"Indoctrinability, ideology and warfare" deals with the "burning issue of why humans are susceptible to indoctrination for ideologies which lead to intergroup hostility". It is based on a symposium organized at the Max Planck Research Centre for Human Ethology in Andechs, Germany in 1994 and contains an introduction by the editors and 20 chapters, divided over six parts, as well as notes on the contributors, a list of figures and tables, an index of persons and a subject index.
Part one "Evolutionary precursors and models" devotes four chapters to the theme of phylogeny. Eibl-Eibesfeldt (Us and the Others: The Familial Roots of Ethnonationalism) argues that ethonationalistic ideologies owe their universal appeal to the way they hook into species-typical dispositions that evolved to elicit bonding and "we-group" identification between mother and child, and other family members. Indoctrinability facilitates acceptance and identification with a group's characteristics and thus serves we-group demarcation.
Ploog (War and Peacemaking: The Fusion of Two Neighboring Captive Monkey Colonies) adresses the question of how far back in human's evolutionary history the strategic assessment necessary for planning peace and war emerged. He describes the aggression and appeasement involved in the experimental fusion of two captive colonies of squirrel monkeys and combines this with data on preschool children to argue that the strategies employed in initiating or resolving conflicts between groups are functionally homologous across the primate order.
Richerson and Boyd (The Evolution of Human Ultrasociality) review the game theoretical literature on social behavior. They compare humans to the social insects and corals and argue that cultural group selection appears more feasible than genetic group selection. In support they present a model grounded on the ethnography of the New Guinea highlands.
Tiger (Notions of Nature, Culture, and the Sources of Indoctrinability) argues that our species' facility at adopting cultural solutions to group adaptive problems is a low-cost alternative to changing our body shape or neural wiring. Cultural variation is evidence of a natural propensity for cultural adaptation, rather than a support for the extreme "culturalist" position that humans have somehow freed themselves from their phylogeny. Indoctrinability serves cultural adaptation by homogenizing social values, facilitating cooperation within groups.
In part two "Traditional cultures", indoctrination in noninstitutionalized societies is examined. Schiefenhövel (Indoctrination Among the Eipo of the Highlands of West-New Guinea) describes indoctrination practices among the Eipo of New Guinea. These serve to cement loyalty within the village and its allies, while directing aggression towards outsiders. As Schiefenhovel puts it: "Indoctrination in quasi-Stone Age New Guinea works towards in-group differentiation, toward making dead sure that everybody knows exactly to which group she or he belongs".
Wiessner (Indoctrinability and the Evolution of Socially Defined Kinship) compares two egalitarian societies and shows how indoctrinability predisposes individuals to become culturally homogenized. She hypothesises that indoctrinability evolved to counteract, not enhance, family solidarity, because strong family loyalty could inhibit the formation of exchange networks, necessary as "insurance policies".
Van der Dennen (The Politics of Peace in Primitive Societies: The Adaptive Rationale Behind Corroboree and Calumet) reviews the social mechanisms underlying peace and war in many preindustrial societies and concludes that indoctrination can serve both of these group activities.
Part three "Individual behavioral mechanisms" examines proximate causation in four chapters on individual behavioral mechanisms.
Frey (Prejudice and Inferential Communication: A New Look at an Old Problem) reports on research which suggests that prejudices may develop without being mediated by some senders verbal output, solely on the basis of visual information processing. Firmly held prejudices about a person may develop after only a quarter-second exposure to his or her image.
Grammer (Sex and Gender in Advertisements: Indoctrination and Exploitation) employs evolutionary theory of sexual selection to generate hypotheses about how we should expect advertisers to exploit images of men and women to indoctrinate consumers to buy products. He analysed 357 advertisements in a large-circulation glossy Austria magazine and found thet, in accordance with the hypotheses, women were presented as being friendlier, more submissive and sexier than men, who are presented as of higher status but not aggressive.
