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Metta Spencer has pointed me to an article she wrote about Anatol in her
_Peace_ magazine a few years. Metta was close to the family. So was Steve
Berkowitz, who was a neighbour of Anatol's.
Anywhere here is the article
Barry Wellman S.D. Clark Professor of Sociology NetLab Director
Centre for Urban & Community Studies University of Toronto
455 Spadina Avenue Toronto Canada M5S 2G8 fax:+1-416-978-7162
wellman at chass.utoronto.ca http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~wellman
for fun: http://chass.utoronto.ca/oldnew/cybertimes.php
From Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2001, p.23. Author=Metta Spencer;
Rapoport at Ninety
A few months ago Science for Peace celebrated Anatol Rapoport's ninetieth
birthday. I couldn't go, so during the August heat wave I took my tape
recorder and paid a social call instead. Anatol's wife Gwen welcomed me
again into the house that first became familiar to me in the early
eighties, when Anatol was president of Science for Peace and the directors
used to meet there, planning a peace and conflict studies program at the
University of Toronto.
The house is the same and the occupants are as kind and engaging as ever,
but even the Rapoports have not entirely escaped the effects of time: Gwen
is half blind and Anatol half deaf. Last autumn he finished his teaching
career but he is still publishing circles around the rest of us. In 2000
his memoirs,Certainties and Doubts, appeared in English, and a book about
Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Lenin is being published in Russia. A Canadian
publisher is dickering to bring it out in English. This year he has
produced a paper on ecology, and he is working on another book on
whistleblowers - notably Alexander Solzenitsyn. I have known of Rapoport's
work since the early 1960s, but only during the eighties was his
extraordinary influence made apparent to me when Rob Prichard, then
president of the university, asked me to write a letter supporting
Anatol's nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize. He didn't win it, but not for
lack of admiring letters. Later I was in Estonia with him and Gwen,
attending the European Nuclear Disarmament conference, and could watch the
journalists surround him, requesting interviews. Throughout the Cold War
his books had been published in the Soviet Union but kept in the special
section of libraries to which only party members and a few other reliable
intellectuals had access. Books acquired a special cachet by being kept
there; the privileged readers used to show off at parties by discussing
the "dangerous" ideas gleaned from such sources. I have heard that
Alexander Yakovlev, the most influential person in Gorbachev's circle, was
influenced by one of Rapoport's books.
Certainties and Doubts recounts, not only the main intellectual concerns
of his mature years, but also some great stories about his youth. He was
born in Ukraine before the revolution, the only child of a couple who soon
moved to Crimea. Both of his parents tutored children privately in their
home. They were socialists - his father a social democrat, his mother
initially leaning toward the Bolsheviks because they promised to quit the
war in Europe. In the civil war following the revolution, the Bolshevik
regime punished Crimea for being a "White" stronghold. The Rapoports'
relatives could hear the screams of victims being massacred nearby, so no
one believed anymore that those Bolsheviks in power were beneficent. The
only decent people had been killed, had emigrated, or were powerless.
Although this was the New Economic Program period, when partial free
enterprise was reinstated, its lenient rules did not apply to Crimea,
where the inhabitants were starving.
Flight to the West
In 1921, Anatol's father had a month-long leave from his job and took his
family to visit his wife's parents in Ukraine, where food was plentiful.
Anatol's mother announced that she would not go back. She convinced her
husband to go to the border of Poland and Russia - a no-man's land where
no government had established itself. She managed to cross over into
Poland and to contact an agency that helped Jewish refugees. Only after
hair-raising adventures did her husband and son succeed in following her a
few weeks later. Eventually they were able to join relatives in Chicago,
where Father became a milkman (later a grocer) and 11-year-old Anatol
resumed his schooling.
He was an exceptional musician, and at the age of 18 was sent to Vienna,
where he studied piano five years. His training culminated in a successful
recital, and he returned to America hoping to establish a career as
concert pianist. However, in both Chicago and New York, any young pianist
needed to be the protegé of wealthy people, and Anatol disliked any such
dependence. He went to Mexico for a year and concertized throughout the
country, learning Spanish along the way. But even then, he realized that
sponsorship would be necessary to gain recognition in the United States,
so he decided to go into mathematics instead. (But he continued performing
sometimes, playing his last concert on his 85th birthday.) He had always
enjoyed math and quickly proceeded through to a doctorate at the
University of Chicago, finishing exactly at the time of Pearl Harbor and
immediately entering the armed forces.
