Altruism and strategy

Hi gang. I’m currently doing some thinking about the psychology of altruism in strategic affairs, and am in the hunt for good examples. There are heaps of examples of altruism at the tactical level – laying down of lives for comrades, or even for complete strangers on the battlefield.
 
All sorts of group processes play a part in shaping such behaviours, and these combined with an apparent evolved trait for reciprocal altruism can encourage indivduals to accept suicidal risk.
 
But at the strategic level, with group policymaking involved, and the fate of nations hanging in the balance, there is less reason to suppose that states will abandon self-interest and weigh into someone else’s battle with poor odds. IR theory, of the rationalist stripe anyway, doesn’t have much time for altruism. Co-operation happens, yes, but it’s always conditional, with scope for deception and mutual recrimmination of the tit-for-tat variety. It’s a nasty, self-help world out there, no?
 
Or do you know otherwise….? Let me know.
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55 thoughts on “Altruism and strategy

  1. Bjarne Rohde says:

    If by altruistic acts you mean “acting against own interests”, I doubt you will find many (if any) examples of that.

    However, if altruistic can be seen as deliberately making suboptimal decisions, in order to provide help/assistance to others, then you might say that some of the FDR administration’s actions prior to US entry in WW2 could fit that description.

  2. BL says:

    Interesting question. Here are two historical cases that might not stand up to scrutiny but are worthy of some investigation.

    (1) In 1866, the Royal Saxon Army abandoned Saxony to Prussian occupation. It moved into Bohemia to support its Habsburg ally. Reciprocally, after his army’s defeat at Koeniggratz, the Austrian emperor refused to make peace with Prussia until guarantees were given for the throne of his Saxon ally (and cousin).

    (2) And what about William Pitt warning Napoleon of an assassination plot? Surely the death of Napoleon would have advanced Britain’s strategic interests. (Of course, there is that Peace of Amiens, however regarded at the time, that must be accounted for.)

    Interestingly, I cannot think of any modern examples.

  3. David Betz says:

    My gut feeling is that strategy (as it applies to states) and altruism do not go together. It’s Machiavelli, no? Dual moral standards and all that. It’s the prince’s job to be bad where bad is what is required to advance the collective interest which is the only real good. Altruism doesn’t enter into it.

    On the other hand, my gut feeling’s are frequently wrong. How about:

    a) Marshall Plan–I suppose lots of economic self interest there but still…; or,

    b) if you’re prepared to enter the bear pit of Middle Eastern studies then perhaps you might consider US support of Israel since ’73 which you might argue is based more on a sense of moral rightness than strategic calculation.

  4. Ken says:

    Hey David – yes, few and far between, I’m sure that’s right. But often mixed motives, as you suggest. So, for example, even the UK involvement in Sierra Leone, which looks like we did it from the kindness of our own heart, serves as a useful demonstration to any interested observers that we can project and sustain military power.

    But if we allow that morality/values constitutes national interest, at least in part, then the question is how far do you go for your morals, and at what risk?

    • Chirality says:

      I thought the original direction for the Sierra Leone intervention in 2002 was for the military to secure the airport & extricate British and friendly nationals. Nothing to do with the kindness of our own (state’s) heart.

      Allegedly it was the then Brig. David Richards who, using the international media as a very public mouthpiece, side stepped the MOD, and gained the Blair gov’t's political backing (for what was clearly looking like a successful military intervention). Thereby transforming an U.K. citizen evacuation plan into one of liberal intervention.

    • Kenneth Payne says:

      Yes – I gather that’s the story too. Why did Richards do that though? He was de facto a policymaker – being the man on the scene, making policy.

      Do you read KoW, General? Let us know….

  5. C Sims says:

    Great. Just checking.

    It’s interesting that there are IR and psychology optics referenced. It may also be of merit to examine the philosophical aspect of the discrepancy between individual and nation, most notably in Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Moral Man and Immoral Society” (1932, NY: Scribner). Niebuhr’s argues that “from the perspective of society the highest moral ideal is justice. From the perspective of the individual the highest ideal is unselfishness.” Niebuhr’s work also represents an early attempt to show how humanitarian discourse clothes the body of material interests in state interaction.

