Game Theory: Twit For Tat

Like grasping a life preserver for dear life, the notion that faithless electors will vote for an alt-president has taken on its short life. Short, because the vote will come soon, and all but one elector will vote as expected. Can they ignore the votes of the people who elected them to be electors? Some can. Some can’t, bound by the law of their state to vote for the person they were elected to vote for.

Is it legally wrong to be a “faithless elector” in those states where the electors are not bound by law? Not at all. That’s part of the point of the electoral college, to put the decision into the hands of people who will protect the groundlings from themselves and the demagogues who would take advantage of their ignorance and foolishness. But it’s not going to happen. The discussion is purely academic. Donald Trump will be the next president.

What is not academic, however, is otherwise smart and intelligent people whipped into a frenzy of hate and fear to the extent of saying, and publicly expressing, some seriously crazy shit.  A twit by now-ex-Politico-soon-to-be-Atlantic journalist Julia Ioffe:

This impetus for this twit was about as insignificant as it gets, had it come from anyone less dreaded. It was rumored that Ivanka Trump will get office space in the East Wing of the White House, where the First Lady (and, eventually, the First Gentleman, one presumes) gets to hang. A Trump spokesperson has denied the rumors, saying no such decision has been made.

Regardless, so what? It would not be nepotism. It would not be unlawful. It would not be inappropriate in any way. It’s just that it’s Trump, and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that is either done or rumored which won’t be seized upon with hysteria and hyperbole.

Ioffe’s twit has two obvious faults. The first is substantive, that the rumor suggests nepotistic wrongdoing. As if there aren’t enough real issues to address that manufacturing phony problems is necessary. But the far worse fault is her vulgar, probably snarky (it’s hard to tell these days, Poe’s Law and all), inclusion of presidential incest.

Had this come from some random pimple person, no one would have noticed. Ioffe, however, was not an egg girl, but a respected journalist with almost 80,000 followers on the twitters. At first, she defended her twit. She later deleted it and apologized for the crassness of her “joke.”

But that had no bearing on other progressive journalists, academics and fellow travelers coming to Ioffe’s defense. The reaction employed “tit for tat,” always a favorite on the playground of elementary schools everywhere, and a staple of game theory. In its simplest form, it’s “you did X,” met with, “well, you did Y.” In this instance, it’s the litany of awful things Trump is/said/did/twitted versus Ioffe’s one crass and ignorant twit.

In game theory, the “tit for tat” tactic proved a surprisingly successful maneuver, with the caveat that it was combined with cooperation.

An agent using this strategy will first cooperate, then subsequently replicate an opponent’s previous action. If the opponent had been cooperative, the agent is cooperative; if not, the agent is not.

This presumes an equivalency between the players, and a willingness to cooperate to achieve a mutually beneficial goal. Playing out the Prisoner’s Dilemma, this is fine. But that’s when it’s used tactically, to make agreement more advantageous than disagreement. When it’s used for catharsis, it’s just third-graders fighting on the playground.

Playing out the Trump election, however, tit for tat doesn’t work. One was elected president, for better or worse. The other was not, and purports to be an objective reporter of information.  It’s not that Ioffe’s twit will harm the president-elect. It is, in the scheme of things, less significant than a gnat bite, but with a shorter life span.

As for Ioffe, the impact will be greater, both in making her a hero of the great cause to the progressive Choir, and undermining her credibility to others. The Choir not only believes it’s the majority of America,* but is certain of its righteousness. Its beliefs will not be shaken, and so too its support for Ioffe. The more harsh the cries, the stronger their belief. Dunning-Kruger, anyone?

Long before Trump was more than a third-tier reality show host, efforts to rationalize impropriety under the “tit for tat” game theory were met with scorn here.  The usual response was, “just because the other guy is ugly doesn’t mean you aren’t ugly too.” The point, of course, is that the propriety of thought or conduct stands on its own, it being no more right or wrong just because someone else was similarly right or wrong.

Julia Ioffe was wrong. Those who attempt to rationalize away her wrongfulness by throwing Trump’s words back do not make Ioffe any less wrong. This is true regardless of how strongly their confirmation bias compels them to believe that Trump is the most horrible president-elect ever. He may well be, although having lived through Nixon and Reagan, it’s not as simple a choice as some might believe.

