Ubi vinci necesse, expedit cedere.


10 October 2020 (Wall Street International)* — This theory mainly consists of the fact that two contenders are both about 50% likely to win a conflict. If this percentage fluctuates too much, on one side or the other, the conflict would be extinguished.

In this balance, however, there are opportunities that can be exploited for success and that are: more cunning than the opponent, a little luck, more self-confidence, more intelligence or a brilliant invention, a Trojan horse.

This is very evident in the sports competition where you can win even for a short time, for example in racing, with a last-gasp effort on the woollen thread.


When monkeys enter into competition, they know how to evaluate what possibilities they have to win and without damage | Image from Wall Street International

The conflict in animals

Animals can be interesting models for the study of such complex behaviour. Let us take as an example the conflict in monkeys, where the competition is always very high, even if it is never devastating.

Why monkeys? Because they are the animals closest to humans and then, when they enter into competition, they know how to evaluate, much more than humans, what possibilities they have to win and without damage.

If one of the two contenders, after the first skirmishes, realizes it is weaker, it will let it go, without additional challenges. Moreover, the monkeys know that during the conflict it is difficult for an external force (maybe a miracle!) to intervene to lead them to victory and therefore they never throw themselves in danger. They evaluate the forces on the field and only when they realize that they can triumph, they enter the fight.

The weaker monkeys, at least those who know they are, submit to the dominant subjects without much bloodshed and waste of energy, and it is also difficult for them to rebel, unless certain environmental conditions change or new alliances are formed that push them to try again.

To tell the truth, conflict in children can be another interesting model for understanding the reasons for conflict in adults, even the wider and more devastating one of war.


The conflict in human is much more complex than that in animals | Image from Wall Street International

The conflict in humans

The conflict in human, and war is the most devastating example, is much more complex than that in animals. In humans, in addition to territorial issues or national prestige, strong interests come into play, for example those of arms manufacturers (a business that has never gone into crisis in the world), even if it is not clear why humans kill themselves, even though they know that everything can be remedied except death.

It is clear that in war there are strong ideological conditioning, in many countries the conscription service is obligatory and therefore soldiers, to avoid ending up on trial, go to war, therefore never of their own free will, subject, as always, to some exceptions. Wars only serve to increase the interests of the big merchant banks whose leaders never personally go to war, they always send the others.

To put it bluntly, the United States of America entered the First World War, not because they thought it was right, but simply because the American banks, at a certain point in time, were afraid that France and Great Britain, their debtors, would lose the war against Germany. These two countries, if they had been defeated, would never have been able to pay the enormous debt they had contracted with the Americans for the purchase of weapons.


War is the most devastating example of the conflict in humans | Image from Wall Street International

It is true, wars are made for economic reasons, but, unfortunately, also for another reason that is rooted in the whole of humanity: a sort of predisposition to wage them. Even our distant ancestors, in their own small way, waged war in order to grab larger territories and therefore more resources.

But, before unleashing it, they made assessments of the pros and cons, and then, if they thought that the pros could be greater, they moved on to de facto ways, or rather to the use of weapons: clubs, darts, axes, arrows and everything more offensive they had available.

If they were at a disadvantage, they thought that they could be provided with greater resourcefulness, more courage, and more shrewdness than the enemy. So thought the Italian fascists when on June 10, 1940 they declared war on Britain and France, thinking they could win it with World War I muskets and propaganda! They counted a lot on the stupidity of the enemy.

Wars are also unleashed by false patriotic motivations, for the good of the nation, when in reality they are only done for a few: in the past they were kings, queens, emperors and dictators, today they are the “warlords” (as the civil war in Somalia, Yemen and many other countries in the world teaches us these days).

Wars are made by inculcating in the soldiers the idea of sure victory, but often only on paper, ridiculing the enemy, making him appear a cowardly, blasphemous and unconscious monster.

During the First World War Italian military propaganda loved to paint the Austrian soldier as a cockerel, to be stabbed with a bayonet and then baked on a spit, a propaganda that more than psychologically weakening the enemy, made Italian soldiers lose their sense of reality.


In monkeys the competition is always very high | Image from Wall Street International

War in the monkeys

War in the monkeys, as we understand it, does not exist. You can talk about conflict, competition, the desire to take over someone else’s territory, but in the end, it is very rare for losers to be killed. They are driven away, ostracized and made impossible to have any more offspring.

In fact, the winners can suppress the offspring of the losers with the desire to propagate their genetic heritage within the conquered group, as often happens among chimpanzees. However, the members who have been removed, after years, are given the possibility of re-entering the original group, if they are submissive to the new leadership.

The monkeys, unlike humans, never play on the possible stupidity of the enemy, but on the certainty of their strength. Moreover, when they face each other, they immediately put their vigour into play, without much subterfuge.

When the fight rages, it can be open to different solutions, even the choice of the weakest to resist until the end or to leave the field. In monkeys one knows what one fights for, and the conflict never depends on the whim of a single individual.

In essence, chimpanzees could teach us a lot: they never underestimate the enemy and his capacity for cohesion and never give up knowing him. They evaluate their cunning, the possibility that they can make new alliances and that they can stall to their advantage. Obviously, there are no political and ideological indoctrination in monkeys that always tend to feed the illusion of final victory.


The evolution of our cerebral cortex has not favoured the development of behavioural mechanisms capable of intelligently inhibiting aggression | Image from Wall Street International

Matter of brain

So far we have not taken into consideration an issue that we often underestimate, namely the size of the human brain compared to that of chimpanzees which, despite having the largest brain among all animals (in proportion to body weight), is about three times smaller than ours.

Contrary to what we may believe, the evolution of our cerebral cortex, paradoxically, has not favoured the development of behavioural mechanisms capable of intelligently inhibiting aggression.

Animals, unlike humans, always try to avoid confrontation, while humans with difficulty are able to restrain their aggressive impulses and find an alternative to violence.

Humans were the last mammal to appear on Earth, about 150/200 thousand years ago, but they have gone from the use of the club to the atomic bomb in a thousand years; animals, even if we want to take the last ones to appear before us, chimpanzees, are as they are for more than 7 million years. A slower evolution of their brain has fostered intraspecific tolerance. In fact, in animals, conflict is an exception, not the rule.

Let us reflect on what the great animal and human ethologist Konrad Lorenz1 suggested. He believed that aggressiveness was an animal and human inclination (this is true), but that there was always a way to redirect it towards harmless venting options. If these, for some reason, were not available, one would easily move on to attack one’s neighbour.

For an adult man today, two important inhibitors of aggression are social disapproval, especially when it is gratuitous and the penal code (with the exception of the war between states where everything is lawful); for children, who can sometimes be very aggressive towards their peers, one way of venting is play (once, for example, it could be the game to the Indians, now the war games, but always with many killed, even if virtual).

In humans aggressiveness could be redirected towards inanimate objects or things, as you do, for example, when you are very angry by beating your fists on the table or kicking a chair, instead of a rival you’d like to tear apart! The positive aspect of this re-directionality is that it manifests itself without being totally conscious of what you are doing and this is good for man.

1 Konrad Lorenz. 1963. On aggression. London, Methuen Publishing Ltd. (Italian translation. L’aggressività. Milano, Oscar Mondadori, 1990).