Aus: Volkan, Vamik D., Blindes Vertrauen. Großgruppen und ihre Führer in
Krisenzeiten, Gießen, 2005
Im letzten Jahrzehnt des 20. Jahrhunderts schlugen zwei politisch Führergestalten entgegengesetzte Richtungen ein, als ihre Länder nach drastischen Veränderungen in einem gewissen Sinne „wieder geboren“ wurden. Nelson Mandela wurde nach dem Ende der Apartheid in Südafrika zu einer wahrhaft reparativen Führergestalt; Slobodan Milosevic hingegen entfaltete im nachkommunistischen Jugoslawien eine erschreckende Destruktivität. Ein Vergleich ihrer »Lehrstile«
veranschaulicht, wie Führerpersonlichkeiten ihre Macht nutzen können, um eine Gesellschaft in der Krise zu heilen oder zu vergiften und um die Regression oder Progression einer Großgruppe zu beeinflussen.
Unter Forschern, die sich mit Nelson Mandelas Werdegang befassen, ist allgemein anerkannt, dass er in den 27 Jahren, die er im Gefängnis verbrachte, die Fähigkeit entwickelte, Kompromisse zu schließen und seinen Feinden ohne Bitterkeit zu vergeben.518 Mandela selbst schreibt hierzu: »Im Gefängnis nahm meine Wut auf die Weißen ab, aber mein Hass auf das System wurde stärker. Ich wollte Südafrika zeigen, dass ich sogar meine Feinde liebte, jedoch das System, das uns gegeneinander aufgehetzt hatte, hasste. Seinem Biografen Brian Frost erklärte Mandela die Entwicklung seiner Ideologie der Versöhnung als Transformation „meines Hungers nach der Freiheit meines Volkes [zum] Hunger nach der Freiheit aller Menschen, ob weiß oder schwarz“. Ich war mir absolut sicher, dass die Befreiung des Unterdrückers ebenso wichtig sei wie die des Unterdrückten, denn beide wurden ihrer Menschlichkeit beraubt. Als ich das Gefängnis verließ, war meine Mission, sowohl die Unterdrückten als auch die Unterdrücker zu befreien.« Eine Kindheitserinnerung, die er in seiner Autobiografie erwähnt, zeigt jedoch, dass Mandelas Fähigkeit, mit den Verfechtern gegnerischer Positionen gleichermaßen zu sympathisieren, möglicherweise tiefer in seiner Persönlichkeit verwurzelt war. In der Situation aus seiner Kindheit, an die er sich erinnerte, hatte er unter seinen Freunden das Gesicht verloren, nachdem ein störrischer Esel ihn abgeworfen hatte.
Obwohl es um einen Esel ging und nicht um einen anderen Menschen, der ihn hatte fallen lassen, lernte er durch jenes Erlebnis, dass ein anderer Mensch leidet, wenn man ihn demütigt. (S. 273)
Obgleich aus der Sicht eines Psychoanalytikers Arbeit im Stil der TRC die beste Möglichkeit ist, mit chronischer Wut, Hilflosigkeit und den Schwierigkeiten einer traumatisierten Gesellschaft, zu trauern, umzugehen, ist sie keineswegs eine Garantie für Erfolg. Ich bin überzeugt davon, dass kein Programm dieser Art so gute Dienste leisten wird, wie der TRC es in Südafrika getan hat, sofern es nicht von einer Persönlichkeit wie Desmond Tutu geleitet wird, einem Menschen mit Intelligenz, Mitgefühl, Integrität, Redlichkeit und Humor im Überfluss _ in einer Atmosphäre wie der von Nelson Mandela geschaffenen.
Südafrika hat immer noch mit großen gesellschaftlichen Problemen zu kämpfen, wobei häufig von einer hohen Zahl von Vergewaltigungen die Rede ist. Man könnte sich fragen, ob diese Erscheinung irgendetwas mit den Demütigungen zu tun hat, der die eingeborene schwarze Bevölkerung während des Apartheidregimes ausgesetzt war. Ich vermag diese Frage zwar nicht zu beantworten, doch halte ich sie für wichtig und berechtigt: In anderen traumatisierten Gesellschaften, die ich aus nächster Nähe beobachtet habe, kam es ebenfalls zu einem Anstieg der Vergewaltigungen und der Gewalt in Familien, und nachdem der akute ethnische Krieg zum Abschluss gelangt war, wurden die traditionellen Familienstrukturen und Werte zerstört. Doch durch Mandelas Einfluss und seine reparative Führung konnte ein offener Bürgerkrieg zwischen Weißen und Schwarzen vermieden werden. (S. 277)
Historical Perspectives on Latin American and East Asian Regional Development
Delivered to a Boston meeting of Mass Global Action, December 15, 2006
There was a meeting on the weekend of December 9-10 in Cochabamba in Bolivia of major South American leaders. It was a very important meeting. One index of its importance is that it was unreported, virtually unreported apart from the wire services. So every editor knew about it. Since I suspect you didn't read that wire service report, I’ll read a few things from it to indicate why it was so important.
The South American leaders agreed to create a high-level commission to study the idea of forming a continent-wide community similar to the European Union. This is the presidents and envoys of major nations, and there was the two-day summit of what's called the South American Community of Nations, hosted by Evo Morales in Cochabamba, the president of Bolivia. The leaders agreed to form a study group to look at the possibility of creating a continent-wide union and even a South American parliament. The result, according to the AP report, left fiery Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, long an agitator for the region, taking a greater role on the world stage, pleased, but impatient. It goes on to say that the discussion over South American unity will continue later this month, when MERCOSUR, the South American trading bloc, has its regular meeting that will include leaders from Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Paraguay and Uruguay.
There is one -- has been one point of hostility in South America. That's Peru, Venezuela. But the article points out that Chavez and Peruvian President Alan Garcia took advantage of the summit to bury the hatchet, after having exchanged insults earlier in the year. And that is the only real conflict in South America at this time. So that seems to have been smoothed over.
The new Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa proposed a land and river trade route linking the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest to Ecuador's Pacific Coast, suggesting that for South America, it could be kind of like an alternative to the Panama Canal.
Chavez and Morales celebrated a new joint project, the gas separation plant in Bolivia's gas-rich region. It’s a joint venture with Petrovesa (PDVSA, Petroleos de Venezuela, SA. Pronounced “pedevesa”), the Venezuelan oil company, and the Bolivian state energy company. And it continues. Venezuela is the only Latin American member of OPEC and has by far the largest proven oil reserves outside the Middle East, by some measures maybe even comparable to Saudi Arabia.
There were also contributions, constructive, interesting contributions by Lula da Silva, Brazil's president, Michelle Bachelet of Chile, and others. All of this is extremely important.
This is the first time since the Spanish conquests, 500 years, that there have been real moves toward integration in South America. The countries have been very separated from one another. And integration is going to be a prerequisite for authentic independence. There have been attempts at independence, but they've been crushed, often very violently, partly because of lack of regional support. Because there was very little regional cooperation, they could be picked off one by one.
That’s what has happened since the 1960s. The Kennedy administration orchestrated a coup in Brazil. It was the first of a series of falling dominoes. Neo-Nazi-style national security states spread across the hemisphere. Chile was one of them. Then there were Reagan's terrorist wars in the 1980s, which devastated Central America and the Caribbean. It was the worst plague of repression in the history of Latin America since the original conquests.
But integration lays the basis for potential independence, and that's of extreme significance. Latin America’s colonial history -- Spain, Europe, the United States -- not only divided countries from one another, it also left a sharp internal division within the countries, every one, between a very wealthy small elite and a huge mass of impoverished people. The correlation to race is fairly close. Typically, the rich elite was white, European, westernized; and the poor mass of the population was indigenous, Indian, black, intermingled, and so on. It's a fairly close correlation, and it continues right to the present.
The white, mostly white, elites -- who ran the countries -- were not integrated with, had very few relations with, the other countries of the region. They were Western-oriented. You can see that in all sorts of ways. That's where the capital was exported. That's where the second homes were, where the children went to university, where their cultural connections were. And they had very little responsibility in their own societies. So there’s a very sharp division.
You can see the pattern in imports. Imports are overwhelmingly luxury goods. Development, such as it was, was mostly foreign. Latin America was much more open to foreign investment than, say, East Asia. It’s part of the reason for their radically different paths of development in the last couple of decades.
And, of course, the elite elements were strongly sympathetic to the neoliberal programs of the last 25 years, which enriched them -- destroyed the countries, but enriched them. Latin America, more than any region in the world, outside of southern Africa, adhered rigorously to the so-called Washington Consensus, what's called outside the United States the neoliberal programs of roughly the past 25 or 30 years. And where they were rigorously applied, almost without exception, they led to disaster. Very striking correlation. Sharp reduction in rates of growth, other macroeconomic indices, all the social effects that go along with that.
