Monday, February 23, 2009

Communism and self-interest

One of the more persistent criticisms of communism is that communism assumes or requires that individuals sacrifice their individual self-interest to the good of society. All of Ayn Rand's criticism of collectivism (under which she includes both communism and fascism) depend on this fundamental view of communism.

This view is fundamentally misleading and the criticism the demolition of a straw man.

It is a scientific truth about human minds that individual people will choose among the available options determined by the predominant political-economic context to maximize their self-interest. If there is any "fundamental" component of human nature, this is it, and communists can ignore this scientific truth no more than we can ignore the law of gravity. However, the political-economic context plays a critical role. Furthermore, there is no intrinsic limit on how far people can look ahead to the consequences of their actions, and how broadly they can construe "self-interest".

There is a very limited sense in which a collectivist political-economic ideology requires individuals to "sacrifice" their self-interest. This sacrifice is best illustrated in the Prisoner's Dilemma. The best outcome in a Prisoner's Dilemma for an individual is where she "defects" and her opponent "cooperates". Communism demands that individuals "sacrifice" this outcome and instead end up with mutual cooperation. But practically speaking, absent coercing either party, the outcome of Prisoner's Dilemma is mutual defection; Communism therefore demands that individuals choose mutual cooperation over mutual defection, to the benefit of both individuals. Essentially, Communism typically deprecates the benefits of exploitation in favor of the benefits of mutual cooperation.

There are two ways to promote mutual cooperation. The first is to change people's individual psychological makeup so that their feelings of empathy make defection intrinsically negative: to "change the game" from within. The second is to coerce mutual cooperation, to impose external penalties for defection, making defection extrinsically negative: to "change the game" from without.

Exploitative political systems such as capitalism "change the game" from without, but do so asymmetrically. They coerce cooperation from one party (the ruled class) but do not coerce cooperation from the other party (the ruling class). Under every ruling/ruled class political-economic system, the vast majority of the social, political and psychological constructions of that society exist to justify the asymmetric changes — established coercively — to economic decisions that follow the logic of the Prisoner's Dilemma.

To the extent that asymmetric, exploitative changes to Prisoner's Dilemma economic decisions are entrenched in our society, it is true that communism demands that some people — those whose reward is the outcome of exploitation — sacrifice their overall, actual self-interest for the good of society, with only the lesser reward of mutual self-interest. Such individuals already lack some degree of empathy (if they had full empathy, they would not be exploiting others); and they have internalized at a deep level the ideology and propaganda that justifies exploitation. Thus we cannot expect those presently enjoying exploitative privilege to simply abandon that privilege out of the goodness of their hearts and begin to act for mutual benefit.

Can such psychological and social constructions that promote mutual cooperation exist? Of course: they already exist. All instances of teamwork and cooperation employ psychological constructions that promote mutual cooperation and deprecate exploitation. I can, for example, pool my capital with my wife, without worrying that she'll "defect" and run off to Rio with our combined savings. Such psychological constructions even work at the highest, most abstract levels, as when people help others on the other side of the world after a natural disaster, rather than exploiting their extraordinary misfortune to scoop up some more slaves.

Social and political constructions also already exist. Both the capitalist class and the working class do a lot of mutually beneficial trading amongst themselves; exploitation is typically embedded only in relations between the capitalist class and the working class, and really only in some relations.

So, in essence, communism does not ask for anything substantively new: it asks only that psychological and social constructions that already exist be promoted and made more pervasive.

28 comments:

  1. One of the strengths of Capitalism and the free market is that it can incorporate every other type of economic system. A capitalist society can tolerate a group of people deciding to practice Communism. A communist society on the other hand would have to ban all acts of Capitalism between consenting adults. I would recommend to you Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia.

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  2. Izgad: Please do a search on "free market" on this blog: Capitalism is very different from a literally free market.

    When communists object to capitalism, we object to relations of economic exploitation, where labor power is itself commoditized. No one freely consents to exploitation.

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  3. The post claims Randites are using a Straw Man argument against Communism, but it then uses the Prisoner's Dilemma as a Straw Man argument for communism.

    When addressing ethics, how is it appropriate to start with extra-ordinary situations? E.g., how can one develop a moral and political system for normal life by examining the dilemma facing three starving men on a raft, adrift on the ocean? Someone working in an office with supervisors, a working team, and secretaries, is hardly faced with the 'problem' of who to eat first.


    Unless I've missed something the Prisoner's Dilemma is about prisoners, not free individuals. It is an extra-ordinary life situation, not a normal one. Furthermore, the argument begins by neatly ducking the problem that free individuals can have interests and desires that do not square with the rest of the collective.

    That uniqueness of individuals is why communism will forever collapse to some variant of dictatorship. Someone will choose a course that does not fit the collective plan though yhey do others no harm.

