Ethics And Rigged Games
A Real Example
I’d like to first provide an example of a system “rigged” so you can’t really win at it without “gaming” the system. When I was a young man in my 20s, just starting out as an electrician, I needed to buy a truck to get from job to job, home to office, etc. I had someone who would sell me a used truck for $1500. What I didn’t have was the $1500 to buy the truck. So I went to my bank to obtain the money. I interviewed with a loan officer about obtaining a loan to buy the truck. I was going for a “signature” loan, one which is not secured by collateral, but only by my reputation in borrowing and repaying money. My loan officer explained that, while they could lend me $1500 on my signature, they couldn’t do so for a used vehicle. I tried to get an explanation of why, but the only explanation was that they wouldn’t lend money to buy used cars.
Now, if you think about it, this is a little silly. I mean, you’re a bank with money to lend. The fact that you’re willing to lend me money on my signature means you trust me. And you’d be glad to lend me money, but not for this one thing. So I asked the inevitable question: “What would you lend me money for?” A number of items were listed, one of them being “tools”. Of course, being an electrician, I was always in the market for new, good tools.
Of course, I knew that if I changed my tune right there in the loan officer’s cubicle, and said I wanted tools instead of a truck, he’d know I was lying and deny me the loan. So I left, determined to return a week later.
Fortunately, I was not on a first-name basis with the people at my bank at the time. In other words, from one bank visit to the next, no one in the lobby would particularly recognize me. When I returned to the bank, I eventually was seated in front of a different loan officer this time, one who didn’t know this was my second visit to the bank in two weeks for a loan. And I calmly explained my plight. I was an electrician, and I needed to buy some tools. Out came the contracts and pens, and in short order, I was walking out with a check for $1500.
And I went over to my friendly neighborhood used truck dealer and bought a truck. And incidentally, I did pay back the loan, just like I promised to.
Again, it’s worth looking at how silly and “rigged” this system is. You’re a bank. You’re willing to make me a signature loan because you know I have a history of paying back money I owe. That being the case, you shouldn’t really care what I spend the money on, and it really shouldn’t be any of your business. But no, certain things are acceptable as reasons to take out a loan, and certain things aren’t. And you won’t lend me money to buy what I really want, but you will lend me money to buy something I don’t want. So you’re leaving me no real choice except to lie to you about why I want the money. And if I do lie, you will reward me with hard, cold cash.
Did I feel bad about lying to my loan officer about the reason for the loan? Not a bit. My thought at the time, and still to this day is, if you’re going to rig the system so I have to lie to get what I need/want, then I’m going to game the system and lie to you. What else can you expect?
This was one of my earliest lessons in systems which are rigged against you. I never forgot it.
A Television Example
First, let me explain a “no win scenario”. The classic example of this comes from a Star Trek movie. In that movie, there is a training scenario used to test the character of officers who are on the “command track” at “Star Fleet Academy”. The scenario: The starship Enterprise (our heroes) is just outside the “Neutral Zone”. It’s a zone of neutrality between the “Federation” (our heroes’ place of origin) and the Klingon Empire (Klingons are the bad guys). To enter the Neutral Zone (either side) is to create an interstellar “incident” which could lead to war. Just inside the Neutral Zone is a disabled Federation vessel by the name of the Kobayashi Maru. Your job is to rescue the Maru from the zone intact without causing an “incident”. Your choices: 1) Violate your mission objectives by staying out of the Neutral Zone and abandoning the Maru to certain destruction by the Klingons; 2) Enter the Neutral Zone and attempt to rescue the Maru and/or its crew without alerting the Klingons. Unfortunately for you, the Klingons are already waiting “cloaked” (that is, their ships are more or less invisible), and there are several of them. The scenario is programmed so that if you enter the Zone, you will, one way or another die, along with the Maru and create the interstellar incident you want to avoid. In other words, no win is possible, since the scenario is programmed to preclude that outcome. A third possibility arises, though, when the captain of the Enterprise, James T. Kirk, who doesn’t believe in the “no win scenario” cheats by reprogramming the simulation computer to allow the Enterprise to rescue the Maru and destroy the waiting Klingon ships, without incident. Kirk thus beats the “no win scenario” and becomes the only officer ever to do so. His solution is considered clever, but since he cheated to win, he is penalized.
