Fight the system or help shape it?

There is a series of documentaries by Adam Curtis on BBC this month about Nash’s “Game Theory” that was used during the Cold War and how now UK’s and USA’s governments are using the same technique to spark civil servant’s interest to perform better.

The theory is based on the assumption that humans are selfish by nature and so each part of their life must be all about screwing the person next to them for personal gain. According to Nash, just like in a poker game, because everyone would think in the selfish same way, the world would not dissolve into chaos, but instead an equilibrium would be reached. USA and UK started using this theory on their own civil servants by creating a “points” system where the employees must achieve specific goals by any means necessary. The idea is to create a free marketplace at any level in life. Basically, this is 100% capitalism, not just from the business & economical point of view, but it’s about a society that’s driven by the “values” of capitalism from head to toe: screw your fellow man to make a buck.

Curtis debunks this approach, and even Nash himself recently said that it might not work as well as he thought as it would be when he invented the theory in the ’50s (simply because employees try to “game” the new system anyway, and also the theory falls apart from the moment a person shows compassion & altruism towards his fellow man). When Curtis was asked what politicians should do instead of using such “inhumane” methods to manipulate their citizens to work more, he has no answer.

In my opinion, no matter what political system we get above our heads, things won’t get better. You can get the same kind of screwing from either communism, capitalism or royalty. And there is a reason why people are not happy with any of these economical or political systems: because the people involved (both citizens and politicians) are not mature and determined enough to handle their place in the society as they should.

There is no perfect political system. And the reason for this is because people are not perfect. People are not good by nature, neither they are bad by nature. They are complex creatures. You only start to get a pretty good society when all the citizens of the country are well-educated and moral people. Societies mature with time, just like humans do. I believe we are some 500 years away from a “pretty good” political system where people would feel “happy” with — that is, if totalitarianism doesn’t take over sooner.

Humans must become model citizens to perfect their system (be it communism or capitalism or something else). Education and responsibility is what would drive a society to prosperity. And when some few of these citizens rise to power, you get these much-desired model politicians rather than face today’s corruption. It’s all about the quality of the citizens and mature societies. Not that political systems can’t further mature (corporations should lose some of their power for example), but without the people themselves get responsible and wise, no system can work.

No, you can’t lean on the “goodness” of people to do their paid job. As I said, people are neither good or bad (the vast majority of them at least). Communism failed because people didn’t care to do their everyday jobs (bakeries anyone?). To _care_ to do something means that you _understand_ WHY you are doing it. You see the big picture. And you can only see the big picture, when you have an open mind and a solid education on your back. Sure they are going to be some jerks to spill the milk, but hey, overall it would balance out.

Maybe another way to make humans understand their role into the society would be to bring the population down (below a billion people), and then have them live and work in small cities rather in megacities where they lose their purpose. A person is more prone to go help in his free time to paint a school in the small town where he knows everyone and understands his role, rather than when living let’s say, in New York. I believe the fact that as many as 40% of Americans suffer from depression has to do with the fact that they don’t live in the country side anymore. They’ve lost their purpose because they don’t get gratification of their current role. They don’t feel part of the community anymore, but part of the faceless mass. I never met anyone in Greece, outside Athens or Thessalonica, having this medical condition, while it is almost an epidemic in USA.

This whole thing kinda reminds me of the utopian world of Star Trek. If you really try to pinpoint the political system that drives Earth in the Star Trek universe you won’t find any (other than some vague notion of democracy in the Federation and the fact that there is no currency anymore). What you get in your face each time you watch a Star Trek episode though is how perfect the citizens are in their relationships, morality, points of views and daily responsibilities.

It’s all about mature people. Look no further.

9 Comments »

Tom Dison wrote on March 26th, 2007 at 3:32 AM PST:

I wonder about the value of education by itself. Education is a good thing, but I don’t see it as a panacea. There are many highly-intelligent, highly-educated, amoral (or immoral) people. Nothing in education “inherently” teaches you compassion for others. I think that is part of the problem in America. Education was given a very high priority in the 60’s, and almost anyone who wanted to could go to college. Nevertheless, morality took a deep plunge at the same time. So now we have a fairly educated society, but most of whom have very fuzzy, ill-defined moral viewpoints. I this even indirectly lead to our ill-fated pre-emptive strike in Iraq.

