We want to welcome you into our conversation.  We regularly find ourselves in dialogue with each other about topics that range from international relations to religion to parenting to popular culture.  For example, we have had recent exchanges about Israel, Iran, and the United States, about how we try to learn from the mistakes our parents made as we parent our own children, about how to come to terms with the tenth plague in the Passover Seder service (the one in which the firstborn of non-Jewish families are slain), and about The Hunger Games.  We decided to take our conversations public because we would value others contributions, and in the hope that these exchanges might be valuable to others as well.  So please join in as you like and when you like.  We welcome your ideas, insights, new angles, critique, humor, and whatever else you choose to share.  Of course, we often disagree—that is part of what makes it fun.  You don’t have to take sides, but you can. You can agree with us both, disagree with us both, tell us our insights are—well insightful—or overblown, uninformed, and biased.  Dialogue of course requires respect for each of our right to express our views, but it does not require respect for the views themselves.  So let’s all have at it.
___________________________________________________________________________________________


The Hunger Games Dilemma


I wanted to start with some thoughts about The Hunger Games.  This publishing and cinematographic event may not quite be the new Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings phenomenon, but it is still pretty huge, particularly among pre teen and teenage girls.  Almost despite my best intentions, I found myself swept up in this cultural epic, and so did Noam. 

Noam saw the movie, but has not read the book (his 15 year old daughter took him).  I have read the books, but have not seen the movie.  The reason I read is that my 13 year old step-daughter told me I had to read the first book before she took me to the movie (I am waiting), and once I read this one, I couldn’t stop until I read all three. 

I kept wondering why was I so captured by this text. Why, despite the fact that the story seems fairly simple if not simplistic, has it evoked such a response from so many people, me included?  I think one reason has to do with the fundamental conflict dynamics that it portrays.  As I read the books, I realized that they are in part a very clear expression of a classic concept in conflict, the Prisoner’s Dilemma.  This lends a structure to the story but more important in connects to some of the most fundamental struggles of the human experience

 

For anyone not familiar with PD (and if you want to know more about it, read The Evolution of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod or SuperCooperators by Martin Nowak and Roger Highfield), a quick description: The PD exercise involves putting individuals in separate rooms and conducting a series of exchanges of messages. Each message, often expressed simply by the letter X or Y, is either a cooperative message of a competitive message.  The rub in this is the scoring.  If both participants send a cooperative message, they will do well (for example, they may receive a score of 20 each). If both send a competitive message, they will do poorly (e.g., receiving a score of 0 each), but if one sends a competitive message and the other a cooperative message, the competitor does very well (e.g., 40) and cooperator very poorly (e.g., -40).  So over all you do better if you both cooperate, but you take a chance of being put at a serious disadvantage by risking cooperation, and you can gain a significant potential advantage by competing.  This game is usually played over multiple rounds.

Prisoner’s dilemma is thought to mirror the arms race, many negotiations, elements of the stock market, and in fact all of evolution.  So how does this relate to the Hunger Games? 

The Hunger Games is essentially the story of a dystopia (think 1984 meets Lord of the Flies meets Roman gladiators) in which a subservient population is reminded of just how subservient they are by the playing each year of the Hunger Games.  In these gladiator like contests, children ages 12 to 18 are selected at random to fight each other to the death in an arena (a huge one) filled with deadly booby traps and televised for the whole population to see.  Eventually one survives, and that person ostensibly then retires to a life of luxury and adulation.  Pretty gruesome.  But gripping.  Throughout the games, there is an underlying motif of who do you trust to be your ally—and for how long until they will inevitably try to kill you and you to kill them.  It’s almost a perfect prisoner’s dilemma except that in the end you have to compete.  If you form strong alliances, you have a much better chance of surviving until the stage where your odds improve greatly. But you also can turn on an ally a get rid of a future competitor relatively easily along the way. And the heros (Katniss and Peeta) very much want to trust each other (and of course there is a love theme here) but also know the way the game is stacked.  And then at the end of the games in Book I there comes a pure PD moment  (spoiler alert—READ NO FURTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEAR THE END) when there are just the two of them left, and they are faced with the ultimate dilemma.  They quickly propose to each other that they prepare to commit mutual suicide challenging the game organizers to chose to have either no victor or two victors.  At this point it would be easy for one of them to suddenly compete and win, but if they both hold fast, they might both win—or both lose.  It’s intense—and it is almost a perfect prisoner’s dilemma.  There are other PD’s throughout the series—between kids and adults, rebels and loyal population, allies and rivals in love, for example which reflect and reinforce the basic dynamic in the games themselves.

