Hobbesian trap

2 results back to index


pages: 901 words: 234,905

The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker

affirmative action, Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, anti-communist, British Empire, clean water, cognitive dissonance, Columbine, conceptual framework, correlation coefficient, correlation does not imply causation, cuban missile crisis, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, Defenestration of Prague, desegregation, epigenetics, Exxon Valdez, George Akerlof, germ theory of disease, ghettoisation, glass ceiling, Hobbesian trap, income inequality, invention of agriculture, invisible hand, long peace, meta analysis, meta-analysis, More Guns, Less Crime, Murray Gell-Mann, mutually assured destruction, Norman Mailer, Peter Singer: altruism, phenotype, Plutocrats, plutocrats, Potemkin village, prisoner's dilemma, profit motive, QWERTY keyboard, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Richard Thaler, risk tolerance, Robert Bork, Rodney Brooks, Saturday Night Live, speech recognition, stem cell, Steven Pinker, The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, the new new thing, theory of mind, Thomas Malthus, Thorstein Veblen, ultimatum game, urban renewal, War on Poverty, women in the workforce, Yogi Berra, zero-sum game

Even more tragically, your neighbors have every reason to be cranking through the same deduction, and if they are, it makes your fears all the more compelling, which makes a preemptive strike all the more tempting, which makes a preemptive strike by them all the more tempting, and so on. This “Hobbesian trap,” as it is now called, is a ubiquitous cause of violent conflict.63 The political scientist Thomas Schelling offered the analogy of an armed homeowner who surprises an armed burglar. Each might be tempted to shoot first to avoid being shot, even if neither wanted to kill the other. A Hobbesian trap pitting one man against another is a recurring theme in fiction, such as the desperado in Hollywood westerns, spy-versus-spy plots in cold-war thrillers, and the lyrics to Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff.” But because we are a social species, Hobbesian traps more commonly pit groups against groups. There is safety in numbers, so humans, bound by shared genes or reciprocal promises, form coalitions for protection. Unfortunately, the logic of the Hobbesian trap means there is also danger in numbers, because neighbors may fear they are becoming outnumbered and form alliances in their turn to contain the growing menace.

Chagnon describes how Yanomamö villages obsess over the danger of being massacred by other villages (with good reason) and occasionally engage in preemptive assaults, giving other villages good reason to engage in their own preemptive assaults, and prompting groups of villages to form alliances that make their neighbors ever more nervous.67 Street gangs and Mafia families engage in similar machinations. In the past century, World War I, the Six-Day Arab-Israeli War, and the Yugoslavian wars in the 1990s arose in part from Hobbesian traps.68 The political scientist John Vasquez has made the point quantitatively. Using a database of hundreds of conflicts from the past two centuries, he concludes that the ingredients of a Hobbesian trap—concern with security, entangling alliances, and arms races—can statistically predict the escalation of friction into war.69 The most conscious playing-out of the logic of Hobbesian traps took place among nuclear strategists during the cold war, when the fate of the world literally hinged on it. The logic produced some of the maddening paradoxes of nuclear strategy: why it is extraordinarily dangerous to have enough missiles to destroy an enemy but not enough to destroy him after he has attacked those missiles (because the enemy would have a strong incentive to strike preemptively), and why erecting an impregnable defense against enemy missiles could make the world a more dangerous place (because the enemy has an incentive to launch a preemptive strike before the completed defense turns him into a sitting duck).

Our species’ vaunted ability to make tools is one of the reasons we are so good at killing one another. The vicious circle of a Hobbesian trap can help us understand why the escalation from friction to war (and occasionally, the de-escalation to detente) can happen so suddenly. Mathematicians and computer simulators have devised models in which several players acquire arms or form alliances in response to what the other players are doing. The models often display chaotic behavior, in which small differences in the values of the parameters can have large and unpredictable consequences.66 As we can infer from Hobbes’s allusion to the Peloponnesian War, Hobbesian traps among groups are far from hypothetical. Chagnon describes how Yanomamö villages obsess over the danger of being massacred by other villages (with good reason) and occasionally engage in preemptive assaults, giving other villages good reason to engage in their own preemptive assaults, and prompting groups of villages to form alliances that make their neighbors ever more nervous.67 Street gangs and Mafia families engage in similar machinations.


