Intra-ethnic violence is crime; Inter-ethnic violence is war

Proclamation issued in 1816 by Lieutenant-Governor Arthur, Tasmania.
Proclamation issued in 1816 by Lieutenant-Governor Arthur, Tasmania.

Peace is a government that can prevent both, but people will settle for preventing war.

I was thinking today that people are far more concerned with the harm done to them by others than the harm done by themselves. 1 in 5 of you–about 700,000 people per year–will be killed by your own over-indulgence in food, and you are three times as likely to kill yourself with your own gun as a stranger is to shoot you with theirs. And don’t get me started on cars. By contrast, the past 15 years have seen a few thousand Americans murdered by Islamic terrorists and domestic mass-shooters. These events might be terrifying, but America’s enemies could kill a lot more people by providing us with free soda, cookies, and cigarettes than by flying planes into buildings.

America has spent approximately 5 trillion dollars pursuing Bin Laden and his associates, and yet no one (sane) has proposed shooting everyone involved in the production and sale of Coca-Cola.

One of the central tenets of this blog is that people are not merely random in their irrationality; if millions of people do or think something, then there is likely to be some sort of cause.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way:

Coca-Cola isn’t trying to kill anyone, so we tend not to think they deserve to be killed.

Humans are bad at estimating risks because we are not adapted to TV. 100 years ago, if you saw a bunch of people being horribly murdered, there was a war going on and you were either killing them yourself or about to get killed. Today, you’re probably just watching a movie.

As a practical matter, this means that people do, in fact, get completely worked up and devote absurd amounts of money to fighting trivial problems. The “Satanic Daycare Scare” of the 1980s is one such case.

For those of you who don’t remember the 80s very well, or have blocked the Satanic Daycare Scare from your memory due to sheer stupidity, here’s a rundown:

A bunch of mentally ill people–that is, people actually receiving treatment for mental illness at the time or who were later discovered to be schizophrenic–began coming up with stories that their parents or their kids’ daycare workers were part of a vast, underground Satanic conspiracy, ritually murdering and torturing children, ritually sacrificing giraffes and drinking their blood, flying on broomsticks, etc.

The Wikipedia page lists 19 major cases involving over 100 defendants; as of 2006, the McMartin preschool trial, for example, was “the longest and most expensive criminal trial in the history of the United States.[1]” Over 1,000 smaller cases were brought on similar evidence of “Satanic ritual abuse,” (SRA) and even Geraldo Rivera claimed on TV that:

“Estimates are that there are over one million Satanists in [the United States and they are] linked in a highly organized, secretive network.” (source)

Eventually the FBI got involved and figured out that it was all nonsense:

Kenneth Lanning, an FBI expert in the investigation of child sexual abuse,[151] has stated that pseudo-satanism may exist but there is “little or no evidence for … large-scale baby breeding, human sacrifice, and organized satanic conspiracies”.[46]

Lanning produced a monograph in 1994 on SRA aimed at child protection authorities, which contained his opinion that despite hundreds of investigations no corroboration of SRA had been found.

The Satanic Daycare Scare is a fascinating subject in its own right, but beyond our current scope; for now, the important thing is that even intelligent, trained folks like lawyers, doctors, judges, and Geraldo Rivera can believe obviously false things if you just put it on TV or in a book. We are really bad at dealing with modern mass media, and probably even worse at math.

But the instinct to protect one’s children from people who would hurt them are perfectly sound, reasonable instincts. You should protect your children; you just have to protect them from actual dangers, not made up ones.The Satanic Daycare Panic of our day is the conviction that the police are brutally slaughtering black bodies in the streets. Statistically, of course, they aren’t; not only is a black person far more likely to be murdered by a fellow black person than by a police officer (of any race,) but the police don’t even disproportionately kill blacks: shootinggraph

Graph originally from Mother Jones magazine (and if Mother Jones can’t find evidence for disproportionate police shooting of blacks, who can?) but helpfully cited by Slate Star Codex’s extensively researched article, Race and Justice: much more than you wanted to know. I strongly recommend that article; I also wrote a rather long piece about crime statistics back in Bully Part 2: Race, Crime, and the Police.

