Chapter 7: It's Just Not Fair

 [This is a skeleton version of the intended chapter. It will be expanded and possibly split into two parts with the first becoming the books initial chapter.]

Three cases and four conclusions.

The cases --

Case 1:

In the course of doing research for this book, I found references to a series of studies that I found absolutely fascinating. It seems that humans are not all that good at logic. Given some simple logic tests even college undergraduates (the lab rat of many academic studies) get only a third of the questions right. 

There is, however, a very interesting way to improve the results. If those question are restated to provide a social context of fairness, just entitlement, or cheating, then success doubles! These results remain robust across cultures, ages, and background. 

It seems that human beings are hard wired to detect cheaters!

Daniel Dennett provides the clearest of the many statements I’ve read, explaining by example [link]:

How logical are we human beings? In some regards very logical, it seems, and in others embarrassingly weak. In 1969, the psychologist Peter Wason devised a simple test that bright people—college students. for instance—do rather badly on. You may try it yourself. Here are four cards, some letter- side-up, and some number-side-up. Each card has a numeral on one side and a letter on the other:

 

Your task is to see whether in this case the following rule has any exceptions: if a card bas a D on one side, It has a 3 on the other side. Now. which cards do you need to turn over in order to discover if this is true? Sad to say, fewer than half of students in most such experiments get the right answer. Did you? The correct answer is much more obvious if we shift the content (but not the structure) of the problem very slightly. You are the bouncer in a bar, and your job depends on not letting any underage (under twenty -one) customers drink beer. The cards have information about age on one side, and what the patron is drinking on the other. Which cards do you need to turn over? 

 

The first and the last, obviously, the same as in the first problem. Why is one setting so much easier than the other?

 He concludes with:

 ...an evolutionary hypothesis...the easy cases are all cases that are readily interpreted as tasks of patrolling a social contract, or, in other words, cheater detection. 
 

Case 2:

My second case takes us into the field. Theorists tend to look closely at studies of surviving hunter gatherer tribes for clues to human prehistoric social structures on the hypothesis that the first hundred thousand years of human existence was spent in very similar societies. Being one of the last surviving groups of hunter gathers, the !Kung of the Kalahari have gotten a significant amount of attention.

Sarah Hrdy, in a discussion of the !Kung in her study of the extreme prosocial nature of homo sapiens, points out the importance of cooperation to hunter gatherer survival. Failure to share can cause fatalities. Sharing significantly improves the likelihood of avoiding starvation. [link]

E.O. Wilson makes very much the same point 31 years earlier in his book On Human Nature and then illustrates it citing Richard Lee in Man the Hunter (Lee & DeVore eds) by Richard Lee [link]: 

The buzz of conversation is a constant background to the camp’s activities: there is an endless flow of talk about gathering, hunting, the weather, food distribution, gift giving, and scandal. No !Kung is ever at a loss for words, and often two or three people will hold forth at once in a single conversation, giving the listeners a choice of channels to tune in on. A good proportion of this talk in even the happiest of camps verges on argument. People argue about improper food distribution, about breaches of etiquette, and about failure to reciprocate hospitality and gift giving… almost all the arguments are ad hominem. The most frequent accusations heard are of pride, arrogance, laziness, and selfishness. 

Case 3:
 
We seem to share an awareness of ‘fair’ with our close relatives on the phylogenic tree. In 2003, Brosnan, Frans, and deWaal (a personal hero of mine) published some watershed research using Capuchin monkeys.
Here’s some reporting in the scientific press:
 
[Sarah] Brosnan, along with lead author Megan van Wolkenten and Frans B. M. de Waal, both at Emory University in Georgia, trained 13 tufted capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) at Emory's Yerkes National Primate Research Center to play a no-fair game. In the game, each of a pair of monkeys would hand a small granite rock to a human in exchange for a reward, either a cucumber slice or the more preferable grape. 
 
When both monkeys received cucumber rewards, all was fine in primate land. But when one monkey handed over the granite stone and landed a grape, while monkey number two got a cucumber, madness ensued. 
 
"They would literally take the cucumber from me and then drop it on the ground or throw it on the ground, or when I offered it to them they would simply turn around and refuse to accept it," Brosnan told LiveScience. [from LiveScience]
 
And from National Geographic online:
 
"Brosnan said the response to the unequal treatment was astonishing: Capuchins who witnessed unfair treatment and failed to benefit from it often refused to conduct future exchanges with human researchers, would not eat the cucumbers they received for their labors, and in some cases, hurled food rewards at human researchers.
 
From here it’s a short hop to road rage when some driver feels cheated by being cutoff in traffic or Ronald Regan’s political use of the mythical ‘welfare queen’.
 
The conclusions—
 
1) It is likely that Cheater Detection has a strong genetic underpinning and, hence, has proved an important activity in reproductive success of primates including homo sapiens. 
2) That and other evidence indicates that Cheating has also persisted whether or not it is similarly genetically encoded. 
3) This persistence of both would seem to provide prima fascia evidence that Cheating and Cooperation enforced by Cheater Detection would seem to be ongoing Evolutionary Stable Strategies with neither able to eradicate the other.
4) Hard coded Cheater Detection provides indirect proof that Cooperation bordering on, if not including, what we’ve termed Altruism is critical enough to human survival that genes that support this activity have been selected.