Tendencies For War

Two nation-states have a disagreement on their hands that has received worldwide attention.

The Italian intelligence officer Nicola Calipari accompanying freed hostage Guiliana Sgrena was shot dead by US troops while approaching a checkpoint. The US claims that the vehicle carrying Sgrena and Calipari was traveling too fast and refused to stop giving US soldiers no choice but to open fire in an attempt to disengage the engine. The Italian government claims that the vehicle was traveling slowly and that the US military had been notified in advance of the vehicle's pending arrival.

Two powerful autonomous entities have a disagreement. A party one of the entities is obligated to protect has been lethally wronged. The accused party - represented by the other entity - claims innocence. Both entities have armies, soldiers, and lots of firepower.

For the purposes of this post, which side is correct is not important. Instead, I have a question to pose on the likely outcome.

It is unlikely that this disagreement will result in a war between the two entities. Why not?

Remember, at the nation-state level, there is no sovereign in the hierarchy of political structures. Any semblance of a rule of law is a consequence of tradition and voluntary alliances, without a higher-level mechanism of enforcement. Treaties are capable of being unilaterally broken. There is no guarantee of peace.

Why will the US and Italy not engage in war over this dispute?

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I agree with the

I agree with the desirability of spontaneous social order based on ethics and altruism. Possibly 95% of people can work this way 90% of the time. Unfortunately you have to have a way of dealing with sociopathic thugs. Since there are no prefabricated standards instructing what to do about them, you need to go by trial and error. I think it is a good idea to lynch rapists and cut off the hands of thieves but this offends some citizens. So you have to have jails. Personally I think it would be more efficient to have just corporal punishment and the death penalty to save maintaining all those prison cells but you could have private jails that all citizens agreed to help pay for, and we will need to hire some enforcers (we can’t just have a bunch of vigilantes.) And we can’t just put people in jail or kill them without some formalities, and pretty soon you have to have courts, laws, lawyers and judges.

One repeating misunderstanding that keeps coming up in these discussions is that somehow I don't want courts, laws, lawyers, and judges. Not true.

Yes, even in a world of cooperators, there will be defectors, and depending of the situation, it may even be rational to defect (ex. a good chance of not being caught). I agree that rights need to be protected. I shouldn't have to worry about thieves and murderers, and as a proponent of laissez-faire, I fully embrace the division of labor and specialization. I'd rather let someone else worry about security while I practice my trade and pursue the good life.

Democracy is one answer. It's a pretty good answer, and better than dictatorial monarchy and empire. But for the same reasons democracy beats monarchy and empire, I believe that polycentric law beats democracy: it enables the non-violent replacement of rights-enforcers in an efficient manner.

My view is that polycentric best rewards cooperators and best punishes defectors because it makes law a private good (in the economic sense) due to its excludability and rivalrousness. In contrast, monopolistic legal systems are ripe for defectors to infiltrate.

As far as your playing tit

As far as your playing tit for tat, you might notice that it’s your first post in response to me that accuses me of intellectual dishonesty.

Really? When I say "inconvenient to some" you assume I mean you? I'm a bit familiar with what's taught in philosophy departments, and I seem to remember that jumping to such conclusions was generally discouraged.

Now, are you going to address the more topical issues I mentioned, or are you comfortable only with the meta-discussion?

_If things don’t work out

_If things don’t work out that way the first few times, you just end up back at square one to try again._

You still seem to be missing the point that, if things don't work out that way for me, I don't go anywhere _because I'm dead_. Knowing this, I'd be irrational to risk death on the hope that just maybe I'll find someone who won't stab me in the back when I turn around.

_Almost a Prisoners’ Dilemma, but not quite since the payoff when your opponent defects depends on an external variable (your respective skill at assassination). It doesn’t seem to prove much._

I'm not sure why you think that any kind of external variable is relevant here. Hobbes points out that humans are pretty much equal to one another. You and I aren't that much different in strength or in intelligence. At the very least, no one is strong enough that she can't be killed while asleep. You needn't be a skilled assassin to bash my brains in when my back is turned. How strong you are is a factor only in that it influences when and how I kill you, not if.

_Why is your explanation more likely than mine? Because you want it to be? It certainly remains to be proven, I think._

I was thinking that it had to do with the fact that I can offer a reason why it is rational to cooperate for the first time. Your alternative is that some people take a stab at cooperation hoping that everything works out and repeating trials until the idea takes off. In other words, your explanation relies on groups of irrational players fumbling their way towards cooperation. My explanation relies on rational players who move directly to cooperation. You're right that neither account is proven; that's why we're having this discussion. What I actually said was that my account is more likely since it shows why rational actors would move directly to cooperation while yours relies upon low probability events repeated often enough.

_As I said, the explanation for the spontaneous origin of cooperation is available to anyone in Axelrod’s work. You may choose to ignore it if you wish, but don’t try to claim it doesn’t exist._

Read more carefully, please. I didn't say that no one had attempted to offer any reasons since Hobbes, only that no one had given a good one. Axelrod's work has a number of worries, the biggest one being that in his computer models, _no one dies when they lose_. I'm going to play a computer simulation differently than I'll play with my life because in Axelrod's game, there isn't all that much at stake. Defectors don't get beaten with sticks, nor do they get to hit cooperators with rocks. A computer simulation of a Hobbesian world is going to be tough to swing.