    Immediately, that individual and others like him, threaten the break down of the entire collectivist system. S/he and his ilk must therefore be constrained or eliminated. Communism/Socialism contains the seeds of violent destruction from the outset. That is why people risk their lives to emigrate, and very few (mainly deluded Westerners) seek to immigrate into communist countries.

    It is ironic that the post started with the Prisoner's Dilemma, because that is what communist citizens have to be: trapped conformists or prisoners. To that extent Izgad is quite correct. In a broader, Capitalist world, communists may volunteer to function on that basis. While under communism, one is not free to act independently.

    Even then, when communism is conducted voluntarily, it cannot work. Witness the collapse of the Israeli Kibbutz system. People want to leave communist society. That is why it is against the law of communist countries to leave.

    Communism always leads to force against its own citizens, or to its own failure.

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  4. Hi Larry

    I am not sure you quite represented the Prisoner's Dilemma correctly when you say "The best outcome in a Prisoner's Dilemma for an individual is where she "defects" and her opponent "cooperates"." Trivially yes, but the dilemma itself is operating rationally they end up both defecting which is worse than if they both co-operate.

    Coercion is not necessary to lead to the mutual cooperative payoff, as Rappaport's tit-for-tat strategy shows.

    And this works AFAICS quite unlike the two alternatives you presented: (1)Change empathy or (2)coercion via external penalties - the latter is no longer the prisoner's dilemma as you have changed the payoff matrix.

    Finally I do not see as mutual cooperation as "sacrifice" but then you did put this is scare quotes.

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  5. Hi Richard

    Unless I've missed something the Prisoner's Dilemma
    You clearly have
    is about prisoners, not free individuals. It is an extra-ordinary life situation, not a normal one.
    This is just the name for an often occurring situation that we all face as free individuals. I suggest you read up on 101 game theory before you make such uniformed comments.

    Furthermore, the argument begins by neatly ducking the problem that free individuals can have interests and desires that do not square with the rest of the collective.
    The Prisoner's Dilemma is all about a common decision problem where agents acting on a rational self-interested basis fail to achieve the best outcome in their own interests.

    The rest of your comment is a waste of space.

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  6. I do not care much for semantics debates mainly because they all too easily get bogged down into “is to - is not” sort of issues. When I refer to Capitalism I mean the ideology that believes (or at least plays lip service) to notion that the economy should be run on free market principles. This means an economy not controlled by a government and where the government does not interfere.
    The issue of what counts as exploitation is complicated. Different people will draw a line in different places. Coming from the classical liberal tradition I concern myself with direct empirical force. Psychological is not an issue nor are thought structures. The irony here, though, is that, as a supporter of socialist economics, you have to be willing to endorse the use of direct force to implement your policies. What do you do if I want to live under capitalist rules? What if I do want to start my own business and not work for a state run enterprise? What if, instead of paying taxes to fund government health care, I want to pay for my own health care?

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  7. "This means an economy not controlled by a government and where the government does not interfere." Doesn't the free market allow slavery in the most literal (as in human property sense) and child labor as well? You assert that the government should not interfere with the economy...how then shall we make slavery illegal? Certainly the drive to make money is what drives one to enslave another, so then don't we need the state (or whatever the hell you wanna call it) to use its force to prevent these kinds of ideas?

    "The issue of what counts as exploitation is complicated."

    - from the wiki
    The term "exploitation" may carry two distinct meanings:

    1. The act of utilizing something for any purpose. In this case, exploit is a synonym for use.
    2. The act of utilizing something in an unjust or cruel manner. It is this meaning of exploitation which is discussed below.

    One human using another human for any purpose that they wouldn't consent to without active coercion is exploitation. Hope that clears it up for ya.

    "Different people will draw a line in different places." Indeed. Some people like to rape the shit out of 10 year olds. But we like greed...so I suppose we'll hold on to it for a while longer.

    "What if, instead of paying taxes to fund government health care, I want to pay for my own health care?" I think the real question is, why the hell would you want to do so...if a guy walked down the street of my town and tried to pay money for the air he breathes we'd prolly put him in a mental institution. And yes, the idea of paying money for health care in a communist state IS exactly that ridiculous.

    The more arguments I hear in their defense the more I realize that the entirety of the "Anarcho-Capitalist" lore is devoted to people that want to see themselves as the good guy...even when their success means the downfall of another...pure and simple. Sounds like fundie reasoning to me...but hey, at least they haven't blamed the gays yet...

