apparent self-sacrifice

Fri Jul 14 23:17:48 MDT 1995

>>> <Jorge.E.Pedraza at>  7/13/95, 07:40pm >>>
I'm curious how you might think the age old propensity of hominids
for war, self-sacrifice (including maryrdom, the monastic life and
the like) and suicide works out in the cost/benefit analysis?

Oh, sure, the easy questions, I can finish those off, to everyone's
satisfaction, in record time ... NOT.
Let's see you or anybody explain every action of every one, no matter
how unusual!
Can't I work on common patterns, and general tendencies, like Marx?
I'm only on my own mental volume 1.

Actually I do have some suggestions, about how this approach is
applied to anything.  First, you have to know what the materialsocial
fitness-related costs and benefits (incentives, consequences, etc.)
are for a particular person in a particular situation, in order to
make sense of one's behavior.  I think that many examples of
allegedly "maladaptive" behavior (bad for one's own darwinian
fitness) look more logical upon closer inspection.  There is also
room for coercion, which can be synonymous with choosing the least of
evils.  It all determines (although probabalistically) the
consequences of one's behavior.

For instance, if you are likely to be shot on the spot for desertion
if you turn back, it is not such a sacrifice to go ahead and charge.
Also, volunteers for high risk missions may gamble that they will
make it, and some do, with subsequent rewards.  Wasn't the US
involvement in WWII supposed to be over in 6 months, according to the
government, the news and the recruiters?  So going in, those soldiers
had little clue what they were getting into, and they could not act
on undetectable costs.  Besides, there was an immediate cost for not
signing up when it was the very cool, patriotic and popular thing to
do.  When most girls ask "have you signed up yet?" most boys would be
crazy not to.  (I say boys and girls because I think they were mostly
teenagers.)  And those that do come back, as from most wars, often
get lots of benefits ... (Of course, the next question is why the
girls thought it was so neat, and sexy ...)

Those who made the decision to go to war aren't the ones that died,
instead they made the big bucks by becoming lobbyists and executives
for arms companies.  Can you think of a war that was not started by
somebody who thought they had something to gain from it?  Or thought
it the least of evils?  Or thought it inevitable, so better to strike
first?  Or found it politically profitable or popular to do so, for
their selves?  So c/b for for the top war-mongers could be very low
indeed [literally the ratio of c to b].

A position in the clergy may be at least a secure living, or even a
path to wealth and power for some who are otherwise hopelessly
impoverished, and vows of celibacy are often broken.  In the past,
priests and nuns were frequently chosen by their parents, i.e. it was
not necessarily one's own decision.  Some research shows that nuns
were often younger daughters of wealthy families, who were competing
with each other to marry their daughters up.  Especially if a large
dowry was required in order to achieve a strategic marriage, the
family might not afford it for several daughters.  Yet getting one
into a good position in the church could get her education and
influence which could then come back to benefit others in the family.
If she were allowed to marry a poorer man, her rich friends won't
talk to her anymore and her poor neighbors may hate her too.
Besides, it could damage the whole family's social standing, which
includes her brothers' chances at getting more money, position, power
and women.  It was also because of the immense financial/political
power of the church that a family could benefit from keeping in its
good graces.  I think I've heard that the church actively recruited
staff from the wealthy families too, because those alliances could be
of benefit to the strategies, goals, wealth and power of the clergy,
in turn.

Modern suicide rarely has any benefits for self or family, so it is
more puzzling from this point of view.  Of course, attempts are far
more frequent than successful suicides, so there is a lot of room for
manipulative uses of suicide threats and attempts, and some of the
suicides are not really intended.  One can plan to be found "just in
time" but what if the one who is supposed to find you is late?

I know that suicides often say or feel that they are hopeless, life
is over anyway, etc.  Now that is sensible for someone with a
terminal disease, but it seems awfully puzzling for healthy
teenagers.  Some say that the pain of life (as they experience it) is
just too much, and death is the only way to turn off all experience
immediately.  Is this a normally healthy, usually beneficial
pain-avoidance mechanism gone awry in extreme conditions?  Or the
risk we run by having such a sensitive psyche that is usually useful,
but crumbles under too much stress?  I don't know, but I suppose it's
reasonably possible.  Hey Chris B, what do you think, want to come in

Anyway, Jorge, I suppose you get the general idea by now.  I hope
this does not just look like "explaining away everything" in a "bad
science" sense.  One of the marks of a good theory is that it offers
an explanation of variation, and here one could generate many
hypotheses about patterns of variation.  If one could find the right
data set, I might expect that desertion rates would increase when the
penalties are lower (other things held constant of course) and when
the expected death rate in battle is higher.

One is more likely to join the army when the wages go up, or when a
war is popular, and likely to do any damn thing that will impress
others, when impressing will win allies or mates.  One is more likely
to join the "celibate" clergy when one's options appear even more
grim.  I expect these things and many more, while I don't see how I
could do anything like this with, say, the concept of "ideology"

Besides, if everyone is generally trying to pursue fitness-related
goals, that doesn't mean they will be equally successful.  Things are
unpredictable, unknown, stochastic, things change between decision
and outcome, people are more or less powerful or coerced.  Shit
happens in spite of best efforts, to survive, to get mates, to get
your kid into the best school, to make friends and influence people,
to not fall out of the baobab tree and land on your head while
harvesting honey in Tanzania.  Or one occasionally chooses not to pay
the price of submission, obediance, sexual mutilation and trial by
torture that, for instance, was required of a traditional indigenous
Australian man who wanted to advance in social status and prestige
and so obtain magical secrets of the clan... oh, yes, and multiple

Has anybody got an alternative view they would like to offer up to

What do you think of this approach to your puzzles, Jorge?


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