Schubert (The Role of Sex and Emotional Response in Indoctrinability: Experimental Evidence on the "Rally Round the Flag") studied the effect of presidential speeches announcing military action by US forces. The study found such speeches to be effective in changing attitudes, well after the fact. Viewing videos of the speeches was more effective than listening to audiotapes. A pronounced sex difference in response was found. Females were more discriminating than males in supporting a call to arms, being most responsive to humanitarian concerns, consistent (according to the author) with the more "caring and nurturant" approach to social relations characteristic of females . Males were more responsive to justifications based on vital national interests.
McGuire, Troisi, Raleigh and Masters (Ideology and Physiological Regulation) present some interesting propositions about the proximate mechanisms in the brain that could underlie our receptiveness to indoctrination. They explain regulation- disregulation theory to hypothesize that acceptance of an ideology correlates with the degree to which embracing it increases the likelihood of attaining physiological homestasis. Succesful ideologies organize and prioritize thought, raise self-esteem, demarcate in-groups and out-groups, regulate in-group exchange and rituals and promote desirable emotional states.
Part four "Symbolism" contains two chapters, analysing symbolism in the service of indoctrination via art and television. Sütterling (Art and Indoctrination: From the Biblia Pauperum to the Third Reich) argues that art has special advantages as a means of communication and hence of indoctrination. Looking at ideological stereotypes she identifies symbols of identification. She traces human sensitivity to certain visual and auditory "key stimuli" back to archaic biases built into our perceptual apparatus. Art can use these biases to release simple aesthetic pleasures and different moods, it can also employ these same mechanisms to trigger messages of a nonaesthetic but political or ideological character.
Deutsch (Probing Images of Politicians and International Affairs: Creating Pictures and Stories of the Mind) argues that indoctrination into joining one side in hostile intergroup relations is possible because people need to belong and feel powerful. Strategies of persuasion can be built into communications that can seize upon this emotional need, totally bypassing rational thought. Using examples from televised press conferences, speeches, interviews, news broadcasts during international crises and political advertisements Deutsch describes the general process by which world leaders gain ascendancy in public opinion, again emphasizing the importance of the visual rather than the verbal mode of communication in this respect.
Part five "Group processes" is concerned with the adaptations that equip us to integrate into groups and accomodate to their internal social structure. Caton (Reinvent Yourself: Labile Psychosocial Identity and the Lifestyle Marketplace) rightly points out that indoctrination serves to integrate individuals into work and social groups. Where Eibl- Eibesfeldt argued that mother-child signals evolved and became available for adult bonding, Caton is struck by the "childishness" of indoctrination and states that the process of indoctrination involves infantilization because this facilitates imitation and learning of new social scripts. He sees evidence for this argument in the famous Patty Hearst abduction/ conversion to terrorist and the activities of the motivation movement.
Macdonald (Indoctrination and Group Evolutionary Strategies: The Case of Judaism) identifies culturally based evolutionary group strategies to create and maintain groups that impose high levels of altruism on their members and punish or exclude cheaters. He sees Judaism as a highly cohesive group evolutionary strategy, characterized by intense socialization pressures (indoctrination) directed at producing within-group altruism and economic cooperation.
Rushton (Genetic Similarity Theory, Ethnocentrism, and Group Selection) argues that genetic similarity mediates human relationships, both within and between families. People tend to marry and befriend similar others and the genetic mechanisms that purportedly underlie these findings may constitute a biological substrate of ethnocentrism, enabling group selection to occur. Indoctrinablity might be biased to accept ideas and practices disseminated by genetically (e.g. ethnically) similar indoctrinators.
Silverman and Case (Ethnocentrism vs. Pragmatism in the Conduct of Human Affairs) reject similarity theory and maintain that preferential treatment between genetically related individuals is restricted to direct kin. They present data in support of this view. They conclude that both studies point to pragmatism rather than ethnocentrism as the more compelling motivating force in human affairs and that ethnocentric attitudes are outcomes rather than antecedents of group conflict.
