Game theory and Polarized Society

 Social opinion dynamics in our country have reached a boiling point. We seem to have become a society that is over-sensitive and gets hurt by the slightest provocation. We have loose cannons daily exploding hate venom at prime time on our television shows. The television itself has stopped giving us news and we are fed a diet of talk shows that stirs up polarised opinion in our society. We have Firs, Police complaints and Court cases that seek remedial justice for our hurt sentiments. Violence on the street as well as murders has become expressions of our hate campaigns. The question is how are we to understand this precarious condition of our society? Can we ask this question without prejudging anybody’s action as good or evil, national or anti-nation, religious or irreligious? Perhaps what is known as the game theory may assist us to arrive at these answers? Social opinion dynamics like the spread of gossip in a community or the reach of politicians to their voters have been successfully studied by the game theory. The non-cooperative games which are largely confined to two-person zero-sum games may model the highly polarized opinion dynamics in our society. Like the non-cooperative games the gain of one person is the loss of the other person in opinion dynamics that play around binary polarity, so the payoffs always sum to zero. We see this play of the right and the left politics. This dynamics of revolving around zero-sum is the equilibrium that these kinds of games reach and we in our country seem to have reached this point today.
Mathematician John Nash proposed what has been called Nash equilibrium and revolutionized the game theory. He was given Nobel Prize for his contribution. Nash equilibrium is a potential stable point of the dynamic adjustment process in which individuals adjust their behaviours to that of other players in the game searching for strategy choices that will give them better results. There is no measure of rationality as a marker of strategic choice. It is simply thought that self–interest is moving energy that makes the players do the choices that they make hoping for the payoffs that they desire. Fundamentally, the game theory seeks to explain how rational players behave to best serve their self-interest. It is this self-enforcing implicit or explicit agreement that keeps the game going. This is dynamic equilibrium and not a resting point. One may view it as a competitive equilibrium. It is a point where no player can gain by unilaterally changing strategy. Of course, this Nash equilibrium has been extended, refined and generalized by other scholars of the game theory.
Our society seems to be trapped in what we may call the prisoner’s dilemma. In a prisoner’s dilemma, each player is simultaneously given two choices: to cooperate or to defect. If both players cooperate. They receive the same payoff. If both defect they receive a lower payoff. If one of them defects, the one who defects gets the highest payoff. This means it always pays to defect even when both players can benefit by cooperating. This is a simply Tit-for-Tat strategy which has an enormous explanatory power that can enable us to understand how the opinion dynamics in our country are rotating around a competitive equilibrium. We seem to choose the role of the defector and believe that it is more rewarding. We are certainly playing a game as a society and are enjoying it. Unfortunately, the game is producing a zero-sum effect as the umpires like the Courts and the Police system also seem to be playing the same cards. It was only because of some international players that came as players in the shape of some countries from the Middle East that we somehow felt the threat of the competitive equilibrium exploding on us. But things returned with unforgivable heinous killings in Rajasthan and Maharashtra as well as the Documentary on Goddess Durga and the comments thereof.
The question is do we want to play this unstainable game that seems to be taking us nowhere? Do we wish to organize our life and society around this tum tum mai mai point of equilibrium or do we have other options as rational actors or players? Why can’t we choose to cooperate? Why do we have to choose to defect or wait for our opportunity to defect? Why build our society on a zero-sum strategy that insults one community one day only to be given back in the same coin by the other community on another day? Why do we find it rewarding to be prisoners of a competitive equilibrium? Why our Government does not help us to shift the reigning point of equilibrium? Why can’t we all choose the strategy to cooperate and build an India on a win-win strategy? Why do we think that India will win when some Indians will lose? Perhaps, these and other questions may open our eyes to the fact that we have become captive to the competitive equilibrium. It is this equilibrium that is robbing us of our peace and diverting our mind space to issues that are not central to the development of our country. The game that we all play is self-destructive and it is time that we shit the axis or what is called the Nash point of equilibrium to another point and choice to grow together.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao