Evolution of Codependency in Antagonistic Relationships

I'm reading Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, & the Economic World, a most excellent book about complexity. This quote caught my eye:

In defending itself so thoroughly against the monarch, the milkweed became inseparable from the butterfly. And vice versa. Any long-term antagonistic relationship seemed to harbor this kind of codependency. (p 74)

This made me realize something about the nature of governments and war: Governments evolved to protect resources and people from the threat of outside invasion. An organizing structure was required to create and maintain a fighting force capable of resisting invasion from neighbors. However, it's now obvious that governments are in a codependent relationship with war: If there were no more war, then there would be no need for a government's ability to organize a fighting force. Therefore it's in a government's best interest to ensure that war never ceases.

However, just like any other codependent relationship, a lot of denial takes place. I doubt most politicians would come out and say that a prime function of government is to create war. Actions speak louder than words, though, and it's clear that in the thousands of years of human civilization there have been plenty of wars.


Cory said...

I like this hypothesis and I think it makes a lot of sense. What I think might be more interesting is the possibility that the wars governments create are actually serving a useful purpose, that is, for the human race.
Think of forest fires that clear out deadwood; or of genetic mutations that usually bring failure but once in a great while bring success. Is it possible that, without organized war, the human race would stagnate? That perhaps an external stimulus (such as the Foundation series' hypothetical aliens) would wipe us out if we didn't have war to harden us?

Donovan Preston said...

Interesting idea... although as war becomes more and more destructive I think there will be pressure on the population from other, less destructive but still as effective sources. For example, the male sperm count has been decreasing worldwide for decades. One way to view this would be by looking at all the estrogen analogs introduced into the environment by modern plastics. Another way to look at it would be to see reduced fertility as a natural feedback mechanism which reduces stress on resources in times of overpopulation.
I think the human race is just about ready to move past competition for physical resources into competition for better ideas (more energy efficient technologies, more sustainable practices, anything that does more with less).