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The Predator Class

Posted by Rick · November 20th, 2003 · No Comments

Bob Marcotte sends this link under the heading “Blog Worthy?”

Dick Meyer, author of the above-linked story, notes:

There have always been scandals and crooks in the history of American money, but our predator class is a distinct creation of the late 20th century. Meyer, The Predator Class (Nov. 19, 2003) CBSNews.com.


Meyer also states,

Despite assurances from game-theorists and anthropologists that the criminal cadre in the species remains a constant percentage over time, I believe today’s mainstream, sanitized, and institutionally sanctioned financial crime rackets are being run by a new breed of crook. Meyer, The Predator Class (Nov. 19, 2003) CBSNews.com.

Anyone who has read The Evolution of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod, however, is not the least bit surprised. Axelrod’s book was written after experiments (conducted worldwide as a “contest”) among programmers who developed programs to compete within a virtual environment.

Axelrod himself says, “My original interest in game theory arose from a concern with international politics and especially the risk of nuclear war.”

I haven’t read the book in years, but my recollection is that one of Axelrod’s goals was to explain how the evolution of cooperation was possible in a Darwinian world. Social scientists have often pondered the apparent incongruity of a world in which the reigning paradigm involves the adaptation of species via mechanisms of intra- and interspecies competition for resources, stochastic drift, etc. somehow “naturally” giving rise to cooperative mechanisms. Axelrod used game theory and encouraged worldwide participation in a contest based on the non-zero-sum game known as The Prisoner’s Dilemma. His book was a discussion of the game, the particular rules of the contest and the results.

The thing that always intrigued me about this — and again recall that I’m going off memory here (a link appears at the end of this article for ordering this book) — was that Axelrod’s theory works well only for small populations where the Predators are controllable because, if they do manage to thrive, they will eventually eliminate Prey and be forced to turn upon one another. In a smaller population, Prey are more aware of the presence and methods of Predators and so have more control; where they fail, Predators control one another (more on that below). In other words, the survival of a “healthy” — to put a perverse twist on that term — Predator class would require very large populations because the Predator class would at the least be self-limiting otherwise.

No surprise, then, that my reaction was one of wryly amused interest when Meyer wrote,

I believe there is no way the counter-class made up of regulators, watchdogs and do-gooders and hack columnists can match wits with the predator class. Today’s piles of money are so huge, great fortunes can be amassed by swiping the tiniest of slices in the wiliest of ways long before picked pockets are discovered. Meyer, The Predator Class (Nov. 19, 2003) CBSNews.com.

Meyer thinks the game-theorists are wrong and expresses pessimism that this situation will self-correct. On that count, he is both right and wrong; or, I suppose I should say, wrong and right. The game-theorists — at least on my reading of Axelrod — are right. And the situation will not self-correct.

The reason is that the current population of the world now numbers in the billions. The percentage of the overall population that then constitutes the Predator class is relatively small in comparison. The Predator class typically feeds off of the Prey, although it is not opposed to going after other members of its own class under the right conditions.

It might seem that it would make more sense for a Predator to go after another Predator. After all, taking down a Predator would theoretically bring a larger cache and (one would erroneously think) be easier than taking down many members of the Prey class.

An aside is necessary here: Contrary to popular opinion, not all the Rich would fall into the Predator class. However, it is highly unlikely that any true member of the Prey class would be Rich; in other words, a member of the Predator class would not likely be a member of the so-called “lower” classes — neither the not-entirely-appropriately-named “Middle Class” and especially not of the Poor, both of which constitute the Prey class. Intelligent Prey may rise to the level of Predator, but in doing so they will shed the economic skin they wore as Prey; in becoming a member of the Predator class, they will almost certainly become Rich. But there is nothing to stop any member of the species from either inheriting or building Riches while refusing to become a Predator. It may possibly require even more intelligence than Predators normally need to maintain a position as Rich, but it’s doable for one with enough Luck, Skill and/or Intelligence. It might even happen by somehow wheedling a position wherein one is needed by some group of Predators so that they ensure survival to the one in that position.

At any rate, as noted, Predators may have a larger stock of Riches. This might on the surface make it seem that a Predator would do better to go after another Predator. And sometimes a less-than-intelligent Predator does this.

But it is very unwise. Consider the lowly Tyrannosaurus rex. Now there was a Predator! But the same thing that made T. rex a great Predator — teeth, strength, experience in fighting Prey that did not want to die — also made it dangerous to other members of its own species. So although T. rex might have been larger than the Prey T. rexes might normally pursue, it was imminently more dangerous. (There is some argument about whether T. rex was actually a Predator. The outcome of that argument does not alter the point of mine.)

In addition, the Predator class itself is a small, somewhat self-contained population. And no doubt Predators transitioning from Prey to Predator have to be more careful than established Predators. Nevertheless, the Predator class still follows the pattern discussed in Axelrod’s book; as long as the population is small, cooperation — if only in the form of an uneasy truce — will exist even among Predators.

So how does it feel to be Prey?

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