More musings inspired by Tim Harford's The Logic of Life - if you haven't read it yet, you really should (if only because about half my recent posts won't have made much sense recently. Seriously. You can buy one here if you're in England, or here in the US. It's by a friend of mine and it's really good.)
I'm going to try to explain a thing that eluded Thomas Schelling (don't say I never stretch myself). In Chapter 8, Tim talks about hostage negotiations and how game theory finds it very hard to come up with a solution to that particular situation. Quoth Woody Allen,
"The FBI surrounds the house. 'Throw the kid out,' they say, 'give us your guns, and come out with your hands up.' The kidnappers say, 'We'll throw the kid out, but let us keep our guns, and get to our car.' The FBI say, 'Throw the kid out, we'll let you get to your car, but give us your guns.' The kidnappers say, 'We'll throw the kid out, but let us keep our guns - we don't have to get to out car.' The FBI say, 'Keep the kid.'"
Over to Tim:
"Jokes aside, the problem is one of credibility. The kidnapper wants to release the hostage, if the hostage could believably promise not to testify against him; the hostage would happily comply, but neither of them can think of a way to make their promise binding. Even as profound a thinker as Tom Schelling, attempting to apply insights from game theory to the problem facing the hostage and kidnapper, concluded that these problems are inherently hard to solve."
Remember, in this situation neither kidnapper nor hostage is thinking
detachedly about the problem from the hypothetical distance of the
ivory tower; both their lives are often on the line. I propose that in this situation it becomes readily apparent to the parties involved that their problem is "inherently hard to solve" and that the hostage in particular quite quickly understands that the game is going to end badly for them unless something changes radically.
As it happens, we already know the solution that hostages come up with to this problem - indeed, so well known is the solution that we have a name for it. My hypothesis is that Stockholm Syndrome, the well-documented phenomenon in which hostages develop a loyalty to their kidnappers, is nothing more than the hostage realising the only solution to this game that doesn't most likely end with their death. The hostage has to change sides.
In fact, I'd go so far as to surmise that any hostage that doesn't begin to side with their kidnapper(s) just hasn't managed to hit on the solution to their problem, a solution that has been - on some level - obvious to their peers.
I hope I never get kidnapped. This feels like one of those times when rationally knowing the solution is a huge barrier to successfully carrying it out.