For the Choir, the angst may seem smart, even real. After all, these are smart and well-intended people of some credibility, and they agree. Everyone knows brilliant people agree with you. But aside from a small cadre of very aggressive progressives on social media, the noise to signal ratio is off the charts. Obviously, Trump supporters aren’t swayed by vapid cries, but more importantly, no one outside of adherents to the religion is buying.

This presents a disturbing problem. If the worst fears of the incoming administration occur, there will be serious battles to be fought,** not such trivia as whether Ivanka gets an office in the East Wing. The only weapon the opposition has is credibility and reason. If it squanders all its ammo on venting over crap, it will be unarmed when the real battles need to be fought.

But you’re in pain? But Trump is evil? Then don’t blow your wad on silly twits over non-existent problems, or lengthy treatises on how the electoral college could save America. If no one outside the Choir finds you credible or rational, then you are shooting blanks. And if you’re shooting blanks, you lose the game.

*Not to suggest this is worthy of discussion, but the argument is that because Clinton won the popular vote, she is the “legitimate” winner and Trump stole the electoral college. It’s a dubious argument, in that Clinton’s popular vote victory would be eliminated without California, leaving Trump the popular vote winner for the rest of the nation. But that too is irrelevant, as both candidates’ strategy was to win the electoral college, knowing that’s how our system functions, rather than win the popular vote, thus dedicating their time and resources to that end.

**Contrary to transitory mythology, there are battles to be fought with every administration, as there always have been. Even if the Trump administration turns out not to be the worst ever, there will still be battles to be fought. Just as there were with the current administration and every one of its predecessors.


13 thoughts on “Game Theory: Twit For Tat

  1. Mr. Median

    The Fourth Estate, benign defender of the public from information and nuance. And always kept on such a short leash …
    “The girl with the greyhound was an assistant lighting director for a musical comedy about American history, and she kept her poor greyhound, who was named Lancer, in a one-room apartment fourteen feet wide and twenty-six feet long, and six flights of stairs above the street level. His entire life was devoted to unloading his excrement at the proper time and place. There were two proper places to put it: in the gutter outside the door seventy-two steps below, with the traffic whizzing by, or in a roasting pan, his mistress kept in front of the Westinghouse refrigerator.

    Lancer had a very small brain, but he must have suspected from time to time, just as Wayne Hoobler did, that some kind of terrible mistake had been made.”

    Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

  2. John Barleycorn

    As usually you are glossing over the back story…

    Did you know Julia was born in Russia esteemed one? That’s no shit.

    You should have probably known that seeing as how customs made a note of all the contents of your luggage when you returned from Finland. Including those underground Russian global media personality parody porn mags that come with the “duty free” cases of vodka that you can only get behind the laundrymats in Helsinki.

    But what you probably didnt know is that when Putin was all KGB he personally programmed Julia in the maternity ward to be a double agent because he one day wanted to place Julia in a position where her future Twits (Putin knew twits were comming too) would be the basis for some hilarious future dinner party chit chat during his first state visit to Trump’s White House.

    This topic of dinner party chit chat will of course, position him perfectly for the ultimate goal of a Russian leader. That of course being the first head of state from Russia to fuck the first lady of a’Merica.

    All has worked out perfectly thus far. Hacking the email accounts wasn’t even necessary but seeing as how Putin used to use “teen” porn from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia back when he was in the KGB to get western agents to flip and seeing as how Melania came of age in the late 1980’s (the epic height of Yugoslavian porn) why take any chances with the sweetness only irony can deliver especially if you can literally stick your nose amongst other things in it

    And the rest my friend is soon to be history. So you best write that letter to Pence about your cool watches because if you don’t you won’t be on the list for the state dinner when it all goes down. I plan to be there but if you want to say hello wait till Ivanka is out of sight. When shecis not making the rounds her and I will be up in the Lincoln Bedroom.

    Make sure you knock first because every now and then we take a break from the stress of orchastrating our world conquest plans and fuck like Russians.

    Donald don’t care because he has thought from the get go that he is in on our plans and she never calls me Daddy*.

    See you there…

    *I know you are wondering. Ginsburg is our safe word, works everytime.

  3. Nick Lidakis

    “If it squanders all its ammo on venting over crap, it will be unarmed when the real battles need to be fought”

    So they’ve switched tactics from the last 8 years. Oh, wait. They didn’t.

    They went from bitter clingers to daughter fuckers *but* Trump (much as I dislike him) has to “heal the Nation”.

    Got it. Thanks Media!

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