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Since this thread steadfastly refuses to die a dignified death, and
has included a few people whose intellects I respect and whose
normally level-headed and even-handed approach to such ideas has at
times been overset by these ideas, I went to the effort to chase this
down. It smelled fishy at the start, and worse at its heart.
First let me say that I just plain don't buy the biological model as
being applicable to other arenas especially when applied to concepts
like knowledge management, but I will set that aside for the moment,
noting that I happen to belong the Global Knowledge Economics
Council, which does use an ecological model to some extent, about
which I also have some fairly serious reservations. Face it, these
models are theories at best and have a lot of holes in them in their
own specific disciplines.
I think the first thing that threw an exception error in my head was
this "...selfish behavior based on this principle can lead to
altruistic behavior..." A whole world of emotionally fraught conflict
just raged over the word "can." Imagine. It isn't even an assertion
that it "does." So the arguments were over a mere possibility. NAH.
Then you need to consider that the Economonist did indeed turn toward
conservativism many years ago, and then simply lost its right to be
considered unbiased journalism, and it was for me one of the saddest
development of the late eighties, but a decade of Reagan/Thatcherism
can do that to you. I called it Ratcherism and it wasn't funny then,
and it is a lot worse now.
In my opinion we lost our only credible journal on world economics
and politics. Spilt Milk, but long dried, crumbled to dust and blown
In an exercise that almost seems like taking candy from children or
shootin fish in a barrel, I must point out that in paragraph four of
the Economist article, we find a completely fallacious collapsed
definition"... Homo economicus-maximising something that economists
call utility, and biologists fitness." Heck, I can live with a
carefully explained conflation, but I'll be double dipped in s__t
before I accept an unexplained collapse of concepts from two
different disciplines that are NOT equivalent.
Let me go a bit further. When we get to the point that this current
fad of applying anthropomorphism to the analysis of biological
phenomena can be looked at in decent retrospect, many people are
going to feel the kind of embarassment I feel when I see "Saturday
Night Fever." (I owned and wore a pair of platform shoes.) As long as
it was a harmless fiction used to explain apparent behavior of genes
or gene pools, and was only used as that, a convenient fiction,
attributing motives to genes was okay. When it gets to this point
someone needs to say, "Hey wake up!"
DNA does not code for altruism and economic, heuristic, behavior has
nothing at all whatsoever to do with the alignment of base pairs in a
sugar peptide chain. Except, of course, that the heuristics are
performed by macrobiological entities built up of those sugar-peptide
chains who ought to know better than to indulge in this kind of utter
At 2:11 PM +0100 3/28/02, Alain Rogister wrote:
>[scroll down to end for re-connection to original RELAX NG story]
>Stefano Debenedetti wrote:
>> John Cowan wrote:
>> > Matthew Gertner scripsit:
> > >>(http://www.economist.com/science/displayStory.cfm?story_id=1045223 --
>> >>a good reactionary I read reactionary rags) that points out that purely
> > >>selfish behavior based on this principle can lead to altruistic behavior
> > >>the macro level. Good news for everyone, I say.
>> > Yes, indeed, and very interesting.
>> This article *is* reactionary, I find it outdated to talk about
>> "scientific confirmation of a human commonplace".
>This article indeed smells of nasty ideas that I wish were outdated. I had
>the curiosity to check the two sources cited as reference by the Economist:
>- the article at http://www.nature.com/doifinder/10.1038/415137a, published
>by Nature (alarm bells ringing) is written by two economists (more alarm
>bells). Only the abstract is available to non-members, but have a look at
>this brief to get an idea of where this is going:
>- the article at
>http://www.santafe.edu/sfi/publications/Abstracts/01-01-007abs.html has 6
>named authors (including Fehr, co-author of Nature article) and also
>involved 11 anthropologists and 1 economist. I just read the introduction
>and conclusion, and it seems to be a lot more interesting, although we'd
>have to review the validity of the methodology to find out if the
>conclusions can be trusted. But at least it goes against the orthodoxy of
>Homo Economicus canonical model. I assumed the Santa Fe Institute was mostly
>a conservative think-tank, but that particular study was funded by the
>MacArthur Foundation (http://www.macfound.org) - didn't know them. Alarm
>bell, the founder worked in bank & insurance :-)
>However, I fail to see any obvious connection to biology in either article,
>so how can The Economist use biological research as as legitimation tool for
>the ideology reflected by their article ? I hope the journalist is not
>confusing biology and anthropology but...
>> But of course the funniest thing is the solution proposed:
>> "it might be useful to provide opportunities for the public-spirited to
>> punish the free-riders in society."
>And Bush Jr is public-spirited, isn't he ? I mean, he is a great defender of
>the oil "community", right ? Some let's expect that some day "terrorists"
>(formerly "communists") will be renamed "free-riders" as a justification for
>> I was suggesting to do this for the W3C but looking at it now from a
>> more general perspective, that's the only one good thing about this
>> article, I really changed my mind: you can't punish whom is more
>> powerful than you. Think about Kyoto protocol for example, the most
>> powerful player just decided that environmental issues are less
>> important than its internal situation and nobody is ever going to
>> succeed at changing its mind from outside.
>If we expect our coward European leaders to make Uncle Sam change what he
>really wants (hint: hidden Chomsky reference), we are doomed.
>But, taking - hopefully - more modest goals, we can punish the W3C by making
>them put their "Recommendation" stamp on RELAX NG :-)
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