Sunday, February 03, 2008


The essay of the above title has been serialized in three previous segments here at Molly's Blog (see our January 2008 Archives). In the remaining section Newdick delves into one explanation for why altruism is more common than might be predicted from standard game theory. This explanation is "kin selection", the first of several different ways in which cooperation can evolve to be investigated by evolutionary psychology. The basic idea dates back at far as J.B.S. Haldane(1) who remarked that he would "jump into the river to save two brothers or eight cousins". This was later given mathematical rigour by W.D. Hamilton(2,3) who formulated what has been called "Hamilton's Rule". This states that natural selection will favour altruistic acts if the donor and the recipient of such acts are closely related ie if the degree of their genetic similarity exceeds the cost/benefit ratio of the act of altruism. The idea of kin selection is also known as "inclusive fitness", a particularily apt name as the total fitness of the genes shared by the giver and the receiver is maximized by altruistic acts between them, even if the "donor" loses something by the act. For a more complete explnation of what inclusive fitness means see 'The Central Concepts of Inclusive Fitness' by Peter D. Taylor and Troy Day in the Oxford University Press 'Enclyclopedia of Evolution' (2002) (a pdf file-Molly).

The concept of "kin selection" is hardly the only mechanism whereby altruism becomes established and maintained in animal populations. Reciprocal altruism probably has a much more extensive influence on what Molly likes to call "pack animals" such as humans. The basic ideas of reciprocal altruism are as old as the hills, and were given an anarchist tinge by Kropotkin in his desacriptions of "mutual aid". Kropotkin's work, however, was largely descriptive and lacked any clear underlying mechanism. This is not surprising as genetics was in its infancy at the time when Kropotkin wrote 'Mutual Aid' (amongst other writings on the subject). Kropotkin, in fact, was a convinced Lamarkian, argueing through his life for the concept of the heritability of acquired characteristics. This was not so much from politically inspired blindness(though he tried to give an "anarchist tinge" to this opinion) as from the fact that Kropotkin had a life-long francophilia. France was basically the last major country to see the triumph of Darwinist views. Lamark was indeed French, and the scientific issues at stake were often greatly obscured by patriotic feelings.

It was 1971 before the concept of reciprocal altruism was given a firm mathematical basis by Robert Trivers in his 'The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism' (4). This was later expanded upon by John Maynard Smith in his 'Evolution and the Theory of Games'(1982)(5).Trivers, by the way, has led an very interesting life, and Molly urges the reader to consult the above autobiographical essay. You might also want to see his conversation with Noam Chomsky on the subject of self-deception and politics (a video file-Molly). The Axelrod that Newdick cites in the essay wrote 'The Evolution of Cooperation' (6) in 1984. As Molly mentioned in her comments previously the game theoretical formulation of "tit-for-tat" has a "worm in the apple" because it has a tendency to degenerate into a frozen sequence of retaliation should one of the players defect. Other strategies such as "generous tit-for-tat" and "win-stay/lose-shift" have been shown to be better than tit-for-tat in establishing cooperation in a population and thereby increasing the fitness of the members of that population.

The present state of the field is very much wider than the two mechanisms mentioned above. For an interesting recent review see 'Five Rules for the Evolution of Cooperation' (Martin A. Nowak-2006)(7). Molly's notes follow below. After that I return to Newdick's essay and his notes.


1)Haldane, J.B.S. (1955) Population Genetics. New Biology, 18, 34-51

2)Hamilton, W.D., (1964) The genetical evolution of social behavior I. Journal of Theoretical Biology , 7, 1-16

3)Hamilton, W.D.,(1964) The genetical evolution of social behavior II, Journal of Theoretical Biology, 7, 17-52

4)Trivers, Robert ,(1971) The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism, Quarterly Review of Biology 46, 35-57

5)Smith, John Maynard (1982) Evolution and the Theory of Games ,Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

6)Axelrod, R., The Evolution of Cooperation, Basic Books, New York

7)Nowak, Martin A(2006), Five Rules for the Evolution of Cooperation, Science, 314, 1560-1563

Now back to our regular programming...Doug Newdick

7. Altruism

7.1 Altruism is not a rare phenomenon.

The purpose of the preceding section was to show that even if we grant the anti-anarchist her most pessimistic assumptions about humans (that they are rational egoists) and social interactions (that they have the preference structure of a prisoner's dilemma) mutual cooperation can still be achieved. I have already criticized the last assumption in S5, but the former assumption too is obviously flawed (footnote:this assumption is acceptable as an idealization when we have a specific explanatory or predictive purpose in mind-presuming it does not give us bad results), but in this justificatory role its inadequacies are central to the question at hand. People are not egoistic. If we think for more than afew moments we should be able to come up with a number of examples of pure altruism, examples where no beneifit whatsoever accrues to the performer of the action, not to mention examples of impure altruism. Donating blood is a good example of pure altruism; no measurable benefit accrues to someone who donates blood (without publicizing it), yet the benefits to others could be great, and there is a cost (even if it is not substantial). Then there are examples such as child-rearing. the cost of rearing a child is substantial, both in terms of monetary and other resources (eg time, missed opportunities,etc.), yet the benefit mainly accrues to the child, not the parent.

