Nietzschean evolutionary psychology

I have a strange habit of looking for bargain books. Why is this a strange habit? Because it looks awfully like a false economy. After all, even if you don’t read a book through, just reading a few chapters might take you an afternoon, the full book a few days. So it’s looking pretty silly to economise on the buying price of the book – and save, say $20 when the constraint that matters is one’s endowment of time not money. Ben Franklin rightly said that time was money, but it doesn’t work the other way round.

In any event, the thing is, it’s not working out too badly. Normal bookshops peddle the Latest Thing at high prices for a few months, then it disappears. And in the remainders bookshops like the Book Grocer – where everything is $10 or a tad over $8 if you buy five at a time – while there are quite a lot of duds (lots of the biographies are dreadful) there are some real gems, often about a decade old but which are no longer cool and recent enough to make it into the higher margin bookshops.

Recent highlights from this style of buying include, Non-Zero, Building Jerusalem, Paul and Jesus, Roads to Modernity. All really interesting reads. But right now I’m reading a great book written in around 2000 called The Mating Mind.  It’s thesis is adequately summed up in this review:

Evolutionary psychology has been called the “new black” of science fashion, though at its most controversial, it more resembles the emperor’s new clothes. Geoffrey Miller is one of the Young Turks trying to give the phenomenon a better spin. In The Mating Mind, he takes Darwin’s “other” evolutionary theory – of sexual rather than natural selection – and uses it to build a theory about how the human mind has developed the sophistication of a peacock’s tail to encourage sexual choice and the refining of art, morality, music, and literature.

Where many evolutionary psychologists see the mind as a Swiss army knife, and cognitive science sees it as a computer, Miller compares it to an entertainment system, evolved to stimulate [attract] other brains.

As I was reading the first chapter outlining his approach - which I find very persuasive, and more to the point pregnant with insight into all manner of things, not least how impoverished much contemporary social science is, I found myself thinking of Nietzsche. The word “Nietzsche” is typically associated with mad ‘superman’ theories of history. But what I’m thinking of is Nietzsche’s conviction of the ponderousness and self-importance of much enlightenment thinking: The lack of irony and self-reflection with which people imagine they are on a search for Truth. Of course the idea that human intelligence and its cultural accoutrements are not adaptations to the wild, an increasingly clever Swiss Army Knife, but rather the startling and thoroughly arbitrary outcome of a runaway process of positive feedback – peahens picked fancy tails and women picked humour, musical and story-telling smarts as markers for fitness? Well that’s a bit of a comedown.

As Nietzsche puts it in the brilliant opening of Beyond Good and Evil:

Supposing truth to be a woman – what? is the suspicion not well founded that all philosophers, when they have been dogmatists, have had little understanding of women? that the gruesome earnestness, the clumsy importunity with which they have hitherto been in the habit of approaching truth have been inept and improper means for winning a wench?

Or as he put it in less allusive terms early in his career:  Continue reading

Values update: Authenticity rockets up the charts

A value we hold dear at Troppo - be authentic.

A value we hold dear at Troppo – what’s there not to like about being open and authentic? A Christmas Season message from Troppo

A Troppo community service: 

As we wind down for Christmas I think we all need to reflect on our values. And as most Troppo readers would agree, values are like any other thing in life. Much better if they’re the product of a lot of talk and deliberation and if that’s by highly paid people then so much the better. That’s why I thought a good lead would be the core values of corporations with lots of highly paid people, like PWC. This is particularly the case since I’d recently visited PWC and saw this sign in their lobby. Still, it has not all been plain sailing, leading to this letter to Dr Troppo.

Dear Dr Troppo,

I have a problem. I have several million dollars to determine the appropriate course of action to take in a number of situations – this would concern policy and conduct both in a number of private sector  corporations and some government agencies. I thought I would give the money to PriceWaterhouseCoopers because they seem to have their head screwed on.

But I don’t know too many people there.  However it isn’t really who you know or what you know.  I’ve always thought that it gets down to a question of values.

But that’s where my problems start. Because when I look up the values of PWC UK I find these values.

  • Acting professionally.
  • Doing business with integrity.
  • Upholding our clients’ reputations as well as our own.
  • Treating people and the environment with respect.
  • Acting in a socially responsible manner.
  • Working together and thinking about the way we work.
  • Considering the ethical dimensions of our actions.