    It may be possible, though slightly off-track, to consider in this humanitarian interventions, or lack of. Collectively, the West felt shame at its failure to act sooner in Rwanda for example and self-interest is all too evident in James Baker’s observation regarding the break-up of Yugoslavia, that: “we don’t have a dog in that fight.” But there are examples of intervention which serve no obvious purpose other than as virtuous acts, often resulting from a psychological shock which has been amplified by media coverage and go against strategic interests.

    Humanitarian intervention sits uneasily with IR, which may in itself be of interest, but also suggests a changing view of the manner of the nation-state, from one of authority to responsibility, and with it a greater ethical dimension to the conduct of a ruling polity. Ultimately such interventions qualify as altruism since they are always to the detriment of the intervening body, of which an example is the “Black Hawk Down” moment as America enjoyed her role at the head of a new world order.

  6. Orkster says:

    How about Russia’s rhetoric in support of Lybian government against the rebels. Even now, with Qaddafi squarely routed, they continue this rhetoric. The same goes for Syria, Russian president is the only significant leader who said that the rebels there are responsible for blood on par with the government.

    is this not altruism? Russian leaders say what they think is right even though it is unpopular and will not bring any gain.

    • Ed (the real one) says:

      Interesting definition of the word “right”. The officials of an authoritarian government support an allied, totalitaruan government. Not really altruistic, more blatant self-interest, no?

    • Orkster says:

      I disagree. As a policymaking decision it is very altruistic for Russia to speak in support someone like Assad or Qaddafi. They can gain absolutely nothing by it.

      Secondly, I doubt Russian government sees itself authoritarian or totalitarian or allied to people like Qaddafi. Do you think Quaddafi sees himself as a ruthless crazed dictator?

    • Ed (the real one) says:

      Why yes, a person is the very best-placed to objectively judge how they actually are. How perceptive of you.

  7. Matt says:

    My first thought was that you could almost look at the state through a Freudian division- imagining various actors and aspects as the id, ego and superego. The id would be those ingrained, near instinctual, influences on strategy that a state struggles to go against, ranging from geopolitics through to the national psyche, the ego is those actors and aspects who rationalise and calculate (the realists) while the superego are those who moralise and justify (the idealists). In that way, the state can act yet view that action from a number of different positions. The id influences both but is rarely overtly recognised while the other two both simultaneously obey elements of the id while trying to fulfill their own drives.

    What’s this got to do with altruism in strategy? I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think it exists but almost always in tandem with self-interested motives. I think if you need to look at altruism in strategy you would need to open the box and look at those strategising and the ‘neural networks’ that shape them- the degree of latitude they have in their decision-making, their knowledge and beliefs, the institutional framework that supports them, their influence and personal relationships with respect to other key strategists within the govt/mil etc.

    In essence, I think that when a major decision is made within a state regarding strategy there is always a balance between the id, ego and superego (though naturally altruism plays a smaller part than other vital aspects like survival). I think the most interesting aspect would be mapping the relationships between these within a govt.

    Admittedly, I have major issues with realism and the rational actor, but I think that there is more altruistic behaviour between states than most would think, with the caveat that it is rarely, if ever, entirely altruistic. Humans are too complex to be reduced to a binary either/or. We do things for lots of reasons, many of which are contradictory or illogical.

  8. Nick Ritchie says:

    How are you defining altruism here? If you’re talking about unselfish concern for the welfare of others then national participation in UN or regional IGO sponsored peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations, international development assistance, and disaster relief assistance can all involve extensive use of a state’s strategic assets for altruistic purposes. It seems, though, that your concern is with the exercise of military power for offensive purposes when there is no Realist/instrumental (as opposed to perhaps a more cosmopolitan conception of) ‘national interest’ at stake. Bush senior’s foray into Somalia comes close. On a tangent, Ted Turner’s Nuclear Threat Initiative’s offer to provide $50M to the IAEA nuclear fuel bank initiative should the IAEA could raise $100M itself connects US philanthropy to albeit small-scale altruism on global nuclear security.

