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Tag Archives: prisoner’s dilemma

The Dance of Cooperation and Defection

It’s good to cooperate when everyone is defecting and good to defect when everyone cooperates.  Kind of like it’s you vs. the crowd when you try to buy a stock low and sell it high.
In a high trust society, it pays to be the first to break trust and plunder the commons knowing that the full satisfaction of your greed won’t even make a dent.
Once too many people join in the plunder, the payoff plummets as everyone’s defenses go up.  Worse, once that downward spiral of mass defection starts, it’s hard to break out of it.  We’ve yet to ever see a society recover from decadence and avoid collapse.
Yet the first group that can somehow break out of that negative spiral cleans up and founds the new order.  This seems to be what happened with early Christianity.  All they had to do was be a group of people who actually cared about each other and backed each other up.  Once they got sufficiently established an atomized late-stage popular culture nobody cared to defend was easily swept aside.

Conversely when everyone goes along with the system it pays to be the guy who exploits the herd.  In the US Civil War, there were professional enlistment dodgers once large sign-up bonuses became necessary to recruit more troops.  While the guy who followed instructions and popular sentiment naively marched into the line of fire expecting glory,  the guy who stayed out of the early craze could get paid just to show up and then change identities to do it again.  While raking in all that cash, I can only imagine the successful dodger was quite the catch for all the lonely young ladies and found himself living in luxury, getting laid like tile while the other poor schlub was getting his gangrenous leg sawed off.  Winners and losers: those who can adjust their survival strategies to changing circumstances and those who get outmaneuvered.

Our own society suffers from far too many defectors and as a result social capital has collapsed.  We’re bowling alone and doting on animals to feel some kind of connection in the midst of this economic war of all against all.  The unclaimed prize goes to the first organization, whatever it is, that establishes high-trust, reliable social capital for even average people who get trashcanned for falling a few steps behind the pack.  This is the service that early Christianity provided and it exploded because the pent up demand for cooperation was immense.   Those who got in the faith during its rise and avoided getting martyred got to reap the benefits of family and community while everyone else was still fighting to the death over a dwindling trail of crumbs.

I felt the dots in my head connecting as I read about Darwin’s finches a few years ago.  Female preference is elastic because they just select whichever males seem well-fed and prosperous at a given time.  Whenever the environment changes, different kinds of males meet with more success and become the most attractive.  The present social order heaps money and status on the most flagrant defectors, getting them the best mates as decay nears rock-bottom.  Being the best defector is increasingly difficult though because everyone is trying to do it.  At some point it’s smarter to look for the early Christians wherever they may be found and sit tight while the cycle winds down.  This is pretty much what formerly nihilistic PUAs are doing as they’ve changed their rhetoric almost unanimously to family, nation, and traditional marriage over the last few years.

The story of the finches also made me think of the decline of the middle class.  During good times, it pays to be a generalist who can benefit from many different food sources.  During bad times, the best survivors are specialists that can access niches others can’t reach.  Right now is a boom time for the highly skilled upper middle class as it is for the highly fecund underclasses.  Those of merely above average intelligence and disposition have neither the brains or patience to be electrical engineers nor the raw guile and viciousness needed to rule the streets.  Now that there’s a drought, they find themselves starving while specialists thrive.  The prevailing question is, from what direction do the next rains arrive?

Unlike finches, humans have some ability to shift their strategies and pivot with the times.  The human brain arose from nature not to invent science but to participate in a cerebral arms race between humans locked with each other in a collective prisoner’s dilemma with constantly shifting payoffs and losses.  The finches have different kinds of beaks for different foods, lions have teeth and claws to kill prey, humans try to win at the great game of musical chairs.

Most Wealth is Wasted in Modern Society

Of the massive 15 trillion dollar per year US economy there is undoubtedly some millions that comprise the fake plant industry.  
Fake plants serve to accentuate the soullessness of your typical office or waiting area with a parody of nature.  The materials and labor that goes into them serves no essential purpose nor does it make anyone happier.  What then is the point?

Why not just have fake plant makers stay at home with basic income if they’re wasting time and resources?  The system works by most people being forced to sell their labor(not everyone can be entrepeneurs) so they have food to eat and rent for their landlords. Why do we assume all labor must be good when every other living thing rests when it can?

The other side of this equation is consumerism that operates on the Keynesian assumption that all economic activity is worthwhile, and the more of it the better, no matter what.  And if you ever doubt it, you’re a commie or worse, a socialist!
This encourages an economy based on make-work that gets people a paycheck so they can buy more stuff without anything of value getting done.

So if I were emperor I might outlaw the manufacture of fake plants.  Maybe there’d be a black market for them and maybe fake plant dealers from time to time would get a whipping in the public square or get pilloried and pelted with rotten eggs and tomatoes.  

At the very least it would make fake plants more expensive and lower quality so fewer people would bother.  Being  a worthless “good” that no one really likes, there would be no Al Capone of fake plants.

Growing up in the 90s, I saw the social order of consumerism at its absolute peak.  Even people of modest means lived in decent-sized houses and their garages were invariably full to bursting with thousands of dollars worth of frivolous toys they never used.
 
I remember getting taken to house parties with my parents and seeing whole collections of the brand new DVDs worth hundreds of dollars that just sat there in glass cabinets, never removed from their plastic in houses that were so fastidiously clean, they didn’t even seem lived in.

