In hawk-dove, we are presented with a disturbing situation. We ask, Who is better, hawks or doves, war mongers or peace makers? Who ultimately wins? And the analysis is disturbing: neither does, because both do.
I practice medicine to pay the bills. I am more interested in my research in ‘behavioral ecology‘. It’s a confusing term, so I prefer to call it ‘organic behavior’. What we do in the field is look at the choices all living things make. But we don’t use neurology or psychology to do this; organic behavior is a decidedly pragmatic discipline. We’re not nearly so interested in what happens inside the black box of decision making, as we are in what the best decision would be.
So we use economics, statistics, and game theory.
We calculate the best payoff point, and then go out and see if living things do what the models say would be the most profitable. And they do those things, sometimes with surprising results. Not just animals, but plants, bacteria, and fungi. They all make hard-headed, pragmatic, economic decisions.
Economics is ‘the dismal science’. And so we often find that living things make dismal decisions. A bitch will kill and eat a malformed pup. A gazelle will abandon her young to the lion’s pursuit. A hungry female preying mantis will eat her male suitor – as she continues to copulate with him (insects have several ‘brain’ centers; mantises can continue to perform without a head).
All of this is ruthlessly enforced by the deathscape, which was the point of the earlier post. Death is everywhere. If you don’t play the best strategy given your situation, you will be outcompeted by a rival who does. It’s just like in business, but there is no bankruptcy in nature. Cruelty and suffering are immaterial in biology, only success matters.
One of the classic games we use to analyze organic behavior is ‘Hawk-Dove’. This is related to other games that are used in business, law enforcement, negotiation, and government: Prisoner’s Dilemma, Chicken, Nuclear Brinksmanship, and even the ‘Penis Game‘ (didn’t know about that one until I started reading around for this post).
Hawk-dove is simple. An interacting population consists of hawks, who fight for resources; and doves, who never fight, preferring to just move on. When hawks encounter doves over a desired resource, the hawks always win. When hawks meet hawks, one wins, but both suffer injury. When doves meet doves, either the first one gets everything, or they share (both behaviors are equally successful).
The injury to the hawks is important. We can think of it as simply the cost of doing business as an ‘evil’ competitor. It really doesn’t matter if the cost comes from injuries in fights with other competitors; it could result from, say, law enforcement’s impact on illegal activities, either through imprisonment, or bribes. So the game could also be ‘highwaymen and peasants’.
Or it could be ‘kings and peasants’, which I will suggest in the future.
So in Hawk-Dove, who wins? Which is the better strategy?
The answer is disturbing. It is a blow to ethics, and even to philosophy and science. Because unlike our assumptions in so many other disciplines, there is no best strategy. There is no truth, no morality, no ‘ideal’. In Hawk-Dove no one wins, because both have some success. No matter how costly hawk combat, no matter if fights are even to the death, no matter if there is a policeman on every corner, in Hawk-Dove there is always some payoff for some number of hawks.
And no matter how little is the cost of ‘evil’, there is always a payoff for some number of doves.
If in Hawk-Dove the competitors are members of the same species – as, say, crooks and citizens are – then we end up with a ‘balanced polymorphism’, an optimal point between/among proportions of the variations. Big is not best, small is not best; quick muscles are not best, strong muscles are not best; brains are not best, brawn is not best; design is not best, construction is not best; rich is not best, poor is not best.
What is best – or more accurately, what is optimal – is a mixture, a balance. Or as we might think of it, an ecosystem, a community.
In the real world, there is simply no ideal.