Friday, May 25, 2007

The Remnant is Nice

A new post by "Proteus", which is undoubtedly Bill Whittle, talks about the Prisoner's Dilemma and the Remnant. He mulls over the difference between short term and long term social strategies and the differences among those who chose their actions. The game theory described in this post is very timely because a very similar issue, the Traveller's Dilemma, is being discussed in the new Scientific American. El Blogador has a discussion as well. I hope he follows up on the Whittle article.

Everything that Whittle writes is essential reading, but this is key. The basic idea is that society is held together by people who make irrational altruistic choices when they can. Not all the time, mind you. We're not talking about punching bags here. This is about the tit-for-tat strategy.

The Traveller's dilemma, as described in the SciAm article, gives people a somewhat sleezy choice of how much reimbursement to ask for from the airline for their broken pot. The catch is that another person has the exact same problem with an identical pot. The airline will only pay the lowest estimate, within a reasonable range, from the two people (combatants). They will pay it to both parties, but there is another catch. The person who asks the most will be penalized a modest amount and the other person will be rewarded. In practice, both people will ask for the maximum amount, but it can be shown that in the specific circumstance discussed, it is not the rational choice. The problem reduces to a version of the famous prisoner's dilemma. The question is, why are people usually altruistic in this case?

The obvious answer to me and Bill is that good people are also willing to take retribution. If you don't go along with the shared benefit, then we find a way to get even. Tit-for-tat is the most effective and generous long term policy. Nice people win in the long run. Civilization depends on it.

Now, a counter-example I have puzzled over, is the recent trend, at least in my city, to follow a "no-snitch" policy. People in the problem neighborhoods have begun advocating a cultural norm of silence in the face of criminality. This may seem counter to the need for social retribution, but it is easily understandable on this basis. The social contract has failed these people. The failure corresponds, IMO, completely to the War on Drugs, which is a racist, liberty destroying pantomime of justice. Great numbers of civilized people are going to jail over this insanity.

The understanding of the nature of justice must be widely shared to make the fragile contract work. The Remant awaits your enlightenment. If you get it, they will come.

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