I agree with the

I agree with the desirability of spontaneous social order based on ethics and altruism. Possibly 95% of people can work this way 90% of the time. Unfortunately you have to have a way of dealing with sociopathic thugs. Since there are no prefabricated standards instructing what to do about them, you need to go by trial and error. I think it is a good idea to lynch rapists and cut off the hands of thieves but this offends some citizens. So you have to have jails. Personally I think it would be more efficient to have just corporal punishment and the death penalty to save maintaining all those prison cells but you could have private jails that all citizens agreed to help pay for, and we will need to hire some enforcers (we can’t just have a bunch of vigilantes.) And we can’t just put people in jail or kill them without some formalities, and pretty soon you have to have courts, laws, lawyers and judges.

You also have to have formal ways of settling disputes. This has evolve from waiting behind a tree with a big rock to, wrestling- no holds barred, to dueling, to hiring a lawyer and calling the cops. The streets should be laid out in some order, etc. You also have to have a military for obvious reasons. Remember we are living next to people who used to be cannibals, those formers Mayans and Aztecs. And by God pretty soon you have a (gasp) government!
I just don’t have much nostalgia for the simplicities of noble past. And don’t expect things to get simpler. Instead they will continue to evolve into even more Byzantine complexities until some catastrophe occurs. Then the survivors will get back to basics.

Joe, I don’t really see

Joe,

I don’t really see any reason for thinking that this is particularly true. Certainly the last part doesn’t necessarily follow; after all, civilization might well exist precisely because we government evolved first. You still, I think, aren’t giving enough credit to the dilemma part of the prisoner’s dilemma. We all know that we would be better off if we did cooperate, we just don’t, in the state of nature, have incentive to actually do so. But there is no reason to think that we can’t still get together and create social contracts; indeed, on your version, we would also do that, you just think that we’ll do it without also ensuring some way of enforcing those contracts. That strikes me as pretty irrational behavior. It’s hard to see why it would really catch on all that much, especially since (a) cheating is advantageous, and (b) I can protect my reputation just fine as long as I kill everyone I screwed. It’s not like there will be TV cameras or anything.

I agree with most of this paragraph. You are saying (I think) that there is no reason to cooperate unless cooperation is rewarded and defection is punished, and that the state is the enforcement mechanism, so the state preceded cooperation.

But that begs the question - since the state is just another group of individuals, what motivation do they have to cooperate in their role as a state instead of defecting? (See Catallarchy's favorite reptile.)

I think a more likely explanation is that there are ways of enforcement that do not require a state. People invite people to parties that invited them; Christmas gifts are given reciprocally until one side "defects"; the man who beats his wife is shunned by his community; etc. I think most of our moral intuitions arose as a method of enforcing Tit for Tat.

I'm even willing to accept that the state arose as a more efficient enforcement method due to division of labor. I just think that slippery slopes and the allure of power make states targets for defectors to infiltrate. Democracy is a guard against this as it provides a sort of "reciprocity" between the "people" and the cooperation-enforcers/defection-punishers. But it is an imperfect reciprocity due to its monopolistic nature.

What a positively

What a positively fascinating discourse.

As Thomas Friedman has said

As Thomas Friedman has said in Lexus And The Olive Tree, no two nations with a McDonald's has fought a war. We are economically plugged into Italy. This incident was a mistake, not an act of hostility. Neither nation poses a continued threat, therefore there is no grounds for war. If someone is at fault, there are courts that can deal with this.

Jeff, Perhaps this is just a

Jeff,

Perhaps this is just a disciplinary thing, but in philosophy, it's quite common to take someone's underdeveloped position and express it more fully. I was pointing out the logical implications of what you seemed to be arguing; because you hadn't spelled out your argument more fully, I tried to connect my argument to the view that you seemed to be endorsing.

It's also common (and this isn't just in philosophy) to apply what we call the principle of charity to other interpretations. In other words, to the extent that we put words in someone else's mouth, we do so in the strongest possible way. I merely re-expressed what you had been saying so far. You are perfectly within your rights to articulate a different view. Usually someone would preface it by saying something like, "That's not really what I meant to be saying. Here's my position..." instead of getting snarky, but, from reading your other posts here, that doesn't much seem to be your thing. Not everyone is out to misinterpret and demean you, though that sort of thing can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What I haven't done, and what you are still doing, is keep attributing to you a view that you have explicitly rejected having. You continue to imply that I've dismissed Axelrod as if he never wrote anything, which I most specifically did not do. I simply said that I've not yet seen any _good_ reasons for holding a particular view, not that I've seen _no_ reasons at all. Despite my having said this and then pointed out explicitly that I said it, you have, for a second time, accused me of saying it. Thus the suggestion that you read more carefully.

As far as the wounded pride remark goes, that's actually quite amusing. I'm a professional academic; I spent 6 years of graduate school having faculty and fellow-students criticize my ideas. Things don't change all that much post grad-school either, as journal editors and colleagues at conferences provide continuous criticism. Critics I can take just fine; academics in the humanities either grow thick skin or get out of the business. No, it's not wounded pride, it's failure to engage. When you don't read what I post (or perhaps read it and simply don't register it), there isn't much point in continuing the conversation.

As far as your playing tit for tat, you might notice that it's your first post in response to me that accuses me of intellectual dishonesty. When _ad hominem_ is your first line of response (and a recurring theme throughout your discussion), it's not a particularly encouraging sign for future discussion.

Podraza, Yes, I was

Podraza,

Yes, I was exaggerating about the big stick part. It could also be a rock. Or maybe a flint knife. Anything much more complicated than that will require some pretty serious cooperation and my whole point is that you won't get much of that in a state of nature.

Joe, Explain again why it is

Joe,

Explain again why it is always rational to choose non-cooperation in a state of nature?

