Brugger: Zero Sum Games, who’s playing?

Brugger: Zero Sum Games, who’s playing?

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It has occurred to me recently that part of our discord in Idaho and in other parts of the United States is that there are two ways of looking at the way things should be. I’m talking about everything from partisan politics to how we think our neighbors should act. Notice the should. Some would not capitalize it, while others would prefer SHOULD. I believe that there are those people who believe to their core that life is a zero-sum game. That is, I can only win if you lose and its corollary if you win, I lose. Frankly, I think most of us believe, “you win some, you lose some” and life has a way of balancing out.

As a society, we have taken the idea of balance for granted, and those who play the zero-sum game have not. In politics, we have always had outlying ideas or fringes. These have become mainstream over time or have lost any persuasive power. Today, we have “the resistance” which I consider myself a part of but take much less stridently, although I admit that others are more intractable. Opposing this is the Trump Republicans who seem to accept the idea that anything which suggests opposition to their position should be stamped out. Both fringes are trying to amass armies of followers to play toward zero-sum.

Unfortunately, a zero-sum outlook is probably one of the first assumptions we make as babies. It is true that it seems that, if you are playing with a toy, I can’t have it. In some families, resources seem to be shared unfairly. Our grading system in school can seem to limit the winners, etc. However, reason and support from others soon show that sharing and cooperative action gain things for us as well as others. We learn that others’ good fortune doesn’t take anything away from us. Sometimes we think there are absolute moral rules, but even then, we make exceptions. Thou shalt not murder except during a war, or if someone is truly evil, or if I think there is a threat to my life. The consequences of taking a life are considered less serious if you didn’t plan to do it or if you were simply being careless.

Even in the world of social justice, there are those who think zero-sum. There is a vast difference between having my access to resources taken away because of some biological characteristic or some opinion of mine which does you no harm and my forcing you abandon your beliefs that they should be taken away. You can think whatever you want, the law says you can’t act on those feelings. The measure, I think, is in what is the harm to society in beliefs versus actions? Debate is a good thing. Majority may rule, but minority beliefs do not need to be stamped out.

I am so proud to live in Twin Falls these days because of its emerging sense of cooperative community. Not everyone agrees, but we are moving toward accommodating the needs of all our citizens. In public issues, I think, we are trying to leave no one behind. It saddens me to see comments in the opinion section that indicate a zero-sum mentality, but I don’t believe it’s the majority. At the same time, I am reminded that a child of mine cautioned me that my rhetoric sometimes sounds like an edict and I must make sure to make it clear that I’m suggesting or only nudging. Win-win is always the preferable outcome to conflict.

Linda Brugger retired from the Air Force and is a former chairwoman of the Twin Falls County Democrats.



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