In the expanded (iterated) version of the classic game theory experiment of Prisoners’ Dilemma, where there are multiple moves, we discover that the most successful strategy for artificial, emotionless prisoners (the computer programs that they use to test the games) is generally “an eye for an eye”, with just a hint of friendliness to begin with. This “most successful” computer program starts out with a collaborative move, and then uses mirroring to respond to the other prisoner’s subsequent moves. Which means that the program would start out collaborating with the other program, and then if the other program collaborated too, the program would again collaborate in return, but if the other program didn’t collaborate, then the program would similarly not collaborate in response, and so on, with the program continuing to play follow-the-leader, with the other program as the leader.
Of course we social animals function rather differently than emotionless computers, and we have a natural, genetic inclination towards collaboration, because of the simple, practical fact that we have a much easier time in life when we don’t create enemies who work against us, and when we instead create friends who help us get our needs met. Because we have this added ability to feel emotions (empathy), having enemies just plain stresses us out. We are naturally uncomfortable when others around us are suffering. So the mostly mechanical strategy of an eye for an eye, even with the initial facade of compassion, just doesn’t cut it in the real world of social life.
Which is why, when we find ourselves in real-world dilemmas like this, where we have the opportunity to collaborate to achieve a mutually beneficial goal, we find that while we still tend to play follow the leader more often than not due to our unconscious, unemotional, mechanistic brains, but we also have an equally strong emotional inclination to make things better for ourselves and our fellow Earthlings by choosing not to blindly follow, and instead becoming the leader and leading others generously and compassionately, with the hopes that others will, either mechanistically, or consciously, follow us in collaboration.
We humans, with our capacity for emotion, do indeed have the ability to rise above, to forgive, and to be truly compassionate leaders who consciously create something newer and better, rather than just being mechanistic eye-for-an-eye followers.
So… where have you broken out of the mechanistic loop and risen above it all?