What makes the PD so powerful in life is that it describes basic struggles at the root of the human experience.  When do we cooperate to assist each other, when do we do we compete to get ahead?  There is no perfect answer or escape from this dilemma—it is a genuine dilemma, and it is at the heart of evolution.  We cooperate to compete and genuine cooperation requires the challenge of competition.  This is how we developed as a species, how speech developed, how societies have developed.   Cooperation definitely works—but not always and sometimes it leaves us very vulnerable.  Competition is necessary to prosper, but if we just compete, we can’t prosper.  Look at politics, look at sports, look at workplaces, look at the market, look at dealing with major policy questions, look at academia—this dynamic is everywhere, and it is at the heart of what conflict specialists have to work with.

That’s why the PD structure makes for good literature, good drama, good cinema.  I suspect we can understand many of the classic works of literature through this lens (The Iliad, War and Peace, Romeo and Juliet, Huckleberry Finn, etc.).  In fact, I wonder if one alternative explanation of the underlying difference between tragedy and comedy is which side of the dilemma prevails.

Maybe this explains some of the appeal of the Hunger Games. Or maybe I have just ruined it for all of you.  Noam—your thoughts?  Others?

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Bernie & Noam,

I think this a great initiative inviting everyone into your conversations.  Considering I have never participated in a Passover Seder Service, I never saw the Hunger Games, nor read the Hunger Games, I realized- hey, why not join in? :)

Bernie- as you state, cooperation and competition both work.  Sports is a clear example of both cooperation and competition in play as you mentioned.  Working together (cooperation) is needed to defeat (competition) the other team.  One thing that comes to mind when reading your description about the movie and discerning its appeal is how I reflect on certain movies (eh-hmm Thin Red Line anyone??) are not only great cinematically but also reach into our emotions and also at a cognitive level.  Basically we can relate to it on many levels.

Given the dystopian premise of the movie and the spoiler you offered that I happily read, I again reflect my personal experiences and see how although the two main characters are in a situation that seems destined for a confrontational culmination, we ultimately always have a choice.  We are faced with choices each day (sure not quit like the Hunger Games and choosing dual suicide, win-win or lose-lose... life) and although things can seem intractable, we still have choices to make.

Lol, talking about choices Bernie, you didn't ruin it for anyone, or at least me- I made the choice to keep reading!

As conflict and communication professionals, students, and practitioners, our endless goal is to help others... and occasionally see a good movie too!

Looking forward to your comment Noam!

I haven't seen the film or read the book yet, but I appreciate the idea of watching/reading it through the PD lens. As mentioned above, how often in life do we have the opportunity to witness the intersection of competition and cooperation? How often are we faced with having to make a choice? I so often debate with my spouse the idea of black and white (binary) life and the idea of grey zones. I enjoy these type of scenarios where the grey is presented (thinking outside of the box) but the black and white (either or) option is seemingly more 'realistic,' forced, or necessary These scenarios challenge the intellect in such a delightful way and I think I've got my 'to discuss at dinner' topic for the night. Thanks for your thoughts! 

Bernie – so many paths to go down on this one!

