Rational Choice Theory is a framework commonly used by economists to model social and economic behavior. In essence, RCT assumes that a rational person faced with a social or economic decision (aka homo economicus) is going to take the course which best serves the actor's self interest. Self interest is usually assumed to be best served by the decision that yields the actor the greatest financial benefit. For example, offered a choice between receiving ten fifty Euro notes and ten five Euro notes, RCT assumes a rational actor will decide to take the five hundred Euros and leave the fifty Euros on the table. Of course, there may be a few crazies, moral whingers and drooling idiots who would choose the lesser stack of Euros, but in the aggregate the stack with the greater financial value is going to be chosen.
Now, as many of you know, there are a lot of flies in the rational choice ointment. For example, rational choice assumes that the actor has access to and will consider all the information needed to make an optimal choice. Obviously most economic decision are more complex than the simple stack of Euros example above. More often that not all the variables needed to compute the best outcome in the real world are not available or too complex to easily calculate. So we rely on rules of thumb that are not always as rationally based as we would hope. Further, homo economicus as he/she exists in economic models doesn't have a lot of the irrational quirks and priorities with which homo sapien is burdened. Homo economicus is not subject to loss aversion, status quo bias, money illusion, self serving bias, most or all of which come as standard equipment on us, the real world counterparts . Thus, just as love laughs at locksmiths, real humans made mock of RCT, giving wings to the field of behavioral economics and the inclusion of bounded rationality and cognitive biases in the economic zeitgeist.
So, why am I bothering you with all this?
Because as I look in the rear view mirror, the irrational follies seem to have been behind the collapse of both the Drone Russian Federation (DRF) and the Northern Coalition (NC - not to be confused with the Northern Coalition [DOT] alliance) before them.
In both cases we have coalitions that had it all going their way. Their space was secure, their systems were generating vast wealth, their enemies were at bay or on the run. Throughout the forums and blogosphere, all New Eden anticipated an imminent era of nullsec hegemony by each of those coalitions in turn. Now, were these coalitions led by a band of homo economicus, they would not have messed with the status quo. In fact, perfectly rational persons leading these coalitions would have done everything within their collective power to maintain the status quo as it was obviously in their self interest to do so.
Though often dismissed as Carebears, the NC had successfully fended off collective attacks by elite PvP alliances and coalitions for several years. They participated with Goonswarm and Test Alliance Please Ignore in bringing about the downfall of IT Alliance. They had successfully adapted their tactics and internal ship production lines to supercapital warfare. Elite nullsec pvpers wailed, gnashed their teeth and made dread pronouncements of a coming pax carebear in nullsec. Every nullsec alliance, it was claimed, would be blue to every other alliance, capital and supercapital pilots would be forced to trade in their Titans for Rorquals, and "real" pvpers would be forced to flee nullsec for (horrors!) lowsec.
And yet, in a fit of distraction, the leaders of the Northern Coalition ceased to look out for the common good. Petty grudges and resentments, long set aside in the interest of mutual survival, were suddenly back on the menu. The same DRF and Pandemic Legion fleets that had battered at the doors of NC space for months in vain, suddenly gained a foothold in Geminate against one of the NC alliances. The remaining NC alliances failed to respond collectively as they had in the past; by slamming the door on the invaders with overwhelming force. Unrealistic faith in past performance fatally slowed the move to a common defense posture. As the DRF foothold turned into a beach head, more nullsec alliances joined the DRF, opening up additional fronts on NC space. Even under direct threat, the NC alliances' efforts at coordination were sluggish and half-hearted. Failing to act together, the NC alliances were attacked piece-meal and overwhelmed in turn. As the NC coalition collapsed the invaders, wielding supercapital reserves the individual NC alliances couldn't match, gobbled up NC space in short order.
The DRF, in their turn took center stage as the big bad of nullsec. In the year prior they had destroyed Atlas Alliance and driven Against All Authorities (-A-) to the brink of extinction. They had fended off the Northern Coalition's invasion of the Kalevala Expanse and led the subsequent take-over of Northern Coalition space. As the Incarna era ended, the DRF and their immediate allies found themselves in a position of overwhelming strength. They controlled in excess of seventy percent of nullsec space, had -A- on the ropes in Catch, and had brought Mittens and his Goons to heel. By the beginning of December 2011, the DRF position seemed unassailable; an isk generating machine backed up by vast supercapital fleets and a reputation for steel jacketed cohesion.
However, once again, irrationality reared its ugly head. Alliance leadership within the DRF coalition succumbed to cognative bias and began to act against their own, sweet self-interest. What should have been a minor diplomatic incident between Solar Fleet and Legion of Death blossomed into a pissing match which grew into a somewhat controlled bout of shoving and hair pulling. Meanwhile, the working relationship among White Noise's leadership team devolved into a noisy Irish stand-off. Seeing this disarray, Goonswarm removed the DRF collar and leash from around their collective neck and proceeded to throttle White Noise with it and, accompanied by Test Alliance and a fistful of allies, knocked DRF member Red Alliance and DRF ally Raiden[DOT] back on their heels.
Now, as soon as the Goons, Test Alliance and company attacked White Noise, Solar Fleet and Legion of Death would have been well advised to set aside their slap fight before things got ugly and put down the Goon uprising. Instead the Legion/Solar Fleet kerfuffle erupted into a full scale re-enactment of the Punic Wars with Solar Fleet and Intrepid Crossing playing the Rome and Legion of Death standing in for Carthage. This put any chance of a united front out of reach, and effectively sounded the death knell for the DRF.
As of this writing, White Noise is no more. Legion of Death has retreated to NPC nullsec where they make common cause with Raiden[DOT]. The latter is much diminished, having lost roughly a third of their membership and retaining only a single sovereign system in a sea of enemies. Red Alliance is attempting to make a go of it on their own in Delve and Querious (BOB/IT Alliance's space of old).
Of the DRF's primary Russian alliances, Solar Fleet alone thrives (for the moment) in post-DRF nullsec. It has selectively increased its members, trebled its outposts, and acquired a large renter population from Shadow of Death, Legion's now emaciated (down to 900 members from a high of 8000) renter alliance. As always wise renter bears don't lose nullsec space so much as trade landlords. Former DRF ally Northern Coalition[DOT] alliance appears to have made a separate if temporary peace with the invaders and has retained their possessions (as well as picking up some of Raiden's) in Vale of the Silent and Geminate.
Thus two interstellar empires, each seemingly at the pinnacle of their strength, have been laid irrationally low.
Now another player struts nullsec's starry stage and ponders the technetium throne. Whether Deklein Coalition will avoid the fate of its two predecessors (indeed, Deklein contains a healthy dose of former NC bears) remains to be seen. Mitten's ongoing holy war against highsec space may be, in part, intended as a post victory distraction; a hedge against the slack periods that often follow successful campaigns. As I've written elsewhere
"Like Border Collies, if you don't keep Goons busy they'll start eating the sofa cushions and herding the household cats. Or the other way around. Both are messy and involve constant clean up."An insightful policy I think. It is every bit as important to keep the troops busy following victory as it is following defeat and retreat. Slack time after victory has been declared can be as destructive as the enemy.
Idle hands are, after all, irrationality's playthings.