Audio Recording, dark, Songs

Song: “Prisoner’s Dilemma”

“Prisoner’s Dilemma”

Behind the Song

This is one of my more cerebral songs. I packed a trunkload of words into these verses — a mouthful, almost more than I could get out. But I decided not to lighten the load. Partly because I’m lazy, partly because the sensing of bursting words and ideas fits the song.

I wrote the opening verse months ago, but couldn’t figure out how to get to the end of the song. I wanted to show a transition from feeling stuck in conflict to seeing an enlightened alternative. I was helped along the way by a pair of books.

One was the popular Enlightenment Now, by the cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, in which he talks about disarming gradually with little steps. I use that image to lead off the final verse.

The other book was Which Rights Should Be Universal? by the philosopher William Talbott (and one of my former professors). Talbott proposes solutions to Prisoner’s Dilemma-style problems by pointing out that humans are neither devils nor angels. In other words, you don’t have to be a saint to construct peace.

I liked the idea of bracketing the human experience in that way, so Talbott’s phrasing made its way into the chorus.

Not too dark, say … 65%. And with a sprinkle of sea salt.

Lyrics

I can see his beady eyes
staring through the grate.
Enough to know the type
but not communicate.

I've got to get mine before he gets his
that's just how it is --
stuck down here
in this prisoner's dilemma.

It's dark down here
but I wanna take flight
I wanna soar with the birds
I wanna soak up the light.

I gotta flip the script
I gotta find a new level
one fit for a human
neither angel nor devil.

I don't turn the other cheek
I'm not Ghandi or the King.
I don't have the moral courage
to endure the wicked's sting.

You know my will's a slave
to a thousand small machines,
those selfish genes --
trapping me here
in this prisoner's dilemma.

It's dark down here
but I wanna take flight
I wanna soar with the birds
I wanna soak up the light.

I gotta flip the script
I gotta find a new level
one fit for a human
neither angel nor devil.

Wild, majestic, lordly and free?
Yeah, right -- that ain't me.
I'm not a solitary cougar
with a hundred-acre yard;
I'm a chimp in a tribe,
chasing status to survive,
losing everything if I let down my guard.

I can take a half-step back
see if he does the same.
Maybe we can ratchet free
from this zero-sum game.

With love and with law
and the market's bounty
a better reciprocity --
we can build our way out
of this prisoner's dilemma.

It's dark down here
but I wanna take flight
I wanna soar with the birds
I wanna soak up the light.

I gotta flip the script
I gotta find a new level
one fit for a human
neither angel nor devil.

'Cause I'm no angel,
but I'm no devil.
No, I'm no angel,
but I'm no devil.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s