How did society come to be, if this is true? Didn't we begin in a state of nature?

The answer that Italy knows

The answer that Italy knows it would lose any war with the US, while reasonable, doesn't really satisfy me.

1) If the matchup was more even, i.e., if it was not a sure thing that Italy would lose, would Italy pursue war? I doubt it.

2) On the flipside of that answer: if the US is guaranteed a victory, why doesn't the US pursue war? Isn't it a sure thing? The US can acquire a larger tax base, control more industry, rule more people, etc. What constrains the US in a world without a policeman?

Podraza, My worry about the

Podraza,

My worry about the account of ethics that you sketch is that it is premised entirely upon humans having an innate desire to maximze their productivity. I'm not sure that anyone really has that as an untutored drive. There might be people who have that desire now, but I would suspect that most who do have such a desire have it as a result of having already accepted certain theoretical commitments. For your account to work, we would have to have that drive pre-theoretically.

What we do have (and you might think that this is the same thing in different words) is an innate desire to be as happy as possible. It might be that maximizing my productivity is the best way to achieve this, though I tend to doubt it. If you were told that you could have anything that you wanted without working for it, would you really insist that, no, you'd prefer to work for it? If that theory of motivation were true, then Marxism would work out nicely (you wouldn't care about how much you had, only that you'd worked as hard as possible for what you did have).

Now as for the prisoner's dilemma, you are right that fear of retribution will be a problem in iterated games. That's exactly why Hobbes thinks that it's rational not just for me to steal from you, but for me to just go ahead and kill you. The reason that the game is called a dilemma is that we both realize that cooperation is better than non-cooperation, yet it still turns out not to be the rational thing to choose. Why? Well, because I'll always be better off getting you to cooperate and then bailing out on my part. But you're always better off doing just the same. Since I know it's rational for you to not cooperate and you know that the same is true for me, we won't unless there is something else that we fear more than each other.

Your argument is that reputation will be that thing that we will both fear. You're right that there is something to this. The problem, though, is that we can learn of reputations only through trial and error. But non-cooperators will have every incentive not just to screw me, but to screw me and then kill me so I can't come back and get them. So cooperation is really risky; everyone who pairs up with a non-cooperator dies. Eventually this selects for non-cooperators.

It's possible, I suppose, that all of the cooperators could hook up together right away and get some reputations established. But, short of sheer coincidence, there is no reason to think that this will happen. So I'm not convinced that people will happily start cooperating with one another short of some kind of coercive power. In other words, I agree with your story up through the social contract part. But those contracts are, I think, meaningless unless both you and I have a reason to believe that the other will keep the contract. We can do that only by appointing some third party to arbitrate. Once enough of us do that, we have a government. It might be a minarchist government and it might not (it depends on what we happen to agree on). But it will be some sort of government.

Podraza's interpretation of

Podraza's interpretation of Friedman's theory of ethics:

Long ago people lived in what might be considered a state of nature. Nonetheless, they still sought to maximize their own productivity. While stealing from people is one way to attain property, it is not free, it takes time and effort. And it has associated costs, such as having to worry about retribution. Defense of property from others takes up time and energy as well.

So people made agreements with those they knew not to steal each other's stuff. This allowed all parties involved to maximize their own productivity. It eliminated a large amount of the costs associated with constant defense, and it allowed them to focus their energy on productive activity.

These agreements became what we might consider laws, and these laws were taught to each new generation. While rooted in economic efficiency, these rules eventually took on a moral component. It became not only inefficient, but "wrong" to steal, lie, cheat, etc.

In other words, people's natural tendency to seek the most efficient outcomes led them to create law, and law allowed them to create an economy.

Until somebody tells me otherwise, this is the way I am going to continue viewing the world. If I am wrong, please clue me in.

The US has not been wronged

The US has not been wronged and so has no motivation to initiate hostilities.

Those in the Italian government who could make the decision to declare war against the US consider it not to be in their best interests to do so. They are probably correct.

My gut reaction is to say

My gut reaction is to say that it is too expensive.

But this is the argument anarcho-capitalists use to suggest why for-profit firms won't engage in war. But we are dealing with coercive governments. So I'll wait to hear somebody else's answer.

The quick answer is,

The quick answer is, nothing. Early states are going to be something like what Hobbes actually envisions: a sovereign with absolute power. And that sovereign will defect regularly. In fact, the sovereign isn’t really defecting at all, since the sovereign actually remains outside the social contract. So the sovereign benefits from the cooperation of all her subjects while still getting to shaft anyone she wants. That sucks, but it sucks much less having one person who can kill me on a whim than it does having everyone who can kill me on a whim.

But, if as Rousseau said that all of us are pretty much the same, then the sovereign's power relies to a vast degree on the consent of those she rules. This consent has to be given voluntarily. When she barks out orders, people have to choose to obey. When she tells someone to cut the hands off the thief, the cutter has to agree to do so. She can't overpower him into submission. Or if she can overpower him (the cutter), she certainly can't overpower everyone. Isn't this cooperation? IOW, doesn't cooperation precede the state?

But in a polycentric system, I have options. Why can’t I now just go find a new government and ask it to protect me from mean, unjust government A? My new government, government B, produces a new set of rulings that favor me over you. And my new protective agency is obliged to uphold the rulings of government B and to protect me from others. So don’t I now end up with the very same sorts of cooperation problems that I needed a government to solve in the first place?

Thus, the original topic of the post. Isn't this essentially the same scenario as is happening in the Calipari case?