Actually, the comparison to East Asia is very striking. Latin America is potentially a much richer area. I mean, a century ago, it was taken for granted that Brazil would be what was called the “Colossus of the South,” comparable to the Colossus of the North. Haiti, now one of the poorest countries in the world, was the richest colony in the world, a source of much of France’s wealth, now devastated, first by France, then by the United States. And Venezuela -- enormous wealth -- was taken over by the United States around 1920, right at the beginning of the oil age, It had been a British dependency, but Woodrow Wilson kicked the British out, recognizing that control of oil was going to be important, and supported a vicious dictator. From that point, more or less, it goes on until the present. So the resources and the potential were always there. Very rich.
In contrast, East Asia had almost no resources, but they followed a different developmental path. In Latin America, imports were luxury goods for the rich. In East Asia, they were capital goods for development. They had state-coordinated development programs. They disregarded the Washington Consensus almost totally. Capital controls, controls on export of capital, pretty egalitarian societies -- authoritarian, sometimes, pretty harsh -- but educational programs, health programs, and so on. In fact, they followed pretty much the developmental paths of the currently wealthy countries, which are radically different from the rules that are being imposed on the South.
And that goes way back in history. You go back to the 17th century, when the commercial and industrial centers of the world were China and India. Life expectancy in Japan was greater than in Europe. Europe was kind of a barbarian outpost, but it had advantages, mainly in savagery. It conquered the world, imposed something like the neoliberal rules on the conquered regions, and for itself, adopted very high protectionism, a lot of state intervention and so on. So Europe developed.
The United States, as a typical case, had the highest tariffs in the world, most protectionist country in the world during the period of its great development. In fact, as late as 1950, when the United States literally had half the world's wealth, its tariffs were higher than the Latin American countries today, which are being ordered to reduce them.
Massive state intervention in the economy. Economists don't talk about it much, but the current economy in the United States relies very heavily on the state sector. That's where you get your computers and the internet and your airplane traffic and transit of goods, container ships and so on, almost entirely comes out of the state sector, including pharmaceuticals, management techniques, and so on. I won’t go on into that, but it’s a strong correlation right through history. Those are the methods of development.
The neoliberal methods created the third world, and in the past 30 years, they have led to disasters in Latin America and southern Africa, the places that most rigorously adhered to them. But there was growth and development in East Asia, which disregarded them, following instead pretty much the model of the currently rich countries.
Well, there’s a chance that that will begin to change. There are finally efforts inside South America -- unfortunately not in Central America, which has just been pretty much devastated by the terror of the ’80s particularly. But in South America, from Venezuela to Argentina, it’s, I think, the most exciting place in the world. After 500 years, there’s a beginning of efforts to overcome these overwhelming problems. The integration that's taking place is one example.
There are efforts of the Indian population. The indigenous population is, for the first time in hundreds of years, in some countries really beginning to take a very active role in their own affairs. In Bolivia, they succeeded in taking over the country, controlling their resources. It’s also leading to significant democratization, real democracy, in which the population participates. So it takes a Bolivia -- it’s the poorest country in South America (Haiti is poorer in the hemisphere). It had a real democratic election last year, of a kind that you can't imagine in the United States, or in Europe, for that matter. There was mass popular participation, and people knew what the issues were. The issues were crystal clear and very important. And people didn't just participate on election day. These are the things they had been struggling about for years. Actually, Cochabamba is a symbol of it.
We Own The World
ZNet, January 1, 2008
You all know, of course, there was an election -- what is called "an election" in the United States -- last November. There was really one issue in the election, what to do about U.S. forces in Iraq and there was, by U.S. standards, an overwhelming vote calling for a withdrawal of U.S. forces on a firm timetable.
As few people know, a couple of months earlier there were extensive polls in Iraq, U.S.-run polls, with interesting results. They were not secret here. If you really looked you could find references to them, so it's not that they were concealed. This poll found that two-thirds of the people in Baghdad wanted the U.S. troops out immediately; the rest of the country -- a large majority -- wanted a firm timetable for withdrawal, most of them within a year or less.
The figures are higher for Arab Iraq in the areas where troops were actually deployed. A very large majority felt that the presence of U.S. forces increased the level of violence and a remarkable 60 percent for all of Iraq, meaning higher in the areas where the troops are deployed, felt that U.S. forces were legitimate targets of attack. So there was a considerable consensus between Iraqis and Americans on what should be done in Iraq, namely troops should be withdrawn either immediately or with a firm timetable.
Well, the reaction in the post-election U.S. government to that consensus was to violate public opinion and increase the troop presence by maybe 30,000 to 50,000. Predictably, there was a pretext announced. It was pretty obvious what it was going to be. "There is outside interference in Iraq, which we have to defend the Iraqis against. The Iranians are interfering in Iraq." Then came the alleged evidence about finding IEDs, roadside bombs with Iranian markings, as well as Iranian forces in Iraq. "What can we do? We have to escalate to defend Iraq from the outside intervention."
Then came the "debate." We are a free and open society, after all, so we have "lively" debates. On the one side were the hawks who said, "The Iranians are interfering, we have to bomb them." On the other side were the doves who said, "We cannot be sure the evidence is correct, maybe you misread the serial numbers or maybe it is just the revolutionary guards and not the government."
So we had the usual kind of debate going on, which illustrates a very important and pervasive distinction between several types of propaganda systems. To take the ideal types, exaggerating a little: totalitarian states' propaganda is that you better accept it, or else. And "or else" can be of various consequences, depending on the nature of the state. People can actually believe whatever they want as long as they obey. Democratic societies use a different method: they don't articulate the party line. That's a mistake. What they do is presuppose it, then encourage vigorous debate within the framework of the party line. This serves two purposes. For one thing it gives the impression of a free and open society because, after all, we have lively debate. It also instills a propaganda line that becomes something you presuppose, like the air you breathe.
That was the case here. This is a classic illustration. The whole debate about the Iranian "interference" in Iraq makes sense only on one assumption, namely, that "we own the world." If we own the world, then the only question that can arise is that someone else is interfering in a country we have invaded and occupied.
So if you look over the debate that took place and is still taking place about Iranian interference, no one points out this is insane. How can Iran be interfering in a country that we invaded and occupied? It's only appropriate on the presupposition that we own the world. Once you have that established in your head, the discussion is perfectly sensible.
You read a lot of comparisons now about Vietnam and Iraq. For the most part they are totally incomparable; the nature and purpose of the war, almost everything is totally different except in one respect: how they are perceived in the United States. In both cases there is what is now sometimes called the "Q" word, quagmire. Is it a quagmire? In Vietnam it is now recognized that it was a quagmire. There is a debate of whether Iraq, too, is a quagmire. In other words, is it costing us too much? That is the question you can debate.
So in the case of Vietnam, there was a debate. Not at the beginning -- in fact, there was so little discussion in the beginning that nobody even remembers when the war began -- 1962, if you're interested. That's when the U.S. attacked Vietnam. But there was no discussion, no debate, nothing.
By the mid-1960s, mainstream debate began. And it was the usual range of opinions between the hawks and the doves. The hawks said if we send more troops, we can win. The doves, well, Arthur Schlesinger, famous historian, Kennedy's advisor, in his book in 1966 said that we all pray that the hawks will be right and that the current escalation of troops, which by then was approaching half a million, will work and bring us victory. If it does, we will all be praising the wisdom and statesmanship of the American government for winning victory -- in a land that we're reducing to ruin and wreck.
You can translate that word by word to the doves today. We all pray that the surge will work. If it does, contrary to our expectations, we will be praising the wisdom and statesmanship of the Bush administration in a country, which, if we're honest, is a total ruin, one of the worst disasters in military history for the population.
If you get way to the left end of mainstream discussion, you get somebody like Anthony Lewis who, at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, wrote in retrospect that the war began with benign intensions to do good; that is true by definition, because it's us, after all. So it began with benign intentions, but by 1969, he said, it was clear that the war was a mistake. For us to win a victory would be too costly -- for us -- so it was a mistake and we should withdraw. That was the most extreme criticism.
Very much like today. We could withdraw from Vietnam because the U.S. had already essentially obtained its objective by then. Iraq we can't because we haven't obtained our objectives.
And for those of you who are old enough to remember -- or have read about it -- you will note that the peace movement pretty much bought that line. Just like the mainstream discussion, the opposition of the war, including the peace movement, was mostly focused on the bombing of the North. When the U.S. started bombing the North regularly in February 1965, it also escalated the bombing of the South to triple the scale -- and the South had already been attacked for three years by then. A couple of hundred thousand South Vietnamese were killed and thousands, if not tens of the thousands, had been driven into concentration camps. The U.S. had been carrying out chemical warfare to destroy food crops and ground cover. By 1965 South Vietnam was already a total wreck.
Bombing the South was costless for the United States because the South had no defense. Bombing the North was costly -- you bomb the North, you bomb the harbor, you might hit Russian ships, which begins to become dangerous. You're bombing an internal Chinese railroad -- the Chinese railroads from southeast to southwest China happen to go through North Vietnam -- who knows what they might do.
In fact, the Chinese were accused, correctly, of sending Chinese forces into Vietnam, namely to rebuild the railroad that we were bombing. So that was "interference" with our divine right to bomb North Vietnam. So most of the focus was on the bombing of the North. The peace movement slogan, "Stop the bombing" meant the bombing of the North.
