Paradoxical tactics also enter into the logic of promises. A promise can secure a favor only when the beneficiary of the promise has good reason to believe it will be carried out. The promiser is thus in a better position when the beneficiary knows that the promiser is bound by his promise. The law gives companies the right to sue and the right to be sued. The right to be sued? What kind of “right” is that? It is a right that confers the power to make a promise: to enter into contracts, borrow money, and engage in business with someone who might be harmed as a result. Similarly, the law that empowers banks to foreclose on a mortgage makes it worth the bank’s while to grant the mortgage, and so, paradoxically, benefits the borrower. In some societies, Schelling notes, eunuchs got the best jobs because of what they could not do. How does a hostage persuade his kidnapper not to kill him to prevent him from identifying the kidnapper in court? One option is to deliberately blind himself. A better one is to confess to a shameful secret that the kidnapper can use as blackmail. If he has no’shameful secret, he can create one by having the kidnapper photograph him in some unspeakably degrading act.
Protesters attempt to block the construction of a nuclear power plant by lying down on the railroad tracks leading to the site. The engineer, being reasonable, has no choice but to stop the train. The railroad company counters by telling the engineer to set the throttle so that the train moves very slowly and then to jump out of the train and walk beside it. The protesters must scramble. Next time the protesters handcuff themselves to the tracks; the engineer does not dare leave the train. But the protesters must be certain the engineer sees them in enough time to stop. The company assigns the next train to a nearsighted engineer.