There’s an old saying: Close only counts
in horseshoes and hand grenades. Of course, you can always add
Nuclear Tipped Missiles. When the Cold War started and we
weren’t accustomed to having rockets aimed at us, people worried
about the possibility of World War III. Were humans foolish
enough to exchange weapons that might wipe out life on Earth?
Psychologists decided to test the limits to which we might go
with the Ace Trucking experiment.
Two subjects were isolated in separate
rooms. Each of the rooms contained a toy, remote controlled
truck affixed to a map. The goal was for each subject to move
their truck along a road going from A to B in the shortest time.
Since time was money, the subjects were paid in real money to
make the exercise more realistic.
At the beginning, the subjects quickly
realized that there was a speedy direct route which, when taken,
would result in a profit every time. There was also a detour
with twists and turns that would, if taken. lose money every
time. The problem was that the direct route was narrow and could
only accommodate one truck at a time. The one that arrived first
made more while the one that got there second made less but both
still made a profit. After several experiences with both trucks
jockeying back and forth to go first, a silent agreement was
made and the trucks alternated.
It was at that point that the
psychologists gave one subject a gate. If put up, it would force
the other subject to lose money taking the detour. The only
rational decision was for the subject without a gate to allow
the competition to go first every time. This was the state of
the world until the '50s. The USA had the bomb and the USSR
didn’t so we enjoyed an advantage. But then the experimenters
provided a second gate which mirrored the world scene. Both the
Americans and the Soviets had the bomb.
This was the scary part. Both sides had
the power to defeat the other so they both threw up their gates.
There was no compromise. They each took the detour and lost
money on every run. Providing phones so the two sides could
communicate - the equivalent of a hot line between nations -
only made things worse as heated arguments broke out. It was
just like the Cuban Missile Crises. Both sides continued to
bluster and threaten as the situation deteriorated. It was
startling how the two individuals with toy trucks behaved just
like two nations with thermonuclear missiles. As the two
trucking companies moved toward bankruptcy, the two countries
were getting ever closer to Armageddon.
Look At It This Way
How would you have handle these
situations? Eventually the two truckers went broke with their
gates left firmly in place. One trucker used his phone to
say: "I'll lose less than you." The Missile Crises had a
happier ending but just barely. At the time, Dean Rusk was
reported to have said: “We’re eyeball to eyeball and I think the
other fellow just blinked.” That was 1962. What has changed
since then to make a similar crisis less threatening today?
Anything? Think about it.