7.2 Kin Selection

An explanation for certain kinds of apprent altruism, and possibly for a greater than expected degree of reciprocal cooperation can be found in the theory of kin selection. Taking the gene's-eye-view proposed by Dawkins (1989)[11], imagine a gene for green beards. If this gene, besides causing green beards, causes the carrier of the gene to help other individuals with green beards, it has a greater than usual chance for spreading through a population.(Molly Note: the metaphor of the "green beard" is actually part of the question of how an individual can "recognize" either a relative or a reciprocator so that they can "play the game" with more confidence of cooperation) In a normal population an organism is more likely to share genes with its relations than with another member of the population. For any gene that is in your body there is a50% chance that it is in the body of your sibling. There is a 25% chance, for each of your cousins, that the gene is in their bodies. Thus, from the gene's perspective, if you sacrifice yourselves to save the lives of three of your siblings, then the gene has in fact gained because more copies of it were preserved than perished.

This is the mechanism of kin selection. the closer you are related to somebody the more it benefits the unit of selection (an entity which benefits from natural selection), in this case the gene,if you aid them, with the amount of aid directly proportional to the index of relatedness (Dawkins 1989:ch 6). In game theoretical terms, in any game the payoff to the gene is equal to the utility to the individual it is in plus the utility to the other individual times their index of relatedness.
The payoff in games between kin for player 1=z + xy, where x=index relatedness, y=player 2's utility and z=player 1's utility. The index of relatedness is the chance that a gene in X is present in their relation Y. For example, the value of x, if the two players are siblings, is 0.5. Thus the transformer prisoner's dilemma will looki like this...
C..........................4.5,4.5............3, 4.5
D.........................4.5, 3...............3,3
In this case we should expect mutual cooperation to be the outcome because it is an equilibrium and is preferred by both players. As we know from S6 the value of the discount parameter required for (B,B) to be an equilibrium decreases as the difference between the payoff for defecting while the other player cooperates and the payoof for mutual cooperation decreses. Thus mutual cooperation is easier to achieve when the mechanism of kin selection is operating.
It is also possible that such a mechanism might over generalize, that is, identify too many people as being related enough to alter behavior in prisoner's dilemma type situations. When you consider that in much of our recent evolutionary history humans have lived in small bands where the index of relatedness was fairly high (especially compared to today), such generalizations would have generated many false positives(12).
The mutual cooperation mengendered by kin selection can help the spread of reciprocal cooperation. It can create a large enough cluster of conditional cooperators to make conditional cooperation the best strategy in the population. If a cluster of conditional cooperators invades a population of unconditional defectors once the level of conditional cooperators reaches a certain level (dependant upon the discount parameter) the conditional cooperators earn more than the unconditional defectors by virtue of their interactions with each other (Axelrod 1984:ch 3).
I have shown that premises 2 and 3 of the intuitive/Hobbesian argument are false. Therefore the conclusion that anarchies are non-viable and that the state is, in a sense, necessary do not follow. The analysis of the iterated prisoner's dilemma shows that even if we grant the opponent of anarchy their best case, their conclusions do not follow. Game theory shows us that even egoistic individuals will cooperate without coercion or coordination given certain conditions. Certain conditions which are practically possible. When added to Taylor's (1982) thesis that coercion can be utilized by an anarchic community to encourage cooperation(especially including "altruistic punishment"-Molly) the plausibility of an anarchy increases. I think that the analysis from game theory and kin selection should leave us optimistic about the possibility of cooperation without coercion, even under adverse circumstances. Thus the changes in human nature required for a viable anarchy are much less than the opponents of anarchy believe.
Axelrod, 1984, 'The Evolution of Cooperation', Basic Books
Dawkins, 1989, 'The Selfish Gene', Oxford University Press, Oxford
Hardin 1982, 'Collective Action', John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore
Hobbes, 1968, 'Leviathan', ed C.B. MacPherson, Pelican Classics
Lewontin et al, 1984, 'Not in our Genes', Pantheon, New York
Lukes, 1974, 'Power:A Radical View', Macmillan Press
Mansbridge (ed), 1990, 'Beyond Self-Interest', University of Chicago Press, Chicago
Palfrey & Rosenthal, 1992, 'Repeated Play, Cooperation and Coordination"An Experimental Study', Social Sciences Working paper 785, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena
Taylor, 1982, 'Community, Anarchy & Liberty', Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
Taylor, 1987, 'The Possibility of Cooperation, cambridge University Press, Cambridge
Taylor (ed), 1988, 'Rationality and Revolution', Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
Wright et al, 1992, 'Reconstructing Marxism', Verso, London
1)Much of this section is drawn from taylor 1987 and Axelrod 1984.
2)Taylor (1987:6) says that the free rider problems arise only when the collective good is non-excludable but not indivisible (that is when consumption of the good by an individual results in less of the good being available to others). I don't believe that this is the case. We are surely able to free ride on the public good of parklands, etc., by not payingt our taxes (point well stated-Molly).
3)This is really an example of an N-person prisoner's dilemma, rather than a normal prisoner's dilemma. See Taylor 1987: ch 4.
