What game theory says about negotiating with terrorists

April 19, 2018 § 7 Comments

Wikipedia describes the Prisoner’s Dilemma, a construct in Game Theorylike this:

Two members of a criminal gang are arrested and imprisoned. Each prisoner is in solitary confinement with no means of communicating with the other. The prosecutors lack sufficient evidence to convict the pair on the principal charge. They hope to get both sentenced to a year in prison on a lesser charge. Simultaneously, the prosecutors offer each prisoner a bargain. Each prisoner is given the opportunity either to: betray the other by testifying that the other committed the crime, or to cooperate with the other by remaining silent. The offer is:

  • If A and B each betray the other, each of them serves 2 years in prison

  • If A betrays B but B remains silent, A will be set free and B will serve 3 years in prison (and vice versa)

  • If A and B both remain silent, both of them will only serve 1 year in prison (on the lesser charge)

The thing to notice about the Prisoner’s Dilemma as a one-off situation is that each prisoner is better off betraying the other, no matter what the other prisoner does.

However real life does not consist of a single one-off choice, and the PD can be re-imagined as an ongoing game with repeated rounds, where years in prison are replaced by points in the game: “less years in prison” equals more points, if you will, and the more points you get the better you are doing in the game.  Each round of the game a player chooses whether to cooperate or defect, and the game is played for an indeterminate number of rounds.  The goal is to maximize how well you are doing “against the House” not against the other player: to minimize total years in prison, if you will.

In this iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma, wherein two players engage in the game repeatedly, actual human beings use the game itself to communicate with each other and collaborate.  A very effective strategy in an iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma (played against another human being) is not betrayal but “tit-for-tat“: cooperate with the other player unless he defects; if he defects then ‘punish’ him by defecting on the next round.  In this way a pair of “prisoners” can optimize their score against the house over time, by learning to cooperate.

Iterated “games” are fundamentally different from one-off situations.  This is why intelligent decision makers learn, over time, not to negotiate with terrorists.  Terrorist negotiations may (or may not) change the outcome in a particular case, for better or worse.  (The choice there is ultimately up to the terrorist, not the negotiator, since presumably the negotiator is not proposing to do something evil himself).

But choosing to negotiate with terrorists in general is what gives terrorists power; and in an open-ended iterated “game” this means that in the long run the evil party wins.  Each negotiation increases the power of “team terrorist”. If this goes on long enough morality will invert: “team terrorist” will be seen as victims rather than perpetrators; opposing their wanton slaughter of the innocent will come to be seen as oppressive tyranny; and the mountains of corpses will pile up to the sky.  (I say “will” as if this were a future prediction rather than a retrospective).

At least we’ll all be able to pat ourselves on the back and feel like we are taking a nice pastoral, conservative, live-and-let-live approach, though.

Ex post lacto, or, mother’s milk vs the positive law

April 14, 2018 § 29 Comments

If the positive law of some governing body expressly authorized X yesterday, and then that same body criminalizes X tomorrow, it is unjust – with caveats – for that body to punish someone tomorrow for having already done X yesterday. This has to do with the just exercise of authority, not the justice of the action in question: when a particular authority punishes an action which it explicitly authorized this (the punishment) is an unjust act by that authority. If I authorized you to shoot the dog it would be unjust for me to punish you for having already shot the dog, though it is not unjust for me to withdraw authorization.

This principle against ex post facto law has limits. Punishment might not be an unjust act by a different, especially a higher, authority: God punishing people for doing things which are supposedly “authorized1” by the positive law is not unjust, for example. And in general a different authority may be justified in punishing actions which it did not authorize, even though some other authority attempted to “authorize” it.

This is especially true when people ought to know better.  Importantly, the fact that some authority has not said anything about X does not constitute authorization by that authority to do X.  In this case no ex post facto prohibition applies as a moral constraint on the authority to punish.  And I would not be too quick to dismiss the notion that mothers mostly ought to know better than to kill their own children, no matter what pressures they are under.

Modern people with their politically liberal commitments may find this difficult to swallow, but the fact that nobody in authority has expressly forbidden doing X does not mean that you are authorized (have the authority) to do X.  The fact that there is no positive law prohibiting you from doing X doesn’t grant you a right to do X, for all possible X: “right” is just a different term for authority.

