Raise your virtual hands: how many of you have heard about the prisoner's dilemma? The prisoner's dilemma is a classic example of a game studied in game theory, economics, psychology and other assorted disciplines. I first heard about it in a university course a few years ago. Here is how it works. As a thought experiment, imagine the following situation, and put yourself in the position of the participants:
Two members of a criminal gang are arrested. They are interrogated separately. The police admit that they do not have enough evidence to convict the criminals on the primary charge. They only have evidence to sentence both to a year in prison for a lesser charge. However, the police offer each criminal a deal: if he testifies against his partner, he will go free and the partner will get three years in prison. If he stays silent and the partner testifies, the partner will go free and he will get three years. And if both criminals end up testifying against each other, they will each get two years in prison.
It's an intriguing and ominous situation to imagine yourself in. Do you decide to stay silent? If you do and your partner does as well, you will both get one year in prison. Not so bad under the circumstances. But if your partner testifies while you stay silent, you will get three years, the harshest penalty possible, while your partner goes free. So, should you play along and testify? If you do and your partner does as well, you will both get two years. And of course, there is always the possibility that your partner will remain silent while you testify, in which case he is the one getting the harsh three year penalty and you go free...
What makes the prisoner's dilemma so interesting for game theory is that it rewards betrayal. If your partner stays silent, then betraying him means a better outcome for you in terms of prison time than staying silent (you go free instead of getting one year). And if he testifies against you, then testifying against him also gives you a better outcome than staying silent (you get two years instead of three). In both cases, betrayal rewards more than staying silent. So, a rational individual whose only goal is to minimize prison time for himself should always choose betrayal over staying silent regardless of what their partner does.
Of course, people are not always so coldly rational, and there might be other factors that come into play. One or both of the prisoners might have motivations that to them are more important than simply minimizing prison time for themselves. For instance, a prisoner might feel an overriding sense of loyalty to their partner, or he might be bound by a strong personal code of honour. This might be rare among petty criminals, who usually are not the most loyal or honourable types, but it would be a lot more likely among freedom fighters, political activists and similarly idealistic groups.
I can't really imagine Kaelah or myself embarking on a life of crime. We both have too strong a moral compass for that, and besides, crime almost never pays off for the criminals in the long run - they are far more likely to get arrested or killed than to enjoy a long successful career. However, I can quite easily picture a fantasy of us as political activists who have been arrested by a dictatorial regime. Would I betray Kaelah if the regime offered me such a deal? Never. Because she is my loved one and as a matter of general principle, I would refuse to testify. And I would have the utmost confidence that she would do the same.
But let's say the partner who was arrested with you is not your loved one or a close friend, but a mere acquaintance. Let's say that you are not political activists, that you have really done something bad, which he talked you into and which you now regret. Let's also say that you are not quite sure of the loyalty of that acquaintance, whom you do not know all that well. Would it not be tempting, under this set of circumstances, to testify? Even if you have a strong personal code that would normally forbid you from doing so, you would probably at least take the option into consideration. Especially if we replace the linear set of penalties from the canonical prisoner's dilemma, one, two or three years in prison, with a more exponential progression, like one, three and ten years. Can you really afford to risk staying silent while your "partner" talks, which will get you a draconian ten years in the can? If you talk, the worst that can happen to you is three years if he talks as well. And if he stays silent, you go free...
I'm sure you already guessed why I brought up the subject in the first place. Anyone with an inclination for BDSM can see that there is potential for a kinky scenario here. One could play out the spanko version of the prisoner's dilemma and replace the prison sentences with corporal punishment. Flogger, paddle, cane? Take your pick. If both prisoners stay silent, they get ten strokes each. If one talks and the other stays silent, one goes free while the other gets a harsh thirty strokes. Tough luck! And if both talk, twenty strokes each. Or you could raise the stakes and use a more exponential progression of numbers, like six, twenty and sixty strokes. That should be interesting, especially when you play it with canes.
Scenarios like that are not everyone's cup of tea, but for people who like a bit of edginess in their kink, the prisoner's dilemma could be quite a treat. And there is plenty of video material here - frankly, I am surprised that Bars and Stripes have never done a take of their own on this game theory classic. It would seem tailor-made for them.
What about you? Would the prisoner's dilemma scenario catch your interest? Have you ever played it out for real? I know of at least one group of spanko friends who have (with both "prisoners" ratting the other out almost immediately). And most intriguingly, what would you do as a participant in the scenario, if the partner was a) a good friend or loved one, b) someone you don't know well, but are inclined to trust, and c) someone you don't know well and about whose loyalty you have doubts?