Wouldn’t it be nice if we all helped each other. Well yes it would, and it would also be nice if there was no cancer, no poverty, no one died, and everyone could win the lottery. Time to put away childish things.
The reality of existence on this planet called Earth is billions of creatures all desperately striving to survive, usually at the expense of other creatures. These dynamics are well understood in several disciplines, and not least Game Theory, where conflict is taken for granted. Here is a quote from one of the classics in game theory, The Strategy of Conflict by Thomas Schelling:
There are those that treat conflict as a pathological state and seek its causes and treatment, and those that take conflict for granted and study the behavior associated with it.
Most people treat conflict as a pathology, even though it is as old as history and manifests at every level within society – personal conflicts, religious conflicts, political conflicts, commercial conflicts – and so on. It makes much more sense to see conflict as an inevitable outcome of the way the game of life is set up, with each creature striving for power and dominance in its insane striving to exist.
Oddly enough a reasoned approach to conflict, as opposed to an emotional one, has proved to be very productive. People who act reasonably can be dealt with in a productive way, whereas emotional basket-cases cannot. This is why, in my experience at least, those people who make impassioned pleas for fellowship and unity, are the very ones that will vigorously attack anyone who does not subscribe to their point of view.
All of the behaviors that we see as aberrant, are actually perfectly normal given the way the game of life is set up (many creatures competing for resources). So here are a few examples of perfectly normal behavior:
- Sabotaging the reputation of someone at work who is competing with you for a promotion.
- Buying cheap clothes made in sweat shops where people are paid a dollar a day.
- Lying about the reliability and mechanical soundness of a car to a prospective buyer.
- Hiding cracks and possible structural problems when selling a house.
- Lying on a job application form.
All these examples result in an advantage for the person concerned at the expense of someone else. To try and moderate the natural tendency for one person to gain an advantage at the expense of another we have laws, a legal system, a police force, and generally understood codes of conduct. Even so, the natural tendency for one person to disadvantage another when possible cannot be wholly inhibited.
The moral of this story is simple. We cannot rely on “goodwill”, cooperation, brotherly and sisterly love, or any other emotions to protect people from one another. Reason and the application of law are the only tools we have to make life tolerable. In game theory we always assume the other parties are lying and will attempt to maximize their advantage at everyone else’ cost. Conflict is built into the game, and so we should assume lying, deceit, and stealing will be the rule.