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L. Neil Smith's
Number 567, April 25, 2010

Authoritarian sycophants in the lamestream media

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Game Theory and Scapegoating
by Bob Wallace

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

I'm not sure where I ran across Game Theory. I know it was in the movie A Beautiful Mind, about John Nash, whose work was about it. Then there was The Evolution of Cooperation, by Robert Axelrod, an economist at the University of Michigan.

Axelrod asked and then answered the question, "When, and under what conditions, does it pay to cooperate?" In a sentence, the answer is that cooperation is a rational response when two parties are in a prolonged game (relationship) with an indeterminable end.

Game Theory explains why I can trust some people more than others. I can, for example, trust a friend much more than someone I buy a used car from. Long-term relationships (ones with no ends in sight) encourage civility and cooperation, short term relations don't.

If you have two parties, say two countries, and if neither can prevail against the other, and they know this, then cooperation is the best way for them to go. This is why strong countries generally don't go to war against one another, and instead one strong country will attack a weaker. The strong country feels it has already won and therefore sees no reason to cooperate.

Here's the rub: if people already believe they have won the game, there is no reason for them to cooperate. It doesn't matter if they really have won the game or not; it only matters if they believe they have. People aren't always rational; indeed, when it comes to politics, they often are not.

Another problem is when they think they're losing the game. Then there is also no reason to cooperate. They have to go all-out to win, if they think they are going to be annihilated. That's where the saying, "Fighting like a cornered rat" came from.

Game Theory tells us you always have to let people have a way out, or give them a way to cooperate. If you don't, then hostilities will often break out. This means extreme policies always oppose moderation and rational policies.

In politics, a sign that a country feels it is losing in relation to one or more countries is when it starts to play the extremist game of elimination or hegemony over its opponents. The first sign of this is the use of propaganda to paint its opponents as insane, evil, utterly irrational, and dedicated to nothing but destruction. The general term for this is "scapegoating."

When you have two opposing countries doing this to each other—not cooperating and branding each other as evil—then events will be driven by extremists on both sides. This explains why when hostilities break out and extremists on both sides have power, nothing can be solved, since neither side will cooperate.

Extremists are apparently grandiose and paranoid at the same time—if they fight, it's ordained they will win; if they don't fight, it's ordained they will be exterminated. To them, it's an either/or, win/lose situation,—so no compromise can be possible. Either way, they believe game over.

However, these people delude themselves. The game is never over.

The first thing rulers of any country do when they want to start a war is brand their "enemies" as evil though the use of propaganda. Not only evil, but insane homicidal maniacs who cannot be reasoned with.

What this means is that any rulers who engage in this scapegoating propaganda are automatically extremists. They believe they have either already won the game, or so will not cooperate, or else believe they are in danger of extermination, and so also will not cooperate.

The fact that Bush's administration engaged in bizarre pronouncements about Saddam Hussein (the ludicrous "Drones of Death") means that administration really did think he was a threat. And the fact Obama's administration tries to paint as evil anyone who disagrees with the socialization of medicine and insurance is a sign they really believe their "opponents" are a legitimate threat.

What I conclude is that much of politics today in the United States is extremist (full of hate and fear), propagandizing, and scapegoating (our "opponents are not mistaken, but evil). People who disagree with each other therefore have no intention of compromising but instead try to destroy the other.

The problem is getting worse and I see a bad outcome before things get better.

Editor's Note:

More Information:

see also: Theory of Games and Economic Behavior by John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern

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