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Skip Tucker: The Prisoner’s Dilemma      

By SKIP TUCKER, Alabama Daily News Featured Columnist

While I learned from every class I’ve taken, and I had enough hours to be a brain surgeon, some were such drudgery it’s a wonder I didn’t grab an occasional professor, shake him and yell, “Teach something, you loser. Your class is mind-numbing.”

And I’ll get back to that sometime.

I also had some outstanding teachers, start to finish. One of the best was a psychology prof. He opened, first day, by saying, “Welcome. You need to realize that we are all ‘holes. You’re here to learn to deal with ours, and we’re here to learn to deal with yours.”

Well played.

Later in the course he explained a scenario called, “The Prisoner’s Dilemma” in which a man, sure enough, is imprisoned. He has 11 months remaining, which he can do “standing on his head,” as they say. But he, like them all, would rather be free. He has made a friend, a dangerous killer with a long sentence, a long memory and few friends. One day the killer lays out to him a foolproof plan of escape. Upon deep study, the short-termer agrees the plan cannot fail. Not only will they be free, but there will be conveyance far away where jobs (and comforts) await. But it takes two participants.

At the same time, it is know within the walls that the warden will knock a year off the sentence of any prisoner who gives information to prevent an escape and receive protection and assistance once freed.So there it is. The short-termer can refuse and serve out, but the dangerous friend will mistrust him and is likely one day to kill him. He can escape but is stuck with the other guy, who is untrustworthy and likely one day to kill him. Or he can go to the warden, and the other guy is likely one day to go free, find him and kill him.

This conundrum was first presented in the Fifties, and psychologists looked at it like Lego. They created games, with teams, devising deep strategies to success. All were based on trust, and when to cooperate and when to defect. They devised complex schemes on how to best opponents. Some tried Cooperate, Cooperate, Cooperate. Some tried Defect, Defect, Defect. And on to C,C,C,D or C,D,C,D. They tried combination after combination.

The most successful combination, after prolonged research, was simply: Tit for Tat. If you do something bad to me, regardless of what you do next – whether you apologize or cry or moan or send candy and flowers – I’ll do something as bad or worse to you, and no stopping me. Strategies from the game ultimately reached into all branches of American life, impacting social scenarios, business, science and governmental policy.

From the Dilemma scenario, during The Cold War, emerged what for decades was the U.S. defense policy of Mutual Assured Destruction. The U.S. made it known it would empty its arsenal against any nuclear attack, be it one bomb or missile or one hundred. The aptly named MAD theory ruled and it worked.It is possible to my mind to extrapolate that to the liberal/conservative policies of our recent presidents.

To my mind, the Carters and the Clintons and the Obamas practice appeasement. The Reagans and the Bushes and The Donald practice confrontation.While under Clinton/Obama, it can be argued that America suffered slings and arrows and contumely from our stated enemies, loss of face and respect.

It can argued that the Reagans and the Bushes and The Donald drew lines in the dirt and faced down North Korea and the Taliban.It has been largely suppressed, but there is a video of Bill Clinton, only hours before 9/11, telling an audience in Melbourne, Australia that while president he could’ve called an airstrike on Kandahar, Afghanistan and killed Osama Bin Laden. He could have prevented 9/11. He said he didn’t because might’ve killed as many as 300 innocents, and would have “been as bad as him.” He is as bad as him. He is an accomplice to the only major successful attack from outside on American soil and the murder of thousands of Americans. May his soul ever wander.

By the bye, the least successful strategy in Prisoner’s Dilemma is constant appeasement.Bill and Hillary and Obama shut their eyes to atrocities by North Korea and the Taliban (Bill and Obama gave nukes and millions of dollars to Kim and to Iraq). Any of that work?Also largely suppressed is news footage of then-presidents Clinton and Obama in state address saying they recognize the growing crisis of illegal immigration and pledging to take strong steps to stop it. Either they were inept or lied or both, eh. Imagine that.Trump, love him or hate him, slowed or is stopping it. The economy blossoms. And Trump is a genius, at least in Foreign Policy.

But problems arise.

Remember my lead paragraph, the ‘hole part.  It makes slight difference, in the end of things, how deeply a person is a genius. Einstein so precisely observed that the difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits. People, whether the Clintons, the Obamas or The Donald, can’t remain King of the World by being a ‘hole.Donald Trump almost seems determined to scandalize and insult as many people as possible, and that personal policy is bound to fail. He seems to be going out of his way to offend friends, right before the midterm elections. And he’s already looking for others to blame. His favorite target appears to be Jeff Sessions.

I’ll tell you this, from long first-hand observance. Jeff Sessions is one of the finest most able public servants on this planet. I’ve worked with and around him. There is no finer of which I am aware.

A local flack once called him a racist ‘hole. Since I know for a solid fact that Jeff Sessions is neither of those things, does this mean the flack is a racist ‘hole? In other words, if one calls another a racist, and it’s full well apparent to most people that the person so charged is not a racist, doesn’t that revolting term devolve to the ‘hole who misused it?

Sure does. Most every time.

(Next week: Either more politics or an early ghost story. Each a scary thought.)

Skip Tucker was editor of the Daily Mountain Eagle in Jasper, then communications secretary for gubernatorial folks like George McMillan, Charlie Graddick and Jim Folsom. He ran Alabama Voters Against Lawsuit Abuse for in Montgomery for 15 years. He has published one novel, Pale Blue Light, a spy thriller set in The Civil War. He’s now a regular contributor for the Alabama Daily News at

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