martes, agosto 19, 2008

Good, evil and game theory

in this post of overcoming bias, about this quote:

"The simple fact is that non-violent means do not work against Evil. Gandhi's non-violent resistance against the British occupiers had some effect because Britain was wrong, but not Evil. The same is true of the success of non-violent civil rights resistance against de jure racism. Most people, including those in power, knew that what was being done was wrong. But Evil is an entirely different beast. Gandhi would have gone to the ovens had he attempted non-violent resistance against the Nazis. When one encounters Evil, the only solution is violence, actual or threatened. That's all Evil understands." -- Robert Bruce Thompson

Peter Turney made a set of politically correct statements by making a misleading and tangential use of game theory with the -implicit- claim of precission and rationality, when, actually, their definitions are as ambiguous as the concepts of the quote that he tries to dismiss:

I believe that this quote is not rational, because thinking of human relations in terms of “good” and “evil” is not rational. I prefer to think in terms of the iterated prisoners’ dilemma; in terms of cooperation and defection. If you frame a conflict in terms of “good” and “evil”, you quickly reach violence. If you frame it in terms of “cooperation” and “defection”, you may be able to negotiate a cooperative agreement. Violence may be necessary in certain situations, but it represents a suboptimal solution to conflict.

In a blog that is dedicated to overcoming bias, the term “evil” should only be used to point out the bias and irrationality that is encouraged by the concept of “evil”.

“When one encounters Evil, the only solution is violence, actual or threatened.”

This whole quote is sophistry. The capitalized word “Evil” is a metaphorical personification of an abstract concept. A standard definition of “evil” is “morally objectionable behavior”.

Suppose we replace the personification “Evil” with “morally objectionable behavior”:

“When one encounters morally objectionable behavior, the only solution is violence, actual or threatened.”

The result is absurd. Suppose we agree that shoplifting is morally objectionable behavior. Is it true that the only solution to shoplifting is violence or the threat of violence? I don’t think so. But “Evil” is an emotionally loaded term that triggers our biases and discourages careful, rational thought. So when we read, “When one encounters Evil, the only solution is violence, actual or threatened,” it is not quite so obviously false as, “When one encounters morally objectionable behavior, the only solution is violence, actual or threatened.”





I traditionally suspect of opinions where what is supposedly rational coincides with what is fashionable. The conformity bias is too strong for not worth considering it.

Despite the false rethoric of "reductio ad ambiguity" above, Evil can have a precise meaning in evolutionary game theory. In the prisoner dilemma game, when considering groups instead of individuals, evil groups are the ones that ever defect.

Good and evil has a precise meaning, just as cooperate and defect. Both depend on the game context. When doing communications, good means to "ever say the truth"; evil means "ever to lie". When respecting liberty, good is to ever respect freedom of others"; evil means not to respect at will. When life is concerned, good is to respect life ever. Evil is to kill at will.

As evolutionary game theorist Alex Axelrod demonstrated, against systematic defectors, that is, evil players, the only response is the "tit for that" strategy, that is, to retaliate.

So Robert Bruce Thompson is right, no matter if it is politically incorrect. You not only have the right, but the absolute need for survival, to lie to systematic liars, private freedom of totalitarians and kill those that will kill you.

Against retaliators however, the best strategy is to cooperate. retaliators do defect, but they are not evil, because they are not systematic defectors , in he game theory jargon. They cooperate whom may cooperate and defect to defectors. So cooperate with a retaliator is the way to obtain its future cooperation (Christianity recommend heavily this).

According with these precise definitions of good and evil, English were not evil. Gandhi cooperated by non-escalating from peaceful claim of independence to war (by using terrorism of whatever that give advantage by surprise). England response was a peaceful withdrawal. This was a good outcome of a Prisoner dilemma game.

Nazis were evil. They immediately escalate and kill any dissidence, even peaceful, so violence was the only option.

1 comentario:

Alejandro dijo...

Ciertamente la violencia sería la única respuesta ante los nazis para terminar con su propia violencia, pero no sería (ni fue) la única forma de resistirles.

Habría que examinar la posibilidad de que el regimen nazi huiera fracasado inevitablemente como estructura sociopolítica al cabo de un tiempo pese a haber podido ganar la guerra. En cuyo caso, sería también efectiva una resistencia más pasiva para sobrevivir (pero solo para sobrevivir) simplemente ocultandose durante largos periodos de tiempo.

No es una solución nada óptima pero es otra solución... y si la sobrevivencia es la única meta, entonces, también sería un válida. Claro que dependería exclusivamente de la efectividad del régimen nazi para perdurar en el tiempo.

Saludos.