Education is good, but it must be combined with ethics, or we get a large population of amoral scientists experimentinig with the general population for fun and profit, or as you have written, “screw your fellow man to make a buck”.


Luis wrote on March 26th, 2007 at 12:24 PM PST:

Very well said. I couldn’t agree more.

While most intellectuals seem to just focus in all the bad things our society has, and how bad we’re doing, and how crazy and stupid everything is, I think that there are not only bad (and terrible) things. There are also positive ones. Lots of positive ones.

We’re obviously far, far away from a perfect world. But I for one don’t have a pessimistic view of humankind. Learning is a difficult process and it takes time and mistakes until we get things right.

Personal responsibility is very important, and I think we should have a better education in that respect. Many people think they’re not responsible for bad things they do just because they’re told to do them (by their boss, for example). If you kill someone because someone pays you to do it, you’ll go to jail. You can’t say “blame the person who payed me, I just did as told because I need the money”. But for example when people work for a company, they tend to think that they have absolutely no responsibility in what they do, even if they know it’s bad. This is one point I think we can and must improve.


This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on March 27th, 2007 at 7:05 AM PST:

This is what the DOCUMENTARY claimed that is what is happening now, not what WE think of what democracy really is. Mike, please read more carefully before you reply.


mikesum32 wrote on March 27th, 2007 at 7:55 AM PST:

You seem to paint democracy as some sort of evil quest for nothing but money.
I think it’s amoral. Say you’re hungry while out on the town, you give me two dollars, and I give you a hot dog.
Where is the evil in that ?
What’s corrupting the government is secrecy, lack of accountability, big government bureaucracy, and big corporate influence.
People don’t think they can make a difference.
Like the immoral civil right movement and war protests.


This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on March 27th, 2007 at 8:09 AM PST:

Mike, please don’t create unnecessary new lines when commenting. Also, I don’t think that anyone paid democracy as a quest for money.


mikesum32 wrote on March 27th, 2007 at 10:18 AM PST:

I had to carry a giant tv from downstairs to the living room and downstairs to the street. It was huge, and I had to walk it up one step at a time, and then clean and move furniture for the carpet cleaning the next day.
Then I went to my friend Noelle’s house and looked at her keyboard, took all 16 screws out because it was acting funny, and took off a metal bar and put it back on, and put the keyboard back together. Then it didn’t work, so we went to Wal-mart at 1:30 at night, parked by the end that was locked up, and bought her a new keyboard. Then I drove her home and went to Kroger at around 2:30. Once I was done shopping I took the old keyboard upstairs and took it out all 16 screws plus the 2 for the metal bar and removed it. I realized it was a clamp to hold the contacts against the traces, and I also realized I had flipped it upside down. So I fixed it and put all 18 screws back in.
Then I looked at your blog. I really tired, but you should really put all that stuff in quotes or italics.

I saw something on game theory and it wasn’t much like what you described. It was on 20/20 or Primetime. They had 4 groups of 2 people find each other in New York, without knowing who they were, but just by traveling around the city and going to popular places. There were a few more segments on it too.


mikesum32 wrote on March 27th, 2007 at 7:56 AM PST:

oh crap, I messed up the block quote.
“Education was given a very high priority in the 60’s, and almost anyone who wanted to could go to college. Nevertheless, morality took a deep plunge at the same time.”
Like the immoral civil right movement and war protests.
/sarcasm


mikesum32 wrote on March 27th, 2007 at 9:02 AM PST:

“Screw your fellow man to make a buck” doesn’t count then ?


ksmc wrote on March 27th, 2007 at 11:35 AM PST:

The British broadcaster Brian Walden once said that the reason for Hitler’s success was that he understood that ordinary people don’t care about politics, they just want things to work and to be allowed to get on with their lives.


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