Part six "institutional mechanisms" deals with the political implications of indoctrinability. Geiger (Ideology, Indoctrination, and Noncognitive Foundations of Belief in Legitimacy: A Biobehavioral Analysis of Legitimate Violent Social Action) reinterprets the sociologist Max Weber's theory of charismatic authority in ethological terms. He conludes that indoctrinablity is a preadaptation that allows integration in large social units, even though it may not be adaptive in reproductive terms for the individual being indoctrinated. Ideological mobilization exploits human biobehavioral dispositions even for purposes for which they have not been shaped by natural selection, e.g. making the social order of modern large-scale societies look legitimate or eliciting voluntary compliance with war.
Salter (Indoctrination As Institutionalized Persuasion: Its Limited Variability and Cross-Cultural Evolution) reviews several methods of indoctrination (defined as the purposeful inculculation of an identity or doctrine) to test the hypothesis of a universal trait of indoctrinability. Chinese communist brainwashing, totalitarian indoctrination, cult recruitment, "deprogramming" from cults, traditional initiation and political advertising he finds that these techniques are highly transferable across cultures and eras, and repetitive in the subroutines they deploy. The lack of variety of effective paths to indoctrination tends to confirm the hypothesis that the means of indoctrinating humans, no matter how technically developed, are constrained by the necessity of keying into the human sensory and cognitive apparatus.
In the final chapter, Masters (On the Evolution of Political Communities: The Paradox of Eastern and Western Europe in the 1980s) reminds us that it is not typical for humans to help strangers indiscriminately. The institutions of the centralized state, which require such helping behaviour of the citizen, taxpayer and soldier, are relatively recent an surprisingly fragile events in the broad scope of human history. Only when this fact is fully understood do we realize how mythical recognition markers such as the fictive kinship of the modern nation serve as a basis for the development of economic and social infrastructures on which large scale markets depend. Masters presents a mathematical model of the evolutionary underpinnings of indoctrinability to the symbols and myths of "the State", using measures of present satisfaction and hope for the future. The model is applied to the rise of ethnonationalism in Eastern Europe during the breakup of the Soviet Union.
There is no concluding chapter to this interesting multidisciplinary display of modern evolutionary social science, which is a pity. As the editors indicate in their informative introduction, although all contributions take seriously the potential of the life sciences, including evolutionary models, there is no consensus, not even about the definition of indoctrination. As many authors do not specify or make explicit what "indoctrination" means to them, this makes it sometimes difficult to establish whether or not the different arguments and theories presented are mutually exclusive, complementary or relate to different issues. The first editor sees indoctrination as any formal or informal process leading to socialization, a special learning mechanism serving bonding and we-group demarcation, the second editor sees is as political socialization, performed in a purposive manner by an external, specialized instution or staff. Caton would include self-inculculation. The editors indicate that these issues were discussed at the conference, but not resolved. That is not surprising, since the concept of indoctrination is laden with values. It is taken for granted that indoctrination is something bad, and even when it is has a "positive" function, it is "childish" (Caton). Of course it all depends on the perspective one wishes to take, and whose interests are being served. After all, since George Orwell wrote "1984" we know that propaganda comes from the Ministry of Truth.
Although the proposed definitions of indoctrination could just as well refer to persuasion, teaching or social learning in general, almost all authors implicitly or explicitly assume that:
1. indoctrination in premodern societies has served to weld groups with a tight loyalty and
2. that indoctrinability is a universally found characteristic of humans and
3. involves the predisposition to be inculculated with values or loyalties that run contrary to immediate individual interest. (Although schoolchildren might argue that this is exactly what teaching is all about ).
Consequently, indoctrinability poses problems for evolutionary explanations: how could such a tendency spread in a population if those who are susceptible to indoctrination risk their lives for a cause that benefits others? Several authors (notably Eibl-Eibesfeldt, Richerson & Boyd, Rushton and Macdonald) find the solution lies in group selection.
