The Blackmailer’s Paradox

Well, this explains a lot.  From the stuff-you-kind-of-intuitively-knew-already file, I give you the blackmailer’s paradox:

“Someone offers Reuven and Shimon $1,000 together, if they can manage
to agree on the question of how to split the money between them. Reuven
says to Shimon: ‘Great, let’s split it half and half.’ Shimon says:
‘No. I am not leaving here with less than $900. You will get 100.
Take it or leave it.’ Reuven says to him: ‘Be rational. What is the
difference between us? Why should you get more?’ Shimon says: ‘Rational
or not, do what you want. Either I leave here with 900 or with nothing.
You decide.’

“Reuven thinks and says: ‘Okay, $100 is money nevertheless. What am I
going to do with this irrational mule? I myself am rational and I will
take the 100. I need to advance my goal of getting as much money as
possible, and my choice is between zero and 100. One hundred is still

“What is the paradox? That the irrational person gets more than the rational person.”

So in any negotiation, the least reasonable person always has the advantage. The context of the linked article has to do with Israeli/Palestinian peace negotiations, but really it could apply to any dispute.

It happens all the time.  I bet you’re sitting there right now thinking of all the times you’ve had to give in to the demands of crazy people.  (If you can’t think of any, I bet you’re sitting there right now wondering why you don’t have more friends.)  From spoiled children to the ACLU, people game the system by being unreasonably demanding every day.

As this continues over time, more and more goodies and power accrue to more and more irrational people.  Is this scenario starting to remind you of a certain country that lies between Canada and Mexico?  Looking at the people who hold the reins of power right now, I don’t think we could’ve picked a less rational lot if we’d selected our leaders solely from the list of Chicago Cubs season ticket holders.

The counter to this paradox used to be something called honor, or a sense of fair play.  But since society is now dominated by adversarial tort lawyers, that’s all out the window.

So how now do we prevent everything from falling into the hands of the biggest crybabies and tantrum-throwers?  At some point the rational are going to have to force the irrational to care about more than themselves and their patrons. Or else we all become irrational eventually, and we end up tearing the whole place apart like frantic mothers on the last Tickle Me Elmo.

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