Posted by: hobbesonafob | October 17, 2009

John Elway and a Change of State

Here’s the outline of today’s post:

  1. Play promotional (educational?) video from the Center for Empowered Living and Learning
  2. Blog about the video and some of the points it brings up
  3. Address “stag hunt” game theory in a cursory manner
  4. How the video and “stag hunt” game theory relate to resilient communities

First, here’s the video:

Danger Room has a pretty good overview of the video if you don’t want to spend 8 minutes watching it.

So what does John Elway have to offer resilient communities? Well, let’s try and figure out what are the video’s premises and how they relate to society.

The Video’s Stated Premises

  1. Terrorism is bad and dangerous.
  2. Terrorism is so bad and dangerous that individuals in a community must take responsibility for their society.
  3. Artistic photographers taking pictures of security cameras do not exist. If you take pictures of security cameras, you are a terrorist.

The video’s unstated premise is that the security apparatuses currently in place in society cannot protect us all without having us invest our time and energy into our own security (i.e. having to report suspicious activity).

Suspicious activity was not defined in the video, but you are given many examples (e.g. lock snipping, and taking pictures of security cameras, etc.). In other words, there are people in society that may do us harm and we should be vigilant in keeping an eye on them. Being wary of individuals is not necessarily a bad thing when done in moderation. But I would like to reveal some of the problems of living in a low-trust society.

The impact of having a low-trust society can have dire effect on progress. This is explained in Tim Harford’s write-up in Slate about a type of game theory called “the stag hunt.” The theory is described by Harford in the following:

In the stag hunt, two hunters must each decide whether to hunt the stag together or hunt rabbits alone. Half a stag is better than a brace of rabbits, but the stag will only be brought down with a combined effort. Rabbits, on the other hand, can be hunted by an individual without any trouble. There are two rational outcomes to the stag hunt: Either both hunters hunt the stag as a team, or each hunts rabbits by himself. Each would prefer to cooperate in hunting the stag, but if the other player’s motives or actions are uncertain, the rabbit hunt is a risk-free alternative.

Ideally one would live in a society where he or she could hunt stags all the time. To hunt stags all the time, a high-level of trust would be needed. I would make the argument that some security initiatives decrease the trust in a given society and make it difficult for progress. Instead of investing time and energy into fruitful endeavors, one would have to waste time and energy in conducting background checks on potential partners, looking over one’s shoulder instead of looking forward towards goals, and other activity one needs to survive in a low-trust society. I would point to border security initiatives and their impact on cross-border trade as an example.

Harford highlights the importance of trust in determining whether or not a country will be rich or poor:

That is a formalized form of trust, based on institutions that dramatically expand our ability to interact with those beyond our immediate neighbors. Economists who study such things—such as the World Bank’s Steve Knack, or Paul Seabright, author of The Company of Strangers—argue that the difference between countries that have successfully formalized trust and those that have not is, basically, the difference between rich countries and poor ones.

Resilient Communities

Ideally resilient communities would be high-trust societies. I am wondering what would be the average size of resilient communities and if there would be a type of security based on local knowledge. Such a security system would be based on people knowing other people in the society and everyone’s general expectations of their behaviour (preferably norms and values conducive to progress). Anyone from a small community knows how everybody can get all “up in their biznass,” but they also know that they have relatively little to fear from unidentified individuals terrorizing their community. There is little to fear because strangers standout in small communities.

A high-level trust society may have to be quite small, unless the norms and values of a society are so strong that they can regulate individual behaviour amongst strangers.

To conclude, the Center for Empowered Living and Learning may actually disempower communities by raising suspicion so high that it actually harms a society.


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