Law and Order

Community living requires each individual to merge into to general dynamics of the group. Although each community will develop its own characteristics, common problems exist and often common solutions result. Conflict resolution is one such problem. Animal models, especially primate groups are frequently used to study social dynamics and today’s post starts with the study of a group of 48 macaques by Krakauer et al that has just become available in the Public Library of Science (1).

What makes this a particularly notable publication is that it uses a mathematical model based on the dynamics of our immune system to investigate the likely end results of aggressive conflict within a group such as the macaques. The analogy is that aggression is like a pathogen invading the body with infected cells spreading the contagion to each other.

Our immune system has T-cells that can neutralize the infected cell with the analogy being an individual takes it on itself to pacify the aggressor and keep him/her calm.  Alternatively, our B-cells sequester the antigen and T-helper-cells induce them to generate antibodies which remove the problem. The analogy here is policeman stepping in to resolve the dispute and send the two individuals on their way. 

For the community to live in harmony, policing works well with fewer individuals paying a social cost of reducing aggression than if random individuals have to end up acting as pacifiers. Our macaques had worked this out intuitively and had three policemen to handle a population of 48. This is one stable equilibrium state of the mathematical model where a small number of police can keep aggression at a low constant level.

If there are no police, the population has to do the job so that there becomes a group of aggressors with an equally large group of pacifiers having to handle them. That dynamic can reach a stable equilibrium but the social cost is high as a lot of conflict is endemic.  

Another interesting result occurs as a consequence of the modeling condition that policing fails through police waiting for other police to step in. The result is that either the population descends into a chronic and ubiquitously violent state, or that other individuals start to take up policing and all these vigilantes end up with a form of police state. So, in essence, you’ll be screwed if you do or screwed if you don’t.

The conclusion? A sufficient but low level of an incorruptible police force to keep the dorks in line.


One Response so far.

  1. Correct, the first line of Police force helps a lot.

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