I Hate Game Theory

I have yet to read this book

A lot of people I’ve recently met center their lives around winning games, with scoring casual sex encounters as one of the main ones. In this Interview with Pickup Artist Chaser Clarisse Thorn, the interviewer, whom the answer-ready Clarisse just barrels over, splashing her slang about One-itis and strategic ambiguity and outcome independence, asks: “Must everything be framed in terms of a game? What if […] You want to opt-out of that worldview?”

Clarisse answers by saying everyone’s playing games regardless of whatever nobility they affect.

Protester nobly not playing a game; opting-out or super-rational opting in?

One guy I know who regards himself as a skilled pick-up artist (or, as their lingo has it, a PUA) denigrated a certain other person who likes to read books in public by saying the person reads books in public for the sake of appearing broody to women. Maybe the reader just likes to read books. Anyway, the guy writes off men who do not optimize for the degree of social success he regards as advisable by saying these broody idealists have lost so many social games that now they’re just bitter. (As if bitterness alone is damning.) That’s often partly true, I believe, but by not thinking further he’s foreclosing himself from understanding a dimension of human experience that for him just isn’t salient.

I think practicing idealists — let’s say good artists and whistleblowers for specificity — share something: they intentionally lose games in order to create new realities. Think about whistleblower and soldier Joe Darby who exposed the abuses at Abu Ghraib — which included the gruesome CIA-assisted murder of “ghost prisoner” Manadel al-Jamdi. As recounted in Phil Zimbardo’s excellent book The Lucifer Effect (p.476-77), Darby said the abuse he witnessed

“just didn’t sit right with me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. After about three days, I made a decision to turn the pictures in. You have to understand: I’m not the kind of guy to rat somebody out….But this crossed the line to me. I had the choice between what I knew was morally right and my loyalty to other soldiers. I couldn’t have it both ways.”

After retaliation by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Darby “was whisked away, and eventually concealed in military protective custody for the next several years.”

“But I don’t regret any of it,” Darby said recently. “I made my peace with the decision before I turned the pictures in. I knew that if people found out that it was me, I wouldn’t be liked.”

“For many,” Zimbardo writes, “Darby’s calling attention to the abuses was unpatriotic, un-American, and even faintly treasonous. ‘Hero a Two-Timing Rat,’ ran a headline in the New York Post. [… Darby] was unable to accept [a Presidential Citation honor from the American Psychological Association] because he, his wife, and his mother had to remain in military protective custody for several years in the wake of the many retaliation threats they received.”

The game, the incentives lined up for Darby did not offer him victory for whistleblowing. He decided it was more important to create a new reality wherein injustice at Abu Ghraib had a better chance of being righted. These are the kind of people, I think, that pickup artists write off as merely being bitter. (Note the mainstream media’s dogged efforts to reduce idealist Bradley Manning’s motives to social frustration.)

Another guy I know defended Joe Paterno for not doing enough about the Penn State child sex abuse scandal. This guy said Paterno was being paid well, and when you are being paid well, you can’t be expected to risk things; he also said it with a wink wink, nudge nudge attitude that conveyed “Mature people in the know agree with me.” He is a popular, cheerful young man who is solidly liberal, solidly Democrat. His attitude that maturity consists in surrendering ideals belongs to the feel-good pickup artistry of political and social marketing: Romney’s RNC speech, Obama’s speeches, The Daily Show, TED Talks. The content is irrelevant here; the truth or falsehood or the value of a particular Daily Show joke or Romney claim is irrelevant here. What I am saying is that the way marketers prioritize making the audience feel good higher than the content is most dangerous. We have a world where marketing and appearance trump reality and truth-telling to such an extent that anyone who prefers the latter over the former is cast off as immature and bitter before they are even listened to. But how are you supposed to report CIA torture? With a laughtrack?

Good artists work the same way, though not in the conscious decision-making manner of whistleblowers. By a sort of instinct, good artists wind up rejecting the incentives the main of the art market offers them and create not ossified things but new and therefore real things. New realities. Creative writing is good to the extent that writers allow themselves to live fully while writing; that reality pays off in the voice or tone of the piece, which reminds readers not to trust in appearance but rather in reality. Somebody might be reading a book in public to remind himself of that.

Read this book

You could ask, though — what is the difference between perception-management (a negative term for a component of marketing: managing consumer or voter perceptions) and putting your best foot forward? After all, many of the techniques pickup artists teach are useful social skills to learn, just amped up and repurposed for sexual conquest. And though the horizon for contributing to humanity anonymously (see these to learn more) is improving, people pretty much still need to interact with others to get where they want to go.