The short version is that blacks get into a lot of conflicts with the police because blacks commit a lot of crime, much of which is aimed at their fellow black people. We know this from crime victimization surveys, which ask people who have been victims of crimes to describe their attackers.

Thousands of black-on-black murders barely make a blip on the airwaves, while one white-on-black murder can dominate the news, streets, and college campuses for months.

By contrast, when a shootout in Waco, Texas, left 9 people dead, 20 injured, 239 detained, and 177 arrested, allegations that police snipers had actually murdered the 9 victims resulted in exactly zero campus protests.

White on white violence? Snoozefest. Black on black? *Zzzzzzz* Black on white? Hate Twitter notices. White on black? College campuses explode.

People notice inter-ethnic violence in a way that they don’t notice violence committed by their own ethnic group.

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Every group has its own, internal way of dealing with their own malefactors, from compelling murderers to pay a fine to the victim’s family to ostracization to stoning. This is, in short, what police are for. But sans an extradition treaty, it’s almost impossible to deal with malefactors from some other group. If a neighboring group of tribespeople starts killing your tribespeople, the only way to stop them is to kill them back until they stop.

From an evolutionary standpoint, your own criminals simply aren’t as big a deal as another tribe coming in and killing you. If my brother kills me, horrible though that may be, my genes will still live on in his children. Furthermore, my brother is highly unlikely to kill me, my children, and my parents, then burn down my village and carry off my wife and cattle. But if some guy from the next tribe over kills me, the chance of any of my genes making it into the next generation goes down significantly. Historically speaking, inter-ethnic violence has probably been a bigger deal than intra-ethnic violence.

Modern countries are, with a few Polynesian exceptions, much bigger than individual tribes. As a result, their priority becomes not just protecting their people from outside attack, but also protecting their people from each other.

In a world of limited resources (and no obvious technical advantages), a group that cooperates with itself and defects on others will out-compete a group that cooperates with itself and others. But the government of a large, multi-ethnic state has little to gain from everyone falling into default-defect scenarios; the government wants everyone to cooperate in order to maximize economic growth (and thus tax revenues.)

The Pax Romana comes immediately to mind as a famous historical example of a government conquering a whole munch of little tribes that formerly warred against each other, and using its military might to put an end to such conflicts.

The Mongol Empire, after destroying everything in its path from the Sea of Japan to the gates of Vienna (a conquest halted only by the Khan’s death,) brought about the similarly named Pax Mongolica:

[Pax Mongolica] describes the stabilizing effects of the conquests of the Mongol Empire on the social, cultural, and economic life of the inhabitants of the vast Eurasian territory that the Mongols conquered in the 13th and 14th centuries. The term is used to describe the eased communication and commerce the unified administration helped to create, and the period of relative peace that followed the Mongols’ vast conquests.

The conquests of Genghis Khan (r. 1206–1227) and his successors, spanning from Southeast Asia to Eastern Europe, effectively connected the Eastern world with the Western world. The Silk Road, connecting trade centers across Asia and Europe, came under the sole rule of the Mongol Empire. It was commonly said that “a maiden bearing a nugget of gold on her head could wander safely throughout the realm.”[2][3] Despite the political fragmentation of the Mongol Empire into four khanates (Yuan dynasty, Golden Horde, Chagatai Khanate and Ilkhanate), nearly a century of conquest and civil war was followed by relative stability in the early 14th century. The end of the Pax Mongolica was marked by the disintegration of the khanates and the outbreak of the Black Death in Asia which spread along trade routes to much of the world in the mid-14th century.

