The following is spread around per Keith's wish. He is currently not posting on a.r.s. due to various reasons, all perfectly honourable.
If you want pass this draft article around that would be fine with me. Comments most welcome!
Privation as a particular memetic replication control mechanism (Draft)
In "Sex, Drugs and Cults" published in Human Nature Review, I examined two evolved human psychological mechanisms: drug-like attention rewards and capture-bonding, better known as the Stockholm Syndrome.
Here I propose a third and somewhat more speculative psychological mechanism, one that indirectly causes wars.
The analysis starts from the observed facts. Animals (and other replicators) strongly trend to populate an environment to the limit of its carrying capacity (and beyond) and the carrying capacity drops from time to time due to climate changes and other factors.
In the world of tribes and small villages where humans evolved, food shortages (and impending shortages) often led to attacks on neighboring tribes. Intermittent warfare was the situation of virtually all humans in the tribal era. We find this odd today because low (or negative) population growth for the past two or three generations combined with economic growth has kept chronic widespread economic hardship at bay in the industrial states for such a long time that we are hardly aware of its effects.
It is much like we find the response of Elizabeth Smart and Patty Hearst to being kidnapped so strange. Even a hundred years ago their response to being kidnapped would not have been so strange because people were still familiar with the occasional bonding of European captives into Native American tribes.
Evolutionary psychology and knowledge of primitive tribes leads to understanding capture-bonding as a psychological trait that has been selected for a very long time. If captives (especially young women and children) socially reoriented they had a good chance of being an ancestor. If they didn't, they were most often killed out of hand. (Something generally done to captured adult males in any case.)
Over population combined with downturns in ecosystem productivity were a feature of life every few generations. I doubt very many people got through a life in those times without some kind of resource crisis. The more we look at past climate, the more unstable it looks.
A common feature of tribal life when resources started to get short was to go to war with a neighboring tribe. If you won, you killed the males. More often than not the females were incorporated into the tribe as extra wives and the children adopted. And, of course, the winning tribe took over whatever resources the losing tribe had.
It is obvious to see that genes for a psychological tendency to go on the warpath when resources got tight and *win* would do better than those who starved. What is odd about this analysis is that it benefited your genes to go to war *even if you lost.* That is because the loser's women, children (and genes) would be incorporated into a tribe with more resources. So from a genes viewpoint, going to war even with a stronger tribe that is likely to kill all the males is a better deal than privation/starvation. After a few million years this psychological tendency should be very common in human populations.
I suspect that the same psychological trait is turned on today by falling income per capita.
So far this is a standard evolutionary psychology approach. What is a bit more speculative is how the mechanism works.
Social reorientation in a capture bonding crisis must release a witches brew of hormones and neurotransmitters to socially reorient the brain. We can probably guess that vasopressin is involved. Taking samples of spinal fluid of people who are going through army basic training or fraternity hazing should give us detailed insight into the physical mechanisms of capture-bonding.
The mechanisms for working up a tribe (or larger group) to make war on another tribe are certainly more complicated. For one thing, a *group* has to reach a particular psychological state together rather than as an individual. This requires communication between group members to work themselves up into attack mode. Because there is normally inhibition in attacking other people, it seems likely that memes that dehumanize the target tribe are involved.
It is my belief that privation sets up conditions in human brains that makes dehumanizing memes more likely to spread and to affect behavior. Further, the privation does not have to reach the point of starvation. Genes that build psychological mechanisms that were not turned on till the warriors were weak from starvation wouldn't do as well as those that induced war earlier when the resources per capita had just started to drop.
Further, I expect that a *relative* drop in income per capita is all that is required to turn on this mechanism--i.e., you don't need actual starvation.
There are plenty of examples from history both recent and long ago. The problem is that economic trends before a war was started are not well known in a lot of cases. Perhaps the discipline of cliometrics (historical economics) could obtain useful trend data.
Germany was declining economically when Nazi memes gained ascendency. This is widely considered to have been a major cause of WW II.
The Hutu/Tutsi genocidal wars were proceeded by a long drop in per capita income (due to population growth) and the spread of dehumanizing memes.
And consider the most recent and on going war (9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, and who knows where else). Of the 19 hijackers 15 were Saudis. Not the kind of place you would expect to be lacking in money. But in the last generation--due to a combination of sinking oil income and rising population--the per capita income in Saudi Arabia has fallen from about $28,000 to $7,000.
There are counter cases, however. The Irish potato famine did not result in a war at the time
There might not be an actual psychological mechanism such as can clearly be seen in capture-bonding. It could be just a matter of "idle hands doing the devil's work." I would argue though for an actual psychological mechanism turned on by privation/declining per capita income. One reason is that I suspect this mechanism is used by cults, keeping members, particularly staff members, in a state of actual privation and using this as a way to promote the spread of us vs. them dehumanizing memes. Certainly the cults I know about do this in spades.