Social dilemma

A social dilemma is bound to occur when an individual’s rational interests come into conflict with the collective or the group interests. When faced with a dilemma between personal rational interests or group interests, an individual will naturally seek his own interests even if this may eventually work against everyone including the individual. The individual interests are based on short term individualistic goals whose existence is more often than not pegged to the existence of the individual. It is difficult to reconcile individual interests with collective interests and collective interests. This usually requires conflict resolution or negotiation with a third party deemed to be independent facilitating the resolution of the conflict.

Three metaphorical stories are used to better understand social dilemma. The first is the prisoners’ dilemma where two prisoners who kept apart are faced with the choice of testifying against each other or staying silent. Individually, they are better off testifying against each other but this will eventually work against them so it is better for them to cooperate than to satisfy their egos (Axelrod, 1984). The second metaphor is the public good dilemma. This looks at social dilemma in a public context with public good being a resource shared by the public irrespective of their contribution to the existence of the public good. For example everyone can enjoy parks built by the state councils regardless of whether they pay taxes or not. However if everyone was to evade taxes then there would be no such facilities for the public to enjoy (Dawes, 2000). This poses as social dilemma to the public. These two dilemmas are related only that one deals with the individual and the other the group.

The final metaphor is the tragedy of commons. This explains a social dilemma in the context of scarce limited resources at man’s disposal. For example the current debate on global warming. Countries have agreed to ratify the Kyoto protocol with the exception of a few countries who feel that this will slow down their economic growth. This is a perfect example of self interest versus collective interest. The countries which have not ratified the protocol are protecting their short term interests at the expense of the greater good. It is better for them to forego their personal interest for the long term good as failure to do so will mean that even the gains they make in the short term will be meaningless as there will be no future to enjoy them (Axelrod, 1984).

Social dilemma if not resolved on time leads to conflict sometimes with grave consequences. There is therefore the need for conflict resolution or negotiation mechanisms to stem conflict. According to the realist theory, man is self seeking and naturally drawn to conflict. One of the major reasons for conflict is usually as a result of limited resources. Everyone wants to have the best but this is not possible without conflict arising. Therefore a compromise must be found to avert war (whether cold or otherwise) as this is not deemed to be a solution to conflict. Postponing conflict is also sometimes confused with solving conflict. If the warring parties agree to solve their differences without all the issues addressed comprehensively, it will not come as a surprise when the conflict reemerges and more often on a higher scale.

As mentioned earlier, conflict usually stems from a feud over limited resources. This has been best exemplified by the Middle East conflict. This conflict began over a hundred years ago and is still on going. It originates from the Jewish settlement in Palestinian territory. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Jews began to migrate back to the Middle East in what they claimed was their God given land and had therefore the right to settle there. The British, the super power at the time, supported these settlements until it reached a point where the Palestinians felt they were rapidly being dominated and started to resent the Jewish settlement. (Tessler, 1994).  The Jews were establishing themselves economically by setting up industries and farms. However they did not employ non Jews in their businesses.

The conflict took different phases from there on until 1948 when the current Jewish State was established. It was at this point that the Arab spoke with one voice against Israel. This led to the 1967 six day war and other conflicts including the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Several peace agreements have been signed including the Oslo accord but without any significant effect on the conflict. Currently there is the Arab peace initiative which it is believed if implemented will lead to peace in the region. The peace plan calls for Israel to return all the lands it acquired in the 1967 war including the Golan Heights, the Gaza strip and the West Bank. (Tessler, 1994). It also calls for the establishment of an independent Palestinian government to be recognized by Israel. If these conditions are met the Arab league has promised to recognize the Jewish State of Israel. However Israel is not willing to agree this term unless Hamas, which Israel believes is a terrorist group, ceases its terrorist activities.

The Israel Palestine conflict is mainly as a result of two communities fighting for resources with other parties with vested interested interfering in the conflict. The Arab league is interested in advancing their own interests and curtailing western domination. Considering the vast resources the region is endowed with, it would be easy for them to accomplish their mission. However Israel is an ally of the western world which is paranoid of the Arab league. The Arab nations support insurgents who attack Israel while the western allies provide Israel with various forms of assistance that go along way in helping Israel in defending itself.

The conflict therefore represents a social dilemma with individual interests conflicting the group’s interests. The various warring parties are faced with the prisoners’ dilemma. It would be better for them in the long term if they were to cooperate rather than pursue self short term interests. This social dilemma has led to several peace negotiations with the aim of a peaceful conflict resolution. The more they delay the peaceful resolution, they more it will escalate. Peace in the Middle East, however unfathomable, will mean peace in the whole world.


















Axelrod, R. A. The evolution of cooperation. New York: Basic Books (1984).

Dawes, R. & Messick, M. Social Dilemmas. International Journal of Psychology. (1994).

Schneider, S. K., & Northcraft, G. B. Three social dilemmas of workforce diversity in organizations: A social identity perspective. Human Relations. (1999).

Tessler, M.A.  A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Indiana University Press, (1994).








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