    On Matt’s comment, Condi Rice’s (Political Science Prof at Stanford at the time) 2000 Foreign Affairs piece is always a good one: “In fact, there are those who would draw a sharp line between power politics and a principled foreign policy based on values. This polarized view – you are either a realist or devoted to norms and values – may be just fine in academic debate, but it is a disaster for American foreign policy.”

  9. Tom Wein says:

    Further to the William Pitt example, it seems like codes of honour would be a fruitful area of exploration. I’m sure Professor Honig will list off a whole range of examples of chivalric behaviour that seem altruistic now, but for them were an entirely rational calculation of self-interested started from a belief in the reality of hellfire.

    • Ken says:

      Tom, Richard Ned Lebow is good on honour and war – have you had a look? I also like Raymond Aron on it. Much under-explored in mainstream IR theory. And it ties to the chapter on revenge that I’m also working on….

  10. Pavan K says:

    Perhaps, the support provided by India to the Tibetan Government in exile. I think that was an act of altruism (although arguable)

    • Ken says:

      Thanks PK — I think they are all arguable – there being mixed/multiple motives for most strategic cases. On this one, you could also, of course, point to the thumb in the eye of the Chinese, no great friends of India.

  11. Olaf says:

    Altruism and Strategy are antonyms unless the strategy is self-defeating and the altruism is suicidal – at the same time.
    Both makes no sense – the categories do not match.

    Cheers

    • Ken says:

      Well, it’s interesting, Olaf. People make strategy, and people have an evolved capacity for altruism. So if they weren’t susceptible to it, why would Niebuhr, Morgenthau, and Kennan, among others, have had to spend so much time arguing against the extension of morality into the foreign policy domain?

      Why have that evolved capacity for altruism – that’s question 1. Question 2, does it cross into the foreign policy domain, if not, what stops it?

      Meanwhile – another possible example – Somalia, RESTORE HOPE.

      Keep those thoughts coming please….

    • Olaf says:

      You are right, People make strategy, and people can be altruistic. But that is all altruism and strategy have in common.

      Altruism is a personal choice. Governments are not individuals. Every decision follows a mix of motivations, and altruism may guide some decision makers at some times. Sometimes hate guides them, at times its stupidity, or opportunism. But none of these motivations ever exists in its pure form. One has to be clear about the concepts. Decisions are always based on mixed motivation, especially when more than one person is involved. Strategies follow from decisions, they are not policies in their own rights.

      Theoretically an absolute oligarch can decide on an altruist policy, if he feels like that…in that case he may order a strategy to be developed that would achieve his altruist – selfless -aims. However, this absolute rule does not exist. Even the most personalised rule system (Genghis Khan-LouisXIV-Ghaddafi-Biya-Bongo – not famous for their altruism though) depends on the loyalty of other actors.
      A policy decision is never a completely personal decision.

      States cannot be altruistic. State are structures, more or less institutionalised legal constructs – they have no conscience.
      Btw, I never gave much on what the Niehburs, Morgenthaus, and Kennans had to say. Their so called realist world view has long evaporated. Apart from that, moral behaviour and altruistic conduct are not necessarily the same.

      Cheers

    • I’m not sure that I can agree with you. I believe that groups have personalities. Culture is, in a way, the aggregate of the personalities of the individuals.

      Thus, a group/community/nation may be altruistic if the aggregate of a significant majority of its members are altruistic.

      Another person posited that the Marshall Plan could be taken as an example of strategic altruism. Maybe. Maybe not. However, it is an example of altruism proceeding from a culture that supported it.

      Just a thought…

    • Charles says:

      But what if the culture doesn’t support it? We have a few national policies floating around that aren’t getting much support, if any, so if there are ‘altruistic’ foreign policies being carried out that don’t have the majority support of the populace, then can they truly be altruistic?

    • Good question. Name a couple of the “national policies” you are thinking of and we can see if we can reach some agreement on them – are they altruistic or not.

