Hawk & Dove

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Call me paranoid but since I read Hidden Games by Hoffman and Yoeli and discussing with Dennis Graemer I am growing more and more convinced that game theory controls a lot of human behavior. This happens on a micro and also on a macro scale because the equilibria and expectations about who plays hawk or dove perpetuate themselves and get adapted. I think one can interpret our current political conjuncture as a re-balancing of power which takes mostly the form of setting game theoretical expectations. Let me give you some examples: The investors in the startup of my partner try to force her and her co-founder to cut their wages and child support payments although the investors have legally agreed to them months ago. It is only a minor sum and so we wonder if it really is about the money or if the investors want to gain dominance over the founders. In this case it would not be about finding a compromise but simply a game of chicken about who is able and willing to escalate more. The outcome of this game would set the expectations for further confrontations. Another example are labor union contract negotiations. Since the 80s labor unions have learned to diligently play dove when capital raises its voice. When I was organizing strikes last year at the UK Aachen an old metal worker who was a patient at the hospital told me we should just fucking burn some shit, so management would know what’s up. We all had a laugh and declared the old man crazy and only later did I realize he had a point. Burning stuff is just signaling hawkish behavior. It just means we are committed to go to the very end and if you want to win it will cost you a lot. Only when the other side is convinced that you will not flinch, is it rational for them to search for a compromise. This is also what I respect about the infamous “Letzte Generation”. It’s not because their tactics are especially successful but because they exemplify a simple lesson: If you want people to take you seriously, don’t give in.

I mostly argue against the neoliberal/hippie quip that change should start with yourself. You don’t have to be Jesus to demand or enact political change and individual action is mostly useless at best or even worse gives you the false impression of having done something when your action really was futile. If there was a simple way to confer your behavior onto others we sure would know about it. But here come the qualification: If you really want to change something but are to lazy for politics, how about setting expectations? If you want to change the outcome of a stabilized game theoretical situation, you have to publicly play hawk. This takes a lot of courage but playing hawk is the only way to consistently alter the expectations and thereby the result not only of this but also future confrontations.

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