Monday, October 4, 2010

The Game

Its goes by many names including: “politics”, “promotions”, “public relations”, “punditry”, “preaching” and "Pin the Tail on the Stupid". But among players it is simply called “The Game”. The objective is to get ignorant people to believe falsehoods for fun and/or profit (if you’re profiting by telling the truth you’re not playing the Game). The key to success in the Game is the ability to get people to turn off their objective reasoning skills (i.e., to be stupid).

In the Game you get points whenever you profit from someone else accepting your baseless propositions as facts. In the same way that most drug dealers know not to “get high on their own supply”; true players know not to internalize anything they say in the context of the Game. Points are awarded in the Game based on a combination of the blatancy of the proposition’s falsity (i.e., the stupidity required to believe it), the number of people who believe it and the depth to which they believe it. The accumulation of points manifests as increases in the player’s worldly influence and wealth.

Thanks to the Internet no idea is too stupid (i.e., too egregious a violation of the fundamental laws of logic) to gain traction with some group of marginalized tinfoil hatters. Skilled players try to broaden the distribution of their most preposterous propositions by connecting different groups of believers together using conspiracy theories and then encouraging them to ideologically cross-pollinate. To maximize the depth of penetration of more improbable ideas players typically shape them to be consistent with the personal narratives of their marks. The best players are actually able to convince their marks that believing pure drivel makes them more knowledgeable than everyone who doesn't. Such tactics increase the persistence of an unlikely belief, which in turn increases the chance of it being passed on to other like-minded individuals. As a result, these absurd propositions can provide a solid foundation for building multilevel monuments of idiocy that accumulate huge points in the Game thanks to a multiplier effect.

At the periphery of the Game are lurkers who watch it as a harmless, if sometimes mean-spirited, pastime. Lurkers are able to appreciate the subtleties of the Game but are saddled with too much conscience to play it. The less sympathetic lurkers get a perverse enjoyment out of seeing marks proudly brandishing, as signs of their “superior” intelligence, the stupid ideas that active players have pinned on them. Anyone who wonders why more sympathetic lurkers don’t intervene to warn those being played has obviously never tried to separate people from beliefs that are important to them. As bad as the inaction of lurkers may seem to outsiders, it is the professionals who you really should watch out for. The high-end pros in the Game are wielding immense power in society and often pulling down seven and eight figure (USD) annual salaries. This can incentivize them to play a merciless game that is indifferent to any harm they might cause. These players are generally willing to ruin careers, destroy lives, bring down political systems and if necessary wreck economies in their single-minded pursuit of points in an ultimately meaningless game.

The Game has been played in one form or another since time immemorial. In its earliest versions it was often synonymous with we now think of as product advertising. While much of the action today is still driven by the movement of goods and services, some truly innovative moves have come out of the news media in their efforts to attract viewers and be regarded as relevant (the media equivalents of wealth and power). Their success in combining news, opinion and entertainment into an addictive concoction that is completely lacking in substance has opened the door to a whole new level of play. And through that door has marched the two major American political parties. The Democratic and Republican Parties have revolutionized the Game in terms of the generation and mass distribution of completely idiotic ideas that a significant percentage of the country believe with all their hearts. As such, the lurker-organized fantasy leagues invariably heat up during the run-up to elections. But be aware that the members of these political parties are by no means the top of the Game hierarchy.

In the Game if you are not a player you are probably a mark. The key to avoiding being played is a willingness to question your beliefs. Any belief you have that is based more on your self-image than on empirical evidence from the world around you is, at best, suspect. If you can think of anyone who might be benefiting more from your belief than you are, you have definitely been played. Unfortunately, if you’ve been played by a high-end player, suspecting as much will not provide enough of an incentive to abandon the belief, unless you are also a player. In other words, faced with the choice, a mark will always take the blue pill.
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