"But the Takers put an end to the Erratic Retaliator game among them, because the program here is that the Hullas, the Puala, the Cario, and the Albas are now going to be Takers. That's the way people are meant to live, isn't it?"
"So the Erratic Retaliator strategy is out the window for these peoples."
"But what keeps them on an even footing with each other now?"
"Wow," I said. "That's a good question. . . . Maybe they don't have anything to compete over?"
Ishmael nodded enthusiastically. "That's a terribly interesting idea, Julie. How would that come about, do you suppose?"
"Well, they're sort of all on the same side now."
"In other words, perhaps tribalism was actually the cause of competition, rather than an evolved way of handling competition. With the disappearance of discrete tribes, competition just melts away, and peace on earth ensues."
I told him I didn't know about the peace-on-earth part.
"Let's say you're the Cario. It's been a dry summer, Julie, and your neighbors to the north, the Hullas, have dammed a stream you use to irrigate your crops. Since you're all on the same side now, do you just shrug and let your crops wither?"
"So evidently being all on the same side doesn't put an end to intraspecies competition after all. What do you do?"
"I guess I'd ask the Hullas to dismantle their dam."
"Certainly. And they say no thanks. They've dammed the stream in order to irrigate their own crops."
"Maybe they could sort of share the water."
"They say they don't care to. They need all the water they can get."
"I could appeal to their sense of fair play."
A heavy wheezing sound reached me through the glass and I looked up to see Ishmael enjoying a good laugh. When he was finished, he said, "I trust you're making a joke."
"Good. So what are you going to do about the dammed stream, Julie?"
"I guess we're going to go to war."
"That is, of course, a possibility."
"Something occurs to me, though. It seems to me that the Cario and the Hullas could have had this conflict before they became Takers."
"Absolutely possible," Ishmael said. "What was it I said the Hullas were before becoming full-time farmers? With your excellent memory, I'm sure you remember."
"They were hunter-gatherers."
"Why would hunter-gatherers dam a stream, Julie? They have no crops to irrigate."
"True, but, just for the sake of argument, let's say they were farmers."
"All right. But, as I recall, the Cario were only partly dependent on farming. Losing a stream wouldn't threaten their way of life."
"True also," I said, "but again, just for the sake of the argument, let's say they were full-time farmers."
"Very well. Then the Cario are going to engage in some very brutal and very erratic retaliation. In the face of this, the Hullas will have to decide if damming the stream is worthwhile to them."
"So it's war in either case," I told him. "Becoming Takers didn't make any difference."
Ishmael shook his head. "A moment ago you said that, speaking for the Cario, you were going to have to 'go to war' over the dammed stream. Is 'going to war' the same as retaliation?"
"No, I suppose it isn't."
"What's the difference, as you see it?"
"Retaliation is giving as good as you get, going to war is conquering people to make them do what you want."
"So, even though it's possible to say that it's 'war in either case,' it's different kinds of war, with different objectives. The object of retaliation is to show people that you can be nice or nasty, depending on whether they're nice or nasty. The object of going to war is to conquer them and bend them to your will. Very different things, and erratic retaliation was about the former, not the latter."
"Yes, I suppose that's true."
Ishmael was silent for a moment, then he asked if I saw erratic retaliation at work anywhere among the Takers of today. After thinking about it for a while, I told him I saw it at work in juvenile-gang warfare.
"That's very astute, Julie. Erratic retaliation is precisely the strategy they employ as a means of maintaining an equal footing among themselves. And what do the people of your culture want to do with juvenile gangs?"
"They want to suppress them, for sure. Do away with them."
"Naturally," Ishmael said, nodding. "But there are some other highly visible combatants pursuing a strategy of erratic retaliation right now, aren't there?"
"Oh," I said, "yeah, I guess so. You mean all those crazy people in Bosnia."