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Nice Guys Finish First (1986)

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Nice Guys Finish First

Nice Guys Finish First (BBC Horizon television series) is a 1986 documentary by Richard Dawkins which discusses selfishness and cooperation, arguing that evolution often favors co-operative behaviour, and focusing especially on the tit for tat strategy of the prisoner's dilemma game. The film is approximately 45 minutes long and was produced by Jeremy Taylor.

In the opening scene, Richard Dawkins responds very precisely to what he views as a misrepresentation of his first book The Selfish Gene. In particular the response of the right wing for using it as justification for social darwinism and laissez faire politics. Richard Dawkins has examined this issue throughout his whole career and focused much of the recent documentary, The Genius of Charles Darwin on this very issue.

The concept of reciprocal altruism is a central theme of this documentary. Dawkins also examines the tragedy of the commons and the dilemma that it presents. He uses the large area of common land Port Meadow in Oxford, England which has been hurt by overgrazing as an example of the tragedy of the commons. Fourteen academics as well as experts in game theory submitted their own computer programs to compete in a tournament to see who would win in the prisoner's dilemma. The winner was tit for tat. A program which is based on "equal retaliation" and Dawkins illustrates the four conditions of tit for tat.

  • Unless provoked, the agent will always cooperate.
  • If provoked, the agent will retaliate.
  • The agent is quick to forgive.
  • The agent must have a good chance of competing against the opponent more than once.
  • In a second trial, this time of over sixty applicants tit for tat won again.

    The documentary does not seem to address much larger issues within the tragedy of the commons for example it only briefly mentions global warming. Yet "Initial niceness" is a conclusion that Richard Dawkins drew from this study and other research for effective cooperation which led him to believe that in fact, "Nice guys finish first."

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