Intragroup Competition

Discussion of how one-upmanship pervades many aspects of biological life, particularly in human society.

There is a tendency of man to try to outdo his peers, to play off his peers’ moves. It’s part competition, part group loyalty or cheering for the group.

We see it in bullying when done as a group. We see it in hazing rituals. We see it in some behaviors surrounding drinking. But we also see it on Wall Street and we see it in the Republican party. We see it in lobbying firms.

It crops up among teenagers playing the so-called “penis game” in which they successively try to say the word “penis” louder than the previous player.

This is one-upmanship. Each participant sees the previous act, and tries to go just farther.

Emboldening the Group

One factor for this behavior is that it gives the whole group an increased confidence (at least in the repeated behavior). The members of the group see how far they went together, and recognize they played a role in that. They have power.

Similarly, if Bob goes to ten, Alice wants to take it to 11. Alice wants to show that she’s just as fearless as Bob, that she’s as vital to the group, that she belongs. Then, Charlie wants to go for 12. Charlie doesn’t want to be the weak link.

Safety in Numbers

Another factor is testing group integrity. If Charlie goes to 12 and the group loses its nerve, Charlie may be left in danger. This informs both Charlie and the group of the tensile strength of their alliance.

If the group rescues the one that went too far, they are again emboldened. They find themselves invincible once more.

A Root in Sibling Competition

We see bear cubs wander away from the mother’s safety, each testing how far they may stray before mom will react. Which of the litter is the bravest? How harsh will the reaction be? What is safe and what is not?

What Happens Without Limits

And here we run into the wall. What happens when these group antics are left unchecked? When they can continue because the mother is absent, or because the authority is timid or dependent upon the actors?

There we are reliant upon greater, more fundamental forces. We await the erosion of the foundations upon which these monsters, born of silly kids games, stand.

Eventually the extremism of the modern Republican party must collapse. The public will recognize they have gone too far. But going too far in these games means someone gets hurt. Either the cub is lost to predators or gets swept away by the river. Or in the case of bully groups, the victim is hurt too severely, or fights back and the bully is maimed.

Awareness of this behavioral dynamic is essential to a modern government. Impunitas continuum affectum tribuit delinquendi (“Impunity confirms the disposition to commit crime,” 4 Coke’s English King’s Bench Reports, 45). Impunities semper ad deteriora invitat (“Impunity always invites to greater crimes,” 5 Coke’s English King’s Bench Reports, 109).



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