Freedom of Association and Counter-Parasitism
NOTE: The opinions and commentary expressed in this essay are those of the author and are an exercise of free speech. They do not necessarily represent the views of Free State Project Inc., its Directors, its Officers, or its Participants.
Freedom of Association and Counter-Parasitism
by Steve Cobb
"When bad men combine, the good must associate;
else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."
--Edmund Burke "Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontent"
Why Do Plants Make Seeds?
Why do plants make seeds? The simple answer is reproduction, but some plants reproduce without seeds, sending out runners or otherwise spreading locally. Seeds have a couple of special traits: they can survive adverse conditions for months or years, and they can travel far from the parent plant to grow elsewhere without competing with it. The parent plant uses the seed to package its genetic material for transmission across both time and space. This transmission has another important reason: it is a defensive weapon in an evolutionary arms race. Predators (such as insects and herbivores) and parasites (such as fungi and bacteria) may not be able to survive a long period without their prey, and they may not be found in the new location at all. Instead of fighting with its enemies, the plant uses a more pacifist strategy, simply running away.
People can also use this strategy. It was the strategy of choice for the Pilgrims who first came to American on the Mayflower, and it has been used by pioneers and immigrants ever since. In a more fertile and hospitable clime, free of exploitation, a peaceful and cooperative people can flourish, along with their ideas and ideals.The Prisoner's Dilemma
The Prisoner's Dilemma (PD) is the most famous game in game theory, in which two players each have two strategies: Cooperate and Defect. If they both choose to cooperate, total utility is maximized (in the given example, 15+15=30), and if they both choose to defect, total utility is minimized (5+5=10). Seemingly logically, they should choose to cooperate, but each is tempted by the opportunity to maximize his own gain by choosing Defect just in case the other chooses Cooperate, and each is afraid of the other's temptation, and so chooses Defect to minimize his own loss. The paradoxical result is that of minimal total utility, the result that nobody would want.
The paradox can be resolved by allowing the players to play multiple times, remembering the other player's past behavior. In real life, two strangers rarely enter into such an interaction knowing that they will never meet again. In a normal, stable environment one would expect to see more cooperative behavior. In an unstable environment (e.g. during war, or a natural disaster), one would expect to see more negative behavior (e.g. looting). However, more negative behavior can also result if the numbers in the PD payoff matrix are altered, e.g. by making the game asymmetrical, giving one player more temptation to defect.
Robert Axelrod's Prisoner's Dilemma Tournaments
In 1980, Robert Axelrod held a computerized Prisoner's Dilemma tournament, inviting academics from various fields (psychology, economics, political science, computer science) to submit entries. Each participant was free to program any sort of means of selecting strategies, from simple to complex, from naively altruistic to devious to consistently negative. The consistent winner was a very simple strategy called TIT-FOR-TAT. On its first encounter with another player, TFT would be nice, but on subsequent encounters it would do unto them what they did unto him. Nice players would be rewarded with cooperation, maximizing their mutual utility, while nasty players would be punished with defection, minimizing TFT's loss. Initially, the naively altruistic strategies lost to the nasties, but over time the nice-but-firm strategies capable of retaliation outperformed and isolated the nasty strategies. At a still later stage, once the nasties had been largely eliminated, the more naively nice strategies began to outperform the retaliatory strategies, which occasionally made mistakes. Of course, once a population again consists mainly of sheep, it is once again open to invasion by wolves. The circular situation resembles the game of rock-scissors-paper, with an unending cycle of nasty beats nice beats retaliatory beats nasty. In the ecosystem of the real world, for every new defense that the cooperators raise, the predators mount a new attack. Neither side ever achieves a final victory, though the balance may tip. Awareness of this on a more practical level led Thomas Jefferson to say that "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."
The Eternal Need for a Frontier
What to do when faced with predators and parasites: fight or run away? When cornered, by all means fight, but the noblest path is that of non-violence. As long as a frontier exists, an oppressed or threatened people can form a seed and blow away, to form a new society elsewhere, taking with them their cherished ideals. As long as the freedom of association is preserved, the good and the just can choose to interact with each other. The cooperators, those whose relationships are based on consent instead of coercion, can provide an example to the rest, from a safe distance.
The Free State Project
The Free State Project is just such an approach, taken by a group of people who believe that mutual consent is the foundation of human relations, who oppose the use of violence to accomplish personal or societal goals, who believe that the realm of liberty should be maximized and that of government minimized, and who believe that a society built on such principles will outshine all others in peace, justice, and prosperity. These people intend to select a state and gather there, forming a society that closely follows the ideals enshrined in the United States Constitution, using established democratic processes. All who follow these principles are welcome to join regardless of race, religion, or indeed any other trait.
February 19, 2002
The views expressed in this essay do not necessarily represent those of Free State Project, Inc., its Directors, or its Officers.