||[Aug. 24th, 2008|09:49 pm]
|||||Lyle Lovette - If I had a Boat||]|
In "The Selfish Gene" Richard Dawkins describes a hypothetical situation: there are three types of birds in a population, the sucker, the cheat, and the grudger. The birds tend to get parasites on them, and need another bird to peck off the parasites. If a bird is regularly groomed then it has a large advantage, and if it does not have to use the energy to clean another bird it has a slight advantage. The suckers clean everyone, the the cheat doesn't clean anyone, and the grudger cleans someone until it is obvious that they are not reciprocating, and then stops. Richard Dawkins simulates this scenario on a computer, and this is what he finds:
"The first thing that happens is a dramatic crash in the population of suckers as the cheats ruthlessly exploit them. The cheats enjoy a soaring population explosion, reaching their peak just as the last sucker perishes. But the cheats still have the grudgers to reckon with. During the precipitous decline of the suckers, the grudgers have been slowly decreasing in numbers, taking a battering from the prospering cheats, but just managing to hold their own. After the last sucker has gone and the cheats can no longer get away with selfish exploitation so easily, the grudgers slowly begin to increase at the cheats' expense. Steadily their population rise gathers momentum. It accelerates steeply, the cheat population crashes to near extinction, and then levels out as they enjoy the privileges of rarity and the comparative freedom from grudges which this brings. However, slowly and inexorably the cheats are driven out of existance, and the grudgers are left in sole possession. Paradoxically, the presence of the suckers actually endangered the grudgers early on in the story because they were responsible for the temporary prosperity of the cheats."
After Dawkins published "The Selfish Gene" Robert Axelrod held a competition to find the best strategy for the prisoner's dilemma, and after multiple competitions the winning strategy was consistently the "Tit for Tat" strategy. In the example above, Tit for Tat would always groom others in it's first encounter with them, and then on future encounters it would reciprocate what happened on previous encounters. This means that the Tit for Tat bird would remember the last thing that the other bird did, and do that. The Tit for Tat bird would groom the suckers and the grudgers, and would groom the cheats on the initial encounter but not during any following encounters. This would allow other birds to make mistakes, and to still tend towards cooperation with Tit for Tat and create a positive relationship. The Tit for Tat bird would never benefit more from a relationship than the other bird in the relationship: it starts by giving, and after that reciprocates the other bird, and therefore cannot have cheated the other bird more than the other bird has cheated it. The interesting thing is that it doesn't have to cheat anyone more than they can cheat it to become successful. It doesn't succeed in a society by creating relationships where it has the advantage, but simply by consistently creating healthy relationships.
Axelrod describes a few lessons to be learned from these simulations. First, Axelrod says not to be the first to cheat. Cheating can harm the relationship, and lead to less cooperation. It is best if people trust you not to take advantage of them, so that they do not mind putting energy into making you happy as they know that effort will be reciprocated. The second thing that Axelrod says to take away from the experiment is that it's not a good strategy to be jealous of any individual. If any bird has a cooperative relationship with another bird, and wants to be better than that other bird, then the only way to do so would be to stop grooming the other bird, which would almost certainly lead to the other bird stopping grooming him (suckers aren't too common). The point of the relationship in the first place was that it was mutually beneficial, and so the two birds lower their success in society, even if the first bird to stop grooming did receive more out of the relationship than the other did.
I think of this often in terms of socializing. We've all heard the term, "Nice guys finish last," and tend to use it to justify a cynical view of the world. But what do the nice guys deserve? It's important to define the term "nice" so for this situation we will represent it with the sucker strategy. What do the suckers deserve?
The suckers do finish last, because their population crashes first. The cheats survive off the suckers, and the grudgers have trouble against the cheats thriving off of the suckers. Since the suckers are fueling the cheats, are they responsible for the actions of the cheats?
I think about this often in terms of the ideal actions in a situation. Of course, if any one person conflicts with too many people it's too great a sacrifice. However, I feel that some people believe you shouldn't have conflict with anyone, which isn't plausible. The golden rule is not a sustainable strategy as it is easily exploited, and it is harmful to those who do have sustainable strategies (such as the grudgers and the "Tit for Tat" birds).
It's interesting to think that self-defense is also defending the community, because it's making an aggressive strategy less sustainable.