Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Politics - Sound and Fury

The Game of Life

Life is not a game. But Life is like a game. That is, Life can be modelled as a game, depending upon the criteria for the model. For example, the word "game" is defined variously as "An amusement or pastime," "a competitive activity involving skill, chance, or endurance on the part of two or more persons who play according to a set of rules, usually for their own amusement or for that of spectators," and "anything resembling a game, as in requiring skill, endurance, or adherence to rules," as well as other nuances and variations of the idea. Perhaps a bit of etymology would be helpful. The word's English origins are apparently from the pre-Germanic prefix "ga" - meaning "collective," and "mann" - meaning "person." It implies a collective human activity, and has multiple derivations in modern English. However, it is in the sense of a "contest played according to rules" that I am interested in, for the purpose of this discussion.

It is in this sense that I want to model Life as being like a game. In fact, as a fan of role-playing games, I see that Life is much like a role-playing game, in which each of us has a role, or identity, and a quest, or a set of quests, goals, a set of requirements, if you will, that we endeavor to fulfill. Among the most common of these are simple survival, enjoyment, peace of mind, the acquisition of wealth (perhaps in the pursuit of other requirements, as wealth is more a means to a variety of ends, rather than the ends in themselves), acceptance by other human beings, sexual fulfillment, and a variety of less-common (but certainly common) goals/requirements, such as power, knowledge, physical strength, admiration, the acquisition of material goods, and so on.

At any rate, most of the goals/requirements that we seek are most likely sought in pursuit of the more basic and common goals/requirements that we all share. Indeed, some of the more unusual goals that are pursued by individuals most likely in some way originate from the most basic and common of goals that we all share. That is, at some point, we are almost (if not entirely) all diverted or distracted from the pursuit of the most basic of requirements by a subjective impression that some less common goal is a means to a more common goal, and the more common goal is eventually forgotten in the process. But that is the subject of another discussion.

Getting back to the Game of Life, we are left with, at the purest level, a set of goals/requirements which we seek to fulfill, an environment in which we "play," which forms the "rules" of the "game," a combination of unique gifts, abilities, talents, resources, and handicaps, and our own ability to make decisions, to strategize, etc., in pursuit of these goals. At times, the game seems competitive, and at others, it seems cooperative. At all times, it is a matter of making decisions in pursuit of some set of goals or requirments.

So, looking at Life as a game, society forms an environment with rules that we must navigate in order to succeed, whatever each person's individual idea of success may be. While many of these rules are not hard and fast, such as the influence of peer pressure, local customs, etc., there are rules that are determined by those whom we collectively place into positions of Authority, such as Kings, Presidents, members of Congress, Houses of Parliament, City Councils, Police, and so on. These Authorities operate under a set of rules that are generally referred to as "laws," and these rules are enforced by various sorts of threats to freedom, life, liberty, etc., such as fines, imprisonment, censure, exile, pain, and death.

To succeed in the game, one must successfully navigate the environment, exploit the rules to one's own advantage, and employ a strategy of action determined to obtain that which one desires. This is no small task, for human beings are exceedingly complex, which makes the environment complex, and the rules complex.

However, the best strategy in any game is to be aware of the environmental conditions, to be aware of the rules, to keep one's attention on the goal(s), to formulate a plan that prioritizes the various goals, recognizes the dependencies of goals upon the achievement of other goals in an organized manner, employs the situational influences, environment, rules, etc., to work the plan, and to be able to modify the plan accordingly, as the situation changes.

In other words, playing the Game of Life is a lot like the process of writing software. Writing software is originated by a set of requirements. As the developer studies the requirements, the developer must also be aware of the situational/environmental conditions under which these requirements must be met. The process of analysis involves identifying resources, such as time, manpower, money, etc., limitations of these resources, breaking the set of requirements down into manageable "chunks" or sub-tasks, identifying the conditions under which each task must be met, and prioritizing the tasks according to their dependencies one upon another.

