Basically, stop it; you’re not helping.
It seems as though the people who explain war and game theory to us are advocating for it; I personally expect a call for a pre-emptive attack whenever I hear “game theory,” and it seems to me that scientific sounding talk about theory and conflict is usually offered in support of some sort of aggression. That’s not it, and that’s not me. We need to talk about this stuff and understand it in order to free ourselves from it. That’s my goal.
“Game theory” is frankly, too lofty a title for a science only employed at the team level anyways, privately in the locker room. When you’re doing that, you’re not a developer, engaged in scientific theorizing, you’re a player. And the “game” is war, so you’re a soldier. I’m not a soldier, inasmuch as I have any choice. I’m trying not to be.
I am a dangerous, dangerous peacenik. If I succeed, I’m probably going to get us all killed.
I understand the player’s, the warrior’s response to the protestor, I do. The unthinking peacenik thinks there isn’t a world of everybody else’s soldiers coming for him if his soldiers weren’t out there. He doesn’t get it; the real choices are war or annihilation here on Earth in the real world.
Well, I exist in neither of these paradigms. I get it, but I’m still a peacenik. That really is the world today, and I see we’re doing what we can within those rules, but some of us hear “that’s just the way it is” and still aren’t happy, what can I say? If a player – someone participating in conflict as their answer rather than someone fighting the conflict itself – says to me, “that’s the way it is,” and that’s the end of the conversation for him – well, he’s forgotten, or he never knew. It wasn’t always.
For a long time, and sure, I use the phrase “deep roots of war” endlessly, but, uh, science. But . . . evolution. Nothing “was always,” was it? There weren’t “always” humans, so there wasn’t “always” human behaviour, and so all of this has developed, over time, for specific reasons, right? If I agree somewhat, if I talk of war’s “deep roots,” and even go so far as to say, “this is who we are,” please, make no mistake. I’m no player, no warmonger, nothing is written in stone. This is who we have been, yes, but evolution, Baby, environmental control of gene expression. If we can realize the ways in which we are our environment – and stop saying things like “that’s just the way it is” about our own damned behaviour – then we will see that is who we wanted to be, who we needed to be, and so we created ourselves in that image, and that perhaps we can want and need to be something else if things change, if our solutions start to feel more like problems.
Because they already feel like that to some of us.
It has been my contention – sorry, I’ve been on this train of thought forever, hard to remember I’m alone in it – my contention that the human discipline of children is a slave function to our game theory existence, our lives of group conflict. Honestly, it’s the common denominator for all of it. In Afghanistan, we beat you into a “good” Afghan, in China we’re beaten into “good” Chinese, and all over the world people are beaten Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim and everything else, and the variance of these educations, the details, the different lists of rules are not the point of any of it when we see all humans employ the same methods and that all peoples are “strong” and no peoples are pushovers in conflict. Considering the personalities of many of these peoples, if you’re here, your people are tough enough.
Now, there are two ways to talk about this discipline thing, and the secret of this dichotomy is, they’re both right. One is all morality, uprightness, strength, and defense – us, as I said above, “needing to be this,” and two, power, violence, damage, hard feelings, and mental illness – us, maybe starting to see price of being this way. They’re both in play, both the same function – a “strong” group deters attack, and so does a crazy one, and maybe more so. It’s not always easy to differentiate the two today, strong VS crazy, so imagine telling the difference between them among the apes this sort of behaviour probably began with! – what I’m saying is, functionally, evolutionarily, there is no difference. I offer euphemisms and dysphemisms; the truth is between them, or it’s all of them at once.
Along those same dual lines, on the happy side, we explain our discipline as a rational function, we use punishments to teach particular, real world lessons, don’t throw dishes – but no-one has explained how not breaking dishes increases our genes’ odds for replication and immortality. The beating about the dishes, however, that has real world effects beyond the life of your dishes, well documented effects about life outcomes, about violence and crime, and the preponderance of this data says this is the true function. I’ll go out on a limb and say the biologists are finding real gene expression functions and physiological developmental functions around abuse, trauma, and violence, and not so much around dishes and house rules. Right?
So, again, one view is morality, along with the “strength,” or as a rider to it. This relationship as it is in our minds isn’t completely clear to me, and things not being clear around this is a feature, not a bug, but I think it’s fair to introduce that in reality, if this sort of abuse induced “strength” does somehow keep our genes’ march to immortality alive, if it keeps us from annihilation, then it really is “good,” no? I mean, unless we and our loved ones are somehow just plain “bad” in the first place. So, life is “morality,” I think, that’s how I understand it, the life and quality of life of my loved ones and myself, and acts that aid in that are moral acts, at the simplest level, of course. Having said that, logic and reality are not a game of “telephone,” we don’t ignore that the best defense is a good offense and we can’t say, “offense is defense, defense is life, life is morality, so offense is “good.”” To say the best defense is a good offense, is using the word/meme “good/best” in only a tactical sense, and not a moral one, obviously.
