe. It was also more efficient to do what the majority did, instead of doing your own thing. Why waste time with trial and error of a new hunting technique when you could copy one proven to work and survive? Wasted time in this scenario could (and did) end up in deaths. So the ones most adept at copying survived and passed on their “copying genes”. By the time Edward Bernays popped up with his psychological advertising, the circuitry it targeted had had tens of thousands of years’ worth of testing. Proving it was a simple matter of changing the people’s perspective on what would best help them survive, and what would best demonstrate that they are viable mates for passing on genes.
So what now?
Next week we begin out journey to the desert of the real…