James Clayton

Mutual Non-aggression Is Mutually Beneficial




An interesting reflection on life and the dealing with problems. The actions of the human being can be seen as composing a strategy where the aim is to minimize costs and maximize benefits, and this is not limited to the economic field or intended in purely economic terms. The final conviction, by the author, concerning human behavior is that "non-aggression is an effective strategy, and, as far as I can tell, mutual non-aggression is mutually beneficial."



Maybe life just boils down to some measure of costs and benefits. And maybe everything that is done by every living thing is basically just a strategy to minimize costs and maximize benefits. This includes, but is not necessarily limited to, economic and material considerations.

And it doesn’t really matter if we’re talking about genes, organisms, groups, species, or even souls and spirits. Different things may have similar or dissimilar motivations and purposes but, whichever view is taken, everything can be considered as a cost or benefit from that perspective.

Different organisms do different things to obtain enough resources for their survival and reproduction. Various strategies can be observed, including territoriality, predation, parasitism, amensalism, commensalism and mutualism. The natural world doesn’t seem to have any obvious preferences.

As a human I can use diverse strategies in an attempt to reduce risks, decrease costs and increase benefits, perhaps to acquire food, mates and allies. My behaviour is certainly influenced by the genes that I’ve inherited and by my social and physical environments. I do exhibit some innate tendencies, but I also seem to display some degree of consciousness, self-awareness and free will. It looks like I’m fairly capable of assessing risks, analyzing costs and benefits, and making evaluations, estimates and predictions, and I assume that I have the capacity for making calculated choices based on my present understanding of the situation. My instinctive responses and voluntary choices are just different ways to maximize benefits and minimize costs, but that doesn’t mean that either way will necessarily be a “successful” strategy. Even my values, principles and preferences are basically expressions of things that appear beneficial to me.

I assume that I am basically self-interested, like every human, but I also belong to a social species. I might have an inherent urge to be part of some group, even if it’s only my immediate family. Maybe I even have some underlying tendency to follow a crowd and perhaps I also have an inclination for social hierarchies, although I’m just as likely to do my own thing and I’m not all that concerned with status and rank.

I don’t doubt that I’ll be influenced by various other people, to a greater or lesser extent, and presumably I’ll consider the consequences of my actions on my own reputation and on other people, even if it’s just a gut-level feeling. I also seem to have a basic notion of property and possession, and to a certain degree I suppose I can be somewhat territorial. Inevitably I’ll interact with other individuals and groups, with overlapping and opposing interests.

I can’t help but notice that humans also sometimes exhibit aggressive behavior, which can perhaps be defined as the initiation of any unprovoked action that threatens or causes harm to another person or that damages or expropriates their property. It is probably not merely being assertive or offensive. I’m assuming that aggression is always an attempt to gain some benefit, no matter how trivial or outrageous it may be, presumably for oneself or one’s family, friends and associates.

I don’t think our species is inherently aggressive but every human is presumably capable of being aggressive, probably as a combined result of nature and nurture. A small minority might be genetically predisposed to act aggressively, especially in hostile environments or stressful situations. Their brains may be wired that way or they may have some damage or injury to their brain, but perhaps they can learn to modify and control their behavior. Some individuals do seem to be more ready and willing to behave aggressively to get what they want. Aggressors might cooperate with each other and coordinate their activities, and some groups are aggressively territorial.

Aggression certainly seems to be a successful strategy for some people as measured by the wealth and power they obtain, but it might not necessarily be advantageous for their reproduction or long-term survival. It is not a guarantee of increased benefits. Those who intentionally choose to use aggressive force and fraud might be persuaded to stop doing so if non-aggression appears to be more beneficial and less expensive or risky.

Maybe some people don’t think they are being particularly aggressive. They might deny it and claim that they’re merely acting in defense. Or they might even lie to themselves about their lying and deceive themselves about their dishonesty, which should make it easier to mislead others.

Aggression can include deceitfulness and manipulation at another person’s expense. Trust might be a default human strategy, and deception might tend to be one step ahead of detection. Some people might be tricked into yielding to aggressors or participating in dishonest or hostile acts, presumably because of the promise or hope of some benefits. People who are duped might not necessarily think of themselves as victims or perpetrators of aggression, especially if they’ve been convinced that it’s not actually aggression.  

Aggression obviously includes intimidation and coercion. Some people might be sufficiently pressured to submit to aggressive demands or join in aggressive activities. If they feel threatened enough, they may assume that it could be too risky or costly to not conform, comply and obey.

Some people may just unconsciously follow an aggressive crowd and acquiesce to an aggressive ruler without actually considering the risks and expenses, and with the unquestioned assumption that the benefits outweigh the costs.

Aggression, conflict, competition, cooperation, collaboration, conformity, compliance, obedience and territoriality can all be seen as strategies to obtain some benefits, even if the advantages are only relative or merely apparent.

Obviously, and thankfully, there are people who aren’t easily deceived, intimidated or coerced and don’t normally act aggressively. I don't want to harm others and I don’t think I’m easily bullied, but I can’t say for sure that I’m not being bamboozled and swindled, even by those whom I trust.

Some aggression will probably always be a part of human existence. There will always be perpetrators, accomplices and victims. I will admit that I don’t have a lot of patience for bullies, liars and thieves but I will inevitably have to interact with some people who will behave aggressively, and I can use various strategies to deal with them, depending on the type of aggression and the context, and potentially at some risk and expense to myself.

I can certainly try to identify instances of fraud and defend myself against aggressive force. Depending on the situation and the level of threat I might resist aggressive demands or actively defy, disobey, oppose and challenge some aggressors, and I do sometimes think about punishment and retaliation, but if the aggressors are organized and powerful then they may respond with even more hostility or violence. In some cases I suppose I could try to negotiate with aggressors and maybe even seek compensation or restitution, but they might not relinquish any acquired advantages or gains.

I might try to expose aggressive behaviour in its various forms, and maybe even try to prevent or change it, perhaps by encouraging or even rewarding non-aggressive behaviour. Perhaps I can refuse to provide support for known aggressors and try to quietly dissociate from them or simply ignore them. If nothing else, I can always speak out against aggression, but I don’t expect to change the world.

There will always be differences of opinion but I can also try to promote nonviolent dispute resolution and peaceful coexistence. I don’t need to interfere in affairs that don’t really concern me but I don’t think I can remain completely indifferent. I can obviously suggest that one person’s benefits do not need to be obtained at another person’s risk and expense, and I can point out that human groups don't need to aggressively claim exclusive control over entire geographic areas.

My own behaviour may sometimes be impulsive or I might overthink some situations, and my choices might not always be entirely rational or informed, but everything I do can be reduced to some measure of costs and benefits from some perspective. Whether by choice, chance or design, I do seem to prefer non-aggression. Maybe it’s in my genes, and my brain is just wired that way. Even as a self-interested organism I think non-aggression is an effective strategy, and, as far as I can tell, mutual non-aggression is mutually beneficial.


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