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  8. Villain

    I grant you that I am taking an extreme position here, one that most people would not agree with, but would support the legalization of slavery. This would not mean that you could go off to Africa, kidnap black people and make them work on your plantation. That would be coercive force. Adults of sound mind, though, should be able to negotiate and make contracts over their possessions and the body is a possession. So just as I am free to sell my car or my house I should also be free to sell my body into slavery. While we are at it people should also be able to sell their bodies into prostitution.
    Since my body belongs to me. I should be free to choose which doctor I want to look after it. If there is some doctor who works in the private sector outside of your socialized health care plan than I should be free to see him. I should also be free therefore to take my tax dollars out of your health care system and use them to pay for this doctor.
    I am not sure why you are bringing up the issue of air. Air and water, unlike my body, car or factory, belongs to everyone in common and are under the stewardship of the government. For this reason the government is free to make laws to defend the environment. Yes the government can put a cap on how much carbon my car or my factory puts out into the air and it can stop me from dumping toxic waste into the water supply.

    I am not an anarchist. I believe in having a government. I just want to limit the government to protecting me from direct empirical harm such as someone trying to murder me, rob me, maim me or pollute the air that I breathe and the water that I drink. This is about protecting everyone’s freedom. That includes protecting gay people from religious fundamentalists.

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  9. Izgad

    The true argument here lies in the idea of the exploitation present in any capitalist state. From TBB's own words - "Communism is the elimination of all economic, political, social and psychological relations of exploitation, and the implementation of corresponding relations of mutual benefit. The rest is commentary." Alas, I think all too often I get bogged down in the commentary.

    Do you acknowledge that one human taking the surplus value of another human's labor and profiting from it to be exploitation? Do you agree that giving someone the choice to be exploited or face starvation isn't much of a choice? Do you see how these two concepts are at the heart of Capitalism even in the grandest sense? I think most people answer yes to all of those questions, but they then try to find a way to find a way to apologize for their own wealth by obscuring this core problem with concepts of risk and/or time. It seems the democratic idea would be to take the economic risk embedded in human relations and spread it evenly throughout the population. Afterall, the classic idea of democracy is to take political risk and spread it evenly amongst the citizens of a nation, giving people a certain responsibility to their fellow man. Political power follows economic power, so, in my view, until a true communist state is reached, democracy will just be a fairy tale. How do you see it?

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  10. Richard: As faithlessgod mentions, you appear profoundly uneducated in the basics of economic game theory.

    That uniqueness of individuals is why communism will forever collapse to some variant of dictatorship. Someone will choose a course that does not fit the collective plan though they do others no harm.

    Communism does not demand conformity, at least no more conformity than any social system that marginalizes and oppresses murderers and rapists. Communism differs from capitalism only in that communism also marginalizes and oppresses those who desire relations of exploitation. Indeed communism increases individual liberty, because no one is required to sell the totality of her labor for the minimum of subsistence.

    That is why people risk their lives to emigrate, and very few (mainly deluded Westerners) seek to immigrate into communist countries.

    No, people emigrate from communist countries because the communist countries all started off dirt poor and hyper-exploited by imperialist capitalists. They furthermore face the unrelenting and implacable hostility of the imperialist West.

    faithlessgod "The best outcome in a Prisoner's Dilemma for an individual is where she 'defects' and her opponent 'cooperates'." Trivially yes, but the dilemma itself is operating rationally they end up both defecting which is worse than if they both co-operate.

    More precisely, the best individual outcome for a PD-style game is cooperate-defect. I don't think this observation is trivial: it is an important feature of any ruling/ruled class system that one class is coerced into cooperating while another can defect, realizing this selfish-optimal outcome. Indeed the Randian line is that it is essentially immoral to demand that someone who has achieved the selfish-optimal outcome "sacrifice" that outcome.

    Coercion is not necessary to lead to the mutual cooperative payoff, as Rappaport's tit-for-tat strategy shows.

    Agreed, and I've discussed tit-for-tat before. Tit-for-tat shows that anarchism is logically possible. Under present-day circumstances, however, coercive approaches to PD dominate.

    Finally I do not see as mutual cooperation as "sacrifice" but then you did put this is scare quotes.

    I did indeed, precisely because I do not buy the Randian line that mutual cooperation entails that the individual sacrifices his legitimate self-interest.

    Izgad:: When I refer to Capitalism I mean the ideology that believes (or at least plays lip service) to notion that the economy should be run on free market principles.

    Lip service is the operative phrase here. As I said, search "free market" on this blog to see my analysis of how the use of this phrase under capitalism is the most egregiously hypocritical lip service.

    The issue of what counts as exploitation is complicated.

    Not in Marxian terms: exploitation is super-simple: the appropriate of surplus value from a worker without her consent and not accruing indirectly to her benefit.

    The irony here, though, is that, as a supporter of socialist economics, you have to be willing to endorse the use of direct force to implement your policies.

    All political-economic systems require direct force. Fail to pay your rent and you will immediately experience the pointy end of government interference. (Please do not insult my readers' and my own intelligence by arguing that government interference you approve of is not government interference.)

    What do you do if I want to live under capitalist rules?

    Capitalist rules permit the use of direct force to appropriate the surplus value of others justified by your socially-constructed ownership of capital. Why should I let you operate under those rules any more than I should let someone who wants to live under a feudalist or slave-owning system?