Game theory says truly, defense alone is doomed to lose, because if attacking us has no costs, they will continue until our defenses fail, and it’s only a matter of time – this little talk for the nice folks who don’t dabble in this awful sort of thinking – so the theory is we are safer when we impose a price on those that would attack us, in the jargon, when we present a credible threat of our own. Even the smallest man in our aboriginal village may have a level of safety if the big guys know he will ambush them in revenge, or cut their throats in their sleep, meaning if he engages in offense.
Moral theory says offense is a moral failing, that the acts of taking lives and protecting lives are more different than they are similar – at least my moral theory does. What the ancient texts our cultures hold dear is what I’m saying we’re stuck with in game theory, as players: killing your enemies is “good.”
I’m not sure, but I think the biologists and Richard Dawkins in particular say that your genes wish to be replicated into the future and do not give a damn about my moral theories, however, and that explains why here we are, living the morality of the players, in game theory, where offense is defense, and therefore “good.”
Those are the texts we go to for moral instruction, those scrolls, written in ancient team locker rooms, just before the game, instructions to the players. Don’t fight the conflict; the conflict is your job.
This is attempt number twenty or something, of summing up my worldview as it relates to morality, of what I think are my not so common insights into these matters, this is the thing I’ve had in front of me for a year or two now, the thing I’ve been waiting to be able to put together. I feel I’ve had a bunch of thoughts, and there is some grand expression of them to be made, but the connections are difficult to show, difficult to see, and I’ve been letting my subconscious digest it and hoping it would wake me up with the answer eventually. That hasn’t really happened, but I’m writing again, for the first time in a long while, the longest while in a few years, and that feels better. For a long time, I’ve had a sense of the overview, that our ideas of “good” and “bad” are upside down and backwards, and so our morality is confusing and solving our troubles seemed impossible . . . it’s sort of what I’m after, that we want a certain kind of “good” in the world, but we’re stuck working for another kind altogether. I cannot escape an image I have, like a one-line poem more than logic, but I see our self-induced ferocity that keeps the Hun away from our door as mostly wandering our own streets, bringing those attitudes and skills evolved for the enemy to ourselves, to each other, our loved ones – and to be old fashioned – to our women and our children. Crime, as the trade-off for annihilation, I’d take it too, as we do, if I were as sure as our genes seem to be that there is no other way, but I’m not. Full disclosure – I think that may just be me.
Of course that’s what our genes think.
I’m not saying it much, but it’s all about group conflict, offense is life supporting and moral “for us,” for our group, those are the players in game theory, groups of humans, while our offense “appears” (LOL) life destroying and therefore immoral to the other groups. So now we have a game theory and we know they have one too, two identical theories in two identical frameworks, and within each group’s theory the central dogma that offense is the best defense is the pinnacle of the logic, and we know we all know it, but that’s the game.
Now, we are here, living in this group scenario for a long time, and we are absolutely talking about simple fighting and war, a basic, fundamental adaptation to group conflict (as well as perhaps discipline and antisocialization), meaning it’s undeniable that a violent response to violence is often necessary and it’s certainly an evolved and logical trait to fight. Never mind sometimes we can’t seem to communicate with our best friends, you can’t expect to converse with the human group coming over your walls, so game theory, conflict theory is fundamental, of course talking skills alone won’t guarantee your genes’ safety. But was it supposed to end there? There is fundamental and then there’s fundamental, isn’t there? Are group conflict and war really as intractable as the need for water and air?
Because therein lie all of our hopes and dreams, don’t they? In the space between those kinds of “fundamentals?”
All of our literature, all of our ponderings regarding our own natures and the nature of life, all of our struggles for good things take place in this space, all of this is an attempt to solve this puzzle of free will because we feel, we feel that we know there is a difference, that human enemies and droughts are different sorts of problems. We know the enemy is us and we are them, so it’s frustrating. Things are not so harsh all the time, so we know it doesn’t always have to be, and still, despite not having to be this way in as solid a manner as the needs for food, etc., it’s still always this way.
We need to spend a little time away from the battle, see if there’s any way to stop playing this stupid, lethal, forced game of murder ball, any way to support each of our lives and our life beyond simply threatening each other’s. I think “morality,” within our group, in the game theory paradigm, has too “good” a name, it’s describing saving ours and killing theirs – I’m sorry, missed a step, didn’t I? I mean saving ours and disciplining ours so that we can kill theirs when need arises – I think we can see that’s a rather limited morality, and best thought of as something else, simple survival, perhaps. Something I read in a novel about the Battle of Thermopylae said that to be ready for war, you must practice, that simply being prepared for an existential war means war is always your vocation, that you live with war always. It’s not true because that writer said it, but it’s true.
