My Commitment to Peace

Paper presented at the American Orthopsychiatric Association 43rd Annual Meeting, April 13-16, 1966, San Francisco, Symposium on “Commitment to Peace: Evolvement of Involvement.”

I was born in a small town in the Ukraine. Although I was only 14 three years old in 1941, my recollections of that time are vivid. Out­standing among them is my father’s disappearance. I was taught to say that “papa was at the front,” but actually he was living illegally in the Caucasus, avoiding the draft. (The czarist government was slow in ex­tending general mobilization to areas inhabited by minorities who had cultural ties with Turkey.) Mother and I (an only child) moved in with my grandparents. The eldest son of that family was a prisoner of war in Austria. Grandmother sent a package of cookies every month and shed Jewish tears over the monthly post card from the plien (captivity).

Once I made a cannon from chairs and broomsticks and fired a shell toward the west, where I was told the war was. The shell was to end the war, I said; but it would take two years to reach the front. Once some one rushed in with a newspaper announcing the death of Emperor Franz Joseph. I asked grandpa whether that meant that the war was over, but grandpa only laughed.

Life, as I recall it then, was waiting for the war to end, and for papa and uncle Misha to come home.

I learned about the February Revolution from the country girl who helped in the kitchen. I had come to her to complain against grandpa after a collision of wills. “Tell grandpa he can’t pick on you any more,” she said. “Everybody has got svoboda now.”

I did not know what svoboda meant (it means liberty) and went to ask grandpa whether the war was over. He laughed again (he was easily moved to laughter); but then he started to explain that the czar was no longer czar, until grandma put a stop to the political discussion.

Nothing was said about the war ending, but other topics gradually dis­placed it from conversation. My father came home and was soon immersed in local politics. On the First of May, 1917, mother helped me dress in my best, pinned a red ribbon on my embroidered shirt, and said we were going to a “meeting.”

“If any one asks you what you are,” mother said, “say ‘I am a Social-Democrat Bolshevik.'”

Naturally I did not wait to be asked, and announced my political af­filiation to every one, attracting attention and eliciting laughter from adults. But my friends on the block did not laugh. Some responded with enthusiasm and some with derision. I soon learned that there were also Social-Democrat Mensheviks, the Social Revolutionaries (who were also called the S.R.’s) and Cadets, and many other kinds of people, some very good, some pretty good, some bad, and some awful. We, the Social-Democrat Bolsheviks were the best, because we were the only ones who said “Down with war!”

The meeting was a large open air rally. When mother lifted me I could see the “tribune” bedecked with red cloth and the orator shouting on top of it. Father was among the orators. The speeches alternated with a brass band, and I could recognize the tunes, which I had learned to strum on the piano – the Marseillaise and the Funeral March. The latter was in memory of the 1905 victims. I knew about 1905. Another uncle of mine had a crippled hand, the result of beatings. At intervals people shouted hurrah, and so did I from my mother’s shoulder: “Long live the First of May! Down with war!”

The only thing I remember about the October Revolution was the ortho­graphy reform, which I heartily endorsed. In the winter we moved to the Crimea to escape the Germans, but the Germans occupied the Crimea, too. The summer of 1918 under German occupation was quiet and devoid of politics.

In the late fall the Germans vanished, and we went back to our home town only to be caught in the vicious civil war. Father was the mayor of our town. He organized a short-lived Committee for Self-Defense, a militia entrusted with protecting the civilian population from the marauding bands who went in to rape and loot when the “major” armies retreated. Father was no longer a Bolshevik. He had broken away (as I learned later) during the Red Terror of 1918, following the attempt on Lenin’s life. The Committee was to hold power only in the interim periods when the town changed hands, and was to surrender to any “responsible authority.” It thus declared itself “neutral” in the civil war. However, Petlura, the Ukranian nationalist, took a dim view of the “Jewish” committee, and father had to flee for his life.

The last year of the civil war found us reunited in Crimea, which had become the last stronghold of the White Guard. We were again living quietly and apolitically, waiting for the Bolsheviks to come; for their coming would mean the end of the civil war.

The Red Army came in November, 1920. At that time the three of us lived in a large single room. Five Red Army men were billeted with us. They were Siberian Tartars. Their behavior was meticulously correct. They shared their rations with us and were constantly apologizing for their presence. Soon we became friends, and there were lively and uninhibited discussions about the future of Russia and of mankind. I recall also that the Red Army men played the piano, using only the black keys. (Apparently their music was based on the pentatonic scale.)

Our guests did not stay long. Their partisan division was replaced by a regular one from central Russia, and the atmosphere changed abruptly. In particular, several thousand White Guard officers (who could not escape to Turkey and had donned civilian clothes) were rounded up and shot in mass ex­ecutions. Food disappeared. Carloads of wheat, barley, and potatoes went to central Russia to relieve the starvation there. The Revolutionary Committee announced that Crimea had to pay for having been the last “nest” of the counter­revolutionaries.

