The Coevolution of Parochial Altruism and War
By Jung-Kyoo Choi and Samuel Bowles
Altruism-benefiting fellow group members at a cost to oneself-and parochialism-hostility toward individuals not of one's own ethnic, racial, or other group-are common human behaviors. The intersection of the two-which we term "parochial altruism"-is puzzling from an evolutionary perspective because altruistic or parochial behavior reduces one's payoffs by comparison to what one would gain by eschewing these behaviors. But parochial altruism could have evolved if parochialism promoted intergroup hostilities and the combination of altruism and parochialism contributed to success in these conflicts. Our game-theoretic analysis and agent-based simulations show that under conditions likely to have been experienced by late Pleistocene and early Holocene humans, neither parochialism nor altruism would have been viable singly, but by promoting group conflict, they could have evolved jointly.
Science 26 October 2007: Vol. 318. no. 5850, pp. 636 - 640
Theory and simulations are a very weak source from which to draw any conclusions about real life but let us say for a while that we should take these results seriously. What conclusions can we draw from them?
Does it mean that all war is racist and that we should therefore refrain from war? Obviously not -- or the overthrow of Hitler would be wrong and that was to a small degree actually an anti-racist war. Wars in antiquity also had very little to do with race. Ancient Rome was led by men of all races, not just the men of Latium. The Roman empire was in our terms quite non-racist. Yet it did an awful lot of wars of conquest and the result is generally regarded as a great spread of civilization.
And does all racism lead to war? It may -- depending on how you define racism. It is certainly true that the primitive tribes of (say) New Guinea had just the combination of parochialism and altruism that the researchers above describe -- and the "noble savages" concerned were almost continuously at war with one-another. But we today do not live in primitive tribes.
The British Empire was undoubtedly racist in the modern sense right into the early 20th century. As rulers of the largest empire the world has ever seen (or ever is likely to see) most Brits believed that British superiority was self-evident. But were they "parochial"? They were certainly often and justly described as "insular" but they were not parochial. They were famous as a nation of refuge for the persecuted of other lands (even for Karl Marx) and they did not have completely different rules for insiders and outsiders. Thanks in part to their Jewish cultural heritage (see, for instance, Exodus chapter 23), they believed in impartial justice for all and British justice was in fact at that time famous for exactly that.
Yes: I know that Mosaic justice DID discriminate in some ways between Hebrews and non-Hebrews but it did also stress impartiality and it was certainly the message of impartiality that British Christians got from the Old Testament (Exodus is where those pesky "Ten Commandments" come from). It even led British Christians to see slavery as unjust -- a quite unheard-of notion up until that time.
Indians even sat in the British parliament in the imperial period and when a British army general went over the line in his efforts to maintain imperial order, as General Dyer did in the Amritsar massacre, sanctions came into play and General Dyer was dismissed. At the very height of the empire, the British Conservative Party even made a Jew their Prime Minister -- and a Jew who flaunted his Jewish difference at that. How "hostile" to outsiders can you get?
Nobody would claim perfection for British society of the imperial period (though I personally think it was remarkably good) but it was recognizably at least as fair and impartial as the most fanatically anti-racist society the world has ever seen: The USA of today. So even racist societies may not be parochial and the societies of the Anglosphere today are certainly not parochial. So the "research" reported above is essentially irrelevant to anything but an understanding of primitive tribes.
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