Although this subject could easily be part of the Evolutionary Psychology thread, I give it its own thread because I think it worthy.
First, a description of the PD: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoner's_dilemma
Next, an article and a high IQ friend's comments:
Human Nature Redux
By DAVID BROOKS
Published: February 18, 2007
Sometimes a big idea fades so imperceptibly from public consciousness you don't even notice until it has almost disappeared. Such is the fate of the belief in natural human goodness.
The Way We Live Now
This belief, most often associated with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, begins with the notion that "everything is good as it leaves the hands of the Author of things; everything degenerates in the hands of man." Human beings are virtuous and free in their natural state. It is only corrupt institutions that make them venal. They are happy in their simplicity, but social conventions make them unwell.
This belief had gigantic ramifications over the years. It led, first of all, to the belief that bourgeois social conventions are repressive and soul-destroying. It contributed to romantic revolts against tradition and etiquette. Whether it was 19th-century Parisian bohemians or 20th-century beatniks and hippies, Western culture has seen a string of antiestablishment rebellions led by people who wanted to shuck off convention and reawaken more natural modes of awareness.
It led people to hit the road, do drugs, form communes and explore free love in order to unleash their authentic selves.
In education, it led to progressive reforms, in which children were liberated to follow their natural instincts. Politically, it led to radical social engineering efforts, because if institutions were the source of sin, then all you had to do was reshape institutions in order to create a New Man.
Therapeutically, it led to an emphasis of feelings over reason, self-esteem over self-discipline. In the realm of foreign policy, it led to a sort of global doctrine of the noble savage - the belief that societies in the colonial world were fundamentally innocent, and once the chains of their oppression were lifted something wonderful would flower.
Over the past 30 years or so, however, this belief in natural goodness has been discarded. It began to lose favor because of the failure of just about every social program that was inspired by it, from the communes to progressive education on up. But the big blow came at the hands of science.
From the content of our genes, the nature of our neurons and the lessons of evolutionary biology, it has become clear that nature is filled with competition and conflicts of interest. Humanity did not come before status contests. Status contests came before humanity, and are embedded deep in human relations. People in hunter-gatherer societies were deadly warriors, not sexually liberated pacifists. As Steven Pinker has put it, Hobbes was more right than Rousseau.
Moreover, human beings are not as pliable as the social engineers imagined. Human beings operate according to preset epigenetic rules, which dispose people to act in certain ways. We strive for dominance and undermine radical egalitarian dreams. We're tribal and divide the world into in-groups and out-groups.
This darker if more realistic view of human nature has led to a rediscovery of different moral codes and different political assumptions. Most people today share what Thomas Sowell calls the Constrained Vision, what Pinker calls the Tragic Vision and what E. O. Wilson calls Existential Conservatism. This is based on the idea that there is a universal human nature; that it has nasty, competitive elements; that we don't understand much about it; and that the conventions and institutions that have evolved to keep us from slitting each other's throats are valuable and are altered at great peril.
Today, parents don't seek to liberate their children; they supervise, coach and instruct every element of their lives. Today, there really is no antinomian counterculture - even the artists and rock stars are bourgeois strivers. Today, communes and utopian schemes are out of favor. People are mostly skeptical of social engineering efforts and jaundiced about revolutionaries who promise to herald a new dawn. Iraq has revealed what human beings do without a strong order-imposing state.
This is a big pivot in intellectual history. The thinkers most associated with the Tragic Vision are Isaiah Berlin, Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Friedrich Hayek and Hobbes. Many of them are conservative.
And here's another perversity of human nature. Many conservatives resist the theory of evolution even though it confirms many of conservatism's deepest truths.
Interesting article. I think that using evolutionary psychology to justify the Statist leviathan contains a number of very serious problems. Politicians should not be seen as altruistic Platonic Guardians; rather, they would simply be ambitious, probably ruthless human beings seeking to maximize their own genetically-mandated fitness criteria, just like everyone else. The best system would be one that harnessed our self-interested behavior towards value creation at the societal level. Of course, Adam Smith discussed this a long time ago.
Stephen Quartz, who I believe is still at CalTech, has performed a number of interesting experiments with people placed in game situation with the following rules: Person A starts the game with $5. He can decide how much of this to share with Person B. Whatever he decides to share, that amount will double before it gets to Person B. Person B can then decide if he wants to give any money back to Person A. The game can be played with an unknown number of iterative rounds, but it is truly fascinating when both players are told in advance that the game will have, say, 10 rounds of play. (By the way, the players are complete strangers to one another and do not communicate with each other during the game).
If one knows how many rounds are going to be involved in the game, it is easy to "defect" during that round and keep all of the winnings to oneself. Knowing this, the other player will defect a round earlier. And so on and so on...a regression to the first round takes place and the game theoretical solution would end up with Person A simply pocketing the $5 and walking away, operating under the assumption that any money given to Person B will never be seen again. However, virtually no one actually plays this way. A typical game begins with Person A making an initial offer of $2.50 to the other player. If the other player gives the (now $5) same amount back or something close to it, a tentative "trust potential" has been formed. MRI scans performed on the brains of the players have revealed that blood flow to pleasure centers is enhanced when a cycle of trust has been completed. We really seem to enjoy cooperative, win-win arrangements when we can find them. The game generally continues through the full number of rounds, with Person B sharing 50% of the final pot with his new "partner".
The Hobbesian gimmick used by some Socialists to justify their social engineering programs does not reflect the true nature of the human animal, a social primate equipped with an intuitive sense of cooperation and a finely-honed ability to keep track of favors given and received