Father went to work for the city board of education. We lived on the pound and a quarter of bread per day which was his only salary. There were occasional supplements, such as four potatoes, one egg, one hundred grams of salt fish, etc. Eventually living became unbearable. When pressure was put on father to join the Party (in the form of a congratulatory announcement that he was ac­cepted as a “candidate” as a reward for “outstanding work on the pedagogical front”), he yielded to mother’s entreaties to attempt an escape. The escape plan, designed by mother, was elaborate and dangerous, but it succeeded; so that after sixteen months of flight and hiding, we finally came to Chicago, where we joined father’s family, who had emigrated before 1905.

I relate these matters in order to reveal the background of my early attitudes toward war, revolution, communism, and violence. These attitudes were ambivalent in the extreme. On the one hand, communism became associated in my mind with the primitive and romantic ideals of social justice. I identi­fied the ideals with those of the prophets, about whom father used to tell me, and those of Jesus Christ about whom I read in Tolstoy’s adaptation of the New Testament for children. I still thought of the communist revolution as a revolt of the hurt and the oppressed against the callous and the powerful, a revolt which was supposed to have established universal brotherhood and peace. On the other hand, the communists turned out to be ruthless, cynical, and cruel. They shot people on the slightest provocation. They shot several good people we knew. They insisted that whoever was not with them was against them. In their eyes father was a deserter.

It was very difficult to live with this ambivalence. I was eleven years old when we came to the United States. In school, a teacher suggested that I write a piece for the school yearbook on “How and Why I Came to America.” My English was still weak, so I was to tell the teacher what happened, and the teacher would help me write the story. These sessions caused me considerable embarrassment. The teacher kept pushing so as to make it appear that we had lived a happy, carefree life, which the revolution disrupted; that we were forced to flee from the murderous, godless Bolsheviks, and that we now wanted only to forget all about the “Old Country” and to become good Americans. I felt it was not quite so; but, of course, I could not explain it to the teacher. I found particularly offensive her insistence that I say something about being at last free to worship God. I told her that we never worshiped God anyway, but there was no way of getting through to her. At home I was told to let the teacher have her way. So, she wrote my story, and I felt humiliated when the principal of the school singled it out for special praise.

No less painful was the cultural barrier which separated me from my playmates. They worshiped Jack Dempsey; I insisted that fighting was for hooligans. My hero was Chaliapin. They said the United States never lost a war; I said no country ever won a war. In 1922 the boys still talked about becoming millionaires. I said John D. Rockefeller was a greedy old man. They played baseball; I played the piano. They were “regular;” I was a sissy.

In my teens, I joined the Y.P.S.L., campaigned for Norman Thomas, and debated amid cheers and jeers in teen-club basements against my opposite numbers in the Young Workers’ Communist League. It became impossible for me, however, to hang on to the faith in parliamentary democracy and pacifism in the Age of Hitler. The need to hate was overwhelming, and fascism was an ideal target.

For a while, the Popular Fronts, the Spanish Civil War, and Litvinov’s eloquence offered some hope that the split of the Left could be healed, and that a unified resistance could be organized against militant fascism. Stalin’s blood purges and his pact with Hitler made a mockery of that hope. The hope was re-kindled in 1941 and burned brightly in 1945, only to be extinguished by the Cold War and by the last spasms of Stalinist obscurantism.

What specifically was this hope, which I and so many of my generation have tried to keep alive? It clearly was a hope that revolutionary practice could somehow be brought into harmony with revolutionary ideals. To this day I do not know whether there was ever any justification for cherishing such a hope. We have had a sequence of chilling historical lessons on how revolutionary regimes degenerate into paranoia-ridden tyrannies. The clearest revolutionary gains have all been negative gains, embodied in the destruction of flagrant evils. The French Revolution destroyed forever the privileges of hereditary aristo­cracy. The Russian Revolution eradicated landlordism; and soon we shall see the last vestiges of that system rooted out, mainly by revolutions, everywhere in the world. The positive gains of revolutions, on the other hand, are not so easy to discern, because we do not yet know what sort of viable societies our age will spawn. If Stalinism had become entrenched as a new, virulent, and stable autocracy (as had been prophesied by Orwell), the net gain of the Russian Revolution might have been zero. If the post-war trends of American society continue, the “pursuit of happiness” ideal of our Founding Fathers will turn into a lewd farce. Indeed, the entire scientific revolution, which supposedly ushered in the manhood of humanity, will be revealed as a prelude to utter degradation of our species, unless some way is found to curb the high priests of the cult of genocide.

Now, I believe I have stated the content of my concern and have attempt­ed to trace its roots. I believe, as probably many in this audience do, that one’s ethos, that is, one’s deep-seated standards of right and wrong, on the basis of which one judges men, life, and events, derives to a large extent from childhood experience. I would not go so far as some in attributing a determin­ing role to these experiences. Rather, I believe the childhood experiences serve as an impetus which sensitizes the developing individual to certain kinds of subsequent experiences. If the reinforcements are predominantly in one direction, a firm world view is likely to emerge.

