Game Theory and the Middle East

Some books of the Hebrew Bible call on the followers to destroy people who did not worship Yahweh, but certain other books call for Israelites to peacefully co-exist with others. You can find similar passages in the Koran too. So why are certain passages conciliatory and others belligerent. What were the circumstances in which those passages were written and is there something we can learn from it to bring peace in the Middle East so that we can finally move that ladder?

The secret is game theory – the swing between zero-sum and non-zero-sum – and this, Robert Wright, says may give us hope for religious harmony.

Sometimes this may mean engineering the non-zero-sumness — for example, strengthening commerce between Israel and the Palestinian territories. Other times it will mean highlighting a non-zero-sum dynamic that already exists — emphasizing, for example, that continued strife between Israelis and Palestinians will be lose-lose (as would escalated tensions between the “Muslim world” and the “West” more broadly). Enduring peace would be win-win.

This peace would also have been foretold. Isaiah (first Isaiah, not the Isaiah of the exile) envisioned a day when God “shall arbitrate for many peoples” and “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” And in a Koranic verse dated by scholars to the final years of Muhammad’s life, God tells humankind that he has “made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another.”

This happy ending is hardly assured. It can take time for people, having seen that they are playing a non-zero-sum game, to adjust their attitudes accordingly. And this adaptation may never happen if barriers of mistrust persist.[Decoding God’s Changing Moods — Printout — TIME]

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