When we do something which we have no right to do, sometimes there are consequences, including punishment of some sort by someone in authority. And the fact that someone – even someone in authority – told you that you were authorized to do something evil does not confer actual authorization: it doesn’t make you not guilty, it just makes the person(s) who attempted to authorize evil also guilty.

The fact that someone in authority egged you on to commit murder may be a mitigating factor in deciding upon a just punishment.  But it can never be entirely exculpatory.  We are responsible for our own choices2, and that includes being sure that we have the authority to do the things we choose to do.


[1] I use scare quotes around “authorize” because in fact nobody has the capacity to authorize or require doing evil.

[2] Here I leave out the mentally ill and otherwise truly incompetent.

Victim status

April 12, 2018 § 31 Comments

Rejecting the death penalty for women who murder their own children raises the question of what punishment a properly ordered society ought to have in place for murdering unborn children.

There is an enormous amount of room between the death penalty and, not only no punishment whatsoever, but a general freakout over the very suggestion that this form of murder ought to carry some sort of punishment — any punishment at all.

Voluntary abortion only has “two victims” in the same sense that any kind of voluntary murder has “two victims” – that is, when we cast the perpetrator as a kind of victim. There is some truth to that, but it doesn’t keep us from punishing murderers.

Women should be tried as adults

February 6, 2018 § 151 Comments

Some days it seems like I am the only person on earth who actually respects women.  Men and women are different, both individually and when considered as populations.  But one of the ways we are the same – at least in my view – is that both men and women are moral agents, responsible for the behaviors we choose.

Yet a great many people – notably feminists and the mainstream pro-life movement, though those two are hardly exhaustive – really don’t seem to think this is the case at all.

In the comment thread below reader Jay posted a link to the following image:

consent

This image was allegedly posted in a Facebook advocacy group started and governed by the very same young woman who accused her ex-boyfriend of rape (a year and a half after the alleged incident), in a case we discussed here.

There are several things to observe about this image.  I’ll point out a few.

First, the image characterizes the distinction between rape/sexual assault (a very serious matter) and consensual sex (at best a minor matter, probably nobody else’s business) as something which occurs strictly and only in the woman’s mind.  If she was subjectively afraid to say no and did not actually say no, he is guilty of sexual assault or rape.

Personally I would have no problem with colleges punishing extramarital sex – as demonstrated by actual evidence – severely, independent of consent.  The idea that consent turns extramarital sex into a minor matter in the first place is simply wrong.  Premarital sex is a grave, despicable, life-wrecking moral wrong.  Consenting to fornication is a grave moral wrong.  Physically forcing someone else’s participation in a morally despicable act is itself a morally despicable act, but the idea that fornication is just no big deal while rape is a terrible moral violation is false.  They are both grave moral wrongs and should be treated as such.

Second, we would never buy the “I was afraid to say no” line of argument if the action was, for example, murder. The particulars matter, as always, but the most the particulars could do – even when in fear for your own life – is mitigate some of the guilt for actively participating in a murder.  Saying no, resisting attempted persuasion or compulsion to do evil, is a basic obligation of every moral agent without exception.  Failure to resist evil is itself a moral failure.  And yes, this of course includes women – at least if you have any respect for women.

Third, if this image in fact comes from the alleged source – from the actual young woman who years after the fact accused her boyfriend of “rape” in the Shenandoah wilderness where she drove him – it appears to be a tacit admission that, whatever actually did happen between them, she didn’t actually say “no”.

A more refined feast of blood

April 28, 2017 § 34 Comments

In the comments below Patrick observes:

A free and equal nation needs mass murder and micromanagement to match the mood. Blood and control are the secret ingredients. Kim Jong Un is a philistine with a pathetically unrefined recipe.

This is a good point.

Lets define a liberal regime to be a regime which explicitly professes liberal principles as its governing political doctrine.

We can roughly divide liberal regimes into two kinds.  One sort of liberal regime is – at least as seen by outsiders[1] – overtly tyrannical  and violent.

