When Defector-Punishers meet Cooperator-Punishers in the Streets of Paris

ETA: I’ve got to find a new source for the video.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a game theory experiment that explores the conditions under which people cooperate or defect against each other. I assume you are already familiar with the details.

In a single game of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, defection or cooperation depends a lot on the folks involved’s individual personalities, but in multi-iteration games (games where people play multiple times against each other,) cooperators generally punish defectors, which eventually leads to mutual cooperation–the best outcome.

One of the implications of this finding is that people will cooperate more with people they’ve had (and will have) repeated interactions with than with strangers. I learned this the hard way when I went from playing board games with my highschool friends to playing with a group of strangers, and promptly got defected on in a plan to split the profits from Broadway and Park Place. The whole business sounds silly in retrospect, but believe me, if I had ever encountered this person again, I would have defected–hard–against them.

Punishing defectors leads to a stable system of mutual, beneficial cooperation.

But in when experimenters took the multi-iteration prisoner’s dilemma abroad, they discovered an unexpected (to them) behavior: cooperation-punishing. These are people who defect against cooperators, leading to mutual defection. Mutual defection is also stable, but shitty.

Cynically, we might say that this is less about “punishment” as that the cooperation-punishers smelled a sucker and decided to benefit themselves. They may also have been unable to realize that their opponent would probably change their behavior in response to the initial defection due to insufficient ability to model other people’s thought processes, and so simply continued doing the thing that had worked once, even once it stopped working. (IE, they were dumb.) As a practical matter, though, we can refer to this as “punishing cooperators,” since that is the result.

Societies with smart people should converge on mutual cooperation; societies with dumb people converge on mutual defection.

What happen when these two styles meet, and people from societies where defectors-get-punished meet people from societies where cooperators-get-punished?

In an actual prisoner’s dilemma experiment, it is of course obvious whether you cooperated or not, but let’s think about this in the much fuzzier terms of normal human human interactions, where there is far more debate and uncertainty about intentions (and effects.) If, in the normal course of your daily life, most people cooperate and defectors are defected against, and then suddenly someone starts defecting against you, your first response may be to soul-searchingly examine whether you did something to cause the defection. For example, suppose you are part of a social group that normally eats dinner at each other’s houses once a week, and suddenly one week, someone doesn’t invite you to their gathering. A reasonable response would be to ask yourself, “Did I do something to piss them off?”

Many of the most liberal people I know seem completely incapable of figuring out, on an instinctual level, whether or not they are being taken advantage. They get hurt and say something like, “I don’t want to abandon my faith in humanity,” or they try to “examine their privilege” even harder. It is painful to watch; sometimes I just want to yell, “It is okay to hate people who have hurt you!”

There’s a saying that a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged. What’s the word for a person who’s been mugged and is still a liberal?

Last weekend, my housemate and I were mugged at gunpoint while walking home from Dupont Circle. T

… when a reporter asked whether I was surprised that this happened in Georgetown, I immediately answered: “Not at all.” It was so clear to me that we live in the most privileged neighborhood within a city that has historically been, and continues to be, harshly unequal. …

What has been most startling to me, even more so than the incident itself, have been the reactions I’ve gotten. I kept hearing “thugs,” “criminals” and “bad people.” While I understand why one might jump to that conclusion, I don’t think this is fair.

Not once did I consider our attackers to be “bad people.” I trust that they weren’t trying to hurt me. In fact, if they knew me, I bet they’d think I was okay.

One of my friends was homeless for 20 years and never mugged anyone. I know people who have been reduced to shoplifting food because they did not have any, but still never pulled a gun on anyone, broke into their house, threatened someone, or stole from them.

Poverty does not make good people rob others at gunpoint. This is bullshit, and an insult to all of the people who have endured poverty without hurting others.

I have not been able to write about the Paris Attacks and their fallout since they happened, mostly because I try not to write posts that look like this: DJGGGYWEEERRRRRRRRK!!!111!!

But I came upon this graph today, of French attitudes toward Muslims before and after the Charlie Hebdo attacks:

From Pew Research Center, "Ratings of Muslims rise in France..."
From Pew Research Center, “Ratings of Muslims rise in France after Charlie Hebdo…”

I regret that I do not have more recent data from France, but I do have some from America:

From Pew Research Center, "Ratings of Muslims rise in France..."
From Pew Research Center, “Ratings of Muslims rise in France after Charlie Hebdo Attack…”

Take a look at those conservatives!

