The Game Theory Narrative and the Myth of the National Security State

Steven Belletto

in No Accident, Comrade

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199826889
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199932382 | DOI:
The Game Theory Narrative and the Myth of the National Security State

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Chapter five describes a widespread cultural narrative that I term the game theory narrative, which does not name the technical understanding familiar to mathematicians or economists, but rather a popularized story about what game theory could do for Americans playing a global game of Cold War. It was touted as a scientific theory that would help the United States win this game by incorporating random strategic moves in order both to outplay the Soviets and to manage the threat of an accidental nuclear exchange. The chapter describes how this story was promulgated in the early 1950s, then how it was engaged, amplified or challenged in a range of literary and cultural materials, including Philip K. Dick’s Solar Lottery (1955), Robert Coover’s The Universal Baseball Association (1968), Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1964), Richard Powers’s Prisoner’s Dilemma (1988), and Joan Didion’s A Book of Common Prayer (1977), Democracy (1984) and The Last Thing He Wanted (1996). In such works, there is the sense that while game theory is the product of supreme rationality, when applied to the realities of the Cold War, it becomes supremely irrational, and the myth of state control is dangerously reminiscent of totalitarian fantasies of control.

Keywords: game theory and literature; game theory in popular culture; game theory narrative; Cold War in popular culture

Chapter.  13285 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)

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