I’m not sure where I ran across Game Theory. I know it was in the movie A Beautiful Mind, about John Nash, whose work was about it. Then there was The Evolution of Cooperation, by Robert Axelrod, an economist at the University of Michigan.
Axelrod asked and then answered the question, “When, and under what conditions, does it pay to cooperate?” In a sentence, the answer is that cooperation is a rational response when two parties are in a prolonged game (relationship) with an indeterminable end.
Let's take marriage for an example. It's a prolonged relationship with an indeterminable end, and so there must be compromise. If there isn't compromise, it will end, and if it doesn't, it will be an unhealthy one.
Game Theory explains why I can trust some people more than others. I can, for example, trust a friend much more than someone I buy a used car from. Long-term relationships (ones with no ends in sight) encourage civility and cooperation, short term relations don't.
If you have two parties, say two countries, and if neither party can prevail against the other, and they know this, then cooperation is the best way to them to go. This is why strong countries generally don’t go to war against one another, and instead one strong country will attack a weaker. The strong country feels it has already won and therefore sees no reason to cooperate.
Here’s the rub: if people already believe they have won the game, there is no reason for them to cooperate. It doesn’t matter if they really have won the game or not; it only matters if they believe they have. People aren’t always rational; indeed, most of the time, they are not.
Another problem is when they think they’re losing the game. Then there is also no reason to cooperate. They have to go all-out to win, if they think they are going to be annihilated. That’s where the saying, “Fighting like a cornered rat” came from.
Game Theory tells us you always have to let people have a way out, or give them a way to cooperate. If you don’t, then hostilities will often break out. This means extreme policies always oppose moderation and rational policies.
Axelrod and other researchers discovered that "tit for tat" works best in cooperation; however, it was refined even more to "win-stay, lose-change." In other words, if your strategy is working, stay; if not, change it. Repeat your previous move if doing well, if not, change it.
It seems like common sense, but while individuals can do it easily, it's amazing countries or mobs or groups (which have no brains) cannot.
Let's take the idea of play, which I am very much interested in. Two animals playing do tit-for-tat. If one animal wins all the time, the other will cease playing. So they learn to cooperate: you win, I win, you win, I win. If win, win, win doesn't work, then change to win, lose, win, lose.
In politics, a sign that a country feels that it is losing in relation to one or more countries is when it starts to play the extremist game of elimination or hegemony over its opponents. The first sign of this is the use of propaganda to paint its opponents as insane, evil, utterly irrational, and dedicated to nothing but destruction. The general term for this is “scapegoating.”
When you have two opposing countries doing this to each other -- not cooperating and branding each other as evil -- then events will be driven by extremists on both sides. This explains why when hostilities break out and extremists on both sides have power, nothing can be solved, since neither side will cooperate, since it believes it has already won, or else will be exterminated.
These people, who are essentially Eric Hoffer True Believer fanatics, have paradoxical beliefs – if they fight, they will win; if they don’t fight, they will be annihilated. They have an either/or, win/lose orientation, with nothing in-between either scenario. That’s why they won’t compromise.
Such attitudes are extremely narcissistic, which is defined as seeing things either as all-good or all-bad, with no shades of grey. Those who are not narcissistic will compromise; those who are, which means fanatic, will not.
The first thing rulers of any country do when they want to start a war is brand their “enemies” as evil though the use of propaganda. Not only evil, but insane homicidal maniacs who cannot be reasoned with and want to destroy everything out of hate and envy. That's why Bush said we were attacked "for our goodness," which was about as far from the truth as could be.
What this means is that anybody who engage in this scapegoating propaganda is automatically an extremist. They believe they have either already won the game, or so will not cooperate, or else believe they are in danger of extermination, and so also will not cooperate.
What I conclude is that much of politics today in the United States is extremist (full of hate and fear), propagandizing, and narcissistic and scapegoating (our “opponents are not mistaken, but evil). People who disagree with each other therefore have no intention of compromising but instead try to destroy the other.
History bears out the fact that extremists are drawn to politics and the attempt to gain power over others. Of course, they think they are always right and their opponents always wrong.
This is why no country - and no one - should have absolute, or even extremely unbalanced - political power over someone.