He served the four war years as a supply officer in Alaska and India. Then
he returned to Chicago, took an academic post, and married Gwen, who had
been involved in industrial relations. The new family would grow, as they
became parents of a daughter, Anya, and two sons, Alexander and Anthony.
Anatol had belonged to the Communist Party from 1938 to 1941, quitting
when he joined the military. After the war he would have joined again, but
its US leadership had become more inflexible and Anatol was keenly
sensitive to demogogy, which was prevalent both in the party and among
anti-communists. During that witch hunt period he expected to be called to
testify about his previous actvities in the party, but this did not
happen. While still preoccupied with such political concerns in 1954, he
left Chicago for a year at Stanford's prestigious "think tank" - the
Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. There he continued
discussions with several like-minded scholars with whom he created the
International Society for General Systems Research. After the year in
California, he and his family moved to the University of Michigan, where
he taught fifteen years.
Although he was still calling himself a mathematical biologist and working
in the field of mental health, his interests actually centered on general
systems analysis and conflict situations - especially the theory of
non-zero sum games, of which the most famous example is the "Prisoners'
Dilemma." He wrote a book about that dilemma and has continued expanding
that area of mathematics as a field called "decision theory." (See the
sidebar on Prisoners' Dilemma.) This interest inevitably led him into an
intellectual confrontation with strategic analysts, the theorists who were
developing the nuclear deterrence model on which the Cold War was being
waged. This interest combined with his popularity as a teacher, and in the
1960s led to his active opposition to the Vietnam War, particularly by
taking a leading role in Ann Arbor's mass teach-ins. By then, more than
half his publications dealt with themes of peace, war, or conflict.
He was feeling that the United States was not where he wanted to live and
raise his growing sons. After briefly immigrating to Denmark, the family
settled in Toronto in 1970, where Rapoport taught until his official
(mandatory) retirement in 1976. (In fact, he continued teaching in Canada
and abroad until 2000.) For four years he was director of an institute of
advanced study in Vienna, spending his summers in Toronto.
The Study of Conflict
In 1984 Rapoport joined the newly-formed organization, Science for Peace,
which was encouraging the application of science to problems of peace. He
was elected president of the group and proposed to form an
inter-disciplinary curriculum in peace studies at University of Toronto,
of which he offered to teach two courses. After two years of discussions
and revision, Science for Peace received permission to launch this
four-year degree program. It is still flourishing.
I asked Anatol why he had developed such an interest in peace, war, and
conflict. Was there a special personal motive behind his scholarly
preoccupation? After reflecting a moment, he said that probably Gwen had
influenced him, for they have been married over half a century. Gwen had
even been opposed to fighting World War II, whereas he had served in the
military without hesitation. He would not do so today, if he had to make
such a decision again, for he calls himself an abolitionist.
by this term he means to set himself apart from pacifists. The distinction
in his mind is between two alternative approaches to the elimination of
warfare. A pacifist, to him, is someone who believes that the willingness
or unwillingness to engage in violence is a moral trait, and that peace
requires a change in the minds and souls of individuals, so they will
refuse to wound other human beings. Tolstoy and Martin Luther King were
pacifists. Rapoport, however, believes that Gandhi was not a pacifist, but
an organizer of nonviolent resistance. An abolitionist is someone who
thinks of war as a social institution. Anatol sees warfare as a system
with sub-systems, including the military complexes of various states.