My earliest impressions of war, as it affected me and the people close to me, led me to believe that wars were instigated and conducted by people with whom we had nothing to do and to whom we owed no loyalty, people whose main attributes were greed, arrogance, and pugnacity. Needless to say, I do not subscribe to this primitive personalistic view any more; but the fact remains that the attitude engendered by it has remained. One does not get rid of deeply entrenched attitudes by absorbing information, nor by acquir­ing a more sophisticated view of history.

Similarly, my earliest gut feeling about revolutions has remained with me. Whatever I now know about the dynamics of revolutions, the early belief that revolutions are primarily attempts to establish social justice (and not, say, simply conspiracies to seize power) is at the base of my conception of revolution. Therefore, I constantly tend to feel that the gravest crimes against humanity are performed by those who cling to the privileges and power against which the revolutions are directed, and also by those who mis­use revolutions and become the heirs of defunct tyrannies. I have lived in an era when these feelings, engendered in my childhood, were strongly reinforced by events and so gelled into a firm world view.

At present, I find myself a citizen of a super-power, which has embarked upon a career of international mischief, judging not only from the perspective which I have described, but also according to the explicit definition of international crime in the United Nations Charter. By both words and deeds, we have proclaimed war to be the principle instrument of our foreign policy, and the suppression of revolutions its principle aim.

All this is happening at a time when the revolutionary ideas of our century are beginning to mature. Communist orthodoxy has been shattered. A number of regimes have arisen in which communist programs have been tempered with a predominantly Western cultural outlook. In Russia, the age-old longing for cultural acceptance by the West became a force which has finally challenged the xenophobic fixations of the bureaucracy. The present United States foreign policy seems to have been specifically designed to smother all these beginnings, and to prove once and for all the correct­ness of the primitive communist dogma: bourgeois democracy is a sham; no ruling class will ever willingly give up its privileges; co-existence is impossible; deviation is treason; neutrality is immoral. The two views of the world which come closest to each other in our day seem to be those of the United States and of Communist China.

If I could achieve detachment, I could console myself with the knowledge that this, too, will pass, and that the Pentagon will eventually, possibly quite soon, share the ignominious fate of all the previous foci of naked power. But I cannot achieve detachment. I do not have much hope for the human race, since I do not believe we can develop an adaptation (quickly enough) to our cultural secretions. But I cannot resign from the species. I have children, and I do not want them to writhe in agony or to turn into automata or to repeat the atrocious lies amid which they live. Therefore, I am engaged in a struggle, which I often feel to be a hopeless one, but which I have no choice but to wage.

Ann Arbor, Michigan

The University of Michigan

February 15, 1966

Prisoner’s Dilemma

Acting on a tip, the police searched the apartments of two men and found several of the articles reported stolen. This was enough evidence to convict the men of possession of stolen goods but not enough to convict them of burglary unless one or both confessed. The men were arrested and put in separate cells. They could not communicate with each other.

Wanting to get a confession, the prosecutor resorted to a stratagem. He said to each of the prisoners separately:

“The penalty for possession of stolen goods is one year in prison, for burglary five years. I don’t have enough evidence to convict you of burglary unless I get a confession. If you both confess, your sentence will be reduced from five to three years. If you don’t confess but your partner does, your partner will not be prosecuted at all. You, however, will be given the full five years on the strength of his confession. If neither of you confesses, then you will go to prison anyway for a year, the penalty for possessing stolen goods. Think it over.

Each prisoner thinks of the situation and reasons as follows: “I don’t know whether my partner will confess or not, but I can anticipate what will happen in case he does or in case he does not. If he confesses and I don’t, he goes free while I go to prison for five years. So clearly, if he confesses, I should also confess, since in that case, I get only three years. Suppose now he doesn’t confess. Then if I don’t confess, I go to prison for one year. But if I confess, I go free. So if he doesn’t confess, I am better off confessing. So it is to my advantage to confess whether he confesses or not. Therefore I shall confess.”

The other prisoner, being in the same situation, reasons the same way and comes to the same conclusion. So they both confess and both get convicted of burglary and go to prison for three years. Had they not confessed, they would have been convicted only for possessing stolen goods and would have gone to prison for only one year. We see that although it was clearly in the interest of each of them to confess, it was nevertheless in the interest of both not to confess.

An individual is said to be rational if he takes into account the consequences of his actions and acts so as to assure consequences that are best for himself under the circumstances. In confessing, each of the prisoners was apparently rational, because the anticipated consequences of confessing seemed to be better than those of not confessing. They were individually rational. Nevertheless they were collectively not rational, because for both of them the consequences of confessing were worse than the consequences of not confessing would have been.