    • Charles says:

      I realise we’re getting slightly off topic, but it could be possible to include our Mineral Resource Rent Tax as an altruistic national/domestic policy, as the Commonwealth want to gain as much income as possible in order to (I’m hoping) further the nation’s interests, however some major industries, the population involved in these, and some particularly large and wealthy foreign countries are completely against it. Considering this tax was originally tabled by a previous Prime Minister and that it contributed to his removal from office, the idea that another government would pursue the same tax presumably in our nation’s interest and that they are now losing support as well could put this in the altruistic box: it’s considering the needs of the people before their need to stay in power.

      If this kind of behaviour, where the people aren’t giving it majority support, relates to international relations or strategic affairs, then can it be considered altruistic seeing as the government is supposed to be representing our interests?

    • Olaf says:

      Hi Jack,

      The Marshall plan was based on

      1 the political will to avoid the mistakes of the Versailles treaty, including its disastrous impact on the world economy

      2 the need to support former Western allies – biggest shares of the grants and loans went to the UK and France

      3 implement the Truman doctrine – the first recipient in 1947 was Greece in the mid of her civil war, and France and the Netherlands needed cash to fight commies (all independent movements were seen through the Cold War spectacles) in South East Asia

      A nice mix of motivations, isn’t it? Maybe George Marshall was also an altruist, and the policy of the government made sense, but I still do not see any “altruism”

      My dictionary (non native speakers depend on such things) is from 1974, and perhaps the meaning of the word has somewhat changed in 40 years. For the time being I will stay with ‘principle of considering the well-being and happyness of others first’. So, how did the US government sell the ERP to its electorate – as altruism or as a policy that serves the interest on the US?

    • What is a frog? I spent several years as a teacher of computer sciences and I always began new classes with that question. There are, in fact, more than 25 different things known as frogs. To interpret which one a speaker/writer intends, you must consider the context. Thus, I warned my students that I would use words that were familiar to them in explaining computer concepts, words that were familiar to them, but words that might have vastly different meanings based on the context in which I was using them. I promised to always define my terms and encouraged them to stop me and request an explanation if what I was saying confused them because they didn’t understand the word in the context that it was used.

      So, here we come to “altruism” which you define as putting another persons interests first. I can’t agree. To me, that sounds more like a personality defect: self-destructiveness.

      Consider basic first aid training. I was taught that when I see someone injured, I should stop and appraise the situation before I jump in. I cannot help the injured party if I merely jump into the same environment and become another victim. My sense of altruism must be tempered by common sense.

      Indeed, some claim that the U.S. economy is suffering from too much “altruism.” We have been jumping in to save others (often from their our folly and misadventures) at great expense. In other words, we too have become victims while trying to save others from their own economic folly.

      My dictionary defines altruism as merely “acting for another’s benefit without reward.” There is no need in this definition for me to self-destruct in the process.

    • Olaf says:

      Well, you can’t just twist and bow terms until they fit into your suitcase.

      “My” definition of altruism is from The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English. Your definition, acting for another’s benefit without reward, may fit several other words like catholicity, courtesy, generosity, generousness, and liberality.

      In warfare, which would be interesting in the context of our discussion, this could amount to chivalry, which still is not altruistic behaviour – it is a convention.

      If the dictionary definition that I quote ‘sounds more like a personality defect: self-destructiveness’ to you, then please look at my initial posting. It reads:

      “Altruism and Strategy are antonyms unless the strategy is self-defeating and the altruism is suicidal – at the same time.

      Both makes no sense – the categories do not match.”

      Btw, is Kermit a frog?
      Cheers ;-)

    • Of course, Kermit is a frog. Just ask Miss Piggy…

      Ah, the Oxford dictionary. Interesting authority, that. I don’t have a copy handy and I don’t care to subscribe to their Internet service. I have other resources that are free. However, I’ll bet that it isn’t too much different from the Merriam Webster definition.

