About the Name of this blog

This blog's title refers to a Dani fable recounted by Robert Gardner. The Dani live in the highlands of New Guinea, and at the the time he studied them, they lived in one of the only remaining areas in the world un-colonized by Europeans.

The Dani, who Gardner identifies only as a "Mountain People," in the film "The Dead Birds," have a myth that states there was once a great race between a bird and a snake to determine the lives of human beings. The question that would be decided in this race was, "Should men shed their skins and live forever like snakes, or die like birds?" According to the mythology, the bird won the race, and therefore man must die.

In the spirit of ethnographic analysis, this blog will examine myth, society, culture and architecture, and hopefully examine issues that make us human. As with any ethnography, some of the analysis may be uncomfortable to read, some of it may challenge your preconceptions about the world, but hopefully, all of it will enlighten and inform.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

No One Understands the Game


So, Trump reversed the internment of children, and everyone thinks the good guys won. I'm sorry to break it to you, but we didn't win. It wasn't a fight we could win, because we didn't know the game being played.

I've said this before, and I will say it again, the American Media, and the American People for that matter, continue to believe Trump is playing Chess. He isn't. He's playing Poker, or maybe more specifically, he's playing Poker on a Chessboard.

I understand this, as I also play (the real game) Chess as Poker. I don't play the game as a series of strategic moves on the board, I play the person, and because of that, I very frequently win games, even ones against much more skilled players. (But I can't beat a computer, because this technique doesn't work against them, cold rational and unflappable bastards that they are.)

I find out what a person depends on in Chess, then I go after it. If their strategy is to use their Queen a lot, I make sure to get her off the table. I play specifically to keep my opponent off balance, wondering what the hell I'm doing and trying to figure out my strategy. I confuse.  I bluff and deceive. Sometimes I will lose a game to lull them into a sense of security.  I watch for signs of stress, and then exploit them.  I depend on luck even.  I look like I am insane or a really bad player.  But the end, they lose, because my strategy is specifically to get them so off balance they make mistakes and I exploit their mistakes.   

On the whole this is what Trump is doing.

He isn’t playing the game by the rules, and often he isn’t even playing the game they think he is.  And because the entire political establishment is operating under a set of expectations of what he is doing, and are viewing his actions under that set of expectations, the completely miss what is happening.

America has a long history of political Poker playing.  It’s how we won the Revolution for example; the British Empire couldn’t handle our unorthodox techniques or the asymmetric nature of the rebellion.  (Any yes, Poker was very popular in the US prior to the Revolution)  Andrew Jackson, the president who probably most closely resembles Trump, also played political poker.  Since Jackson, a lot of our general political strategies were based on bluffs, gambles, and intimidations.

But with the advent of the Cold War, we needed to play the Soviet game, which was chess.  The stakes were too high to continue playing Poker or any other game of chance; when a mistake could obliterate the Earth, a game dependent on an aggregation of small wins, and that accepted losses was no longer tolerable.   

The solidifying point was probably the Cuban Missile Crisis, where we were playing a Chess game for infinite stakes.  Had JFK depended on chance, he would have lost and so the game was set and rules were codified.  After that, American Presidents needed to be Chess Grandmasters, or at least surround themselves with people who were.  And the American media got used to politics as Chess, and in fact facilitated the system by reporting things a strategic maneuvers, gambits, and so on. 

The height of the Chess game came when Gorbachev and Bush Sr. played the game to complete stalemate, causing Gorbachev to knock over his own king in 1989 and walk away from the game by calling the first free election since 1917.  George Bush became the global Bobby Fischer.  Even though history seems to credit Regan with the end of the Soviet threat, it was actually Bush who finally got the game to end.

But even though the reason that American politicians learned Chess in the first place was gone, the game continued on with new opponents: the other party; the other end of the ideological spectrum; the United Nations; China and the Middle East, neither of which play Chess; and basically any group that the party in power opposed.

The fact we continued to play Chess put us in the same position as the British in 1776, we could no longer defeat enemies that weren’t playing our game, especially in the Middle East.  We “won” concessions in Iran where Chess (Shah) originated, but that was the only even remote victory in that region, and we only got it after being outplayed by Iranian masters over and over since the Iranian Revolution. 

