This article appeared in October 2016, in Romanian, in Adevarul.ro
I will describe a theoretical evolution model of a bird population. If I manage to hold your attention up to half of the article, we will have the opportunity to make some analogies together regarding the Romanian society.
In his book, “The Selfish Gene”, Richard Dawkins describes an interesting evolution model of reciprocity and altruism in a culture. A more complicated prisoner’s dilemma. Dawkins imagines a population of birds that can be infested with fleas carrying serious diseases. Using their beaks, birds can get rid of the fleas all over the body, except for the head.
The obvious solution is reciprocity: a bird helps her neighbor and when she needs help as well, another bird will intervene. This behavior is common in many species of birds and mammals. The problem seems to be solved as long as everyone is willing to help everyone.
This lasts until the apparition of individuals who, although they are helped by their neighbors, never return the favor. In the theoretical model, those individuals, called “cheats” by Dawkins, always gain more (because they have more time to eat or hide from predators) and that’s why they have more chances to pass on this kind of behavior than “suckers” (those who help everyone).
After several generations, the entire population is made up of cheats. As a consequence, no one can get rid completely of fleas, the whole population is infested and therefore doomed to extinction. Obviously, a population of thieves is unsustainable. Dawkins intervenes in this mechanism by introducing a new type of individuals, called “grudgers” (those who can’t get fooled twice), which help everyone around with one exception: they remember the cheats and, after a first scam, they no longer help them.
Let’s recap: suckers help everyone, cheats take advantage without helping anyone, grudgers initially help everyone, but they remember the cheats and put them on the blacklist.
Dawkins entered the coordinates of a population with a majority of suckers and minorities of cheats and grudgers into a computer capable of simulating the evolution of that population over a long series of generations.
The groups evolve as it follows: first, the cheaters flourish at the expense of the suckers. The population of cheats increases over several generations until suckers disappear completely and cheats end up being in majority. However, from this point, they start having problems.
A cheat will never be helped by another cheat or by a grudger who knows he’s a cheat. Their effort to find new grudgers will take up a lot of precious time, so being a cheat will become less cost-effective than being a grudge. As a result, the cheats will decrease in population, until they will also disappear completely. And so, the whole population will be (in a way) vaccinated by cheaters.
The only condition that Dawkins introduced into the system was that the initial number of grudgers should be enough to form a critical mass at some point and thus be able to withstand the initial wave of cheaters. In other words, there should be a minimum number of people who react to fraud from the beginning, people you can’t fool twice.
Dawkins himself, a biologist by profession, mentions at the end of the chapter that an entire theory applicable to human societies can be extrapolated from this mathematical model. I don’t think he thought about Romania, so I’ll take the idea.
Many obvious analogies between this theory and Romanian society are possible. I won’t make cheap metaphors about cheats politicians who lie to their electorate or about the civil servant who humiliates you, even though he is paid from your money. For me, the mathematical path that a society follows until it becomes immune to cheats is much more important. And I’m going to try to understand in which stage we are today.
So, let’s begin! Romanians have been exposed to a long series of cheats for the last 27 years: they were fooled by FSN, they lost money with Caritas and FNI, they signed with Bechtel, they bought from pharmacies tons of homeopathic placebo, they trusted that “I will leave in 5 minutes”.
Above all, they validated, by not taking any action, the continuous and massive theft of public money. However, the acute phase of theft infection is over. The body began to make more and more antibodies and to activate the sleeping ones. Society stopped turning the other cheek and started to react.
Through civilized protests in the street, through institutions like DNA, through citizens’ initiatives, such as those encouraged by CeRe Participare, through some noisy journalists like Moise Guran or Cătălin Tolontan. It seems like we have the initial number of grudgers needed.
We are now witnessing the turning point. Now the role of grudgers, the role of antibodies is crucial. But for that, we need the critical mass, and those mentioned above are not enough. We need more active antibodies, more people who won’t be fooled by empty promises.
I don’t think that cheaters will cease to exist or that they will stop trying to fool people. In order not to get angry, I will consider them genetically determined to cheat, incapable of change. I will tell myself that it’s not their fault. They have the thief in their blood, so I’ll consider them a natural plague. But I think what needs to happen is happening: more and more suckers are turning into grudgers, into citizens with voice and brain. And we are about to form the critical mass we need.
We can definitely win this battle, but for that, we must not lose sight of any theft attempt, we must react. Let’s be like Swiss people and speak up when something doesn’t suit us. Now our enemy is not the cheater, but out lack of action, the “that’s fine too” attitude, the “What? Do you think that if I write them an email, they will stop cutting trees?”, the impulsive vote.
I still regret that I didn’t send a message to the senator I voted for, when he joined a dubious alliance. I am writing to him now: we had a contract (I vote for you to represent me, so you represent me) and you did not respect it!
I don’t have a final conclusion, I have an encouragement: let’s be active antibodies. Let’s think of an injustice that has been done to us or that we’ve witnessed and punish it. And, because prevention is even better, let’s register on fiecarevot.ro as observers for the parliamentary elections. I signed up.