      Unfortunately, dictionaries don’t always deal with definitions in the depth that they deserve nor consider all the contexts in which a word can be used. Then there is the problem of contemporaneity. I don’t know where you live, but we in the U.S. are constantly making up new words and new applications of old words. The dictionary is always trailing behind.

      I ran into a curious example of this while writing Rebels on the Mountain wherein an American courts a Cuban and must negotiate the pitfalls of machismo. Dictionary definitions of machismo were horribly skewed by prejudice and afforded me little help in understanding it. I prepared a posting on my blog describing my problems as an Anglo in understanding it and this reply now forces me to publish that posting two days earlier than I had intended. See Machismo

      Thus, I must reflect on the original posting on Kings of War that inspired all this discussion. Is jumping on a grenade an act of altruism? Interesting question. Surely, it is a reflexive act. The fuse may have, at most, a second, maybe two, left to burn. You’re going to suffer as well as everyone near you. However, if you cover it with your body, you alone may suffer, but you may save others. As Spock in Star Trek might ask, does the good of the many outweigh the needs of the few?

      I’m beginning to think that the original posting that began this discussion thread established the assumption that altruism requires self-sacrifice.

      Is it altruistic for a destroyer to place itself in the path of a torpedo to shield an aircraft carrier? Or is it simply logical (as Spock might aver)? Is it altruistic for the U.S. to intervene in a European war (WWI and WWII) when, had they not, Germany might have then had the power to destroy us after completing the job in Europe and Asia? Was the Marshall Plan altruistic or merely good strategy for keeping the Soviets engaged far away?

      We may be reaching an answer to the original posting. What appears to be altruistic behavior is actually good strategy in disguise.

    • Ed (the real one) says:

      Olaf, do you think you are in a position to disagree with a native speaker of English on the meaning of English words? If so: really?

    • Olaf says:

      Tell me the difference between altruism and generosity, please. Are the authors of the Oxford dictionary, which I quote, non-native speakers? Are all native speakers competent on any English expression? Really?

      I am only sure about the difference between “Altruismus” und “Generosität”, but that is probably not the same, given the different linguistic backgrounds our languages have.

      Check also French because the term altruism was introduced into modern moral philosophy by Auguste Comte. But look for a good translation.

    • Olaf says:

      “Culture is, in a way, the aggregate of the personalities of the individuals.”

      Chicken and hen, I’m afraid. –

      Maybe this works: the crusades were perfectly altruistic.

      Crusaders went to war as an assembly of volunteering individuals who only reported to god. Many of them gave up all their belongings to join in. Thousands sold their houses and fields to finance the journey to the holy land, on foot, by horse or by ship. Venice had to found the first banks in Europe to cope with all the money coming in.

      The completely altruistic aim was it to liberate the holy grave. The means (strategy) was armed invasion. But then, there was the promise that in exchange for going to war the crusader would be absolved from his/her sins….and gain a place in heaven…arrggghh
      Doesn’t work either.

      Cheers

  12. The Faceless Bureaucrat says:

    Hey Ken, An interesting premise making for an interesting post.

    I would echo what others have said: the key is in the definition. What is altruism?

    Second, I would add that there is much research looking at altruism in the ‘domestic sphere’ which reveals that, well, there ain’t much there either. Many surveys ask people why the volunteer their time to charities, for example, and the most often response: ‘Because it makes me feel good.’ In that sense, people are not giving without receiving: they are getting something in return and therefore, the concept of altruism becomes stretched. (See this for a business perspective: http://www.hbs.edu/research/pdf/10-012.pdf)

    There is an obvious link, following this logic, at the international/state level. States who ‘give’ (aid, peacekeeping troops, whatever) are often ‘getting’, too. Sometimes that getting is material (tied aid, conditional assistance) and sometimes it is more ephemeral (increased reputation, more ‘honour’, domestic political optics, process of identity creation through differentiation from neighbours or rivals).

    Extreme altruism, that may or may not exist at the individual level (a soldier dying for this squad mates, for example) is hard to find at the international level. States don’t do completely self-negating acts. They can’t, almost by definition.

