Thursday, December 18, 2003


My apologies go to all of those people out there who get twitchy when someone uses a noun as a verb. The second instance in the title of this blog may not have been necessary, but the first one was. It describes what is becoming the core of my philosophy of the world and all of the human things that go on within it.

Shakespeare, through the character of melancholy Jaques in As You Like It, wrote that “All the world is a stage, and the men and women in it merely players.” (Act Whichever, Scene I Don’t Feel Like Digging Out the Book Right Now) He got it half right. We are all players, but we are not acting out a play, but a game. Some of you are already turning ideas of Game Theory over in your mind. I have the barest knowledge of the field with respect to the mathematics, but I do very much like the metaphor. Every time a decision is made, every time one option or course of action is selected above all others, we are looking to win, to come out better than we were before the decision. More precise terminology might be maximizing value or minimizing cost, but I will just stick with the idea of winning.

When I took the position that all decisions are made with an eye toward winning and losing, I had to go to another thought: There is no such thing as altruism, everyone is greedy. Cue Michael Douglas as Gordon Gecko in Wall Street. The one point where I differ from Gordon is that money is not the be all and end all of greed. What everyone is greedy for is satisfaction. If money is what makes you feel good about yourself, then you have the classical greed. Most people show their greed in other ways, and those ways are mostly good and benefit those around them as well.

Doubtless there are some people out there who feel their motives to be above the mere concerns of self-interest. To those individuals, I propose a little thought experiment. Imagine that you have $10,000 to give to any one charity of your choice. Which charity would you choose? Greenpeace? Doctors Without Borders? NRA Gun Safety Training Programs? Ask yourself why you chose that one charity over all of the others. If you are honest, you will realize that you gave it to the one that you felt the best about giving to. When you make charitable donation you are buying satisfaction. If a man is happy paying $100,00 a 1990 Honda Accord with 200,000 miles on the odometer, then he has not been ripped-off. Incredibly stupid, perhaps, but not ripped-off.

Ultimately, everyone is jonesing for Warm Fuzzies.

It may seem that I am advocating a world of every man for himself and screw the other guy. Not so. It has been said the honor is a gift a man gives himself. The great thing about satisfaction is that it is not a conserved quantity. There is no fixed amount of satisfaction to be had in the world. Most people gain more of it when, after a deal, they know that the other person is also satisfied. Robert Wright has explored the ideas that lead to this idea in several articles for Slate. Some day I’ll get around to reading his book on the topic.

Over the next few days, I’ll be laying out more of my fundamental beliefs, especially as other stories come along. Some of the entries will be about life, work, pastimes, and others will be observations about the world at large with links to other sites. I make no guarantees about quality or quantity, only that I will be just as curious as to where this thing is going to go.

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