When political polarization is modeled as a game the result is Chicken. The technical basics are not very complicated.

Reiterated Prisoner’s Dilemma (RPD) is socially integrative. An equilibrium, conforming to maximal aggregate utility, arises through reciprocal convergence upon an optimum strategy: defaulting to trust, punishing defections, and rapidly forgiving corrected behavior. Any society adopting these rule-of-thumb principles consolidates. When everyone norms on this strategy, individual and collective interests are harmonized. Things work.

Chicken is very different. Someone blinks first, so the trust-trust mutual optimum of RPD is subtracted in advance. Rather than the four possible outcomes of a single PD round (A and B do OK, A wins B loses, B wins A loses, A and B both lose) there are just three possible outcomes (A wins B loses, B wins A loses, A and B both lose extremely). In Chicken, it is the avoidance of outcome three, rather than the non-existent chance of PD outcome one, that moderates behavior, and then asymmetrically (someone always blinks first).

No less importantly, the time structure of Chicken is inverted. In RPD, the agents learn from successive decisions, and from their mere prospect. Each decision is punctual, Boolean, and communicatively isolated. In Chicken, the decision is mutual, quantitative, and anticipated by a strategically-dynamic introduction — an interactive process, in advance of the decision, that is richly communicative, complex, and even educational. In addition, when compared to PD, Chicken reiteration is remarkably complicated (more on that in a moment).

Consider the classic Chicken game. Two drivers accelerate towards each other, and the one who swerves (‘blinks’) loses. If neither swerves, both lose (worse). The lead up is everything, and the decision itself is a matter of speed and timing (a non-Boolean ‘when’ rather than a Boolean ‘which’). The question is not “will the other player defect?” but rather “how far will they go?”

Thomas Schelling made an intellectual specialism out of Chicken, and his understanding of the classical version was sharpened by the concept of “credible commitment” (“how far will they go?”). How could a player ensure that his opponent does not win? The solution to this  problem, if produced in advance, has the strategic value of also maximizing the chance that the opponent blinks first (thus avoiding the pessimal lose-lose outcome, and generating a win).

Producing credible commitment looks like this. Upon climbing into your car, conspicuously consume a bottle of vodka, thus communicating the fact that your ability to enact a successful last second swerve is very seriously impaired. Your opponent now knows that even were you inclined to avoid mutual destruction at the brink, you might not be able to do so. Then — once both cars have accelerated to a high speed — rip out your steering wheel and throw it out of the window. (It is extremely important that you do this before your opponent is able to — that’s what the vodka was for.) Your communicated commitment is now absolute. Your opponent alone can swerve. It’s death or glory.

The ‘mainstream’ neoreactionary account of American political history is that of reiterated Chicken games between progressives and conservatives, in which conservatives always swerve. This analytical framework, despite its crudity, explains why conservatives consider their opponents to be intoxicated lunatics (i.e. winners) whilst they are sober and responsible (i.e. losers). As traditionally positioned, conservatives are the principal social stake-holders, and thus primarily obligated to avoid mutual destruction. It is essential to conservatism that it cannot take things (domestically) to the brink. Its incompetence at Chicken is thus constitutional.

When the Zeitgeist starts clucking, it can only be a sign that conservatism is coming to an end. The Tea Party is not informatively described as a conservative political movement, because its signal influence is the insistence that the Right stop losing Chicken games. It demands “credible commitment” through the minimization of discretion on the part of its political representatives, along with whatever insanity is needed not to fricking swerve. This is of course highly — even totally — antagonistic. It is why the Left media now sound like this. Before all significance is consumed in partisan rhetoric, it is important to note that the loser in a Chicken game — even the merely probabilistic virtual loser — necessarily thinks that its opponent is insane. Any more moderate response would be the infallible sign that losing was inevitable (once again).

