Sep 27, 2008
Game Theory fascinates me. How one’s own choices interact with those of others – sometimes with quite perverse results. This isn’t the place to give an entire take on the theory; but let’s just work with one of the core concepts: cooperation and defection.
Cooperators work the way the system says they should work. Defectors don’t play by the rules. Cooperators follow conventions, patterns, structures. Defectors deliberately ride roughshod through them. Typically, the Defector’s short-term gain from ‘cheating’ can be shown – at least in theory – to be completely unsustainable. Very often it’s possible to create a sort of morality message which shows why the rules are the way they are. And yet Defectors very often do very well…
An example: heading east on the M40, about two miles before the M25 junction you notice something strange. The nearside (~slow) lane is a queue of very slow-moving cars. The other three lanes are moving rapidly. You want to join the M25. If you Cooperate, you pull over to the far left, join the queue and just take your turn. If you Defect, you listen to a dark voice in your ear… “Go on my son, just hang in there in Lane 2, or even 3. There’s always a gap, easily enough to slip in to. And if there isn’t a gap, just force yerself in, a flash of the lights, pick on a nervous-looking lady, away you go…”
And from years of experience of this route, you know that the gap is always there. So you Defect: you wait until the last minute and carry out what is known in traffic-management-land as a ‘swoop’. And you always do better than if you’d sat in the two mile queue.
Highways designers think up all sorts of crafty schemes to try and stop this (seen those strange ‘diamond’ lane dividers?) but no more detail needed on this example: the lesson here is, cheat and prosper.
The crowd usually cry out at this point “Ah, but if everybody did that, there would be total chaos and everybody would be held up even more. There’d be crashes, and rude gestures, and… erm… it’s just not… right!”
So there’s clearly more to Defecting than just having a whole load of empirical evidence that there’s always big gaps between 400 and 100 yards from the point of no return before the M25 turn-off. You have to be a bit of a git as well.
Aww, I’m kidding. It’s not always called gittishness. Sometimes it’s called “being a free spirit”, sometimes “playing your own game” and sometimes “righteous warrior against systems set up to subjugate the individual”.
Now go and have a look at saynoto0870.com. Have a think about Cooperation and Defection in the light of its wonderful, enlightened, citizen-centric proposition. And we’ll be back here shortly with a fable to drum home the point…