I just finished reading a very interesting, and quite alarming, book by Christopher Hayes, Twilight of the Elites. As best as I can tell, Hayes doesn’t know about cultural multilevel selection (CMLS) theory, yet his book is a perfect illustration of one of the general principles directly stemming from a central theoretical result in CMLS, the Price Equation.

Without going into the technical details, one of the implications of the Price equation is that internal competition between group members corrodes cooperation within the group. There are other implications (external competition between groups promotes cooperation, and the cultural variances between and within groups are also highly important), but today I will focus just on internal competition.

Christopher Hayes is a journalist and political commentator. I believe that the core of his argument is right on the money, but some of the theoretical frameworks that he employs are dated. I don’t want to criticize the book for what is really peripheral to the main message, so I will simply use the theoretical language that I consider most suitable. So here’s the Hayes’ argument as viewed through my theoretical lenses.

Read more at Social Evolution Forum.

Published On: September 13, 2012

Peter Turchin

Peter Turchin

Curriculum Vitae

Peter Turchin is an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Connecticut who works in the field of historical social science that he and his colleagues call Cliodynamics. His research interests lie at the intersection of social and cultural evolution, historical macrosociology, economic history and cliometrics, mathematical modeling of long-term social processes, and the construction and analysis of historical databases. Currently he investigates a set of broad and interrelated questions. How do human societies evolve? In particular, what processes explain the evolution of ultrasociality—our capacity to cooperate in huge anonymous societies of millions? Why do we see such a staggering degree of inequality in economic performance and effectiveness of governance among nations? Turchin uses the theoretical framework of cultural multilevel selection to address these questions. Currently his main research effort is directed at coordinating the Seshat Databank project, which builds a massive historical database of cultural evolution that will enable us to empirically test theoretical predictions coming from various social evolution theories.

Turchin has published 200 articles in peer-reviewed journals, including a dozen in Nature, Science, and PNAS. His publications are frequently cited and in 2004 he was designated as “Highly cited researcher” by ISIHighlyCited.com. Turchin has authored seven books. His most recent book is Ultrasociety: How 10,000 Years of War Made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth (Beresta Books, 2016).

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