Why People Can’t Be Trusted

Media, The Arts


For your delectation we present the billionaire Charles Koch, a key financier of the Heartland Institute, which apparently works to undermine the established science on climate change.

The institute has built a reputation over the years for providing a forum for climate change deniers. It hosts lavish conferences of climate science doubters at expensive hotels in New York and Washington DC. The institute also spent $100,000 on commissioning an alternative curriculum for schoolchildren that casts doubt on global warming. Mr Koch is clearly everything one fears and suspects about human beings.

This is nothing new at all. Watching Adam Curtis’s three-part series ‘The Trap’, made in 1995, is a sobering and weirdly prescient experience. In it, Curtis points out that the way the West treats Islamic countries will lead to a massive terrorist attack in the near future. But the main thrust of his argument is that we’ve been taught to believe that men like Mr Koch will always exist, and it is best to distrust them.

The mathematician John Nash (whose story was given a rosier tint in ‘A Beautiful Mind’) created a paradoxical test in ‘The Prisoner’s Dilemma’ which proved it was better to trust no-one than to trust everyone or even anyone. Except that when his theories were tested on secretaries at the Rand Corporation, they did the exact opposite because the natural human instinct (back then) was to automatically trust.

Ultimately it was necessary to create a climate of fear. These documentaries, all of which can be found online, or better yet purchased as sets in the US, are filled with eureka-moments that can pretty much account for where we are today. Naturally, Curtis has created a legion of Curtis-deniers. The important thing is that he provides substantial room for argument. I especially like the last line on this extract.

2 comments on “Why People Can’t Be Trusted”

  1. Helen Martin says:

    When you can remember most of the material cited it’s difficult not to go along with the whole argument even though you’re using very weak logic. I liked the ending, too. I remember Roy Jenkins and he is one of the reasons that I’m not entirely opposed to elites. They’d have to be elites that agreed with me, of course.

  2. larryy says:

    Always defect is indeed the only Nash equilibrium in a standard, one-shot prisoner’s dilemma problem, and defines the “rational” player’s response. However, both the iterated prisoner’s dilemma (IPD), in which experience is taken into account over multiple games, and Hofstadter’s “superrational” response, in which each player assumes the other player is as logical as she and will make the same choice, lead to more human (and humane) optimal strategies. An optimal strategy for IPD is basically tit-for-tat — do what the other player just did — and the only questions remaining are about the initial play and the value of the occasional, infrequent defection (and then only in the face of a potentially erratic opponent). Superrationality differs even more dramatically from so-called rational behavior, in that if one assumes the other player can think every bit as logically as one’s self and reach the same conclusions about what to play, then even in a one-off PD game it pays to cooperate (this is optimum if both players are guaranteed to do the same thing).

    Sadly, that doesn’t mean that in a climate of fear and paranoia people won’t play (or vote) against their own best interests. So the agenda of Murdoch and Ailes and their ilk has worked very well, getting the poorest of the poor to hand over yet more money and power to the very richest, in the name of fear of elites and the great “Other” — a smart, black President. Sigh.

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