A paradigm is a context for human activity, invisible yet powerful. It defines what is and isn’t possible to be thought and done. For centuries, there has been a paradigm for human social, political and economic activity operating quietly in the background, and it is coming to an end.
In the last fifty years, many have become aware that the interwoven set of social, political and economic systems in which we live are generating a cascade of existential risks for humanity (e.g. nuclear war, climate change, pandemics). The awareness of these risks is giving rise to a global conversation focused on how we might transform the current system as rapidly as possible.
One way to understand the hidden drivers within the existing paradigm is to analyze it in terms of game theory. Games have rules (e.g., how to win) and boundaries. Some call the current paradigm for human socio-political-economic activity “Game A.”
Game A, fundamentally, is a rivalrous, competitive game of win/lose: I win, you lose and vice versa. With rivalrous players in a win/lose game, there is an imperative to adopt new strategies and tools for increasing power and dominance — even if the tools are destructive to the whole system. Unless there is a power that binds the players to behave in ways to promote the long-term health of the system (e.g., the customs of the village or tribe, or government regulations, with violators punished), the player that uses the tools to achieve dominance will win. For example, if Player X forgoes using the tool and Player Y uses it, Player Y wins in the short term often at the expense of the health of the commons.
Note: Daniel Schmachtenberger, among others, expands on this concept in many of his online talks and podcast appearances.
Examples of Game A Dynamics:
Business Competition: Social media companies make money by selling the attention of their users to advertisers and others. They know that what grabs attention are negative emotions – fear, outrage, shame etc. They design the algorithms that drive their platforms to upregulate posts, photos, etc. that capture attention by evoking these emotions that keep people on the platforms. If someone tries another way to organize their platform featuring cooperation, love, harmony, in an unregulated market, they will lose market share, money and power to the companies that intentionally addict their users. This is sometimes referred to as “the race to the bottom of the brainstem.”
Note: For more detail on this, view the film by Triston Harris, The Social Dilemma, and/or listen to the podcast Your Undivided Attention with Triston Harris and Asa Raskin.
An Arms Race: To win the game of power and influence, nations need ways to conquer perceived enemies. There are many ways to exercise power. At the national level, power involves having weapons. To keep from being dominated, my rival(s) must attempt to develop better weapons. Once I get wind of what they have developed, I must develop a stronger weapon. And on it goes.
Game A has run for millennia, from rivalrous tribes to early empires to present day huge nation-states and multi-national corporations. Only with the development and use of atomic weapons in World War II did winning the rivalrous game mean the possibility of losing the ability to play at all – i.e., extinguishing human life on earth as we’ve known it. If we are to make a transition to a world that works for all of life, including humans, understanding the dynamics of the current system is essential to making a transition to a new “game”.
It’s obviously time to learn to play a new game. Game B anyone?