Saturday, October 30, 2010

Game Theory and the Rally For Sanity

I watched most of the Rally for Sanity online.  It was both more and less interesting than I was expecting.  Not too many big surprises except that the number of Muslims on stage may have come close to tying the number of Jews.  And the big surprise was which Muslims: Kareem Abdul Jabbar and the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens.  Very striking.

What did I find most interesting?  Jon Stewart's closing speech.  He did two things (well more than two, but two that struck me more): he highlighted a key identity that unifies most Americans and, not so coincidentally, brought up tit for tat.  First, he showed a bunch of drivers in a traffic jam, probably trying to merge to get through the tunnel going under Baltimore Harbor (I don't think there is another tunnel in the DC area).  He was using the common experience of driving to help bring people together, and it is something that unifies most Americans (except for a subsection of urban dwellers).  As cowboys were a central part of American identity in the past, driving is a central part of what it means to be an American today.  So, this identity move by Stewart was pretty sharp and interesting.

And it led to the second--I go, you go, I go, you go .....  That Stewart suggested as a key standard/expectation of reasonable-ness--reciprocity.  If we only treated each other as we wanted to be treated?  Wow.  Yes, the golden rule is in most (all?) the major religions.  It is also the way to play prisoner's dilemma if the fear is not too great.  That is, if you can take a leap of faith in the first round of a repeated prisoner's dilemma, it makes sense to trust and cooperate the first turn, and the reciprocate on every turn thereafter.  If you cheat on me in the first round, I will punish you by cheating in the second round.  This is the old fashioned (1980's, 1990's IO literature) way to get to cooperation.  The cumulative gains of cooperation down the road, if we care enough about the future, overwhelm the short term gains of cheating.

Of course, reciprocity can produce cooperation or enduring conflict, as doing what the other guy did can mean punishing them after they have punished you.  Pakistan and India as the exemplar.

Still, the American political system could use a bit more positive reciprocity, and, as a defining characteristic of reasonable-ness and sanity, not too bad.

PS.  Good to see that the Flying Spaghetti Monster made it.

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