Reciprocal altruism is a well-known notion. What of reciprocal perversity?
Reciprocal altruism consists in a class of behaviors which are short-term adverse to an animal, yet profitable to others then, while, in the long-term, bringing a profit beyond the initial sacrifices consented.
In reciprocal altruism, overall profit blossoms. Reciprocal perversity brings the opposite effect: tit for tat escalates into Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).
Reciprocal perversity is of the foremost importance. Indeed, when one looks at history, one sees not just a lot of altruism, but a lot of perversity. Civilization is all about industrial strength altruism. A well-functioning civilization is an altruism machine. It can also turn into a perversity machine (think of the Ottoman empire forbidding printing).
Indeed sometimes civilization are devastated by a foreign enemy. Yet most collapse into utter destruction involve perseverance into perversity. Into self-amplifying perversity. The Maya, Moche, and to a great extent, Rome’s the Sassanids’ and the Spanish Visigoths collapses being obvious examples of inner strifes being exploited by a foreign invader (the Islamists in the last three cases).
Large scale, civilizational scale viciousness, has often been in evidence, it is the most dramatic part of history, so often renewed: the Muslim invasion (in Spain), various Mongol attacks and, lately the vicious fascist regimes in Germany, Italy or Russia. China in the Twentieth Century was no walk in the park either. In all these cases mass perversity became the dominant behavior, self-amplifying, devouring the civilization: watch the most capable Roman leaders of the Late Empire being assassinated (Stilicho, Aetius, Boetius, etc.). Consider Qur’an 4; 145:
And then, there is the abominable situation we are living through now. Of course. The planet is endowed with the most perverse leadership, or lack thereof, ever. A leadership hell-bent to turn the entire planet into Jurassic Park. Without the animals. Nor the plants. Maybe without much of the plankton. In the next few decades. All the leadership the planet had before, was provided by evolution, which is intelligent and one could even say conscious (as animals are). Yet evolution was not satanic (doing evil deliberately). Doing evil deliberately implies covering that will to hurt. Most of the present leadership of the planet has the effective will to hurt or even destroy, the biosphere as we know it. Instead of practicing reciprocal altruism, our present leaders practice selfish viciousness, to a scale never seen before, since there are men, and they ponder morality. Since there are men, and they ponder morality, has there ever been a greater sin, than the will to destroy everything?
Confronted to such a perversity unique in the history of animality, one can only wonder. Wonder not just about how perversity arises, but how to detect it in the leaders who present themselves, all over, and seduce us with mellifluous chatter.
I do believe that the Dark Side, deliberately called upon, was one of the main architect of human evolution: it helped evolution speed up to physically destroy the less clever hominids. Eating the enemy beats waiting for it to be all discouraged, and fade out on its own.
Admitting the existence of the Dark Side is a key feature of Abrahamism. The religions of Christianism, Islamism, Buddhism and Confucianism criticize fiercely a number of behaviors. However leaders, and practitioners of those moral codes are often in complete violation with them. Such is the problem of hypocrisy, at the core of the main moral systems: their main proponents, to a great extent, lived in exact opposition to what they preached (consider “Saint” Constantine’s murderous activities; Buddha, to some extent, himself detect this deviationism into hurtfulness, against himself and the like, and thereafter, moderated himself).
One of the main engines of perversity is hypocrisy. Uncontrolled perversity and hypocrisy cannot be tolerated in an army. This is why it is so severely criticized in the Qur’an, and graced with “the fire”. (The Quran gives advice on how to detect hypocrites; I will try to improve on that in a future essay, by considering what one could call “neurological volume”.)
The two candidates for the presidency of the USA are plutocrats. It is of the essence to find how likely the depictions they make of their positions are far removed from the truth (hint: more so with the tightly controlled Clinton, watch her eyes controlling what effect she makes on crowds, than with the erratic Trump, who says it, as he feels it).
More generally, one needs to assert the same degree of truthiness, or lack thereof, among leaders and makers of world public opinion (say when we are presented with ecological solutions… which are often the exact opposite of what they are claimed to be… such as when president Obama presented the methanification (“natural gas“) of the USA through fracking as a “bridge fuel”. It is actually an ecological disaster on a planetary scale).