Because of this, most programmers that I know of both enjoy and are adept at game-play, problem-solving, puzzles, mathematics, etc.

Now, every programmer is aware of, and dreads, those changes in the conditions and/or requirements that arise during the development process. These changes can have catastrophic effects upon the plans and procedures implemented, and certainly impede progress. Yet, they are painfully constant. As a result, every good programmer is adept at adjusting plans, planning for changes, and what we often term "workarounds," procedures developed ad hoc to surmount an unexpected and blocking change.

So, how does all this relate to Politics, and why the reference to that immemorable verse from William Shakespeare, from his play "MacBeth," here quoted more or less in full:

"Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

This quote is very much like many of the verses of King Solomon's book Ecclesiastes:

"All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun."

Politicians are people who, for one reason or another, set out to change the rules of the game of Life, to enact new laws, occasionally to even repeal existing laws. They haggle over the equity of laws, the oppression of the poor, however "the poor" may be defined (since everything is relative), the need to punish "oppressors," whoever they may be identified as, and - oh yes, one of my favorite political phrases - "to level the playing field."

Yes, even Politicians seem to understand the Life is a game. They strategize amongst themselves, hold their caucuses and their huddles, and of course, in their own self-interest, make every effort to appear to be changing the world for the better. But what is the end of all this brou-ha-ha? Sound and Fury, signifying nothing.

The Game of Life continues; only the rules and conditions change. The goals of each individual quest change rarely. But ultimately, no one else is responsible for our lot in Life. No Politician has ever solved anyone's individual problems, made anyone but him/her self a success, and in fact, is merely another player in the game, seeking his/her own goals/requirements.

We seem to enjoy playing "The Blame Game." Oh, if it were not for this or that condition of Life, if only so-and-so would behave in such-and-such a manner, if only the Government would take over (fill in your favorite political cause here), or get out of (fill in your favorite political cause here) Life would be so much better."

Let me tell you something. If you're lost in the woods, your goal is to find your way out. Discussing the complex web of conditions and decisions that led you to the middle of nowhere is not part of solving the problem of being in the middle of nowhere. And changing the rules of a game is not going to make you any more likely to win at it. After all, when the rules of the game are changed, they are changed for everybody. Not only that, but changing one rule or condition has repercussions, unintended consequences, that affect many other conditions, and even rules that previously existed.

Ultimately, changing the rules of the game simply makes the game more difficult to play. One must be in a constant state of re-adaptation, constantly be revising one's game plan, changing the course.

So, am I saying that the solution to this problem is to have fewer politicians, or to somehow prevent any further changes to the rules and conditions of the Game of Life? God Forbid. First, that is a pipe dream; it can never happen. Second, it is an idea which falls into the very same trap of attempting to change the rules and conditions of Life in order to succeed.

Ultimately, success comes from discarding those thoughts and ideas that drain one's available mental, physical, and emotional resources, and to concentrate on the goal, as one did from the beginning, to adapt to changes in conditions, and to constantly be re-formulating the strategy for attaining one's goals.

The past cannot be changed. The future is in the process of creation. We are faced moment by moment with opportunities to make small decisions that can affect the outcome of our own personal Game. It is wise to ignore politicians and politics, or at least to look upon them as mostly entertainment. Yes, we often have political responsibilities to exercise, such as voting, and these small opportunities, like so many of the choices we make, have an impact on our individual outcome.

I cannot change your life, or make you successful. Neither can you change mine. We are responsible for those decisions that we as individuals make, and we experience the consequences of those decisions as individuals. This does not mean that we do not have responsibilities toward one another; we most certainly do. But, since I cannot make the decisions of others, and since I am responsible for my own success or failure, as is everyone else, my responsiblity to another does not imply any responsibility on my part for ensuring that the responsibilities of others are exercised with wisdom. We each have control over the decisions that we alone, as individuals, make.

By keeping this idea in mind, our mental, physical, and emotional resources may be freed up for more useful purposes, those things which we can do, in pursuit of our own goals, whatever they may be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great articles!