Anti-Citizen One has unearthed an article in the New Scientist which should be required reading for every authoritarian, target-obsessed MP and civil service wonk in the country.
Want cooperation? Rewarding the helpful can be more effective than punishing wrongdoers, a new experiment in game theory suggests.
It's the old carrot vs stick conundrum, tackled by researchers at Harvard, the top university in the world, so by no means a bunch of cranks.
As Adam Curtis's comprehensive three-part 2007 film, The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom, documented, our legislators have been adhering to game theory for many a year. This consists of statistical documentation of every aspect of our lives. Categorising, measuring, studying. And ultimately viewing us all as behaving like robots to certain stimuli. Targets will be set based on statistics, and behaviours managed like a computer model.
If we want to eradicate X, we need to do Y.
Those who advocate game theory (Tony Blair was a massive fan) concluded long ago that the stick works, but the carrot doesn't. Punishment is preferable to reward. The Harvard boffs are contesting that - and I hope someone, somewhere, is listening as the current methodology isn't fucking working.
Want to know why every aspect of public service is now target-led? Game theory. Police, NHS, education,
Ever wondered why compliance is such a big statistic bandied around once a big stick is brought out? There's your answer above. Game theory.
Harvard are floating the idea that the stick isn't such a powerful weapon after all. In fact, better results are found in the carrot.
Rand points out that such disproportionate rewards often occur when we spend time, effort and money assisting people around us: helping a friend to move furniture, for instance, or recommending a colleague for promotion. Actions like these may have a smaller cost to us than the benefit they provide others. "These sorts of productive interactions are the building blocks of our society and should not be disregarded," he says.
Hey! Lib Dems at the back! You awake? Listen up, you may learn something.
Now, I would say this, but I reckon those clever Harvard guys have a point. It's evident to anyone who doesn't look merely at computer models to predict human behaviour - which doesn't, it would seem, include our elected representatives, who pore over percentages and focus group generalisations to form their legislative bullshit.
Let's take the parliamentary expenses scandal, for example. Does anyone, for even a minute, really believe that such amounts are anything more than a gnat bite on the taxes which we all pay? Not at all. So why the massive collective anger which resulted in MPs bleating like stuck pigs?
For the simple reason that the boot was, for a few glorious weeks, on the other foot. We could kick their fucking arrogant arses into the middle of next week for a change. When the idea that one of their number might hang themselves, rather than feeling sorry for them, we just hoped it was the one we particularly disliked.
The fuck 'em mentality has materialised exclusively because of the game theory punishment they have been inflicting on us for decades. Yet despite this, they carry on. Banning, fining, dreaming up ever imaginative ways by which to bully us into theoretical submission.
Let me tell you why this blog exists at all. I was never that interested in politics. Yes, I watched the news, always voted, I knew what was going on. It didn't make a lot of difference to me though. I'd vote for who made the best case and that was my lot.
Then, about 5 years ago, it struck me that every time I had turned my radio on in the morning, for the previous fortnight, the headline on the news was "The government are restricting this", "The government are banning that", "Labour will unveil plans to criminalise the other". It was incessant.
There was never a good news item. The moment an MP opened his mouth, it was to propose restricting or penalising my life and the lives of those around me. There was a goal, but it was generally not one which was enthusiastically shared by anyone I knew. Most of it was inconsequential bollocks, things the average Joe didn't really merit worrying about.
In short, bullying.
I got angry. I looked into it more, I sent e-mails. I harassed the fuck out of my MP who replied with party-led guff. I soon found out that standing up to bullies doesn't get you very far. The problem is that I'm a stubborn bastard and I fucking hate losing so I persevered and I can't see that ever changing.
Unfortunately, those around me changed. They gave up on the political process entirely. They were (and still are) angry about how government treats them, but their response was different to mine. "They're all the same, they all lie", "What's the point in voting, it only encourages them", and the one I will never forget, "You can't fight the government".
If politicians want to know why no-one listens to them anymore, why no-one can be arsed to vote, why laws are routinely ignored, why community and respect has broken down, why the population have become introspective and selfish, they have merely, as V once said, to look in the mirror.
They frown on bullying in schools, they know it makes kids withdrawn and non-receptive to education. When a kid loses interest in school because of bullying, he/she stops going to school.
They know this yet still bully all of us, treating us exactly as children, and expect us to play along with their idea of democracy.
Some fight back. But the majority give them their ball back and go and do something else instead. Respect dies, society dies, and the stick has ever bigger problems to wield itself against.
It's about time the carrot was given an outing for a change.