Monday, July 03, 2006

Once again, I caught World Cup Fever and once again the month long condition has left me feeling slightly ill. You would think that one of the simplest games (it having only 17 laws) being played under the scrutiny of (perhaps) 2 billion people would be free from cheating and corruption. But it is not.

Take an even simpler game: two people in a ring and the person who can push the other one over or out of the ring is the winner. And yet, winning isn't everything (abstract) there is corruption in sumo wrestling (fulltext as pdf).

It has been a long time coming, but I have finally come to realize that every facet of human culture is not just corruptable, but is corrupted.

And I am ok with that.

The alternative to not accepting corruption as part of the human condition is to separate the world into two groups: cheaters and non-cheaters. It means that you live in a dualist world in which society's laws are created to protect the good guys (you) from the bad guys. And while this is true, what is also true is that we need laws to protect ourselves from being corrupted.

Research suggests that decision-makers don't realize just how easily and often their objectivity is compromised. The human brain knows many tricks that allow it to consider evidence, weigh facts and still reach precisely the conclusion it favors.

When our bathroom scale delivers bad news, we hop off and then on again, just to make sure we didn't misread the display or put too much pressure on one foot. When our scale delivers good news, we smile and head for the shower. By uncritically accepting evidence when it pleases us, and insisting on more when it doesn't, we subtly tip the scales in our favor.

Research suggests that the way we weigh ourselves in the bathroom is the way we weigh evidence outside it. ["I'm OK You're Biased, NY Times, April 16, 2006]
I'm tempted to reprint the entire article here but I can hardly write about how I think its necessary for individuals to respect rules that constrain them while breaking one such rule regarding copyright in the process.

In the latest issue of Harper's Magainze (July 2006) there is a brilliant article that makes a brilliant antitrust case against Wal-Mart. The article doesn't dish out the regular complaints about the organization (like how a Wal-Mart at the fringes of a city tends to wipe out the local businesses in the city's core) but makes the case that Wal-Mart has too much control over its suppliers and because of this, it holds a monopsony.

I mention this article in the middle of this post because I think the article fits in here somehow. What's good for [a] business is not always what's good for the market. The market is the playing field but there's is no invisible hand that will deal Wal-Mart a red card. We can't expect businesses to self-regulate themselves because we are inherently corrupt. We need stronger rules. We need stronger refs.

Earlier in the year (February 2006), Harper's Magazine published an essay that I really loved called "Crap Shoot: Everyone Loses When Politics Is a Game" [some quotes from it, here]. In it, Kiezer differentiates between the worker and "the player".

What distinguishes the worker from the player is the former's understanding that the game is just that. The worker possesses the consciousness... that play is 'different from ordinary life.' That's a large part of what makes it fun.

In contrast, the player conceives of ordinary life as 'the game.' The casino world of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, or the racetrack or the numbers racket, is the norm. Work is the diversion. Work is something you do at the gym. You work at your golf stroke. You work at your 'relationships.' You work during your 'off' hours. But business is all about the game.

Essentially, rules do not apply to "the player".

It all fits together somehow in my mind. Business. Corruption. Games. Deception.

And rules. Rules are what saves us from ourselves.

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