War Chiefs, Peace Chiefs and the Zero-Sum Game
There’s a scene in “A Beautiful Mind” where the hero provides mathematical proof that everybody does better if they don’t all go for the win (the win being in the movie a blonde, but with much broader application than that.) This is the issue of the zero-sum game, a game where, for there to be a winner, there must be a loser. John Nash’s Nobel Prize-worthy idea provided mathematical evidence that society need not be a zero-sum game, and that it was more productive when it wasn’t.
This reminded me of the war chiefs and the peace chiefs, both of which existed in Aboriginal society. War chiefs inspired and led to war. Peace chiefs led, persuaded and maintained the peace and well-being of the community. War chiefs and peace chiefs were not at all the same, and the peace chiefs tended to be the more highly regarded.
War chiefs always played a zero-sum game. There was always a winner or a loser. But in a sense, when they played, everybody lost.
The peace chief game was making sure that everybody won, that people got along, that compromises were made that prevented parts of the community from being losers. Because having winners and losers in a community divided that community. War chiefs are all about us versus them. That’s why you set them against the enemy but kept them out of power at home. A healthy community is a community where, despite differences, because of a toleration of differences, everybody is “us.”
A war chief needs a “them” to function. A war chief is about righteousness, indignation and fear, about an enemy to defeat, a field to be won, not about tolerance.
Zero-sum games, war chiefs, peace chiefs—as far as I’m concerned, that’s what this last election was about. According to exit polls in Ohio, 95% of the Republican votes statewide were White. There it is, the signature that identifies the Republicans as the war chief party, the party of division. Their “Us” is overwhelmingly White people, overwhelmingly male, and their “them” is everybody else.
Obama, on the other hand, brought together an impressively broad coalition of people. He dominated the Hispanic vote, the African-American vote, the Asian vote, the Jewish vote, the youth vote, the women’s vote, the LGBT vote, as well as getting the progressive (read, inclusive) White male vote. I’m pretty sure he got the Aboriginal vote, too. People of all and every sort voted for him.
In this election, even more apparently than in the last, a vote for Obama was clearly a peace chief vote. To me this is good news. Democracy can’t have a war chief and still be truly a democracy. A democracy can’t have winners and losers and remain stable.
When Mitt Romney went down, despite billion dollar support and a campaign of lies and impossible promises, the White male oligarchy which has dominated the political landscape for so long finally met a major defeat in America. The war chief failed. The peace chief won.
With Obama’s historic coalition, democracy finally arrived in the USA.
(Somebody tell Leonard Cohen.)