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Sunday, 27 August 2017

Blackjack And Politics

The best time to grind out a few hands of Blackjack at the casino is a Monday afternoon. This isn't about maths, but people. Blackjack is one of the few games where, with careful play, it's possible to take advantage of a very slight swing in favour of the player. In order for this to happen, however, all players need to co-operate intelligently against the bank. Players who are selfish, ignorant, or both, will make decisions which swing the advantage back to the bank. A good example is when the dealer draws a six or less. In this situation, it's vitally important not to draw picture cards from the deck, as these are needed to help maximise the probability that the dealer will bust. Of course, it's necessary to hedge oneself a little, so it's allowable to hit oneself up to ten, but the common good requires that players do no more than this. Ignoring the table and going for an individual win will usually result in every other player at the table losing. And this in a situation where proper co-operative play would have most likely resulted in everybody winning against the house. This is why Monday afternoons are best - none but seasoned, dedicated players hit the casino on a Monday afternoon.

In western democracies, politics is a game that's quite similar to Blackjack. Sure, the odds seem to be stacked against us, with big money interests and aggressive lobby groups poised to use up all the available oxygen, and legislative systems so opaque that the whole game seems irretrievably rigged in favour of the house. But we see again and again that united popular will can and does beat the bank. Thing is, this can only happen when it's more or less united. When we have a situation where the people are mired in useless garbage - semantic disputes, arguments over statues and holidays, mutual name-calling, and idiotic recrimination - the house will always win. So just like Blackjack, where a responsible player always follows the probability matrix, there are ways to swing the balance of politics back into our favour.

  • Ignorant participation allows interest groups to tailor the narrative to their own narrow requirements. If you're not across an issue, either get across it or shut up. Economics is a good example - hardly anyone understands it, but our insane insistence on talking about it anyway allows governments to fight elections around issues we do not comprehend.
  • Play the long game - sure, it's about self interest, but if we let our neighbour's house catch fire today, there's a good chance ours will go up tomorrow.
  • Default to the equal treatment of all people. Giving groups more rights doesn't destroy functional societies - it's taking them away which does that. 
  • Fear is never the answer. The project of civilisation is inherently unsafe, which means that its survival is dependant on our individual and collective courage.
  • Tribalism is the enemy of democracy. Any political view which isolates any group based on who they are rather than what they do, is almost certainly invalid. 
  • Think. How we feel about something is not a reliable guide to what is right, or even to what is relevant. Politics is neither a sporting fixture nor a soap opera - it's a real life process in which we are duty bound to participate as intelligently and responsibly as we can.
  • No-one can live in a world tailor made for them and them alone. Grow up and make room for other views.
  • Find common ground. Demagogues love division. When the people are polarised, the popular will is atomised, and the bank will always be able to have it all its own way. 
Great experiments of connectivity have always been a bit bamboozling for humanity. It's worth noting that great collapses and wars have tended to happen at our periods of closest interconnection. 1177 BCE, 576, 1913 - moments of broad connection seem to act as the tipping points of history. The internet has created another one right now, and the confronting realisation that the vast majority of people can neither ratiocinate, articulate, or spell, seems to be causing us to shrink from each other - to fragment and fracture apart as quickly as we possibly can. Which is the surest and speediest way to ensure that the house will always, always win.

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