When you put your best foot forward, you are primarily allowing people to perceive you of their own accord, rather than emphasizing your manipulation of consumer and voter perceptions. I say emphasize because of course people are always managing perceptions by picking out what outfit they want to look good in today, etc. But it is when appearance overtakes reality that you have a problem. Especially if you can no longer tell the difference between the two. The phenomenological difference between them in first-person experience is real, I think. I’m not entirely sure. More than one slightly ashamed person in a private moment has asked me how they can make themselves more authentic. Maybe I am bitter, but I never know how to answer that question, because it is a problem I’ve never really had.

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I Hate Game Theory by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

Jones, W. T., History of Western Philosophy, Keep Me Company

Divorcing, I’ve been going back to a lot of material from my earlier life, especially my teenage years when what other people said didn’t matter to me so much; in a marriage, or at least in mine, you are constantly having to compromise, appease, and betray yourself.

One thing worthwhile I salvaged from my teenage interest in the noxious ideas of Ayn Rand is the W.T. Jones History of Western Philosophy series. Jones was a philosophy professor at Caltech, and his otherwise little-known five-volume set became a bit more popular outside academia after Rand’s followers promoted the books.

W.T. Jones History of Western Philosophy

  • Volume 1: The Classical Mind. Second Edition (1969).
  • Volume 2: The Medieval Mind. Second Edition (1969).
  • Volume 3: Hobbes to Hume. Second Edition (1969).
  • Volume 4: Kant and the Nineteenth Century. Second Edition, Revised (1975).
  • Volume 5: The Twentieth Century to Quine and Derrida. Third Edition, with Robert J. Fogelin additions (1997).

I read them initially in high school: the late nineties. I understood it through about Volume 3. Sometime in the early 2000s I read it again on my own while studying philosophy in college, and I understood it through most of the 4th volume. Now I’m hoping to walk away with the whole thing understood.

All this philosophizing about life, on my and Jones’s parts, and I don’t even know who this guy is! I tried to read up on him tonight, but found little online. A retirement bulletin from Caltech explains helpfully that he specialized in world views, taught at Pamona College prior to Caltech, wrote seven books, and received several honors: he was a Rhodes Scholar, a Guggenheim Fellow, a Lippincott Fellow, a Proctor Fellow, a Ford Faculty Fellow, and a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar. The bulletin also quotes him as writing in 1977 that “One of the great aims of education should be to help students learn how to enjoy — enjoy, not merely tolerate — cognitive dissonance, cognitive ambiguity.” Very wise indeed.

A Seattle Post-Intelligencer article from 1986 reveals that his son, Jeff Jones, is a playwright. Jeff Jones wrote a collage-like play built from beach movies, Bible movies, Plato, and Latvian folk music. The article calls it a “beach biblical ancient Greek Latvian epic,” and it is part of a series the younger Jones titled, with apparent impishness, “A History of Western Philosophy.” (He also mentions going to therapy.)

I’ve been (re-)reading the elder Jones’s History of Western Philosophy almost every night just before turning off my iPhone flashlight. Aristotle definitely helps me fall asleep. Once I wanted to read the Copleston eleven-volume History of Philosophy — Copleston was a Jesuit priest — but in that series there are no translations for the plentiful Greek. Although I know some koine, Copleston’s Greek was still … Greek to me. An acquaintance has been asking why I’m wasting my time reading a history of western philosophy that isn’t Bertrand Russell’s. Because I’ve been told Russell is very opinionated in his presentation, whereas Jones quotes primary sources extensively and provides good context and what seems to be fair and only a little analysis.

Volume 1: The Classical Mind, by my bedside

There is really not much online about Jones, and little of his personality in his very objective, mostly humorless history. However, sometimes Jones reveals himself with his examples:

But is Plato’s psychological analysis of human nature correct? Is his account of the form “man” adequate? It seems clear that people who suffer from hangovers should not drink to excess and that people who have a tendency toward indigestion should not overeat. But one hardly needs to be a philosopher to discover this. How is Plato’s theory to deal with the man with a cast-iron stomach who prefers lobster to lyrics, boogie-woogie to Bach, and sitting in the sun to differential equations? We may agree that such a man is not living a well-rounded life, but are we justified in telling him that he is less happy than the man who lives a well-rounded life?

