I want to make a conjecture about international relations. This is a work-in-progress model that combines two theories – Complex Adaptive Systems and Self-Organizing Criticality to explain power law distributions of major events and social structures.

These two theories may describe the non-linear dynamic systems in human relations. Men self-organize into scale-free networks to gain resources and meet their needs. Humans and the environment interact in such a way that major events are phase transitions which follow power law distributions. The phase transition happens when a socio-economic change reaches a critical point and cause an avalanche in the “sandpile.”

If so, this could be a theory of history. If not, I’ll try again…

So y = 1/x…

What technically explains power law distributions in human social structures and patterns of behavior? For instance, we know the Nth person in a social network is ranked 1/N. That’s true for wealth, popularity of authors, etc. There are factors like preferential attachment involved. Some events, like war, follow powerlaw distributions.

This cannot be explained with simple causes and effects.

Let me review the sandpile model once more.
Take a pile – it’s cone-shaped and stable if left undisturbed. Now start dropping one grain of sand on the pile. It disturbs other grains. Periodically, a grain of sand will cause an avalanche. It set off a chain reaction on the slope of the pile that resulted in a landslide. This describes self-organizing criticality – the sandpile reached the critical point and underwent a phase transition – that is, it reshaped itself and reached a new phase of stability.

A sandpile is a complex system. It is a stupid system though – it makes no decisions. Humanity is a little different, it’s a complex adaptive system – so it changes behavior.

First, this is just a small sample of the statistics for war. Power law distribution of casualties for wars, power law distribution of casualties within individual wars and terrorism, and regular but unpredictable cycles of warfare between great powers.

Here is terrorism: terror-powerlaw.jpg

Something is driving these events.

This conjecture explains the formation of political organizations, economic and political behavior, major structural upheavals like revolution and war, and political and economic adaptation to new environments and demographics. These events may begin at the lowest level because individual agents are the decision-makers in society. There may be no structural causes – individuals change the structures to reflect the new reality.

I would like to be cautious about this, but what the hell.
So my conjecture to explain this pattern:
Selfish Genes.

That’s it. Okay, let me explain. “What’s your theory of international relations?” “Genes.” Well, that’s not very nuanced.

Humans are complex adaptive agents created by their genes.
They have biological needs – reproduction, food, shelter
Biological behaviors evolved to fulfill these needs.

Humans struggle for power over scarce resources with alternative uses. They have conflicts of interests since each person is in a unique situation.

Humans form coalitions to pool their talents and capabilities and acquire even more resources. There may be limits as to the maximum size of an intimate social network – something like Dunbar’s Number.

Coalitions, at the family and tribal level, have conflicts of interests with other coalitions. Land is scarce – it can only support one hunter-gatherer tribe or farming tribe at a time. Humans get very territorial and will kill rival tribes who trespass. So far, I’m describing what chimpanzees do as well.

Coalitions and early social networks are made more productive and coherent through the use of Memes – ideas and conditioned behavirors which can be transferred from one person to another. It describes the diffusion and evolution of culture even though the scientific process behind memes is still murky.

Culture and Memetic evolution allows much larger social organizations to form and better meet the needs and interests of its members. Humans do this exceptionally well.

Human societies are in open systems. They constantly receive or produce more resources (sunlight, plant growth, more children, more manufactured goods). This enables them to grow. Keep in mind that resource competition is not a zero-sum game. This means that groups can cooperate or compete as needed – If this was zero-sum, they would be locked into competition.

This is a very general (and unfortunately very verbal) description of how a “human sandpile” forms. It has the seven mechanisms and properties of complex adaptive systems: building blocks, internal models, tagging, aggregation, flows, nonlinearity, diversity.

The individual is the primary decision-maker. This agent acts gather’s local information, analyzes it, makes a decision and acts. Agents respond to signals and If/Then stimuli which allows them to learn and adapt.

Coalitions are meta-agents of individuals. A modern nation-state is a “meta-agent” of millions of individual agents in society. States have their own internal and external conflicts of interest as a result.

The nation-state is your sandpile. Sometimes, the existing structure – within states or between states – no longer matches the new socio-economic reality. This throws the state out of equilibrium and the avalanche begins. The intensity of avalanches follows a power law distribution.

What seems to happen is that individuals adapt to new environmental and economic changes – weather, location of economic resources, transportation technology, demographics – and trigger the avalanche to replace antiquated organizations with new ones that reflect the situation on the ground.

For instance – metal-using agricultural tribes and states could colonize new farmland and push aside pre-existing hunter-gatherers. This has been going on since recorded history.

Here’s a more concrete historical example. Phase Transition Model of Long Wars

There is also a memetic evolutionary aspect behind this. Economic and political ideas are experimented with and if they work, they are adopted. I tried to describe this in the Political Boom and Bust

I think this may be what is going on. This is an individualist model, an agent based model, actually, for IR theory. It combines individuals rational and irrational sides, plus the non-rational elements of the environment (The Trinity). I’m trying to use CAS to bring in systems theory, economics, and biology together to explain IR relations and war.

Taking a cue from Yudkowsky, this conjecture cannot explain any fictional story of war and peace whatsoever. So perhaps this makes it a stronger hypothesis – it doesn’t get confused by fiction and reality.

I’m not satisfied yet with this conjecture. It has weak points – we do not really understand “memetic” evolution or evolutionary psychology yet. Saying that a nation-state is a meta-agent of agents that we also don’t understand yet may not be the most helpful conjecture in the world.

For a number of reasons, I reject “structuralist” political theories, especially in international relations. These IR theories include structural realism, liberal institutionalism, international legalism, Marxism, and Feminism.

Structural Realism, Legalism and Liberalism assumes that states are unitary rational actors. Marxism and Feminism put the emphasis on social classes instead. They put emphasis on structures, collectives and institutions. In a sense, they are all Idealists (especially the “Realists”). Actually, I’m not sure what IR Feminism is all about, it’s basically a rejection of any scientific methodology plus some radical gender catchphrases and logical fallacies. But we know these theories either failed to describe past events, fail to predict, or are non-falsifiable.

A individualist theory may be more robust in explaining a variety of conflicts and cooperation.