Essay:Dissident's dilemma
The dissident's dilemma is the choice dissident activists face between resisting the state or complying with the state's demands. Each dissident, as an individual actor, must independently make his own decision. If all, or a sufficient number, of the dissidents were to resist, then the state would fall. However, this has not yet happened. What happens instead is that a few dissidents go to jail for resisting while statist oppression continues.
Why is this? Why do not the dissidents resist en masse, since they know that by doing so, they could bring about the state's collapse and thereby escape punishment for resisting? Perhaps it is because many of the dissidents fear that if they choose to resist, not enough of the others will join them in resisting, and the result will be a failed rebellion. The scenarios below show that this fear does not make sense as long as all dissidents are aware of one another's actions and all dissidents are aware of the logic behind the dissident's dilemma and its outcomes.
The dissident's dilemma is similar to the prisoner's dilemma in that the cooperation of at least some of the actors is required in order to achieve the best outcome, and because an insufficient number of actors taking an action intended to further the greater good can produce worse results for those actors than if they had abstained from such action. However, the dissident's dilemma is different in that the actors need not act simultaneously; they can wait and see what other actors will do before they themselves act.
Contents
An example dissident's dilemma
For simplicity's sake, suppose there is a situation in which there are seven dissidents total, the jails have capacity for four people, and therefore the resistance of five people is needed to overthrow the state — i.e. four people to clog the jails and one additional person to clog the streets. If fewer than five resist, then the state will punish those resisters and the state's rule will continue. This table shows the outcomes that occur when various combinations of dissidents choose to obey or openly disobey the state.
Dissident A | |||||||||||||
---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|
Submits | Resists | ||||||||||||
Dissident B | |||||||||||||
Submits | Resists | Submits | Resists | ||||||||||
Dissident C | |||||||||||||
Submits | Resists | Submits | Resists | Submits | Resists | Submits | Resists | ||||||
Dissident D | Submits | Dissident E | Submits | Dissident F | Submits | Statist oppression continues | C jailed; statist oppression continues |
B jailed; statist oppression continues |
B and C jailed; statist oppression continues |
A jailed; statist oppression continues |
A and C jailed; statist oppression continues |
A and B jailed; statist oppression continues |
A, B and C jailed; statist oppression continues |
Resists | F jailed; statist oppression continues |
C and F jailed; statist oppression continues |
B and F jailed; statist oppression continues |
B, C and F jailed; statist oppression continues |
A and F jailed; statist oppression continues |
A, C and F jailed; statist oppression continues |
A, B and F jailed; statist oppression continues |
A, B, C and F jailed; statist oppression continues | |||||
Resists | Submits | E jailed; statist oppression continues |
C and E jailed; statist oppression continues |
B and E jailed; statist oppression continues |
B, C and E jailed; statist oppression continues |
A and E jailed; statist oppression continues |
A, C and E jailed; statist oppression continues |
A, B and E jailed; statist oppression continues |
A, B, C and E jailed; statist oppression continues | ||||
Resists | E and F jailed; statist oppression continues |
C, E and F jailed; statist oppression continues |
B, E and F jailed; statist oppression continues |
B, C, E and F jailed; statist oppression continues |
A, E, and F jailed; statist oppression continues |
A, C, E and F jailed; statist oppression continues |
A, B, E and F jailed; statist oppression continues |
State overthrown | |||||
Resists | Submits | Submits | D jailed; statist oppression continues |
C and D jailed; statist oppression continues |
B and D jailed; statist oppression continues |
B, C and D jailed; statist oppression continues |
A and D jailed; statist oppression continues |
A, C and D jailed; statist oppression continues |
A, B and D jailed; statist oppression continues |
A, B, C and D jailed; statist oppression continues | |||
Resists | D and F jailed; statist oppression continues |
C, D and F jailed; statist oppression continues |
B, D and F jailed; statist oppression continues |
B, C, D and F jailed; statist oppression continues |
A, D and F jailed; statist oppression continues |
A, C, D and F jailed; statist oppression continues |
A, B, D and F jailed; statist oppression continues |
State overthrown | |||||
Resists | Submits | D and E jailed; statist oppression continues |
