RE: virus: Prisoners my Derrida!

Deron Stewart (
Fri, 19 Mar 1999 23:41:03 -0800

Not sure why my note got cut off...(is it just me? The one before last had a chunk missing out of the middle by the time it reached my Inbox and this one was cut off at the beginning of the quotes...but they both look fine in my Sent Items folder...).

Resending the quotes:


To many, the RAND Corporation epitomizes modern Machiavellianism. Both hawks and doves are apt to perceive it as a secret lair where amoral geniuses conspire darkly. RAND was well known enough to rate as a target for a Pete Seeger satirical folk song in the 1960s:

"The RAND corporation's the boon of the world They think all day for a fee
They sit and play games about going up in flames For counters they use you and me..."

Tucker sketched the dilemma in a letter to Dresher, calling it a "dressed up version of a game like one you showed me". Tucker's capsule description goes,

"Two men, charged with a joint violation of law, are held separately by the police. Each is told that
(1) if one confesses and the other does not, the former will be given a reward...and the latter will be fined...
(2) if both confess, each will be fined...
At the same time, each has good reason to believe that
(3) if neither confesses, both will go clear."

Over the years, the story has improved in the retelling and now almost always concerns prison terms.

The prisoner's dilemma can be "oversold". There are seventy-eight distinct two-person, two-strategy games. Every one must occur somewhere in real life. Most of the seventy-eight games have obvious solutions. Game theorists have tended to focus on the prisoner's dilemma precisely because it is the problematic case. Most conflicts are not prisoner's dilemmas, though....the perception that arms races pose prisoner's dilemmas may overshadow the reality, but it has become one of the paradigms of our time.

And with that we come full circle, boys and girls. Long ago Reed said:

<<Did Bertrand Russel ever say "hey, theory is an incomplete model which might lead you down the wrong path... plus calling the whole thing a 'prisoner's dilemma' might bias people in a way that pure reason wouldn't...">>

...and it seems I've been typing ever since in support of his argument.