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.

 

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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.)

 

The neighbors don’t use trash pickup: the cellular automata of ethnic competition

I’ve noticed that the neighbors don’t put out their trash can on trash day. At first I thought nothing of it; perhaps they just hadn’t put their can out yet, or had accidentally slept through trash pickup. I don’t normally devote too much thought to the neighbors’ trash habits, but somehow, their cans never seemed to be out.

Last week, I witnessed them piling a mountain of trashbags into a truck. This week, again, no trash can.

It is technically legal, and cheaper, to not pay for trash pickup and instead pay a small fee to deposit your trash directly at the dump. So the neighbors are storing up a month or two’s worth of trash in their garage and then hauling it to the dump.

This is (or was) a nice neighborhood. Low crime, good schools, modern infrastructure, nice houses.

Now one of the other neighbors has been complaining to me that he’s concerned about rats coming from that house to his house.

I’ve heard a lot of complaints about this household, generally from other neighbors. Noisy, late-night parties. Guests who pee in other people’s bushes. Litter. Parking disputes (thankfully, not with me.) Mundanities that you have to put up with if you’re living around other humans. But this is a bit much.

So what to do? Call up the HOA and demand that they pass a resolution mandating that people pay for trash pickup? (Can the HOA even do that?) I don’t actually like the idea of getting the HOA to regulate the minutia of other people’s behavior, but then, I’ve never had a neighbor opt to keep giant piles of trash in their house instead of pay for trash pickup.

If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because I happened to highlight trash-related behaviors back in “Increasing Diversity => Fascism.” I’d call this a coincidence, but I suspect that disputes over proper trash disposal are actually very common.

I’m just glad we’re renting, so it’s not my money going down the drain–no, my money did that elsewhere. We cut our losses and got out shortly after the home invasions started and I found used drug needles on the playground. So we decided to pay extra, this time, for a nicer neighborhood, somewhere clean and safe.

So much for clean.

Why would anyone who can’t afford trash pickup live in this neighborhood? There are cheaper-but-still-nice neighborhoods nearby.

The answer is probably the obvious one. People who live on million-dollar estates on islands accessible only by ferry, who happily talk about how the cost of the ferry ride “keeps out the riff-raff,” vote for policies that move people from ghettos to middle-class neighborhoods.

****

This all gets back to competition, the Prisoner’s Dilemma, and ethnicity.

You and I are in competition.

If it’s any consolation, we’re also in competition with pretty much everyone on Earth. Each of us, whether consciously or not, is attempting to secure resources for ourselves and our progeny.

The easiest person to conquer is your neighbor.

You are unlikely to care terribly much about the behavior of someone living across the country, or even across the state. If some guy a thousand miles away from you is storing up a pile of trash, well, that’s weird, but it doesn’t affect you. If your neighbor is storing up a pile of trash, suddenly it starts looking like your business.

Most violence is committed against people known to the attacker, or members of their own community. Most wars are waged against a country’s immediate neighbors. And if I can’t conquer my neighbors, perhaps I can ally with someone from far away–someone not an immediate threat to me–to conquer them.

The easiest way to get people to stop fighting with their neighbors and band together for the common good is to confront them with an even bigger, credible threat from further away. England and France finally managed to ally when confronted with Germany; if space aliens invaded tomorrow, I bet most countries on earth would forget their nationalistic squabbles pretty darn quickly.

But as long as there isn’t a bigger, credible threat, then stealing my neighbor’s resources can lead to my own success. And pretty soon, we’re back to squabbling.

In other words, getting people to cooperate instead of defect is pretty tough.

Indeed, a great percent of ethnic conflicts are phrased along the lines of, “My people are great and virtuous cooperators who bend over backwards for other groups of people, but your people are dastardly defectors who are taking advantage of our naive goodwill!” And for good reason–if you can consistently defect against someone who consistently cooperates, you’ll do really well for yourself.

Society can only function if people cooperate, but short-term interests are benefitted by defection. Why put in all of the effort to engage in trade when you can let other people do trade and then mug them? Society therefore has a strong incentive to punish defection–if society can actually identify it.