We applied Chess to Korea and got a stalemate, as Go (which the Chinese played) and Chess are similar enough that we could get to a draw, even if neither side could win.  But we lost against every country that wasn’t playing the game by our rules, we lost Vietnam, and bogged down into ceaseless quagmires in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.  And because modern warfare is asymmetric, we likely will continue to lose as long as we think of it as Chess on the battlefield.

But Trump is different.  He isn’t playing Chess.  He has neither the temperament nor long term planning abilities to play the game.  He sees a big picture, however, not through the lens of a grand strategy but through the lens of a bunch of short hands that can change fortunes in an instant.  The goal is still to win it all, but the way to get there isn’t necessarily dependent on past victories.  The “wins” are only important in terms of filling his coffers for the next round.  A lost hand, or three, doesn’t matter, as long as his losses are relatively minimal and don’t reduce his basic bankroll, which in the case of politics is the support of the base.

As long as he keeps his 35% absolutely in the bank, he will have the ability to fund losing hands, and when he wins, he will increase his reserve.  He might give some of it back on some hands, but slowly, steadily, he is growing his bankroll of political capital.  Currently, his approval rating is at its highest mark since inauguration.  He hasn’t done this through a grand outmaneuvering of the Democrats, he’s done this by winning hand after hand, laying traps that the Dems walk into, bluffing his way, and folding when it is necessary.    

Which leads us to the current situation.  From a Chess standpoint, it was insane.  He exposed many pieces to being taken out by the other side, risked being put in Check, and not gaining any board advantage.  As a Chess Gambit, it actually showed weakness because there wasn’t anything to gain, and a lot to lose.

But if you look at it as a Poker hand, the whole play changes.

As a round of Poker, the Kid Internment mess was done for two reasons. First, it was to shore up his base, for whom any cruelty or viciousness towards brown people is better than sex. He has to throw them brown meat every so often so they don't get pissed at him, just like a good poker player has to lose some hands so the rest of the table doesn't walk off in anger.  Again, as long as he keeps his 35% bankroll of absolute loyalty, he can continue to play. 

The second reason was much, much more devious and evil, and talks to the larger poker game.  He was proving a point. He was showing America that he has no concern about the rule of law, proving he will act on a whim, and telling them locking people up in Concentration Camps is something he will be OK with.  This is a classic intimidation move, because it has raised questions among the opposition, myself included, as to what the threshold for future incarceration might be.  Today, it is an activity that is at best a civil offense, not a criminal one.  In the case of refugees applying for asylum, it isn’t even a civil offense, it is the actual legal process, so he has shown that even obeying the law and following exactly proper protocol can risk being locked up.

BUT, he had to end it fairly quickly, which is why he reversed it.  He won the hand and needed to take his winnings.  The reason?  There were court challenges coming, court challenges he might lose at this stage. He needed to make sure that didn't happen this time, as he needed to not have this a settled matter.

Because of his executive order, it is likely the lawsuits will be thrown out; the policy has changed and the courts don't like to adjudicate speculations. Their response to "he might do it again" would probably be "If he does it again, file another case and we will judge that one." He gets to walk away with the ability to do this left intact, even though right now he isn't doing it any more.

But all of America now knows that he could do it again. And that will make them either hesitate out of fear, or it will ramp up hatred against him. In the first case, he wins because he has further cowed the American Public into submission. In the second case he still wins because his supporters will be pissed that liberal crybabies are still whining about the kid thing, when he very clearly ended it, and should be considered the hero of the day. Further, it will fuel his narrative that the Left is attempting a slow motion coup, and will fit into his narrative on that. This then leads back to the mass incarceration in concentration camps which he hasn't gotten any ruling against.

Until people realize he isn't playing Chess, we will keep getting played, and he will keep winning. Remember, despite all of this horror, his approval ratings have hit their highest point since he entered office, and the midterms are not looking nearly as good for Democrats as they did a few months ago.

As of this moment, Donald Trump IS winning, and it is up to each and every one of us to do something about it.