By contrast Australia’s PWC values are:

Performance matters

We value outcomes. We strive to achieve and to help others to do the same by trusting each other and teaming together; not micro-managing. We give responsibility, hold ourselves accountable and expect quality in everything we do.

Continue reading

Thread of doom play for the day: Size does matter

Disappointed Troppo readers everywhere have gradually come to a realisation – upon which I came clean on in a recent thread.  Troppo is really an ‘eyeballs’ play as we say in the trade and things haven’t been this good for eyeballs since Tim Blair sent some brownshirts our way a long while ago.  Anyway, it turns out that economic development has a surprisingly robust relationship with penis size. As this paper shows. Discuss with relation to any rocks you would like to get off. Baseless accusations are encouraged – though participants are reminded about our point of difference here at Club Pony – they’re not compusory.

Around 85 percent of Wikipedia entries are by men

I learned this somewhat startling fact last week. I was in a group of people – public servants – who clearly thought it was a problem, something to be ‘managed’ or ameliorated in some way. After all, it’s not very balanced is it?  Anyway my guess as to why it’s happening is the same as Frances Woolley’s guess which is this.

One theory is that women don’t edit Wikipedia because it is an ”obsessive fact-loving realm that is dominated by men and…uncomfortable for women.” A recent blog comment by Jaques Giguere attributed some gender differences in on-line behaviour to lekking – a form of sexual display where males congregate and compete for mates. I like the theory, but it strikes me that posting anonymously on Wikipedia is a pretty ineffectual way of displaying one’s prowess.

My own theory is that women are less interested this kind of intellectual competition – after all, deleting someone else’s entry is kind of the scholarly equivalent of checking someone into the boards and taking the puck off them. I also think that women are conditioned or programmed (take your pick) to be modest and value modesty – it’s not feminine to go to Wikipedia and create a page about yourself, or go through entries and add references to your own work.

Anyway, if anyone else has any ideas, please enlighten us.

Please explain

I made a comment here a couple of days ago which I believe expresses the frustrations of many about the chronic failure of the Labor government, both under Rudd and Gillard,  to effectively prosecute the case for reform in just about every area:

The puzzle here, as in contemporary Australian politics more generally, lies in the evident inability of the federal Labor government to robustly and effectively defend and promote its own policies, and the equally evident unwillingness of the mainstream media to see its role as doing anything beyond “horse race” reportage.

Rudd was just an abysmal communicator as well as (apparently) a complete prick, but Julia Gillard clearly has the capacity to communicate effectively and engagingly.  Yet invariably both she and her Ministers choose not to do so.  It’s an observation Peter Lewis makes in an article at ABC Unleashed with specific reference to the Murray-Darling water debate, and that Niki Savva makes more generally in today’s Oz:

If politicians give journalists something interesting to report, and lead debates, then they will oblige by publishing it and broadcasting it. If politicians find new things to say about old issues, or say them in an interesting way, they will get run. As well as using the right tactics, they also need to muster the right arguments. They require a strategic approach, taking account of the pitfalls and dealing up front with them.

Politicians will not always like the way their remarks are reported. The reports could be negative, outrageously misinterpreted and downright unfair, but the Prime Minister, backed by her senior ministers, has to be out in the public arena leading and steering important debates.

Labor has largely allowed the public debate to go by default to the Opposition not only in the Murray-Darling water debate but on climate change, the current debate about the role of the independent Director of Military Prosecutions, and even the National Broadband Network,  just to pick a few current examples.

I can’t help wondering why?  Gillard is clearly no fool nor are her colleagues (well, some of them anyway), and there must be at least a few advisers with a bit of nouse.  So why are they continuing Rudd’s “strategy” of failing to engage pro-actively in substantive public debate until it’s too late and the well of public opinion has been irretrievably poisoned on a given issue? It’s a sincere question, and I’d really like some help from Troppo readers because I’m truly mystified and have been for quite some time.  Here are a few possibilities:

  1. There is some deeply cunning principle of spin-doctoring that dictates failing to defend one’s own policies and giving an ongoing free kick to your opponents.
  2. They really are trying to defend their policies, but they’re so bad at it that this is the best they can manage.
  3. They are so busy with actual policy implementation that they don’t have time to publicly defend and prosecute the policy agenda.
  4. They think it’s pointless to prosecute any particular policy agenda because they’re going to be forced to negotiate it with the Greens and Independents so that the final outcome may bear little resemblance to the initial policy proposal, so why bother risking antagonising potential losers when you can duck for cover, leave the public servants out front and refer the issue to a parliamentary committee?
  5. They think that the great unwashed in marginal seats are completely uninterested in substantive policy in any real sense, and why waste time on the self-appointed cognoscenti minority like political blog readers,  ABC viewers and broadsheet newspaper readers?
  6. The Parliamentary Labor Party is now so full of career politicians whose entire experience is in the union movement or as party apparatchiks that they have neither knowledge of nor interest in anything beyond their own immediate political survival.  They don’t in fact possess any substantive beliefs or policy aspirations at all, and therefore there is no issue worth defending unless opinion polls and focus groups suggest it’s worthwhile.  Policy is for “policy wonks”.

Please explain, as Pauline H once famously put it.

Jobs @ Troppo: Opening doors for YOU!

Yes folks as part of our relentless drive to leverage our world class infrastructure and skills to bring our readers to their personal delight point – and beyond, Subho Banerjee of PM&C emailed me (amongst others to tell me of the opportunities below). He assured me that anyone quoting the Troppo website and driving the Troppo Mercedes Sports to the job interview will be given priority for the job and free tickets to PM&C’s corporate box at the Commonwealth Games – flying First Class with Air India.

So, tell your friends that Troppo leveraged your delight point to optimise competitiveness in a globally competitive world.  Anyway, here’s the email/ad.

Folks, we are currently recruiting across APS4 to EL2 levels. I would strongly encourage you to think about people in your networks who might be interested in joining us, and forward application details as below. Please feel free to get back in touch with me or Michael Carnahan (cced above) if you want any further information. Apologies for any cross-posts. Thanks, Subho


The Strategic Policy and Implementation Group in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is looking for staff at all levels from APS-4 (just above regular APS graduate entry level) to EL-2 (our team leader/project manager level).

The Group undertakes strategic policy projects on some of the most complex public policy issues; and analyses progress of, and identifies ways to improve the implementation of Government priorities. In order to provide distinctive solutions to the highest priority challenges, our staff work in dedicated project teams using multi-disciplinary approaches that draw on current best practices in private and public sector strategy and management. People have the opportunity to develop strategic policy and program management expertise and apply that expertise to a range of issues. We work in small focused teams, which means that staff at all levels are directly involved in developing solutions, and our staff have the opportunity to learn from the expertise and experience of leading public policy practitioners. The Group works at the centre of government in an environment that values creativity and innovation – both in the way we work and the solutions we recommend.

More detail about the department can be found at the PM&C website:

and specific information about the positions can be found at:

In terms of the application process, applications close at 11.30 (AEDT) on 10 October 2010. The selection process will involve a shortlisting, a written assessment (of an hour duration, undertaken online) and then an interview. If you are interested in working in PM&C more broadly then you should express this interest in the application. If your interest is in working only in SPIG, then you should also make this clear during the application process.

Dr Subho Banerjee

If only there were more hours in the day . . .

I’d read this paper.

Date: 2009-09-22
By: André De Palma (ENS Cachan – Ecole Normale Supérieure de Cachan – Ecole Normale Supérieure de Cachan, Department of Economics, Ecole Polytechnique – CNRS : UMR7176 – Polytechnique – X)
Nathalie Picard (Department of Economics, Ecole Polytechnique – CNRS : UMR7176 – Polytechnique – X, THEMA – Théorie économique, modélisation et applications – CNRS : UMR8184 – Université de Cergy Pontoise)
Anthony Ziegelmeyer (Max Planck Institut, Strategic Interaction Group – (-))
This paper reports results of an experiment designed to analyze the link between risky decisions made by couples and risky decisions made separately by each spouse. We estimate both the spouses and the couples’ degrees of risk aversion, we assess how the risk preferences of the two spouses aggregate when they make risky decisions and we shed light on the dynamics of the decision process that takes place when couples make risky decisions. We find that, far from being fixed, the balance of power within the household is malleable. In most couples, men have, initially, more decision-making power than women but women who ultimately implement the joint decisions gain more and more power over the course of decision making.

Given that there are not, perhaps a Troppodillian will check it out and review it here.