Why can’t humans just disagree nicely?
The more time I spend on internet forums, the more evident it is that the way people behave in online discussions is due to the fact that we are primates. When you understand how primate social systems work, the fact that people can’t seem to have a reasoned, thoughtful, intelligent debate on the internet becomes very clear.
What seems to happen is that when one human challenges another’s opinion online, it triggers some innate primate neural networks that makes them see it as a threat to their position in the dominance hierarchy rather than what it really is, i.e. a slightly different opinion to their own. If it’s someone who’s fairly new to the forum that’s disagreeing with them, they see it as a challenge from someone who’s right at the bottom of the dominance hierarchy, so they’re quite indignant about being challenged by them, because they consider themselves to be pretty high up the hierarchy, being a regular with a big friends list n’all, so they react the same way any other primate reacts when their position in the dominance hierarchy is challenged… by asserting their position.
If we weren’t so constrained by our primate brain wiring, we might be able to view their opinion objectively, consider it carefully, and argue against it using logic and reason. Instead we resort to chest beating and stick waving and argue back indignantly without fully considering what they have to say and whether we’re actually correct or not. Then the newcomer feels that they have to establish their position in the new troop, they also don’t rationally consider the information being presented to them. And so the internet exchange of slightly differing opinions degenerates into an unpleasant argument, as those having the exchange do the Homo sapiens sapiens equivalent to beating their chests in an attempt to assert their dominance.
You can see it in face to face arguments too. I think that at some point in human evolution, verbal exchanges became an alternative to chest beating, jumping on things and waving big sticks as a means to assert dominance over another individual, and when this happened, humans lost the ability to simply have a disagreement about something. Changing your mind about something based on what someone else says (however sensible and well reasoned) became an act of submission, and challenging the correctness of someone’s information (however bizarre or incorrect it may be) stopped being just that and became a challenge to that person’s position in the dominance hierarchy. And thus innocent exchanges of opinion frequently descend into shouting matches and from there they may descend into actual chest beating, fist waving and jumping on furniture, and it’s possible, just as it is in other primate societies where neither one backs down, that it can come to blows. Or, on the internet, it descends from an exchange of opinion into passive-aggressive snarky comments and sarcasm, and then politely worded insults… then someone turns on the caps lock and it finally descends into an all-out flame war.
So if you’re looking for an explanation as to why Homo sapiens sapiens people can’t simply have a minor disagreement without getting all affronted and turning it into a battle for supremacy… it’s because we’re primates.
This entry was posted on August 13, 2013 by neandermagnon. It was filed under homo sapiens sapiens, other primates and was tagged with cognitive evolution, dominance heirarchy, primate social systems.