Nonconformity is the highest evolutionary attainment of social animals

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jacob
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Nonconformity is the highest evolutionary attainment of social animals

Post by jacob » Thu Jan 24, 2019 6:57 pm

said Aldo Leopold. But is it really? Conformity is what makes complex social systems work most efficiently. Ants or rather ant hills (the meta-species) are some of the most efficient structures around. Ants have also been around for a long time and by biomass (insofar that's a measure of species success) they rank high.

How well would a nonconformist ant fare?

How well do nonconformist humans fare in general when corrected for survivor bias? How many nonconformist human failures do you know?

Campitor
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Re: Nonconformity is the highest evolutionary attainment of social animals

Post by Campitor » Thu Jan 24, 2019 8:04 pm

I think nonconformity is tolerated within the limits of the society or culture in question. Some extreme examples: necrophilia, public defecation in restaurants, shooting kittens, etc., isn't tolerated in most cultures and anyone engaging in those practices would be arrested and sent to a psychiatrist for treatment. Nonconformist are tolerated when their behavior and beliefs have little impact or if they have a coalition behind them.

The successful nonconformist that are referenced in american culture like Jimmy Hendrix, Martin Luther King, etc., were perceived as normal by their ingroup and were seen as nonconformist when operating outside of their cultural circle. Martin Luther King wouldn't have made the impact that he did if he was the only civil rights advocate alive. It was only by forming a coalition that his nonconformity found success. But how nonconformist can you really be if there is more than 1 of you - wouldn't that just make you a conformist when surrounded by the like-minded? One man's patriot is another man's rebel, etc. There are no successful lone-wolf nonconformist in my honest opinion.

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Re: Nonconformity is the highest evolutionary attainment of social animals

Post by TheProcess » Thu Jan 24, 2019 8:07 pm

I remember hearing a discussion about this someplace, but damned if I can remember where. Hell, it might've been on this board...

The upshot was that the species will produce some number of iconoclasts/misfits. And that these members of the culture take risks and deviate from the behaviors of the norm. Most new ideas don't work out, most startup companies fail, political movements fizzle, etc., and the culture punishes them for these outcomes. But sometimes the deviants are hitting on something new and real and this produces asymmetric benefits, and so the culture moves to follow them.

Basically, at a society level, it's good to have like 1% or so of the members of that society be deviants in order to produce net benefits to the society. Speculative, but humans/other species may even have evolved to produce such outcomes.

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Re: Nonconformity is the highest evolutionary attainment of social animals

Post by daylen » Thu Jan 24, 2019 8:29 pm

Campitor wrote:
Thu Jan 24, 2019 8:04 pm
There are no successful lone-wolf nonconformist in my honest opinion.
You wouldn't have heard of them, and their idea of success would likely be foreign to you. :P Maybe some of the people that commit suicide or become homeless won at their own personal games.

There are plenty of solitary animals that tend to avoid competition or cooperation with their own species. Such animals are naturally territorial, and they either survive independently or die. I do not think this strategy is better or worse than a socialistic strategy. A diverse and stable ecology probably selects for both kinds of species. Humans are a hybrid of some form.

In some sense, this can be applied to individual human minds. Highly goal oriented and emotionally stable individuals are likely to have an interconnected mind where no part works in isolation (they also lack the ability to think outside of their box).
Last edited by daylen on Thu Jan 24, 2019 8:35 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Nonconformity is the highest evolutionary attainment of social animals

Post by IlliniDave » Thu Jan 24, 2019 8:31 pm

Humans are different than ants (keen grasp of obvious, eh?). Ants are built to function in large social colonies but not on their own or in smaller groups. Humans aren't really engineered for the same type of behavior, arguably our most natural social behavior is in relatively small, relatively malleable groups probably more similar to wolves than ants. Like wolves part of out makeup includes a propensity for individuals or subgroups to break away (usually due to too many individuals with alpha traits and/or resource scarcity). I don't have an opinion whether nonconformity is the highest attainment, seems like a "common sense" adaptation to keep social interactions to a manageable level and to motivate exploitation of unoccupied territory. In crowded human places this breaking off still happens in close proximity to other humans, which is why a person can walk past hundreds of people a day in a large city and not acknowledge a single one, while being acknowledged only by the insane. The unexplored territories are then often things like business opportunities, various artistic expressions, and such--some that change the world, some that just get a person labeled as eccentric, some that get them persecuted. Prisons are full of nonconformists. When I've briefly on occasion watched documentary stuff about prisons on nerdy old man TV I rarely feel that I'm watching examples of the pinnacle of evolution. :)
Last edited by IlliniDave on Thu Jan 24, 2019 8:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Nonconformity is the highest evolutionary attainment of social animals