    What if I do want to start my own business and not work for a state run enterprise?

    Why should you not? So long, of course, as you are not using your privileged ownership of capital to exploit your workers, why should you not engage in productive activities of your own choosing?

    What if, instead of paying taxes to fund government health care, I want to pay for my own health care?

    You appear to be making a principled argument, rather than a pragmatic argument.

    What if, instead of obeying the law, I wish to disobey it? Should individuals have the absolute right to contravene any social construct if they do not concur? What about the social constructs prohibiting murder or rape?

    Any good socialist society will be democratic: you would have as much or more input into the legal/tax system as an individual in a capitalist pseudo-democracy. If you could persuade your neighbors that permitting individuals to pay for their own health care was socially beneficial, then that's probably what would happen.

    But you cannot arbitrarily cast off your social obligations in an interdependent society. Unless you advocate pure Randian laissez faire economics, you recognize some social obligations that may not be arbitrarily discarded: we know what you and I both are; we're just negotiating the price.

    The Villain: Political power follows economic power

    This is not quite accurate. Political and economic power have a dialectical relationship: they influence each other.

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  11. Izgad: I am taking an extreme position here, one that most people would not agree with, but would support the legalization of slavery.

    I do not permit apologists for slavery to comment on this blog. You are herewith banned. If you want to promulgate your Nazi ideology, do it on your own blog.

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  12. Dear Mr. Barefoot Bum,

    Thanks so much for this excellent, short intro to the idea of the integrated nature of individualism and collectivism. Part of what makes US discourse on these topics so maddening is that people wrongly assume them to be opposite poles, and opposed to each other. In fact, they are more like spouses or better yet like two organs in a body. Neither one could exist very well without the other. If you ever took one away, you'd just end up with something pathological.

    What I'm interested to hear more of is, first would your view of communism involve external forcing of the cooperation? And, do you have thoughts of how you would want to accomplish the internal alteration of individuals in order to deprecate exploitation? Would you wish to accomplish this with education? Media? Anything else?

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  13. Dear Mr. Barefoot Bum

    You can call me "Larry".

    [W]ould your view of communism involve external forcing of the cooperation?

    Depends on what you mean by "external". I would see coercion managed by democratically enacted laws; does that count as external or internal?

    And, do you have thoughts of how you would want to accomplish the internal alteration of individuals in order to deprecate exploitation? Would you wish to accomplish this with education? Media? Anything else?

    Education and media obviously have to be primary. Also, making actual exploitation illegal has a profound influence on social and psychological constructions. "Assume a virtue if you have it not," said Hamlet.
    That monster, custom, who all sense doth eat
    Of habits evil, is angel yet in this,
    That to the use of actions fair and good
    He likewise gives a frock or livery,
    That aptly is put on. Refrain to-night,
    And that shall lend a kind of easiness
    To the next abstinence; the next more easy;
    For use almost can change the stamp of nature,
    And either exorcise the devil, or throw him out
    With wondrous potency.

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  14. FaithlessGod wrote:
    "This is just the name for an often occurring situation that we all face as free individuals."

    I disagree. The Prisoner's Dilemma (PD) is not what ordinary people face in a free country. It seems the opposite premise, that people are not free and are pursuing an identical ideal, is guiding judgment here. By what premise is the PD believed to apply to individuals acting in their own best interest?

    The PD, by its contrived design (it's Game Theory, not real life), imposes a collectivist premise from the outset. It reduces "the collective" to a small group of (min. 2) prisoners who need to act as a team. However, the PD isolates one from the other, reducing each to guessing what the other will do (the game! design thereby eliminates the team). In so doing the PD eliminates cooperation, wiping out any real world implications.

    Further, a team is not a collective, but a group of people applying interrelated skills to achieving a certain agreed upon goal. The PD sets a specific, narrow goal, isolates the players, deems them equally culpable, sets non-real-world conditions of prisoner penalties, and thereby establishes extraordinary conflicting judgments that are not an aspect of normal life. The PD then asks for the best outcome for "all" prisoners... "all" by every wording of the dilemma, presumes a group or small collective.

    To generalize that scenario to society as a whole is to view individuals as trapped in a, similar, unrealistic conflict. By what rational reason should anyone glibly accept such a view?

    Unless its premises are clearly examined the entire PD argument for communism Beg's The Question. That is, the argument begins with implicit collectivism so as to justify explicit collectivism, i.e. communism.

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  15. The critical difference, as I see it, between capitalism and communism is that under communism, the state forces people to act in what the state sees as the people's best interest. Under a decentralized system, people are free to act in their best interest, as they see it, or not. Under communism, the guard comes into the cells and makes the choices for the prisoners. That may be fine and well if the guard is both benevolent and omniscient. But what happens when one of those conditions is not present? History will show that the guards are typically neither. The guard will make choices which are not optimal for the prisoner, and the poor prisoner is powerless to make the correct choice for himself: The state knows better and the individual must accept whatever choices are forced upon him. And that is why some of us would rather put up with the foibles of the free market. Whether merely perceived or actual, we think the faults of the free market are not as bad as giving to government the power to make our choices for us.