We have at least some evidence that independent political entities without a higher-level soveriegn do not always go to war when conflicts arise. I ask why, though I have some ideas, and am looking for more. What constrains the actions of governments against other governments?

I think a related question is - "Why do administrations that elected out of office leave their jobs?" Why don't they just say, "Screw the election, screw the people, we're staying." Although this is unthinkable in the US, it periodically happens in other countries.

Arguing with people who

Arguing with people who simply don’t read what I’ve written but instead respond to what they want to read is completely unproductive.

I could say exactly the same thing; I wasn't the one telling others what they think two exchanges ago. In between playing "tit for tat" to your "always defect" I believe I did manage to address some significant issues of non-equivalence between scenarios and rationality vs. likelihood. Can you do likewise? They're interesting topics, and it would be a shame to forego discussing them because of wounded pride.

Once we begin talking about

Once we begin talking about Nash equilibrium, we are officially over my head.

However, I know what the prisoner's dilemma is, and I am not sure how it applies. Respecting other's property (when you don't have to) can easily be the optimum solution for an individual, because he avoids having to deal with retribution. A person with a reputation for doing this regularly is considered trustworthy and reaps all sorts of benefits as a result. Right?

John L: Yes, what I'm after

John L:

Yes, what I'm after is "law"-- in particular, polycentric law of the David Friedman/Randy Barnett sort. To me "law" just means: a set of general, impersonal rules such that those who abide by those rules will generally be left in peace, whereas those who don't generally won't. This is essential for any society, anarchist or otherwise, since it's vastly easier to make secure plans for the future when you are subject only to general rules of conduct and not to the arbitrary whims of others.

Perhaps to you "law" denotes a monopoly State lawgiver; if so, then pick another term.

Jeff, First, there is no

Jeff,

First, there is no need to get snotty, particularly since I seem to be one of the few people here who actually agrees with some of your conclusions (though not very often with your reasons and certainly not much with your attitudes).

And yes, as I said in an earlier post, I do think that there is an evolutionary argument for some limited forms of altruism, particularly the sorts that come about in small group and family settings. Indeed, it's likely that we never were actually in a state of nature at all; humans, like most of the rest of the great apes, are social creatures and we probably originated in family-based groups.

The problem comes when we move out of those small, family groups. I grow to trust others in my family because I've lived with them since my birth. I don't have the same sorts of reasons for trusting other groups, which is exactly why tribal societies are often at war with one another. And it does turn out to be irrational to cooperate without some assurance otherwise (at least if we're talking about different groups). Prisoner's dilemmas show that very thing; indeed, prisoner's dilemmas very specifically have a _Nash_ equilibrium at non-cooperation.

It's true that in iterated versions of prisoner's dilemmas, tit-for-tat is the optimum strategy. My point is that no one will risk attempting tit-for-tat when the prize at stake is his or her own life.

Please read more carefully and tone down the hostility. I'm happy to engage in debate, but not with someone whose first line of response seems to be to impugn the intellectual integrity of everyone with whom he disagrees.

State or no state you still

State or no state you still have wars

But not of the same magnitude

Charles, _There are lots of

Charles,

_There are lots of places that will offer me a college degree without any work at all; but it’s precisely because they don’t require any work at all that I don’t think a college degree from those places is worth having._

I suspect that the real reason you don't think that such a degree is worth having is that pretty much no one else thinks it's worth having, either. If everyone knows that your degree is from a diploma mill, then it's not doing you much good. Now if everyone accepted a degree from a diploma mill as a perfectly good thing to have (I'm not sure why they'd do this, but bear with me), then I doubt you'd be so opposed to having one.

Let me put the point this way. If I could zap all of the knowledge that you'd pick up earning a college degree directly into your head _Matrix_-style, would you say that's not worthwhile?

_More broadly speaking, honors and fame are not worth having if you have not done the work to earn them. You might think they make your life easier, but so what? Who says ease is the only thing to go after in life?_

This sounds quite noble and we'd all probably like to think that this is true. But I'm not buying it. Are you really telling me that if you suddenly woke up tomorrow and found yourself on the guest list for every A-list party around, a media favorite, sought after by beautiful, wealthy, and smart people everywhere that you would find it unfulfilling because you'd done nothing to earn it?

It's of course possible that none of these things appeal to you. I'm not sure what it is that you find especially interesting. But if I could suddenly hand you any talent without your having to work for it, would you really turn me down on the grounds that you'd rather work hard (and possibly fail)?

The problem comes when we

The problem comes when we move out of those small, family groups.

If what you said in that post and your previous post were true, more complex society would never have arisen to create the incentives you claim exist. All of civilization stands as counterexample to your argument. Podraza was exactly right that cooperation preceded society - not the other way around, and not even a chicken-and-egg scenario.

no one will risk attempting tit-for-tat when the prize at stake is his or her own life.

That's true when the stakes really are life and death, but that's only a special case. Life and death are usually not the issue, just as criticism of a single behavior need not imply condemnation of an entire person or their pack. There's no need to be so Manichean. The game-theory scenarios you cite are most explicitly not so all-or-nothing, and lessons from one type of scenario cannot be applied to the other.

My worry about the account of ethics that you sketch is that it is premised entirely upon humans having an innate desire to maximze their productivity. I’m not sure that anyone really has that as an untutored drive.

It depends on how you define "productivity" I guess. In the sense podraza used it, it seemed to mean benefit to oneself - a desire easily observed even in infants - but you seem to be using a definition that requires greater sophistication.

cooperation is really risky; everyone who pairs up with a non-cooperator dies.