I’ll start with your basic suggestions about the movie/book’s simple appeal. As you say – Prisoner Dilemma struggles are at the root of so much of our existence. Jeff and Mat's chiming in on this underscores how precise that observation is. Of course, they don't always appear in the perfectly structured, game theory presentation of the situation, but rather in as close a facsimile as the real world can offer. So, the Prisoner Dilemma is fundamentally familiar to viewers, and this recognition results in empathy – to the players (‘tributes’) and to the setting.

Let me zoom in on one aspect of this, which I think is a powerful factor in the identification which viewers and readers subconsciously feel with the situation:

 The Prisoners Dilemma in The Hunger Games is an excellent reflection of a real-life truism about Prisoners Dilemmas: When you are in one, it is very often because someone has set you up in one, for their own benefit. In class, when this plays out in a simulation, it’s often easy to point out the 3rd-party pot-stirrer, who benefits from our conflict or from our anxiety about the other’s intentions in a low-communication setting. In real life, it’s often harder to pin point the one who is setting us at odds with another.

Or maybe, perhaps, we have been trained to “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain?”

Remember the storyline that often accompanies the Prisoners Dilemma you described, used to portray things in familiar, everyday terms: The people involved are in separate rooms because the cops have separated them, as suspects in jointly committing a crime. As the police interrogate them separately, those points you described are expressed in the jail time they will serve as a result of their choice to keep quiet (cooperate with the other suspect) or squeal (defecting on their on their partner-in-crime). The cops in the original story you described stand to benefit from parties’ defection, and indeed - the setting seems conducive to securing parties accusations against each other.  

This sense that there is a third-party string-puller manipulating us for their own benefit, as we go about our interactions with others, seems to me to be a very powerful undercurrent of the human psyche.  I think that one of the reasons Prisoners Dilemmas are so common, as you pointed out, is that they are intentionally set up by some with the intention of incorporating others as players. In general, setting people in situations of perceived conflict with limited channels of participation seems to favor those in charge, those in power, those with the resources to set the scenario up. This sense of playing in someone else’s game, with no ability to escape, is a disempowering and fundamental human sensation, in so many ways.  

Let me give two examples – one a market example, and the other a more political/social example, so you see where I’m going with this:

Let’s say I’m running a cell phone provider and want to place an antenna on your roof. I offer you $1,000. You refuse, saying that that’s peanuts compared to the risks associated with an antenna close by. I laugh, telling you I’ll just go to your neighbor, pay her $1,000, and you’ll find yourself with the antenna next door and no money at all. What might you do? You might go to your neighbor, and tell her what’s going on, and not to deal with me. Of course, she might then call me up, and rather than find herself with an antenna on her neighbor's roof, offer me her roof for $800. If I wanted to be even more intentional about setting the two of you up in a Prisoners Dilemma, I might communicate with both of you overtly, and at the same time. At any rate – my ability to set this dilemma in play between others benefits me.

[To be fair – sometimes the reverse is true: For example, antitrust regulations limit the amount of communication powerful entities such as supermarket chains, insurance companies or mobile phone providers can engage in regarding pricing. The resulting PD they find themselves in with their competitors pays off, to some extent, for the little guy. However, in a free market society these cases of regulation and intervention are an anomaly in the natural flow of supply and demand.]

On a societal level, I don’t think it would be overly Marxist of me to say that the ruling class – however you define that class - always has an interest in setting people in situations of perceived conflict with limited channels of communication. It keeps them busy, keeps them focused on each other rather than on the actions of the ruling class, blows off a certain kind of steam, and has entertainment value.  This simple connection between the Prisoners Dilemma and conflict theory – the original societal conflict theory, not the one we usually teach :-) - is to a large extent reflective of the fictional historical backdrop of The Hunger Games. On a less overt level, it is certainly part of our real-world societal buildup as well.  Observing the Occupy movements last summer, I was struck by how many people were moved less by the opportunity that they might have more money in their pockets (if the movement was successful), and more by the fact that the %99 were finally talking to each other for real, ignoring internal professional/ /racial/economic divides that had always seemed to just be there and connecting on a very basic human level. Prisoners Dilemma situations abhor communication between parties, and the new open channels seemed, to me, to be a key factor in the global sweep of the movements.