    Some would mistake the struggles we are now enduring as the fault of capitalism gone wrong. However, they are actually the result of too much power in the hands of government. In other words, they are the result of not enough free choice in the hands of the people. Having bound the people halfway, the masters tell people that the solution to their constant tripping and falling over is to allow government to tighten the chains the rest of the way. The actual solution is to cast off their bonds and let the people make their own economic choices, and stop having to give the majority of their wages to the tax man, along with the power over the citizenry that those taxes confer.

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  16. BB disagreed with me saying,
    "Communism does not demand conformity, at least no more conformity than any social system that marginalizes and oppresses murderers and rapists."

    I think history has shown that to be false. Every communist society has sought conformity in the beliefs of its citizens with extraordinary penalties for non-conformists. The citizens are not free from the coercion of other citizens. "Murderer's and rapists" violate the rights of their victims. Their immoral actions are not comparable to similar actions sanctioned by the communist/socialist state against non-believers who do no such harm.

    Capitalism, as a politico-economic system, rejects human relations that implement coercion, whether by the state or by "murderers and rapists". Its incarceration of the latter is an retaliation. In banning the initiation of force batween all men, only capitalism frees men from immoral men. It, thereby, allows men to trade their labor &/or intellect with others, such that both may gain. The corruption in semi-capitalist societies are a result of individuals misusing the courts and state to enable corruption & misuse of state coercion. That corruption is not a fault of capitalism, so much as of those politicians & unscrupulous 'users' of what those politicians allow or encourage it. Those men undermine Individual Rights & freedoms.

    There will always be criminal minded individuals in every society, but discarding the one that recognizes Rights in favor of one that does not, is to throw out the (dirty) bathwater with the baby.

    Further to that last point, BB wrote:
    "the communist countries all started off dirt poor and hyper-exploited by imperialist capitalists."

    The communist countries were only recognizably poor when compared with the standard of living achieved by the more capitalist countries of the West. Those Western countries also began poor, until they instituted societies that respected Individual Rights... and hence capitalism. They were the nations that became wealthy. The common aphorism states, "If it were not for the rich we could not recognize the poor." In contrast not a single communist country has come close to creating such wealth for their citizens.

    It is not unfair if a man develops a better screwdriver (say Robertson screwdriver -check it out, it's awesome) and becomes wealthy. His intellectual achievement aids everyone using his product, providing a society wide (economic) benefit that far outweighs his wealth. Meanwhile those who work in his factory would have no such job, were it not for him. They participate in, and gain, from the wealth he generates. Robertson may become wealthier, but it is only for his lifetime.

    If Robertson offers too little pay, unsafe conditions etc. then they should not work for his firm. They are not his slaves (under communism they do not have that freedom). In so doing, they prevent him from realizing unearned wealth, and is thereby punished. He must learn to do what is right, as opposed to be forced to do so. He is no more a slave to others than the worker should be a slave to him!

    Communism enforces one man to serve the rest... and to the extent that his choice is removed, he becomes their slave. The situation is in no way improved if everyone is a slave to everyone else.

    Should you argue real communism is voluntary, see the nearly extinct Kibbutzes of Israel. Note, also, that non-conformists undermine the communist ideal, and must be dealt with. Then the administration, whether democratic or dictatorship, must force him to conform. It is by this sequence that communism is necessarily a politics of human enslavement.

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  17. Richard

    I disagree. The Prisoner's Dilemma (PD) is not what ordinary people face in a free country. It seems the opposite premise, that people are not free and are pursuing an identical ideal, is guiding judgment here.
    What on earth are you going on about. The prisonrs dilemma is prottypical model for a wide variety of situations that occur in evolution and society. There is no "guiding judgement here", simply that quite a few situations can be described quite accurately as prisoners dilemmas.

    "By what premise is the PD believed to apply to individuals acting in their own best interest?"
    The economists at the RAND institute who formulated this? And anyone who is not ignorant of economic decision theory?

    The PD, by its contrived design (it's Game Theory, not real life), imposes a collectivist premise from the outset. It reduces "the collective" to a small group of (min. 2) prisoners who need to act as a team. However, the PD isolates one from the other, reducing each to guessing what the other will do (the game! design thereby eliminates the team).
    Why are you applying a left-wing interpretation on this model that is denied by many not of the left.
    For example D.S. Wilson argued against Maynard-Smith, Dawkins and Trivers that the evolutionary reciprocal altruism version of the IPD was group selection, denied by these others. So now you are aguing for a collectivist interpretation when everything else you write implies you are against such collectivist interpretataions. You are confused.


