The Game as a Game

Professor Benjamin and Professor McNitt would be at each other’s throats, and having them one class after the other could get dizzying. One would tell us the reason a burger in the cafeteria was so expensive was because the college hired a private food services company who had to make a profit. It would be cheaper if the college ran its own food service. Profiteering makes the food lower-quality and more expensive. An hour later the other would tell us that the reason a burger was so expensive was that the workers hired were subject to minimum wage laws and worse, negotiated contracts as part of their unions. High wages and benefits for workers made the food expensive.

There’s a stock broker whose only concern is buying low and selling high. The University of Kentucky Men’s basketball team has a mission statement that reads, “To compete each year for the national title.” All that matters to members of the House and Senate is their seat. Individualized self-interest is the only thing that can hold in check individualized self-interest. The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.

It is a small mind that can only hold small ideas, that can hold only one thought at a time, who sees the world through the colors of team, the stripes of flags, the edicts of a profession, who measures by measurable statistics. This is also the definition of focus. And the one who can focus, who shuts out the noise of everything and narrow down their definition of success to one thing, who wins that one thing, wins.

Am I being too simplistic?

At the first meeting of a class on game theory the teacher lays out the rules for a game in which you have a chance to take a large number of points for yourself and screw others, take a medium number of points for yourself and nothing from others, or give points to others and keep few for yourself. If everyone chooses the last option, the whole class wins. After the game is over the teacher chides the class to “Never play from a dominated position.” Even if it’s best for the whole? “Never.”

We fight wars because there are violent people in the world who must be destroyed. All that matters are this week’s jobs numbers. Market share. Market cap. Advertising revenue. The overnights. Who gets to bed first and who stays up to turn out the lights.

There are those who decide that life is a game and play it as such. As if the things moving about them are pieces. There are people who raced to cross the Atlantic, grab territory, get to the ocean, manifest destiny, land on the moon. The side benefits of these quests are lauded as the value of science, colonialism, war.

Even if it’s best for the grander goal? “Never.”

What really excites me is everything. Not the answer as to whether or not we live in a mechanical universe, but the possibility that a thousand years from now we will have rethought everything. Big wide opening eyes.

Inefficiency has its place. As does thinking deeply. We once thought the universe was matter and antimatter, that time only flowed in one direction, that the most intimate two people could be with each other was sex, that life was always based on cells and carbon, that intelligence came with a pre-frontal cortex.

Consciousness.

Not the concept of getting for myself or ensuring for my family. Not putting safety and prosperity on the inside cover of the box of a board game. Not fighting back and being angry. Not being justified, or right, or treated with dignity.

We once believed that how one best connected to another was through language, and thought, and touching. We once worked from this simplistic combination of mind and body. We thought we came down with the apes from trees and that we were the pinnacle and the end of evolution. Vacations meant moving only our bodies closer to the oceans. We thought space was the final frontier.

Consciousness. Can you sense this? This notion that a flea who jumps a millimeter off a petri dish has achieved some grand accomplishment.

For so long we were distracted by our own procreation, by our tribes, our mechanics, our inventions. We worried about whether or not we would die and what would happen next. We fixated on the traits we passed on, as if we alone were our species, as if our species were the planet, as if the planet were the whole of creation. We never once thought about the dust in our blood.

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A day is not done, until it's filled with words.

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