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Friday, March 19, 2004

I've been thinking about the right-wing's knee-jerk response to the Madrid tragedy and the Spanish election results, and I finally figured out exactly why it seems so wrong to me -- even aside from the fact that they're ignoring the PP's lies, the pre-election polling etc.

No, the problem is that the right-wingers are playing the Prisoner's Dilemma, and they're playing to lose.

Now I'm not in any way suggesting that 'co-operation', as expressed in the standard version of the game, is at all possible with terrorists. But the lesson of the game is clear to anyone who's looked at it even briefly. Your best play every round -- the path that enlightened self-interest guides you along -- is not to simply play 'screw the other guy', but to make the play that makes the most sense to you without considering your opponent's possible actions or responses.

At the largest, most extreme example, look at the Cold War. Had either side played for the short-term advantage of 'screw the other guy' by launching a first strike, the result would have been that both sides lose. The only winning strategy is to make a decision with your eye on the long term. (And yes, Joshua, you've seen this before.)

Now apply that logic to the Spanish election. The electorate had a choice: play 'screw the other guy' by leaving the 'anti-terrorism' party in power apparently against Al Qaeda's wishes, or make the decision they would have made had al Qaeda not been involved, and vote out the party that lied to them. (Which, when you think about it, is just an example of tit-for-tat strategy in the game between the PP party and the Spanish people...)

The right-wingers want to play 'screw the other guy'. Short-term advantage, long-term loss.

Electorates -- and governments -- shouldn't be thinking in those terms.

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