So – I think that part of our identification with the storyline and the characters has to do with our recognition of the puppeteers who have us dancing out their conflicts. Katniss and Peeta, in the last scene you discovered, were able to unhook themselves from the strings, becoming futuristic Pinocchio-warriors we can aspire to be. Make sense?

So much more to say and ask, but practicing restraint is supposed to be good for you. Here goes. Looking forward to your thoughts, Bernie and all!

 

More on The PD and Life

 

Noam, you point out a critical factor—how do Prisoner Dilemma’s get set up. Your suggestion seems to indicate that it is usually an intentional effort to subdue, divide and conquer, put other people in their place, or preserve an established power hierarchy.  That often is the case, as in the Hunger Games, and the classic PD involving actual prisoners.  But I think intentionality is far less often the cause than are system dynamics. 

 

Consider a classic PD described in The Evolution of Cooperation: During WW I, when  trench warfare existed along a thousand mile front subjecting soldiers to absolutely miserable conditions, soldiers from opposite sides informally agreed to declare an hour of safe time  twice a day.  During those safe times, neither side would shoot directly at each other, allowing each group to get out of the trenches and walk around.  Imagine the moment when one side said to the other, “ok it’s time to stop shooting, I  am getting out of the trench.” Do you both shoot, do you both lay down your weapon, or does just one side. A classic PD. Despite the fact that this meant that the soldier was putting his life in serious danger, despite the fact that officers tried to subvert this practice and punish those taking part in it, this safe hour practice spread all the way up and down the line.  The only way that officers were able to disrupt it was by instituting a system of regularly moving soldiers to different parts of the front line so that they did not get a chance to develop even minimum communication with the other side—and so that there was no “shadow of the future.”  No one intentionally set up this PD—the system of war or at least that particular war established it.  Of course, that is not just an accidental system. WWI was in particular a product of the imperialist and class system of the time (we could not talk about Downton Abbey), but that is another story (involving lots of other PD’s).

 

An even more fundamental example is evolution itself.  I have been very captivated by the book SuperCooperators, which I mentioned in my first post.  The author’s argument (essentially stemming from Martin Novak’s studies) is that sophisticated versions of PD are very accurate models of fundamental evolutionary processes—from the level of proteins on up.  For example, single cell organisms that develop the ability to cooperate with other single cell organisms are better able to compete for resources, but in order to cooperate they have to give up some of the individual advantages that they might have for the good of the larger group, including at times sacrificing themselves so that the collective organism can survive.  Of course it’s more complicated than that, but the evolutionary dynamic is essentially a PD.  And, theological beliefs aside for the moment, there is no third force here beyond the system of nature.

 

That does not mean that individuals, classes, or systems don’t take advantage of our basic nature to create PD’s by which to control us or manipulate us. In fact we all do this to others at times (competitive assignments by teachers or coaches, parents’use of timeouts, etc.).   Of course, not all PD’s are the same. The more dramatic and extreme the PD, the more raw and closer to our most fundamental struggles it is.

 

Which gets to me to class conflict.  That is a dirty word right now (or words), but it is also a basic phenomenon—however we want to characterize it.  We compete against each other to get ahead and improve our chances for social mobility, thereby making social improvement for us as a social class or collective of individuals more difficult.  The whole point of unions is to overcome the competitive element of struggling for jobs and for salary in order to be in better to position to compete with those who are in a more powerful position.  So if workers are underpaid and mistreated and want to do something about it, then they can band  together and ask for better treatment and wages. They don’t get it, they go on strike.  But the management now offers a secure job to those who cross the picket line.  They are faced with a PD and this has played out in many ways over the years. Of course, this dynamic can be true even when workers strike for less noble reasons—say to maintain privileges for their members at the expense of everyone else.   On the other hand, competition among workeres is also needed.  Without some individual competition and rewards, it is hard to motivate high performance and worker productivity.