    In so doing the PD eliminates cooperation, wiping out any real world implications.
    Sorry to use technical jargon now but it permits the most appropriate response - Bullshit. See arms races, real prosecution games, climate change, customer-developer relationships in program management, sports drug doping, advertising, cartels, plea bargaining, game shows,tragedy of the commons, free rider problems...

    The rest of your post is nothing to do with what I engaged you on, others can answer that or not as they feel fit.

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  18. FaithlessGod has just supported my point.

    First, FG, how about dropping the snide remarks. Anyone can stoop to that level so as to pretend to occupy an unearned high ground.

    Men have a reason and choice. To the extent that men think, they do not operate on game theory alone. When some situations appear to fit PDs etc. one should ask,
    1) "What are the participants failing to grasp?" and
    2) "Who knows the hidden principle (the PD uses) that the participants (or the observer) do not?"

    I asked "What premise" not "Who says?".

    I am not "applying" a left-wing interpretation of the PD. I'm calling it for what it is, and I explained why. Understanding that may require a little thought outside the Game Theory Box.

    Arms races are not games. The only arms race that matters consisted of the more powerful agent (USA) supplying food and technology to their less powerful enemy (USSR). Such tactics are a foolishly inept means of handling an aggressor.

    Dealing with (so-called) Climate Change on the basis of Game Theory is even more foolish. The same non-fit with game theory applies to the other issues.

    Why? Because Game Theory operates on certain premises I have already named. There is much more involved in human action than in what boils down to the use of a computer algorithm.

    Those who believe the rest of what I have written is irrelevant, demonstrate a narrow (robotic?) commitment to the algorithm, not reality.

    The use of the narrow logic of mechanism & modeling as a substitute for reason, and a subsequent search for justification in real-world partial matches, is an interesting epistemic phenomenon. I wonder if it is used to justify a priori emotionally held beliefs... here perhaps a resentment of the wealthy?

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  19. Richard
    "First, FG, how about dropping the snide remarks. Anyone can stoop to that level so as to pretend to occupy an unearned high ground." What snide remarks, I am merely providing an accurate reflection of the status of your thoughts.

    Men have a reason and choice. To the extent that men think, they do not operate on game theory alone.
    Sorry I have never said, do not put words in my mouth.

    When some situations appear to fit PDs etc. one should ask,
    1) "What are the participants failing to grasp?" and
    2) "Who knows the hidden principle (the PD uses) that the participants (or the observer) do not?"

    This is entirely non-sensical, do you know anything about economic decision theory or rational expectations theory at all? This is what we are talking about.


    I am not "applying" a left-wing interpretation of the PD. I'm calling it for what it is, and I explained why. Understanding that may require a little thought outside the Game Theory Box.
    You have done no such thing and have yet to indicate that you even know how to think in the box. I am not going to explain game theory and economics in a comment, look them up and try and use your reason to understand them.

    Arms races are not games.
    Duh! What a great insight.

    You asked for application of game theory in real-life and I gave you some areas where they are applied, in particular the PD. If you wish to criticise an application of an economic game theory application specifically PD, first display you understand what is being applied and where, explain what the problems are and ideally suggest and alternative and show an empirically better solution.

    All you have responded with is empty ignorant rhetoric. Since you advocate using reason, why don't you practice what you preach?

    Why? Because Game Theory operates on certain premises I have already named.
    What collectivism? Again that is pure bullshit. How about you provide reason and evidence - that is what an argument is.

    There is much more involved in human action than in what boils down to the use of a computer algorithm.
    Wow another great insight, and you call this is an argument?

    Those who believe the rest of what I have written is irrelevant, demonstrate a narrow (robotic?) commitment to the algorithm, not reality.
    Where is your supposed evidence for this obvious non sequitur.

    As is probably obvious to every other reader here, the rest of your previous comment was nothing to do with me but now, since you persist...

    The use of the narrow logic of mechanism & modeling as a substitute for reason, and a subsequent search for justification in real-world partial matches, is an interesting epistemic phenomenon.
    Game theory is a tool to aid in analysis that is all. If it works good if you can find something better use that. Instead you have yet to demonstrate the most basic understanding of economic concepts in this area.

    I wonder if it is used to justify a priori emotionally held beliefs... here perhaps a resentment of the wealthy?
    I dunno, sounds like you looking in a mirror?

    I suggest you stick to what is written and do not read between the lines or speculate,and check you know what you are talking about and what you are arguing about, indeed try and make an actual argument, this decreases the chances of types of errors and mistakes you are making.

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  20. First, FG, how about dropping the snide remarks.

    This is not a message board. This is a blog. My blog to be more precise. Snide remarks are encouraged here, especially directed at people who appear clueless and stupid, and accompanied by substantive discussion of relevant points.

    By what premise is the PD believed to apply to individuals acting in their own best interest?

