It’s been an overwhelming few days. When I think I’ve finally got the pieces sorted out, I read the news and again find nothing makes sense. This has been hard to write. It has been hard to focus on one story line in light of the many irrational directions in which the game is playing out around me. Be sure, it is a game, and the way we play is being manipulated.
I don’t stand with Paris. I don’t stand with Beirut. I don’t stand with Bagdad. Asking me to state where I stand is a cruel game that I’ve no hope of winning. It’s a game that keeps us trapped in a cycle of destruction and keeps us prisioner to violent outcomes. How do I know? It’s the prisioner’s dilemma.
In 1950 Melvin Dresher and Merrill Flood conducted the famous Prisoner’s Dilemma experiment, a two person illustration of a game in which two seemingly rational people are unable/unwilling to cooperate for their own best interest – elaborated by A W Tucker. It is too complex to get into here, but an adequate summary is that player assumptions result in otherwise rational people not cooperating and losing the game for them both.
This game of choosing one side, taking a stand, leaves us prisoners to assumptions about the other player’s next move. Instead of acting we are always reacting, and never take advantage of the fullscope of possibilities. We assume the other player will bargain in bad faith, so we bargain in bad faith. The other player assumes we will bargain in bad faith, so they bargain in bad faith. The first round of bad faith is not attributable to either player, it is attribuable to the universally adopted assumption of that our only option is to act to counter a move the other player has not yet made. Violence becomes the only game strategy we acknowledge. We don’t even consider acting for a result five moves from now, we are always trapped in our first move.
We will never win the game with violence. Think about it. We react to violence with violence because we assume the other player will react with violence. They react to our violence based on the assumption that we will act violently. It feeds on itself.
One of us has to change our actions before the assumptions we hold will be proven wrong.
We have to end the cycle unilaterally, and hold fast. We have to end the cycle unilaterally, and do what is right regardless of how we assume the other player will act. Then slowly, over time, the assumption will be that we are playing in good faith. Why do we want the other players to assume we will act towards them in good faith? Because terrorists recruit based on this cycle of violence. They recruit based on a safe assumption that since we will play in bad faith they can play in bad faith and call it justice. Which is exactly what we are doing. They count on that. They force our hand, and use it as a weapon against us.
We must not use one victim as an excuse to create victims on the other side. We must not stand with one victim against another victim. The only side that is in the right is the side that refuses to create more victims.
It is vital that Muslims align themselves as with peace, or violence will continue to hijack their religion. It is vital that the west align itself with peace, or violence will continue to hijack our international relationships. All victims of violence must be stop being used as pawns to misguided ideologies.
And make no mistake, dangerous ideas exists within every ideology, dangerous people exist within every community. There is no validity to the claim that Islam is inherently violent. Our society’s ideology contains as much violence, and it is currently being twisted as much for violent ends. Playing in bad faith based on the claim that the other ideology leaves us no choice is simply fallacious. Our cultures have as much in common, and as many options avaiable to us that are constructive as there are destructive.
The only way to break out of this prisioner’s dilemma and reach the best outcome is to keep our promises and commitments, and to (peacefully) hold other nations accountable for their commitments. If we do not condone violence we can not wage violence overtly, or passively, or by proxy. We need to non-violently remove all support for terroists. That means removing they support gain by using our actions as an excuse. That means removing the financial support they gain when we do business with those who do business with them. That means working to remove all camoflauge in our communities that shields their recruitment and misinformation from sight. We need to interupt their narrative.
This is all one game. We bargain in bad faith against ourselves. Revenge is never the answer, because it never leads to a cessation of the cycle of violence, which is the only answer. History, literature, and mythology are all full of tales that show us this.
No Muslim, no Christian, no athiest, no Jew, is responsible for the bad faith of yesterday, but we are all responsible for what we do today. Refusing help to refugees makes them twice victims, once victim of the terrorists, and second victim to us stupidly playing into the terrorist’s hands. We need to realise they suffer with us, and can be either brought in as allies or lost to the violence, potentially being recruited out of despair to act against us.
I understand the motivation to lower our flags, to light up the night sky with the French colours. But standing with France obscures the reality that there are victims everywhere we look, and we should stand with all of them. If we stand with all victims, the people who commit violence will be fractured and disenfranchised. If we all choose to bargain in good faith, bad faith will cease to be our primary motivation for continued violence.
This is what Gandhi and Martin Luther King got right. We can never, never win by retaliation, we only become prisioners to our assumptions and a poorly played game. We don’t gain support that way. They understood the long game.
We won’t ever eliminate ISIS by bombing them, that will simply feed on that hatred and use it against us. But in ten years we could have starve ISIS by good diplomacy, and by cutting off the money and the narratives that sustains them.
We need to change the game.