Sunday, December 12, 2004

Commentary :)

Below are someone's comments to the previous blog (please read first) and my response. While I hope everyone would see and seek the comments, I'm not sure how probable it is. A full post is much more overt, hence my current submission. Please add your thoughts as you'd like.

Human Rights comments:
Anonymous said...
You know, I disagree when you say "You are not separate, this is a zero-sum game; you only win by someone else losing."

An iterated PD isn't zero sum, you win the most when you cooperate. Does Gauthier's constrained maximizing and mutual advantage theory mean much to you? :)

I'm know I'm nit picking, but I think it's important.

If someone else really has to loose - in the truest most extended version of that - then I do choose me - I don't think anything else is rational.

But, thanks God that's not how it is. For us to win (exceping perhaps some very mentally broken human beings) in the truest most extended version of that - we cooperate.

It only makes sense, if our species is going to survive. Unfortunately, we're not quite long sighted enough.

Sorta related, I really like the idea of government and laws based on MA and evolutionary fit. Teach people evolution and game theory and we should see a little farther than we do now.

Anyway, that's what I think - obviously. :)

1:36 PM
Anonymous said...
Woops, just realized that's vague. I meant to say 'I do choose me over them' so... I'll win and they loose.

1:37 PM
Darren said...
First off, thanks for the commentary, debate is (almost) always good. I was somewhat amused that you clarified a point I understood, but not PD, Gauthier’s theories or MA; none of which I understand nor have the time to look up right now. :P (ah... PD = prisoner's dilemma)

When I was trying to pinpoint the source our disagreement the only thing I could think of was context: who is my audience and what we are measuring. Any thoughts?

Who is the audience for this blog? Probably only some Canadians who know me or know of the blog through friends. Either way, these people have access to a computer, which puts them in the different socio-economic status than most of the world. So the argument mainly applies to the developed worlds. For others in developing countries to achieve some of ‘happiness’ that comes to us so easily in the developed world, we would have to radically restructure our whole economic system (not a bad idea btw). Most people would not be willing to give up a significant part of their land, water, power, meat, entertainment, hobbies, possessions…etc. In this context, we win by someone else losing. People here would be less happy, would ‘lose’ by cooperating and diverting most of their unnecessary resources to cooperate with the others in need.

Alternatively, if we are measuring the ‘contentment’ of all, of course cooperation makes sense. I’m trying to make that my reality, but that is not reality (sadly). Try to show me how your points make sense.

I agree that evolutionary models show that cooperation works and that more people should be exposed to game theory. But I think you forget a big point. There really isn’t much of a punishment for defecting when the defector has little power. The people being exploited have only recently been given a voice and exposure. The only ‘punishment’ thus far is guilt when we find out about it. People hear of terrible working conditions, they know people are starving, they know people are being tortured and what do they do? They go buy some ice cream or alcohol to consume while watching reality TV because they’ve had a ‘hard’ day. Someone who is eating bread made out of rocks and grass would find that laughable before they started crying, if they had the energy to do either. (The attack on the States and increasing global hatred is a kind of punishment, but the US has just kept ‘illogically’ punishing and made things worse. It might hurt them eventually, but they will all still drive their SUV’s to Starbucks).

As for choosing yourself to lose, you’ll have to help me understand the details of your point because from where I’m sitting I don’t see it. Have you ever seen a movie? Movies are wonderful examples where millions of dollars are spent to entertain ‘rich’ people. Often movies or TV shows will involve the destruction of things. Why? Because we’d rather see something blow up than give that money to homeless (my apologies to those who write letters to executives stating exactly this). What do you eat? Only what is necessary for a healthy existence? How much clothing do you own? The perfect amount that maximizes the washing cycle? All made in Canada from factories with good conditions? What about ‘leisure time?’ Wouldn’t it be better for you to ‘lose’ this time and spend it fighting for human rights? The only defensible argument I can think of is: Engaging in unnecessary activities in turn enables you to be more productive when helping others ‘win.’ I’ve never met anyone who does this fully completely. (I don’t know if people have the processing power.) Another topic of discussion is whether people should sacrifice completely or not. Do we want depressed Canadians and happier people in the Congo? Well… what are you measuring? Your happiness or the existence of another human? This is the stuff I end up thinking about daily. I admit that my words are more pessimistic than usual, but these are the hurdles to overcome for change to occur. I still think it is possible, but it sometimes seems less plausible. :( Additionally, nearly everything is on a continuum, so I don’t mean to completely invalidate the efforts you are making. I just wanted to point out that we all have our line in the sand.

People do not take what they need; in our society most have the ‘privilege’ of taking what they want.