We’ve gotten into the habit of attempting to prove that we are great cooperators by accusing others of defecting–ironically, defecting against them in the process.

Most whites are in direct competition–for jobs, popularity, and mates–with other whites. Lower class (and some middle class) whites are also in competition with blacks and Hispanic immigrants. High class whites are not.

When low class whites complain about black behavior, it sounds to high class whites like defection–or as we more commonly put it, racism. When high class whites say so, this sounds like defection to the low class whites–especially when they believe the blacks defected on them first. (And the blacks, of course, will inform you that the whites defected on them first.)

When whites move out of neighborhoods as blacks move in, it looks an awful lot to elites like defection. When elites make sanctimonious noises about the evils of “white flight,” this sounds like defection to the whites whose property values were destroyed as crime and trash–in the literal sense–invaded their neighborhoods. And when whites attempt to keep prospective black buyers out of neighborhoods (or drive them out after they’ve moved in,) this looks like defection, too.

Society needs a better way to determine who is and isn’t defecting.

 

Morality is what other people want you to do

This is morality from a game theory perspective.

Let’s say Person B and Person C are playing the Prisoner’s Dilemma. We ask B, “What is the moral thing for C to do?” A of course responds, “Cooperate! If C cooperates, we get highest net utility!”

Now we ask Ayn Rand, “What should C do?”
“Defect,” she answers. “Defection gets C more money than cooperation, and C doesn’t have any obligation to care about B.”

B then responds, looking a bit nervous, “I think C really should cooperate. Caring about others is moral.”

Rand: You’re just making a deontological argument with no backing. Morality, hah! You just want C to do what’s in your interest instead of his interest.

B: But obviously this kind of thinking leads to everyone defecting, and then utility is crap! Trustworthiness makes society function!

Ayn Rand: Look, what if C just lost his job? He has a dozen children to feed, and cooperating will not get him enough money to survive. If he doesn’t defect, he and all of his children will die.

B: Well… I guess then it’d be okay…

Ayn Rand: In that case, by your own reasoning, you ought to encourage his defection, because that saves lives!

B. Well… Um… But wait a minute! What if I also have 12 children to feed and no job? My first obligation is to my kids, not C’s kids. C should cooperate so that I can defect!

And, in fact, in extreme cases like famines, people sacrifice their own lives–go without food–to save the lives of others. And people have been known to literally kill and eat other people. It’s gruesome, but it is generally agreed that saving lives trumps most other concerns. (See previous post on morality for why.) People in wartime will also go to extremes, though this may be less justified.

But most of the time, we are not in a famine. B and C aren’t facing death if they cooperate–C’s life will just be marginally better if he defects, (and vice-versa).

B wants C to always cooperate–this is the best possible thing for B, even if B has secret plans to defect. So publicly, at least, B will always insist that the most moral thing is for C to cooperate–even if it harms C.

Some people actually care about the greatest possible good. Many just care about encouraging people not to defect on them. The net effect, of course, is a general message that the “Most moral thing possible” is to completely sacrifice oneself for others. People who, say, run into burning building to rescue people, or give up their lives for their children, or donate kidneys to strangers, or spend all of their time helping disabled orphans, are generally hailed as heroes, the epitome of morality.

We might shorthand this to “Morality = the greatest good to society.” (The cost to you be damned).

Obviously a society that manages to convince people to cooperate in no-famine situations will be better off than a society that fails to do so. In fact, this is the kind of society you want to live in–the alternative would be kind of awful.

The downside to this kind of morality is that people who take it too far tend to weed themselves out of the gene pool, leaving society less moral in their wakes. We might laud people who give up their fortunes to help the poor, but try announcing your plan to give all of your excess money to starving third worlders and begin sleeping in a cardboard box to your parents at [holiday of your choice] dinner, and see how it goes over.

We might even argue that there are two kinds of morality at play, one mitochondrial, the other viral. Mitochondrial cares about the survival of your genes, and people who don’t share your genes be damned. Viral morality cares about the well-being of society, and your particular genes be damned. The connections to liberals and conservatives should be obvious.