Post by daylen » Thu Jan 24, 2019 8:33 pm

I posted this on another forum and it is related.
This is where creativity and risk taking comes into play. Most humans tend towards safe strategies that follow the crowd, but some humans are more willing to go against the grain of the crowd. Maybe this is an evolved "searching algorithm" for new adaptations. Schizophrenia is prevalent in 1% of the population; this is a persistent effect, it has a high reproductive cost, and it is complex on the genetic/regulatory level. All of this indicates that it is an adaptation beyond random chance. Schizophrenic-like traits are dependent on the underlying culture/language. Perhaps individuals that ignore the meaning-making mechanisms of their population help their in-group in some way (or did in the past). Tribes that had a recurrence of such traits could have developed language more rapidly, or maybe the traits promoted tribal fragmentation, competition, and innovation.

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Re: Nonconformity is the highest evolutionary attainment of social animals

Post by Campitor » Thu Jan 24, 2019 9:17 pm

daylen wrote:
Thu Jan 24, 2019 8:29 pm
You wouldn't have heard of them, and their idea of success would likely be foreign to you. :P Maybe some of the people that commit suicide or become homeless won at their own personal games.
That was funny - well done. :lol:
There are plenty of solitary animals that tend to avoid competition or cooperation with their own species. Such animals are naturally territorial, and they either survive independently or die. I do not think this strategy is better or worse than a socialistic strategy. A diverse and stable ecology probably selects for both kinds of species. Humans are a hybrid of some form.
But even solitary/territorial animals need to exude certain behaviors which conform to the expected mating rituals and biological signals of their species. A nonconformist cougar who doesn't send the right mating signs or fails to mark his territory would find itself on the short end of the evolutionary stick.

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Re: Nonconformity is the highest evolutionary attainment of social animals

Post by daylen » Thu Jan 24, 2019 9:54 pm

@Campitor

The mating signs would be simple relative to humans. There are even simpler organisms that have both male and female reproductive organs (hermaphrodites). A population of such organisms is unlikely to deviate from the behaviors they evolved from on average because of their simplicity. It is hard to muck up being an earthworm for instance. More complex species such as bears and humans need a mix of both conforming behaviors to out-compete other species and non-conforming behaviors to out-compete other groups within their own species.

Humans could band together into one single group and share some universal morality (or meta-morality), but this is probably not going to happen. People like me would have to be killed off for that scenario because otherwise we would just get bored and form a cult. :)

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Re: Nonconformity is the highest evolutionary attainment of social animals

Post by C40 » Thu Jan 24, 2019 11:19 pm

What does "Evolutionary attainment" mean?

Causing genetic changes/improvements in future generations? Causing change/improvements in societies?

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Re: Nonconformity is the highest evolutionary attainment of social animals

Post by vexed87 » Fri Jan 25, 2019 8:53 am

Are Ants really social animals? Perhaps in a cooperative sense, but not from the perspective of complex interpersonal relationships.

In any case, it seems pretty silly to compare ourselves with Ants, as we are so far removed in evolutionary terms.

Humans susceptible to grand schemes of non-conformism, not just a little underground resistance here or there, are in the minority. Apes are not hive animals, but humans can behave in hive-mind like ways through our belief of shared stories.

Conformity is essential for social cohesion, however it only takes one respected non-conformist to change the rules. It makes sense that only a minority are wired to question, break and invent their own conventions, less we find ourselves in perpetual chaos.
Last edited by vexed87 on Fri Jan 25, 2019 9:06 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Nonconformity is the highest evolutionary attainment of social animals

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Fri Jan 25, 2019 8:59 am

To paraphrase Simon Barnes, “ Evolution is just what results from continually making it through the day. “Highest level of attainment” does not apply.

We forget that “fit” has to be applied to a specific activity or environment. Some humans are “fit” to run a marathon. Some species that have survived far longer than us are “ fit” to dwell in the muck of a tropical swamp and win mates by fencing with their very small penises until one breaks off.

That said, I think true non- conformists are also actually very good conformists. They are like silly putty, able to take on many shapes and perspectives.

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Re: Nonconformity is the highest evolutionary attainment of social animals

Post by Dream of Freedom » Fri Jan 25, 2019 10:18 am

I am a non-conformist with regard to my savings rate and not eating the standard American diet. I consider both to be a success. The non-conformity doesn't seem to affect my ability to give or receive help from the group. Of course more severe non-conformist activities like becoming a hermit would.

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Re: Nonconformity is the highest evolutionary attainment of social animals

Post by luxagraf » Fri Jan 25, 2019 11:00 am

I don't know the context of Leopold's quote, so not quite sure where he was coming from with that, but from a scientific point of view, non-conformists strike me as evolutionary forces hedging their bets. If 1% is different, that's 1% that survives when the strategy of the rest turns out to no longer be a winner in that environmental context.

