Thursday, June 04, 2015

Cheaters vs. Cooperators

In yet another article, this time on amoebas, a balance between cooperators and cheaters has been discovered. The same patterns continue to emerge, whether you are talking about amoebas or human beings, in the balance between cheaters and cooperators. In a cooperative regime, cheaters benefit; but if cheaters dominated, the system would collapse, and they would lose their advantage. Therefore, the cooperative system must be maintained if the cheaters are to survive. An evolutionary equilibrium therefore evolves between the cooperative who work to ensure the survival of themselves through the survival of everyone else and the cheaters who work to ensure the survival of themselves at the expense of anyone else.

It would seem, though, that the cheaters would be shown the door by the cooperators. That would ensure improved survival of the cooperators both individually and as a group. And we do in fact see the emergence of punishment of cheaters as a way of reducing cheater activities. Ironically, this may in fact create the conditions for the continued existence of cheaters, since the cheaters only benefit in a cooperative regime. Thus, the equilibrium is maintained.

What would be the best way for cheaters to get away with cheating? By pretending to be cooperators when you are in fact a cheater. Deception becomes a great benefit for your own survival. Perhaps you could even convince everyone else that you are the most cooperative when you are in fact cheating. Such tactics could of course not evolve until and unless you had a high degree of intelligence. More, it might even contribute to the emergence of higher intelligence. Thus, the equilibrium is maintained between cheaters and cooperators.

The key to understanding what a cheater is is to understand that a cheater is benefiting himself at the expense of others. An entrepreneur in the marketplace is thus not a cheater, because he is benefiting himself by benefiting others. It may not be empathetic cooperation, but it's a mutually beneficial form of cooperation that benefits the group all the same. A cheater would be one who tried to benefit from their interaction without contributing anything to it -- perhaps even by making the parties less well off. Robbing either party -- or both -- is of course a choice. It's definitely a form of cheating. Another way would be to figure out how to extract payment from the two parties for engaging in their transaction. If I am a gang member doing this, we call it a protection racket. If I am a government doing this, we call it a sales tax or VAT. The difference is whether or not we recognize the legitimacy of the demands of the person in question. The action is, all the same, a form of cheating, as it is an extraction of benefit from the cooperators without having to cooperate.
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