What does it take to act in a collectively rational manner? Let us see what would happen if the prisoners could have a talk. Then they could make an agreement – not to confess. This agreement would be to the advantage of both of them, because refusing to confess would result in a one year sentence, while if both confessed, they would both get three years. So let us suppose they made the agreement which would benefit both of them. However, the agreement does not necessarily resolve the dilemma. It only shifts it to another level: “Shall I keep the agreement or break it?” Each thinks:

“Will he or won’t he keep the agreement? If he keeps it and refuses to confess, I would go scot free if I broke the agreement and confessed. If he breaks the agreement, I would be a fool to keep it, for if I kept it while he broke it, I would get the most severe sentence. So it is to my advantage to break the agreement.”

The other’s situation is the same, and he comes to the same conclusion. So what was the point of concluding the agreement in the first place?

There is one way the prisoners can escape from the dilemma, namely, by being trustworthy and trusting. Being trustworthy means keeping the agreement once it has been made. If both are trustworthy, they keep the agreement, which benefits both of them. Being trusting means assuming that the other will keep the agreement. We have seen that trust is as necessary as trustworthiness. For even if each is trustworthy (will not break the agreement to derive benefit from breaking it) but does not trust the other, i.e., does not believe that the other is trustworthy, then each will feel that he should break the agreement “in self defence,” as it were, since to keep it while the other breaks it is to be stuck with the most severe sentence.

If both men are both trustworthy and trusting, there is no need for an explicit agreement in the first place. For if each trusts the other, each can be convinced that they will both do what is best for both of them. And if each is trustworthy, then neither will take advantage of the other’s trust to gain at the expense of the other.

Situations in which two or more persons must make choices among alternatives and then face the consequences of these choices are called games. So-called games of strategy are clearly games of this sort. In chess, for example, players alternately choose among a number of possible moves. As a result of all these choices, one or the other player wins or else the game is a draw. In card games, players choose the card they are going to play next or the bid they are going to make in the light of bids already made or whatever. The outcome again depends on the choices made by the players. Associated with each outcome are payoffs, represented as numbers – positive (winnings) or negative (losses). In games of strategy played by two persons, the winnings of one are usually exactly balanced by the losses of the other. Thus the sum of the payoffs in every outcome is zero. For this reason, such games are called zerosum games. Some situations, of which we will speak below, are best represented by non-zerosum games, i.e., games in which the sum of the payoffs in the various outcomes are not necessarily equal. An example of such a game is shown in Figure 1.

In this game, each of the players makes only one choice. One of them chooses between the upper and lower horizontal rows, labeled C1 and D1 respectively. This player will be called Row. The other player, called Column, without knowing how Row has chosen, chooses either of the vertical columns, C2 or D2. Each pair of choices determines one of the four boxes. The two numbers in each box are the payoffs, the first one to Row, the second to Column. For instance, if the players choose C1 and C2 respectively, each wins 1 unit. If Row chooses C1 while Column chooses D2, Row loses 10 units (gets —10), while Column wins 10 units. If both choose D, both lose one unit.

In zerosum games, where whatever one player wins, the other must lose, the interests of the players are diametrically opposed. In non-zerosum games like the one represented in Figure 1, this is not necessarily the case. For instance, both players prefer C1C2 to D1D2.

Observe, however, that Row likes D1 better than C1 regardless of how Column chooses, since if Column chooses C1, Row gets 10 by choosing D1 but only 1 by choosing C1, whereas if Column chooses D2, Row gets -1 by choosing D1 but -10 by choosing C1.

We see that this game has exactly the same structure, i.e., leads to the same sort of reasoning as Prisoner’s Dilemma. For this reason, all games with this structure are called Prisoner’s Dilemma in honour of the original anecdote, suggested by A.W. Tucker, to illustrate this structure. The choice C in Prisoner’s Dilemma stands for “cooperation” (choosing to promote a common interest). The choice D stands for “defection” (withdrawal of cooperation).

Many real life situations in interpersonal relations, in business, and in international relations resemble Prisoner’s Dilemma. Of course, Prisoner’s Dilemma, which requires each player to make only one choice, is a drastic simplification of even the simplest real life situation. But it contains the main ingredient of this type of situation and is for that reason instructive.

Competition for Markets

Castor and Pollux are two firms selling the same product. Each wants as big a share of the market as it can get. It can gain a competitive advantage by underselling the other firm. Reducing the situation to bare essentials, we suppose that each firm chooses between just two alternatives: selling the product at a low price or at a high price. If both sell at a high price, both make a profit of $1,000,000. If both sell at a low price, both suffer a loss of $1,000,000. If Castor sells at a low price, while Pollux sells at a high price, Castor captures the market and eventually makes $10,000, while Pollux, driven out of the market, goes bankrupt and loses $10,000,000. The result is reversed if Pollux undersells Castor. Taking $1,000,000 as our unit of payoff, we see that Figure 1 reflects these payoffs. Thus, the situation is an instance of Prisoner’s Dilemma. If both pursue their individual interests, both lose. If they pursue their common interest, both win.