    Why do some observers caution against the use of altruism/ moralism with reference to foreign policy? Perhaps first to caution against individual world leaders from letting their personal feelings from getting in the way. Second, to help clear away some of the more hypocritical undergrowth. If we can dismiss the double talk and get to the real ‘brass tacks’ underneath, it makes everyone’s life easier. Were India’s actions to librate Bangladesh really altruistic, for instance? Was Blair’s Chicago Speech really so value based, rather than interest based?

    I suppose in IR, I would be wary of individual reductionism. People make decisions but states behave differently than people do. And, at the end of the day, mixed motives and ‘enlightened self-interest’ is probably as good as we are going to get. The 1979 Vietnamese liber-vasion of Kampuchea was not altruistic, but it did help to end the massive suffering imposed by the ‘Pol Pot/Ieng Sary’ Clique of the Khmer Rouge.

    One of the best volumes on humanitarian intervention that avoids the reductionist temptation and looks at it as an ‘institution’ of International Society is Wheeler’s ‘Saving Strangers’. It is a via media between Uberrealism and soapy sophistry.

  13. Ken says:

    Hey FB – nice response.

    A quickie – feeling good by doing acts of kindness is, an evolutionary psychologist might argue, a proximate effect. Why feel good? Because, I would argue, giving makes us feel part of the group, and there’s nothing more important for man than feeling part of the group. People who feel good about giving are more likely to be recipients of reciprocal altruism, and therefore be selected for it. Giving binds us to the group, and the group keeps us (and our genes) alive. That’s the evolutionary psych theory of altruism, anyway.

    • Ken says:

      Not the best phrasing on that response, but hopefully the meaning comes over. If you feel good about giving, you are more likely to give, and thus (under certain conditions – obtaining handily among small groups of hunter-gatherers) to receive. You will be central to the group, the group will protect you, and your genes are more likely to be selected.

      What changes, of course, in recent times, is the group. But the apparently random acts of kindness remain, even if we dramatically expand our conception of who is in and who is out.

      On individual versus group policymaking in IR – this is a structure v agency issue that reaches far wider than this issue. Granted l’etat n’est pas moi, any more. But individual leaders, guided by their moral code are still making decisions on strategy, and moreover in democracies these decisions are shaped to some extent by wider societal attitudes on the best thing to do – the leaders are both the representative and the product of those cultures, after all.

    • The Faceless Bureaucrat says:

      Ken, I agree with your points and that is why a definition is so important. Would one select a definition that put the evolutionary psych example inside or outside of the bounds of the debate?

      As to the idea of policymaking, I feel a separate post coming on…

    • Kenneth Payne says:

      Yes – definition is important. George Price, who derived an equation for it, was so dischuffed by the link to natural selection that he went out of his way to demonstrate blind rather than reciprocal altruism; giving everything he had away to strangers.

      But he thereby proved nothing, since it’s an average trait, that varies in individuals.

      You can reconcile reciprocal and blind altruism by allowing that the trait is evolved, and beneficial in small hunter-gatherer groups, but that it persists with far larger social groups, even if it is evolutionarily ineffective. We haven’t adapted to our large scale social groups, which are new on the evolutionary scene.

      For interested folks, here’s a great radio show on it all:

      http://www.radiolab.org/2010/dec/14/

  14. Gunrunner says:

    An article I came across many years ago does address the subject of altruism in US foreign policy, but it makes a distinction between an altruistic effort in support of national interests and US actions in support of a national security interest:

    http://www.airpower.au.af.mil/airchronicles/apj/apj01/spr01/vorspr01.html

    Now, with that perspective in mind, contrast that American view against the view portrayed in a late 90′s TV recruiting advert:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqDwM023CR4

    A national (altruistic) view of armed intervention in the RAF TV advert is in direct opposition to the realist approach demanded by the American public when US blood is at stake for a supposed “altruistic” purpose.

