I’m presenting PTJ’s and my “End of IR Theory” paper at Berkeley next week. Here’s a sneak peak at some of the lecture slides.
|Just say no to theory.|
Parents: Are you worried that your college students aren’t interested in the real world anymore? Are they growing distant from conversations about foreign policy at the dinner table? Are your college students getting involved with international relations theory? Could it lead to a destructive path toward an M.A.–or even a Ph.D.?
If you’re worried that your child could become a graduate student, you need to know the warning signs:
- Abstracting too much.
Real foreign policy professionals resist the urge to generalize, unless they’re doing so as part of a doctrine named for a president. IR students spend too much time trying to understand international politics without reading the New York Times or Council on Foreign Relations task-force reports. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy–and all theory and no facts make Jack, Ph.D., unemployable.
- Upsetting the conventional wisdom.
Is your son or daughter spending all of his or her time trying to disprove the proposition that 1648 marked the beginning of the modern states-system? That’s unhealthy. Why spend time obsessing over such historical minutiae when the European Union is in trouble today?
- Learning about methodology.
True, some exposure to methods can provide useful, marketable skills.
Qualitative methods leads to better writing; quantitative research can help your child land a job in predictive analytics, data science, or data visualization. But too much exposure to methodology turns them into asocial neurotics, blabbering about improper uses of “process tracing” or “Mahalanobis distances.” In terminal forms, this interest can lead to drawing distinctions between “methods” and “methodology” that even most practicing researchers don’t recognize.
- Obsessing about originality.
When you share a well-written Nicholas Kristof or Tom Friedman piece from the Sunday Times magazine with them, does your child mutter something about “N of one” or “neoliberal shibboleths”? If so, they may be in danger of becoming graduate students.
If your child is displaying any of these tendencies, there may still be hope. We recommend a thorough course of treatment here at the Duck of Minerva’s Institute of Medicine, where one of our skilled quacks will diagnose the severity of the symptons and place your child on a route to employability.
|Hawai’i isn’t the only colonial possession
to get the inset treatment.
Although the authors of the Duck of Minerva do not condone, endorse, or even take seriously this proposal, we do want to bring to our readers’ attention a petition urging President Obama to return Taiwan to the Emperor of Japan.
This is not entirely crazy, just 99.98 percent insane. Taiwan, of course, was a part of the Japanese Empire after the cession of Formosa in the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895. Less well known in the West is the depth of pro-Japanese sentiment in Taiwan; former president Lee Teng-hui, for instance, was graduated from Kyoto University in 1946. More immediately important for D.C.-area sports fans was the fact that the Japanese introduced Taiwan to baseball, thereby indirectly leading to the Nationals’ pitching staff including Chien-Ming Wang (see also).
The petition’s unique one-state solution to the Formosa problem deserves consideration at least as in-depth as this blog post.
|The logic of inappropriateness|
Below, Scott Weiner argues that Carly Rae Jepsen’s song “Call Me Maybe” is an illustration of the dynamics of standard game-theory models, specifically the prisoner’s dilemma and stag hunt. Weiner assumes that Jepsen is a rational actor, that both Jepsen and her beau are better off being together than being apart or with different partners, and that Jepsen is rationally choosing to communicate her availability to facilitate their coming together. I share these assumptions, but as I demonstrate Weiner misses the key points of the song. If, as Weiner suggests, both Carly and the boy are better off together than apart, then why signal that “this is crazy”? And why is the song called “Call Me Maybe” instead of “Call Me Right Now So We Can Be Together”?
The answer is that Carly is trying to communicate that, despite her forward approach to the boy, she is nevertheless suitable for him. Sometimes, disclosing more information hurts rational actors, and for Carly to disclose that she is interested in the boy after having just met him could signal to the boy that she is an undesirable partner—not just because of old-fashioned notions (“she’s not wife material“) but also because an aggressive partner of either sex might not be interested in a long-term relationship (Hall and Oates, 1982).
