Monday, September 22, 2008

Aunt Velma, Silverback Butch, and the Obligate Game

The chief goal of terrorism is to change the rules of the game, by pushing the opponent into a completely different game, one which he cannot win. It isn’t necessary that the terrorist be able to win, just that you lose. It’s like a losing chess player pulling a knife. The fact of the knife changes the chess game unilaterally into a game where you, too, need a knife, and the ivory and ebony markers of civil society are meaningless.

A single bomb can end rational interaction, kills rational or irrational opponents, and sends spectators running. It trumps skill and strategy and targets all agents of judgment or even observation.

Any game which has the quality of forcing the other player into participation, is called an obligate game. Terrorism is one, but not the only one. It is always less civil, less fair and less nuanced than non-obligate games. It yields less prosperous outcomes and is usually wasteful of resources and people. However it can be a powerful tool for the outclassed opponent.

And it doesn’t need guns or bombs. Your Aunt Velma can do it too. The hated silver tea service kept polished because Velma might stop by, the children dressed to evade her scorn of jeans and sneakers, the hiding of books and choosing of churches in order to not upset Velma, are all evidence of her unilateral imposition of her standards on her family. Velma would never consider that her preferences might be anything but laws of nature or God, and her disapproval goes far beyond a wrinkled nose to the territory of screaming and threatening. Velma isn’t a Victorian prude, but a hurricane of family destruction, promising to ruin Christmases or birthdays with her judgmental bombs unless her relatives take her preferences into account.

Family members like Velma can be avoided, thank heavens. You can move to Australia as a last resort (or Saskatchewan, if you already live in Australia). But what do you do when the obligate game enters your government?

If you are running for office and your opponent will not argue the issues, but instead flings feces or simply screams louder than his opponent, how do you oppose this game change? The silverback chimp “Butch” changed the game from a sober chess game, a contest of real skill, to a power struggle between alpha chimpanzees. Nobody moving a bishop, however skillfully or decisively, looks as tough as a ruthless male chimp baring his teeth. Butch is strong, a true leader, all the other chimps are silent when he screams, none dare oppose him!

This would be all right in politics if having a strong alpha chimp was what the people needed. But what if the people need an intelligent, dedicated human being who understands complex issues, and looks far enough in the future to take needed action now instead of waiting for a time when emergency measures are needed? What if a single leader speaking for dozens of silent chimps, could be replaced by dozens of capable leaders all doing their own work?

I never support anyone who imposes an obligate game. I can imagine instances when this would be a good idea, but to date, every use I have seen has been for vanity, greed and malice.

I have seen the incredible damage that Velma has done, with her savage imposition of her own values on other’s choices. I have watched an alpha chimp try to oppose forces of nature and man with his loud rattling of old sheet metal, while his troop are injured and go ill and hungry. I am tired of crazy Velma and violent Butch, this year I’m voting for people instead.

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