I know less about Yugoslavia than about the Mongol Empire, but Yugoslavia’s various states were clearly at peace with each other under the dictatorship of Josip Tito, and fell into civil war after Tito died, democracy came to the country, and everyone began voting along ethnic lines.

I recall–but cannot locate at the moment–an interview in which Lee Kuan Yew, erstwhile autocrat of Singapore, expounded on one of the reasons why he didn’t support western-style democracy for his own country. Given a country with three major ethnic groups, he asserted, democracy would quickly break down into each group attempting to vote for its own interests, against the interests of the others. Singapore may be a small country, but it is also a successful one.

A national government does not need to do anything about crime if sufficient local institutions exist to handle local conflicts. If the Amish want to handle Amish criminals and the Zuni want to handle Zuni criminals, that is no skin off anyone else’s nose. However, inter-group conflicts are better handled and adjudicated by an outside third party that can A. enforce its rulings against both groups, and B. does a good job of convincing everyone that it is being fair and effective–that is, a higher level of government.

This seems like the most effective and expedient way to avoid mutual defection in large, multi-ethnic societies. (The other option, I suppose, is to not have large, multi-ethnic societies.)

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12 thoughts on “Intra-ethnic violence is crime; Inter-ethnic violence is war

  1. If your interested in learning more about Yugoslavia then “The Death of Yugoslavia” is an interesting documentary about the Breakup of Yugoslavia. It was created during the wars so it misses some of the later events like Kosovo independence.

    Also the Lee Kuan Yew quote is “In multiracial societies, you don’t vote in accordance with your economic interests and social interests, you vote in accordance with race and religion.”. Singapore doesn’t use juries for these reasons.
    http://www.postcolonialweb.org/singapore/government/leekuanyew/lky2.html

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  2. This is a very fine bit of research leading to very fine, and instructive article.

    But…

    Setting up a moral equivalency between “murder” (qua intentional unjust killing) and freely engaging in morally neutral acts that can foreseeably lead to an increased risk of disease or death is exactly what our enemies do. It’s A) logically incorrect; B) rhetorically unnecessary; and C) drives me up a wall. If you don’t care about (C), and I wouldn’t blame if you don’t, can you at least care about the others?

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    • Actually, “don’t drive Nick up the wall” is one of my priorities, because I appreciate your comments and have no desire to be annoying, but I am not particularly good at predicting what will and won’t dive people up the wall.

      That aside, the fact that these things are *not* considered morally equivalent, even though both are actions taken which result in death, is very much the point. Intentions and actors matter.

      *fixes post*
      *muses over ways to be less annoying*

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      • Yes. They are not considered morally equivalent for good and proper reasons. And there are… nominalist passions at work that want to smush them (smush, I think is the proper technical term) together often for rhetorical reasons. When 9/11 happened I pointed out that about as many people died that day as died in the month of September 2001 in traffic accidents. Each just as tragic, each just as unexpected, as those that died in 9/11. I’m not sure what my point was. Well, part of it is: This is (objectively speaking) a mosquito bite on our country. Unfortunately we scratched that bite so hard it has become an infected open wound and is likely to kill us. That remains the point of “terrorism”. And people who should know better don’t seem to get it. I now consider that thought to have been an error on my part. I wanted to be smart and acted spergy. Like when Walter White addresses the school after the plane crash. “Gee, we really should count ourselves lucky it wasn’t worse.”

        Anyways, so… yes lots of people die on the roads (tho’ less now per rider-mile than at any time in history). But stepping into a car and accepting the low probability of death in this car trip (or eating that snack pack of Doritos or whatever) is is not at all the same as suicide. Not socially, not psychologically, not morally. (I would note it isn’t even morally suicide to reject life-saving medical care, but that’s a whole nuther convo.) Comparative numbers may indeed be compared. But incommensurate things should not be compared even if they happen to add up a certain way. The people who make Coke and Doritos and cars (and for that matter guns) are fundamentally guiltless for these actions. The people who fly planes into buildings are not.

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