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Monday, February 28, 2011

Games, war, unions and governors

          People enjoy games. They enjoy playing games, and they enjoy watching others play games.

          I should define the word “game.” A game is human competition. Two or more people engage each other in a ritualized struggle. The struggle can be fun, or it can be deadly. When it is fun, we call it a sport. When it is deadly, we call it war.

          Competition tends to turn deadly when the parties abandon respect for each other and start to use brute force to win. When that happens in a sport, the referee calls a foul and penalizes the offender. In the game of politics there are no referees. Politics is a pick-up game.

          A good game is one where people set up the rules so that each side has a chance to win. A “handicap” is sometimes used to help that happen. Nobody thinks handicaps are unfair. Without handicaps in some games, those games lose their fun.

          All human activity can be seen as a game of one form or another. That is not bad. A marital relationship is a game. The dance is the form of game which we like to think of when we think of marital love. Two people engage in a mildly competitive struggle in which they show each other their prowess, and they show each other their mutual respect and trust. When human activity quits being a game, it becomes boring.

          Capitalism is based on competition. Capitalism is fun for the players who can actually be in the game. Capitalism’s great problem is that the winners get so successful that they end up forcing other people out of the game, and we have monopoly. That happened in the late 1800s and we decided that competition had to be regulated by anti-trust laws. Something similar is happening today. The people on the top of the income pyramid are getting wealthier, and the rest of the population are being forced out of the game.  

          The Tea Party is right about the value of competition. The sad thing about many people in the Tea Party is that they are so moralistic that they make competition into a war. They see the country as filled with people who are out to destroy the republic and its Constitution. They’re too serious. Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan could have lunch together and laugh at each other’s jokes. Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan recognized that even serious politics has to be played like a game, with a rule that respects the dignity of all the players. When you start to see your opponent as evil, you break that rule. You give your opponents a reason to see you as evil and pretty soon you have a war.

          Around the country some Republican governors are in a struggle with unions. They see unions as evil, and union people reciprocate by seeing the governors as evil. It is hard not to see your opponent as evil when that opponent is taking away thousands of your hard-earned dollars. Hopefully both sides will step back and see that what happens now is just one inning in a longer game. Neither side is evil, and nobody wins when they get into a war. Both sides need to invent new plays. Both sides may come to accept that the rule book could be changed so as to make the game more fair for all the players.

          The theorists of nonviolence say that the word “enemy” should not be used. That word is too polarizing. They prefer the word “opponent,” because the goal of nonviolent protest is to get your opponent to join you in dealing with the situation that causes the conflict. You never close the door to further respectful conversation.