    Seriously, Richard, you need to understand the fundamentals of game theory, and the metaphysical and methodological status of theory in understanding and interpreting real life. The "points" you raise in this comment are irrelevant or obtuse where not entirely fatuous.

    Your following comment appears to be ordinary Randian/Libertarian dogma.

    I think history has shown that to be false. Every communist society has sought conformity in the beliefs of its citizens with extraordinary penalties for non-conformists. ...

    The corruption in semi-capitalist societies are a result of individuals misusing the courts and state to enable corruption & misuse of state coercion. That corruption is not a fault of capitalism....


    The hypocrisy is fairly obvious.

    I find it as unproductive to argue with Randians and Libertarians as I do with Christian fundamentalists and creationists. Both exhibit similar degrees of closed-minded dogmatism, intellectual dishonest and outright mendacity.

    This blog is not a platform for anyone to willy-nilly espouse any old ideology. If you wish to promote the virtues of Libertarianism, you are entirely free to create your own blog.

    If you wish to criticize communist ideology -- perspicaciously, not vacuously -- I've written any number of posts where your position would be more directly relevant.

    You've had your say and it will stand, but if you have nothing better to do than assert your dogma with the certitude of any religious fundamentalist, you will find your comments quickly deleted.

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  21. FG,

    This is a foreword to the next comment.

    Your denial of snide remarks is itself snide: "I am merely providing an accurate reflection of the status of your thoughts.". Nice job. I could quite as easily have commented "accurately" that the entire Game Theory, as applied here, is "bullshit". Observe that it accomplishes nothing.

    All such remarks accomplish is to detract from reasoned discussion, ruining its quality. I've been showing why. Try doing that, instead of deriding the odd cherry-picked phrase.

    Further, know the difference between the initiation of a point, and "putting words in [your] mouth". Where did I suggest they were your words... persecution complex much?

    Address the issue!

    The issue has numerous abstract elements that have to be understood. Those elements are overarching, in the sense that without them the application of Game Theory to human action cannot reasonably be applied. This is why I suggested you had proved my point, by not examining the proper application of Game Theory, and its application to real human situations. Your responses have simply dug yourself deeper into that error.
    (Having a few people helping you dig in, only means there are others in that pit with you.)

    I know enough (of Game theor-isms) to recognize when they are rationalized beyond their legitimate scope. It is BB's job to demonstrate that he is not rationalizing, and since you have 'taken up the flag', it is also yours.

    You suggest I "look up" Game Theory. I didn't need to, but I did anyway just to check my own premises. Mine hold. Now check yours.

    "Arms races are not games.
    Duh! What a great insight
    ".
    You have ignored the point behind the statement, & then ridiculed the statement as if that were a sufficient claim to the higher ground. Now that IS bullshit.

    "first display you understand what is being applied and where, explain what the problems are and ideally suggest and alternative and show an empirically better solution"

    I did all that, though I only hinted at the route to a better solution. I could only hint, because the problem has, as yet, not been clearly identified. Why should I repeat what you already know, when trying to make a short comment?

    The better solution is to develop an abstract understanding of the true nature of the individual mind under normal conditions. Doing so is not a rejection of Game Theory itself, but it can show why Game Theory is an inadequate explanation.

    I provided both evidence and reason, but you flatly rejected it without argument... so who is using reason here?

    I suggest the non sequitur lies in applying Game Theory to human action as a Lifeboat Ethics argument. Are the people who believe in a non sequitur so invested in it that they are unwilling to actually examine it, and even find it convenient to accuse others of their own logical fallacy.

    What economic concepts do you think I should understand? You made the accusation, now stand by it and make a clear statement as to what you actually mean.

    As for my making an "actual argument", it might be more constructive if you were able to recognize one.

    See next comment...

    ReplyDelete
  22. Please observe how my latest comment has had to deal with FG's blind rejections of my arguments, rather than any actual refutation. [I have posed a direct question to FG: "What economic concepts do you think I should understand?" Is he up to that simple request?]

    FG presents the full nature of UNreason, of minds that prefer to complain about their perceived nature of the argument rather than the argument itself.

    Such minds do not think about and address, the arguments offered, using questions or alternatives, instead they attack the arguer by disregarding his arguments. As a result the discussion goes nowhere, and is reduced to a pissing match.

    Let's drop the pissing match and fo to the meat of the matter. I hope BB or Izgad have more to offer.

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  23. Richard: It is irrational and naive to stride into the stronghold of the enemy and expect or demand neutral, impartial justice. It's especially ridiculous to then call dramatic attention to your 5" erection and proclaim that John Holmes is loosing sleep.

    You've given us nothing but assertions of Libertarian dogma; faithlessgod is entirely correct on calling bullshit on your inane and vacuous attempts at argumentation.