Military institutions support each other, each one of them justifying the
existence of its counterparts in potentially adversarial societies. To
abolish war, he argues, we must uproot it institutionally. This effort has
little to do with the psychology of individuals. Studying the inclination
of individuals to fight will not get us very far. "I'm for killing the
institution of war," he says. Of course, even though he advocates an
institutional, political approach, he personally admires pacifists, such
as the Quakers and Mennonites. He spoke especially fondly of Kenneth and
Elise Boulding - both devout believers and anti-war activists who had been
his close friends in Michigan.Individual and Collective Rationality
Rapoport's greatest intellectual fascination has concerned the
deceptiveness of rationality. We need to distinguish between individual
and collective rationality, as we learn from the familiar allegory, the
"tragedy of the common." In a village all the cows graze on a common
pasture. It is in their individual interest for all farmers to keep as
many cows as possible and let them eat their fill. But if all the farmers
do so, the grass will soon be gone and all the cows will starve. So it is
in their collective interest for each farmer to limit her herd. A similar
example comes from fishing: if all the fishers take the maximum number of
fish, the fishery will soon be depleted because individual rationality
again runs counter to collective rationality. Or, to cite one more
example, in a burning theatre everyone wants out, but if everyone rushes
to the exit without self-restraint, no one will escape. Again, the
rational pursuit of individual and collective interests are contradictory.
But the clearest example is the Prisoners' Dilemma, where it is perfectly
rational to defect, though doing so yields a worse result than mutual
cooperation. Fortunately, the motivation to defect can be overcome over
the course of a series of games instead of a single game, for it is
possible to build up mutual trust.
Trust is strongly influenced by the evidence the other player provides by
demonstrating his actual decisions, one after another. Clearly, if I can
trust you, the other player, to cooperate, it will make sense for me to
cooperate too, and by continuing our mutual cooperation over a whole
series we both would win. But if you defect on one game while I cooperate
and lose, you probably cannot convince me to trust you next time and
cooperate again. That is how we establish our trustworthiness in real life
- by demonstrating it in a series of interactions. The question then
becomes, what kind of game plan allows a player to benefit most over an
indefinitely long series of games? In 1984 Robert Axelrod published a
book, The Evolution of Cooperation, which presented a solution to the
Prisoners' Dilemmas. He had established it by organizing a computer
tournament that pitted strategies against each other, pairwise, over a
series of games. Game theorists around the world had submitted these
strategies. Anatol Rapoport won the tournament with a strategy called
TIT-FOR-TAT, which always entered the first round of games with a
cooperative play. Thereafter, it played exactly as the other side had
played in the preceding game. If the other side had defected, TIT-FOR-TAT
also defected for that one game. If the other side had cooperated,
TIT-FOR-TAT then cooperated on the next round.
In effect, TIT-FOR-TAT punished the other player for selfish behavior and
rewarded her for cooperative behavior - but the punishment lasted only as
long as the selfish behavior lasted. This proved to be an exceptionally
effective sanction, quickly showing the other side the advantages of
cooperating. TIT-FOR-TAT won the tournament. It also set moral
philosophers to proposing this as a workable principle to use in real life
let you and him fight
I asked Anatol why this simple rule of reciprocity was so powerful. To my
surprise, he said that TIT-FOR-TAT cannot beat anyone! It can never get a
better score than the other player, since all it is doing is following
what that player had just done. Then how did it win the tournament? By
allowing all the other strategies to eliminate each other. ("Let you and
him fight!" he explained.)
He gave some examples to illustrate the principle. A former student of his
had developed a scenario called a "truel" - a duel for three shooters, all
of whom should shoot at the same moment. The first man is a known to be a
crack shot; he hits his target 95% of the time. The second man is almost
as good a shot; he hits his target 90% of the time. The third man is a
poor shot; he can hit a target only 50% of the time. So which of these
three "truelists" is most likely to survive? Answer: the third guy. The
other two men will kill each other, leaving the worst marksman unscathed.
TIT-FOR-TAT's victory represented a similar outcome: It allowed the other
strategies to kill each other off.
Illustrating the principle in another way, Rapoport recalled having put
this question to friends in Russia and the United States during the Cold
War: During a war would you be safer in the United States or Costa Rica?
In Finland or the Soviet Union? The answer was obvious, yet it was a
telling criticism of the whole theory of deterrence.
"So you decided to be an `abolitionist?'" I inferred.
"One doesn't make decisions," he replied. "One discovers them. And I guess
Gwen discovered this one first."
"How should we pursue the abolition of war?" I asked.
He said, "I hope a world-wide unified left will develop from today's left
- the ecologists, the peaceniks, the anti-capitalists, and the champions
of true democracy. I want to get the war makers completely out of power.
That will be abolition!"
Metta Spencer is editor of Peace Magazine and a retired professor of
sociology and peace studies.
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