So we are left with a puzzle. If Jepsen is rational and can assume her potential partner is as well, why pursue a strategy that both stresses her availability (“call me!”) while highlighting her ambiguity (“maybe?”) and stressing that the situation is causing her to behave in an unusual way (“and this is crazy”)? The answer lies in the fact that dating is a game played under asymmetric information, which changes the dynamics of the interaction in ways Weiner does not appreciate. I provide an informal treatment below.
Assume there’s some distribution of types of potential dating partners in the world, “worthy” and “tragic.” (We assume that the dating game is multiple-shot; as is well understood, one-shot romantic games have dramatically different properties.) The preference of each player, worthy or tragic, is to find a worthy partner and to avoid ending up with a tragic partner. Worthy partners would rather be alone than with a tragic partner; tragic partners would rather be with a tragic partner than alone.However, although every player knows his or her type (that is, whether they are themselves tragic or worthy), they can’t know with certainty whether other players are. Consequently, players who advertise themselves as worthy may be lying, and there’s no way to tell in advance.
How, then, for worthy partners to advertise themselves as being worthy? As Schelling and others would point out, there has to be some sort of credible signal. This, however, is likely to be reticence, since tragic partners are made much better off by being with anyone than by being with the right partner. Consequently, the dating scene is likely to be made up of tragic partners pretending to be worthy ending up with each other. (Game theory is often realistic that way.) This is a perverse equilibrium: The only players left on the scene are the ones who shouldn’t be dating anyone, because all the worthy partners know that trying too hard puts off other worthy partners.
Let’s assume, however, that Carly and her boy are both worthy. If Carly comes off too strong, then the boy may assume that she is tragic. So she instead engages in signaling by saying that she’s not normally this way, that the situation is highly unusual, and that she’s putting off all the other boys who are interested in her to talk to the boy–all signals that she is interested but not tragic.
Unfortunately for Carly, the ploy is unlikely to work if the boy is a worthy partner. While Weiner does not provide an independent assessment of how likely Carly and her object of attraction are to end up together, his analysis suggest that they will be happy together because they are better off together. Alas, my analysis suggests instead that all such posturing will be dismissed as merely cheap talk.
This is a guest post by Scott Weiner, a PhD student in Political Science at George Washington University.
One of this summer’s most popular hit singles is “Call Me Maybe” by pop artist Carly Rae Jepsen. In the song, Carly attempts to score a date with an attractive male by giving him her number and asking him to call her in order to set up the outing. This strategy is eventually successful, and while the male “took his time with the call,” Carly “takes no time with the fall.” This outcome is puzzling given that existing accounts of the scenario might predict a sub-optimal outcome given Carly’s strategy. Why does Carly Rae Jepsen give the boy her number despite her own realization that “this is crazy?” Why does Carly Rae Jepsen tell the boy, ambiguously, “call me, maybe” when her preferences are not at all ambiguous given that she very much wants him to call her? How can scholars understand the successful outcome of this strategy?
Existing literature understands the basic scenario presented in “Call Me, Maybe” as a prisoner’s dilemma. In the prisoner’s dilemma, two rational actors who cannot communicate with each other are given a choice of cooperation with each other or defection, with a system of rewards and penalties for each:
For the purposes of this model, we can assume Carly Rae Jepsen is a rational actor. She begins the song with the words “I threw a wish in a well / don’t ask me I’ll never tell.” This indicates a clear set of preferences. The fact that she will not reveal her wish under any circumstances indicates that these preferences are constant throughout the game. Carly also sets up a ranked order of preferences, noting “I’d trade my soul for a wish / pennies and dimes for a kiss.” This monetization of kisses indicates her ranking is in fact quite sophisticated.
However, assuming the boy is a rational actor as well (which Carly does) the prisoner’s dilemma would predict that her optimal strategy is to defect. Since she cannot guarantee the boy will call her, the prisoner’s dilemma predicts she should not give him her number, and that her actions are, in fact “crazy.” What accounts for not only Carly’s actions, but also the success of her strategy? To answer this question, we must look beyond the constraints of the prisoners dilemma. Other models may in fact lend more explanatory leverage on the issue.
