In reading about the persistence of clan feuding on Mindanao, we got to thinking about how governments can best end such cycles of revenge. Our natural assumption is that these feuds exist where organized justice is in short supply, and so familial units take over the role of punishing offenders. But a University of Maryland offers a different take here:
Extracting revenge by killing people and engaging in a blood feud is not, as one might be tempted to think, just a way to extract justice in absence of a judiciary system. It is, in fact, a way to send the signal that one’s clan (group) is ready to protect their right to exist without actually having to engage in a conflict over the means and sources of survival. The desire to send this signal and the inability of clans to read into other clans’ readiness to fight causes them to exchange more “signals” (killings) than they would have had they been fully informed about that readiness.
In such cases the access of all agents in a society to alternative economic activities, in which output is a function of individual effort rather than clan belongingness, is crucial in changing the valuations and payoffs and breaking the socially inefficient path dependence. This might come through access to outside labor markets (migration) or through the accepted establishment of an authority that provides both economic welfare and protection. The new payoff structure, if long-lasting, will provide incentives to the society to renegotiate and redesign new institutional arrangements, drifting away from the feud-perpetuating collective responsibility system.
The big caveat in all this, though, is that the creation of those “alternative economic activities” cannot be viewed as a blatant attempt to end the feuding. Clans do take pride in their reputations for ferocity, and thus recoil at the thought of being emasculated by a central government. The trick, as is so often the case, is to provide carrots that can be accepted without loss of face. Easier said than done, of course.