3:59 PM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

With respect to the PD and games theory...I agree that cooperation is required to achieve synergy, but sit four people down around a dish of peanuts that gets replenished frequently. You will run out in only a few minutes. We know this. Zero-sum it is.

3:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

>I was somewhat amused that you clarified a point I >understood, but not PD, Gauthier’s theories or MA; none >of which I understand nor have the time to look up >right now.

No sense in trying to teach you things you already know, is there?

Obviously, I thought it was possible you'd come across these ideas before - they're hardly obscure. This should also explain why I asked if you'd heard of them in the first place. If you had, it'd have given me a nice place to work from.

That's all I have to say about this for now. I'm also very busy. If you're curious about what I would say - you already know where to begin looking.

6:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike here:

Wow, there is so much misunderstanding going on here. I'm about 99.99% sure that what Darren meant to convey by saying "You are not separate, this is a zero-sum game; you only win by someone else losing." in his Human Rights blog was the following:

There are two strategies for interacting with other humans: cooperation and selfishness. It has been shown via game theory that mutually held cooperative strategies lead to what is known as "non-zero sumness"; that is, the total benefit to mutual cooperators is greater than the costs of cooperation in the first place. Selfishness on the otherhand tends to lead to zero-sumness; that is, selfish individuals benefit solely by the suffering of others.

Darren was trying to point out that those of us in the first world are being selfish to the cost of people in the third world.

Granted, the phrase "this is a zero-sum game" can be a little misleading; one could interpret (and I believe this is how Rachael went awry) this as calling the whole game of human interactions a zero-sum game. This is definitely not what Darren meant to convey and indeed much of the purpose of the post is to attempt to show that there is a better way, the way of cooperation and non-zero sumness.

Now, I want to quickly address Rachael's peanut example. Yes, research has shown that if placed in an overtly competitive situation, first world North Americans will be selfish. So what? Beyond methodological criticisms (the experiment was conducted in a way that would easily prime other game experiences, where winning and selfishness are generally rewarded), this research has little value because it simply points out the obvious: people raised in first world North American culture are irrationally selfish. This was Darren's whole point.

The key is that cannot draw from those experiments the conclusion that humans are INNATELY selfish, or (more accurately) that humans cannot POSSIBLY be cooperators. I feel that most people have had at least one first-hand experience of either cooperating or observing other humans cooperate, so cooperating humans are certainly possible.

So what we should be asking ourselves is that if humans CAN cooperate, and since it's a good idea to do so, how do we get them to stop all this selfish behaviour we observe? The answer, I believe, lies with our children. But first a brief interlude for some evolutionary background...

Selfishness is innate to all living things. This is because everything contains genes, which are by their very nature the essence of selfishness. When push comes to shove, genes will even abandon the well-being of their hosts if given the chance. Therefore, everything alive will manifest some degree of PREDISPOSITION to selfishness.

That is not to say that BEHAVIOUR will necessarily be selfish. Indeed, for a variety of reasons, life forms may evolve mechanisms through which an individual derives benefits via cooperatively interacting with others (this could be members of it's own species or otherwise). Humans are an example of this; we are generally weak and ill-equipped to defend ourselves as individuals and we have therefore developed strong social/cooperative dispositions. While not selected strongly enough to completely annihilate our underlying drives for selfishness, these dispositions are strong enough to allow for such cooperative phenomena as volunteers, martyrs, Buddhist monks, etc.

This all means that as humans, we have both the capacity for great selfishness and great cooperation. The manifestation of either behaviour is mediated by how a developing mind is socialized. Hence why I believe that the fruition of our cooperative hopes lie with our children. If we establish strong enough socialization while they are young, we can start a trend of cooperation that will hopefully at some point reach a critical mass and we can finally rid ourselves of all this competitive bullshit. Of course, it will be incredibly difficult to exterminate competitive selfishness altogether, but I don’t think it’s impossible (yay genetic engineering! :o) ), and nonetheless I’m sure everyone would still be a lot better off even if we didn’t reach a state of ultimate cooperation, but simply somewhere much more cooperative than where we are right now.

Cheers all,


8:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike again,

Just wanted to clarify what I meant by "selfish" in the above passage. As implied by my reference to selfish genes, I acknowledge that at a fundamental level, all behaviours are motivated by selfish ends (commonly happiness for the individual and transmission for genes). However, it is not this motivation which I believe should be held to scrutiny, but instead the consequences of behaviour. (Granted, the weighting of intented versus actual actual consequences is an issue, but not a serious one for the purposes of defining selfishness generally)

The consequences for behaviours can range from beneficial to everyone, or beneficial to only some, or beneficial only to the individual producing the behaviour, or even beneficial to no one. Therefore, my definition of selfishness is the point on that continuum where the chosen behaviours have benefits only to the individual producing the behaviour.


8:23 PM  

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