The Gods of Cooperation and Competition – Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict BY Ara Norenzayan
Argomenti: religione, morale, coesione sociale, competizione tra gruppi, conflitti.
For all its virtues in binding strangers together, religious cooperation is born out of competition and conflict between groups. It is therefore expected that religious cooperation in turn fuels the very conflicts, real or imagined, that are perceived to threaten it. (This is the topic of the next chapter.) This dynamic helps us understand and resolve the seeming paradox that it is the handmaiden both of cooperation within the group and of conflict between groups.
Note:CIÒ CHE CI FA COMPETERE E CI FA CONFLIGGERE
groups that happen to have members who acquire traits favoring self-sacrifice and subordinate self-interest for group interests—that is, groups with stronger social solidarity—will tend to win out.
Note:SACRIFICIO DI SÈ
Religion returns to center stage, not as a theological explanation of purpose or order, but as itself a product of evolution that enables groups to function as adaptive units—at least to a degree.
In an ambitious cross-cultural investigation spanning 33 nation-states, Michele Gelfand and her colleagues measured something related to social solidarity. They looked at the degree to which nations are “tight”—that is, do they have strict social norms that apply to many situations? How important is conformity to these norms? How much deviation from norms is tolerated and do people get punished for violating these norms?
Note:GELFAND: ALTRUISMO E GUERRA
they found that, all else being equal, conflict a hundred years ago increased the odds of strict norm-enforcement today. Tighter nations were also more religious—and that makes sense too if world religions are a group-mobilizing force.
Note:IL NUMERO DI GUERRE PREGRESSE PREVEDE LA RELIGIOSITÀ
as any observer of team sports fans can see, the “cooperate to compete” instinct is particularly strong among that segment of the population that likes war: young men.
Note:FANATICI E ALTRUISTI
Richard Sosis and his colleagues looked at this issue from a different angle..,. they found that the greater the participation in warfare, the more likely there are costly rites for males…. Sosis sees these painful rites as costly behaviors that signal group commitment. He points out that ritual scarification and violence create male solidarity, which keeps freeriding during warfare under control….
Atran explains, seemingly irrational tendencies make for stronger groups that can outdo their more rational, self-interested rivals:
Seen in this light, it is not surprising that prosocial religions have been a major force shaping human history. When intergroup rivalries are strong, prosocial religious groups, with their Big Gods and loyalty practices that promote social solidarity, could have a competitive edge over rival groups.
Note:MONOTEISMO E STORIA
Building Moral Communities of Strangers
As Jonathan Haidt shows, much of morality is rooted in social intuitions in the service of gluing individuals together to form “sacred” communities.
Note:MORALITÀ E COESIONE
As Haidt recognizes, not all moral systems are religious, and not all religions are moral systems, but some religious systems—those that have prosocial consequences—have been moral systems throughout time.
Note:RELIGIONE E MORALE
They found that the stronger an individual expressed religious belief and reported high levels of religious participation, the more likely he or she condemned moral transgressions.
These findings complement results by Shariff and Rhemtulla discussed earlier, who found, all else being equal, lower crime rates in nations with stronger belief in hell than heaven.
Note:CRIMINE E RELIGIOSITÀ
Morality without God
This does not mean, of course, that religion is necessary for morality. No doubt core human moral instincts evolved long before religions spread in human groups.
Note:MORALITÁ E RELIGIONE
Kiley Hamlin, Karen Wynn, and Paul Bloom have found that moral-like judgments can be found even in preverbal babies: by six months of age, they show a preference for an individual who helps and an aversion to an individual who obstructs someone else’s goal.
Even our primate cousins have vestiges of moral instincts. A long line of research by primatologist Frans de Waal and his colleagues shows capacities for emotional contagion, consolation, and grief in chimpanzees.
Note:MORALITÀ E SCIMMIE
We do not need religion to be moral beings. But moral communities of strangers may not have evolved as readily without religions with Big Gods.
Note:IL PROBLEMA DELLO STRANIERO
Intergroup Competition and Warfare
There is no shortage of evidence in the historical and ethnographic record showing that violent and nonviolent conflict has been endemic to human existence.18 In fact, one driver of large group size in cultural evolution is the intensity of between-group competition for resources and habitats. For example, in the 186 societies of the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample (discussed earlier), prevalence of conflict among societies, resource-rich environments, group size, and Big Gods all go together. In places with rich natural resources, there is more intergroup conflict, larger groups, and watchful gods.
Note:CON COSA SI CORRELA LA VIOLENZA UMANA
one possibility is that conflict over resources led to competition and political expansion of victorious groups, which in turn festered more conflict at the peripheries of these expanding empires. One argument is that these were precisely the antecedent conditions that gave rise to politically centralized states. As Charles Tilly puts it, war made states, and states made war.
Note:STATO E GUERRA
Peter Turchin, who has pioneered the scientific study of historical dynamics, emphasizes that the scaling up of social groups happened predominantly in frontiers of states and empires. He calculated that over 90 percent of preindustrial age mega-empires—defined as unified states covering greater than 1 million square kilometers (or 386,100 square miles)—arose in frontier regions, such as the Eurasian steppes.
Note:TURCHIN E LE FRONTIERE
this is the old adage that the best way to compete with rivals is to cooperate with allies. Medieval Arab philosopher and historian Ibn Khaldûn, who was a keen observer of the rise and fall of Islamic dynasties in fourteenth-century North Africa, saw social solidarity, which he called asabiya,
Note:VECCHI ADAGI CONFERMATI
How Prosocial Religions Won in the Game of Intergroup Cultural Competition
This observation brings us to the idea that prosocial religions, with their group-beneficial norms that suppress selfishness and increase social cohesion, outcompeted their rivals. There are good reasons to think that this process has been driven by cultural—rather than genetic—evolution.
