EvolutionistX Manifesto

1. Evolution is real. Incentives are real. Math is real. Their laws are as iron-clad as gravity’s and enforced with the furor of the Old Testament god. Disobey, and you will be eliminated.

2. Whatever you incentivize, you will get. Whatever you don’t incentivize, you will not get. Create systems that people can cheat, and you create cheaters. If criminals have more children than non-criminals, then the future will be full of criminals. Create systems that reward trust and competence, and you will end up with a high trust, competent system.

3. Society is created by people, through the constant interaction of the basic traits of the people in it and the incentives of its systems.

4. Morality is basically an evolved mental/social toolkit to compel you to act in your genetic self-interest. Morality does not always function properly in evolutionary novel situations, can be hijacked, and does not function similarly or properly in everyone, but people are generally capable of using morality to good ends when dealing with people in their trust networks.


5. Whatever you think is wrong with the world, articulate it clearly, attempt to falsify your beliefs, and then look for practical, real-world solutions. This is called science, and it is one of our greatest tools.

6. Create high-trust networks with trustworthy people. A high trust system is one where you can be nice to people without fear of them defecting. (Call your grandma. Help a friend going through a rough time. Don’t gossip.) High trust is one of the key ingredients necessary for everything you consider nice in this world.

7. Do not do/allow/tolerate things/people that destroy trust networks. Do not trust the untrustworthy nor act untrustworthy to the trusting.

8. Reward competency. Society is completely dependent on competent people doing boring work, like making sure water purification plants work and food gets to the grocery store.

9. Rewarding other traits in place of competency destroys competency.

10. If you think competent people are being unjustly excluded, find better ways to determine competency–don’t just try to reward people from the excluded pools, as there is no guarantee that this will lead to hiring competent people. If you select leaders for some other trait (say, religiosity,) you’ll end up with incompetent leaders.

11. Act in reality. The internet is great for research, but kinda sucks for hugs. Donating $5 to competent charities will do more good than anything you can hashtag on Twitter. When you need a friend, nothing beats someone who will come over to your house and have a cup of tea.

12. Respond to life with Aristotelian moderation: If a lightbulb breaks, don’t ignore it and don’t weep over it. Just change the lightbulb. If someone wrongs you, don’t tell yourself you deserved it and don’t escalate into a screaming demon. Just defend yourself and be ready to listen to the other person if they have an explanation.

6 thoughts on “EvolutionistX Manifesto

    • No bother. I did a post about epigenetics a while back; basically, I don’t think epigenetics does nearly as much as people want it to.

      Epigenetics has a lot to do with how cell transcription and differentiation work, which means that one of the probably reliable conclusions is that epigenetic damage causes cancer; I’ve mentioned this in conjunction with DES, an anti-miscarriage drug (no longer in use) that contains large amounts of synthetic estrogen. Fetuses exposed to DES have a variety of issues, including increased rates of cancers of the reproductive systems. I could also see it affecting someone’s weight.

      The problem with epigenetics as an explanation for more complex things, like behavior, is that epigenetic markers change over time. At birth, a pair of identical twins have almost identical epigenetic markers. Five years later, they have slightly different markers, due to having had slightly different life experiences. By 20, they have very different markers. Epigenetics are part of how we learn–say, to fear a specific smell–and it’d be bad for our species indeed if we just learned things once and then never learned anything again.

      People try to use epigenetics to claim that a trauma that happened to your grandparents or great-great grandparents got encoded in your epigenes and now is giving you PTSD. These claims are ridiculous, both because epigenetic markers change throughout your life, and also because virtually everyone has an ancestor somewhere who endured trauma. The Brookings article is trying to argue that racism caused epigenetic changes which in turn are causing the black “achievement gap.” But somehow the article does not address why the Holocaust did not cause identical problems for Ashkenazi Jews. Certainly the Holocaust has made some Jews very anxious, but Jewish society is very functional; no one is worried about the number of Jewish kids in foster care or closing the white-Jewish achievement gap.

