Books and Philosophy

I came upon some knowledge by accident the other day. I accompanied my fifteen year old to the public library so he could search for references on an essay he was writing about teenage hormones. He needed fifteen of them. After looking at about seven books we had all the information he needed. He was then listing other books we hadn’t even read as references because he needed the total of fifteen. I grabbed a book that had nothing to do with teenage hormones but the title might make it appear that it did. It was called “Cheating Monkeys and Citizen Bees.” Makes you think of the birds and the bees. We listed it as a reference, then I started reading through it. I found lots of useful information that had nothing to do with hormones but everything to do with the very nature of man and politics.

To begin with, the book studies different creatures in the animal kingdom and the degree to which they socialize and sometimes exhibit actions that appear to be altruistic. The book further tries to apply these findings to human relations. Are humans more like the socialized bees or the individualist monkeys? What, if anything, can be applied with these findings? Then the issue of human nature was brought to the fore.

The English philosopher Thomas Hobbs held that, absent the existence of a strong government threatening to put the smackdown on citizens, people would be in a constant state resembling war and the world would be every man for his own. Individual freedom was something to be feared because mankind, being naturally evil, would take advantage by plundering and raping each other blind (I’m paraphrasing). In short, Thomas Hobbs thought people were bad and needed to be babysat and/or shot.

The English Philosopher John Locke, the book says, maintained that man’s natural state was freedom and that the role of government was basically to protect man’s freedom and basic rights. Here the book diverges from the question of mankind’s basic nature and asks the question if man is free to choose his actions (good or evil), will he benefit more by cooperating with his fellows or by cheating? The results are interesting.

One experiment that was done to address this question was what is known as The Prisoner’s Dilemma. In this a person is given the scenario that he and an accomplice are charged with a crime and questioned in seperate rooms. If both prisoners refuse to implicate the other the evidence is so sparse that they only get one year in prison apiece. If one cheats (implicates the other) the cheater gets five years in prison and the other gets ten years. If both cheat they both lose. What would you do?

Obviously the optimal scenario would be for both prisoners to cooperate (not implicate each other) which would results in the smallest sentence for each. But given the fear of the consequences if the other person cheats, the question can be tricky. In this study hundreds of people were solicited to submit any type of system they desired and each system would be played against the others over and over again. For example, one could choose always cheat, always cooperate, alternate, or haphazard. There was one system that emerged from this competition as the most successful strategy of all. The result was Tit for Tat.

In Tit for Tat the first choice is cooperate and the subsequent choice is to choose whatever action the other prisoner chose in the previous round. So if I choose cooperate and HMT chooses cheat I would choose cheat next round. This way I only lose once. If HMT chooses cooperate the first round then we both win and I choose cooperate the next round. That optimizes results unless he cheats in which case I punish next round by cheating as well. This kicks altruism in the nuts because an altruistic person would always choose cooperate no matter what and would get taken advantage of. Tit for Tat gives the other person what they deserve and that is both justice and perhaps karma.

It was further noted that there is no place in this scenario for being more altruistic toward cheating blood relatives. A cheating blood relatives is just as much an enemy as a cheating non relative. So while blood relatives might be more inclined to cooperate with each other, in the event that they don’t then the cheating relatives should be dealt with just like the cheating non relatives.

In summation Thomas Hobbs masturbated until he went blind and John Locke completed 35 passes to win the Superbowl. Monkeys are cooler than bees and if you don’t believe me than go and try to hug them. Books kick ass, the Miami Heat will come back to win game seven, and if I ever commit a crime I’m gonna go solo. I can’t believe I remembered all that information from just skimming that book. I might read the whole thing one day if I get bored one day. If not oh well. Viva me!

17 Responses to “Books and Philosophy”

  1. Peggy says:

    Interesting. I go with Hobbs. Maybe because of where I work, I see how much and how often people are willing to dump on someone else, even family, in order to save themselves more trouble. In reference to what you said about relatives and altruism–there was a guy on probation for possession of marijuana. He got arrested again during a traffic stop when cops found more marijuana in the car. He swore it wasn’t his, but his cousin’s. So for the revocation hearing, he had his cousin come in and testify, under oath, that the marijuana the cops found in the car belonged to him. This clown swore, under oath, in front of a judge, two prosecutors, a deputy Sheriff and half-a dozen police officers there as witnesses on other cases, that the marijuana was his, thinking that this would keep cousin from getting his probation revoked. It did. But it also got him arrested and taken into custody right then for felony possession. Who screwed who?

