Recently I rode my trusty bike into the office. After locking it out front, I went upstairs and had what I recall as an incredibly productive day. That’s the sort of stuff that makes me happy.
As I hopped back on my back that evening, I noticed its flat back tire. That’s the sort of stuff that makes me unhappy. It was the kind of flat that cannot get flatter. Someone let the air out of my tire.
The person who flattened my ride home is living life as a zero-sum game. In a zero-sum game, one player’s loss is the other’s gain. In order for me to get +5, someone else must get -5. Add together our scores and we collectively have zero.
Life is not a zero-sum game. Doesn’t the Golden Rule basically discouraging zero-sum thinking?
Months back I purchased Morton D. Davis’ book Game Theory. As I read the early chapters on zero-sum games it seemed pretty simplistic and at some point I lost interest. A few nights ago, I was searching for a book among my many half-reads and ran across it. This time I skipped directly to the section on non-zero-sum games and I’m intrigued.
Non-zero-sum games say we both can have +5. Of course, the point is still to win, but we do so by maximizing our own advantage. Since everybody is trying to do this, succeeding in a non-zero-sum game requires comprimise and rarely means maximizing the losses of our opponent.
The prisoner’s dilemma provides a good example of how this could look in real life, at least if you hang around the wrong people (or go letting the air out of people’s tires).