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The game: frames for considering the future

by on October 6, 2010

We have games within games. For example, making movies within the context of a society. But what are the larger games? Unfortunately the nearlyy only game in town, the game that sets the conditins for all other games, is the economy. And the problem with an economy is it can turn crisis into opportunity – that is, exploit the wealnessess. When it comes to the environment, the logic is, where are the financial opportunities? But even here, the bigger game is the use of finance for power

The big game now is international finance. Governments are responsive to it as a life line. Corporations live on ti simbiotically. But the payoff in the game is power, the power to decide the rules for the international economy.  If everyone is in this game, without choice, what does it suggest about climate disruption strategies? Seems to me to come down to two choices (at this level of analysis).

  • Use the game to advantage
  • Add another compelling game (survival, compassionate civilization, GardenWorld,  etc.)

quoting from The Shadow Market: How a Group of Wealthy Nations and Powerful Investors Secretly Dominate the World by Eric J Weiner

“Tuesday, March 17, 2009, was a typically brisk, rainy weekday in late-winter Washington, DC. Other than an unusually angry wind gusting in off the Potomac River, events were fairly quiet in the district, just another normal business day. But about thirty miles north of the White House, at the Johns Hopkins University Warfare Analysis Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, things were far from normal. There, a group of America’s top military and intelligence officials had come together in secret to watch the work of several dozen innocuous-looking men and women who were gathered in a large war room around a series of V-shaped tables. For the most part, the military and intelligence leaders kept their eyes trained on a bank of video screens, on which deadly conflicts from across the globe were playing out. To their dismay, the United States was losing over and over again. Fortunately these battles weren’t real. Instead they were part of a new war game exercise unlike anything our military strategists had ever come up with. While these types of planning events typically involve strategic bombing campaigns and deployments of fighting forces, this one ignored all that. Instead it was based exclusively on economics. The weapons were dollars, bonds, and stocks. And the grunts on the ground were government economists, academics, hedge fund traders, and Wall Street banking executives. The idea was to simulate what would happen if the world disintegrated into a series of full-fledged financial wars. And as the battles played out over the two-day exercise, our military brass continually found that America’s hands were tied. There was no way for America to win. Regardless of what happened in the world and how the United States responded to it, we ultimately ended up losing—to China. The results presented a deeply sobering reality for our veteran war strategistsUnder the pressure of circumstances, the medieval notion of judging economic actions according to their contribution to the health of the social organism began to collapse

The fact is, this “game” is taken as serious, which mans those with power can co-opt the board (imagine a checker board suddenly infilitrated by chess pieces) and all other concerns are made subordinate.

Moore in social origins Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World by Barrington Moore says

Under the pressure of circumstances, the medieval notion of judging economic actions according to their contribution to the health of the social organism began to collapse.

what is striking is thet ever was a time when economic actions were dso judged. This game setting at the systems level we need to learn from.


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  1. I love this perspective, Doug. Of course, we’d all like to think that we can opt out of the game, or at least find a role that shelters us from its most unappealing attributes – staying off the radar screen of the worst predators. I’m preparing for my second trip to China, tagging along, a delicious role. Games within games, but often played with strategy and earnestness among contestants who seek mutual advantage. Everyone wants friends who are pleasant and have a plan, but avoid taking more than they need. The Chinese are not so kind to the greedy and the inept, which provides them a very large playing field.

    Of course the US loses to China, just as the Soviet Union appears to have lost to the U.S. Yet, in the realm of animals caught in hunter’s traps, it may be the one able to chew through its own leg that escapes to plan ways to game the game. Strategic thinking. The Art of War. China now seems to have a sane, cohesive strategy and has been willing to sacrifice towards its goal of controlling the game so that it can house, feed and protect its people. The US is so infected with affluence and bizarre econo-religious “free-market” ideology that national planning is impossible, if not anathema, a realm reserved for gamers without any accountability to the nation.

    I am left with the conclusion that humans employ intricate games in very much the same way that spiders deploy webs, bees construct hives, birds have mating rituals or prairie dogs construct networks of tunnels. This is the realm of ritual in which we determine dominance and hierarchy. Increasingly, it seems that the rewards go to sociopaths, which does not bode well for human sustainability. The excessive concentration of wealth essentially ends opportunity rather than creating it – when a small number of non-elected people quietly become the ruling class. Of course, they can always command us to build pyramids for them, if they aren’t already.

    As the bee does its dance to map its territory and the dog does its equivalent to mark its own, so humans create roles, passwords and identities. It’s just our nature. Nothing particularly rational, except to us. But when the game becomes too intricate and stilted, opportunity for the masses vanishes and they become unhappy when the perceived social “contract” is repeatedly broken. They can choose to take their anger out on the emasculated government that tries to serve them by reigning in the elites. Or, they can rail at a surrogate scapegoat craftily offered up by the always-game-playing ruling classes, as they create a lower and lower profile, becoming more insular, secluded and cut off from the turmoil they have created. The wealthy who honestly aren’t playing the game, and who have the long-term interests of the nation at heart get caught in the middle, as the gamers disappear, present only through well-paid representatives and surrogates. At such times, it can be quite difficult to be a wealthy “liberal.”

    But we can, and have, changed the game in the past. The “New Deal” and labor movement made living a better life possible for many more people without real harm to the wealthy. It created the platform of labor capital that fed massive economic growth – until the games escalated out of control and the financial elites out-maneuvered a complacent electorate with mind-numbing extreme “free-market” pie-in-the sky ideology to motivate tens of millions of lottery-winner wannabees to force government to further abdicated its regulatory functions.

    Rational? Only if one sees life as a game in which most people must lose so that a few can win really big – and dominate the rest. Unfortunately, sustainability is not a major objective for the super rich because they control the rules and can prosper while the vast majority suffers. The elites are sheltered from the unraveling of the economy and therefore from motivation to change the rules. Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” chronicles this process, in which egalitarianism and social consciousness tend to facilitate the ability to change the rules of the game when necessary for survival.

  2. I think I agree with this, poetic and precise. I do doubt that the new deal was a game change: it was an evolution within the game of industrialization and transition capitalism (from industrial to financial). the game change we need now is much bigger.

    My second issue is with the china model and its implications for centralized solutioning. probably very likely but i don’t like it. But the idea of less greed more competence is certainly attractive. Can we talk about what is need to go there, and who would resist if it started being successful?


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