It isn’t hard to understand why this might be happening. In reiterated Chicken, the loser no doubt acquires a predisposition to submissiveness (“it’s hopeless, those lunatics always win”), but the objective undercurrent of repeated defeat is a contraction of the distance between relative (asymmetric) and absolute (mutual) defeat. Eventually, the difference isn’t worth surrendering — or swerving –over. “If they keep on winning, there will be nothing left anyway, so we might as well finish it now.”

Reciprocally, incessant victory threatens to dull revolutionary fervor into conservatism. Progressives now have many generations of substantial victory to defend, so taking things to the edge has begun to seem concerning. When the government shuts down, what does the Right really lose? At the very least, it’s beginning to wonder, and by doing so, upping its Chicken game (AKA “going insane”). Progressives don’t have to wonder.  They lose the government.

ADDED: Buchanan argues that surrender seldom works. At the NYT, Michael P. Lynch: “It is tempting to call this “crazy talk” and unserious bluster. But it is serious, and it shows that some people are thinking about what happens next. It is a plan that represents the logical limit of the views now being entertained on the radical right, not just in the dark corners of the Internet, but in the sunlight of mainstream forums. After all, if the government is the problem, shutting it down is a logical solution.”

ADDED: Jim expects a swerve.

ADDED: The swerve.

October 15, 2013admin 27 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Discriminations


27 Responses to this entry

  • Grotto Says:

    Wonderfully stated.

    One of the key asymmetries that allowed progressivism to march uncontested for the past fifty years was that it had less to lose. They were the anarchist nihilists, while the “conservative” establishment fought a negotiated retreat, sacrificing bits and pieces to save what remained of the whole. In this game of chicken, the comfortable WASP Rockefeller Republicans living in posh Westchester County could hardly resist the wide-eyed hippies burning draft cards to avoid being shot in the jungles of Vietnam. The right had more to lose than the left, and so they couldn’t win this game of brinksmanship.

    Now the positions are reversed. The Tea Party right feels true desperation, while the Cathedral elite are comfortably ensconced in the various arms of the inner party machinery. The coming majority-minority inversion, the debt crisis, the slow destruction of anything decent, beautiful, moral or true, all they they hold dear…now they have less to lose.

    And so the game of Chicken will be begin to be won by the Tea Party right, which won’t swerve. The establishment right still wishes to swerve, as they are still stakeholders in the Cathedral. But growing sectors of the right are now completely disillusioned and disassociated from the Cathedral. They still maintain a great deal of patriotism and identity in being Americans and in the “USA”, but these reserves are decreasing over time. Gadsden flags outnumber US flags these days.


    Psykonomist Reply:

    Agreed. Progressives could rationalize their vodka swilling and steering-wheel dispensing as not-insane because they knew they didn’t have to swerve, and at the same time could mock every swerve by their opponent as cowardice. To stick with the analogy, their formerly teetotaling opponent is now “outdrinking them”, and the fear in the Progressive camp is ratcheting up with every swig. Like normal physiological differences in alcohol metabolism, the effects of alcohol on a first time drinking lightweight vs the 300lb alcoholic by the *same* amount of alcohol would be cause for concern. But the Tea Party wing is drinking itself under the dash, if you will. It cannot swerve and it cannot brake or it loses anyway, and no one embodies this like Senator Cruz. Glory or fiery crash.


    spandrell Reply:

    And so the game of Chicken will be begin to be won by the Tea Party right, which won’t swerve
    Oh, but it will.

    In the end, a good definition of the Right is *those who swerve*. c.f. Jim’s argument on why rule by consensus by definition enables the insane and the evil, i.e. the Left.


    Lesser Bull Reply:

    The Tea Party won’t win because it’s not driving. It’s getting all liquored up while riding shotgun.


    admin Reply:

    Complicating this is the meta- Chicken game over the future of the GOP — does it become a Chicken game player, or not? The position of the GOP establishment — “… but, but, but …you’re going to crash the party.” That’s not a threat anymore. It’s more of an invitation. So the Tea Party is at least wrestling for the wheel.