In 1967 the leading specialist on Vietnam, Bernard Fall, a military historian and the only specialist on Vietnam respected by the U.S. government -- who was a hawk, incidentally, but who cared about the Vietnamese -- wrote that it's a question of whether Vietnam will survive as a cultural and historical entity under the most severe bombing that has ever been applied to a country this size. He was talking about the South. He kept emphasizing it was the South that was being attacked. But that didn't matter because it was costless, therefore it's fine to continue. That is the range of debate, which only makes sense on the assumption that we own the world.
If you read, say, the Pentagon Papers, it turns out there was extensive planning about the bombing of the North -- very detailed, meticulous planning on just how far it can go, what happens if we go a little too far, and so on. There is no discussion at all about the bombing of the South, virtually none. Just an occasional announcement, okay, we will triple the bombing, or something like that.
If you read Robert McNamara's memoirs of the war -- by that time he was considered a leading dove -- he reviews the meticulous planning about the bombing of the North, but does not even mention his decision to sharply escalate the bombing of the South at the same time that the bombing of the North was begun.
I should say, incidentally, that with regard to Vietnam what I have been discussing is articulate opinion, including the leading part of the peace movement. There is also public opinion, which it turns out is radically different, and that is of some significance. By 1969 around 70 percent of the public felt that the war was not a mistake, but that it was fundamentally wrong and immoral. That was the wording of the polls and that figure remains fairly constant up until the most recent polls just a few years ago. The figures are pretty remarkable because people who say that in a poll almost certainly think, I must be the only person in the world that thinks this. They certainly did not read it anywhere, they did not hear it anywhere. But that was popular opinion.
The same is true with regard to many other issues. But for articulate opinion it's pretty much the way I've described -- largely vigorous debate between the hawks and the doves, all on the unexpressed assumption that we own the world. So the only thing that matters is how much is it costing us, or maybe for some more humane types, are we harming too many of them?
Getting back to the election, there was a lot of disappointment among anti-war people -- the majority of the population -- that Congress did not pass any withdrawal legislation. There was a Democratic resolution that was vetoed, but if you look at the resolution closely it was not a withdrawal resolution. There was a good analysis of it by General Kevin Ryan, who was a fellow at the Kennedy School at Harvard. He went through it and he said it really should be called a re-missioning proposal. It leaves about the same number of American troops, but they have a slightly different mission.
He said, first of all it allows for a national security exception. If the president says there is a national security issue, he can do whatever he wants -- end of resolution. The second gap is it allows for anti-terrorist activities. Okay, that is whatever you like. Third, it allows for training Iraqi forces. Again, anything you like.
Next it says troops have to remain for protection of U.S. forces and facilities. What are U.S. forces? Well, U.S. forces are those embedded in Iraqi armed units where 60 percent of their fellow soldiers think that they -- U.S. troops, that is -- are legitimate targets of attack. Incidentally, those figures keep going up, so they are probably higher by now. Well, okay, that is plenty of force protection. What facilities need protection was not explained in the Democratic resolution, but facilities include what is called "the embassy." The U.S. embassy in Iraq is nothing like any embassy that has ever existed in history. It's a city inside the green zone, the protected region of Iraq, that the U.S. runs. It's got everything from missiles to McDonalds, anything you want. They didn't build that huge facility because they intend to leave.
That is one facility, but there are others. There are "semi-permanent military bases," which are being built around the country. "Semi-permanent" means permanent, as long as we want.
General Ryan omitted a lot of things. He omitted the fact that the U.S. is maintaining control of logistics and logistics is the core of a modern Army. Right now about 80 percent of the supply is coming in though the south, from Kuwait, and it's going through guerilla territory, easily subject to attack, which means you have to have plenty of troops to maintain that supply line. Plus, of course, it keeps control over the Iraqi Army.
The Democratic resolution excludes the Air Force. The Air Force does whatever it wants. It is bombing pretty regularly and it can bomb more intensively. The resolution also excludes mercenaries, which is no small number -- sources such as the Wall Street Journal estimate the number of mercenaries at about 130,000, approximately the same as the number of troops, which makes some sense. The traditional way to fight a colonial war is with mercenaries, not with your own soldiers -- that is the French Foreign Legion, the British Ghurkas, or the Hessians in the Revolutionary War. That is part of the main reason the draft was dropped -- so you get professional soldiers, not people you pick off the streets.
So, yes, it is re-missioning, but the resolution was vetoed because it was too strong, so we don't even have that. And, yes, that did disappoint a lot of people. However, it would be too strong to say that no high official in Washington called for immediate withdrawal. There were some. The strongest one I know of -- when asked what is the solution to the problem in Iraq -- said it's quite obvious, "Withdraw all foreign forces and withdraw all foreign arms." That official was Condoleeza Rice and she was not referring to U.S. forces, she was referring to Iranian forces and Iranian arms. And that makes sense, too, on the assumption that we own the world because, since we own the world U.S. forces cannot be foreign forces anywhere. So if we invade Iraq or Canada, say, we are the indigenous forces. It's the Iranians that are foreign forces.
I waited for a while to see if anyone, at least in the press or journals, would point out that there was something funny about this. I could not find a word. I think everyone regarded that as a perfectly sensible comment. But I could not see a word from anyone who said, wait a second, there are foreign forces there, 150,000 American troops, plenty of American arms.
So it is reasonable that when British sailors were captured in the Gulf by Iranian forces, there was debate, "Were they in Iranian borders or in Iraqi borders? Actually there is no answer to this because there is no territorial boundary, and that was pointed out. It was taken for granted that if the British sailors were in Iraqi waters, then Iran was guilty of a crime by intervening in foreign territory. But Britain is not guilty of a crime by being in Iraqi territory, because Britain is a U.S. client state, and we own the world, so they are there by right.
What about the possible next war, Iran? There have been very credible threats by the U.S. and Israel -- essentially a U.S. client -- to attack Iran. There happens to be something called the UN Charter which says that -- in Article 2 -- the threat or use of force in international affairs is a crime. "Threat or use of force."
Does anybody care? No, because we're an outlaw state by definition, or to be more precise, our threats and use of force are not foreign, they're indigenous because we own the world. Therefore, it's fine. So there are threats to bomb Iran -- maybe we will and maybe we won't. That is the debate that goes on. Is it legitimate if we decide to do it? People might argue it's a mistake. But does anyone say it would be illegitimate? For example, the Democrats in Congress refuse to put in an amendment that would require the Executive to inform Congress if it intends to bomb Iran -- to consult, inform. Even that was not accepted.
The whole world is aghast at this possibility. It would be monstrous. A leading British military historian, Correlli Barnett, wrote recently that if the U.S. does attack, or Israel does attack, it would be World War III. The attack on Iraq has been horrendous enough. Apart from devastating Iraq, the UN High Commission on Refugees reviewed the number of displaced people -- they estimate 4.2 million, over 2 million fled the country, another 2 million fleeing within the country. That is in addition to the numbers killed, which if you extrapolate from the last studies, are probably approaching a million.
It was anticipated by U.S. intelligence and other intelligence agencies and independent experts that an attack on Iraq would probably increase the threat of terror and nuclear proliferation. But that went way beyond what anyone expected. Well known terrorism specialists Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank estimated -- using mostly government statistics -- that what they call "the Iraq effect" increased terror by a factor of seven, and that is pretty serious. And that gives you an indication of the ranking of protection of the population in the priority list of leaders. It's very low.
So what would the Iran effect be? Well, that is incalculable. It could be World War III. Very likely a massive increase in terror, who knows what else. Even in the states right around Iraq, which don't like Iran -- Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey -- even there the large majority would prefer to see a nuclear armed Iran to any U.S. military action, and they are right, military action could be devastating. It doesn't mean we won't do it. There is very little discussion here of the illegitimacy of doing it, again on the assumption that anything we do is legitimate, it just might cost too much.
Is there a possible solution to the U.S./Iran crisis? Well, there are some plausible solutions. One possibility would be an agreement that allows Iran to have nuclear energy, like every signer of the non-proliferation treaty, but not to have nuclear weapons. In addition, it would call for a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East. That would include Iran, Israel, which has hundreds of nuclear weapons, and any U.S. or British forces deployed in the region. A third element of a solution would be for the United States and other nuclear states to obey their legal obligation, by unanimous agreement of the World Court, to make good-faith moves to eliminate nuclear weapons entirely.
Is this feasible? Well, it's feasible on one assumption, that the United States and Iran become functioning democratic societies, because what I have just quoted happens to be the opinion of the overwhelming majority of the populations in Iran and the United States. On everything that I mentioned there is an overwhelming majority. So, yes, there would be a very feasible solution if these two countries were functioning democratic societies, meaning societies in which public opinion has some kind of effect on policy. The problem in the United States is the inability of organizers to do something in a population that overwhelmingly agrees with them and to make that current policy. Of course, it can be done. Peasants in Bolivia can do it, we can obviously do it here.
Can we do anything to make Iran a more democratic society? Not directly, but indirectly we can. We can pay attention to the dissidents and the reformists in Iran who are struggling courageously to turn Iran into a more democratic society. And we know exactly what they are saying, they are very outspoken about it. They are pleading with the United States to withdraw the threats against Iran. The more we threaten Iran, the more we give a gift to the reactionary, religious fanatics in the government. You make threats, you strengthen them. That is exactly what is happening. The threats have lead to repression, predictably.
