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The Prisoner's dilemma and Election 2016


Suppose there are two prisoners, detained in separate cells, with no way of communicating with each other. We can imagine that the District Attorney knows that she has enough evidence right now, in order to convict both prisoners on a lesser charge, but she will only be able to get a conviction on a more serious charge if she can get at least one of them to incriminate the other. The D.A. offers the prisoners a deal, (making it clear to each that the other prisoner is getting the same deal). The deal is this:


If you incriminate the other prisoner of a major charge, he will get the death penalty and you will go free, provided that there is no evidence against you. If you both incriminate each other, you will both stay in prison for life. If you remain silent, and the other prisoner incriminates you, then it will be you who faces the death penalty (and he will go free). If you both remain silent, then you will both stay in prison, but for a limited term, on a lesser charge.


Suppose you are rationally self-interested (you only ever do anything if you have reason to believe it will be of the most benefit / least harm for yourself out of available options) and find yourself in the above situation – what should you do?


The other prisoner can either incriminate you or not incriminate you. Suppose first that the other prisoner is going to incriminate you. Since you want to do what is in your own best interest, you want to avoid the scenario in which he incriminates you but you don’t incriminate him (because in that scenario you would get the death penalty). So in that case you should incriminate the other prisoner, being rationally self-interested. Alternatively, suppose the other prisoner is going to remain silent. If you are rationally self-interested, you should incriminate him, for in that case you will go free and he will get the death penalty. So no matter what the other prisoner does, if you are rationally self-interested, you should ‘sing like a bird’ (incriminate!). Since exactly parallel reasoning applies for the other prisoner, he will incriminate you, and you will both end up incriminating each other. This will result in your both getting life in prison, yet if you both had stayed silent, you would have only served a limited term! Paradoxically, *it was not in each individual prisoner’s rational best interest to act according to his individual rational best interest*, in the situation just described. If each prisoner had not acted out of rational self-interest, then they both would have been better off.


The paradox is not solved by claiming that since rationally self-interested prisoner A knows what deal rationally self-interested prisoner B is getting, and vice versa, they will both choose to remain silent, since they each can see that if they each choose this option they will each get five years instead of life imprisonment. For suppose that they do (independently of each other) come to realize this – each will soon also realize that if *he* (the other prisoner) is going to remain silent, then *I* should incriminate; since this secures a better outcome for me than five years in prison – I get off free. In fact, since I know that the other prisoner is also rationally self-interested, I know that he will soon reach the same conclusion, and he will thus decide to incriminate me (hoping that I am going to remain silent). In which case it is even more urgent for me to incriminate him, for otherwise I’d face the death penalty.


Situations approximating to the above do occur in real life. Suppose the powers that be in the Pentagon reason as follows. Either other nuclear powers (e.g. Russia) will continue to remain armed, or they will not. If they do remain armed, then it is rational for us to remain armed, because if we disarm they will be able to dominate us. Alternatively, suppose they are going to disarm – if so, we should still remain armed, since then we will be able to dominate them. So no matter what they do, we should not disarm, *if we (i.e. the relevant governmental powers) are rationally self-interested*. But since the same sort of reasoning will be followed by our enemys' rationally self-interested military strategists, everyone will remain armed, pouring vast amounts of money into their military defense budgets, (which might otherwise have been used for universal single-payer health care, medical research, student-loan forgiveness, tuition-free college etc.) and everyone will be worse off than if they had disarmed.


A similar point can be made in the context of the current presidential election. After Hillary and the DNC colluded with the mainstream media to steal the Democratic nomination from Bernie, that same media has constantly bullied people to be rationally self-interested and vote for the lesser of two evils. Although they may not often explicitly characterize Hillary as the lesser of two evils, the clear position of CNN and MSNBC is that the lesser evil between Hillary and Trump is Hillary. Bearing in mind how these media outlets are owned by Time Warner and Comcast, both of whom are big donors to Hillary, consider the significance of the mainstream media's insistence that it would be irrational not to follow one's self-interest when voting in this presidential election. 


The first point to note is that the mainstream media are constructing a false prison, which we all can walk out of at any time if we have the key - knowledge. They have bombarded the public with propaganda all day everyday for the last year favoring the two main party candidates. Third party candidates (especially Jill Stein) have at first been ignored, then ignored/smeared. This has undoubtedly created the strong impression in the electorate that only one or other major party candidate has a chance of winning the election.


However, it is only likely that one or other main party candidate will win the election because that is how the public have been manipulated by the media. If one were fully informed, no rationally self-interested person (who e.g. wants their children to be able to live in a habitable environment) would vote either of these two candidates since neither are committed to doing anything serious about climate change, regulating Wall Street, working towards world peace, etc. It is no wonder that third party candidates were locked out of the presidential debates by the two-party partisan commission for presidential debates (who took over the debates from the league of women voters in the 1980's, whether they liked it or not (they did not, calling the take-over a fraud on the American public).).


We are constantly told by media supporters and surrogates of both Hillary and Trump that despite the shortcomings of their preferred candidate, a vote for a third party candidate is in effect a vote for the enemy (and greater of the two evils - Hillary or Trump). If one is rationally self-interested (says the mainstream media) one ought to choose the lesser of these two evils (even if you really dislike that candidate).


A vote for Hillary is widely seen as a vote for TPP, pro-Wall street, fracking, more war and possibly nuclear conflict with Russia over Syria given Hillary's proposed no-fly zone. A vote for Trump is portrayed as a vote for a dangerously unpredictable president who ought not to have access to the nuclear missile codes. The two main candidates are the most disliked and mistrusted presidential candidates in history, yet we are constantly bullied and told that we need to be self-interested and vote for one or the other.


The consequence of acquiescing to the demands of the media bullies will be that when you vote for the candidate you believe to be the lesser of two evils, and if that candidate wins, the country will be in a worse state than it would have been if you had voted third party (Jill Stein in particular). Just as in the prisoner's dilemma, when following one's rational self-interest was paradoxically not in one's self-interest, the same is true in the presidential election if one has been conditioned by the mainstream media and/or two main candidates to accept that voting third-party is in effect a vote for the opposing candidate. 


Just as if each prisoner in the dilemma would have been better off if they had not followed their own rational self-interest and incriminated (analogously, not voted against the candidate they feared most), voters who traditionally vote Democrat or Republican would be better off voting third party in this election, for reasons directly analogous to the prisoner's dilemma. 


In this election, you the voter are a prisoner. Remember you can vote for freedom, and walk out of the false prison that the media have constructed for you.


(Voters - does the following sound familiar? Hillary Clinton 2016, George Orwell 1984.)

(From) Shelley: The Mask of Anarchy


Let a vast assembly be

And with great solemnity

Declare with measured words that ye

Are as God has made thee - free!


Rise like lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you

Ye are many, they are few.