In 2045 the Endower Institute organized the GSPW (Group for the Study of the Phenomenon of War) to conduct an indisciplinary study of game theory, war-gaming, and evolutionary psychology. An elaborate computer simulation had originally been planned, but finally the participants in the War Study were issued modified versions of off-the-shelf strategy board games. In the next four months, playing these games became the jobs of the study participants in a literal sense, as they were paid based on their performance in the game. (Several had to be "fired" for bizarre behavior, such as repeatedly concentrating their forces in Madagascar.)
The curious first result was that players in versions of the game altered to penalize war-waging (by introducing a random element weighted towards the defeat of the aggressor), and to reward commerce and diplomacy, waged war more often than players in the unmodified games. Players in altered and unmodified versions were about equal in other suboptimal behaviors to be expected in connection with war (refusal to recognize imminent defeat, underestimation of the enemy, refusal to compromise between strategic goals when they became incompatible).
But the usual irrationalities would not suffice to explain why an increase in the difficulty and uncertainty of war would result in an increase in the rate of war waged.
The hypothesis, which the Second War Study would confirm, was that human beings were, for sound evolutionary reasons, prejudiced to regard violence in general, including war, as open-ended. As Dr. Abraham "Abe" Saintpierre, then Director of the Institute, later explained in his book The Cornered Instinct:
An animal which has been backed into a corner is likelier to die than an animal being chased in a field. Although from a game-theoretical point of view, the animal should, to gain the best long-term results, instinctually fight its hardest when it has the best chance for survival, we find the opposite; it is the doomed animal, the cornered animal, that is fiercest. Likewise, we find that those human beings are most admired which exert themselves to the fullest at the last minute, or in an emergency, even to a degree which, under ordinary circumstances, would be considered absurd.
The conclusion reached by the GSPW was that these behaviors arose from a hypothetical "short-circuit" which might take place in the brains of mammals in violent situations. As Abe Saintpierre said in his 2058 lecture to the World Post War Society:
We realized that cornered behavior could not be a rational reaction at all. It must in some sense be evolutionary advantageous to be irrational in this respect. We had been studying a false dilemma. The survivability of the species required the sacrifice of the survivability of the individual in such a way that, in certain situations, the rational optimizer and the irrational gambler must be the same person.
Their insight came through a thought experiment involving two "characters". The first was known as "the Rabbit". The Rabbit always acts in such a war as to maximize the probability of his own survival by minimizing (through avoidance) anything that threatens his survival. The second was known as "the Wolverine." The Wolverine's maxim is always to spend higher quantities of any finite resource (energy, money, or so forth) as the probability of his survival decreases. What should have been obvious (according to Saintpierre's memoir, My Project) but did not show up until the simulations were run, was that in most situations their behaviors would be the same; and that, while in some border cases the Wolverine lost his life unnecessarily, it was in fact the Wolverine, not the Rabbit who stood the best chance of survival, given any nontrivial rate of dangerous situations which could not be avoided. Wrote Saintpierre: "The best long-term strategy of survival, given unavoidable dangers, is in extreme probability of death to replace optimization according to probability with optimization according to possibility." Later, he restated the principle as: "In a crazy situation, the sane thing is to go crazy."
The solution to the problem of the high-waging gamers was then simple: "As the probability of victory decreased, so did the player's attention to the probabilities." As the odds turned against them, they ignored the odds.
The War Studies became the centerpiece of Saintpierre's monograph The Last Argument: The Instinct for War. In this book (an unexpected best-seller), Saintpierre contended that it was human nature to regard war as open-ended, even when the conclusion was objectively foregone. Negotiations, he pointed out, are begun with some idea of the treaty likely to issue from them; trials (in the first instance), of the verdict; but everyone believes that they can win a war. "Wars are not lost once victory becomes impossible for the losing side; wars are only lost once there is nothing, however pointless, left to try; once there is no hope left to cling to." Rational forms of conflict resolution, in Saintpierre's view, could not substitute for war because they did not make the participants feel cornered. Not feeling cornered, they were not confident that victory must, eventually, be theirs; and therefore, they were not be willing to commit themselves fully. His position was that a real bloodless means of conflict resolution would require a strong admixture of irrationality and open-endedness.
It was according to this theory that Saintpierre endowed, with his own profits from the book and the contributions of several philanthropists (including the Estate of Wildcard Endower), the Court of Circular Appeals, a body whose stated aim was to render only provisional decisions in conflicts of international law. "It is only by offering an inexhaustible, receding supply of false hope," wrote Saintpierre to a friend, "that we can create a bloodless activity which will be the psychological equivalent of war."
Saintpierre did not make the mistake of trying to recruit the first-world nations into his scheme directly. Instead, he began by traveling with the whole Court into the most unstable areas of the world, in order to render judgments in sub-national conflicts of tribes, cartels, and so on. Soon the entourage of the Court, comprising advocates ceaselessly debating all the causes into which the Court had interposed itself, had reached such a scale that it could not continue to travel, and took up permanent headquarters in Switzerland. Later, when Saintpierre discovered that a pair of African tribes had impoverished themselves to the point of starvation to pay their advocates at the Court, he caused a portion of the Court's fees to be diverted to humanitarian organizations, to be used in alleviating whatever misery the Court might cause.
After its first decade the Court could no longer remain in Switzerland. The road systems of that tiny, mountainous country could not support the logistical needs of the advocate corps of the first-world nations. Offers of land were made from every quarter; but, to the world's surprise, the offer Saintpierre accepted was in Israel. "It is best," he said shortly before his death, "that the Court remain as close as possible to what has been the most fought-over region of the world."
Thus, today the traveler hears the shouting of the advocate corps engaged in ceaseless argument on the plains below, even before he comes into sight of the shining World Headquarters of the Court of Circular Appeals upon the hill of Megiddo.