Another sort of liberal regime is – at least according to its own self-assessment[2] – a bastion of freedom and equality of rights, as long as you aren’t the wrong sort of person.

The extent to which these two sets are coextensive is left as an exercise.

Of course in carrying out the exercise it is probably only fair to observe that nations under overt existential threat are stuck drinking their blood-of-tyrants from plastic cups; whereas more fat, dumb, and happy nations can afford to drink their blood from fine crystal and scientific beakers.


[1] Wikipedia: “North Korea officially describes itself as a self-reliant socialist state and formally holds elections. Critics regard it as a totalitarian dictatorship.”

See also here.

[2] http://www.numberofabortions.com/,

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-do-we-ignore-the-civilians-killed-in-american-wars/2011/12/05/gIQALCO4eP_story.html,

https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/global-warming-and-the-hiroshima-bombing/

Trump as the third black president

October 30, 2016 § 15 Comments

We must not tolerate illegal immigration. Since 1992, we have increased our Border Patrol by over 35%; deployed underground sensors, infrared night scopes and encrypted radios; built miles of new fences; and installed massive amounts of new lighting. We have moved forcefully to protect American jobs by calling on Congress to enact increased civil and criminal sanctions against employers who hire illegal workers. Since 1993, we have removed 30,000 illegal workers from jobs across the country. – Between Hope and History, by Bill Clinton, p.134 , Jan 1, 1996

Donald Trump in 2016 is objectively very similar to Bill Clinton in 1992.  The main difference is that from an Overton Window standpoint Trump is now an extreme right wing candidate rather than an extreme left wing candidate. Anything resembling social conservatism has simply dropped off of the radar: even the pro life movement these days is pro choice. Donald Trump when elected (assuming he is smart enough to let Grandma Abortion Witch implode) will just be the third black president.

Liberalism is insane and anti-human, but its insanity ironically makes it extremely adaptable.  The Trump phenomenon is not some great new hope for the salvation of Western civilization: some new direction which represents the possibility of a future free from SJW excesses and other leftist insanity.  Rather what we are witnessing is the action, in real time, of liberalism’s own internal mechanisms for protecting itself from the results of its own excesses as it continues to dominate more and more of reality.  We are witnessing how it absorbs and repurposes any possible incipient opposition, turning the energy of that opposition toward liberalism’s own ends: ends which include self preservation.

Liberalism’s greatest enemy has for centuries been the consequences of its own comprehensive triumph. But by keeping all political conflict inside of its inescapable gravity well it ensures its own long term persistence, in spite of itself.

Bringing murderers to the Gospel through a process of accompaniment

October 13, 2016 § 13 Comments

Apparently the Polish Episcopal Conference sabotaged the passage of anti-abortion legislation because the legislation treated abortion as if it were a form of murder:

the Polish Episcopal Conference issued a surprising document, in which it opposed the pro-life reform, because it mandated the punishing of all those persons responsible for conducting an abortion, including women who allow their children to be killed.

Despite having the means to simply expunge this section of the Bill and continue to work on it without the penal consequences for women who decide to kill their children, they refrained from doing this. This reflected the position of the Polish Bishops who on the same day decided to reject the Bill in its entirety.

Like Donald Trump the authors of the law made the mistake of taking pro lifers seriously in the contention that abortion is a kind of murder, when in fact the mainstream pro life position in the Current Year[tm] is merely a variation of pro choice. The mainstream pro life position is that the provision of abortion should be restricted and heavily regulated, but women who procure abortions should never face any sort of legal penalty for doing so. Abortion victimizes the perpetrator and is the fault of abusive men; it isn’t a choice made by women who are responsible for their own choices.

The assertion that when a pregnant woman procures an abortion her act should never be treated as a crime simply is the pro choice position.  How much and what kind of regulation one thinks there ought to be within the pro choice framework is just variation on the theme: we’ve established what we are and are just haggling over the price.

My own understanding is that abortion is in fact a species of murder and should be legally treated as such.  I call my position ‘anti abortion’ to distinguish it from the various pro choice legal doctrines (including the ‘pro life’ variant of pro choice).

Under just positive law, murderers can receive all the spiritual accompaniment and mercy that they need in their cells.

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