Friday, 10 August 2012


"... dishonesty has often been the file against which intellectual tools for truth have been sharpened."

- Robert Trivers, Folly of Fools

This resonates quite deeply with my belief that all the good things come only after bad ones. Structure arises after chaos. Emotions of love arise to combat partner desertion. Feelings of loyalty develop to prevent group disunity. I'd intended to write on this for a year on already but never really got down to it. Reading Trivers's latest book gives me much needed motivation to get stuck back in it.

In another part of his introduction, he writes:
Deception within species is expected in almost all relationships, and deception possesses special powers. It always takes the lead in life, while detection of deception plays catch up. As has been said regarding rumors, the lie is halfway around the world before the truth puts its boots on. When a new deception shows up in nature, it starts rare in a world that often lacks a proper defense. As it increases in frequency, it selects for such defenses in the victim, so that eventually its spread will be halted by the appearance and spread of countermoves, but new defenses can always be bypassed and new tricks invented.
Truth—or, at least, truth detection—has been pushed back steadily over time by the propagation of deception. It always amazes me to hear some economists say that the costs of deceptive excesses in our economy (including white-collar crime) will naturally be checked by market forces. Why should the human species be immune to the general rule that where natural selection for deception is strong, deception can be selected that extracts a substantial net cost (in survival and reproduction) every generation? Certainly there is no collective force against this deception, only the relatively slow generation and evolution of counterstrategies. These lines were written in 2006, two years before the financial collapse that resulted from such practices and beliefs. I know nothing about economics and—from evolutionary logic—could not have predicted a thing about the collapse of 2008, but I have disagreed for thirty years with an alleged science called economics that has resolutely failed to ground itself in underlying knowledge, at a cost to all of us.
While I might at times be slightly more sympathetic to the value of economics as a prescriptive tool, I think Trivers couldn't have put it better. There is no underlying theoretical basis for its science either than the outdated assumption that man is rational (assumed to be equally, and on the basis of prices), and I absolutely do not believe that market forces actually help resolve economic crises. The turn to market forces to solve economic problems is an absolute cop-out.

1 comment:

AJ said...

Very interesting. And very true. I liked this post.