The Arms Race

The superpowers have a choice of stopping their arms race or of continuing it. If they come to an agreement to stop it and keep the agreement, both are better off. If they continue the arms race, both are worse off. If one continues to arm, while the other does not (or disarms), the first superpower gains military superiority, which supposedly enables it to intimidate the weaker adversary. Again, as in the other versions of Prisoner’s Dilemma, it seems to be in the individual interest of each “player” to do one thing (here to continue arming) although it is in the interest of both to stop the arms race.

In all versions of Prisoner’s Dilemma, the resolution of the dilemma can be achieved if the two make an agreement to cooperate (sell at a high price, stop the arms race), resist the temptation to violate the agreement, and, above all, trust the other not to violate it. Unfortunately, in situations of keen competition and especially in international relations dominated by a struggle for power, trusting a competitor, a rival, or an adversary is regarded as a mark of “idealism,” which supposedly can be indulged in in a “perfect” world but not in a world of hard “realities.” We have seen, however, what happens in situations in which each participant is a “hard-headed realist,” acting so as to safeguard his individual interest. Both lose.

Iterated Games

So far we have considered only games in which each player makes just one choice. Real life situations, like real games, usually involve sequences of choices. We will introduce sequential choices by having Prisoner’s Dilemma played many times in succession. Each time, each player will choose between two alternatives, C or D. The outcome of these choices will be announced. The players will then go on to make the next choice, and so on.

This iterated game can still be represented by a game in which each player makes just one choice, but now the number of alternatives is much larger. It is, in fact, enormous, but we will consider only a few of these alternatives.

The alternatives in an iterated game are called strategies. A strategy is essentially a plan of action which specifies what a player will do on each of the successive plays. His choices on successive plays will in general depend on what has happened up to the play in question. The following statement represents a choice of strategy:

“I will begin with C. On any particular play I will look back on the choices of my co-player up to that play. If he has chosen C at least one third of the time up to that play, then I will choose C; otherwise D.”

Another strategy might be:

“I will start by choosing D and will continue to play D as long as the co-player plays D. As soon as he plays C, however, I will play C on the next five plays (unless the game ends) and thereafter revert to D, repeating the pattern as long as the game lasts.”

Some strategies may involve the use of a random device such as a tossed coin or a rolled die. For instance:

“After every play, I will roll a die. If the co-player has played C on the preceding play, then I will play C if the die shows ‘1’ or ‘8’; otherwise D. If the co-player has played D, I will play C only if the die shows ‘6’. However, whatever happens on the first 99 plays I will play D on the 100th, thereafter repeating the pattern.”

As one can see, strategies can be quite complex. They can also be quite simple, for instance: “I will always play C,” or “I will always play D,” or “I will alternate between C and D.” In these strategies, the player’s choices are independent of the co-player’s.

If each player chooses a strategy, the course of the iterated game is completely determined. In fact, these strategies can be written as computer programmes, and two computers so programmed can play the iterated game. The result of such an iteration will be a cumulated payoff to each player (or programme). An interesting question now arises: what is a good programme for playing an iterated Prisoner’s Dielmma? The quality of the programme can be naturally evaluated by the scores it achieves when paired with other programmes.

In 1979, Robert Axelrod, a professor of political science at the University of Michigan arranged a contest. Interested persons were invited to submit programmes for playing iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma 200 times. Each programme submitted would be paired with every other, including itself. The cumulated payoffs of each such encounter would be added, and the programme achieving the largest total payoff would be declared the winner of the contest.

Fourteen programmes were submitted in that contest. Some were quite complicated.

It is clear that the way to get a higher score than the co-player in iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma is to play more D’s than he. This is because only when one plays D, while the co-player plays C, does one get a bigger payoff on that play, Apparently, several of the contestants tried to design strategies which would be likely to produce more D’s when coupled with other strategies. In fact, a strategy consisting only of D’s would be sure to play at least as many D’s as any other, in general more. However, if most strategies were of this sort, they would all get low scores when matched against each other, because they would produce many D D outcomes, in which the payoffs are low. So it seems advisable to design a strategy that somehow would entice the co-player to play C and then take advantage of it by playing D. The complexities of many of the strategies submitted to this contest could probably be traced to attempts to design stratagems (strategies based on clever ploys).

The strategy that won the contest was the simplest of those submitted. It started with C and thereafter imitated the co-player: whenever the co-player played C, it played C on the next play; otherwise D. In the round robin tournament in which every submitted strategy was matched with every other (including itself), this strategy, called TIT FOR TAT, got the highest total score.

These results were published along with all the programmes submitted. Invitations were issued to another contest under essentially the same conditions. This time 63 programmes were submitted from six different countries. TIT FOR TAT was submitted again (by the same person) and again got the highest score.