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  24. Richard as of now am I kicked off of this blog for being a "Nazi" so I am not free to contribue. Of course I believe in the rule that whoever calls the other person a Nazi first in an argument loses.
    Whoever wants to discuss Libertarian, or Communist ideas for that matter, in a civil manner without snide remarks may come to my blog.

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  25. I know enough (of Game theor-isms) to recognize when they are rationalized beyond their legitimate scope. It is BB's job to demonstrate that he is not rationalizing, and since you have 'taken up the flag', it is also yours.

    Dude, it's not hard to find applications of "The Prisoner's Dillemma" all over normal life. That's why people like to use it so much- because it's metaphorical for situations that normal people find themselves in all the damn time. Examples:

    I'm a man in a relationship with a woman. We like to be with each other, but we're also distracted by other, flashier people. We can either stay together (both cooperate) which is a good outcome. Or I can cheat on her with a hottie (I defect), which might be an excellent outcome for me, but crappy for her. Or, she could cheat on me with some hottie (she defects), in which case she feels fine but I feel like crap. Or we could both cheat (both defect), in which case, we both just feel stupid.

    There's very competitive situations where we get rewards for screwing our fellows all over the place in this society. That's just reality.

    On another level, I think people might be not be taking you seriously partly because Larry was using the example metaphorically. There is some interest in examining whether the Prisoner's Dilemma fits with normal life, but it also is meant partially as a metaphor. So, you claiming that it doesn't apply anywhere other than Geo-politically is in my opionion wrong, but also missing the point a bit.

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  26. Also, the prisoner's dilemma doesn't assume a collectivist premise at all. If it's so collectivist, then why is defecting on your neighbor safer, for the rational actor, than cooperating? When the rational player finds defecting better than cooperating, you're not assuming a collectivist premise. You're assuming a dog-eat-dog, libertarian premise, it seems to me.

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  27. Izgad, what part of "banned" do you not understand? I'll leave your last comment up as a parting shot, but seriously: I just don't want to talk to you.

    atheist: To a certain extent I was using PD metaphorically, but I was using it too in a theoretical sense: a mathematical simplification that lets us understand a particular component of a complex situation.

    The PD games directly models the relationship between the capitalist class and the working class: mutual cooperation consists of paying the workers the full objective use-value (not cost) of their labor power; mutual defection consists of no economic cooperation between labor and capital.

    The worker as an individual will starve if he does not work for the cost of his labor power, whereas capitalists as a class will not starve if the individual worker withholds his labor, the changes to the original game are external and asymmetric.

    The Randian line is that the threat of starvation faced by the worker does not constitute "coercion". This line, however, ignores the obvious practical similarities between "active" hold-a-gun-to-your-head coercion and passive lock-up-all-the-food coercion.

    Furthermore, if this sort of passive coercion were merely a recognition of reality, there would be no need to justify Randianism and Libertarianism on a moral and political level. In just the same sense, there is no need to morally or politically justify the law of gravity.

    I've written extensively about Libertarianism and Randianism. I consider the modern revolutionary conservative movement, the Republican party and the Bush administration to be the apothesis and culmination of Randian/Libertarian ethics, stripped, of course, of the Utopian bullshit and flim-flam used to sell Randianism/Libertarianism to the deluded masses (including a couple of our recent commenters). Given their actions in objective reality, I believe Godwin's law to have been decisively refuted, and the comparison between Nazism and these people and their apologists and supporters to be objectively justified.

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  28. Let me say too: Had Richard merely commented that my post had not persuaded him, I would have been both unsurprised and sympathetic. A fair portion of my writing consists of trying to work out my own thinking, often confused and occasionally half-assed.

    Also, there's a degree of continuity here: I write on various themes over time, and I often do not recapitulate every theoretical point I've covered in the past.

    However, when one makes substantive criticism of a concept, it is incumbent on the critic to educate himself in the background material. One cannot criticize an idea in physics or biology, for example, without some sort of grounding in these science.

    A critic who says for example, "Evolution cannot be true because dogs don't give birth to cats," has displayed such profound ignorance regarding the background of evolution that his comment does not deserve any rebuttal more substantive than, "You simply don't know what you're talking about: go educate yourself."

    So, Richard: You are here on my blog making substantive criticism of my work. I really don't care whether or not you yourself are persuaded by this particular post or my full body of work. If you are not persuaded, you are free to leave, and you are free to publish your own thoughts on your own blog.

    However, by offering substantive criticism of my own work, you are declaring your intention to persuade me that I am mistaken or fundamentally misguided. Well, if you want to persuade me that I'm mistaken, you have to persuade me you understand the fundamentals of what I'm talking about. Simply saying I'm full of shit from square one and that you have a different view is not at all persuasive.

    The justification of communism and socialism do not rest entirely on one esoteric analysis of economic game theory. Trying to turn an analysis of a point of game theory into a all-sided examination of communism is an exercise in futility.

    ReplyDelete

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