      Finally, a lot of people pull out epigenetics as some sort of refutation of the evil, racist idea that human behaviors might be encoded in their DNA. “It’s not DNA,” they say, “It’s multi-generational epi-DNA!” If so, then epigenetics is acting exactly like genetics, and you are making the exact same argument, just with a slightly different mechanism involved. Whether the Holocaust made Jews more anxious by killing off all the Jews who weren’t anxious enough to run away before Hitler rounded them up, or by giving them epigenetic markers that cause anxiety, the results would be exactly the same. You can’t get around “it appears to be inherited” just by changing the spot where it’s encoded.

      Now, yes, you certainly can cause traumas that destroy people’s lives, eg, feeding them lead. This is well-established. But I don’t think epigenetics does all of the things they want it to.


      • The Harvard paper does not present any cases. It refers in general summaries to research, but does not give us any details except a little bit about cancers of the reproductive systems (which I mentioned above) and that scientists had found ways to apparently reverse epigenetic changes via drugs. It also says some common-sense things that amount to “abusing, poisoning, or starving children or fetuses is bad,” which is not exactly cutting-edge research.

        What the Harvard paper wants epigenetics to do is provide an explanation for the black-white testing gap, black crime, poverty, etc., and therefore justify government spending on prenatal nutrition, day care, paid maternity leave, etc. Some of these may be perfectly fine ideas, (of course people should not eat lead and children should not be abused,) but the science they cite on epigenetics does not support their conclusions; the science they are referring to is mostly things like experiments in which mice whose mothers learned to fear a certain smell before they were born ended up fearing the same smell. It’s a big jump from there to, “therefore millions of black people do badly in school and commit crimes because of epigenetics,” especially when the children of Holocaust survivors do not.

        The Brookings post does not discuss epigenetics (it mentions the word only once, without citing any research at all,) and is disingenuous. Genetics does not explain a “small fraction” of the differences in outcomes of any particular generation; aggregated over groups, genetics explains a lot. Compare to psychology, where replication is in the shitter: http://slatestarcodex.com/2015/09/05/if-you-cant-make-predictions-youre-still-in-a-crisis/ “An initiative called the Reproducibility Project at the University of Virginia recently reran 100 psychology experiments and found that over 60 percent of them failed to replicate — that is, their findings did not hold up the second time around. The results, published last week in Science, have generated alarm (and in some cases, confirmed suspicions) that the field of psychology is in poor shape.”

        Genetics is not having a replicability crisis; genetics keeps finding the same things over and over again: human traits and behaviors are partially heritable; adopted twins reared apart end up more like their biological relatives than like their adoptive relatives. As an adopted kid myself, I am very familiar with this.

        As I said before in response to the Brookings post, you cannot claim that epigenetics is responsible for black behavior without implying that the exact same thing is true of Jews who survived the Holocaust. The Brookings post even mentions the Jews as an example of a group that is not having difficulties, without apparently realizing that the Jews have endured some rather horrific levels of discrimination in the past century.

        #3, Genetics and Economic Mobility
        This paper does not appear to discuss epigenetics, but instead environmental factors that may or may not impact life outcomes. I’m not going to read it all right now, since it is not germane to the question, but I will respond generally: On the individual level, random chance, (like being paralyzed for life because you got hit by a car while crossing the street vs. getting your big break because you saved someone’s kid from getting run over by a car,) has a lot to do with your life outcomes, but random chance is a poor predictor of aggregate social trends. Within the normal range of parenting behaviors, (that is, parents who didn’t beat or starve their kids,) shared environment (that is, the environment that you and your siblings were raised in) does not appear to have much of an effect on individual outcomes like wealth, IQ, or crime. It may have a big impact on things like “do you like your parents?” of course.

        Epigenetics is an interesting field, but it doesn’t do the magical things people want it to.

        Liked by 1 person

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