In a recent post I mentioned the prisoner’s dilemma, and how Trump might be a way out of it. A quick refresher for this famous conundrum. In the prisoner’s dilemma you and your accomplice are arrested. You are each independently given a choice. If you rat your accomplice out, you get away scott free, the best outcome for you. If you’re silent and your accomplice rats you out, you go to jail for life, the worst outcome for you. If you both rat each other out, you both go to jail for 20 years, the worst outcome for the pair. And if you both stay silent, you both go to jail for three years, the best outcome for the group, and the second best outcome for you personally. That gets complicated, but there are examples of this problem all over the real world. Unlike the trolley problem, this is a thought experiment that actually has real world implications.
So let’s say that instead of being purely rational and self-interested, you let things like pride, greed, honor, and the universal value of “don’t snitch” influence your behavior. Then it becomes easy to get out. You know your accomplice also won’t snitch, so suddenly you both get out of jail in just a few years, rather than the course of your natural life later. What does this have to do with Trump?
Trump is not rational. That is to say, his behavior looks random and crazy to all but the canniest, or luckiest, of pundits. Suddenly everyone who has to deal with him now has to deal with all the things that we know influence human behavior, but don’t fall into the category of rationalism. When you take rational self-interest out of the equation, there are new ways of dealing with the prisoner’s dilemma. Trump is either irrational himself, or uses irrationality like a weapon. Either way, we now have new solutions to old problems. We also have new problems, but that’s a subject for another post.