Rushton explicitly discusses group selection in the special case of human ultrasociality, reffering to the familiar arguments by E.O. Wilson (1975) and D.S. Wilson & Sober (1994) of groups so tightly cemented that they became "vehicles" of selection. Richerson & Boyd rightly point out that the trouble with a group selection hypothesis is our mating system. Few demic boundaries are without considerable intermarriage, and wife capture is one of the main motives for raids on neighbours. The human groups that compete are demographically very open and violent conflict increases migration rates. Instead, Richerson & Boyd think culturally based strategies are more plausible locomotives of group selection than genetically based strategies. According to them, group selection is based on cultural variation and the marking of group boundaries by cultural symbols. Using these cultural devices, humans are able to create and maintain groups that impose high levels of altruism on their members and punish or exclude cheaters. MacDonald thinks he has found a group (Jews) which has been able to effectively follow a cultural group selection strategy. However, the attempt to make group selection more palatable by invoking "culture" does not help. With Eibl-Eibesfeldt, one cannot see any real differences between "cultural" and "genetic" group selection, since the outcome remains the same.
In an interesting contribution, Wiessner proposes an alternative hypothesis for the evolution of indoctrinability that does not invoke group selection. She argues that indoctrination is required to counteract family solidarity, because strong family loyalty could inhibit the formation of effective exchange networks, necessary as "insurance policies" to reduce risks outside the group. However, Schiefenhövel notes that indoctrination can be directed to partly overcoming ethnicity to build larger alliances, traditionally aimed at creating large-scale networks that serve the ambitions of powerful males. But this ideology did not have the same everyday effects as the one stressing ethnicity and Wiessners recognizes this as she states that indoctrination was and is also used to close boundaries and bind competing social groups.
As a logical correlate of group selection, the evolution of indoctrinability is linked to our proneness to collective aggression and intergroup competition in the form of warfare (curiously enough, in contrast with indoctrination/ indoctrinability and ideology, war and warfare are not be found in the index). However, indoctrination is not only used as an instrument of group antagonism. In relation to the susceptibility of humans to indoctrination for ideologies which lead to intergroup hostility, the conclusion must be that as with many other evolutionary traits in humans, the biopsychology underlying indoctrination seems to be a rather versatile instrument, allowing different solutions to a multitude of ecocultural challenges (see Schiefenhövel). Also, as van der Dennen aptly reminds us, a Darwinian approach should also look at the possibility of (indoctrination for) peace and nonviolence as an adaptation to particular political ecological circumstances.
Development and social learning
The volume gives little attention to the development of indoctrinability and to the distiction between social learning, teaching and indoctrination. According to Eibl-Eibesfeldt humankind's identification via symbols bears much resemblance to imprinting phenomena, whereas Salter calls spontaneous imprinting the polar opposite of indoctrination. Several authors implicitly assume that indoctrination serves to enhance already existing tendencies. Others (Salter, Wiessner) indicate that indoctrination is used to inculcate beliefs for which subjects show low indoctrinability, although the difference may be partly due to differences in perception of what constitutes "indoctrination". Several contributions (Schubert, Deutsch, Sütterlin, Frey) point to the importance of the visual rather than the verbal mode of communication in indoctrination.
"Indoctrinability, ideology and warfare" contains interesting and for the most part highly readable contributions. If any conclusion could be drawn, it would have to be that the predisposition for indoctrinability (however defined) seems to have a biological basis, but its content is culturally stipulated. Perhaps it is more fruitful to focus the future research and the debate the editors call for at the end of their introduction, on what behaviours, rules and norms we learn more readily than others (without using value laden labels) and which require more active teaching efforts than others. Schiefenhövel sees a way out of the indoctrination dilemma: indoctrinate (teach?) children to be vigilant so that the forces of indoctrination do not overpower them.
Wilson, D.S. & E. Sober (1994) Reintroducing group selection to the human behavioural sciences. Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 17, 585-654
Wilson, E.O. (1975): Sociobiology: The new synthesis. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.