From Jim Gilliam's blog archives
The Divinity of Politics

February 6, 2004 9:26 AM

Michael Shermer, publishes Skeptic and just finished writing The Science of Good and Evil. In yesterday's LA Times, he provided a fascinating explanation of how politics and religion became intertwined through the evolution of morality.

The Divinity of Politics
Throughout history, leaders have claimed a supernatural link.
By Michael Shermer

February 5, 2004

George W. Bush says he prays before making his most important decisions. He sprinkles his speeches with religious references and often thanks God for blessing our country. Perhaps, then, this is a good time to reflect on what science tells us about why political leaders throughout history have linked themselves to the divine. It has to do with the evolution of morality.

For the first 90,000 years of our existence as a species, humans lived in small bands of tens to hundreds of individuals. In the last 10,000 years, these bands evolved into tribes of thousands; tribes developed into chiefdoms of tens of thousands; chiefdoms coalesced into states of hundreds of thousands; and states conjoined into empires of millions. How and why did this happen?

By 10,000 years ago, our species had spread to nearly every region of the globe and people everywhere lived where they could hunt and gather. This system tended to contain populations, but agriculture allowed them to explode. With those increased populations came new social technologies for governance and conflict resolution: politics and religion.

The moral emotions — guilt, pride, shame, altruism — evolved genetically in those tiny bands of 100 to 200 people as a form of social control and group cohesion. One means of accomplishing this was through reciprocal altruism — "I'll scratch your back if you'll scratch mine."

But as Lincoln noted, men are not angels. People defect from informal agreements and social contracts. In the long run, reciprocal altruism works only when you know who will cooperate and who will defect. This information is gathered in various ways, including through stories about other people — more commonly known as gossip.

Most gossip is about relatives, close friends, those in our immediate sphere of influence and members of the community or society who have high social status. It is here we find our favorite subjects of gossip: sex, generosity, cheating, aggression, social status and standings, births and deaths, political and religious commitments, and the various nuances of human relations, particularly friendships and alliances.

When bands and tribes gave way to chiefdoms and states, religion developed as a principal social institution to accentuate amity and attenuate enmity. It did so by encouraging altruism and selflessness, discouraging excessive greed and selfishness and revealing the level of commitment to the group through social events and religious rituals. If I see you every week participating in our religion's activities and following the prescribed rituals, that indicates you can be trusted.

As organizations with codified moral rules and the power to enforce the rules and punish their transgressors, religion and government responded to a need. Church and state have always been tightly interlocked. The "divine right of kings" was not the invention of European monarchs. Every chiefdom and state society known to archaeologists justified political power through divine sanction, in which the chief, pharaoh, king, queen, monarch, emperor, sovereign, prime minister or president claimed a relationship to God or the gods, who allegedly anointed him or her to act on behalf of the divinity. Bush is part of a long tradition.

Consider the biblical command to "Love thy neighbor." In the Paleolithic social environment in which our moral sentiments evolved, one's neighbors were family, extended family and community members who were well known to all. To help others was to help oneself. In chiefdoms, states and empires, the decree meant only one's immediate in-group. Other groups were not included. This explains the seemingly paradoxical nature of Old Testament morality, where on one page high moral principles of peace, justice and respect for people and property are promulgated, and on the next page raping, killing and pillaging people who are not one's "neighbors" are endorsed. Deuteronomy 5:17 admonishes, "Thou shalt not kill," yet in Deuteronomy 20:10-18, the Israelites are commanded to lay siege to an enemy city, steal the cattle, enslave those men who surrender and kill those who do not.

The cultural expression of this in-group morality is a universal human trait common throughout history, from the earliest bands and tribes to modern nations and empires. The long-term solution is to view all people as members of our in-group: the species Homo sapiens. We have a long way to go to get there. Reform begins with recognition of the cause, which science gives us. Resolution comes through social action, which democracy gives us. We can change. As Katharine Hepburn explained to Humphrey Bogart in the 1951 film "The African Queen": "Nature, Mr. Alnutt, is what we were put in this world to rise above."

More from the archive in Religion, Science.

The Divinity of Politics (02.06.2004)

Next Entry: The Commission (02.07.2004)
Previous Entry: Followup on indictments in Plame investigation (02.06.2004)

Read the 4 comments.


Thoughts on the Mechanics of assimilating out-groups and expanding the in-group.

Why worry about out-groups becoming part of the in-group?
There are many out-groups. For the purpose of this thread, we’ll focus on a specific out-group. There are some who explain that the homosexual movement to gain entry into the in-group via marriages rights and rights in general is comparable to the overall struggle of humanity’s expansion of the in-group. This explanation starts out feeling right, but then it fades away as we look at what it is to 'become' homosexual.

What’s different about this out-group?
In 6,000+ years, most of the groups that tried to become part of the in-group are fundamentally different from the out-group of homosexuals.

There is a process in 'becoming a homosexual' that is a different social trait that advances their group (indoctrination versus procreation). Very loosely and generally speaking, children are mistreated ( physically or emotionally or lack of proper education ) and later fall pray to the homosexual population that does in fact need to increase it's group size in order to survive because it otherwise does not reproduce itself. This makes it fundamentally different from all other groups. The weaker, unprepared, misdirected younger adolescence age group is were the majority of the homosexuals come from. We can begin to see what other points can be made from here even though this trait is highly disputable within the homosexual out-group.