That an exceedingly simple strategy got a higher score than all the sophisticated ones may have seemed surprising. But the really surprising result was that TIT FOR TAT did not beat a single strategy with which it was paired. It either got the same score or a lower score. How, then, could it win the contest? The answer is clear. Recall that all the strategies had to play against all. The “clever” ones designed to beat other strategies may have beaten them, but they, in turn, were also beaten by others. In this way, they reduced each other’s scores. TIT FOR TAT cannot get more D’s than any strategy it is paired with (since it starts with C and plays D only after the co-player has played D). But it cannot lose by more than one play. The “clever” strategies can lose more when matched with equally “clever” ones including themselves. (TIT FOR TAT matched with itself plays 100% C; so that both it and its “alter ego” get a high score.)

The lesson drawn from this experiment sounds like a paradox: in weakness there is strength. TIT FOR TAT seems “weak” because it can’t beat any other strategy. But the “strong” ones beat each other, and it comes out the winner.

The relevance of this lesson to the present international situation should be evident. Conventional wisdom has it that the stronger a country is militarily, the more “secure” it is. This simplistic idea is what drives arms races. If being stronger than B makes A secure, then being stronger than A makes B secure. As a result, each country tries to be stronger and as the other grows stronger, each gets less secure. Today the destructive power of the global arsenal is thousands of times greater than it was forty years ago. Hardly any one would argue that every one is thousands of times more secure than forty years ago.

It is argued that the present dangerous situation has arisen because there is a lack of “trust” among nations, particularly among adversaries. That is correct, as far as it goes. Game models like Prisoner’s Dilemma are instructive because they point up precisely why lack of trust leads to outcomes that are bad for both sides. Lack of trust is not the whole story. The main trouble lies in the mistaken belief that “rational” choices are those that seem to be in one’s own interest. The notion of “national interest” is based on this idea. As we have seen, the choice of D in Prisoner’s Dilemma seems eminently rational, since it leads to a payoff that is larger than the payoff associated with C regardless of how the co-player chooses. Yet the reasoning leads to an outcome that is bad for both.

“We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking,” wrote Einstein, “if mankind is to survive.”

Prisoner’s Dilemma provides a simple but dramatic demonstration of the sort of thinking that must be changed in the nuclear age: the manner of thinking that continues to identify rationality with pursuit of self interest. Entrenched in the world of power politics, this manner of thinking now threatens the human race with extinction.


Axelrod, R. The Evolution of Cooperation. New York: Basic Books, 19840 Colman, A. Game Theory and Experimental Games. Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1982.
Rapoport, A. The Uses and Misuses of Game Theory. Scientific American, 207 (1962), 6: 108-118.
Rapoport, A. Games Which Simulate Deterrence and Disarmament. Peace Research Reviews, Vol. 1, No. 4. Dundas, Ontario, Canada: Canadian Peace Research Institute, 1967.
Rapoport, A. and Chammah, A.M. Prisoner’s Dilemma. A Study of Conflict and Cooperation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 19650
Swingle, P.G0 (ed.). The Structure of Conflict. New York: Academic Press, 1970.

Universal Values in the Light of System Science

Organizers of this Conference, some members of Science for Peace and some representatives of Soka Gakai met a few weeks ago to discuss universal values, a topic that is on the agenda of this Third Conference on World Order. As expected, conceptions of universal values differed widely, not only with respect to prospects of agreement on their universality but also with respect to their definitions. A few days later, Derek Paul (who did not attend the meeting) wrote to Ken Burkhardt that (in his opinion) “It is evident observationally that there are no universal values, universal in the sense that they are held by all people. Some people value life, some their prestige, others their wealth, etc.”

In this connection, James Travers of the Star called attention to the suggestion that the tobacco giant Philip Morris made last year to the Czech Republic, namely, that far from increasing the costs of medicare, smoking would reduce them by curtailing the life span and thus saving the heavy medicare expenditures on the aged. Perhaps, the believers of universal values can dismiss this example by pointing out that Philip Morris is not a person, that preservation of life rates as a universal value if it refers to the value that each individual puts on his/her own life, and so on. Since, however, from the point of view of general system theory, Philip Morris is an entity in the hierarchy of systems, it is proper to assume that the concept of universal values applies to it as well as to its managing personnel or employees.

Rather than examine the concept of universal values in the existential mode (whether they exist or not), I prefer to discuss them in the categorical-imperative mode (that is, what values ought to be universal) and raise two questions: (1) how likely they are to be realized as such and (2) what are the consequences of their being realized or not.

The beginning of the second paragraph of the American Declaration of Independence is a transparent example of the difference between the existential and the imperative mode. It says: “We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” As a statement of facts, this statement is manifestly false or else meaningless. Stark inequality characterizes practically any conceivable feature distinguishing between any two persons at their birth. Besides, references to “Creator” and “created” are, to say the least, vague.

Put into the imperative mode, however, the statement can no longer be dismissed as nonsense or refuted as false. But it is far from “self evident.” It can be supported or challenged. Here it is.

