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It Pays to Snitch: The Sociology of Cooperation Part 1

In order for society to operate, we need people to follow the rules, to work together, to cooperate. In this post, Bridget Welch begins a series on how we make (or fail to make) people cooperate. Up for today — the Prisoner’s Dilemma and Nash’s Equilibrium.

It goes a little something like this:

James and Daryl are arrested (separately) for some petty crime which the prosecutor can easily make the case and give them 2 years. During questioning, it becomes evident to the prosecutor that this is the team that robbed a bank a few weeks back. Unfortunately, the prosecutor has no evidence to back this up. So she schemes and tells each, while they are kept in separate rooms and not able to communicate, that:

“You have two choices. You can confess to the crime or remain silent. I have enough to put you both away now for 2 years on this other case. However, if you confess to the bank robbery, I’ll give you 1 year while your partner will get 10. He gets the same offer. If you both confess, you’ll both get 3 years.”

Pretend you’re James:

  • If neither of you confess, you’ll get the two years for the petty crime.
  • If you confess (fink), and Daryl doesn’t, you get 1 year and he gets 10.
  • If Daryl confesses, and you don’t, you get 10 years and he gets 1.
  • If both confess, you both get 3 years.

These options can be shown in what is called a payoff matrix. Obviously, the optimal scenario here is for both of them to deny they had anything to do with the armed robbery. In game theoretic speak, denying is to talk of them both cooperating — that is going along with each other so they both get the lowest possible cost. Confessing, in game theoretic speak, is defecting because, in effect, it is selling out your partner in an attempt to get the lowest sentence for yourself. In determining whether people cooperate or defect, as yourself this: How much would you trust Daryl?

Unless you have a strong trust in Daryl (remember, you can’t talk to him), you will be sitting in your room thinking that Daryl is going to try to get the best outcome he can possibly get. Looking at the payoff matrix, you’ll see the scenario that offers that is for Daryl to confess to the armed robbery. But, if he does that, and you don’t, then you’ll end up with TEN YEARS! Clearly, if he confesses you should also confess. Well, what if Daryl denies? In this case it’s your best interest still to confess because you will end up with one year. Thus, regardless of what Daryl does, your best (most rational choice) is to confess (by the way, this is the same for Daryl!)….

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Please Ignore the Racist In Front of the Curtain

Sterling and Bundy certainly said some horribly racist stuff. In this article, Bridget Welch argues that while what they said is horribly bad, the attention we pay to these acts is just a farce that allows the real racism to continue unchecked behind the scenes.

I don’t follow the sports. I can honestly say that I would have had no idea what city had a team named the Clippers (I’m not sure if I would have been able to name the sport) prior to the big racist meltdown Donald Sterling, the team’s owner, had when his girlfriend was seen at a game with a black man. I’m not going to get into the meltdown. It’s all over the internet for your listening … pleasure?

I do, however, closely follow grazing rights and am currently kicking butt in my fantasy public land use league with Cliven Bundy as an early pick. If that sentence made no sense to you it is because it’s one part dry humor and another part about illegal grazing of cattle which most Americans spend about 0% of their life thinking about. However, Cliven Bundy probably rings a bell because of his recent racist spiel that was cycled fairly often on all of the news channels.

Both men made comments that show attitude towards Blacks that can be traced directly back to our justifications for slavery. Sterling talks about how he takes care of his black players, evidently “giving” them cars and putting meals on their tables — I guess what he means is that he does this when they otherwise would not be able to support themselves. Bundy gets right to the point with his claims that Blacks would be better off back in the fields picking cotton because at least then they wouldn’t be asking for handouts. Both men are recycling the same tired tropes of the “happy” slave who relied upon the Master to provide for them and were content with their lot in life as long as they had a little rest and watermelon.

Please do not misunderstand as this post goes forward. What both of these men said was foul, highly problematic, and shows how much the historical creation and content of stereotypes still lingers. And I was happy to see all of the civil action in response. The problem is, the focus on these men is skewed towards paying attention to some stupid stuff someone said rather than the larger issues that actually perpetuate racism in American society.

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Orange is the New Black: Motivations for Doing Time

Netflix’s original comedy-drama, “Orange is the New Black,” has taken the internet by storm. This addictive show, based on true events, portrays life in a women’s prison for an upper-class, well-educated, white woman in the Northeast. In this post, Ami Stearns uses the show to illustrate a few different theories of criminality.

