For those of you who were following our conversation at the last Future Salon on r vs K strategy, I got the r and K backwards. r strategists are the ones with the high reproductive and mortality rate, K strategists are the ones with the low reproductive and mortality rate. For an explanation, see Checks on Population Growth.
Basically, the context of the conversation goes like this: Michael was discussing terrorism, and saying that eventually a terrorist group will get their hands on nuclear weapons. I asked if he thought this was a situation of r-strategy vs K-strategy. The link here is that terrorists depend on a continuous supply of 'expendable' people for suicide attacks. Large supply of 'expendable' people suggests tendency towards r-strategy (to use the correct term this time.)
From a biologists point of view, humans are a fundamentally K-strategist species. However, within human societies, there are, arguably, tendencies towards r- or K- strategy. During the Iraq war, I got the distinct impression that most of the Iraqi casualties were part of large extended families -- everyone getting killed was getting killed alongside their brothers, sisters, cousins etc. I also got the impression that they were mostly teenagers. So I got the impression that Iraq is a place where people basically start pumping out babies as soon as they are of reproductive age.
What makes this interesting is the reason for the difference explained on the webpage. The reason is the *stability* of the environment. A highly stable environment favors K-strategy. A highly *unstable* environment favors r-strategy. The fact that we see tendencies to r-strategy in Iraq but K-strategy here tells us that Iraq is an unstable environment while the US has a stable environment.
So the question I put to Mike was: is terrorism basically a contest of r-strategy vs K-strategy. He said 'yes'.
But here's the thing. It's not like terrorists wake up every morning and say, "Hey, we've got to preserve the r-strategy way of life!"
But if terrorists do succeed in getting nuclear weapons, they may in fact fundamentally destabilize the political and economic structure of the world, and create an environment that, ironically, favors r-strategy.