    Posted on October 15th, 2013 at 5:24 pm Reply | Quote
  • Lesser Bull Says:

    This is my own political trajectory in a nutshell. Let it burn. In other times I’d appear to have a lot to lose: job, wife, and kids. But when you know the economy is going to tank sooner or later, you know your job and savings is illusory. When you know your government is actively malign, you know that alternative savings vehicles are unsafe (gold, land, goods–all subject to confiscation or mere pointless destruction). As for the kids, the government is working to make the values I try to teach them outcast and/or illegal and is piling on the debt peonage every year. Its in their interests I say let it burn.

    When you’re fighting for the bare minimum of tolerable conditions, no compromise is possible or desirable.


    Posted on October 15th, 2013 at 6:38 pm Reply | Quote
  • Thales Says:

    Mmm…Nomads more like to “let it burn” than Prophets.


    Posted on October 15th, 2013 at 9:47 pm Reply | Quote
  • (holiday)bot-rkd Says:

    Over-ridingly enjoyable, though your use of ‘blinks’ on the Google Doodle of Nietzsche’s Birthday was slightly unsettling (for unknown reasons). Toads are, I am told, significant…


    Posted on October 15th, 2013 at 9:59 pm Reply | Quote
  • VXXC Says:

    “now they have less to lose.” Should we have much lesser we’d be cannnibals.

    Pacem quidem perdidit, sic ..

    The way to win the prisoners dilemma in real life is to never betray.

    If there were no Tea Party [ah but there is] the rapidly closing pincers of choices and events would meet. It was over in 2008. That Sirs was our Iron Curtain beginning to crumble.

    I do not think these madmen have the grace or know the fear to leave quietly.

    If you want to know what will happen look at Walmart/EBT frenzy. Our government is maxing out the no limit EBT cards, when it’s over they will abandon their shopping carts. In character they are identical, one was disciplined enough to study the other was the cool kid in school who had drugs and got laid, hence preggers, crime…record…and low end EBT instead of the top end Potomac EBT no limit card.

    Donee Nullo Termino Sunt.


    Posted on October 15th, 2013 at 10:53 pm Reply | Quote
  • VXXC Says:

    Love the links. starts “The only commodity in short supply during the Global Financial Crisis was confidence.”

    He admits it’s a confidence game.


    Posted on October 15th, 2013 at 11:53 pm Reply | Quote
  • VXXC Says:

    Link love – “end”.

    TNR does not understand the Tea Party really is normal people, in fact usually the terrorist cadres title is Mom regardless of whatever the Koch Brothers and the Special Executive for Tea Party Terror, Extortion and Revoution sinister billionaries and has been Repubs like Armey are doing. I know these people. I don’t think my little podunk town of 8,000 where I was raised could be located by the Koch Brothers and their evil henchmen, but they and our evil cannibal redneck brethen the next valley over turned out Tea Day 2010 protests by the hundreds if not thousands. This was the case in New Jersey and across the nation as well.

    However these people are nothing in DC except the great unwashed Harry Reid smells coming into the Capitol [he said that]. So therefore in TNR world they do not exist. In fact in DC world they don’t exist except as a bizzare Kudzu Astroturf.

    TNR also cannot conceive of another fate then what befell the Dems from LBJ to Clinton.

    SPECTeaTRE will not settle for mere shuffling of the deck chairs.

    Hi. We’re the Evil Cannibal Rednexx, and we’re here to Fuck YOUR Sisters.

    [oops. sorry admin. It’s what happens when I forget to bathe].


    Puzzle Pirate (@PuzzlePirate) Reply:

    Hi. We’re the Evil Cannibal Rednexx, and we’re here to Fuck YOUR Sisters.

    Have you SEEN their sisters? You may want to reconsider.


