Phil 5.26.19

Tikkun olam (Hebrew for “world repair”) has come to connote social action and the pursuit of social justice. The phrase has origins in classical rabbinic literature and in Lurianic kabbalah, a major strand of Jewish mysticism originating with the work of the 16th-century kabbalist Isaac Luria.

Cooperation in large-scale human societies — What, if anything, makes it unique, and how did it evolve?

  • There is much controversy about whether the cooperative behaviours underlying the functioning of human societies can be explained by individual self-interest. Confusion over this has frustrated the understanding of how large-scale societies could ever have evolved and be maintained. To clarify this situation, we here show that two questions need to be disentangled and resolved. First, how exactly do individual social interactions in small- and large-scale societies differ? We address this question by analysing whether the exchange and collective action dilemmas in large-scale societies differ qualitatively from those in small-scale societies, or whether the difference is only quantitative. Second, are the decision-making mechanisms used by individuals to choose their cooperative actions driven by self-interest? We address this question by extracting three types of individual decision-making mechanism (three type of “minds”) that have been assumed in the literature, and compare the extent to which these decision-making mechanisms are sensitive to individual material payoff. After addressing the above questions, we ask: what was the key change from other primates that allowed for cooperative behaviours to be maintained as the scale of societies grew? We conclude that if individuals are not able to refine the social interaction mechanisms underpinning cooperation, i.e change the rules of exchange and collective action dilemmas, then new mechanisms of transmission of traits between individuals are necessary. Examples are conformity-biased or prestige-biased social learning, as stressed by the cultural group selection hypothesis. But if individuals can refine and adjust their social interaction mechanisms, then no new transmission mechanisms are necessary and cooperative acts can be sustained in large-scale societies entirely by way of self-interest, as stressed by the institutional path hypothesis. Overall, our analysis contributes to the theoretical foundation of the evolution of human social behaviour.