Your scenario only works if those who choose not to cooperate have a high degree of confidence that their attempt to kill someone will succeed and not leave them with an irreparably damaged reputation, and that they are bound by no concerns (e.g. moral) other than selfishness. While interesting in the abstract, therefore, its application to real-world social dynamics is questionable.

short of sheer coincidence, there is no reason to think that this will happen.

Short of sheer coincidence, there's no reason to think evolution or even planet formation will happen either...but they did. Given a large enough population and long enough timescale, what initially seems unlikely can become almost inevitable. At that point the concept of evolutionary stability comes in. If a strategy is self-sustaining, it only needs to arise once to create a long-standing new kind of order. Social cooperation is such a strategy, which can arise spontaneously (for any interesting definition of "spontaneous") and then dominate a preexisting anarchy. Again, Axelrod did a good job of explaining how.

How did society come to be,

How did society come to be, if this is true? Didn’t we begin in a state of nature?

Exactly. Cooperation preceded government, not the other way around. Anybody who refers to Nash (or especially to Axelrod) should know that, but the conclusions one might draw from that simple fact are inconvenient for some and so they're discarded.

_You believe that everybody

_You believe that everybody else, if left to their own devices, would exist in a state of war of all against all, spending all their time trying to kill each other. Yet you want to be governed by these same people?_

Ah, but this is the beauty of rational choice theory. The problem is that in a state of nature, there is no real incentive to cooperate. It's always rational to choose non-cooperation even though I know that I'd be better off choosing to cooperate. I also know that tit-for-tat would work as a long-term strategy, but that still requires cooperating first at some point. Since the stakes are really high in a Hobbesian world (it's my life at risk, after all), it's never going to be rational to cooperate for the first time.

The difference between the state of nature and civil society is that the existence of the latter shifts the stakes (or, in game theory terms, it moves the Nash equilibrium from non-cooperate to cooperate). So while I have no intrinsic reason to trust you since I think that, in the absence of any constraints, it would be rational for you to kill me and steal my stuff, in civil society I can trust you because we now have the threat of punishment hanging over our heads if we attempt to take advantage of one another. Now it's actually rational to cooperate with you.

The virtue of democracy is that, given the necessity (as I've argued it) of having a civil society, democracy is the best method we've come up with for protecting the interests of each person. Before you say it, no it's not perfect by any means. There are all sorts of "tyranny of the majority" worries about democracy itself, and there are a number of ways to mitigate that concern. But it's still a better alternative than a war of all against all.

Oh no, not another answer

Oh no, not another answer from Game Theory again.

Why kill an ant with a cannon; the answer is obvious, Italy'd get their ass kicked.

Micha and Andy, Perhaps you

Micha and Andy,

Perhaps you are right that there are things that I could get away with even today. Give me the Ring of Gyges and I don't know how I would react, though I suspect that I, like Gyges, would not be able to overcome temptation. And I suspect that the same is true for just about everyone else. You might not steal from your friends or kill your family (there are good egoist reasons not to do this, namely, you presumably like these people and it makes you feel bad when they feel bad).

But, as R.M. Hare liked to point out, there is no Ring of Gyges and so saying what I would do if there were is not particularly productive. In the world we actually live in, breaking the law is almost always too risky to be rational. When the payoff is high enough and the risk of being caught plus the penalty is low enough, then yes, it's time to break the law. Thus I consumed plenty of beer before I turned 21 and sometimes I drive faster than 55 on my way to work.

Perhaps you are right that I could sometimes steal $20 from a coworker or maybe even arrange a murder and not get caught. But the risks of being caught are relatively high and the punishments in both cases are far higher than the rewards I would get from success, particularly when one counts as a cost the _worry_ about being caught.

Thanks, by the way, for the reference to Friedman; I haven't read it yet. I am familiar with arguments for the sort of view that Micha sketches. Peter Singer argues, in _The Expanding Circle_, for an evolutionary account of limited altruism, and Thomas Nagel gives a different sort of argument in _The Possibility of Altruism_. I should be clear that I'm not a hardcore psychological egoist; I agree that it is sometimes possible to act from altruism. I just think that we do so only in relatively limited circumstances. (For the record, I don't think that Hobbes is a hardcore psychological egoist, either, despite his reputation as such. Greg Kavka argues in _Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory_ that Hobbes accepts limited altruism, but that his arguments go through anyway. The difference, Kavka thinks, is that it's possible to be a Hobbesian without therefore also being a monarchist.)

Jeff, Arguing with people

Jeff,

Arguing with people who simply don't read what I've written but instead respond to what they want to read is completely unproductive. You accuse me of saying things that I haven't said and then get pissy when I point out that I haven't said them. When you're ready to give arguments rather than just asserting things and then pretending later that you've argued for them and when you decide to actually read what I write, then I'll be happy to chat with you. Until then, find some other target for your rudeness.

Thea, Yes, you are right

Thea,

Yes, you are right that disagreements are smaller in scale. They would almost have to be. The worry I have is that while they are smaller in scale, they are at the same time far more numerous. I may be at war only on whatever scale I can afford, but I'll be at war with the vast majority of the people around me.

As for why I think war would be largely universal, well, I've never been that assured that Locke is right about the state of nature. I tend to think that Hobbes has a better grasp both on moral psychology (that is, we're all egoists when we think we can get away with it) and on rational behavior in the state of nature (a prisoner's dilemma that doesn't get iterated because, well, it's rational just to shoot people rather than to risk initial cooperation in an attempt to play tit for tat).

