Thursday, June 14, 2018

The game theory that explains our country’s mass psychosis

...When a successful man in his 70s is screaming profanities at another septuagenarian, to wild applause, it seems safe to say the whole country has lost its bloody mind.

Two things about this bout of madness are striking. The first is that not just celebrities but ordinary adults as well have started to make public displays that would have horrified them a few years back — and yet they are still outraged when the other side throws a similar tantrum. The second is that everyone defends this behavior as having been made necessary by the appalling outbursts across the aisle.

Point out that until about three minutes ago, feminists did not think “c--t” was an acceptable term of abuse for any woman, and they retort that Trump supporters went there first. Ask Trump supporters why they voted for a man whose language can’t be accurately reported without the use of strategic dashes, and they are apt to respond that he’s necessary to combat outrageous lefty attack dogs. Public discourse is dissolving into wailing whataboutism.

It’s all awful. But the cause of this seeming outbreak of mass psychosis may not really be too mysterious. Game theory may offer an explanation — specifically, a famous strategy known as “tit-for-tat.” ...

It may seem a trifle Pollyanna-ish to hope for such mass self-reform. But the alternative is to keep escalating toward mutually assured destruction. And as we learned from “WarGames,” one of my favorite childhood movies, the only way to win a game like that is not to play.