A few years ago I read an interesting book, perhaps the most interesting I’ve ever read, which described the dynamic by which human progress develops and moves forward throughout history. The book, Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, by Robert Wright, posits the thesis that human destiny and progress, and its likely future, can be explained by game theory. In game theory there are zero-sum games in which there is a winner and loser, as in baseball, and nonzero-sum games, where there can be both winners, in the instance of cooperation, or both losers, in the instance of competition. The book is replete with examples in nature and history in which mutually obtainable benefits, individually and collectively (non-zero sum), are favored over more exclusionary transactions (zero sum).
The following is a typical example of a non-zero game. A man and his wife want to go out for the evening. They have decided to go either to a ballet or to a boxing match. Both prefer to go together rather than going alone. While the man prefers to go to the boxing match, he would prefer to go with his wife to the ballet rather than go to the fight alone. Similarly, the wife would prefer to go to the ballet, but she too would rather go to the fight with her husband than go to the ballet alone. The common interest between the husband and wife is that they would both prefer to be together than to go to the events separately. However, the opposing interests is that the wife prefers to go to the ballet while her husband prefers to go to the boxing match. Communication between the two determines the eventual outcome and if the game was only played once, without the fear of retaliation from the other, it would be played differently than it would be if the situation, and similar ones, played out repeatedly, as it does in real life.
This book came to mind during the recent Mississippi Republican senatorial primary between Mr. Chris McDaniel and Senator Thad Cochran. Upon learning of Mr. McDaniel’s candidacy I was open to hearing what his political solutions would be, for our state and our nation. When I heard him repeatedly declare there would be “no compromise” I was disappointed, probably as were many others who were open to new thoughts, directions, or solutions. Not naïve to political campaigns I realize affirmation of things said in a political campaign are not necessarily strongly held. But a candidate’s words, and past deeds, is all with which we have to measure the candidate's intent.
Over the years, when the opportunity arises, I often ask elderly married couples to share the secret of their long, happy marriage so that I may pass the insight along to young marrieds. Invariably, the gist of their answers always involves elements of cooperation and conciliation. One old Biloxian, married 54 years, even summed it up half-jokingly, “Well Doc it’s like this: what’s hers is hers, and what’s mine is hers!” -- To which his wife demurred.
Marriages that are modeled after a zero sum game (winner and loser), scant with mutual cooperation, as for example in a master-slave, dominant-passive, or even an employer-employee model, are not sustained nearly as long as one in which there is cooperation and conciliation, all things being equal.
Mr. McDaniel and Mr. Cochran have each been married many years. And I would venture to say that neither man has achieved such a long, happy, successful marriage without frequent compromising. It’s difficult to imagine otherwise. I do not know Mr. McDaniel or Mr. Cochran personally but I doubt their success as a lawyer, a politician, or married men, likewise has been void of compromise. You can be assured they have measured and exercised marital decision-making with the benefit of those closest to them in mind – their spouses, children, and even neighbors.
For any politician to espouse a ‘no compromise’ position marks him as intransigent for anything other than what he espouses. If every politician (notwithstanding their ‘hot air’) adopts such a stand then things will tend to remain static. Not much would get done. If every spouse took this approach there would be constant tension and strife. Marriages where there is the malignant zero-sum dichotomy (a winner or loser) are not enduring (or endearing) and are characterized by discord, notwithstanding a co-dependent personality.
Rigid, inflexible politics (excepting a revolution) are cause for alarm as in a rigid, inflexible marriage. There’s an insecurity of sorts, I believe, that pervades such transactions and relationships and as Mr. Wright so adeptly explains in his book these types and systems fade into the trash bin of history, or result in an abruption. Only control, power, and tyranny can sustain and hold together such a malignant dichotomy of zero-sum transactions, whether it’s in marriage or in politics. In this respect, we know where Mr. McDaniel and Mr. Cochran each stands with respect to moving our state and nation forward. We will soon hear from Mr. Travis Childers.
The dynamic currently being played out in national and state politics is not a healthy one, at least not in the sense of forecasting a cooperative atmosphere among parties who honestly disagree on strongly held convictions. We can only hope, work, and pray for understanding and cooperation between all differing parties. Because in a sense, whether we like it or not, we are all, more or less, “married” to each other.
Choosing men and women who are inclined towards working with each other, rather than against each other, would seem to be the preferred path in productive politics. At least this seems to be the underlying logic of human destiny.