In How to bargain with aliens, Marginal Revolution asks its readers the following questions:
Let’s say you meet up with an alien race and you need to bargain with them by radio or some other method of signaling. You don’t have any other information other than your knowledge of human beings. What traits should you think are overrepresented in humans, relative to what a rerun of evolution can be expected to produce in an intelligent being? Would you expect them to be more or less benevolent than humans? Should it matter if they have demonstrated superior technology? Should such achievement make you think they are more or less cooperative toward “outsiders”?
I suspect that all of these questions are meant to lead to the conclusion that “people” from more advanced civiliations would naturally be more peaceful, less aggressive and more cooperative with one another than we are.
And the traits that are “overrepresented” in human beings? Aggression of course. As reported last year in MSNBC’s Technology and Science column:
Even though [our primate forbears the] ustralopiths walked upright on the ground, they retained short legs for 2 million years for the same reason squatness helped out other great apes—for male-male combat. With the advantage in combat, short-legged primates would likely be victorious and gain access to females. That meant passing their genetic traits, like shortness, to offspring.
Could intelligent human beings have evolved without aggression? Certainly.
Over at theIP ADR Blog, */ we quoted author Nicolas Wade’s 2003 comparison between the aggressive, violent, male-dominated, territory defending style of the chimpanzees with the gentler ways of the bonobos as follows:
researchers Male and female [chimpanzees] do not associate in families but in separate hierarchies. Males make females defer to them, with violence whenever necessary, and every female is subordinate to every male.
A female chimp advertises her fertile period with a visible swelling and is then so pestered by males that she may get to eat only at night. . . .
Though bonobos are almost as aggressive as chimps, they have developed a potent reconciliation technique — the use of sex on any and all occasions, between all ages and sexes, to abate tension and make nice.
Assuming the common ancestor of people and chimps had social behavior that was essentially chimplike, how much of that behavior has been inherited by people? The unusual behavioral suite of male kin bonding and lethal territorial aggression may look as if it has been inherited with little change. Among the Yanomamo, a South American tribe, the number of males who die from aggression is about 30 percent, the identical rate found among Gombe chimps.
Dr. Wrangham said the consistent pattern of aggression seen at all the chimp sites suggests that male chimps have ‘a strong emotional disposition’ to be aroused by the sight of strange males, to form coalitions against enemies, to be sensitive to balances of power and to be attracted to hunting. The same disposition could have been inherited down the human lineage.
Turns out Freud was right. Aggression is all about sex. But it’s also about tool-making (i.e., weaponry). So we have evolved to be competitive and collaborative. Tool making to ease our work-load and to kill our “enemies.” So far, our advances continue to outpace our many attempts to destroy ourselves.
What might have worked for the advancement of other civiliations? If all possible worlds exist, as physicists claim, other worlds may well have developed life in some way other than evolutionarily. Maybe by intelligent design! There’s simply no telling. I would, however, speculate that a species taste for its members blood must be balanced by affiliative instincts and activities or its development would be cut short by species-cide.
The take-away for negotiators who are strangers in a strange land?
Learn how to communicate with the aliens. Ask them questions concerning their needs, interests and desires. Tell them about your own. Put down your weapons and back slowly away.
Anyone who is as fascinated by these questions as I am, read this post from Such is Life about whether or not we’d “see” aliens if they arrived on our shores. Answer? Not likely.
*/ And, no, the accompanying photo there is not from Judge Kosinzski’s stash.