There will be no war. States

There will be no war. States don’t go to war over small potatoes, like this. China and the US didn’t go to war when we bombed their embassy in Yugoslavia “on purpose” in the Bosnian conflict. We didn’t go to war with China when they shot down our spy plane. Will they go to war over Taiwan? Probably some day they will.
What if there was no government? There is practically none up in the Tennessee hills. What would happen of the Hatfield’s was bringing a load of moonshine back from the still and the McCoys had been told that they was coming. But they shot at the truck and killed Aunt Louise who was riding in the back, cause it was coming too fast and they thought they was revenuers. That’s what they said happened, but they was lyin. Then you would have war. State or no state you still have wars.

_If what you said in that

_If what you said in that post and your previous post were true, more complex society would never have arisen to create the incentives you claim exist. All of civilization stands as counterexample to your argument._

I don't really see any reason for thinking that this is particularly true. Certainly the last part doesn't necessarily follow; after all, civilization might well exist precisely _because_ we government evolved first. You still, I think, aren't giving enough credit to the dilemma part of the prisoner's dilemma. We all know that we would be better off if we did cooperate, we just don't, in the state of nature, have incentive to actually do so. But there is no reason to think that we can't still get together and create social contracts; indeed, on your version, we would also do that, you just think that we'll do it without also ensuring some way of enforcing those contracts. That strikes me as pretty irrational behavior. It's hard to see why it would really catch on all that much, especially since (a) cheating is advantageous, and (b) I can protect my reputation just fine as long as I kill everyone I screwed. It's not like there will be TV cameras or anything.

You are right that game theory itself is not all or nothing; indeed, game theory doesn't require any real content at all. We can determine rational choice strategies simply by assigning ordinal values to the various outcomes. So no, there isn't any reason to assume that game theory is all-or-nothing. But what we're talking about in this instance is game theory _as applied to the state of nature_. And there the stakes are life and death. If you can offer some sort of argument for thinking that Hobbes is wrong about the escalation of violence in the state of nature, I'd love to see it. It's depressing thinking that Hobbes is right.

_Your scenario only works if those who choose not to cooperate have a high degree of confidence that their attempt to kill someone will succeed and not leave them with an irreparably damaged reputation, and that they are bound by no concerns (e.g. moral) other than selfishness._

The first part of this claim begs the question. Reputations can't form unless there is some presumption that people are already cooperating. The problem that we face, though, is in getting cooperation started. No one has a reputation yet, so I have no way of knowing which people might be likely to cooperate and which people won't. I don't really care all that much about my own reputation yet. At this early stage, I'm worried about being paired up with a non-cooperator. Since, in the absence of any knoweledge about what he will do, there is reason for me to think that he might kill me when I turn my back, it's only rational for me to strike first. But the reasoning works in exactly the same way for him. Perhaps both of us would have cooperated, but it's irrational to wait around to find out.

The second part about moral concerns is a red herring. Hobbes of course thinks that there is no such thing as morality prior to the social contract, but I'm not really wedded to that view. I might well think that it is morally wrong to murder people. But I don't think that it's morally wrong to kill in self defense, nor do I think that I have to wait until you're actually hitting me before I can defend myself. Hobbes argues that we kill one another not because we're bad people but because doing so is the only rational move to make. It's preemptive defense, not unjustified slaughter.

_Short of sheer coincidence, there’s no reason to think evolution or even planet formation will happen either…but they did. Given a large enough population and long enough timescale, what initially seems unlikely can become almost inevitable._

Point taken. Certainly it's possible that a group of cooperators could get together right off the bat and develop sans government. Just two points here: (1) the state of nature is a construct and not an actual historical event. We're talking about what it's rational to do, not about the possibility that irrational actions could, if done often enough, result in something that is stable.

(2) there may be a disanalogy between planets and cooperation. While we know that both exist and that the first is extremely unlikely, right now the big bang is the only real explanation that we've got going for the existence of planets. We have to accept the unlikeliness because there isn't a better explanation. In the case of cooperation, though, you propose a solution that is very unlikely. If that were the only explanation, then we'd have to accept the long odds just as you suggest. But the fact is that there is another explanation that makes the existence of cooperation far more likely. A good empiricist will generally take the more likely explanation unless there are other good reasons for not doing so. There may be such reasons, but in the 300+ years since Hobbes, nobody seems to have come up with any that I'm aware of.

Oops, Micha beat me to it.

Oops, Micha beat me to it. And his point is dead on.

I tend to think that Hobbes

I tend to think that Hobbes has a better grasp both on moral psychology (that is, we’re all egoists when we think we can get away with it) and on rational behavior in the state of nature (a prisoner’s dilemma that doesn’t get iterated because, well, it’s rational just to shoot people rather than to risk initial cooperation in an attempt to play tit for tat).

Are you an egoist when you think you can get away with it? When your friend or co-worker leaves his wallet on the desk, do you pull out a twenty, assuming he probably won't know its missing, and even if he does, he would never suspect it was you?

Do your friends act like this? Your family members? Do most of the people you encounter in your everyday activities act like this?

I agree that there are no purely rational reasons to not be a prudent predator and lie, steal and cheat when you can get away with it. I don't believe in cosmic karma.

But there are some evolutionary reasons (both cultural and biological) for why most people we encounter don't seem to act this way. David Friedman lays out his version of the argument here: A Positive Explanation of Virtue, and Part Two.

Joe, Do you really think

Joe,

Do you really think that you couldn't get away with killing some people and stealing a bit on the side, today? You're a very smart guy. The state is not omnipotent. There has to be something other than the state stopping you.

Joe Miller: If you were told

Joe Miller:

If you were told that you could have anything that you wanted without working for it, would you really insist that, no, you’d prefer to work for it?

