Note that "crabs in a bucket" are an excellent example, along with "the Tragedy of the commons" of a Prisoner's Dilemma from Game Theory. It's in the interest of any one crab to use whatever comes to hand in order to help speed their escape from the bucket, including other crabs who have gotten a bit further up the wall. But if all crabs do this, as indeed they do, then no crabs can escape.

Not all Prisoner's Dilemma's can be exactly illustrated by the "crabs in a bucket" phenomenon, perhaps; I don't want to say that it subsumes all Prisoner's Dilemmas, but it is a wonderful example of one.

See also Immanuel Kant's Categorical Imperative which (perhaps amongst other things) tries to eliminate the harm caused by Prisoner's Dilemmas, and also predates Game Theory by some centuries.

First published October 20, 2004
Last revised October 20, 2004