 

More broadly it seems to me that both management and workers do best when they can take a nuanced approach to the tension between competition and cooperation that exists between them.  When they are all about competing with management, unions don’t do well (and they have become an increasingly more marginal part of the American economic and political landscape).  By the same token, when corporations are in an essentially competitive stance with their own employees, they get less productivity and higher turnover.  However, workers do have to stand up for themselves and corporate leadership does have to attend to the long term health of the company and the interests of its shareholders. And decisions about individual competence cannot be completely subsumed by collective agreements if a healthy workplace is to be maintained.  Competition between worker and management is inevitable and necessary.   But if unions can’t be realistic about corporate interests and management about worker’s needs, then they won’t succeed.   The healthiest unions, say the UAW during its best years, have been able to both compete when necessary and cooperate as well. Same for corporate leadership.  And what is a competitive stance hierarchically is to some extent a cooperative stance horizontally (among workers and management).  A healthy system maintains a healthy matrix of competition and cooperation.

 

And the same for society.  We are seeing an almost epic struggle between those who think that the competitive forces of a less regulated market are essential to economic and indeed spiritual health and those who feel that the collective and cooperative action of government is the bottom line of a healthy society.  We see this in the debates over healthcare, energy, economic stimulus,  and so forth. I believe (warning my political leanings are about to show – well I guess they have been all along) that we have swung far more to the side of competition than is healthy for our well being.  We have really undermined our ability as a society to take collective action to deal with our most pressing problems.  And I am not just talking about the nature of our political discourse but about the extreme individualist approach that has dominated our policies for the last forty years.  We have really abandoned the idea that collective action that requires individual sacrifice is sometimes essential to a healthy society, and we are paying the price.  Economic disparities are greater than they have ever been. Our physical and social infrastructure is deteriorating.  Unless (actually I really believe until—a swing is bound to happen) we can grow the cooperative side of our interactional structure more, we will not be able to address our biggest challenges.  (Interestingly, however, in international relations I think we are in one of the most cooperative periods in our history—although it may not seem so sitting in Israel.)

 

Ironically, however, as a field we seem to have this backwards.  By taking an unmitigated cooperative stance – that is by saying in essence that all we need is to cooperate more—we fail to connect to the genuine competitive forces and requirements that are out their—and therefore we are not really credible when we push for cooperation.  But that is for another time.

 

OK, this has gotten so long, that I don’t think even I can get completely follow it.  I promise to do shorter entries in the future. In the meantime, I am hopeful that I will be taken to the Hunger Games tomorrow.  Our effort yesterday failed.  I don’t think taking a parent to a movie is a 13 year old’s highest priority for a beautiful Spring weekend. 


Noam Ebner said:

Bernie – so many paths to go down on this one!

I’ll start with your basic suggestions about the movie/book’s simple appeal. As you say – Prisoner Dilemma struggles are at the root of so much of our existence. Jeff and Mat's chiming in on this underscores how precise that observation is. Of course, they don't always appear in the perfectly structured, game theory presentation of the situation, but rather in as close a facsimile as the real world can offer. So, the Prisoner Dilemma is fundamentally familiar to viewers, and this recognition results in empathy – to the players (‘tributes’) and to the setting.

Let me zoom in on one aspect of this, which I think is a powerful factor in the identification which viewers and readers subconsciously feel with the situation:

 The Prisoners Dilemma in The Hunger Games is an excellent reflection of a real-life truism about Prisoners Dilemmas: When you are in one, it is very often because someone has set you up in one, for their own benefit. In class, when this plays out in a simulation, it’s often easy to point out the 3rd-party pot-stirrer, who benefits from our conflict or from our anxiety about the other’s intentions in a low-communication setting. In real life, it’s often harder to pin point the one who is setting us at odds with another.