Now the Americans claim they are outraged by the repression, which we should protest, but we should recognize that the repression is the direct and predictable consequence of the actions that the U.S. government is taking. So if you take actions, and then they have predictable consequences, condemning the consequences is total hypocrisy.
Incidentally, in the case of Cuba about two-thirds of Americans think we ought to end the embargo and all threats and enter into diplomatic relations. And that has been true ever since polls have been taken -- for about 30 years. The figure varies, but it's roughly there. Zero effect on policy, in Iran, Cuba, and elsewhere.
So there is a problem and that problem is that the United States is just not a functioning democracy. Public opinion does not matter and among articulate and elite opinion that is a principle -- it shouldn't matter. The only principle that matters is we own the world and the rest of you shut up, you know, whether you're abroad or at home.
So, yes, there is a potential solution to the very dangerous problem, it's essentially the same solution: do something to turn our own country into a functioning democracy. But that is in radical opposition to the fundamental presupposition of all elite discussions, mainly that we own the world and that these questions don't arise and the public should have no opinion on foreign policy, or any policy.
Once, when I was driving to work, I was listening to NPR. NPR is supposed to be the kind of extreme radical end of the spectrum. I read a statement somewhere, I don't know if it's true, but it was a quote from Obama, who is the hope of the liberal doves, in which he allegedly said that the spectrum of discussion in the United States extends between two crazy extremes, Rush Limbaugh and NPR. The truth, he said, is in the middle and that is where he is going to be, in the middle, between the crazies.
NPR then had a discussion -- it was like being at the Harvard faculty club -- serious people, educated, no grammatical errors, who know what they're talking about, usually polite. The discussion was about the so-called missile defense system that the U.S. is trying to place in Czechoslovakia and Poland -- and the Russian reaction. The main issue was, "What is going on with the Russians? Why are they acting so hostile and irrational? Are they trying to start a new Cold War? There is something wrong with those guys. Can we calm them down and make them less paranoid?"
The main specialist they called in, I think from the Pentagon or somewhere, pointed out, accurately, that a missile defense system is essentially a first-strike weapon. That is well known by strategic analysts on all sides. If you think about it for a minute, it's obvious why. A missile defense system is never going to stop a first strike, but it could, in principle, if it ever worked, stop a retaliatory strike. If you attack some country with a first strike, and practically wipe it out, if you have a missile defense system, and prevent them from retaliating, then you would be protected, or partially protected. If a country has a functioning missile defense system it will have more options for carrying out a first strike. Okay, obvious, and not a secret. It's known to every strategic analyst. I can explain it to my grandchildren in two minutes and they understand it.
So on NPR it is agreed that a missile defense system is a first-strike weapon. But then comes the second part of the discussion. Well, say the pundits, the Russians should not be worried about this. For one thing because it's not enough of a system to stop their retaliation, so therefore it's not yet a first-strike weapon against them. Then they said it is kind of irrelevant anyway because it is directed against Iran, not against Russia.
Okay, that was the end of the discussion. So, point one, missile defense is a first-strike weapon; second, it's directed against Iran. Now, you can carry out a small exercise in logic. Does anything follow from those two assumptions? Yes, what follows is it's a first-strike weapon against Iran. Since the U.S. owns the world what could be wrong with having a first-strike weapon against Iran. So the conclusion is not mentioned. It is not necessary. It follows from the fact that we own the world.
Maybe a year ago or so, Germany sold advanced submarines to Israel, which were equipped to carry missiles with nuclear weapons. Why does Israel need submarines with nuclear armed missiles? Well, there is only one imaginable reason and everyone in Germany with a brain must have understood that -- certainly their military system does -- it's a first-strike weapon against Iran. Israel can use German subs to illustrate to Iranians that if they respond to an Israeli attack they will be vaporized.
The fundamental premises of Western imperialism are extremely deep. The West owns the world and now the U.S. runs the West, so, of course, they go along. The fact that they are providing a first-strike weapon for attacking Iran probably, I'm guessing now, raised no comment because why should it?
You can forget about history, it does not matter, it's kind of "old fashioned," boring stuff we don't need to know about. But most countries pay attention to history. So, for example, for the United States there is no discussion of the history of U.S./Iranian relations. Well, for the U.S. there is only one event in Iranian history -- in 1979 Iranians overthrew the tyrant that the U.S. was backing and took some hostages for over a year. That happened and they had to be punished for that.
But for Iranians their history is that for over 50 years, literally without a break, the U.S. has been torturing Iranians. In 1953 the U.S. overthrew the parliamentary government and installed a brutal tyrant, the Shah, and kept supporting him while he compiled one of the worst human rights records in the world -- torture, assassination, anything you like. In fact, President Carter, when he visited Iran in December 1978, praised the Shah because of the love shown to him by his people, and so on and so forth, which probably accelerated the overthrow. Of course, Iranians have this odd way of remembering what happened to them and who was behind it. When the Shah was overthrown, the Carter administration immediately tried to instigate a military coup by sending arms to Iran through Israel to try to support military force to overthrow the government. We immediately turned to supporting Iraq, that is Saddam Hussein, and his invasion of Iran. Saddam was executed for crimes he committed in 1982, by his standards not very serious crimes -- complicity in killing 150 people. Well, there was something missing in that account -- 1982 is a very important year in U.S./Iraqi relations. That is the year in which Ronald Reagan removed Iraq from the list of states supporting terrorism so that the U.S. could start supplying Iraq with weapons for its invasion of Iran, including the means to develop weapons of mass destruction, chemical and nuclear weapons. That is 1982. A year later Donald Rumsfeld was sent to firm up the deal. Well, Iranians may very well remember that this led to a war in which hundreds of thousands of them were slaughtered with U.S. aid going to Iraq. They may well remember that the year after the war was over, in 1989, the U.S. government invited Iraqi nuclear engineers to come to the United States for advanced training in developing nuclear weapons.
What about the Russians? They have a history too. One part of the history is that in the last century Russia was invaded and practically destroyed three times through Eastern Europe. You can look back and ask, when was the last time that the U.S. was invaded and practically destroyed through Canada or Mexico? That doesn't happen. We crush others and we are always safe. But the Russians don't have that luxury. Now, in 1990 a remarkable event took place. I was kind of shocked, frankly. Gorbachev agreed to let Germany be unified, meaning join the West and be militarized within a hostile military alliance. This is Germany, which twice in that century practically destroyed Russia. That's a pretty remarkable agreement.
There was a quid pro quo. Then-president George Bush I agreed that NATO would not expand to the East. The Russians also demanded, but did not receive, an agreement for a nuclear-free zone from the Artic to the Baltic, which would give them a little protection from nuclear attack. That was the agreement in 1990. Then Bill Clinton came into office, the so-called liberal. One of the first things he did was to rescind the agreement, unilaterally, and expand NATO to the East.
For the Russians that's pretty serious, if you remember the history. They lost 25 million people in the last World War and over 3 million in World War I. But since the U.S. owns the world, if we want to threaten Russia, that is fine. It is all for freedom and justice, after all, and if they make unpleasant noises about it we wonder why they are so paranoid. Why is Putin screaming as if we're somehow threatening them, since we can't be threatening anyone, owning the world.
One of the other big issues on the front pages now is Chinese "aggressiveness." There is a lot of concern about the fact that the Chinese are building up their missile forces. Is China planning to conquer the world? Big debates about it. Well, what is really going on? For years China has been in the lead in trying to prevent the militarization of space. If you look at the debates and the Disarmament Commission of the UN General Assembly, the votes are 160 to 1 or 2. The U.S. insists on the militarization of space. It will not permit the outer space treaty to explicitly bar military relations in space.
Clinton's position was that the U.S. should control space for military purposes. The Bush administration is more extreme. Their position is the U.S. should own space, their words, We have to own space for military purposes. So that is the spectrum of discussion here. The Chinese have been trying to block it and that is well understood. You read the most respectable journal in the world, I suppose, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and you find leading strategic analysts, John Steinbrunner and Nancy Gallagher, a couple of years ago, warning that the Bush administration's aggressive militarization is leading to what they call "ultimate doom." Of course, there is going to be a reaction to it. You threaten people with destruction, they are going to react. These analysts call on peace-loving nations to counter Bush's aggressive militarism. They hope that China will lead peace-loving nations to counter U.S. aggressiveness. It's a pretty remarkable comment on the impossibility of achieving democracy in the United States. Again, the logic is pretty elementary. Steinbrunner and Gallagher are assuming that the United States cannot be a democratic society; it's not one of the options, so therefore we hope that maybe China will do something.
Well, China finally did something. It signaled to the United States that they noticed that we were trying to use space for military purposes, so China shot down one of their satellites. Everyone understands why -- the mili- tarization and weaponization of space depends on satellites. While missiles are very difficult or maybe impossible to stop, satellites are very easy to shoot down. You know where they are. So China is saying, "Okay, we understand you are militarizing space. We're going to counter it not by militarizing space, we can't compete with you that way, but by shooting down your satellites." That is what was behind the satellite shooting. Every military analyst certainly understood it and every lay person can understand it. But take a look at the debate. The discussion was about, "Is China trying it conquer the world by shooting down one of its own satellites?"
