Human Paleopsychology

The Warrior Complex

 Kent G. Bailey. THE SOCIOPATH: CHEATER OR WARRIOR HAWK?    Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1995, pp. 542-543.
Abstract:  Linda Mealey’s excellent target article rests on several assumptions that may be questioned, including the overarching assumption that sociopathy reflects the failure of a small minority of males to cooperate with the larger group.  I suggest that violent competition in ancestral bands – and not “cheating” in the game of cooperation- was the primary evolutionary precursor of sociopathy.  Today’s violent sociopath is far more a “warrior hawk” than a failed cooperator.
Mealy has performed a great service in reviewing current knowledge on sociopathy.  In carefully distinguishing between primary and secondary sociopathy, and in generating thoughtful and convincing recommendations for reducing sociopathic behavior and crime in general.  Her excellent target article, however, rests on several implicit assumptions that can be questioned.  Among these are the notion that both ancestral and current forms of social organization are overwhelmingly cooperation-based, that sociopathic inputs emanate primarily from rational cost-benefit calculations, that intelligence is not a major mediator of such calculations, and that game theory is the appropriate metaphor for understanding and predicting sociopathic behavior.  Space does not allow me to challenge all these issues, so I will focus primarily on Mealy’s assumption that sociopathy is largely a failure of a small minority of human males to cooperate with the larger group. 
I will proceed on the basic assumption that violent competition in ancestral bands- and not cheating in the “game “of cooperation- was the primary evolutionary precursor of sociopathy.  It is likely that intermale competition for status, females, and other resources was prevalent in the EEA (environment of evolutionary adaptation), and some degree of predatory violence was required in the seek and kill aspects of hunting large game animals.  Moreover, it is likely that violent interband competition was present in the earliest phases of human evolution and a given group’s number of healthy, adventurous, potentially violent young men was a major key to survival.  The absence of a contingent of “dawn warriors” (Bigelow, 1969) in readiness would be disastrous in the event of attack by an invading party composed entirely of such men.
Although it is fashionable to ascribe intergroup conflict, crime, and male violence in general to the exigencies of modernity, the common ancestor to the primate and human line has been described as sexually dimorphic, socially aggregated into closed networks, and prone to hostile intergroup encounters among males (Wrangham, 1987).  In this scenario, the issue of “cheaters” in the game of cooperation is transformed into the game of “hawks” and “doves” (Maynard Smith, 1982), where the doves always lose when one strategy is pitted against the other (Archer, 1988).   Within groups doves fare better against doves than hawks do against each other, and a frequency-dependent, evolutionarily stable point is theoretically possible where the competing classes are roughly equal in their fitnesses.  But the fact remains that doves always lose in head-to-head completion with hawks.  The only solution is for the cooperating majority of doves to be protected by a subclass of “warrior hawks” that is capable of repelling invasion by a similar contingent from another group.  The price that each group pays is having to tolerate, within groups, the disruptiveness, callousness, bullying, and manipulativeness of the warrior class.
What might be the defining characteristics of these warrior hawks?  Mealy has done an excellent job of enumerating them in detail: coldness, detachment, manipulativeness, egocentrism, absence of social emotions, lack of empathy, fearlessness, deceptiveness, life history of “predatory social interactions,” orientation to the present, strong need for respect and reputation among peers, extraversion, frequent “cheating,” adventurousness and risk-taking, impulsiveness, pleasure seeking, resistance to socialization, moral deficiency, minimal responsiveness to reward/punishment, approach orientation, high Machiavellianism, and proneness to anger and aggression.  These are exactly the traits necessary on the battlefield, where an inherent “delight in destruction” fuses with the desire to eradicate the hated enemy, and the warrior’s “hunting impulses are released to seek the most dangerous of all beasts” (Gray, 1970, p. 149).  In deadly combat with hated and feared enemies, the traits of the warrior reach fruition and the most brutal warrior hawks have the advantage over their less “sociopathic” adversaries; it is in peacetime in within groups that the suite of warrior traits becomes problematic.
As Bigelow (1972) tells us, intergroup conflict has been with us since the dawn of humanity, and indeed, the success of the human line was predicated on potential for aggressive group response, when necessary, within the context if in-group solidarity, cooperation, and intelligent self-control.  It is particularly important that a social group keep its young, aggressive, and impulsive males- that is, potential warrior hawks- under control.  From this perspective violent, predatory crime in modern contexts reflects a loss of control over potential warriors who come to treat in-group members, even their neglectful and abusive family members as outsiders and enemies to exploit, abuse, and even destroy in extreme cases.  This they do with a coldness and callousness that is impossible for the cooperatives doves in the group to understand.  Moreover, cooperative, law-abiding doves often further their exploitation by providing sympathy and forgiveness to those who prey upon them without empathy or remorse.
At several points, Mealy refers to sociopathy as abnormal and pathological, and psychiatry has traditionally classified it as a disorder.  Certainly, the behavior of the sociopath is undesirable and destructive in peaceful contexts, but the issue of abnormality is problematic.  The sociopath does not see himself as abnormal, psychiatric symptoms are minimal or absent, and any pathology is social and interactive rather than internal (MacMillan & Kofoed, 1984).
 Reasoning backward to early humans, the warrior traits that underlie violent crime today were not only normal in ancestral contexts but were necessary for survival in an atmosphere of occasional interband conflict.  Presumably, in the small group atmosphere dominated by older males past their warrior prime, young males were limited in the antisocial options available to them in the group context.  As Mealy implies in her argument, such natural controls over male adventurism and exploitation are absent today in our crowded, poverty-ridden, and socially decaying urban environments, and it is no surprise that rootless and discouraged young men will sometimes fall back on the ancient warrior hawk option.
Mealy is right that sociopathy does involve cheating in cooperative contexts, but the overriding concern of most people today is not with lying, misrepresentation, and loss of material resources; rather, our foremost concern is fear of violent crime in the form of gang warfare and drive-by shootings, carjackings, muggings, burglary and forcible entry, stranger rape, child abuse/molestation, and various other threats to life and limb. 
Our concern is heightened by knowledge that the “warriors without portfolio” in our midst are becoming more numerous, more violent, more addicted to substances that exacerbate their violent traits, and increasingly alienated from family, community, cultural tradition, educational opportunities, and other constraining influences.  For many of today’s warrior hawks, anyone not in their socially marginal social group is the “enemy” and the status of hero is conferred upon those with the most “wins’” on the urban battlefield.          
Study these pages and become a paleopsychologist!
Kent G. Bailey