pages: 1,351 words: 385,579

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker

Amazon: amazon.comamazon.co.ukamazon.deamazon.fr

1960s counterculture, affirmative action, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, Albert Einstein, availability heuristic, Berlin Wall, Bonfire of the Vanities, British Empire, Broken windows theory, California gold rush, Cass Sunstein, citation needed, clean water, cognitive dissonance, colonial rule, Columbine, computer age, conceptual framework, correlation coefficient, correlation does not imply causation, crack epidemic, cuban missile crisis, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, David Brooks, delayed gratification, demographic transition, desegregation, Doomsday Clock, Douglas Hofstadter, Edward Glaeser, en.wikipedia.org, European colonialism, experimental subject, facts on the ground, failed state, first-past-the-post, Flynn Effect, food miles, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, fudge factor, full employment, George Santayana, ghettoisation, Gini coefficient, global village, Henri Poincaré, Hobbesian trap, humanitarian revolution, impulse control, income inequality, informal economy, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), invention of the printing press, Isaac Newton, lake wobegon effect, libertarian paternalism, long peace, loss aversion, Marshall McLuhan, mass incarceration, McMansion, means of production, mental accounting, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Mikhail Gorbachev, moral panic, mutually assured destruction, open economy, Peace of Westphalia, Peter Singer: altruism, QWERTY keyboard, race to the bottom, Ralph Waldo Emerson, random walk, Republic of Letters, Richard Thaler, Ronald Reagan, Rosa Parks, Saturday Night Live, security theater, Skype, Slavoj Žižek, South China Sea, statistical model, stem cell, Steven Levy, Steven Pinker, The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, theory of mind, transatlantic slave trade, transatlantic slave trade, Turing machine, ultimatum game, uranium enrichment, V2 rocket, Vilfredo Pareto, Walter Mischel, WikiLeaks, women in the workforce, zero-sum game

In fact, even if he knew that you started out with no aggressive designs on him, he might legitimately worry that you are tempted to neutralize him out of fear that he will neutralize you first, which gives you an incentive to neutralize him before that, ad infinitum. The political scientist Thomas Schelling offers the analogy of an armed homeowner who surprises an armed burglar, each being tempted to shoot the other to avoid being shot first. This paradox is sometimes called the Hobbesian trap or, in the arena of international relations, the security dilemma.8 How can intelligent agents extricate themselves from a Hobbesian trap? The most obvious way is through a policy of deterrence: Don’t strike first; be strong enough to survive a first strike; and retaliate against any aggressor in kind. A credible deterrence policy can remove a competitor’s incentive to invade for gain, since the cost imposed on him by retaliation would cancel out the anticipated spoils.

They may raid for some other reason and take the women as a bonus. Or they may raid to claim women who had been promised to them in marriage but were not delivered at the agreed-upon time. And sometimes young men attack for trophies, coups, and other signs of aggressive prowess, especially in societies where they are a prerequisite to attaining adult status. People in nonstate societies also invade for safety. The security dilemma or Hobbesian trap is very much on their minds, and they may form an alliance with nearby villages if they fear they are too small, or launch a preemptive strike if they fear that an enemy alliance is getting too big. One Yanomamö man in Amazonia told an anthropologist, “We are tired of fighting. We don’t want to kill anymore. But the others are treacherous and cannot be trusted.”44 But in most surveys the most commonly cited motive for warfare is vengeance, which serves as a crude deterrent to potential enemies by raising the anticipated long-term costs of an attack.

That sets them apart from theocracies, which are based on parochial faiths, and from autocracies, which are based on clans, dynasties, or charismatic leaders. In other words, if one state has reason to believe that a neighboring one organizes its political affairs in the same way that it does because both have stumbled upon the same solution to the problem of government, then neither has to worry about the other one attacking, neither will be tempted to attack the other in preemptive self-defense, and so on, freeing everyone from the Hobbesian trap. Today, for example, the Swedes don’t stay up at night worrying that their neighbors are hatching plans for Norway Über Alles, or vice versa. The third condition for perpetual peace is “universal hospitality” or “world citizenship.” People from one country should be free to live in safety in others, as long as they don’t bring an army in with them. The hope is that communication, trade, and other “peaceable relations” across national boundaries will knit the world’s people into a single community, so that a “violation of rights in one place is felt throughout the world.”