We could say, of course, that the man who prefers boogie-woogie to Bach simply doesn’t understand Bach. This line of argument is not without force. Bach is difficult; where the untrained ear hears only noise, the musically educated ear hears “exquisite harmonies.” Hence it is not surprising that a great many people prefer boogie-woogie. If, however, they were to study music, they might find that an increased musical appreciation repaid them for their trouble. But suppose that, after devoting some time to Bach, the man who prefers boogie-woogie says, ‘Well, I still don’t see anything in classical music.” We might be tempted to reply, “If you don’t, then so much the worse for you.”

This retort discourteous is, of course, not conclusive, and Plato would not have wanted to rest his case merely on the possibility of cultivating one’s taste. He wanted to maintain that the nature of man really is what he described it to be and that the man who doesn’t find it so is mistaken, not merely deficient in taste.

“Boogie Woogie” performed by Count Basie’s Blue Five:

Bach Prelude & Fugue no. 3 in C# Major, Well-Tempered Klavier Book 1, performed by Glenn Gould:

I’m going to read W.T. Jones’s History of Western Philosophy and sit in the sun at the same time!

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Jones, W. T., History of Western Philosophy, Keep Me Company by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@douglaslucas.com.

Sudden Jesus-ing in Fort Worth, Texas, at Berry & Cockrell

“YES, MY FRIEND-uh”

This Friday evening a group of maybe twenty folks have assembled at the corner of Berry and Cockrell to proselytize for Christianity; I happened to pass by and jump into live-blogging mode. The speakers from the group, some using English and one Spanish, have been speaking into a hand-held microphone and through a portable PA for easily an hour counting. They’re passing out pamphlets identifying themselves as The Door Christian Fellowship.

The pamphlet handed to me says, among other things, “Are your hopes and dreams unraveling? Are your finances stretched to the breaking point? We Care! and We Can Help! Join us for Life-Changing Services. Find out why Jesus Is The Answer!” It gives an address — 3011 Lackland Rd, Ft Worth, Texas — along with a phone number: (817) 377-1098.

“Douglas-uh, maybe you should move out of Texas-uh.”

They picked this particular street corner for obvious strategic reasons. It’s catty-cornered by the Texas Christian University strip, where clubs, restaurants, and the like entertain students. I don’t know if the group got a permit, or if they needed to, technically, or not. People walking or driving by have expressed various reactions — mostly happy honks and cheers, but a few jeers and some “SHUT THE F*#) UP”s.

“Can we go home yet?”

Here are some quotes from the speakers, 90+% accurate.

  • I know there’s [sic] been advances in technology. The answer is not on Facebook, my friends. The answer is not on Twitter, my friends. There is [sic] real answers in God. Before I got saved, I used to look into all those kinds of — Buddhism, and all kinds of new age stuff. But the real answer was right here: Jesus Christ.

  • On the outside, we’re dressed-up, my friend, we look like we’ve got it all together, but on the inside, my friend, you’re dying because of your sin. You wake up at night and wonder what will come tomorrow. On the inside, you cry yourself to sleep. You go from relationship to relationship because on the inside, you’re dirty. Jesus Christ will clean you. He wants to do that. The Bible says He will set you free. You can be set free from the lifestyle of drugs and alcohol. You can be set free from living for the next party, the next big thing. Jesus Christ can change who you are on the inside, my friend. Jesus can change you. He can change you, my friend, so you don’t have to end up like your parents.

  • Your parents are paying for you to go to college, probably, and you’re wasting that money tonight by getting drunk so you can sleep with someone, maybe. But you will be free for real if you cry out to Jesus Christ!

  • Maybe you’re a queer — it takes God to save you.

  • God commanded us to go forth and preach the Gospel. We go all over the city and preach Jesus Christ. We’re not here tonight because we’re trying to put something on you. I love Fuzzy’s Tacos, my friend; amen, it’s nothing against anybody, my friend. We really care about you. We don’t want to see God put you in Hell.

  • Accept Jesus before it’s too late. If you reject the perfect and living God, he will reject you for all eternity and send you to Hell.

It’s this same group (different day, different place in the same city):

They’ve just now put away their gear and dispersed. As they were packing up — I was typing this from the patio of Stay Wired! Coffeehouse and Computer Services — a guy and girl walked by, dressed up as Jedis, complete with lightsabers. Works for me.

Used without permission; please don’t go after me, buy Star Wars instead.

Creative Commons License

Sudden Jesus-ing in Fort Worth, Texas, at Berry & Cockrell by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.douglaslucas.com.