Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The other solution to the Prisoner's Dilemma

Sometimes I'll sit down and blog the thoughts that come to mind. Other times I'm thinking interesting ideas and happen to be near the computer. Then there are the topics that bounce around my head for months, where I intend to write something, but it always feels so...daunting. Eventually you'll get my theory of negative mass, but...not yet.

Of course when you wait long enough somebody else might present your idea first. Thanks "Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal." Besides making me laugh, you've now gotten me to write a blog post. (I'm sure this idea has been presented before that, but I'm not about to go 'research' the history of it. Independently arrived at by at least me and SMBC. All I need to know. Hurrahs for not being in academia).

So read the comic if you haven't already.

I've seriously been meaning to blog that for months. A slightly different take, naturally, but the idea of Jesus as fundamentally presenting an alternative solution to the prisoners dilemma. In our pro-capitalist society we've come to accept the turn-coat solution to the prisoner's dilemma as the correct one. It's the reason it's a famous thought experiment. Game theory says you should rat out your compatriot. But I find it interesting how many ways Jesus comes out against that solution.

'Turn the other cheek' is one of the fundamental lessons Jesus taught, and I feel like Christianity has lost sight of that. The impulse to fight evil is strong. It's the natural reaction. Half of the solutions to the prisoner's dilemma involve the party trying to do good losing out to the party being mean. So the solution where you're both mean, and thus can't take advantage of each other is tempting. But ultimately, isn't the cooperative solution best?

"It's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God." I know this religion can be a bit critical of science, but you don't need very advanced physics to understand that won't happen. Even the poor in America are proportionally fairly rich. I have to wonder if it bothers Americans that Jesus has essentially told us we aren't getting in to heaven. The devout must assume they'll push the camel through. Good luck.

But again, from the Prisoner's Dilemma standpoint, it makes sense. You don't get rich in the cooperative column. You get taken advantage of. You get fleeced, your money taken. You build up wealth in the turncoat column. That's the basis of game theory, of objectivism. The idea that things will go well for everyone if you always look out just for yourself. But Jesus' point, and it's a valuable one, is that looking at your own self gain is not the point. Look at the global good. That's what you should optimize.

If someone hungry steals your bread, isn't that a net positive in the world? Now two people can eat. The concern is always that this line of thinking leads to the immoral getting an advantage. People so often oppose social safety nets because some percentage might take advantage of it and not work. So? Just because someone's bad, why are they less deserving of comforts and rewards?

It's a weird way to think, but when enough people think that way things are better for everyone. If you can accept good things happening to bad people, and bad things happening to good people, you can see to it that better things happen to people in general. I find it interesting to think of heaven and hell not as brimstone and harps waiting on the other side of the graveyard, but as the future. If we're good, our children can live in peace and sustenance. If we're bad, they'll have to eke a living from a scourged shell of a planet. And how to we get to the heaven-as-a-good-future? By ignoring our personal desires, ignoring the overwhelming urge to meter justice, and to just do best by the world. Two thousand years later I think we're still misunderstanding Jesus. Do unto your neighbor as you would have him do unto you.

1 comment:

  1. Today I parked my car in a lot next to the package store and when I got out a man asked me for some change, ostensibly to buy toilet paper. this may or may not have been true, but I gave him some money, as I usually do in this situation. Now, the fact is, I have no way of knowing what he did with the money. He may have indeed been strapped for cash and in need of a roll of TP and he's better off for it. Maybe not, maybe he'll use the money for something else.

    Some people would call me a sucker for giving the dude money, since I have no way of verifying what he'll use it for and I gain nothing out of it. But the way I see it, some day I might be in a position where I need to ask a stranger for help, and that person will either a) believe my story and help me or b) not believe me and not help. Or, what I tend towards, c) ignore the story entirely and just respond to the request for help, because someday I hope someone will do the same for me if needs be.

    Basically, I have no new point to make, just thought this illustrated your thesis here. I act in a way that could be labeled altruistic because I want to live in an altruistic society, not because I think it'll earn me personal salvation or acclaim or any useless bullshit like that. Option D!