Saturday, August 11, 2018

There Must Be a Winner

You become a lot less disappointed with the human race when you accept that we’re just barely evolved monkeys that won’t properly fund education. - Brianna Wu
When I was doing RA training in college one of my favorite training activities we did was a game from our ethics department that was a variant of The Prisoner’s Dilemma. We were put into groups of four to play a bunch of rounds of the game and each round you could choose to “work together” or “go it alone” and depend how everyone voted each person got a score. The basic idea of prisoner’s dilemma is if everyone chooses “work together” you all get a good score, if everyone chooses “go it alone” you all get a bad score. If some choose “work together” and some choose “go it alone” then the people who choose to “go it alone” get a good score.
In the discussion afterwards there was this one person who had played “go it alone” every single round and said, “I realized that by the rules if I always choose to go it alone, there was no way to lose. If everyone did it, we all get the same low score and if someone doesn’t then I get the highest possible score of my group.” To him, the game was just, how do I convince my fellow players to lose. When we started discussing how the game translates to real world ethics, he held his position. Life was about being a winner to other people’s losers. He said life seemed pointless if we all “won.” He was college-age at the time, I wonder if he has softened? Maybe that Jesuit education drilled a different sense into him by the end.
He may not have. I thought about it recently, because I realized that is the attitude help by our current president. Every message is about his victory over someone else. There is no concept of generally doing good, it is always about defeating an opponent OR doing better than someone else. It’s a totally foreign world view for me, but I think I sort of conceptually understand it.