I would get a feeling of dread and black depression in the pit of my stomach.  I could sense it was signs of sickness and decay though I couldn’t articulate or explain, even if someone in the smugly triumphalist 90s would have listened to such talk.

I reflect on my childhood and remember how most people given more money than they need to live just blow it all on stupid fads and status signalling anyway and are just as miserable and greedy as they were before.

Actually I perceived a thinly veiled cynicism, viciousness, and jadedness pervading most everything, even in other kids, who would’ve slit a throat for more Abercrombie and Fitch apparel. There were no loyalties or values, just things.

I remember those times as the worst and darkest of my life even though I spent my 20s perilously close to going completely broke as I had to teach myself the laws of real world survival from scratch after getting a worthless degree.

For all the pain it has caused, I actually think the challenges of the 21st century have forced people to reflect again on what is really important in life—and discredited the corrupt 1960s cultural revolution.  In some ways, it would have been the true nightmare if that on-paper prosperity had gone on forever.

Giving the commoners excessive wealth through the labor market or by welfare is like inflating the college degree or home loan markets.

The trouble in understanding this lies in enlightenment delusions of “perfectly rational” human behavior.  Or in other words assuming that people will always strive to improve their situations in a stricly pragmatic material sense.

In reality, beyond getting basic necessities met, most people just care about attracting desirable mates, making friends, and starting families.  
Humans as social animals are hardwired to compete for social prestige by any means necessary.

Like many other animals we see in the wild, human males try to build bowers and put on courtship displays to impress females.  Females spend most of their time and money acquiring accessories and grooming their plumage to impress the best bower builders.

As the level of wealth rises in society, the bowers get bigger and the accessories get more elaborate.  The dark side of this is if you don’t jump on the fad wagon and compete with the Joneses, you get left behind or even cast out from society.

Eventually you have a society where social signalling with more expensive houses, cars, and credentials puts all the wealth in the world straight down the toilet.

Human status is relative to what other people have and that’s why those who say “But US poorz is better off than African Kingz cuz they’re fat and they’ve got microwave ovens.” are full of crap—and they know it.

So if I were emperor, I would put restrictions on what kinds of houses are legal to build.  No more oversized houses with shoddy architecture and cheap materials that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.  

I would insist on durable materials suitable for the climate at reasonable prices that are large enough to do what’s necessary, especially anywhere near the cities where land is scarce.  It wouldn’t even take that long to phase out the current generation of houses that are considered “old” after 30 years.

There would be no more luxury cars for commoners.  No more hummers and pickup trucks on the road(unless you live off-road, have a farm, or a small business).  Excessively big vehicles just force everyone else to get bigger, more expensive cars if they want to survive a collision and consume ridiculous amounts of gas.  For 99% of people it makes more sense to rent a uhaul for the day if they need to move some stuff.

The credential factory universities wouldn’t get free money anymore and would have to answer directly to market forces.  They would probably just go back to being a socialization service for the upper middle class and up.

I would also abolish all employment laws concerning race and sex, granting peoples complete freedom of association.

I would make it legal to use IQ tests or other aptitude tests for employment to make a huge chunk of the bloated credential economy obsolete overnight.

I’m sure some who read this will choke with indignation at this “infringement of individual property rights” etc. etc. But I really see it as more mundane than that.  No different than rules against business owners burning down their competitors’ shops or building codes that limit how high or prominent signs can be.

A clear basic duty of those who control the guys with guns is to keep competition at all levels of society within healthy limits so they in turn can compete with other groups of guys with guns.

Let’s imagine for a moment that we take away those building codes.  Overnight, restaurants would build ever larger, taller, more brightly flashing signs and decoration to get attention even as the quality of the burgers they’re selling plummets.

This is exactly what happens when a population has no rules of social competition.  It simply escalates out of control until the most fabulously wealthy society in history is mired in crushing debt and most people are living paycheck to paycheck.

The core problem is that we actually idolize the social order of endless escalation that is destroying us.  Like countless empires before us that squandered their inheritance, we will find ourselves suddenly vulnerable to barbarian incursions from every side and our ability to unite, fight, and trust in our fellow man utterly extinguished in the endless war of all against all that we worship.

Until we rethink our basic assumptions about wealth and human nature, we are like Tantalus doomed to be thirsty and hungry though surrounded by all the wealth of the world, satisfaction always just out of reach.

Perhaps, we may even begin to dream of heresies—would living in a basic mudbrick house and a basic car be bad if we didn’t have to worry about basics of life like healthcare?
If you can’t buy a McMansion or lame crap like fake plants, and you don’t have to worry about becoming a debt slave for life if you trip once on a flight of stairs or slip in the shower, suddenly the unthinkable might occur.  The urge to get more money even if it destroys your entire society, might just diminish and economic activity become limited to where it does the most good.

GoldenBalls – Prisoner’s Dilemma

The theory might have to be updated to accommodate young women – they nearly always choose steal. I wonder if zero sum thinking correlates higher with females, particularly young ones? It might explain some of Feminism’s ideas and policies.

In this case a man turns the dilemma on it’s head by saying he will steal the money, and share it after the show:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0qjK3TWZE8

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