On maybe a purely aesthetic level, morality should serve as a goal, shouldn’t it? An ideal, not just an attribute we give to everyone in our group automatically, just for adhering to some group norm. Analogous to the widening of our moral circles meme, but perhaps more fundamentally progressive, I propose a wider moral goal for us, one above the level of our social groups, because I fear the expanding of our “moral circles” – who’s in and who’s out of the group – is doomed to failure since our brains and our societies are evolved for a much smaller group than any real group in today’s world.
The planet has gotten small and our social groups have gotten huge, we can start to imagine wanting a morality, a goal, that doesn’t require an “other,” at all – and I know freedom is the freedom to kill your enemies and what I’m suggesting is something like wildlife management of ourselves, population VS resources. Players, idealists, freedom lovers, a lot of folks aren’t going to like that idea, but I’m searching for a way to “be good” that doesn’t involve killing and war, some slightly more objective measure for what is morally “good” than whether the people we hurt are “our people” or “their people,” you know? Some moral concept that at least takes the “good” people off of the battlefield. The existence of vast amounts of a military sort of “good” available today doesn’t seem to be a solution for the collateral damage, for victims of violence away from the front lines, and this can be seen as the present, probably eternal political divisions we all live with, the hawks that promote the eternal “solution” at the borders and abroad, and the doves that complain about the violence abroad and at home. Also, all this military “good” isn’t changing, isn’t evolving, isn’t growing up. Morally, this is our upper limit, this game theory crap, and we’ve plateaued.
What makes the world seem so much less clear and understandable than this rather short assessment of mine is the connection between the two, the discipline.
That’s where bad becomes good, the magic trick. Our parental violence is “good” because if our young are strong (or better yet, crazy), then they are less likely to be attacked or exterminated and we are more likely to see those grandchildren, our genes are more likely to see the future. This is not news, anyone who has endured an old-fashioned trip to the woodshed has been told that at least some of the good that would come of it would be that they were tougher for it. That is a little bittersweet to me, a difficult thing to accept in all of this nasty talk, that the old-time patriarch types who understand the function are the ones who are very much into it, while the nice guys and the ladies who would oppose this lifestyle don’t seem to grasp it. Again, a lot of folks think being good is about not breaking dishes and such, but it doesn’t seem to be. Certainly that couldn’t be as important a way to be “good” as serving us all in conflict, a part of which is breaking the enemy’s dishes and a whole lot more than that.
So, to my mind, that’s our central conflict. Peace is “good,” the sort of “good” thing we want but being here to enjoy it seems to require that war be the mode of operation. Discipline is an inoculation, a vaccine against the existential threat of peace entering our hearts and minds, keeping us “strong” – while of course also working in the enemy’s camp, keeping him “strong.” If only we could talk to him – but again, not a system of talking. We’re having trouble reaching our own young men with talk, aren’t we? This strength that makes the international neighbors think twice, so “good” in it’s deterrent and defensive properties, is all things bad and immoral at home, the oppressive social structures, crime, violence, the whole suite. We pretend we’re “fighting crime” with our deterrents and our punishments, when those are in fact evolved behaviours that ramp up our aggression for our life of group conflict and war, and so we are hardened rather than softened by it.
So this is my take on our morality.
We’re only making it worse.
I don’t mean now, today, in modern times or anything, I mean eternally, or the evolutionary version of that. With our answer for misbehaviour and crime always being pain and deprivation, we harden ourselves as the neighbors do and no-one is soft, so that we have settled into a morality where our group gets preferential treatment, meaning a lot of well intended, mostly non-lethal punitive violence and some collateral damage from crime. It is a few steps better than it might be, I suppose.
But the empty talk, the rhetoric we hear about solving that damage within our own group, about “fighting” the crime! Understand, I don’t know if I’ve convinced anyone else – but I am convinced of what I’m saying here, discipline boosts aggression and so crime – and so the folks solving it are causing it. The folks talking about morality and punishments are advocating for abuse, which is the cause and not the cure for our madness and our aggression. I’m only asking one thing. Don’t change your ways today, just spread the word. We can’t change this by ourselves, at home, within our groups, this only helps if all nations learn this, the whole world. We need one of those hundredth monkey things – I know, they’re not a thing, it’s learning, social learning. It just looks like magic, right?
Just think about it, just talk about it.
There is a cloud over our minds about this, a great power suppressing this idea, it seems like survival itself, but things have changed, it might be survival itself if we don’t find a way to think about it.
Pithy ending, I’m sorry.
I think I may have finally gotten there, though.
June 26th., 2018