Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics


One of the key lessons of emotional game theory is that madness — or, at least, the convincing appearance of madness, which may amount to the same thing — can be an effective strategy. You can win some otherwise unwinnable games (Chicken being a favourite example) by convincing your opponent that you are too fixated, angry, or suicidal to be persuaded by threats and/or appeals to what may seem to be mutual best interests.

This seems to me the only way to understand the response of the US government to Edward Snowden. If the most recent news reports are to be believed, the US has somehow persuaded European governments to practically kidnap the president of Bolivia, because they believe Snowden might be on the presidential plane, flying to asylum. The lesson to future whistleblowers is clear: There’s no point trying to game out the usual protocols, the law, or even what might seem to be too much trouble or too embarrassing for the Americans. If you embarrass the US government, and particularly its clandestine services, they will go full berserker.

That was something of the sense I had after 9/11: The torture, the pointless war in Iraq, it wasn’t so much a means to an end, as a direct demonstration that the US was not going to respond in any proportionate, rational, or even legal manner.

The actions of the Europeans are pretty shameful. At the same time that they are howling about the crimes that Snowden has uncovered, they are conniving at US attempts to treat him as a criminal, rather than a political dissident. Germany, among others, has dismissed Snowden’s application for asylum by saying that he first needs to get to Germany before it can be considered; but, of course, they won’t let him come now that the US has revoked his passport.

Comments on: "Though this be madness, yet there is method in it" (1)

  1. […] can mess with them and count on them reacting in any way reasonably or proportionately (as I argued here, and more recently Bruce Schneier argued here), this is exactly the sort of moderate, calm, […]

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