Monday, November 06, 2006

Spite and reproduction: should we allow terrorist blogs and dating sites?

I argue here that discussion of terrorist beliefs should be encouraged. I want to show that discussion of fundamentalist and even violent beliefs could actually reduce the incidences of violent acts.

The behaviours of animals fall into 4 categories

  1. Selfish- help me and probably hurts you
  2. Altruistic – hurts me but helps someone else
  3. Cooperative- helps me and helps you
  4. Spiteful- hurts me and hurts you

Spite has only been seen in social insects. All other proposed spiteful behaviours can be explained in terms of delayed advantages to sexual fitness or reduced competition. Social insects such as worker ants engage in spiteful actions. Even though they cannot breed they carry out actions that harm themselves in order to harm others. So for example the red fire ant will kill larval queens that do not share a gene that it has. This example illustrates how spite occurs when a negative relation exists [2]. So harming a competing allele in the gene pool increases the population of the allele the spiter has even if the spiter cannot themselves reproduce.

So how does this affect terrorists? Suicide bombing seems a pretty illogical action. However in cases where your family are rewarded after your death such an action can be seen as altruism. Your loss of ability to reproduce is compensated by increasing your familys reproductive success and thus your genes chances of being passed on.

If your family will not be rewarded for your actions could spite be an explanation? Are suicide bombers killing themselves in order not to spread Islams views but to harm the views those they attack are trying to spread? Instead of alleles here competition is between memes. If I am capable of spreading a meme through argument or preaching it is not in the memes interest to have me kill myself. So in the same way the reproductively fit animals do not engage in spite mimetically reproductive animals should not engage in it either. So for instance no one expects that one armed preacher in the UK to kill himself[3], such people just persuade the young and disaffected to die for a cause.

Even if you do not believe in memes simple reproductive ability seems to play a role in suicide bombing. The promises of virgins in the afterlife is directed advertisement at the sexually unsuccessful in this life. Research has pointed out a correlation between lack of sexual options and increased violence in a society[6] "When single young men congregate, the potential for more organised aggression is likely to increase substantially and this has worrying implications for organised crime and terrorism,".

So if a person is memetically or physically reproductive, if they feel there is some hope there ideals or genes will be spread will spiteful behaviour be eliminated? If the young disaffected have a voice or a girlfriend will this stop suicide bombings? In Bowling for Columbine where Maryln Manson says he would have listened to the columbine shooters[4,5] was he correct? Spite only occurs in non reproductive animals, is the same thing happening in humans?







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