In the latest weeks there has been an interesting multiparty Internet discussion on Bryan Caplan’s defence of libertarian pacifism (I, II, III). Predictably the debate has turned into the typical “my counterfactual is better than yours” exchange that is also the attractor point in discussions on the viability of libertarian anarchism (hobbesian anarchism, on the other hand, has historically proven quite feasible).
Of course I cannot win against a brilliant and tireless ideologue as Mr.Caplan in the counterfactual competition, nor I am interested in normative discussions on how many abstract innocents would I kill to save an abstract innocent. I am more interested in Logic, Transfinite Set Theory or Byzantine Theology.
Instead, I will try to prove a simple positive fact, leaving to the reader any normative consequences. The fact is that the main driver in the evolution towards a more peaceful co-existence inside a social group is the collective advantage obtained by peaceful collaboration to prevail in the inter-group violent competition.
Up to 1945, with the discovery of the definitive weapon, every single sovereign group in the world was under a constant risk of being conquered by another sovereign entity. Normally, defeat implied that human and material resources of the conquered sovereign entity that survived the conquest were put under the control of the conqueror. For more than 4000 years, that geopolitical competition created true evolutionary pressure for the development of more perfect (in terms of survivance) political structures able to coordinate the whole social effort towards political dominance. Sometimes geopolitical competition favoured big bureaucratic structures, or total centralization under an autocratic ruler able to squeeze national resources towards its hegemonic ends. Sometimes geopolitical competition favoured republican systems backing national supremacy with “the consent of the governed”, and defending private property as a mean to obtain a prosperity that was possible to tax. But the darwinian score was always
measured in terms of reproductive success, both by the conquest, or by the imitation of the successful political systems by other sovereign groups.
When Caplan defends the Christian ethics of “turning the other cheek”, I find his position analogous to that of a cell inside the muscle of a lion. Let´s suppose the cell knows about amebae armed with all kind of biological weaponry, from pseudopoda to biological poisons, and living in the hobbesian environment of a puddle. The cell could (very reasonably) think: we, in this muscle are civilized and law abiding cells, never resorting to violence. We don´t have weaponry, and if I another cell in the muscle behaves unfairly to me, I would put the other cheek, and, at most, I would send some hormonal complaint to her and she would not continue her aggression. Love and respect are more efficient to obtain security than weaponry and fights, that only lead to the curse of hobbesian traps. If only some amebae chose peace, they would begin a chain reaction leading to a more peaceful environment for them.
The irony of the story is that at the same time the cell in the muscle is having this benevolent thoughts, the lion of which she is part could be killing the little sons of the previous owner of his new harem.
Societies were violence is widespread and disorganized are (under the present stage of military development) easily defeated by those were violence is unusual and directed towards internal political stability or/and social conformity (two million prisoners) and external supremacy (one million soldiers). In the limit, the ultra-violent Yanonamo are a hopeless hunter-gatherer society, and violent afghans are easily defeated by peaceful American engineers. So, I agree with Caplan: peace wins over violence. I mean, a peaceful society can devote more resources to win wars.
More in general, if “the other cheek” were very superior to “nude aggression” or “tit-for-tat”, we would see it more often in nature. But passive resistance is only applied (probably against their will) by those players who live down the food chain and whose survivance is guaranteed (in a Lotka-Volterra fashion) by the fact that their biomass limits the biomass of their predators. In some way, they are more successful that the predators: their biomass is, as a general rule, ten times bigger. But their success in terms of biomass comes at the price of the known inconveniences of living down the food chain.