“People ought to be treated as if they are equal; as if they were endowed with inviolable rights, etc.”

Now a meaningful discussion can revolve around the question: how likely is this condition to be realized and what the consequences of its realization or non-realization might be.

First let’s see what we may mean by “values.” Intuitively we associate values with “goods,” that is, something valued. This interpretation is implicit in the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That is to say, do “good” unto others. However, this dictum tacitly assumes the existence of universal values, as conditions longed for by everyone. But, as Derek Paul suggested, this may be far from being the case. The foundation of universal values seems to be more solid when expressed by the converse of the Golden Rule, as in the version suggested by Rabbi Hillel, a contemporary of Jesus: “What is hateful to thee do not do unto thy neighbour.” In this version, rather than define universal values by “goods,” it seems more fruitful to define them as “bads.”

Now an obvious “bad” on the level of a species is, clearly, extinction; for if ways of avoiding extinction were not built into a sufficient proportion of the members, at least until reproduction time, the species would not exist. Here, then, we have a universal value at least on the level of the species: namely, survival. To see how it applies to our species, we must examine the characteristic survival mechanisms of humans.

Comparing some survival mechanisms of mammals with corresponding ones of ours, we see that ours are not impressive. We can run but not as fast as the cheetah. Our swimming is clearly inferior to that of a seal. We are carnivores, but our teeth can’t compare with those of wolves or tigers. To what, then, do we attribute our phenomenal success as a species? Most likely to our mode of communication with each other, namely symbol language. Many species can communicate by signals which refer only to here and now. Many a bird can say, “Danger! A predator!” Or “Come! I’m ready to mate!” Or “We’re off! Follow me!” Many a dog can say “Hark! Some one is coming!” or “Give me a little of what you are eating!” or “I love you!” or even “I’m sorry!” But no dog can say, “When you were out, some one tried to break in, but I scared him away by barking.” Or “Give me something of what you are eating, or else I shan’t love you any more, and then you will be sorry!”

The most fundamental difference between signal and symbol languages is that only the latter makes possible accumulation of knowledge over generations. A cat, for example, “teaches” her kittens to catch mice; but no cat knows more than any of her ancestors. Human knowledge has accumulated, at first as lore, and, since the invention of writing, at an immensely accelerating rate as records. So immense has this heritage become that it has been recognized as a member of the set of “systems” comprising our small corner of the universe. The biosphere is the totality of all living systems. The geosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere are their shared habitats. Normally, living things compete for them. They can be likened to conservative commodities. If I have so many acres and cede one to you, you have one more, but I have one less. In contrast, knowledge is not a conservative commodity. If I give a bit of information to you, you have a bit more, but I don’t have a bit less. In fact, I may even have more: having explained something to you, I may understand it better. It is this inexhaustible and potentially constantly increasing store of knowledge that constitutes the exclusively characteristic survival asset of our species. And paradoxically, it may also be our nemesis in a not-too-distant future. That is, from the human point of view, the noosphere, the accumulated treasury of knowledge and, alas, also pseudo-knowledge, may be a universal good or a universal bad.

Let’s take a closer look at our survival chances in a time span of, say, a few generations. The often assumed dimensions of values are “the True,” “the Good” and “the Beautiful (or the Delightful).”

To say that any of these dimensions is a “universal value” is to assume that practically universal agreement can be realized on what is true, what is good, or what is beautiful (or delightful). We shall ask two questions regarding each of these dimensions. (1) Can universality be attained? (2) Must it be attained in the foreseeable future to avoid extinction?

la. Can universal agreement on what is true be attained? Yes. The method of science makes this possible. This is because modern science doesn’t pose the question “What do we know?” but rather “How do we know what we know?” Universal agreement on the latter question has become possible to the extent that the world community of science is a part of the noosphere.

1b. Must universal agreement on what is true be attained to insure survival in the foreseeable future? Probably. It depends on the answer to the second question.

2a. Can universal agreement on what is good (or bad) be attained? I don’t know.

2b. Must it be attained, if our species is to survive more than a few generations? I believe the answer to this question is (unfortunately) “Yes.” Universal agreement at least on what is “bad,” is an indispensable prerequisite for the realization of the Golden Rule as stated by Hilel (“What is hateful to thee, do not do unto thy neighbour.”) Evidently, however, there is at present no such agreement either on the level of the individual or of any organization of individuals short of universal. It is true that in the course of the development of our species, internally cooperative organizations have grown: families merged into clans, clans into tribes, tribes into nations, nations into alliances. But the impetus to this growth of internally pacified cooperative bodies has been typically hostile confrontation with other internally pacified cooperative bodies. The gulf between virtuous “us” and vile “them” became an unbridgeable abyss. The puerile good guys – bad guys scenario guides the policies of the so called “world leaders.”

3a. Can universal agreement on what is beautiful or delightful be attained? I don’t know.