I. A Shadow of the Future
One of the most important rules at play in a classic prisoner’s dilemma is that it is a one-shot game. However, if the game is played over and over with the same actor, this is known as an “iterated prisoner’s dilemma.” In this case, since the game is repeated, each actor will have to live with the consequences of his actions after the first round is over. This added condition is called the “shadow of the future.” When a shadow of the future is present perpetually (i.e. the game does not have a set end point), the optimal strategy ceases to be one of defection and instead becomes a “tit-for-tat” strategy, in which the actors try to mirror each other’s actions (see Axelrod’s “The Evolution of Strategies in the Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma“)
Carly opens the game by giving the boy her number, which is cooperation. Since if they were to date the game would repeat without a definite end-point, Carly calculates that it is in the boy’s rational interest to call her. Until the point that either Carly or the boy defect from the game, cooperation is the optimal strategy according to the model.
However, the reality is not quite so simple. Rationally, Carly should signal every intent to cooperate to the boy in order to maintain her credibility. Yet she deliberately tells him “Hey, I just met you / and this is crazy.” What explains this puzzling signal?
II. Signaling Intentions In The Stag Hunt
Carly’s predicament could also be explained via a model known as the stag hunt. Originally developed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the stag hunt involves two players who get a small payoff from hunting two rabbits separately but a large payoff from hunting one large stag together. Hunting stag requires a different weapon than hunting rabbit, however, and the weapon choice of the other player is unknown.
In a sense, Carly and the boy in question are in a sort of stag hunt. We assume for the purposes of the game that both Carly and the boy would prefer to go on a date over not going on a date (“Before you came into my life / I missed you so bad”). However, they also do not want their time wasted by trying to score a date with someone who is uninterested in going out with them. We can model the payoff structure of the game as follows:
As the matrix reveals, there are two equilibria in the game, but one has a higher payoff than the other. When such a payoff structure exists, actors will try to communicate their intention to cooperate (ie, go on a date) in order to try to induce cooperation from the other party. Communication is a highly theorized area of international relations, which involves signaling capability, resolve, and credibility. How can we understand Carly’s communication in this regard?
Carly’s statement “Hey, I just met you / and this is crazy” is an attempt to communicate both intentions and resolve. In particular, both statements are intended to highlight the costly signals Carly is giving of her intentions. Were Carly not interested in the boy, giving him her number after having just met him, an admittedly “crazy” action, would incur significant costs. By doing so regardless, Carly is communicating that she is in fact interested in having him call her. Her willingness to challenge social norms is an attempt to communicate resolve, especially given communication difficulties implicit in the situation at hand (“It’s hard to look right / at you baby”). That is, she is in fact interested in the boy and does in fact want the boy to call. Carly supports this signaling regime by noting that “all the other boys / try and chase me” a statement that she is committed to exclusive cooperation with the boy at hand.
The addition of the word “maybe” at the end of her signal is a tactic designed to highlight the choice which the boy now has to make between calling and not calling. Schelling would categorize “maybe” as as a “trip-wire,” in which one actor sets up an automated series of events which the other actor will trigger with a certain action. Since the first actor, Carly, has already chosen a risky course of action and the decision is out of her hands, it falls to the boy to pursue a strategy with the lowest risk for himself. This also turns out to be the one with the biggest payoff for Carly as well. As it happens, the boy does eventually call, and both Carly and the boy achieve their Pareto-efficient equilibrium.
In conclusion, Carly’s strategy is actually a rational one given the payoff structure she faces in the given situation. While such an explanation cannot explain her decision in the music video to wash a car in 5-inch heels, it can explain her actions as the outcome of a rational strategy. Further research should examine the generalizability of the argument by accounting for critical cases such as “Payphone (explicit)” by Maroon 5 (ft. Wiz Khalifa) and “Wide Awake” by Katy Perry. Ultimately, such inquiry serves to provide scholars with a deeper understanding of the complex world of interpersonal relations as relayed through pop songs.
UPDATE: Duck contributor PM provides an an alternate model of Carly Rae Jepsen’s song.
Romney apparently said today “we’ve been ‘turning to the United Nations’ to ‘raise our kids.'”