  15. Humphrey says:

    The only modern one I can think of, though perhaps this is a little bizarre, is the protection of OBL by Mullah Omar after 9/11. OBL was a guest and in Pashto terms that means the utmost hospitality was offered to him, and this including preventing the US from kidnapping him, or at least giving him up to them whilst he was on Afghan soil. This was altruistic in the sense that Afghans everywhere then had to deal with ISAF et al. There were no political gains for keeping OBL for Mullah Omar, indeed it sent him into hiding, but you have to give these guys points for hospitality.

    I would say this is altruistic, presumably defined as doing something for no personal gain, and even often in the face of loss.

  16. Tom Wein says:

    It’s notable that the most concrete examples we’ve found – Pitt & Napoleon, Austrian Emperor & Saxon King, Mullah Omar & bin Laden – involved personal links between individual people. Perhaps we have adapted a bit to those big groups, selecting those we’re actually connected to rather than any other human as recipients of altruism, presumably in the hope of reciprocation.

    I’m curious as to whether there’s an element of reacting to popular expectations here. Someone flagged up the different cultures in recruiting adverts earlier in the discussion. What about the Pope’s of the Middle Ages, when they were also significant statesmen with armies. Does anybody know how they behaved, in light of the popular expectation that they behave more morally than others (given that Christianity places such emphasis on charity and altruism)?

  17. Charles says:

    This could prove to be controversial, but the Lowy Interpreter has been discussing the Aus-US alliance recently, and whether the latest agreements are in Australia’s best interests:

    http://www.lowyinterpreter.org/post/2011/09/20/AUSMIN-Nice-icing-different-cake.aspx

    Each story will link back to the previous post involved in the discussion. The general idea is that if Australia does a New Zealand trick and plays the isolation game through building it’s defences appropriately and relies on the tyranny of distance and the archipelagic screen, then we could continue to trade with China and the US while things are calm and suddenly become neutral or provide only minor support once something actually happens – in contrast to the current agreements to host US military bases and personnel, which will surely kill any relationship we have with China and assure our inclusion in any possible conflict between our two ‘friends’. The latter could be considered altruistic on our part as it not only drags us into a conflict in which we would probably only be able to provide minor support anyway while also stopping the enormous trade relations we have with China if relations become frosty between them and the US.

    Of course this ignores any possibility that we could be invaded for our resources during the course of a broader conflict between China and the US, and that we wouldn’t be allied with just the US against China in this possible conflict, but also with other regional countries like South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, India, Singapore, etc. meaning that (hopefully) we’d be on the winning team by honouring the AUSMIN alliance, and would probably annoy all the locals and scuttle our other trade agreements if we tried to be neutral.

  18. I apologize for contributing too much to this conversation. However, the topic intrigued me and I felt compelled to respond to replies addressed personally to me.

    That being said, I beg your pardon for one last observation. After much thought I believe I have found one example that qualifies as an example of an altruistic strategy – only one.

    Inasmuch as most seem to agree that risking self destruction in protecting others is prima facie evidence of altruism, then one nation extending its nuclear umbrella to protect another is an example of an altruistic strategy.

  19. Chirality says:

    Maybe the answer for so few examples, at the level of state, is indeed part embedded in natural selection itself. Natural selection => if there is Variation , if there is Selection and if there is Heredity then you MUST get evolution (or as a famous quote goes, “design out of chaos without the aid of the mind”.)

    The various forms of altruism within social groups are all memes to which evolution also applies . On small scale social groupings – family, clan, tribe, fighting unit – there has been ample opportunity, many 1,000′s of years, for variation and selection to work on these memes. These small social units are reasonably stable and consistent through time. i.e. these social units have a consistent enough timeline for heredity to play its part with the evolution of the meme(s).

    However, the modern concept or shape of the state or multi state entity is perhaps a relatively new evolutionary social unit. Importantly the shape and organisation of these state units have undergone rapid evolutionary change in structure over the last 1,000 years.

    Therefore has there been enough heredity within these larger units for variation and selection of altruistic memes to take place ?

    Or maybe put another way, if state units die out or dramatically changes in a short timeframe, there is little heredity for the memes to evolve.

    Not very well put but I hope you get the idea.

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