About a year ago there was a new rash of articles and headlines on the front page about the "Chinese military build-up." The Pentagon claimed that China had increased its offensive military capacity -- with 400 missiles, which could be nuclear armed. Then we had a debate about whether that proves China is trying to conquer the world or the numbers are wrong, or something.
Just a little footnote. How many offensive nuclear armed missiles does the United States have? Well, it turns out to be 10,000. China may now have maybe 400, if you believe the hawks. That proves that they are trying to conquer the world.
It turns out, if you read the international press closely, that the reason China is building up its military capacity is not only because of U.S. aggressiveness all over the place, but the fact that the United States has improved its targeting capacities so it can now destroy missile sites in a much more sophisticated fashion wherever they are, even if they are mobile. So who is trying to conquer the world? Well, obviously the Chinese because since we own it, they are trying to conquer it.
It's all too easy to continue with this indefinitely. Just pick your topic. It's a good exercise to try. This simple principle, "we own the world," is sufficient to explain a lot of the discussion about foreign affairs.
I will just finish with a word from George Orwell. In the introduction to Animal Farm he said, England is a free society, but it's not very different from the totalitarian monster I have been describing. He says in England unpopular ideas can be suppressed without the use of force. Then he goes on to give some dubious examples. At the end he turns to a very brief explanation, actually two sentences, but they are to the point. He says, one reason is the press is owned by wealthy men who have every reason not to want certain ideas to be expressed. And the second reason -- and I think a more important one -- is a good education. If you have gone to the best schools and graduated from Oxford and Cambridge, and so on, you have instilled in you the understanding that there are certain things it would not do to say; actually, it would not do to think. That is the primary way to prevent unpopular ideas from being expressed.
The ideas of the overwhelming majority of the population, who don't attend Harvard, Princeton, Oxford and Cambridge, enable them to react like human beings, as they often do. There is a lesson there for activists.
Chomsky + Trivers
Noam Chomsky + Robert Trivers
Discussion with Noam Chomsky and Robert Trivers
Salon Seed, September 6, 2006
In the 1970s, a Harvard class taught by evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers ignited a controversy that would escalate into the "sociobiology wars." His papers provided a Darwinian basis for understanding complex human activities and relationships. Across town at MIT, revolutionary linguist Noam Chomsky had earned a reputation as a leading opponent of the Vietnam War. Throughout those pivotal years, and in the following decades, the two explored similar ideas from different perspectives. Long aware of each other's work, they had never met until a couple of months ago, when they sat down to compare notes on some common interests: deceit and self-deception.
Noam Chomsky: One of the most important comments on deceit, I think, was made by Adam Smith. He pointed out that a major goal of business is to deceive and oppress the public.
And one of the striking features of the modern period is the institutionalization of that process, so that we now have huge industries deceiving the public—and they're very conscious about it, the public relations industry. Interestingly, this developed in the freest countries—in Britain and the US—roughly around time of WWI, when it was recognized that enough freedom had been won that people could no longer be controlled by force. So modes of deception and manipulation had to be developed in order to keep them under control.
And by now these are huge industries. They not only dominate marketing of commodities, but they also control the political system. As anyone who watches a US election knows, it's marketing. It's the same techniques that are used to market toothpaste.
And, of course, there are power systems in place to facilitate this. Throughout history it's been mostly the property holders or the educated classes who've tended to support power systems. And that's a large part of what I think education is—it's a form of indoctrination. You have to reconstruct a picture of the world in order to be conducive to the interests and concerns of the educated classes, and this involves a lot of self-deceit.
Robert Trivers: So you're talking about self-deception in at least two contexts. One is intellectuals who, in a sense, go through a process of education which results in a self-deceived organism who is really working to serve the interests of the privileged few without necessarily being conscious of it at all. The other thing is these massive industries of persuasion and deception, which, one can conceptualize, are also inducing a form of either ignorance or self-deception in listeners, where they come to believe that they know the truth when in fact they're just being manipulated.
So let me ask you, when you think about the leaders—let's say the present set of organisms that launched this dreadful Iraq misadventure—how important is their level of self-deception? We know they launched the whole thing in a swarm of lies, the evidence for which is too overwhelming to even need to be referred to now. My view is that their deception leads to self-deception very easily.
NC: I agree, though I'm not sure they launched it with lies, and it's perfectly possible they believed it.
NC: I mean, they had a goal—we don't have a detailed record, but from the record we have, it's as if they sort of cherry-picked and coerced intelligence to yield evidence that would contribute to that goal.
NC: And anything that conflicted with it was just tossed out. In fact people were tossed out—like the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
RT: Right, indeed.
NC: I mean, I think we all know from personal life, if there's something you want to do, it's really easy to convince yourself it's right and just. You put away evidence that shows that's not true.
So it's self-deception but it's automatic, and it requires significant effort and energy to try to see yourself from a distance. It's hard to do.
RT: Oh, it is. I think in everyday life we're aware of the fact that when we're watching something on stage, so to speak, we have a better view than the actors on the stage have. If you can see events laterally, you can say, my god, they're doing this and they're doing that. But if you're embedded in that network it's much harder.
NC: In fact, you can see it very clearly by just comparing historical events that are similar They're never identical, but similar.
Take the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, Saddam's invasion of Kuwait and the US invasion of Iraq—just take those three. From the point of view of the people who perpetrated these acts, they were each a noble effort and done for the benefit of everyone—in fact the self-justifications are kind of similar. It almost translates. But we can't see it in ourselves; we can only see it in them, you know. Nobody doubts that the Russians committed aggression, that Saddam Hussein committed aggression, but with regard to ourselves it's impossible.
I've reviewed a lot of the literature on this, and it's close to universal. We just cannot adopt toward ourselves the same attitudes that we adopt easily and in fact, reflexively, when others commit crimes. No matter how strong the evidence.
RT: Not the overall crime.
NC: In fact, here's another case like Afghanistan and Kuwait. Dick Cheney was recently somewhere in Central Asia—Kazakhstan, I believe. He was getting them to make sure to direct their pipelines to the West, so the US can control them. And he said, control over pipelines is a means—these are tools for intimidation and blackmail. He was talking about if somebody else controlled them. Like if China controlled the pipelines, it's a tool of intimidation and blackmail. But if the US controls the pipelines, it's just benevolent and free and wonderful.
NC: And I was interested to see if anybody is going to comment on that. I mean, as long as he's talking about somebody else's control, then it's intimidation and blackmail. The very moment he's trying to get them to give us control, that's liberation and freedom. To be able to live with those contradictions in your mind, really does take a good education. And it's true in case after case.
RT: It's the psychology of deceit and self-deception. When you start talking about groups, there are some very interesting analogies. Psychologists have shown that people make these verbal switches when they're in a we/they situation, in a your-group-versus-another situation.
NC: Groups that are simply set up for the experiment, you mean?
RT: It can be. You can also do it experimentally, or you can be talking about them and their group versus someone that's not a member of their group.
But you have the following kinds of verbal things that people do, apparently quite unconsciously. If you're a member of my group and you do something good, I make a general statement: "Noam Chomsky is an excellent person." Now if you do something bad, I give a particular statement, "Noam Chomsky stepped on my toe."
But it's exactly reversed if you're not a member of my group. If you're not a member of my group and you do something good I say, "Noam Chomsky gave me directions to MIT." But if he steps on my toe I say, "He's a lousy organism," or "He's an inconsiderate person."
So we generalize positively to ourselves, particularize negative and reverse it when we're talking about other people.
NC: Sounds like normal propaganda. Islamic people are all fascists. The Irish are all crooks.
RT: Yes, exactly. Generalize a negative characteristic in the other. Another thing that comes to mind with respect to the Iraq case: There's evidence suggesting that when you're contemplating something—whether or marry Suzy, for instance—you're in a deliberative stage. And you are considering options more or less rationally.
Now, once you decide to go with Suzy, you're in the instrumental phase; you don't want to hear about the negative side. Your mood goes up, and you delete all the negative stuff and you're just, "Suzy's the one."
One thing that's very striking about this Iraq disaster is there was no deliberative stage, unless you—
NC: —go back a few years.
RT: Yes, unless you refer to the 90s, when there were a couple of position papers by these same groups that said, "Let's not go to war."
But once 9/11 occurred, we know that within days, within hours, they were settling on Iraq and they went into the instrumental phase in a very major way. They didn't want to hear anything of the downside.
NC: That was dismissed.
RT: It was dismissed entirely. And these firewalls were set up so there was no communication. And if someone came into Rumsfeld's office and said, "Well, gee..." Well, [General] Shinseki got an early retirement plan.
And Wolfowitz comes in the very next day and says, "Hard to imagine that we'd need more troops to occupy than to knock over." But that was established military doctrine; we'd known that for more than 50 years.
NC: Just didn't want to hear it.