I don’t know if this is true,* but it raises a variety of questions/thoughts:
- Does the UN have stock in ink? Kids today seem to like tattoos.
- What is the curriculum include at UN Day Care?
- Learning How to Circumvent Your Parents’ Vetoes?
- Membership 101: You can join any club you want as long as your name is ok (Taiwan, Macedonia) even if you fall short of standards (Human Rights Commission).
- The Golden Rule As Applied to Combat: Fire only if fired upon.
* I follow the code of the West a la The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.
Chris Neff is a third year PhD candidate in Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney. He is conducting the world’s first doctoral dissertation on the politics of shark attacks.
Of course, I’m curious to know how this dissertation topic relates to IR precisely. (I get the comparative politics angle.) Perhaps Megan, who I believe teaches in his department and to whom I owe the incomparable joy of watching this clip, can shed some light… or can recruit Chris the Shark IR Specialist to do a guest post. But the real question is: how much time does Chris spend diving and surfing in his spare time? My guess is: plenty.
I’ve been meaning to write substantive posts about my recent trip to Taiwan, but between the time change, conference prep, and getting sick, I haven’t had the time. In the interim, I found a video of the knife-making process at Maester Wu knives on Kinmen.
A standard critical argument in my field looks something like this:
1. Phenomenon X involves A assumptions about the world;
2. Approach Y contains assumptions inconsistent with A; therefore
3. Y cannot be used to understand X.
In some instances, and given some specific conditions, this can be a persuasive argument. But it is clearly not a priori true; articulated in the form above, I submit, it is a logical fallacy–one often found alongside, but distinct from, genetic fallacies.
Thus, I will call this the “own-termism fallacy” until someone finds a better–or, at least, preexisting–name for it.
UPDATE: some have asked me for an example. As I’ve written about, this kind of reasoning is extremely common in the “secular bias” literature, which often claims that “secular” theories and methods born of the enlightenment cannot possibly make sense of religious politics.
This is our cat in the bath. He doesn’t really do anything funny. He just stands in the bathtub. Then he leaves.
Do academics use Linkedin for anything? I inquire because a small, but not insignificant, number of people ask to join my network.
Their requests accumulate.
The auto-generated reminders become annoying.
I log into the site and expand my professional ties.
The process begins anew.
No other circumstances compel me to visit Linkedin. I suppose I could cancel my membership, but that seems like too much effort. Am I missing something?
James Vreeland imagines the possibilities.
Political psychologists have a name for these shortcuts – “heuristics.” This is just a way for political psychologists to make fun of you in front of your face because they know you have no idea what that word means. This enables them to laugh at you in your very presence. Political psychologists are like the mean, popular girls in high school who invite the ugly girl over for a slumber party in order to make fun of her all night. So it goes without saying – do not attend a political psychology slumber party.
Political psychologists also enjoy figuring out why you are such a fascist. What the rest of the world calls being conservative, political psychologists call “right-wing authoritarianism” or “social dominance orientation.” They have devoted years to investigating the root causes of these pathologies. You are uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. You have a need for cognitive closure. You don’t trust others. You are greedy. Liberals are free of these symptoms and deserve no study. Never knowing what you think, being hopelessly naïve and giving your kid’s inheritance to the kids selling candy bars door-to-door need no explanation.
Best I can tell, we decided that all those darn Middle Easterners were getting too much attention with their popular protests bringing down regimes, civil wars between pro-democracy and autocratic forces, and all that, so the US was all like, “dude, better turn on the crazy and get some freaking attention!!”
At least, that’s the best explanation I’ve got.
If you’re a nerdy professor trying to avoid grading, like I am, you might want to play around with Google Lab’s new Ngram feature. The feature allows you to see how often a particular word or phrase has appeared within a large number of books over time. For examples, here is a chart comparing the use of the term “failed states” to “rogue states” from 1960 to 2010 in English language books scanned by Google Books:
Or, here is a comparison of the term “Human Security” with “Humanitarian Intervention” from 1900 to 2010 in the English language holdings:
Overall the specific terms are a minuscule portion of the total words found in the collection, but it can still be interesting to see trends…
Enjoy wasting time…