Darwin's Dangerous Idea
But it is not enough, all by itself, to ensure group solidarity, since human beings, even those who have lived their entire lives in a Hutterite community, are not ballistic intentional systems, but guided intentional systems, and guidance has to be provided on a daily basis. Wilson and Sober quote Ehrenpreis, one of the early leaders of the sect: 'Again and again we see that man with his present nature finds it very hard to practice true community.' They go on to provide further quotations in which Ehrenpreis emphasizes just how explicit and energetic the practices of the Hutterites have to be to counteract this all-too-human tendency. These declarations make it clear that one way or another, Hutterite social organization is the effect of cultural practices quite vigorously arrayed against the very features of human nature Wilson and Sober wish to deny or downplay: selfishness and openness to reasoning. If group thinking were really as much a part of human nature as Wilson and Sober would like to believe, Hutterite parents and elders wouldn't have to say a thing. (Compare this to a case in which there truly is a genetic predisposition in our species: how often have you heard parents cajoling their children to eat more sweets?)
Wilson and Sober are right to present the Hutterite ideals as the essence of an organismic organization, but the big difference is that for people—unlike the cells in our bodies, or the bees in a colony—there is always the option of opting out. And that, I would think, is the last thing we want to destroy in our social engineering. The Hutterites disagree, apparently, and so, I gather, do the hosts of many non-Western memes. Do you like the idea of turning ourselves and our children into slaves to the summum bonum of our groups? That is the direction in which the Hutterites have always been headed, and, by Wilson and Sober's account, they achieve impressive success, but only at the cost of prohibiting the free exchange of ideas and discouraging thinking for oneself (which is to be distinguished from being selfish). Any stubborn freethinker is brought before the congregation and firmly admonished; 'if he persists in his stubbornness and refuses to listen even to the Church, then there is only one answer to this situation, and that is to cut him off and exclude him.' A totalitarian regime (even a group totalitarianism) is extremely vulnerable to dissuasion, in almost exactly the same way an altruistic group is vulnerable to free-riders. That is not to say that reason is always on the side of defection. It isn't. It's always on the side of keeping options open, of design revision. This is usually a good thing, but not always, an important fact that has been noted by the economist Thomas Schelling (1960), the philosopher Derek Parfit (1984), and others, in their discussions of the conditions under which it would be rational for a rational agent to render himself (temporarily) irrational. (For instance, you may want to render yourself a poor target for extortion: if you can somehow convince the world that you are impervious to reason, the world will not try to make you offers you can't refuse.)
There are circumstances—extreme circumstances, as Wilson and Sober note—when we may reasonably curtail free thinking, but the Hutterites have to discourage free thinking all the time. They have to discourage reading whatever books you want, and listening to whomever you want. It is only by the most careful control of the communication channels that such, a pristine state can be preserved. That is why the organismic solution is a nonsolution to the problems of human society. The Hutterites are thus themselves a curious example of greedy reductionism, not because they are individually greedy—they are apparently just the opposite—but because their solution to the problem of ethics is so drastically oversimplified. They are, however, an even better example of the power of memes to infect a group of mutual communicators in such a way that the whole group turns its efforts to ensuring the proliferation of those memes at whatever cost to themselves.