If a conservative says, “X is moral,” and it makes no sense to you, they likely mean, “X is in my genes’ interests.” If a liberal says, “X is moral,” and that makes no sense to you, they likely mean, “X is in society’s interests.”

The correlation is not absolute, though, as the vast majority of people employ both sets of morals, and not just hypocritically.

If you want to live in a nice society, you need both approaches. You need people to basically cooperate most of the time, so that you can do business with strangers or live remotely near them. You also need to exert a little interest in your own self-interest, so you don’t die.

Some people lean too far in the self-interested direction, and need to be reminded to cooperate.

This is one of religion’s good points–almost all religions generally try to encourage people to cooperate and make sacrifice for the common good, and religion tends to be effective at doing this because it can say, “Do it because GOD SAYS SO,” which has historically been pretty effective. So in a religious ceremony, we vow, “Until death do us part,”–promising, before god, not to defect on each other, which probably makes people actually less likely to break their marriage contracts than merely promising before a gov’t bureaucrat. Likewise, in many of the most destitute parts of the world, (like the DRC or your local homeless shelter,) the only people doing anything to help are mostly religious folks.

Even many of the world’s most successful “communist” ventures were religious, because “god says so” is an effective motivator to get people to share–but more about that later.

By contrast, some people lean too far in the societally-interested direction, and need to be reminded that it is okay for them to look after their own interests, too. Women who’ve become the primary caregivers for elderly relatives, for example, often end up sacrifice excessively, nearly killing themselves in the process. They may need to be reminded that it is okay to value their own lives, too.

Aristotle posits his virtues as the middle between two extremes–Bravery between Cowardliness and Rashness, for example. I suggest an optimum morality as taking the middle path between these two extremes of social and genetically-interested morality, so that you can have a nice society without all of the nice people dying out and being replaced by jerks.

Studies: Disgust, Prisoner’s Dilemma

Disgust leads people to lie and cheat; cleanliness leads to ethical behavior

and

Prisoners better at Prisoner’s Dilemma than non-Prisoners

 

Quotes:
“… In one experiment, participants evaluated consumer products such as antidiarrheal medicine, diapers, feminine care pads, cat litter and adult incontinence products. In another, participants wrote essays about their most disgusting memory. In the third, participants watched a disgusting toilet scene from the movie “Trainspotting.” Once effectively disgusted, participants engaged in experiments that judged their willingness to lie and cheat for financial gain. Mittal and colleagues found that people who experienced disgust consistently engaged in self-interested behaviors at a significantly higher rate than those who did not.

“In another set of experiments, after inducing the state of disgust on participants, the researchers then had them evaluate cleansing products, such as disinfectants, household cleaners and body washes. Those who evaluated the cleansing products did not engage in deceptive behaviors any more than those in the neutral emotion condition.

“At the basic level, if you have environments that are cleaner, if you have workplaces that are cleaner, people should be less likely to feel disgusted,” Mittal said. “If there is less likelihood to feel disgusted, there will be a lower likelihood that people need to be self-focused and there will be a higher likelihood for people to cooperate with each other.” ”

SO GO WASH YOUR HANDS!

and…

“for the simultaneous game, only 37% of students cooperate. Inmates cooperated 56% of the time.

On a pair basis, only 13% of student pairs managed to get the best mutual outcome and cooperate, whereas 30% of prisoners do.

In the sequential game, far more students (63%) cooperate, so the mutual cooperation rate skyrockets to 39%. For prisoners, it remains about the same.”

A several things may be going on:
1. Defecting on your fellow prisoners may have really negative consequences that college students don’t face.
2. Prisoners may identify strongly with each other as fellow prisoners.
3. Prisoners may be united by some form of hatred for the people keeping them in prison, leading them to cooperate with each other over outsiders even when they don’t like each other.
4. Prisoners may have been through enough bad crap already in their lives that the promise of a few cigarettes seems trivial and not worth defecting over.
5. Prisoners are drawn disproportionately from a population that happens to have strong norms or instincts about not defecting.
6. College students are jerks.