Well, I don't know; that depends on what the object of desire in question is, doesn't it? If I could have cookies without working for it, sure, I'd like the free cookies. But it's not clear that everything worth having in life is worth having without the correlate work. There are lots of places that will offer me a college degree without any work at all; but it's precisely because they don't require any work at all that I don't think a college degree from those places is worth having. More broadly speaking, honors and fame are not worth having if you have not done the work to earn them. You might think they make your life easier, but so what? Who says ease is the only thing to go after in life?

I don't want to live on the Big Rock Candy Mountain. I'd really insist that I don't. And I'll bet you wouldn't either.

Micha:

I agree that there are no purely rational reasons to not be a prudent predator and lie, steal and cheat when you can get away with it. I don't believe in cosmic karma.

You seem to be supposing that the only motivations which can count as "purely rational" are those that involve gaining natural goods or avoiding natural evils. I agree that it's often possible to be a Friedmanian PP without losing any natural goods or gaining any natural evils--hell, just go into politics and you'll be set for life. But why does it follow from that that there aren't rational reasons to avoid it? Is not wanting to treat other people like crap irrational?

We are more complicated creaturs than some of the popular accounts of human actions and attitudes seem to take for granted. The fact that an explanation of somebody's behavior is ennobling is not necessarily a good reason to think that it's false.

Weininger: Yup, an ancap

Weininger:

Yup, an ancap society would still have evil and blatant injustice. Some folks would get the short end of the stick because of their lack of ability to direct *force* at their fellow human beings. You'd still find your analog of Italy sucking it up when the analog of the US of A smacks 'em around.

That, however, has nothing at all to do with the question of whether Childs was right. Which he was.

(P.S.: is it really "law" that you're after?)

You believe that everybody

You believe that everybody else, if left to their own devices, would exist in a state of war of all against all, spending all their time trying to kill each other. Yet you want to be governed by these same people? If the presence of the government is the only thing that keeps you from killing people, I'd rather not live under any system, including "participatory democracy", that presents even the remotest chance that you could come to wield power over me.

Joe, A big stick? You're

Joe,

A big stick? You're joking right?

Why no war? !) Because the

Why no war?

!) Because the Italian government does not actually believe what it is claiming. It is only making accusations because it is responding to domestic political pressure to do so, and to make sure that any American investigation will be as thorough as possible.

2) Because the American government's version of reality corresponds much more closely to what actually happened. If the Italian government ends up refusing to acknowledge that our version is accurate, we won't really care all that much as long as Italy continues to be a good ally.

there is no reason to think

there is no reason to think that we can’t still get together and create social contracts; indeed, on your version, we would also do that, you just think that we’ll do it without also ensuring some way of enforcing those contracts.

I think I'd rather express my thoughts myself, if you don't mind. What I think is that people can create social contracts without, initially, any formal method for enforcing them. "You might get beaten up if you try to cheat" probably suffices for a little while (it's pretty much the state we're still at with regard to international treaties) and more structured methods are likely to follow, but that doesn't cause any particular problems conceptually. The universe doesn't have to spring fully formed from Zeus's forehead. If things don't work out that way the first few times, you just end up back at square one to try again. Humanity has had thousands of years in which that one time could lead to an evolutionarily stable system piecewise.

Reputations can’t form unless there is some presumption that people are already cooperating.

If by "people" you mean "people in general" then I disagree. It's only necessary for there to be a few people you trust in order to establish meaningful reputation for the rest. Many computer-network trust systems work just this way, so the models for it are pretty well developed and they work.

But the reasoning works in exactly the same way for him.

Almost a Prisoners' Dilemma, but not quite since the payoff when your opponent defects depends on an external variable (your respective skill at assassination). It doesn't seem to prove much.

In the case of cooperation, though, you propose a solution that is very unlikely. If that were the only explanation, then we’d have to accept the long odds just as you suggest. But the fact is that there is another explanation that makes the existence of cooperation far more likely.

Why is your explanation more likely than mine? Because you want it to be? It certainly remains to be proven, I think. As I said, the explanation for the spontaneous origin of cooperation is available to anyone in Axelrod's work. You may choose to ignore it if you wish, but don't try to claim it doesn't exist.

Jonathan, _But that begs the

Jonathan,

_But that begs the question - since the state is just another group of individuals, what motivation do they have to cooperate in their role as a state instead of defecting?_

The quick answer is, nothing. Early states are going to be something like what Hobbes actually envisions: a sovereign with absolute power. And that sovereign will defect regularly. In fact, the sovereign isn't really defecting at all, since the sovereign actually remains outside the social contract. So the sovereign benefits from the cooperation of all her subjects while still getting to shaft anyone she wants. That sucks, but it sucks much less having one person who can kill me on a whim than it does having everyone who can kill me on a whim. Still, we eventually realize that in a democracy, that sort of arbitrariness is harder to swing, so eventually we abandon absolutism for something still less bad. Which brings us to...

_Democracy is one answer. It’s a pretty good answer, and better than dictatorial monarchy and empire. But for the same reasons democracy beats monarchy and empire, I believe that polycentric law beats democracy: it enables the non-violent replacement of rights-enforcers in an efficient manner._

_My view is that polycentric best rewards cooperators and best punishes defectors because it makes law a private good (in the economic sense) due to its excludability and rivalrousness. In contrast, monopolistic legal systems are ripe for defectors to infiltrate._

I've been giving this idea a lot of thought lately and there is much to recommend it. Here's my big worry so far. Suppose that you and I both belong (by choice) to government A. Then you and I have a dispute. When we appeal to our shared legal system, the courts generate an answer that shows that you are on the correct side of the dispute. That makes me unhappy. Now in a monopolistic system, I'm just stuck; I abide by the ruling or the state imposes its will on me.