4)Taylor 1982 can be taken as an argument agfainst premise 4. I concur but will not go into the full argument hgere.
5)For a full presentation of the mathematical argument for this conclusion see Taylor 1987: 39-59.
6)In his book 'Amnarchy and Cooperation' . Taylor 1987 is a substantial revision of this book. Taylor (1987:70) points out that he had already proven what Axelrod proved with his tournaments (I don't know about that claim to priority-Molly). Axelrod's method, however was more interesting.
7)Note that unconditional defection (UD) is an equilibrium. any strategy that cooperates at any point with UD will score less than UD in that game.
8)B also has to do better than a strategy that alternates cooperation with defection, which occurs when w>0.5.
9)Strictlt speaking (B,B) being an equilibrium is a function of the relation between w and the value of the payoffs. Thus (B,B) is an equilibrium when w>(y-x)/(y-w) or w>(y-x)/(x-z). For the payoffs I am using this is the case if w > 0.5.
10)See Taylor 1987: ch4 for a detailed analysis of N-person iterated prisoner's dilemmas.
11)This is bad philosophy of biology, but it gets the point across easily.
12)Yet again this argument should not be taken too seriously, but merely adds additional reasons to be optimistic that humans are more inclined towards mutual cooperation than is predicted by the purely egoistic model.
The reader breathes a sigh of relief. It is finally over. This essay serialized over the better part of a month is important for several different reasons. So, in the process of summing up as to what "anyone should give a shit" (a criticism that was once made of my similar efforts in the 1970s to introduce biological reality into anarchism) here are a few reasons:
A. As a general principle it is always better to tell the truth. The "left" is exiting a period when its dominant ideas were those of would-be new ruling classes, whether they were Leninist or social democratic. Even anarchists, unfortunately, trailed mindlessly behind the rhetoric of these would-be molders of human nature. No matter how dominant the idea of the "blank slate" was in leftist academia (and the would-be "saviours of the working class") common sense conceptions always knew that the leftist conception of human nature was wrong. Conservative commentators preyed on this tendency of the left to espouse nonsense by presenting what was really obvious to ordinary people as an argument against the left. Even before the utter and complete failure of communist dictatorship to "create the new socialist man" became glaringly apparent most people had great doubt about the blank slate theory held by leftism. If there is to be a new left that can reach out beyond the decay of academia it has to be reconciled with reality. It's very simple. If you lie people will see you as a liar.
B. Leading in from the above the theory of a "blank slate" is very obviously a theory that benefits certain social classes and those who aspire to be of such classes. Leninists, who wish to become a new ruling managerial class despite the overwhelming evidence of actual history that they are incapable of measuring up to the standards set by managerial elites in either corporations or social democratic states, have a vfery obvious vested interest in defending and propogating ideas of infinite human malleability. Their ideology-and therefore the justification for the sort of class rule that they propose- would fall apart without such a denial of reality.
C. If you don't pick up a weapon others will. Leaving aside the decaying remnants of Leninism and the much more important "social-welfare left" (who see further monies diverted to their attempt to mold people's behavior as the greatest of all causes), others use the realistic estimate of the human nature that the left denied to argue against any social progress (as the conservatives mentioned above do) or argue specifically against libertarian strategies. As an example of the latter the book 'The Rebel Sell' uses game theory to argue against libertarian tactics and for statist social democratic solutions. This book was recently reviewed in Linchpin, the Ontario platformist journal, but the reviewer missed a major point of the book. The authors use what is to me a very crude form of game theory to try and prove their points, as the good renegades that they are-trying to deny their "fashionable left" past. Their use of the theories is far more crude than Newdick espoused almost two decades ago, and I have made previous mention of how much the field has progressed since the time he wrote his essay. You can't counter their arguments by lies about the infinite malleability of humans. You can only counter them by showing just how crude their theories are and how little they accord with the present state of the field.
D. Finally and most importantly, exploration of human evolutionary psychology is important to the anarchist project-and not just as justification. If it were the latter, if anarchists were only to mine the theories for polemical purposes, the theories would be much less iumportant than they are. Newdick's essay is, to a large degree, an exercise in polemics. That is fine, but the important point is how acceptance of the realities of biology modifies anarchism rather than justifies it. What are the best conditions in which an anarchist polity can flourish ? What exactly has to be arranged so that the result is, if not the best of all possible worlds, at least one that is both worth living in and sustainable over the long term ? What does a realistic appraisal of human nature say about our present movement ? Big questions that people should think about.
That's it for now. Molly has blogged previously on subjects related to this question, and she will again in the future. Do a search of the tags on this blog for past comments if you want to read more. Check out the extra references that I have provided over the four part serialization of this essay. Also please excuse the typos (no doubt numerous) in my recent blogs. The spell check function of blogger has been down for some days. I have to proofread these entries myself, and there is a lot that I miss. Til then keep up cooperating for the sake of your fitness.

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