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Monday, November 7, 2011

THE PRISONER’S DILEMMA






There is a famous illustration in game theory of how moral reasoning works when someone is faced with the choice of betraying another in order to save his own skin. The idea is that if a prisoner is questioned knowing that his co-conspirators are being questioned at the same time, the knowledge that confessing will save them while dooming their confidantes influences their decision as to whether to cooperate. The chance that they will confess under these circumstances often depends on their estimate of how likely it is that the other will betray them.

They say there is no honor among thieves, but when the prisoner is certain that no one would risk the consequences of betrayal they will often refuse the deal. This is what often happens when Mafiosi are captured and questioned. It is also what happens when most members of Congress are asked whether they will support a constitutional amendment to abolish corporate personhood. Knowing that this would reveal many of their colleagues to be corporate tools when they fail to support the amendment, most will not tell the truth and admit that this is what they want.


This analogy may seem like a stretch, but in fact basically honest members of Congress are prisoners of the mentality that they must protect other members of their party in order to protect themselves. This has been made quite clear to Republican politicians for decades, as moderates were systematically purged from their ranks. As their political power has grown as a result of their craven pandering to the corporate interests, Democrats have meekly moved ever further to the Right until our government crept across the line into fascist territory.


The key then to success in getting a constitutional amendment passed is to convince members of Congress that the first to tell the truth will be rewarded while the others will meet their just fate. Of course, no one of them is going to do this alone, but what if we let those who express interest talk among themselves about whether they might want to stage a prison break that would enable us to punish all those who have chosen to work for the criminal enterprise that is corporate America?


Those of us working to make support for an amendment a campaign issue are using just this variant of the prisoner’s dilemma. We are offering liberty to those who want to free themselves from the chains of corporate dependency. When they decide to own up to their own complicity in the imposition of fascism in America, they will be free to do what needs to be done to save our nation and the planet from economic, environmental and moral destruction: Abolish corporate personhood now!

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