Friday, June 19, 2015

The Joker Effect

Michel Serres wrote The Parasite in 1982. He supposed that we individual people are all parasites feeding off the collective societal host. Rather than the usual idea of transactions operating under a societal contract of some type, with each transaction assigned an exchange value, one's dealing are instead assigned an abuse value. This peculiar notion has a lot going for it. Assuming that all us are pests, a more realistic model of society results.

I once had an argument where I proposed that predation was the penultimate and final form of parasitism. I was told this could not be the case because parasites do not kill their hosts. What? Of course they do! One only need think of disease organisms.

Parasite, being from para- "between", and -site "food", it generally means "to eat at another's table".

Serres makes a point of viewing predation as an externality, a thing that happens to a host outside of the host, whereas we all know parasites live within the host. But consider humans both within society and the world, and you start to the idea. I remember a fun quote (paraphrased) from Serres about predators and parasites early in the book:
"Men in clothing live within the animals they devour. We are parasites, thus we clothe ourselves. Thus we live in tents of skin like gods in their tabernacles".
If we, in turn, view the agencies of our dealing and doings as such, many things become clear. Consider, for example, mathematical games that try to explain altruism. There is the Prisoner's Dilemma, of which I have written. But also the Public Goods game. In the PG game, each agent can contribute to a certain amount to a pot Once everyone has made a decision, the pot is split up. Cooperators always contribute. Defectors never do. Thus defectors benefit without cost. The Nash equilibrium for a such a game, where all agents are rationally self-interested, is for everyone to contribute nothing to the pot. The good old psychopathic Nash equilibrium. Of course, this doesn't happen in real life. So the game generally fails. Well, so what, it is a mathematical toy anyway, providing only skeletal hints at human behaviors.

Well, let me also say that the Public Goods game is mathematically equivalent (more or less) to the Prisoner's Dilemma game (thus my use of the terms cooperators and defectors), but rather than participants contributing to a common good, they share a common punishment.

Well, there's a new twist to this, the joker effect: cooperation driven by destructive agents.

I read this paper so you didn't have to.

This Public Goods game introduces a new character, the joker. Cooperators contribute at a cost, defectors don't contribute, but still benefit from being apart of the public pool. Jokers perform destructive actions on all other players. Interestingly, the dynamics between cooperators, defectors and jokers manifest a paper/rock/scissors cycle of equilibria. Even more interestingly, the model's cooperators lose to defectors in the presence of jokers when the destructive value d of jokers is not greater than zero.

It doesn't mean jokers are evil, just that they must be destructive.

Now, consider two jokers. Both made visits to Egypt. The latter joker was named Napoleon. In 1798, a French armada of 400 ships, with 36,000 French troops aboard, arrived near Alexandria. They ousted the parasitic Mamluk ruling elite, trashed the country, fired artillery on residential areas, raped Muslim women, pissed and shit in mosques, and otherwise abused and defiled the country. Later that year, a British naval squadron under Horatio Nelson destroyed the French fleet, trapping Napoleon and his armies in Egypt. Napoleon and his advisers abandoned the army, slipped through the British patrols, and slunk back to France.

A power struggle ensued, with various factions eventually coming back under Ottoman control.

The second joker arrived earlier in Cairo, in 1324, and was far more benign, but just as destructive. The ninth king of Mali, Mansa Musa, somewhat converted to Islam, made holy pilgrimage to Mecca. Mansa Musa is recognized as the wealthiest man in the history of the world, with a fortune in today's dollars of around 400 billion. He arrived in style, with an advanced guard of 500 slaves, a huge entourage, and 100 camels carrying gold. One Cairo official summed up his visit thus:
"This man spread upon Cairo the flood of his generosity, there was no person... who did not receive a sum of gold from him. The people of Cairo earned incalculable sums, whether by buying or selling or gifts. So much gold was current in Cairo that it ruined the value of money".     
Indeed, ten years later, the gold markets had still not recovered.

1 comment:

  1. This essay is not topical, in the sense that I am not talking about that weasel-dick rat-fuck terrorist that recently gunned down nine American citizens in Charleston. SC. Him, he should be used for medical experiments. Like a test subject for an Ebola vaccine, a malaria vaccine, an AIDS vaccine. Nothing cruel or unusual about him living a miserable life.