Game Theory 
Game theory examines the ways that various people “play” their interactions with others. All games take place on at least two levels. The first is material gain or loss (often quantifiable, and the focus of most formal game theory), and the second, psychological perception of having won or lost (rarely quantifiable until recently, ignored). In honorshame cultures, the perception of others’ actions plays a much stronger role than “rational” concerns about material gain and loss regardless of relative advantage which, in principle, governs civil society behavior (rational choice theory). Rational choice theory, focused on quantifiable selfinterest as a motivation, tends to downplay emotional components of game playing. It discusses fixed and variablesum games. The following discussion analyzes the cultural and emotional dimensions of a player’s preference for one strategy over another, and focuses on zero, positive and negativesum games. ZEROSUM GAMES are games in which one side wins and the other loses. Hard zerosum insists that only when the other loses can one win. Hard zerosum reflects an emotional demand that a victory can only be savored when the defeated one knows himself to be defeated. All sports and gambling games are zerosum. War, theft and raiding are hard zerosum. The dominating imperative: “rule or be ruled” takes zerosum relations at a political level as axiomatic. I must dominate lest you do the same. Do onto others before they do onto you. POSITIVESUM GAMES are games in which both sides win. In closed positivesum transactions, although both parties may “win”, one side is guaranteed a significantly greater victory (noblesse oblige, British imperialism). Openended positivesum is based on a voluntary agreement to interact (contract, joint venture, constitution) on rules that apply equally to both sides, and an agreement that whatever results from the interaction, both sides will accept no matter how diverse the end result (civil society, meritocracy). Rationality and “rational choice theory” assume that actors will work to maximize their own advantage, with minimal concern for how it might help someone else even more. NEGATIVESUM GAMES are games in which both sides lose. This represents the height of irrationality to positivesum players, but it proves a surprisingly durable choice of gameplayers. The selfdestructive element in conjunction with aggression often derives from losing a hard zerosum game and not accepting an offer to switch to positivesum. As the joke runs, a genie offers a peasant one wish, but whatever he chooses his neighbor will get double. “Poke out one of my eyes,” the peasant responds. THE EMOTIONS AND LOGIC OF ZEROSUM:
In order to understand this mentality, we have to put aside cognitive egocentrism. We are raised in a culture that places heavy emphasis on positivesum relations, or on the notion of mutually beneficial winwin. We consider positivesum so obviously appropriate that it is virtually synonymous with rationality. When our economists assume rationality as their axiomatic understanding of individual decisionmaking, they reflect this widespread cultural assumption that, at least formally, dates back to Adam Smith. And not surprisingly, the mentality of zerosum – one wins, one loses – strikes us, as selfdestructive. Let us consider the nature and logic of zerosum interactions, especially in terms of the emotional payoffs. The basic rule of human interaction in many honorshame cultures holds that honor is a limited commodity, that one person’s honor means the loss of honor of another. Politically this leads to what Eli Sagan has termed the “dominating imperative”: rule or be ruled. If I don’t rule over you, you will rule over me. I must therefore try to dominate you lest you dominate me. If you win, I lose; in order for me to win, you must lose. This attitude justifies what Mao used to call “preemptive retaliation strikes.” They happen all the time, from international relations to familial ones. The classic expression of this attitude comes in two forms: 1) the more basic “honorshame” culture of the tribal warrior, where honor comes from dominion (that is, the Germanic and Celtic subterranean levels of European culture), and 2) the “civilized empires” in which a certain degree of restraint in the exercise of immediate dominion opened up both a space for an expanding “middle class”, largely urban, and for a much wider range of conquest and dominion for a small elite. As the Romans liked to tell themselves, the first Romans quickly understood that they could either be masters or slaves, so they chose to be masters, and did it so well that they conquered the world. Rome is the poster boy for libido dominandi (the lust to dominate). Roman imperialism illustrates the accuracy of the Athenian remark to the Melians ca. 416 BCE that it had been a law long before their time and would be long after, “that those who can do what they will and those who can’t suffer what they must.” This statement helps us understand the emotional and strategic logic of zerosum in what seemed like a negativesum choice in the geniepeasant joke cited above: “Poke out both my eyes.” If this were a chess move (i.e. a zerosum game) rather than a joke, you’d put two exclamation points after it. In one deft move, this man has turned around a painful dilemma into a spectacular “win” for himself. The peasant’s dilemma was that anything that benefited him, made his neighbor twice as well off: a thousand head of cattle for him meant two thousand for his neighbor. In the world of the dominating imperative, one assumes that if one’s neighbor is twice as wealthy as oneself, that neighbor will use his superiority to try to control you. Our peasant resolves the dilemma with a dramatic queen sacrifice: “in the kingdom of the blind, the oneeyed is king.” He has bought his dominion at the price of his selfmutilation. THE LOGIC AND EMOTIONS OF POSITIVESUM: The emotional dimensions that determine these two worlds of social interaction also substantiate the emotional attachments some of us have either to PCP (positivesum desires) or the HSJP (zerosum desires). Our ironic dilemma is that the more those who favor positivesum pursue PCP, the more they contribute to the zerosum behavior of demopaths and the hardzerosum players for whom they cover. Without understanding the interplay between the logic and emotions of zero and positivesum strategies, we will have difficulty figuring a way out of the current dilemma of the thrash of cultures. SEE ALSO:
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