Forget about “It’s better to be feared than loved.” Apparently being feared makes you loved.

To be fair, I have noticed a habit among certain people to delicately start a sentence, “Now, I like Muslims, but…” or “I like blacks, but…” which may be driving some of this. Anti-racism has become such a dominant value that even conservatives cannot express the pain and horror they felt from 9-11 without first throwing out an anti-racist disclaimer (not that it works, of course. They are always guilty of racism, no matter what they say.)

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, did anyone feel the need to stand around, declaring, “I’m not anti-Japanese, but…” ?

The mere idea of having a single blanket encapsulation of 1.6 billion people–1/5th of the world’s population–is idiotic. I reject the question. I have no opinion of Nigerians that applies equally to Bosnians, nor of Kazakhs that applies to Indonesians. Likewise, I have no opinion of Christians that covers Haitians, Norwegians, and Ugandans; Mormons and Eastern Orthodox; no single coherent opinion of Hindus, Buddhists, or Jews. But I have very strong opinions about the people I consider my enemies.

According to Newsweek (8-26-14):

One in six French citizens sympathises with the Islamist militant group ISIS, also known as Islamic State, a poll released this week found.

The poll of European attitudes towards the group, carried out by ICM for Russian news agency Rossiya Segodnya, revealed that 16% of French citizens have a positive opinion of ISIS. This percentage increases among younger respondents, spiking at 27% for those aged 18-24. …

Newsweek’s France Correspondent, Anne-Elizabeth Moutet, was unsurprised by the news. “This is the ideology of young French Muslims from immigrant backgrounds,” she said, “unemployed to the tune of 40%, who’ve been deluged by satellite TV and internet propaganda.” She pointed to a correlation between support for ISIS and rising anti-Semitism in France, adding that “these are the same people who torch synagogues”.

In lieu of the video that was supposed to be here, let’s just say that I think ISIS is pretty darn evil.



How to decrease defection and encourage cooperation?

As I was saying yesterday, functional societies are places where people cooperate rather than defect (prisoner’s dilemma style), but now people are trying to advance their own personal interests by accusing others of defecting–that is, in effect, defecting against them. Our particular class and racial dynamics have exacerbated–or perhaps caused–this dynamic.

So how to change things? A few thoughts:

1. Government has the most obvious power to curb defection and increase cooperation, and indeed, this should probably be thought of as one of the prime functions of government. All societies require cooperation merely to exist, and more cooperation => more society.

Libertarianism has many fine points in its theory, but it deals poorly with multipolar traps. In cases where someone can profit themselves by being a free rider (defecting,) chances are they will–and they will pass on this advantage to their children, until you have a nation of cheaters. I remember an example from my own school days: A group of farmers gets together one year to higher a crop-dusting plane, and they all enjoy a larger harvest as a result. But the next year, the guy with the field in the middle of the area being dusted decides not to pay in. His field gets dusted anyway, just because it’s impossible not to dust it in the process, and so he gets all of the rewards of crop dusting without paying the price.

The government effectively solves this problem by eliminating the possibility of being a free rider. Everyone now has to pay a tax that goes to hire the annual crop-dusting plane, and you must pay your taxes or go to jail.

2. The vague–or not so vague!–sense that others are defecting while you are cooperating may just be instinctual. Therefore, it is probably in the interests of any government to put in place some kind of measures to make sure people aren’t defecting and to reassure people about this.

However, it is critical that such systems not get turned into further vehicles for defection.

For example, many (if not most) of the lawsuits corporations lodge against each other are totally bogus and exist for the sole purposes of A. inconveniencing the opposition and B. benefiting the lawyers. Millions upon million of dollars and hours of human labor are poured each year into activities that only serve to mutually weaken corporations.

In lawsuits over patents that actually get all the way to court, to give a sub-example, it is extremely common for the patent itself to simply get thrown out on the grounds that it is a bad patent that should have never been granted. (I’ve seen estimates between 25% and 77%.) In many of these lawsuits, a company will just scatter-shot sue a dozen or two different companies all at once over a clearly bogus patent, in the hopes that the sued companies will cut their losses and settle out of court. There are even businesses whose entire model is just to buy crappy old patents companies don’t want anymore before they expire and then sue everyone in sight. It’s called “patent trolling.”