RT: Didn't want to hear it. So, I'm trying to understand these phenomena at the individual level and also put them together in groups, since at times institutions act like individuals in the way they practice internal self-deception.
This was Feynman's famous analysis of NASA and the Challenger disaster. I don't know if you ever read the analysis—it was beautiful. He said that, when we decided to go to the moon in the 60s, there was no disagreement in the society, for better or worse. Everybody said, "Let's beat the Soviets to the moon." And the thing was built rationally from the ground up, and by god, before the decade was out we were on the moon and back safely.
Now, they had a $5 billion bureaucracy with nothing to do. So they had to come up with rationales for what they did. So they decided on manned flight because it's more expensive, and they decided on the reusable shuttle, which turned out to be more expensive than if you just used a new shuttle every time. But they always had to sell this thing as making sense.
So, Feynman argued that the NASA higher-ups were busy selling this pile of you-know-what to the general public. They didn't want to hear anything negative from the people down below. This was his analysis for how they came up with this O-ring nonsense.
They had a safety unit that was supposed to be involved in safety, but ended up being subverted in function, to rationalize non-safety. And the classic example is, there were 24 flights, I think it was 24, prior to the disaster. And of those, seven suffered O-ring damage—
RT: Detected, yes. In one of them the O-ring had been burned through—a third of the way through. Now, how did they handle this? It was statistically significant. They said, "17 flights had no damage, so they're irrelevant"—and they excluded them. Seven had damage, sometimes at high temperature, therefore temperature was irrelvant.
Then they came up with real absurdities. They said we built in a three-fold safety factor. That's to say, it only burned a third of the way through. But that, as you know, is a perversion of language. By law you are required to build elevators with an 11-fold safety factor, which means you pack it full of people, run it up and down, there is no damage to your equipment. Now you make it 11 times as strong.
NC: And all of this data was available.
RT: All of it was available.
RT: There's an analogy here to individual self-deception. Information is often somewhere in the organism; it's just well-hidden. It's well down in the unconscious. And it's often inaccessible because you build up firewalls against it.
NC: Are there any animal analogs to this?
RT: Well, I don't know. I believe that self-deception has evolved in two situations at least in other creatures, and that it can be studied. I've suggested a way to do it, but so far nobody's done it.
For example, when you make an evaluation of another animal in a combat situation—let's say male/male conflict—the other organism's sense of self-confidence is a relevant factor in your evaluation.
NC: And that's shown by its behavior.
RT: Exactly—through its suppressing signs of fear and not giving anything away, and so forth. So you can imagine selection for overconfidence—
NC: —for showing overconfidence, even if it's not real.
RT: Yes. Likewise in situations of courtship, where females are evaluating males. Again, the organism's sense of self is relevant. We all know that low self-esteem is a sexual romantic turn-off.
So again, you can have selection—without language it seems to me—for biased kinds of information flow within the organism in order to keep up a false front.
NC: And it may be that the animal that's putting up a false front knows it's a false front.
RT: Yes, but it may benefit from not knowing—
NC: —because it's easier.
RT: Easier to do it and perhaps more convincing because you're not giving away evidence.
NC: Secondary signs.
NC: Is there any evidence about that, or is it just speculation?
RT: What you heard is rank speculation.
NC: Can it be investigated?
RT: I do not know of anybody who is doing it on self-deception. There is excellent work being done on deception in other creatures.
To give you just one line of work that's of some interest: We find repeatedly now—in wasps, in birds and in monkeys—that when organisms realize they're being deceived, they get pissed off. And they often attack the deceiver. Especially if the deceiver is over-representing him or herself. If you're under-representing and showing yourself as having less dominance than you really have, you're not attacked. And the ones that do attack you are precisely those whose dominance status you are attempting to expropriate or mimic.
It's very interesting and it suggests some of the dynamic in which fear of being detected while deceiving can be a secondary signal, precisely because if you are detected, you may get your butt kicked or get chased out.
NC: There's a name for that in the international affairs literature; its called maintaining credibility. You have to carry out violent acts to maintain credibility, even if the issue is insignificant.
NC: It's kind of like the Mafia.
RT: Yes, I know, I've heard that rationale used for odious stuff—we're maintaining credibility, maintaining street cred.
NC: That's a common theme. It's usually masked in some sense, so it's the credibility of the West, or the Free World, or something or other.
NC: Are there ways of studying self-deception?
RT: Yes, there was a brilliant study by [Ruben] Gur and [Harold] Sackeim, about 20 years ago—which was a very difficult one to do then, you could do it much more easily now—based on the fact that we respond to hearing our own voice with greater arousal than we do to hearing another human's voice. In both cases we show physiological arousal—galvanic skin response is one such measure. There's twice as big a jump if you hear your own voice.
Now, what you can do is have people matched for age and sex, read the same boring paragraph from Thomas Kuhn's "Structure of Scientific Revolution," chop it up into two, four, six and 12 second segments, and create a master tape where some of the time they're hearing their own voice, but a lot of the time they're not.
Then they've got to press a button indicating if they think it's their own and a second button to indicate how sure they are. But meanwhile they have the galvanic skin response.
Now they discovered two interesting things. First of all, some people denied their own voice some of the time but the skin always had it right. Some projected their own voice some of the time, the skin always had it right.
The deniers denied the denial, but half the time, the projectors were willing to admit afterwards that they thought they'd made the mistake of projection.
NC: What do you think the reason for that is?
RT: The difference between the projectors and the deniers? Well, I don't have a good way of putting it, Noam, but to me when you want to deny reality, you've got to act quickly and get it out of sight. The deniers also showed the highest levels of galvanic skin response to all stimuli. It's like they were primed to do it. And inventing reality is a little bit more of a relaxed enterprise I suppose.
NC: It's not as threatening.
RT: Yes, something like that. The final thing Gur and Sackeim showed was that they could manipulate it. Psychologists have lots of devices for making you feel bad about yourself, and one of them is just to give you an exam. They did this with university students. Then they told half of them, you did lousy, and half of them, you did well.
And what they found was that those who were made to feel badly about themselves started to deny their own voice more, while those who were feeling good started hearing themselves talking when they weren't. Now since we didn't evolve to hear our voice on a tape recorder, we have to interpret here. But it's like self-presentation is contracting on your failure and expanding on your success.
But back to your question, among animals, birds in particular have been shown to have the same physiological arousal that humans do—arousal to their own species song, and more arousal to their particular voice.
NC: So higher for their species and still higher for themselves?
NC: Is there any kin effect?
RT: That's a good question, and I don't know the answer. In general, kin relations in birds are poorly developed—they often don't even nest next to their relatives. But in principle I thought you could run a Gur and Sackeim experiment on birds, where pecking could substitute for pushing the button on the computer. You would train them in a reward system to peck when they recognize their own song.
NC: So how do you get to self-deceit from this?
RT: Well, you would manipulate them once again by, for example, subjecting some birds to negative experiences like losing fights, which you could rig by matching them with animals that are somewhat larger than them. And similarly, others would get to win fights. And then you could see if there's a tendency to deny self.
NC: You might be interested in a book that's coming out by a very smart guy, James Peck, a Sinologist, who has a book coming out called Washington's China, in which he does a very in-depth analysis of the National Security culture. It's about the imagery of China that was constructed in Washington.
He went through the National Security Council literature, background literature and so on, and he does both an analysis of content and a psychological analysis. I was reminded of it the whole time you were talking.
What he says is that there are elaborate techniques of self-deception to try to build a framework in which we can justify things like, say, invading or overthrowing the government of Guatemala, on the basis of some new objective. And it's done by making everything simple. You have to make it clearer than the truth.
NC: And as this picture gets created internally and built up by each group of National Security staffers, it becomes like a real fundamentalist religion, showing extraordinary self-deceit. And then you end up with the Cheneys and the Rumsfelds.
RT: I've been appalled lately when I pass a newsstand and there's some article, "China, the Next Threat," saying, "Now we've got to mobilize all our energy against China"—and they're talking military.
NC: That's interesting, because the threat of China is not military.
NC: The threat of China is they can't be intimidated—in fact it's very similar to what you've described. Europe you can intimidate. When the US tries to get people to stop investing in Iran, European companies pull out, China disregards it.
NC: You look at history and understand why—China's been around for 4,000 years and just doesn't give a damn. So the West screams, and they just go ahead and take over a big piece of Saudi or Iranian oil. You can't intimidate them—it's driving people in Washington berserk.
But, you know, of all the major powers, they've been the least aggressive militarily.
RT: No, the obvious threat—I mean, the obvious "threat"—is economic.
NC: And I think they plan it carefully. Like when President Hu Jintao was in Washington. When he left, he was going on a world trip. The next stop was Saudi Arabia. And that's a slap in the face to the US. It's just saying, "We don't care what you say."
NC: I'm sure it was planned. That's the kind of thing that intimidates. It's a little bit like a gorilla pounding at its chest.
RT: Yeah, exactly. More power to them.
