I recently read Bruce Schneier’s book Liars and Outliers. In it, he makes use of several models to present topics to the user. One of the models that he presents is taken from Game Theory and concerns Cooperation. It’s called the Hawk-Dove game.

What Bruce says about the model is that “what it illuminates about the real world is profound”. I would certainly agree with that statement.

I’ll describe the game as he does in the book.

The game works like this. Assume a population of individuals with differing survival strategies. Some cooperate and some defect. In the language of the game, the defectors are hawks. They’re aggressive; they attack other individuals, and fight back if attacked. The cooperators are doves. They’re pacific; they share with other doves, and retreat when attacked. You can think about this in terms of animals competing for food. When two doves meet, they cooperate and share food. When a hawk meets a dove, the hawk takes food from the dove. When two hawks meet, they fight and one of them randomly gets the food and the other has some probability of dying from injury.

He continues making various observations on the system as the numbers of doves to hawks is adjusted and it speaks volumes for what we tend to observe in the real world.

If you have too many people (hawks) taking from the system, the system falls apart. But you can’t have a perfect (only doves) system. There will always be some minority of hawks in the system because

  • when it is so easy to defect
  • when the defector is not easily caught
  • and when the defector doesn’t place a real burden on the society

…some people will evaluate the risk/reward in their minds and choose to defect.


The Hawk-Dove game is a model that can be applied to many scenarios. In this post we’ll apply it to Renting.

Discrimination in housing is done all the time. If you think otherwise, you’re delusional.

Landlords, like most people, know that stereotypes tend to be accurate for a reason. There is empirical social science research which shows that stereotypes are often accurate.

The fact of the matter is that while you might, on the surface, claim that you never have these thoughts in your mind, the reality is that you do. So stop being fake about it.

Landlords also know that they can discriminate against you all day long and there’s nothing that you can do about it. Why you ask? Because they can always find a legitimate reason to claim that they denied you, and they know they won’t be challenged on it.

I’ll give you a real life example.

A colleague I worked with owned a property that he rented out. When the time would come to find a new tenant, there were some people that they just wouldn’t rent to. Period. Even the upper-class versions of these people were, in their mind, considered to be too risky to rent to due to how they might treat the property and the costs, to the landlord, of fixing those things.

For example, they wouldn’t rent to Indians. Ever. When an indian tenant would apply, they would accept their application but would be very critical of the applicants credit, work history, criminal background, references, or similar screening standards.

For instance, if they were listing the place for $2000/month, they would stand firm on that price; non-negotiable.

In turn the types of people they specifically didn’t want renting their property would often just skip renting the place (much to my colleagues’ joy).

A lot of discrimination happens in a “don’t ask, don’t tell” sort of way and those who are discriminated against will often just suck it up and move on. In most areas of the country, there are numerous other options to satisfy them. It’s easier to just clam up and go find a different place than it is to make a big deal out of it or to “make an example” of the person doing the discriminating.

For your own sanity I’d suggest that you not emotionally invest yourself in any particular place. Be prepared to be discriminated against.

To help make it less of a burden on you, have some foresight into the process. If you know you’re going to need to find a new place in the future, then start preparing for that transition long before it happens. Just because others might be going out of their way to be a jerk to you doesn’t mean that you need to sit there and be a victim.

You’re going to be discriminated against. Deal with it. I’ve been discriminated against in my life and I’m an “American White Male”; a class that is considered by some to be the top of the social ladder. If it happens to us, then it can happen to anyone.

What I’ve found to be helpful is to develop, as they say, an “Attitude of Gratitude”. Also, be sure to back it up with accountability and action. Walk the walk. Don’t just talk the talk.

It’s a fact of life that there are hawks who will try to take advantage of your dove. It has been my experience though that many of those hawks can be turned to doves if you’re persistent and raise your standards of what you expect from them.

I’ve cracked a few tough nuts in my professional career, as well as my personal life. Make those people your hobby. Whiners and the non-committed need not apply.