Trust Games

Steer of Fate

This series is based on two trust games. One is called The Stag Hunt, the other is called relationships.

In Rousseau’s “A Discourse on Inequality”, and Hume’s “Treatise”, The Stag Hunt is a theoretical blind trust game used to describe the social contract, and its attendant risks. In The Stag Hunt, two hunters go on a hunt together. Each must choose to hunt either a hare or a stag, but they must choose blindly. In other words, they cannot know the choice of the other. If one chooses a hare, the hare can be caught without the cooperation of the other. If one chooses to hunt a stag, the cooperation of the other is essential for success. The stag is more valuable, but the hare is easier to catch. They only have a chance at catching the stag if they both decide to hunt the stag.

In this painting, the figures are stand-ins for any two individuals in absolutely any kind of relationship. Even if both know the possible set of strategies, and the attendant risks, they still may not make the decisions that will yield the highest success for them. The likelihood of catching a hare alone is much greater than the possibility of both individuals happening to trust enough to choose to hunt the stag. In fact, each hunter’s chances of catching a hare goes up if there is no competition, so if both players do not decide to trust and go for the stag, one player’s chance of catching a hare on his own goes up if the other player chose to hunt a stag instead.

In their 2001 presidential address to the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association, Skyrms and Irvine said,

“In the Stag Hunt, what is rational for one player to choose depends on his beliefs about what the other will choose. Both stag hunting and hare hunting are equilibria. That is just to say that it is best to hunt stag if the other player hunts stag and it is best to hunt hare if the other player hunts hare. A player who chooses to hunt stag takes a risk that the other will choose not to cooperate in the Stag Hunt. A player who chooses to hunt hare runs no such risk, since his payoff does not depend on the choice of action of the other player, but he foregoes the potential payoff of a successful stag hunt. Here, rational players are pulled in one direction by considerations of mutual benefit and in the other by considerations of personal risk.”

The tension of the uncertain relationship between the man and the powerful animal (the stag, or deer/ Dear) dominates the horizontal axis of the painting, but it is the rope (a symbol of connection) that binds them together and balances the figures and the plane. If one stopped pulling, the other would topple. It is the active engagement in the struggle to hold (and possibly steer) that maintains the link. Because all of the weight in the painting is being created and held in the taut rope / chord, it indicates that the connection between the two figures is the most important place in this landscape.

This painting was created as a meditation on relationships as encounters in an uncertain wilderness. The outer edges of this little painting were rubbed with iodine. Iodine is both extremely touch sensitive, and used to stabilize filaments in light bulbs. This delicate substance used to stabilize objects of illumination seemed an appropriate symbol to surround this depiction of the difference between the moment of having and the work of holding.

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