Or maybe, perhaps, we have been trained to “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain?”

Remember the storyline that often accompanies the Prisoners Dilemma you described, used to portray things in familiar, everyday terms: The people involved are in separate rooms because the cops have separated them, as suspects in jointly committing a crime. As the police interrogate them separately, those points you described are expressed in the jail time they will serve as a result of their choice to keep quiet (cooperate with the other suspect) or squeal (defecting on their on their partner-in-crime). The cops in the original story you described stand to benefit from parties’ defection, and indeed - the setting seems conducive to securing parties accusations against each other.  

This sense that there is a third-party string-puller manipulating us for their own benefit, as we go about our interactions with others, seems to me to be a very powerful undercurrent of the human psyche.  I think that one of the reasons Prisoners Dilemmas are so common, as you pointed out, is that they are intentionally set up by some with the intention of incorporating others as players. In general, setting people in situations of perceived conflict with limited channels of participation seems to favor those in charge, those in power, those with the resources to set the scenario up. This sense of playing in someone else’s game, with no ability to escape, is a disempowering and fundamental human sensation, in so many ways.  

Let me give two examples – one a market example, and the other a more political/social example, so you see where I’m going with this:

Let’s say I’m running a cell phone provider and want to place an antenna on your roof. I offer you $1,000. You refuse, saying that that’s peanuts compared to the risks associated with an antenna close by. I laugh, telling you I’ll just go to your neighbor, pay her $1,000, and you’ll find yourself with the antenna next door and no money at all. What might you do? You might go to your neighbor, and tell her what’s going on, and not to deal with me. Of course, she might then call me up, and rather than find herself with an antenna on her neighbor's roof, offer me her roof for $800. If I wanted to be even more intentional about setting the two of you up in a Prisoners Dilemma, I might communicate with both of you overtly, and at the same time. At any rate – my ability to set this dilemma in play between others benefits me.

[To be fair – sometimes the reverse is true: For example, antitrust regulations limit the amount of communication powerful entities such as supermarket chains, insurance companies or mobile phone providers can engage in regarding pricing. The resulting PD they find themselves in with their competitors pays off, to some extent, for the little guy. However, in a free market society these cases of regulation and intervention are an anomaly in the natural flow of supply and demand.]

On a societal level, I don’t think it would be overly Marxist of me to say that the ruling class – however you define that class - always has an interest in setting people in situations of perceived conflict with limited channels of communication. It keeps them busy, keeps them focused on each other rather than on the actions of the ruling class, blows off a certain kind of steam, and has entertainment value.  This simple connection between the Prisoners Dilemma and conflict theory – the original societal conflict theory, not the one we usually teach :-) - is to a large extent reflective of the fictional historical backdrop of The Hunger Games. On a less overt level, it is certainly part of our real-world societal buildup as well.  Observing the Occupy movements last summer, I was struck by how many people were moved less by the opportunity that they might have more money in their pockets (if the movement was successful), and more by the fact that the %99 were finally talking to each other for real, ignoring internal professional/ /racial/economic divides that had always seemed to just be there and connecting on a very basic human level. Prisoners Dilemma situations abhor communication between parties, and the new open channels seemed, to me, to be a key factor in the global sweep of the movements.

So – I think that part of our identification with the storyline and the characters has to do with our recognition of the puppeteers who have us dancing out their conflicts. Katniss and Peeta, in the last scene you discovered, were able to unhook themselves from the strings, becoming futuristic Pinocchio-warriors we can aspire to be. Make sense?

So much more to say and ask, but practicing restraint is supposed to be good for you. Here goes. Looking forward to your thoughts, Bernie and all!

