Friday, April 09, 2010

The economics of dueling

The economics of dueling [pdf]:
Recent historical research indicates that ritualistic dueling had a rational basis. Basically, under certain social and economic conditions, individuals must fight in order to maintain their personal credit and social standing. We use a repeated two-player sequential game with random matching to show how the institution of dueling could have functioned as a costly but incentive-compatible means by which individuals could demonstrate their good faith dealings by defending their "honor".
Fundamentally, the authors show how a Prisoner's Dilemma-type game is transformed to a win-win (overall) game through the use of coercion.

While dueling is technically not a "state-imposed" solution, the practice requires larger institutionalized social constructions. Specifically, legal enforcement against ordinary murder must be knowingly (although implicitly) relaxed.

Also, dueling is viable (in a game-theoretic sense) only in fairly restrictive circumstances. Outside the parameters the authors describe, other solutions are more effective and less costly.

(via Bruce Schneier)

1 comment:

  1. I have lost my patience with academic-speak, so I was unable to make it very far into the paper, but what I was seeing was a particular focus on some specific time periods, which were not the heyday of dueling by any means -- duels predate guns by quite a bit. It's not terribly helpful to say that there can be a rational basis for dueling if the necessary conditions for this to be so did not exist for most of the history of dueling.

    Also, of course, the paper appears to get so wrapped up in the theory that it forgets the actual basics of dueling. In a world with duels, might more or less directly makes right; there are recorded cases in which people were known to be in the wrong in the sense which dueling was meant to "correct", yet because the wronged parties were unskilled at fighting, no challenges were issued. This in turn caused the general public to have contempt for the wronged parties -- hardly a rational outcome.

    Like so many other stupid things, dueling as it came down to the modern period was more concerned with sex than anything else, and it was kept going by a surplus of otherwise unoccupied young men.

    (And we know the ritual rules changed over time; in the 1400s and early 1500s throughout Europe, royalty had to grant the duelers a field and oversee the duel in order for it to have official standing. Those restrictions were dropped basically because of a duel between Compte Guy Charbord de Jarnac and Compte de la Chataigneraye, overseen by King Henri II of France in 1547. De Jarnac disabled de la Chataigneraye with a quick unexpected cut to the hamstring, but the king repeatedly refused to end the duel, despite being de la Chataigneraye's friend, and so the loser of the duel basically bled to death, and everyone said "wait, if the presence of the king doesn't give us any guarantee of extra grace or restraint, why are we bothering to ask permission anyway? It would be simpler and more efficient if we just went ahead and killed each other directly.")

    (I know this not because I'm a duel buff but because there's an excellent bookstore near me with a history section with lots of interesting special-topic books, and I'm a sucker for a well-written piece of non-fiction even if the topic is a bit strange, in this case Barbara Holland's Gentlemen's Blood: A History of Dueling from Swords at Dawn to Pistols at Dusk.)


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