We’re not bashing!
I do not want to hurt the homosexuals and single them out like we have so many out-groups of the past ( for good or bad ). In fact, imagine if the lepers-out-group would have fought for rights to keep their individuality. Or the plague-victim-out-group? The out-group that infected small pox? The difference to this aberration is that even the out-group infected with those physical diseases 'desired to be cured'. But what if they hadn't? The difference of the 'state of mind' is what can define the beginning or the ending of a particular out-group within the social environment. Our state of mind ( in general ) was to create a cure for small pox. We rid that out-group as they also desired to be cured.

Can one survive a brush with almost becoming a part of the out-group?
For anyone who has survived the process of the homosexual out-group trying to indoctrinate them into believing that they were always gay and that it is ok, could easily say that they survived a difficult, trying, exhaustive, situation. The homosexual out-group grows because the newly recruited members are not socially prepared to combat the onset of the indoctrination into the homosexual culture. Homosexuality in this light is more like a sickness upon the normal group and that is in fact avoidable – ‘if desired’.

Still not bashing!
No, we cannot hate the homosexual out-group – that is not the answer. Just as we do not hate anyone who comes by us and who has a cold. We hold our breath if someone with a flu coughs etc. We all get flu shots, vaccines etc. But we don't hate the sick do we?

So how does the in-group let the out-group in under these circumstances?
Well, are we sure we have to? Did we let in the small-pox out-group? The plague out-group? There are many people who remain heterosexual because at the end of the day, they were simply taught a different mindset and it was molded and nurtured in a strong parental environment and it was one of few defenses they had to drive away the indoctrination of homosexuality into their life. They have gone on to procreate and further their group. The decline of the out-group of homosexuals starts with the next generation of adolescence. With proper education and strong healthy relationships, the adolescent will not normally seek affection from a socially inept culture that does not fit with the larger trend of procreation for the advancement of the group in general.

Sometimes it is clear how to limit the assimilation of a particular out-group – for example, the pedophile-out-group. Other times it seems tough. Should the overall nature, character, behavioral traits, and culture be measured? Should they be scored against whether they advance the in-group versus prey on the weaker within-group members for the expansion of their circle?

How do we decide which out-groups should become part of the in-group?
Deciding this now along the way could help sustain a future state of mind in another 300 or 400 years when the in-group is contending with the serial-murderer-out-group or the pedophiles-out-group or xyz-out-group that want to be part of the in-group. How can we decide the mechanics that allow the in-group to include the out-group? Hindsight will always be able to look back and draw the line in history where the in-group made the decision to absorb the next out-group. But time moves forward as well as backward and when we are driving we want to know what is coming. How can we decide which group comes in?

Back to the desire or state of mind – time to decide!
Is it a matter of the state of mind of the in-group in general? If tomorrow the ‘prince of peace’ came riding in, wouldn't that change the state of mind and divide the in-group strongly between those that see and those that are blind? Wouldn't then the mechanics we have in place now to guide the absorption of new out-groups break down? Is there a mechanics built in already? Don't some see it as evolutionary and others as divine? But it is there – isn’t it?

If we choose not to use a moral precedent sufficient to exclude a particular out-group from becoming an accepted member of the in-group, does it leave us to draw the law a priori. If the out-group depends upon members of the otherwise normal within-group member in order to sustain it’s own group-wide numbers, is it suitable for inclusion? If the conduct of the out-group overall lends toward a reduction of the in-group members in favor of more out-group members, is it fit for inclusion?

I hope that we can find some good thoughts to help us all answer some of these questions. There is probably some out-group members on this board who might at first feel cornered on the issuse. Knowing your sentiment will help us learn and help us teach our adolescents and give them good defenses for their life so that they can make decisions that they can be proud of as well. Please poor out your thoughts freely.

The expansion of the in-group is the historical march of humanity. Our continued evolution depends upon how we manage the expansion of the in-group.

By drawing close to one out-groups desire to be ordained as in-group, we might be able to ascertain if we are equipped to design the mechanics that would one day be used to argue for or against an inclusion into the in-group.

Thu Apr 1 2004 9:04 PM


The other posted comment completely,conveniently missed the point. So I would like to positively reiterate.

The long-term solution is to view all people as members of our in-group: the species Homo sapiens.

We have a long way to go to get there. Reform begins with recognition of the cause, which science gives us. Resolution comes through social action, which democracy gives us. We can change.

Fri May 7 2004 9:47 AM

Jim Gilliam:

I just think we need a good alien invasion...then we will all become united together as "terrans" -- against the aliens.

Fri May 7 2004 9:56 AM


There is support in relatively equal volume for what could be called chosen, learned, or genetic homosexuality.

After this satirical entry, let us remove from the equation our personal opinions of the homosexual-out-group. Mr. Shermer's theories on in-group/out-group is suggesting that ( although hindsight is 20/20 ) the homosexual-out-group will eventually become in-group because that is the overall trend of humanity.

With this in mind, what are the mechanics that we would need to employ in order to expand the in-group?

The reason for posting underneath the article for Shermer was to refute the idea that although domesticated, humanity will continue to expand thoughtlessly by simply expanding the definitions of what the in-group considers to be the barrier.

The homosexual-out-group wants to expand the in-group definition of marriage and they base this on:

1) they find the current law discriminatory
2) their relationship is based upon mutual consent
3) their relationship doesn't hurt another person or marriage

With this being the fundamental underlying 'mechanics' proposed to expand the in-group definition of marriage, what are your thoughts about these mechanics? Is this the only rule (mechanics) that needs to be applied in this case in order to redraw the barrier, redefine marriage, and expand the in-group?

Sat May 29 2004 2:06 PM

Jim Gilliam
Jim Gilliam


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