  2. mexigogue says:

    what a n00b!

  3. Phelps says:

    Peggy, I think you are missing a key component of the prisoner’s dilemma. The easiest thing for someone to do (least trouble) is to not rat the other guy out. The question in the dilemma is trust. You rat someone out if you think the other guy is going to rat you out.

    (I actually was first exposed to this in Piers Anthony’s Golem in the Gears.)

  4. Mexigogue says:

    Oh, forgot. I’ll be in Detroit at a stupid meeting all day. Unable to comment. So sad for me. Let’s see who else besides Peggy and Phelps has the patience to read this whole thing. I probably would have just skimmed it.

  5. R says:

    The fact that trust isn’t an automatic given goes to show that Hobbes is, indeed, correct about man’s nature.

    The Tit for Tat system proves this. If man was truly, wholely, benevolant and good, a person would be selfless enough to always cooperate, no matter the threat of serving twice the prison time as the other.

    In fact, if a person were good by nature, they’d never find themselves in this particular Dilema.

  6. Phelps says:

    The dilemma doesn’t bear on inherent good or bad. It is just about whether or not you can trust the other person to deal rationally.

    And in a no-ropes barbed wire electrified C4 exploding Texas deathmatch, Locke would totally school Hobbs. Hobbs would be pulling out weak shit like sleeper holds and forearm chops, and Locke would be suplexing his candy ass into the C4 and Irish whipping Hobbes into the electrified barbed wire.

  7. R says:

    What the fuck did Locke ever write that had a title as fucking cool as motherfucking “LEVIATHAN!” bitches!

    “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding?” Give me a fucking break.

  8. R says:

    …however, individuals have a way of rationalizing things differently than a collective rationalization.

    I understand you’re saying there’s a difference between being good and being rational, but I’m saying there’s a difference in how one rationalizes certain actions based upon who it benefits: the individual or the whole.

  9. Phelps says:

    I’m pretty sure that Locke wrote Gangsta’s Paradise and Video Killed the Radio Star.

  10. I prefer Amish Paradise

  11. Peggy says:

    I got the trust part, Phelps. But I see it this way- the options are to trust and if you are correct, do a year. If you trust and are wrong, you do ten. I am cynical enough to believe that most people would split the difference and take the five rather than trust. The two I wrote about are significant to me because I don’t believe that the marijuana belonged to the guy who came in and testified for his cousin. He was just too clueless. I think cousin talked him into it and now he has no way out. Even if he recants and the DA’s office believes him, he can be prosecuted for false testimony under oath, which is also a felony. He trusted a relative and look what it got him. And if a blood relative would do that, who wouldn’t?
    Trust is over-rated.
    Have you read all of the Xanth series? I’ve never been a big fan of Anthony, but I picked up Cube Route a few weeks ago. I think it is the last book in the series. I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet though. Just can’t seem to get interested.

  12. Phelps says:

    Xanth trailed off and got dopey and Harlequinn after Golem, but that is like book 12. I guess that is a good run even if books 13 – 16 sucked balls.

    Check out Total Recall and the Incarnations of Immortality, too.

    Best all out fantasy right now is Drake’s King of the Isles series, IMNSHO.

  13. Mexigogue says:

    “R”, on your first comment you equated “good” with being “selfless”. That’s one helluvan unspoken premise you’re asking us to accept as correct. Especially since it’s wrong. The selfish thing for both players is to both cooperate. That way they only get a year each. A selfish optimist person should want the lowest possible sentence.

    A selfish pessimist might choose to cheat since he expects the other guy to cheat.

    The stupidest person would be a selfless person, whether optimist or pessimist. He would always cooperate.

  14. Jenn says:

    So now you know where babies come from?

  15. Citizen Quasar says:

    The pattern can be stated mathematically and figured out with a number of solution methods.

    One of these is to screw Kant in the ass as he butt-fucks Plato and then to read more Rand.

    Ayn Rand! Ayn Rand! Ayn Rand!…from RANDOM HOUSE.

  16. Phelps says:

    Is that like Twister from Milton Bradley?

  17. Bingo MacGee says:

    ergh… yeeeargh… umph…

    brain expanding… hurts…

    Now I have to figure out how many of my friends would screw me over…