2019 — This blog is charged with Contributing to the Delinquency of Citizens. Its recent post, “The Government Should Mind Its Own Business” was found, by the ministry of free speech, to be “subversive and disquieting”, offenses punishable by death. Arrests were made.
It was discovered that the blog’s owner did not write the article, a fact which saved his skin. His punishment was a mere six years educational readjustment.
During the course of his routine interrogation to extract information related to the crime, the blog owner, after being forced to listen to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” three times in a row, cracked.
Before losing the last of his marbles, the blog owner was able to tell his inquisitors two names: “Mike” and “Ari.” Subsequent IP and weblog analysis revealed unequivocally that these two gentlemen were the only possible authors.
Both were arrested and stored in separate cells, into which a selection of Beatles tunes were looped to soften them up.
These prisoners had a dilemma!
Four outcomes were possible:
- Mike rats out Ari, Ari remains loyal; Mike goes free, Ari fries.
- Mike and Ari remain loyal; both receive six years reeducation, because the government would never execute where there is ambiguity.
- Mike remains loyal, Ari rats out Mike; Ari goes free, Mike fries.
- Mike rats out Ari, who rats out Mike; once more there is ambiguity, and both are sentenced to hand copy the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” for the remainder of their sorry lives.
Both men know these possibilities. Mike sits and stews, wondering if he should rat out Ari, hoping that if he does so, he’ll go free, but Ari will fry. “Of course,” Mike thinks, “Ari knows that if he rats me out and I keep quiet, I fry.”
“But,” he reasons, “that means we both might turn rat. We’d be alive, but life would be hell.”
Meanwhile, Ari similarly muses. “Mike is usually a stand-up guy. He’ll probably keep his mouth shut, which means I should too, since I am so sweet. We’ll both have to endure reeducation, but it’s better than frying. Of course, Mike does have that streak of irascibility…”
The textbooks tell us that the “rational” solution for each man is to rat the other out and win his freedom. Well, this is obvious, right? Each man’s life and freedom is dear to him, after all.
But the textbooks, as they often are, and as you will by now be unsurprised to learn, are wrong. The reason they are wrong is because there are more than four possible outcomes.
There appear to be only four, because of (1) a lack of imagination, and (2) the usual mad rush to quantify the unquantifiable, a malady from which our cultures suffers greatly and to which many statisticians contribute.
Here are more possible outcomes:
- Mike rats out Ari, Ari remains loyal; Mike goes free, Ari fries. Mike rats because he knows that Ari will be too weak to lead the resistance, and that he must live.
- Mike remains loyal, Ari rats out Mike; Ari goes free, Mike fries. Ari rats because he and Mike agreed to this beforehand, since Mike is old and decrepit.
- Mike remains loyal, Ari nervously rats out Mike; Ari goes free, Mike fries. Ari kills himself in shame.
- Mike and Ari remain loyal; both receive six years reeducation, but upon release they are secreted away to China (as they knew they would be), where they can live a life free of government interference.
- Mike boasts loudly to a guard that he will rat to save his life, knowing word will reach Ari who will then rat, too. But Mike doesn’t rat because Mike loves Ari; his plan is to sacrifice himself.
Perhaps you don’t find these situations plausible; if so, feel free to imagine your own. You can be sure that Mike and Ari will be thinking of infinite possibilities and not just the four laid out by the warden. In particular, we know, but the quantifiers do not, that not every man assesses the value of his life identically.
Quantification fails even if the punishments are changed from frying and reeducation to monetary fines. Because why? Because nobody thinks wholly in monetary terms (except, possibly, socialists, who are obsessed with money).
Even though the men are warned that only the immediate outcomes in front of them are pertinent—consider no other!—each will defy this directive and think about what happens subsequent to the immediate payout/punishment. Their thoughts on these matters figure inescapably into the calculations of their actions.
These criticisms are known to some extent, especially when considering experimental “iterated” prisoner’s dilemmas. But even then, those involved always think beyond the immediate horizon, about how their actions affect “players” not formally in the game (including how the players will be seen by the experimenters).
The worst of it is not that these figurings are impossible to quantify, but that people think that they are not important because they cannot be quantified.