Reciprocal altruism (Eric Strong)
The Evolution of Altruism
By ERIC STRONG
• An Evolution Primer
• The Biological Basis of Morality
ew theories in the history of science have revolutionized an entire field as Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection has done for biology. Natural selection is the process by which an environment affects the genetic composition of a population over many generations. First, genetic mutations within the individuals of a population arise through errors in DNA replication. Some fraction of these mutations will lead to measurable differences in the traits comprising the affected individual. Those traits that increase their host’s reproductive success will ensure their greater representation in successive generations, thus slowly eliminating those traits that are less able to aid in an individual’s ability to reproduce. As generations pass, this process can significantly alter the relative proportion of traits within a population, causing the population to become more adapted for a particular environment. Despite the overwhelming success Darwin’s theory has had in explaining a wide variety of natural phenomena, great debate continues over the theory’s application in explaining the evolution of an aspect of animal behavior known as altruism.
Altruism is the deliberate sacrifice of a portion of an individual’s reproductive capacity in order to increase that of another. This reproductive capacity is more often described as an individual’s genetic fitness, and is precisely defined as the contribution an individual makes to the gene pool of succeeding generations relative to the contributions of other individuals within a population. Thus, an altruist is defined as an individual who decreases his own genetic fitness to increase the fitness of another. The concept of altruism is best understood through example: an African wild dog voluntarily “babysitting” the pups of a pack, while the pack’s hunters search for food ; a bird giving an alarm call to warn others of an approaching hawk, and thus drawing attention to itself in the process ; a man jumping into a swimming pool to save a drowning stranger. While these acts obviously require different levels of sacrifice on the part of the altruist, on average we can expect all of them to decrease his number of expected offspring.
This is where the paradox of altruism arises. If, by definition, altruism reduces an individual’s fitness, we should expect Darwin’s natural selection to select against the altruistic trait and eventually reduce its representation within a population to zero. Even if a population existed that contained only altruists from the beginning, it would be vulnerable to subversion from within, whereby a single, mutant selfish individual could exploit the altruistic tendencies of his neighbors and eventually drive the altruistic trait to extinction.
Although the problem of altruism was largely ignored by early evolutionary theory, over the past several decades it has risen to become a central issue in the debate over the level at which natural selection operates - whether that be the level of the gene, individual, kin group, or even an entire population. Numerous theories have been proposed to explain this phenomenon, several of which are discussed bellow.
The first mechanism by which altruism can evolve does so under the process of group selection (see note). The following model of E.O. Wilson’s is a good example. Consider a population of N individuals. Within this population, their exists two types of individuals: an altruistic type (A) and a selfish type (S) who exist in proportions p and (1-p) respectively. Due to the altruistic nature of A-type individuals, each member of the population will experience an increase in offspring equal to the product of a value b (a measure of relative offspring gain) and the proportion of the population’s “total available altruism” that the member will benefit from. For S-types, this value will equal b* [Np / (N-1)], while for A-types it will equal b* [Np-1 / (N-1)], the difference reflecting the fact that altruists cannot benefit from their own altruism. If we then assign values to c (A-types’ decrease in offspring due to their altruism) and X (the number of offspring each individual can expect in the absence of altruism), we can then express the average offspring expected, W, of each type in the presence of altruistic behavior.
Since b and c are always positive, and N is always greater than 1, we can immediately see that selfish individuals will always have more offspring within a given population than altruistic individuals. A specific numerical example is shown below using a hypothetical population of 100 individuals in which half are altruistic and half are selfish. N’ is equal to the total number of individuals in the next generation and p’ is the proportion of A-type individuals in the next generation.
In this example, we can see how the total percentage of altruistic individuals will decrease after one generation from 50% to 48%. Iterating this same mathematical procedure over many generations, we can see how the percentage of altruistic individuals within this population will soon become very small. If the population is near its carrying capacity and is at steady state, this example suggests that the altruistic trait within this population will disappear altogether. This is merely a mathematical model to describe the apparent paradox discussed above - how can altruism possibly evolve if nature always selects against it?
This paradox can be resolved with a slight modification of our model. In this case, we have two independent groups of equal size, differing only in their relative proportions of altruistic and selfish individuals. This example is shown here, using the same values for X, b, and c.
Although the proportion of altruistic individuals declines in each group when taken separately, if both groups are examined together, their overall proportion actually increases. This counterintuitive result arises from the condition that the group with the greater number of altruists is also the most productive. Thus, as long as a population contains multiple groups with differing proportions of altruistic and selfish individuals, and the groups occasionally mixed for reproductive purposes, the total proportion of altruists could increase indefinitely. Despite this model which demonstrates how an altruistic trait could increase its representation if already established, group selection theories fail to address the issue of how such a trait could arise in the first place. For this, we must turn our attention to another mode of selection.
One of the great problems of Darwin’s theory of evolution was its apparent inability to explain the development of sterile worker castes among the social insects. How could such a caste evolve if its members could leave no offspring to propagate the sterile worker traits? This problem was overcome by invoking a special category of natural selection known as kin selection. The basic premise of kin selection is as follows: An individual can maximize the representation of his genes in succeeding generations by either increasing his own personal genetic fitness or by increasing the fitness of his relatives, as relatives are likely to share a great number of his genes. To fully understand kin selection, it is first necessary to introduce the terms relatedness and inclusive fitness. The degree of relatedness between two individuals is simply the fraction of genes they are likely to share due to common ancestry. For example, the relatedness between a parent and child is ½ since a child will inherit half of his genes from each parent. The relatedness between two siblings is also ½, between a grandparent and grandchild is ¼, and between first cousins is 1/8. Inclusive fitness is then defined as “the sum of an individual’s own fitness plus the sum of all the effects it causes to the related parts of the fitnesses of all its relatives” (Wilson, 1980). Thus, although a sterile insect may have a zero personal fitness, its inclusive fitness can actually be quite high if it devotes its life to providing for its relatives.
One can then use the ideas of relatedness and inclusive fitness to determine when altruism between kin might arise in nature. For example, suppose you are a blackbird who suddenly notices the approach of a hawk. If you give off a warning call to your neighbors, even if the call alerts the hawk of your location and you eventually perish, your waning could save a reasonable number of close relatives in the surrounding area. Therefore, the gene (or set of genes) encoding for the alarm call trait could still be successful under the pressures of natural selection since your inclusive fitness would be greater than that of individuals who do not warn relatives of approaching predators. But what exactly is meant by a “reasonable” number of close relatives?
W.D. Hamilton solved for this mathematically, deriving what is now known as Hamilton’s rule. Hamilton’s rule states that in order for altruism to occur between two individuals, the condition k>(1/r) must be met when k is the ratio of the relative’s gain in fitness to the altruist’s loss of fitness, and r is the degree of relatedness. In the case of two brothers, one brother will give his life for the other, if that sacrifice will more than double the representation of the other’s genes in the next generation (since r=½). This rule can also be applied to situations involving more than two individuals such that an individual will also give his life to save the lives of two of his brothers, four of his grandchildren (r=¼), or eight of his first cousins (r=1/8). These are extreme cases where the altruist’s personal fitness is reduced to zero (by death), but Hamilton’s rule still holds true for more subtle cases of altruism.
To better understand, let’s take a look at the following example. You are a rabbit searching for food in the woods when you come upon 9 carrots. Let’s suppose that you can only eat 4 carrots, and that each carrot consumed gives the consumer an arbitrary payoff of 2 units. If you keep the discovery secret and consume the carrots alone, your total payoff will be 4*2=8 units. However, if in the vicinity are your brother and your brother’s friend (no relation to you) and you call them over to share in your discovery, now the carrots will be split evenly among all three. Now the total inclusive payoff to your genes will be (3*2)(1) + (3*2)(½) + (3*2)(0) = 9 units. Despite your apparent loss of one carrot, and a non-relative’s gain of 3 carrots, in this particular case, it will still benefit your genes to give the food call and share your find.
One might be tempted to ask, how is it that a rabbit can either determine the complex kin relationships between other neighboring rabbits, or perform the necessary mathematical calculations to determine whether it should or should not behave altruistically in a given situation? The obvious answer is that it can’t. Genes are not clairvoyant and cannot necessarily detect copies of themselves in other individuals. However, they can be programmed to act favorably to other individuals who are more likely to contain copies of those same genes. There are multiple ways by which this can be accomplished. The first is known as the “green beard effect” as coined by Richard Dawkins. If a gene arose in a population that both gave individuals a conspicuous physical trait (such as a green beard) and a tendency to act favorably to others with that same trait, mutual altruism between green bearded individuals could evolve. In this particular case, one can see that it is not necessary for individuals to determine whether their identical genes are due to common descent or simply coincidental random mutation, as such a distinction would be a waste of time from the altruistic gene’s point of view. Although the green beard effect is a theoretical possibility, even Dawkins admits it is somewhat unlikely that a single gene will produce both a very distinguishable trait (such as a green beard) and altruistic tendencies.
Another way by which individuals are more likely to act altruistically to others who were genetically similar is by associating familiarity with kinship. Mothers can certainly know the exact relationships to their children, but siblings can infer the relationships amongst themselves also, since individuals who are raised together are more likely to be kin than non-kin. Related to this method of kin recognition is one dependent on similar location between individuals. For instance, if you are a member of a population that does not move around much, it is likely that many of your neighbors are also kin. Thus, a gene encoding for altruism could act not necessarily on kin, but rather more indiscriminately on any of your close neighbors. This kind of mechanism can be used to explain altruism within troops of monkeys and pods of whales, since any two members in these groups are likely to be highly related.
