The prisoner’s dilemma is a thought puzzle set up in the following way. You and a friend have been captured by the Turkish “president” Ergodan, who’s accusing you of taking part in a coup. You know nothing about this and neither does your friend.

Your interrogators offer you a deal, though:

You snitch on him: he goes to jail for twenty years, and they give you $100K US.

You figure he’s been offered the same deal to turn on you, too.

Further, you are very confident if neither of you snitches, they’ll be forced to let you go. You’d counter sue the government and between the two of you, probably net $75K US each, for a total of $150K.

Finally, if you both snitch, no one gets any money and you both go to jail for twenty years.

So the dilemma is do you snitch and go for the greatest individual award, or do you refuse to snitch hoping for a greater group reward?

You and your friend are being held in different rooms and cannot communicate. What do you do?

A really novel strategy for this puzzle – albeit, the contestants can communicate – can be seen here.

The question sums up – do you trust and collaborate, hoping for a greater goal, or do you go rogue and work as an individual?

While there are many definitions of justice, I was starting to consider one related to this question. Is justice some sort of ‘metric’ for how much better off a single person is under society versus ‘on their own’? In other words, when people believe something is unjust, are  they perceiving that working with society will benefit them less than working as an individual?

Frequently we have this archetype of an unjust system being fought by some sort of vigilante, which would back up this impression that justice is about working inside society being more fair than what someone can get on their own.

(Caveat: clearly it’s nearly impossible to truly ‘go it alone’. The choice between working within society and working as an individual may be more a case by case sort of choice of what social rules to follow – do following the rules overall benefit me more than not following them? Or are the rules unjust and I should break some of them to get a better deal?)