I was watching a couple of Jordan Peterson videos recently that I found completely fascinating, and wanted to opine on them here. I also just had lunch with an old’s cool friend, Ben Hunt, who writes one of the most articulate and interesting blogs on the internet today at Epsilon Theory. If you don’t know about it, you’re in for a difficult, demanding but ultimately very rewarding treat. Actually it’s a two-edged sword, and I came up with what I call The Hunt Paradox: you’re so much smarter when you read his articles because they’re just so informative and erudite; but you’re dumber because you realize how much you didn’t know you didn’t know. Damn frustrating but inspiring stuff.
Read Ben Hunt’s blog, Popehat’s musings, watch Victor Davis Hanson and Jordan Peterson on YouTube, and subscribe to Delancey Place, A Word a Day and Brain Picking’s regular emails and you’ll get a college education that dwarfs anything out there by an order of magnitude, in my opinion. And it’s free.
There was a study done at some university somewhere that found out that rats can giggle, believe it or not, because part of their brain is hard-wired for play. This may not be a wise use of grant money you might be thinking, but the discovery was important in that it proved that play and the ability to play is not a social construct, or something that’s taught; it’s part of a mammal’s DNA. Roughhousing teaches them how to socialize – it’s the harmless version of fighting – and it’s the integral part of their nature that’s necessary to insure the propagation of the species.
Human babies also are hard-wired for play; and even when they’re not developed or old enough to understand the rules. Peek-a-boo doesn’t have rules per se, but do it 5 or 6 times and the baby will understand the game, and be thrilled and amused by it. Then try not taking your hands away, and the baby will be confused for a minute and then reach over and move them out of the way so he can see your eyes. The expectation is met, and the “rules” of the game are confirmed.
I'm not an idiot.
At 2 years old a toddler can’t play, since he’s too self-absorbed and can’t yet fathom the rules of engagement, but by 3 years old children have the ability to play, even if they don’t exactly know what they’re doing, and it’s an important part of socializing. “Tag” is a classic game that we’ve all played, and it’s nothing more than a pantomime about hunting. “Hide and Seek” is about discovery, essentially. If a child can’t play or doesn’t know how to play by 4 years old he will be anti-social for the rest of his life, and there’s nothing you can do about it, at least according to Dr. Peterson, and I’m paraphrasing – and hoping I’ve got everything more of less correct. If not, I’m sure I’ll hear from some know-it-all expert.
So, a group of 7 year olds can play a complicated game of marbles, with encouragement in the form of nudges and raised eyebrows and mimicry, but very little articulation, and do it fairly and competently. But pull any one of them aside and ask him what the rules are and he won’t be able to really tell you. You might find all of them in the group can articulate the rules coherently and all together, and get it right, more or less– but each one individually is almost hopeless.
Which brings us to playing “adult” games, and the importance of buying into the particular universe, and playing it thoughtfully and well at least according to your own level of socialization and place in the dominance hierarchy.
“All game theory is,” says Ben, “is the study of strategic interaction. That’s it.”
So chasing paper money or plastic gold is intrinsicly pointless, even absurd, obviously, unless we enter the particular game universe and accept the rules. Which of course we do because it allows us to do things we can’t in real life, like rescue the princess or win the football game – in other words, be the hero. But then again it goes without saying that wish fulfillment is a huge part of the appeal of a lot of games, especially if you’re an overweight aspi-neckbeard living in your mother’s basement. But, seriously, the meta-game, as Ben Hunt called it in our discussion today, is always there, unacknowledged, and is the human dominance hierarchy and how we see ourselves in it incarnate.
"Blood Knuckles" hurts!
Which brings us to our own game, which we’re trying to subtly and subversively sell between the lines of this blog article. It seems that what we’ve done, unwittingly, and without even trying to be clever, is to incorporate the real world into the wall street game universe of ONEUPMANSHIP by making 36 different “$” cards that challenge us as ourselves, outside of the game itself. For example a $ Card might say something like: “Pay a $1,000 fine or do 25 pushups instead.” I am not kidding you, I’ve had old, old guys (and at least one woman) hit the deck and try to bash them out rather than pay the money because it goes to the core of their self-esteem and (wo)manhood. The thinking is something like: even if I win the game, I’ll really have lost if I can’t do all the pushups correctly.
“So the meta-game becomes the actual game” Ben says, “which is always much more fun.”
I’ve seen this instinctual desire to conquer first-hand with my children even when they were quite young – they did’t necessarily want to win the game per se, but they wanted to beat me. Playing fair is human nature, at least in properly socialized children, but so is winning, and beating parents or peers is especially satisfying. The Oedipal killing of the father and all that mythological jazz is profound and relevant because it’s true. And emotionally gratifying and terrific fun, especially when it’s just a game.
We’ll end on this positive note: we got a letter from a grandmother recently who wrote to us to say she never imagined that she’d be “Indian Arm Wrestling” her grandson (which is another $ Card) but she wanted to tell us that it’s the most fun she’s had in a long, long time.