Although these approximate forms of kin recognition are likely to be the prime forces in kin selection, it should not be ignored that studies have shown that in certain cases closer relatives are sometimes treated preferentially over non-relatives, independent of other environmental factors such as proximity. An explanation of this phenomenon is not yet clear.
Although kin selection provides a powerful explanation of altruism in much of the natural world, there are occasions (particularly in higher mammals) where this form of selection fails to explain altruism occurring between two unrelated individuals. To understand these situations, Robert Trivers has introduced the idea of reciprocal altruism. Reciprocal altruism is the process by which one individual will commit an altruistic act towards another in exchange for the second individual returning the altruistic favor at some later time. The end result of this exchange leaves both with an increased personal fitness.
Let’s suppose a man is drowning, and an unrelated woman from nearby jumps in to rescue him. If not helped, the man has a ½ chance of drowning, as opposed to the woman who has a 1/20 chance of drowning if she attempts to save him. One might be inclined to conclude that she will never attempt a rescue, since the immediate effect would be a decrease in both her personal fitness and her inclusive fitness (since the man is not a relative). However, if at some later point in time the woman is drowning, and the man is nearby, he might be inclined to rescue her in return for her original help at the same personal risk (1/20) that the woman experienced when she saved him. We can now see that both people have exchanged a ½ chance of death for a 1/20 chance. Thus, a population full of altruistic individuals who enter into a series of reciprocal exchanges will increase their total genetic fitness as compared to competing population devoid of such altruism.
A problem with this idea arises however, when one asks why does the man in our above example bother to reciprocate? If his life has already been saved, what reason does he heave afterwards to continue to risk it unnecessarily? In human societies, this answer is simple - the cheater will be punished by both the individual he failed to reciprocate with and also be the greater society. The cheater will experience a greater decrease in fitness due to cheating than he would by reciprocating, and natural selection will select against him. However, in most species, the level of recognition and memory required for this type of selection is not possible, and this is the main reason reciprocal altruism is relatively infrequent in the natural world as compared to altruism due to kin selection.
Perhaps the most discussed example of altruistic behavior in animals is that dealing with alarm calls. As a predator approaches an area occupied by more than one individual of a prey species, the individual who first detects the predator may give an alarm call to alert its neighbors, drawing attention to itself in the process. As drawing attention to oneself in this situation is obviously disadvantageous, an explanation for this phenomenon has been actively sought. P.W. Sherman hypothesizes that any given alarm call may have one (or a combination of several) of the following six functions:
1. The alarm call may cause the caller’s neighbors to either aggregate or act nervously, thus actually drawing attention away from the caller.
2. The call may discourage prey from a pursuit by alerting it that it has been spotted and has lost the element of surprise.
3. Alarm calling might reduce the probability of later attacks by the same predator, if a predator is more likely to hunt a particular species of prey that has given it success previously.
4. An individual might give an alarm call if those benefited are likely to return the favor in a form a reciprocal altruism.
5. Alarm calling might evolve if prey populations consisted of multiple groups with differing proportions of individual with alarm calling tendencies as a result of group selection. (Similar to the previously discussed example.)
6. Although a caller jeopardizes its own life in the face of immediate danger, if its neighbors consist of relatives, the call may aid in their escape, thus increasing the caller’s inclusive fitness.
We can immediately conclude that theoretical functions 1, 2, and 3 would not classify as altruism because the caller would also benefits from the action. Although function 4 may sound reasonable, Trivers raises several objections to this possibility. First, it is difficult to see how a group of individuals would identify and discriminate against a single non-reciprocating “cheater”. Second, no evidence has been found to support the idea that animals in the wild refrain from sounding alarm calls because their neighbors fail to reciprocate. Function 5 is nearly identical to the mathematical model of group selection discussed above. This leaves function 6 to examine more in depth.
Sherman has shown kin selection to be a powerful force in the evolution of altruism in Belding’s ground squirrels. After studying a population of approximately 1100 individual squirrels over 3000 hours of observation, Sherman found that female squirrels who were currently in their reproductive years were both more likely to give an alarm call than would be predicted by chance alone, and more likely to give an alarm call than a control group of non-reproductive females. Although no significant disagreement was found between reproductive and non-reproductive males, Sherman argues that this is merely the result of both the matrilineal kin structure of Belding’s ground squirrels and the observation that the female is the more parental sex in this species.
As best put by E.O. Wilson, “Other than suicide, no behavior is clearly more altruistic than the surrender of food.” Yet this form of altruistic behavior occurs frequently in a wide variety of animal species. Both gibbons and chimpanzees have been observed to offer food to others after solicitation, and African wild dogs are known to carry fresh meat back to the “babysitter” of their cubs after a successful hunt. One of the most well documented studies of food sharing however was done by Gerald Wilkinson on the vampire bat. Vampire bats feed on blood, and although a single bat will not always be successful in finding prey on any given night, if it does, its payoff will be big, and often bats will suck up a surplus of blood. Upon the bats’ return to the group, it is often seen that the successful hunters will regurgitate blood for the consumption of their less fortunate neighbors. While this sharing of food is often between relatives (usually a mother and child), there are numerous occasions when the two individuals involved in the exchange are not related. Wilkinson hypothesized that such generosity could be the result of reciprocal altruism if the following three conditions were met:
1. Contact between members of a group of bats must be long enough to ensure many such exchanges
2. The gain of receiving aid must be greater than the cost of donating.
3. Altruistic donors must be able to recognize those bats that had previously failed to reciprocate, and refuse to feed them.
The first and second conditions were shown to be true from simple observation of wild bat populations. Wilkinson demonstrated that the third condition was also met. He selectively removed certain bats from the population and starved them. When the bats returned, the population was significantly more likely to feed these bats (who had likely shared food with them in the past) than they were with a control group of starved bats who were introduced to the population despite no previous contact with them. One can therefore conclude that food sharing in vampire bats is at least partly the result of reciprocal altruism.
Altruism in Humans
It is only logical that one might now be inclined to take these theories of altruism and apply them to our own species, especially considering that man is the most altruistic animal of all. Altruism pervades every aspect of our society, whether in the form of food sharing, helping the sick, gift giving, or even the sharing of knowledge through education. The use of money may even be seen as the prime example of reciprocal altruism in modern man, as money itself has no intrinsic value other than the assurance that another person will trade valuable goods for it at some point in the future.
It is easy to see how altruism in man could have evolved through kin selection. Bands of early hunter- gatherers during prehistory were almost certainly composed mainly of close kin. Also, through language and an increased mental capacity, early man had a much greater ability than other primates at not only recognizing kin, but also at distinguishing between subtle differences in degrees of relatedness. As evidence of the operation of altruism by kin selection, J. Rushton has showed that humans are more likely to favor not only those they definitely recognize as kin, but also those with whom they share genetic traits. Through a series of extensive studies, he demonstrated that on average there was greater genetic similarity between friends then between strangers, and he also made the remarkable discovery that sexually interacting couples were more likely to share similar blood markers than would be expected by chance alone. The idea that human behavior between two individuals may be governed by genetic similarity is profound, and its implications stretch far beyond a discussion of altruism.
Although there is no doubt that kin selection plays an important role in the formation of altruism in human societies, reciprocal altruism is generally more prominent. Our species easily fits the conditions for the rise of reciprocal altruism: long lasting relationships, an increased memory to distinguish reciprocators from non-reciprocators, and a method of punishing non-reciprocators. It has been hypothesized that some of man’s more complex emotions may have evolved to improve upon the system of reciprocal altruism. Gratitude and sympathy may increase one’s chances of receiving altruism by implying an increased chance of reciprocation, while guilt serves to discourage the non-reciprocator and causes him to demonstrate that he does not plan to refuse reciprocation in the future. On top of the development of emotions, Trivers even suggests that in a complicated form of coevolution, the combined selective pressures of finding subtler ways of cheating one’s neighbors and increasing one’s ability to detect such subtle cheaters may have contributed to the expansion of man’s mental capacities and led to his current state of high intellectual ability.
Altruism is one of the great mysteries of social behavior in animals, as it appears to contradict our understanding of natural selection. Even one hundred years after the birth of Darwinism, scientists are still continuing to debate the causes and effects of altruistic behavior. Whether the mathematical models of group selection, the instinctive qualities of kin selection, or the trusting attributes of reciprocal altruism, are the prime explanations of the development of this behavior is still largely unknown. In the end, it will probably be found that it is the combination of all three possibilities that plays a significant role in the natural world.
*Note: I have chosen to use the controversial and often misunderstood term “group selection” here for simplicity to refer to any process of selection which operates at a level above that of the kin group. A more precise term to describe the following hypothetical mechanism of evolution of altruism would be interdemic selection, which is also sometimes referred to as interpopulation selection. For further clarification of this distinction, see J. Maynard Smith’s 1975 paper “Group Selection” in the Quarterly Review of Biology and E.O. Wilson’s textbook, Sociobiology.
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