Don’t get too hung up on the Kobayashi Maru as a classic example of no win scenarios. There are many types of these scenarios of all shapes and sizes.
The Real World
My daughter regards her mother and I as virtual paragons of virtue. We’ve done nothing to dissuade her from this misconception. I rather like the idea of it. It’s not true, of course, but it’s fun to pretend.
That said, I’ll also stipulate that throughout our lives her mother and I have striven to achieve as high a level of ethics and morality as we could manage. So while I won’t admit to being a paragon of virtue, I will assert that my wife and I have done a pretty good job on that score, as humans go.
One of my ideas, shared by most people, is that honesty involves telling the truth whenever possible. (Remember that old saw, “honesty is the best policy”?) Even when it must be tempered by PR to make it palatable, the truth is almost always your best bet. By nature, I’m an idealist, and I always hope that the truth is the best path to take.
So my daughter was recently shocked when I advised her, under the circumstances she described, to lie. She had described a set of circumstances which, like Star Trek’s Kobayashi Maru, comprised a no-win scenario. The only way to win was to cheat.
Remember when I said I was an idealist? Very true. But the older I’ve gotten and the more I’ve experienced, the more I’ve come to recognize when circumstances have been rigged to prevent “honesty” from being the winning move. This planet is full of circumstances like this, and more spring up every day. Our societies and civilizations here have become more and more illogical and more and more prone to being “gamed” by those who are less than ethical and moral. In fact, it has gotten so bad in places that the innocent truth can actually get you incarcerated.
Words of Wisdom
This kind of thing can cause confusion when it comes to considering overts and withholds, confessionals and the like. You wanted to tell the truth, but you couldn’t for fear of the circumstances. Did you commit an overt or not?
Note what The Way To Happiness has to say about telling the truth:
Seek to live with the truth
Do not tell harmful lies
Where’s the dictum about “Do not lie”? It’s not in there! It’s a fair bet that if it was good advice, it would be in there. But it’s not.
(Of course, if you think about it, this whole universe is based on a lie, which is that you didn’t create it. You may not have been one of the cretins who dreamed it up, but you’re here experiencing it, so you’re one of those standing around, going, “Nope, I didn’t make this”. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be here for you to experience.)
Let me submit for your consideration the equation of the optimum solution:
[T]he solution which brings the greatest benefit to the greatest number of
Ron, while ultimately an ethical and moral individual, advised us on repeated occasions to obey the law, but still had a rather casual attitude toward our police and wog justice systems. He had worked with cops and like most of us, could see that “justice” is something which can be purchased or rigged. (Those who think that he contradicted himself in Responsibilities of Leaders need to purchase a clue. You might want to clay demo the phrase “tongue in cheek” first and then reread the policy. Those who have no idea what I’m talking about it, don’t sweat it. You’re not missing anything important.)
So where does this leave us? Well, of course, we should “seek to live with the truth” and “don’t tell harmful lies”. We should recognize that the truth, including truth diluted with PR is generally the best course, still (and never lie in the name of PR). But we also need to recognize that sometimes the game is rigged to prevent you from winning, and a lie is the only way through. In that case in particular, but in all cases generally, consider the equation of the optimum solution. You may fail from time to time. In that case, consider this, also from Ron (paraphrased): You don’t have to be completely right all the time in life. To survive, it’s only necessary be right better than half the time, and never wrong on the really important stuff.
Next time you’re in the middle of writing up overts and withholds or getting a confessional, consider the above.
(One other point. There’s no win in trying to get your young children to understand the fine distinctions here. They’ll figure out that some games are rigged all by themselves. When they get old enough, then you can explain this stuff to them. Meantime, try to arrange their games so that honesty does give them a better score.)