Sunday, December 18, 2011

Peaceful game theory

Last night I got into a discussion on what game theory is.  Now I have been a student of theories my entire life, as I see it.  All that information got snarled up before I could say a word, so it was not easy to define game theory in a flash. However I did realize that we were playing a card game so I used that as my analogy.
Game theory is the study of strategy used to get results.  It is a plan to win a chess game, to win a hockey game, an election, war or even to get a job.  The strategy you employ (whether you know your strategy or not) is the game theory you use to obtain your goal.   Everyone uses game theory.  One of the most popular theories is fight or flight.  That has been changed to fight, freeze or flight due to the fact that some people get so nervous that they can do nothing but collapse/freeze.
When we have events such as the Jasmine Revolution, we can look to see what the theory was and map it out.  Did Mohamed Bouazizi know that his actions would spark the Jasmine Revolution, would cause a number of other events in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and the Occupy movement all over the world?  You would have to believe that he did not.  However his own personal actions had been rooted in the theory that if he set himself on fire the government would take notice and make changes to the current system.  That was his game theory and he was right.
Now this is a very simple example of game theory.  There are much more complex psychological strategies which have been studied.  Yet the currents and streams of thought on the subject all deal with plans that a person or group uses to achieve a goal.
Game theory is often studied along with the art of decision making and information gathering.  These three elements are all part of strategy.  You need the right information to make the best decision so that the correct strategy is used.
For example we can ask why a government would rather shoot its people than allow protesting.  The initial reason is to gain control of the populous.  Governments feel threatened by large mobs of protesters so that mob has to be put down.  That is one level.  The other level is the personal one where the person in charge, Prime Minister, President or General also feels that their life is in danger or their job.  This personal level hinges on dignity, power and self-image.  The leader feels that the people should be grateful for the life provided and a large protest is a slap in the face.  Also the leader sees a possibility that they will be ousted from power so that has to be fought.  Next there is the image that no one else has the right to hold the position that the leader now holds, it is theirs and the mob is trying to steal it.
How leaders deal with these perceptions is where game theory comes in.  They must ask themselves, what is the best method to end the protest, to retain power and to regain the admiration of the people.  Shooting them is a popular choice because it does work, for a time.  Shooting and killing is the theory employed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Burma, Columbia, Libya, DRC and the list goes on.
For peaceful examples we have Poland Solidarity Movement 1980, Czechoslovakia Velvet Revolution 1989 which lead to the peaceful 1993 seperation of the Czech Rebublic and Slovakia, and the Ukraine Orange Revolution 2004.  Each has taken place in the last few decades.  We can go further back for examples of peaceful revolutions yet these are perfect enough.  As you can see the use of peace as a strategy is a successful game theory and it often results in a stronger country.  Of the peaceful examples Ukraine had a number of setbacks, yet the initial game theory of peaceful demonstration worked. 
That is a quick summation of game theory.  My theory in the game of understanding is that by using such broad examples it is easily understood. 

Just as I was writing this I have learned that Vaclav Havel has died this morning.  He was the person put up as the leader for the Velvet Revolution. Rest in peace my friend you did a great job, we need more like you. 

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