I just finished hacking our vehicle out of the parking spot it was trapped in. It took me around half-an-hour of determined work to free it from the icy grip of the spot we'd left it in yesterday.
When we had the big snowfall a few days ago, our car was parked right across the street from our house (like most of the people on our street, we don't have a driveway). A day after the snow finished falling and the city got around to plowing our street, I took some time to clear the snow from around our car. I'm pretty sure I'm the only person on our block who actually bothered to do this.
As a result, the spot where I'd been parked, originally, is now the best parking spot on the street. It's clear of snow and more importantly, it's also clear of ice. Of course, we don't tend to get that parking spot any more. It's too desirable.
Meanwhile, the rest of the parking spots on the street consist of a crust of hard, chunky snow-ice, punctuated by slick, rock-hard icy tracks perfect for trapping tires. The sound of engines revving and tires spinning as people attempt to exit these parking spots is commonplace in our neighbourhood. It's too late to do anything about it, too, until the weather warms up again.
I'm not trying to position myself as some kind of saint for digging out my car. On the contrary, I really only had my own self-interest in mind: I needed to be on time the next day, to drop off my kid at childcare and get to work. I knew I wouldn't have time to waste digging out my car the next morning, so I got the digging over with the night before.
That said, had everyone on my street taken the time to dig out their cars, our street would be clear of snow and ice, there'd be more room to park, and we'd all have decent parking spots. I'm guessing, though, that when the time came to decide whether or not to shovel, my neighbours' thinking went something like this:
This reminds me of the Prisoners' Dilemma, the classic game theory scenario where two prisoners are faced with a difficult decision.
The prisoners are suspects in a crime and are being separately questioned about a crime. If both remain silent under questioning, they will serve time for only a minor charge. On the other hand, if they each defect to the prosecution and agree to testify against their co-prisoner, they will each get a five-year sentence. But if one of them defects, while the other remains silent, then the defector will get off scot-free while his partner faces harsh sentencing alone.
Each prisoner has to decide whether to remain silent, or to betray their co-prisoner.
According to the Wikipedia article I just linked to, "In the classic form of this game, cooperating [both remaining silent] is strictly dominated by defecting, so that the only possible equilibrium for the game is for all players to defect. No matter what the other player does, one player will always gain a greater payoff by playing defect. Since in any situation playing defect is more beneficial than cooperating, all rational players will play defect, all things being equal."
Sound familiar? Although all of my neighbours would benefit from behaving cooperatively and clearing the street of snow, because there's a chance each may spend the effort clearing snow only to be taken advantage of by non-snow-clearers, no one clears the snow.
Where the comparison between dilemmas breaks down, of course, is that in the Prisoner's Dilemma, the prisoners are in separate cells and cannot communicate. But I can talk to my neighbours, so perhaps I will - even if I just end up spinning my wheels.
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