    Posted on October 16th, 2013 at 12:27 am Reply | Quote
  • Stirner Says:

    Obama may be doing his own version of throwing his steering wheel out the window in the face of Tea Party intransigence:

    tl;dr: Obama may shut down the EBT system due to gov’t shutdown, debt limit threshold.


    Posted on October 16th, 2013 at 2:04 am Reply | Quote
  • James A. Donald Says:

    When you start calling your opponents insane, you are psychologically on the way to losing at a game of chicken.

    You are also psychologically on the way to carting them off to concentration camps, as in Greece.


    admin Reply:

    Fascism in the age of Fukuppy could surprise us in various ways.


    Posted on October 16th, 2013 at 2:16 am Reply | Quote
  • VXXC Says:


    That’s a big camp


    Posted on October 16th, 2013 at 2:34 am Reply | Quote
  • VXXC Says:


    Why are Mormons on SNAP? 😀


    Lesser Bull Reply:

    Get married and have a kid while still in college.


    Posted on October 16th, 2013 at 2:36 am Reply | Quote
  • Thales Says:

    Oh ho — trouble with the swerve!


    Posted on October 16th, 2013 at 2:38 am Reply | Quote
  • Alrenous Says:

    Someone truly sober and responsible considers getting into game of chicken at all to be a failure, and will fight to the death to avoid repeated games of chicken. The rational response to realizing your opponent is insane is to stop playing by Marquess of Queensberry rules. Indeed it is the duty of the sober and responsible to put down rabid dogs.

    I thus conclude the conservatives were never either.


    Dan Reply:

    “Indeed it is the duty of the sober and responsible to put down rabid dogs. ”

    What are you suggesting? War?

    I don’t know how you put down the rabid dog that is much of the American left and much of the America media. Defunding the United States Government seems as good a place as any to start.

    I don’t think you want to be the one that starts literally shooting first. That makes you the agressor and you lose a lot of moral authority there, especially among those that are cluelessly moseying about thinking everything is fine.


    Alrenous Reply:

    avoid repeated games of chicken

    I’m suggesting that when the second game of chicken with conservatives started, whenever that was, was the time to do something decisive. When they didn’t, it immediately proved they were not serious about being responsible.

    Don’t shoot first? So what, let the rabid dog bite you a few times? Doesn’t seem to have worked out.

    If the clueless think shooting the rabid dog is immoral, then frankly they’re part of the problem. But they’re clueless, so that’s to be expected, really.


    Posted on October 16th, 2013 at 4:46 am Reply | Quote
  • The “shutdown” « Jim’s Blog Says:

    […] I still think it is politics as usual, but the increasingly strident reaction of the party organs indicates that some of them are seeing it as politics for real.  “Outside In” is therefore analyzing it as a real conflict. […]

    Posted on October 16th, 2013 at 5:24 am Reply | Quote
  • VXXC Says:

    @Alerenous/et al

    Again I wonder if a business decision has been made at last. The rest being drama.

    The swirling circles of wronged enemies, insane choices and events are closing on the Potomac.

    Fear camps on the Potomac, they are right to fear.


    Posted on October 16th, 2013 at 1:01 pm Reply | Quote
  • VXXC Says:

    Apparently the Congressional power of the Purse was* “Extortion” and that’s the nicest thing it was called. Was*. Now raising the debt will be automatic [like 80% of our spending] and will require a 2/3 override vote to not increase.

    Attention Walmart Shoppers – NO LIMITS!! Fill your Carts!!
    And DAMN!!

    I bought more atomic number 78, shoulda bought 79. It’s tough to time the political market.


    Posted on October 17th, 2013 at 10:44 am Reply | Quote
  • Neoconservatives – Northern Reaction Says:

    […] as opposed to how Democrats see them, as a rival that must be beaten at any cost. So Republicans swerve. Because Neoconservatives are […]

    Posted on September 5th, 2016 at 7:40 am Reply | Quote

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