C, D and E jailed; statist oppression continues |
B, D and E jailed; statist oppression continues |
B, C, D and E jailed; statist oppression continues |
A, D and E jailed; statist oppression continues |
A, C, D and E jailed; statist oppression continues |
A, B, D and E jailed; statist oppression continues |
State overthrown | ||||
Resists | D, E and F jailed; statist oppression continues |
C, D, E and F jailed; statist oppression continues |
B, D, E and F jailed; statist oppression continues |
State overthrown | A, D, E and F jailed; statist oppression continues |
State overthrown | State overthrown | State overthrown |
Scenarios and outcomes
Should an individual dissident resist? It depends. Assuming there are no free rider problems to take into consideration, there are five possible scenarios relevant to this situation (the other possibilities differ only in the identities, rather than number, of other dissidents participating in the rebellion, and therefore may be disregarded as irrelevant):
- Scenario 1: Suppose A, B, C, and D have already committed themselves in a binding way to resist, e.g. by going to the barricades and getting arrested. The jails are now clogged and only one more person need resist in order to grind the state's activity to a halt. E knows that if he resists, the state will collapse and all the resisters will be freed; therefore, he has every reason to reason, because there is no risk of going to jail.
- Scenario 2: Suppose only A, B, and C have thus far committed themselves in a binding way to resist. What should D do? He should resist, because if he does, then that will create a Scenario 1 situation in which E has every reason to resist because E knows that if E resists, the state will collapse and all the resisters will be freed.
- Scenario 3: Suppose only A and B have thus far committed themselves in a binding way to resist. What should C do? He should resist, because if he does, then that will create a Scenario 2 situation in which D has every reason to resist because D knows that if D resists, that will create a Scenario 1 situation in which E has every reason to resist because E knows that if E resists, the state will collapse and all the resisters will be freed.
- Scenario 4: Suppose only A has thus far committed himself in a binding way to resist. What should B do? He should resist, because if he does, then that will create a Scenario 3 situation in which C has every reason to resist because C knows that if C resists, that will create a Scenario 2 situation in which D has every reason to resist because D knows that if D resists, that will create a Scenario 1 situation in which E has every reason to resist because E knows that if E resists, the state will collapse and all the resisters will be freed.
- Scenario 5: Suppose no one has thus far committed himself in a binding way to resist. What should A do? He should resist, because if he does, that will create a Scenario 4 situation in which B has every reason to resist because B knows that if B resists, that will create a Scenario 3 situation in which C has every reason to resist because C knows that if C resists, that will create a Scenario 2 situation in which D has every reason to resist because D knows that if he resists, that will create a Scenario 1 situation in which E has every reason to resist because E knows that if E resists, the state will collapse and all the resisters will be freed.
No matter which of these scenarios is applicable to the situation, then, the individual dissident should rebel. There is no possible scenario above in which he should not rebel.
Implications
There is no reason to abstain from rebelling out of fear that other dissidents will be afraid to join the rebellion
The logic of the dissident's dilemma applies regardless of how many dissidents there are, as long as a number less than the total number of dissidents is required to overthrow the state. If the preconditions for the dissident's dilemma are met, the dissidents should always resist without fear that there will not be enough participants in the rebellion for it to succeed.
Free rider problem?
However, note that it is possible for E to be a free rider if A, B, C, D and F resist. That is, he can sit back and refrain from rebelling and from suffering the inconveniences involved in rebelling, and still reap the benefits of the state's downfall, if he is confident that the others will resist. Good law then remains a public good. Will this public good be produced?
In practice, we see that sometimes it is produced and sometimes it isn't. Sometimes rage is enough to impel people to rebel even when they could be free riders on others' rebellion. Sometimes the political situation is so bad that people have little to lose and free rider concerns are not a big factor in their thinking.
See also
External link
- "Imprisoner's dilemma". Mises Institute. 29 March 2011. http://mises.org/media/6097/.