3b. Must it be attained, if our species is to survive more than a few generations? No. But this is a wrong way to pose the question. Instead of agreement, one should talk about appreciation. Moreover, causes and consequences must be interchanged. Only when universal agreement on what is good or bad and on what is true or false is attained, that is, when there is no gulf separating people sharply into “us” and “them” can appreciation of the beautiful and the delightful be infused to others and adopted from others’ appreciation of their cultural treasures.

Some years ago, while hiking along the Danube from Krems to Melk, I was introduced to the Wellendorf Venus, a miniature lady 35,000 years old, who looked it. Hard as I tried to imagine the feelings of the sculptor who made her, I got nowhere. So there was no way of comparing Madam Wellendorf with Madam Milo, who represents my ideal of feminine beauty. On the other hand, I had no difficulty in acquiring some appreciation of Japanese haiku and Indian ragas and sub-Sahara African and South Pacific sculpture, let alone Chinese cuisine and Buddhist philosophy. When the we-they dichotomies spawned by power addiction and dogma-dominated religion are erased, the rewards of cultural diversity can be reaped, as Torontonians have dramatically demonstrated.

Still it must be kept in mind that the range of appreciation of delight depends crucially on its source.

In particular, the keenest delight we humans can experience can be normally shared by only two persons. Yet this merging of souls is the strongest potential bond insuring longevity of our species.

Remembering Anatol Rapoport: The Path to Peace

by Leonard V. Johnson*

During a sleepless night not long ago, I got up and played an amateur video of a 2007 commemoration of the late Anatol Rapoport’s life and his commitment to the abolition of war I remembered with pleasure the enlightenment I received during a long ago lecture that made me a disciple and devoted friend I hope my story will help to keep my beloved master’s cause alive. As Commandant of the National Defence College of Canada in 1983 I invited Professor Rapoport to provide fresh perspectives on conflict at an especially dangerous time of the Cold War. Beginning with the Prisoner’s Dilemma mind game on the superiority of cooperation over competition, he showed how the armed forces of contending states are, in fact, unwittingly cooperating to maintain the institution of war.

If war is to be abolished, as it must if there is to be a sustainable future for humankind, Anatol’s prescription is suffocation of the institution by denying it the resources on which its life depends. Canada, for example, could begin by keeping its vulnerable land forces out of combat. After the lesson of combat casualties in Afghanistan, it’s doubtful if any government will be able to send expeditionary forces into land combat for any conceivable purpose. In that case, suffocation can begin with abandonment of weapons no longer needed for land combat.

The institution of war depends on fear to achieve and maintain its power Promoting fear in one partner generates fear in the other, and attempts to achieve security through armed force lead to escalation and arms racing, ending in war or exhaustion and decline. In either case, we are all soon dead.

The nuclear arms race began in the United States with specious fear of Russian military intentions and escalated to a massive nuclear tinderbox that could have killed all living things. Those sentient beings who lived through the terror of the times can never forget it, but the present generations have no memory of it.

Although the scale of the threat has subsided, it has not gone away. It still exists at the top of the ladder of military escalation. It will be there forever unless the institution of war is suffocated and a stake driven through its heart.

People will say, “Yes but war is a permanent institution and it can never be abolished.” It’s true that wars could still be fought with machetes, swords, spears and other hand weapons, but they cannot spread or escalate without the effective and efficient killing machines of chemically-powered weapons and the logistics that support them. Without them, states would have to arm themselves with the warriors of Genghis Khan and the horses that carried them.

The biggest – and seemingly insurmountable – obstacle to change is belief implanted by the institution of war, which has become the conventional wisdom. Yet, confronted by climate change and its dire consequences, there is no alternative: the world cannot afford war if there is to be a future for humankind. People and their leaders, motivated by hope, must choose life, now.

Over time, the institution of war can be suffocated piecemeal. Armed forces could disappear through rust and attrition without replacement if governments kept their forces at home, limited to those needed, in Canada’s case, to implement a strictly Canada First policy. That doesn’t require negotiations or fanfare, but only tacit agreement among Canadians not to have any more soldiers coming home in body bags, missing limbs, or with post-traumatic stress disorder.

During the Second World War, President Franklin Roosevelt told his people that “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The first step is to be deaf and blind to the fear mongers and their lobbyists, after which the path to safety runs through truth, courage, faith, hope, and resolve, ordinary human qualities.

When he left office in 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against the growth of the “Military Industrial Complex,” which stoked fear in order to preserve and enhance the power it gained during the war just ended and which morphed into a Cold War with the chosen enemy, against whom were deployed new and ever more powerful weapons of terror. The United States has been brought to its knees by failure to heed that famous wartime general’s warning. 

Suffocation of the institution of war is no longer a fantasy of fiction or an impossible dream It’s no exaggeration to say that the future of humankind depends on it. 

The path to peace with security is open. Let hope be Anatol’s legacy to humankind.

Kingston, Canada, July 2012

* the author is a former Canadian soldier