Orange is the new Black

If you haven’t checked out “Orange is the New Black” yet, you should. The show premiered on Netflix in 2013 and the much-anticipated second season begins June 6th of this year. OITNB draws from the memoirs of Piper Kerman, a white, upper middle-class woman who spent a year in a women’s prison after being charged with money laundering. Piper’s entrance into the criminal justice system requires her to learn a whole new set of norms: Don’t ask what crime got your cellmates sent to prison, never insult the cook, toilet paper and cigarettes are valuable currency, and maxi-pads can be used for everything from shower shoes to an allergy mask. Set in the fictional Litchfield women’s correctional center, the popular show won a Peabody Award in 2013 and has reportedly already been renewed for a third season.

Nathan Palmer’s recent post on America’s mass incarceration trend centered around the effects that the “War on Drugs” had on the prison population as a whole. Another compelling angle, though, is the skyrocketing percentage of females who are imprisoned. The past three decades have seen an increase of over  800% in women’s incarceration (men’s rates have increased at a little over 400%). Two-thirds of female inmates are in prison for non-violent offenses. Nationally, 67 out of 100,000 women are incarcerated . I live in the state that is number one in the per capita rate of incarcerated women—Oklahoma. My home state incarcerates women at twice the national rate—130 out of every 100,000 Oklahoma women are in prison.

We can examine the plot and characters of “Orange is the New Black” in a number of ways and the show is exciting for that very reason. Issues of race and ethnicity, neo-family structures, social class, gender inequality, and network systems can all be fleshed out by watching OITNB. From another perspective, the show is perfect for helping viewers adopt compassion and see the human side of inmates. These ladies have a story, they have a name, they are not just a number, and the show helps viewers understand the real people we call “felons.” In addition, criminological theory can be illustrated through OITNB….

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Let’s Watch: Prison State

We’re number 1. We’re number 1. We’re number 1. In the United States we incarcerate more people than any other country in the world. In fact, “The United States has about five percent of the world’s population and houses around 25 percent of its prisoners.” After reading a sobering statistic like that, the sociological question you should be asking is… why? In this post Nathan Palmer will answer this question and introduce you to the film Prison State by Frontline.

The United States imprisons more of it’s people than any other country in the world. Does this mean that Americans have the lowest moral character of any country in the world? That is, are we just crummy people making crummy choices? Well, lets play that one out. First, take a look at the chart below that shows the U.S. incarceration rate over time.

Chart of Incarceration Rate by Time

What happened around 1980? Did we all lose our minds? Can we blame the hockey stick like growth to lots of individuals making poor choices? Probably not.

Around that time period our federal drug policies changed and we declared “War on Drugs”. In 1986 the Anti-Drug Abuse Act was signed into law and everything changed. Before this law the maximum sentence for possession of any narcotic was 1 year in jail. After this law, the death penalty was authorized for some drug offenses. The “War on Drugs” brought with it far more severe punishments for drug users and dealers.

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Hey, Mister, Can You Spare a Thousand? Crowdfunding as the Middle-Class Version of Panhandling

Asking for money is uncouth. In fact, money is not even really a polite topic for conversation, along with other taboo subjects like religion, politics, and sex. We go to elaborate lengths to avoid people who are asking for money in public by crossing to the other side of the street, avoiding eye contact, rolling up our windows, and pretending to talk or text on our phones. Money requests are, in short, uncomfortable. In this post, Ami Stearns suggests that the middle-class has harnessed the power of the internet to re-construct the way requesting financial assistance is accomplished. Crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe and Kickstarter provide a socially-acceptable method of asking for money.

Panhandler

“Only because of GoFundMe and my friends was I able to raise money for shoes,” wrote Igor Vovkovinskiy, the world’s tallest man. Other requests I looked at on GoFundMe included asking for financial assistance to open a cupcake shop, to run for Miss Washington, to help fund artificial insemination and adoption, trips to do ancestry research in Guatemala, animals’ vet bills, and help “living the dream” in New York City. Kickstarter funds creative projects: albums, video games, documentaries. Even rocker Neil Young is using Kickstarter to fund his portable audio player. These days, it’s more than acceptable to ask for money using these sites- it’s hip and fun!

Money is a difficult subject. It’s embarrassing if you have too much or too little. It’s tough (often humiliating) to have to ask someone for money. It’s considered in poor taste to hand your best friend a $20 bill on their birthday instead of buying a present. In fact, when given as a gift, money needs to come disguised, so it’s not seen as tacky. When I Googled “manners” and “asking for money,” over 9 million pages were presented. That’s a lot of advice for a delicate subject!…

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