Only when We The People realizes how much we are lied to, will things move in the right direction. Polls show that 2/3 of Americans believe the USA heads in the wrong direction. Still, there the USA heads, because the entire society is entangled with perverse lies, let alone vicious conspiracies (such as multi-billionaire, state supported, hedge funds managers paying fewer taxes than the “nurses and truckers I saw on I-80“, as Hillary Clinton herself belatedly admitted… when Bernie Sanders was breathing down her neck. She may have “forgotten” this statement, since…).
In the last few weeks of the Nazi Reich, just putting out a white flag brought the death penalty. Average Germans had no choice, but vicious choices. If they tried to surrender the place where they lived to the advancing United Nations armies, they risked their lives and those of their loved ones. Similarly, if they helped the desperate Nazis.
When a society becomes vicious enough, most actors therein, just to survive, have to turn vicious. This is why civilizational collapse proceeds generally through previously unimaginable horrors. Not only victims can turn against each other (as victims in Nazi death chambers would), but the main perpetrators have interest to live no one alive behind, so that vengeance would be impossible. Consider the so-called “Augustus” killing his young relative Caesarion (son of Cleopatra and Augustus great Uncle and adoptive father, Julius Caesar). Consider the utter destruction of Baghdad by the Mongol, Armenian, Frankish, Georgian and Chinese army in 1258 CE (total eradication of the Muslim population, end of Islam with brains, and its “House of Wisdom”). The perpetrators wanted no avenger looming in the future. Committing perverse acts leads to further, greater perversity: such was the main moral trajectory of the Nazis.
Just as the greenhouse effect launched by man feeds on itself, so does perversity always. This is why democracies have to strike their own perpetrators hard. From time to time. The French Republic did well to condemn to death the famous Marshalls (Petain), hero of Verdun, and condemn and execute many others, including ex-Prime Minister (Laval), World War One heroes, and a celebrated writer (Brasillach), for fascism, racism and treason, in 1944-46.
Next time France gets invaded, collaborators may evoke the precedent (of up to 50,000 executions which happened for betrayal of the Republic and, or human rights; the official number, found in De Gaulle’s memoirs, volume 3, is 11,000) to justify greater moderation in their action.
None of this is pie in the sky, something which happened in the past and will never happen again. Quite the exact opposite. The threat form perversity unchained has never been greater. (A small living example is the blossoming, worldwide, of the financial plutocracy engineered by the Clintons, and ever since pushed further by ulterior agents.)
The present technologies we have are completely unsustainable (just contemplate phosphates destroying the seas, insecticides destroying the pollinators, drinkable water running out, greenhouse gases building up, acidic seas, etc.). Sustainably, and limited to the present technologies, the human population would have to be strictly less than one billion. The transition from more than eight billions to less than one, will be rather perverse. The nice solution is to develop more advanced technologies (and, foremost, advanced robotics, which could help considerably with making agriculture more sustainable, say by destroying noxious insects one by one; or thermonuclear fusion, which would allow to conquer the solar system, terminate fossil fuels, and make obnoxious stuff off-Earth).
The perverse solution, the one chosen today, is to let perversity run its course, by electing ever more perverse leadership by perverse individuals, or perverse systems of thought (“Austerity”, Globalization of Plutocracy, Salafism, various hyper-nationalisms). And this is exactly why the two main candidates to the job of president of the USA are so perverse. It is a case of evolutionary adaptation to an increasingly perverse environment.
How could Mutually Assured Destruction, MAD have evolved, biologically? Well, the devil is in the little details that, ultimately, one species, or tribe, or race, gets completely eradicated, and the other, not quite so much. Often this results in opening vast ecological niches to survivors, favoring their descendents, and even further speciation out of their descendancy. Watch nasty little mammals eating morbidly cold dinosaurs’ progeny (not proven, but likely).
Thus MAD is one of the main engines of evolution.