Assuming we want patents to keep existing, then people have to be able to sue others for infringement, but patent trolls need to be shut down. The obvious solution here is to identify patterns of patent troll behavior and then punish the trolls for it. First, once a lawsuit has been filed, don’t allow the parties to settle out of court. They must go before the judge/jury. Second, companies that lose due to patent invalidation must pay the sued-party’s legal costs.

I could go on, but people who are actually trained in legal matters can do a far better job of recommending fixes to the patent system than I.

To make another example: there’s been a lot of talk over the past few years about whether or not the police are killing and imprisoning black people at higher rates than whites. The police should be (and be perceived as) trustworthy. This is a matter that the government should solve–figure out who is actually doing the defecting, publicize the results, and then do some trust-building between the police and their communities.

3. If white Yale professors think Yale needs fewer white professors and more black ones, the easiest way for them to demonstrate that they are not defecting against other white professors (who might otherwise receive those spots) is to give up their own professorships in order to make room for black candidates. Alternatively, they could just give up their paychecks to provide funding for the new positions.

4. People seem most willing to cooperate when they are all ethnically similar. Not only are they surrounded by people who are obviously behaving the same as they are, thus reducing concern about misbehavior, they have a genetic interest in cooperating. Defecting against your children or your siblings is a bad strategy in the genetic sense, because fewer copies of your genes end up existing, so people who defect against their own families tend to weed themselves out of the gene pool, leaving behind people who are good at cooperating with their kin.

Japan is an example of a society that is extremely ethnically homogenous. Just look at their little section in the graph at the top of the blog! (They’re on the far right.) Compare the smooth transition from yellow to cream with the jagged lines of the Uzbeks or the Bedouins. And the spirit of public-minded cooperation in Japan is extremely strong. The Japanese are clean, helpful, polite, and commit vanishingly little crime.

By contrast, high levels of ethnic diversity are correlated with high levels of violence, civil war, etc. in countries. There are a few exceptions to this rule, in countries that are so shitty that no one wants to move there, like Haiti. But in general, where people see themselves as ethnically different from their neighbors, they tend to defect on their neighbors.

Hartshorn ran a computer simulation of ethnic cooperation and defection strategies, with colored tiles on a board randomly assigned to cooperate or defect with tiles of their own color and to cooperate or defect with tiles of different colors. (4 different strategies in all.) In every simulation, the tiles that cooperated with their own colors and defected on other colors eventually took over the entire board.

So if two ethnic groups are living in close proximity, there’s a good chance that A. one or both of them will in fact be defecting, B. The group that defects more will actually benefit itself at the expense of the other, thus “winning”; and C. that both groups will become hyper paranoid about watching the other group for possibilities of defection, even if it isn’t happening. This is how wars get started.

The obvious answer to ethnic conflict is don’t have ethnic conflict. Only let people into your country who you would be willing to marry (in the hypothetical sense, not the literal,) and in such numbers that you can absorb them. You might also be able to let in people who are similar enough in behavior that you don’t really notice that they are ethnically different–for example, the Mormons are polytheists who tend to marry other Mormons, but they are generally polite, clean, hardworking, and easy enough to get along with. You could live next door to a Mormon and never even notice.

If the groups in a country do not effectively merge, you end up with two separate groups in one nation, which more often than not results in a bunch of people living in ghettos, and then you are very likely to fall into the mutual-defection trap. If having two (or more) separate groups in your country is inevitable (say, because they’re already there,) then I see two possibilities: A. try very hard to get everyone to think of each other as brothers and sisters in a metaphorical sense, perhaps through national holidays or forced conscription; or B. Give each group a bit of space so that they have fewer opportunities to defect on each other, and don’t set up systems that make people think defection is happening. Letting the Mormons live in Utah, for example, solved the problem of everyone thinking Mormons were weirdos back in the 1800s; letting the Amish be basically self-contained keeps them from getting into too much conflict with their neighbors today. (I think. I don’t have much experience with the Amish.)

Federalism was thought up as a way to let different people in different places effectively manage their own affairs. This system requires, however, that people actually abide by it. If we all agree that each community can educate its own children as it sees fit, and then one community decides it doesn’t have enough money for its schools, then the other communities have to be able to withstand the pressure to bail it out. Once you start bailing out other communities, they aren’t independent communities anymore but your wards, and they have to start abiding by your rules just as children obey their parents, or else we’re back to defection.

(Obviously helping each other out in times of environmental emergency may be perfectly reasonable.)