 

 

I agree with so much of what you said Bernie (including, for example, that the dawn of the Age of Cooperation in International Relations has yet to color the horizon in my corner of the world). But if we sit around agreeing with each other, this conversation isn't going to get far. I do want to say, though, that I think we should definitely put the topic of contrasting society's swing towards competition, with our field's love affair with cooperation, on the table sometime.

And now, let me bring this down a notch, which seems to be my signature role in so many conversations - in this case, back to the movie, and back to the personal:

I remember the full impact of the Prisoners Dilemma come to a head, in my mind, in a scene where a pack of 4-5 of the more aggressive youths, working together, chased, cornered, and finally treed Katniss. Unable to shoot her out of the tree, they decided to wait her out at its base. At some point, they all fell asleep. However, instead of a typical heroine-slipping-down-a-tree-silently scene, Katniss stayed up on her branch, licking her wounds. And the pack? They kept sleeping. This drove me to distraction. How could they sleep? Didn’t they all know that one of them – each of them - should logically wait till the others fell asleep, and then dispatch them quietly, one at a time, terminating with one fell swoop many of the most dangerous opponents?

I nudged my daughter (Ebners always talk during movies. It’s one of our more endearing traits) and asked her why they were sleeping, instead of killing. “Sshh, quiet!!!”, she explained, somewhat mortified and probably regretting going with her father to the movie in the first place. Then she relented and in a whisper, taught me the facts of life: “They need each other – that’s how they stay alive and get rid of the rest of the players/tributes.”

This, more than anything, reflected our classroom-simulated Prisoners Dilemma exercises more than anything. Not just the content of what my daughter said, which simply reflected the other course of action available in a Prisoners Dilemma – her “Sleep/cooperate” vs. my “Kill!!!”/defect strategy. It was the fact that I had considered this approach and waved it away, en route to reaching my obviously correct approach – and the way that my certainty on this issue was matched by the tone of utter conviction in which she presented her approach.

I’m sure you’ve seen those interchanges in class, in Prisoner Dilemma game debriefing session: a  student who had led a team in adopting a collaborative strategy details the reasoning behind their approach, and explains to the team who defected why their approach is wrong – not (or – not only) from a moral perspective, but from an economic/mathematic/rational-best-interest perspective as well. And, on the other side of the class, a participant who had adopted a competitive strategy involving defection explains how the only rational behavior is defecting. Both of them can discuss the issue in economic terms, bringing their arguments, complete with flawless logic, through to diametrically opposite conclusions – and simply cannot understand how the other doesn’t see it. That dissonant-gap – in which it seems impossible to hold both explanations in mind at once – has always fascinated me. Noticing it playing out in this short exchange with my daughter was a real treat and I wanted to pursue it further; so much so that when Katniss decided to take things into her own hands it really annoyed me.

Nothing like a movie to give us something to talk about, is there? A few nights ago I saw Annie with my kids, and found myself comparing it to The Hunger Games, in the perspective of the Prisoners Dilemma (Jeff, if I’m spoiling Annie for you now, we need to talk). The dozens of orphans crammed into the squalid orphanage children’s home certainly find themselves faced daily with multiple opportunities to cooperate with each other (against their conditions, and more specifically against the orphanage’s director, Miss Hannigan) or defect (by complying with Miss Hannigan’s orders or selling out their bunkmates for various infractions). How would we act in such a situation?

And, in asking myself this new question, knowing that I was deliberately constructing a venue in which to reconsider my strategizing in the Hunger Games Dilemma, I found myself wondering why it was that I had jumped to the conclusion that a competitive strategy was the way for Katniss to go? Not on an economic level, as I know that can cut both ways – but on a psychological or emotional level. Why did I, much like Miss Hannigan facing her own devils, shout “Kill, kill, kill!!!”

Woody Allen would say it’s simple: the way of the world is, that even at the end of days “the lamb and the wolf shalt lay down together – but the lamb won’t get much sleep”. Still – I think there’s something more going on here. I’ll think on that some more – or maybe you can offer me a quick fix.

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