But in a polycentric system, I have options. Why can't I now just go find a new government and ask it to protect me from mean, unjust government A? My new government, government B, produces a new set of rulings that favor me over you. And my new protective agency is obliged to uphold the rulings of government B and to protect me from others. So don't I now end up with the very same sorts of cooperation problems that I needed a government to solve in the first place?

Why will the US and Italy

Why will the US and Italy not engage in war over this dispute?

Roy Childs was right.

This seems like such a

This seems like such a no-brainer...
The benefits from ongoing cooperation in a repeated game are greater than the benefits of going to war.
Among other things, nations want to be seen as moderately prickly about their national honor. You want to be seen as irrational enough to take revenge for slights, to avoid exploitation. But if you take disproportionate revenge for any and all slights, you'll be perceived as a hothead who is a danger to the neighborhoood.

Deaths of heads of states (Archduke Ferdinand) aside, when was the last time a nation went to war (or even threatened war) over the death of a single individual?

I must say that, even though

I must say that, even though I'm a pretty convinced an-cap in principle, this example actually shows why achieving a lawful (not just peaceful) anarchy is a very hard problem. Indeed, if Italy is in the right here, it's an example of the sort of injustice people think would happen too much in an an-cap society: A wrongs B and gets away with it because A has a much bigger gun. If the US is in the right, we'll never know, because there is no independent adjudicating entity whose judgment the US would bind itself to respect on the matter.

A reasonable an-cap response would go like this: in state societies people well-connected to the big state guns can also often get away with wronging others. Not too much, though, because if they overreach, others who feel threatened are likely to form a political coalition against them. And the same happens in the anarchic international sphere: the US can get away with quite a bit, but in the long run if it keeps on running roughshod over others, it will find itself contained. So the situations are not so different as they seem.

But it's not so simple as "Roy Childs was right", though it'd be nice to think so.

BTW, suppose that the situation were reversed: an American journalist killed by Italian security forces in an Italian-occupied country. Do you think the Italian soldiers would get off with the same impunity Sgrena's American killers will likely enjoy?

_Life consists of picking

_Life consists of picking the least rotten alternative._

Yep, that's what Hobbes thought, too. It's also why I'm in favor of participatory democracy. That sure sounds less rotten that having my neighbors beat me to death with a big stick while I'm asleep.

_State or no state you still

_State or no state you still have wars_

_But not of the same magnitude_

Yes, I suppose that a war of everyone against everyone else isn't the same magnitude as a war between two states. Still pretty rotten, though.

Life consists of picking the

Life consists of picking the least rotten alternative.

Yes, I suppose that a war of

Yes, I suppose that a war of everyone against everyone esle isn’t the same magnitude as a war between two sates.

1) I’m not sure why you would assume that everyone would be at war with all others.

2) States also go to war with one another in a fundamentally different way than individuals go to "war” with one another. This is mostly because a state is a bureaucracy, not a actual thing. When a state goes to war the costs and damages are distributed across almost all inhabitants of the region of the state's geographical control with or without their consent. Because of this, state wars tend to be much larger and often ideological rather than for a specific end.

When individuals go to war, they must use their own resources or the resources of others acquired only with their consent. This tends to make disagreements smaller in scale.

You still seem to be missing

You still seem to be missing the point that, if things don’t work out that way for me, I don’t go anywhere because I’m dead.

If you don't like to hear criticism of debate tactics, please don't rely on conflation so much. The origins of cooperative society (which I was clearly addressing) and the life-and-death scenario are not necessarily the same thing. Defection does not always equate to murder, for reasons that have already been discussed.

I’m not sure why you think that any kind of external variable is relevant here. Hobbes points out that humans are pretty much equal to one another. You and I aren’t that much different in strength or in intelligence.

I'm not so sure about that, and not being sure makes all the difference. The point in mentioning the external variable is to show that what you're presenting as a Prisoners' Dilemma isn't one. The difference between "I absolutely will get X" and "I might get X or I might get some other Y" is absolutely critical in game theory. When you go from one to the other you've invented a new game, which might well have very different dynamics leading to different conclusions. The difference between a Prisoners' Dilemma and a Volunteers' Dilemma is only the order at the bottom of the preference list, for example, but the dynamics change quite a bit as a result. However much you might attempt to trivialize the difference in a textual description of your scenario, in game-theoretic terms you're calling an apple an orange.

Your alternative is that some people take a stab at cooperation hoping that everything works out and repeating trials until the idea takes off. In other words, your explanation relies on groups of irrational players fumbling their way towards cooperation.

Again, like evolution. I thought you already conceded that point. Are you reneging? Just because an outcome is more closely tied to rational behavior doesn't mean it's more likely, and that goes double when the definition of "rational" is so proscribed.

Read more carefully, please.

And you accuse me of being snotty? Take a big dose of Matthew 7:3 and get bent in the morning. Now that you've defected and I've reciprocated, would you like to join me in some cooperation?

Axelrod’s work has a number of worries

It's fine to say so, but it does exist and does provide insight nonetheless. Your reasoning has some "worries" too, but you don't see me denying that your arguments were ever made, do you? The truth is that there are valid points on both sides. You're more convinced by some, and I'm more convinced by others. If your interest in debate is sincere and you have a new argument you think might convince that's great, but conflation and selective reasoning aren't going to get us anywhere.