You Can Fight Back And Keep Your Soul

“We’re refugees. What kind of messed-up place would turn away refugees?”

Jason Mendoza, The Good Place

The GOP has made over seventy attempts to overturn health-care reform. Not because the public wanted it gone, not because it was a radical plan (remember, it was essentially the same as Romneycare), but because healthcare reform wasn’t profitable enough for their influential donors, instead helping the young and lower-income minorities who most needed it. [1] Republicans did not stop trying to overturn health care reform after one failure, not after two, not after a dozen. Over seventy times. Each time they challenged it, they made some small progress. Maybe a section got overturned, maybe it reinforced their reframing of healthcare as something people shouldn’t have, maybe it was just a little crack in the edifice. But they kept going, even though any “reasonable” person or group would have stopped. And that’s for something that still has majority support, currently at 57% approval (with 37% disapproval). The Democrats have made only one attempt (covering only two counts) to hold Trump to account for his many actions that deserve impeachment (some of which he bragged about while being impeached for them). Thanks to corruption and partisanship in the Senate, Trump is likely be acquitted. There are no (known) plans to seek impeachment for any of the many, MANY other actions that deserve impeachment. [2] Simply: The GOP keeps pushing on the same ideological point without compromise, even though it’s factually incorrect. Democrats will give up after a single “fair attempt”, even if that attempt was blatantly unfair and rigged. Add in a sprinkling of the GOP whining when basic, observable facts are pointed out to them, and you’ve got a dictatorship souffle on the way. This is the problem. I understand the Democratic (and political left) desire to reach compromise. With reasonable people, that is the best way for things to work out. It falls apart when you’re dealing with bad actors and narcissists. It’s like basic game theory that way. Like the “prisoner’s dilemma” or the UK game show “Golden Balls” or the inevitable part of every zombie flick where the protagonists meet some other survivors… and don’t know whether or not to trust them. In these situations, if everyone’s honest, plays by social rules, and co-operates, everyone wins. Great! That’s also true when you talk about repeated game theory. (The “repeated” means that instead of just ONE situation, you have to keep interacting with the same people or groups.) Everybody cooperates, everyone wins. This is obviously what the Democrats and political left are striving for.

To paraphrase Ice-T: “Shirt ain’t like that. It’s real forked up.”
In these scenarios, if one person/group is NOT honest, or does NOT play by social rules, or does NOT co-operate, then the “honest” and “co-operating” group loses, badly. When this happens, they’re (imaginatively) called “non-cooperative” games. Welcome to American politics in my lifetime. We are in a several-decade long string of repeated NON-cooperative games, where the GOP is clearly employing a “grim trigger” strategy. Cross them once, and you’re dead to them forever. This kind of strategy has dated back a while – think of the term RINO (Republican In Name Only) that dates back to the early 1990’s. It’s only gotten more extreme with this regime: their treatment of John Bolton – or any other person or government department that has dared disagree with Trump – is a perfect example. Usually, you only hear two ideas being forwarded to combat this kind of bad-faith “grim trigger” operation:
  • Take the high road (“When they go low, go high”)
  • Fight as dirty as they do.
By mapping this to game theory, we know that NEITHER is a good option. Adopting either an “always altruistic” or an “always selfish” position when there’s repeated interactions will spiral into something either awful where everyone is at everyone else’s throat, or deeply unbalanced where one side walks all over the other. Even the “middle of the road” option – something called “tit-for-tat” (very similar to “an eye for an eye”), where you only retaliate once if they betrayed you over last time – can spiral if all sides are following this strategy. As the saying goes, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” But if you’re a little bit generous – not “tit for two tats”, but maybe “tit for tat – except 10% of the time I’ll be generous instead”, things change. That strategy is not so generous (or predictable) that it can be taken advantage of, but it’s generous enough to help short-circuit a tit-for-tat death spiral. So you do a bit of both. If folks are good to you, you’re good to them. If they’re going to play dirty, you do the same back – most of the time. But sometimes – randomly, intermittently – you will take the high road when you “should” have retaliated. And that both breaks the downward spiral and keeps you from being taken advantage of. It’s not peace and harmony, nor is it grimdark realpolitic, but somewhere in between. It keeps the promise of peace and harmony, while retaining enough retaliation that you don’t get run over. So, everyone. You’ve got an executive who is such a hypocritical[3], lying[4] jerk[5] that it requires willfully ignoring reality in order to embrace him… and a Republican party that is only focused on “winning” instead of doing the best it can for this country. You all know this. You’ve known it since he started running. It’s almost too late now. Get a spine and call a liar a liar, an enabler an enabler, and crooks crooks. And don’t stop until they’re out of office.
Middle finger to the face / that’s a point of view.

Fever 333, “POV”

See the linked Radiolab episodes for more background on the prisoner’s dilemma and trigger strategies (including where it happened in World War I) and “Golden Balls“.

[1] Or, you know, because a black man proposed it. [2] Random fun fact: High crimes and misdemeanors has NOTHING to do with the seriousness of the crime. Jon Roland of the Constitution Society has “carefully researched the origin of the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” and its meaning to the Framers, and found that the key to understanding it is the word “high”. It does not mean “more serious”. It refers to those punishable offenses that only apply to high persons, that is, to public officials, those who, because of their official status, are under special obligations that ordinary persons are not under, and which could not be meaningfully applied or justly punished if committed by ordinary persons.” [3] Contrast the non-issue of “Lattegate” with Trump’s behavior during the national anthem, for example. [4] Do you really need me to link to one of the MANY lists of his lies out there? [5] The “grab them by the pussy” comment is more than enough to make him a jerk. There’s lots, lots more. Featured Photo by Mirah Curzer on Unsplash

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