From a human point of view I think we've spent far, far too long worshiping the notion of self-reliance and "non-conformity" (conformity to a smaller sample size) handed down by Kant et. al. when in fact, if you scratch the surface of how we actually live and interact with the world that view of ourselves just doesn't hold up*.

* My thinking on this topic is heavily influenced by Bowling Alone and, more recently, Matthew Crawford's The World Beyond Your Head.

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Re: Nonconformity is the highest evolutionary attainment of social animals

Post by prognastat » Fri Jan 25, 2019 11:11 am

I think both are necessary for the prospering of humanity.

If the majority was nonconformist we probably wouldn't make much progress as everyone would be pulling in different directions. If however the majority is conformist and you have a small minority of nonconformist risk takers investigating new frontiers(can be physical or mental) then if they succeed the conformists follow and we make progress. This of course comes at the cost of many non conformists not succeeding, but those that do having great success.

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Re: Nonconformity is the highest evolutionary attainment of social animals

Post by iopsi » Sat Jan 26, 2019 9:06 am

What matters is the underlying value of our actions (or the average actions of a community).
By behaving as rationally as possible to reach our goals, conformity or not becomes almost irrelevant. It might happen that something we do is conformist and something is not, what matters is that these actions are as optimal as possible.

If one finds a non conformist way to act that is much more optimal than the average, sooner or later people will catch up and it will become at least marginally conformist.

If a whole community behaves in an unoptimal way because it doesn't want to change, sooner or later it will pay the price and be forced to change.
Same is true if part of a community wants unwarranted (unoptimal) change from conformity.

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Re: Nonconformity is the highest evolutionary attainment of social animals

Post by Cheepnis » Sat Jan 26, 2019 4:37 pm

I found myself acting in almost unilaterally nonconformist ways throughout most of my life due to an absolutely brutal 5 years in grade school. Come middle school I knew things had to turn it around one way or another and in hindsight I realize I chose my activities and preferences from that point on as a way of making a clear demarcation between me and "them". It was a means of building my self esteem around things other people wouldn't do, thus giving me insulation from all the negativity directed my way. In time I was no longer a target, but I stayed pretty firmly in those same habits for way too long and am in many ways still mired with them.

Those habits I developed at the pivotal time helped keep my sanity and even lead to some good things like a pretty thick skin, however it has also left me perpetually on the look out for things that separate me from people and not what bonds us, leading to difficulty finding friendships or even acquaintances that are satisfying to me (and probably them).

Under the circumstances I "reinvented" myself I think my solution was more optimal than self-hurting or something like that, but it has also left me a somewhat deficient adult. I'm aware of it and working on it, it's progress as a matter of inches though. I still find myself taking those options that provide that demarcation sometimes. In fact, the choice to seriously pursue FI is a really nice way to distance myself from my coworkers whose personalities and culture I often find very grating and disparate from my own. At least I'm aware of it, and it least FI is itself a good goal, but it doesn't exactly help when it comes to moving my frame of mind from a place of differences to a place of shared community and bonds.

Ultimately I really like what @iopsi had to say above me. I think probably both sets of behavior can be beneficial at certain times. Personally, right now, I could probably do with a good helping of conformity, but non-conformity definitely helped keep me from some dark places.

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Re: Nonconformity is the highest evolutionary attainment of social animals

Post by JamesR » Sat Jan 26, 2019 6:14 pm

Being polite. Navigating social situations. Not going around raping and pillaging and blowing things up. These are all examples of conformity.

Buying when everyone is selling and selling when everyone is buying. Pursuing alternative careers or thoughts, avoiding the standard American dream, etc. These are examples of non-conformity.

Successfully navigating the line between conformity & nonconformity is the highest evolutionary attainment of social animals. -- you can quote me on that!

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Re: Nonconformity is the highest evolutionary attainment of social animals

Post by jacob » Sat Jan 26, 2019 6:23 pm

@JamesR - +1 Will do! There's a difference between informed non-conformity and uninformed non-conformity. Ditto conformity.

PS: A similar quote is that "in order to break the rules, you have to know them first". Dunno who said it? Some artist...

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Re: Nonconformity is the highest evolutionary attainment of social animals

Post by Toska2 » Sat Jan 26, 2019 6:33 pm

Given a large enough group of social animals, nonconformity is mathematically certain. A mix of information (surroundings), curiosity and outside pressures creates a blended gradient of differences.

+1 JamesR

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Re: Nonconformity is the highest evolutionary attainment of social animals

Post by henrik » Sun Jan 27, 2019 12:48 pm

jacob wrote:
Sat Jan 26, 2019 6:23 pm
PS: A similar quote is that "in order to break the rules, you have to know them first". Dunno who said it? Some artist...
An older and wiser former colleague of mine used to say that in order to operate in the grey, you have to know both black and white well enough.

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