Note:LA VITTORIA CULTURALE DELLE RELIGIONI
Scott Atran and Joseph Henrich summarize the idea this way: Religious beliefs and practices, like group beneficial norms, can spread by competition among social groups in several ways, including warfare, economic production, and demographic expansion. Such cultural representations can also spread through more benign interactions, as when members of one group preferentially acquire behaviors, beliefs, and values from more successful groups. Over historical time, demographic and cultural patterns have favored prosocial religious groups.
Cultural Group Stability
when all is said and done, what matters, in cultural terms, is how well a group weathers storms that might lead to its collapse. World history is littered with the corpses of vast, but short-lived, empires, such as the Assyrian and Mongol conquests that unified large parts of the Middle East and Eurasia, respectively.
Note:RELIGIONE => MAGGIORE STABILITÀ
Returning to this study of the group longevity of religious and secular communes in nineteenth-century America, Richard Sosis looked at an ideal case study because these communes operated under difficult conditions, facing various internal and external threats to group stability. Communes that were unable to solve “collective action problems”—overcoming internal disputes, preventing members from defecting to rival groups, surviving droughts, and so on, could not prosper. Indeed, some communes were dissolved soon after they were founded, whereas others flourished. For every year considered in a 110-year span, religious communes were found to outlast secular ones by an average factor of four.
Note:LA RELIGIONE RENDE PIÙ STABILI
The evidence just discussed leads to two key conclusions: (1) differential rates of group survival favor prosocial religious groups; and (2) the combination of belief in supernatural watchers, extravagant displays, and other commitment devices explains the cultural survival advantage of these groups—precisely what would be expected if prosocial religions were “packaged” by cultural evolutionary processes.
Neither could genetic group selection easily explain these effects, given the very short time frames (just over a 110 year span) and the fact that variation in nineteenth-century American commune membership is unlikely to be of genetic origin.
Note:CULTURA E GENETICA
Attracting Religious Converts
In her study of the spread of Islam into Africa, Ensminger argues that Islamic beliefs, supported by powerful displays of faith such as abstaining from alcohol, avoiding pre- and extramarital sex, not consuming pork, and ritual fasting—permitted greater trust, shared rules of exchange, and the use of credit institutions among converted Muslims.26 The spread of Islam in turn facilitated more trade and greater economic success.
Note:ISLAM: FORZA E COMPETIZIONE
This might come as a surprise to many, but Americans have not been as religious as they are today. Roger Finke and Rodney Stark emphasize the role of religious competition in the dramatic expansion of religiosity in America since 1776.27 Those familiar with American religious movements today know that competition among religious institutions for membership has been a long-time feature of American life.
Note:AMERICA LA COMPETIZIONE RELIGIOSA RAFFORZA LA RELIGIOSITA’. RELIGIONE=>PIU’ PERFORMANTI NELLA COMPETIZIONE TRA GRUPPI
To survive and prosper, religious groups attract followers, induce adherents to reproduce at rates greater than replacement levels, or, as the demographic expansion of the Mormon Church shows, ideally, do both.
Note:LA PROSPERITÀ DI UNA RELIGIONE. RELIGIONE=>PIU’ FERTILI
The Mormon Church grew, in a time span of just 170 years, from a small group of a few hundred to 15 million followers worldwide. Likewise, Christianity itself grew by leaps and bounds in the Roman Empire, and a once obscure offshoot of Judaism became the state religion of the empire in less than 300 years.
Note:MORMONI ED EBREI
The cultural success of prosocial religious groups is therefore aided in no small part by their reproductive success,
Sociologist Eric Kauffman remarks with irony that, in the culture wars between the religious and secular, arguments fly back and forth, yet neither side seems to have noticed the most important trend that may really settle the dispute. He notes: Religious fundamentalists are on course to take over the world through demography. We have embarked on a particular phase of history in which the frailty of secular liberalism will become even more apparent. In contrast to the situation today, the upsurge of fundamentalism will be felt more keenly in the secular West than in developing regions. This is because we are witnessing the historic conjunction of religious fundamentalism and demographic revolution.
Note:KAUFFMAN: L’ARGOMENTO RELIGIOSO
A study comparing the fertility rates of European Jews found that the atheists had the lowest birthrate, averaging around 1.5 children per woman (again, below replacement), whereas the religious Jews averaged nearly three, with the Ultra-Orthodox in Israel averaging six to eight children per woman.
Michael Blume explains: Although we looked hard at all available data and case studies back to early Greece and India, we still have not been able to identify a single case of any non-religious population retaining more than two births per woman for just a century. Wherever religious communities dissolved, demographic decline followed suit.
Note:ATEI SENZA FIGLI DA SEMPRE
It is no accident that religious conservative attitudes on women’s rights, contraception, abortion, and sexual orientation are conducive to maintaining high fertility levels.
Note:RELIGIONE E DIRITTI DELLA DONNA
it is possible that religious fertility is shaped by a process called gene-culture coevolution.35 Just as the lactose-tolerance allele spread in less than 10,000 years in groups that adopted milk-producing cows, goats, and camels, it is conceivable that prosocial religious beliefs and practices adopted by some groups but not others might have exerted selection pressures on the human gene pool of these groups. This provocative idea is just starting to receive attention.
PERCHE’ PIU’ RELIGIOSI=>PIU’ FERTTYILI? BOH. L’IPOTESI DELLA COEVOLUZIONE