Friday, May 18, 2012

Group Selection Tactics

Recent work emphasizing the importance of group selection highlights the importance of coalitions, and of the conflict between individual and group incentives (eg, Wilson, Haidt).  I found Putin's recent top appointment a good example of how success is influenced by luck and mixed motives:
Mr. Putin’s first high-level appointment as president was Igor R. Kholmanskikh, 42, a tank-factory worker from the Urals who is famous for one thing: offering to travel to Moscow with a gang of assembly-line workers to chase antigovernment protesters off the streets.
Guys like this need to understand their success depends largely on understanding the importance of being restrained and deferential when being used, quietly acquiring trust from others until eventually going it on your own. Kind of like how Putin's grandfather, Stalin's chef, probably bit his tongue quite a bit and it paid off eventually. Patience is key. The process is well described in Caro's outline of President Johnson's rise to power. Johnson was a flattering sycophant during his rise to power, always eager to get face time with those above him, and acting like an adoring young pup, but when he became president he was an obnoxious, rude bully to those under him.

I know a lot of guys in business who became executives this way.  Invariably, they rarely spoke extemporaneously, had little understanding of the business and were quite defensive around people who liked to 'talk shop', but were masters at managing relations with others and forming bonds with the right people.  


zby said...

I have just started viewing Sopolsky series of lectures - he is a great lecturer: - but according to him there is no group selection (lecture #2) - there is only individual selection, kin selection and reciprocal altruism. This looks like reciprocal altruism for me.

Eric Falkenstein said...

It gets down to the mathematics of the loyalty instinct, why many believe in patriotism, or whatever chauvinism they find instinctively righteous. Surely some altruism can be explained by reciprocal altruism, but a lot cannot, which is why Wilson left that paradigm. Consider, for example, the many soldiers eager to die for their army. I agree its not settled, but the splinter 'group selection' is growing.