Love, Self-Deception and Game Theory

I have always wondered why I am not that great at playing chess. I almost always seem to find myself playing on the defensive, trying to shield and protect but never cast any aggressive maneuvers to capture an offensive. The reason is because I never approach the game with a defined strategy anyone could follow from a ‘how to play chess‘ book that explains the best openings or combinations of common moves. Knowing how to play the game is one thing, but a dominant strategy breeds a type of weakness to a large part of the game since and any intuitive fluidity largely depends on your opponent’ knowledge of common game plans. I find myself rolling my eyes knowing that they have executed a known opening or a genial move and the cold and calculative process ignites my boredom that I simply juice things up by adding an element of surprise, a sacrifice or some positional compensation to entertain a zwischenzug for instance.

In similar vein, Chess can be like going out on a blind date with a man who strategically follows dating conventions that is socially predictable and regulated in order to attempt to win his desired outcome. Hume would probably agree that it is to feign common interest by playing his part in courtship methods to shape some mutual understanding and the behaviour and responses are so predictable for me that my only interest is to uncover this conventional order and expose the camouflage or the formalised script he is following. We are expected to emotionally identify with these customary social constructs – that somehow ‘romance’ equates to roses and chocolates for instance – and that reality itself or our very individuality becomes just some mechanism based on status and how well we present these feigned conventions. We give gifts with the expectation that it will be reciprocated. We come to believe that what is socially conditioned, that pre-established patterns of behaviour that we blindly follow and our emotional reactions is ‘who we are’ when we are merely demonstrating this social deference. Thus, I purposefully throw him off by asking meaningful questions or otherwise acting in a manner that deviates from this compressed method of social interaction just to find out if he actually exists and try to uncover the real person that I am having dinner with.

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Any first-person phenomonology that articulates the actual or underlying motivation that prompts romantic activity – loneliness, a need to be socially accepted, biological or sexual etc – is hidden under this social guise that relationships are no longer about any genuine connectedness or any authentic bond between two individuals. It prompts people to suffer and tolerate a subscription to activities that they are culturally told to perform and by conforming to these variables of ‘love’ that merely explains predictable and dominant romantic scripts to idealise sexual relationships, they are applauded or rejected by the general audience depending on how well they perform and read this pre-written script. The delusional aspect to this ‘game’ is that it actually generates emotional responses to socially conditioned stereotypes as though the game itself were real.

It is also probably the reason why I often win when I sit to a game of backgammon, since the probability distribution through the randomisation of a rolled dice makes the heat of each move more intuitive and one needs to think quick within the confines of luck to be able to capture the strategy. The strategy finds you and you need to architect the weight to anchor the win. It is like meeting a man randomly at a conference where you both are mutually attracted to one another, however you survey the authenticity of this interaction without strict convention and therefore quickly proceed to formalise the initial assumption. It requires a complex analytical system motivated intuitively by the consistency of a common prior. Chess is a game to win and any enduring excitement is dependent on the equilibrium between you and your opponent and how well you both mutually employ regulated moves and execute strategy until reaching a point where manipulation and deception is activated for the final kill. There is certainly more ‘romance’ in backgammon because it is a game to play, to enjoy given that one can regulate the activity with a structured strategy but relies on chance, trust and intuition.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a hypothetical example of how game theory explains the failure of people to act or be motivated to act in a manner that is not in our best interest to do so. We can be prompted with incentives or rewards that advance our decisions over reason, that we are vulnerable to non-cooperative feelings of power and hierarchy over stable strategies intended to improve our situation. We could easily find ourselves suffering an unhappy relationship, for instance, if the incentive or reward outweighs our personal experience as though the payoff strengthens a continuity of engagement. The network is productive as the Nash Equilibrium points out, as it resolves and simplifies relationship dynamics and affords stability through predictable outcomes. The power it is given is only possible when people believe in this designed reality.

So two people have been apprehended by the police for a crime that the latter has no evidence of either doing. Since the police do not have enough evidence, they need to resort to threatening tactics and do so by explaining to both criminals have options. The two criminals confirmed that they would never betray one another, so the police separated the two into separate rooms and said that if they do not comply and thus say nothing, then both will be imprisoned for twelve months. They were additionally told that if they both confess, then they will be imprisoned for a five year term each, which is also incentive for the final possibility; if one confesses over the other, the person who confesses will be released while his partner in crime will be imprisoned for ten years.

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A & B are arrested

Option 1: Both say nothing neither do they admit to committing any crime and consequence serve twelve months of prison time.

Option 2: Both admit to the crime and are imprisoned for five years.

Option 3: One admits the other had committed the crime – who is allowed to go free – while his partner is imprisoned for a decade.

While it is clearly logical that cooperating rather than defecting would be in the best interest of both criminals, the expected payoff of defecting – Prisoner A or B goes free – becomes the greater incentive and so both prisoners ultimately choose to defect. That is not in their best interest. If we turn this around, the two prisoner’s are actually symbols of the possibility of two people in real love and the police are a symbol of society giving them the incentive. We are compelled toward the incentive of cooperating with the police (society) and defect what is logically and rationally better for us (love) and ultimately cooperate toward something that makes our situation worse-off. We defect our own happiness by cooperating with socially constructed ideals reinforced by society through idealised stereotypes.

Social constructs model and architect ideas that become deeply embedded in how people identify with reality, serving as a paradigm that forms categories and roles that pattern predictable and defined attitudes to responses like ‘love’. Despite it being constructed – therefore artificially created – our emotional responses formed by the conditioning we have absorbed makes us believe that this identification is somehow real when the underlying motivation or incentive is much more problematic than that. Traits like ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’, social networking and publicizing affection, giving flowers and chocolates and other contexts that define a broader schema of symbols and definitions exemplify how little we are actually and authentically bonded with others.

There exists no mathematical formula or algorithm that provides an answer to love, sometimes one does not even know how or why they feel the way that they feel because the experience is genuine and stands outside of all the conditioned ideals they have been taught is ‘reality’. The answer to this conundrum is not available in some test, there is no way of slotting people into a matrix cube and correspond probabilities of compatibility to formulate a strategy and achieve a desired outcome. The only answer is to really understand yourself, to interpret the decisions behind our own activities and motives, to explain the dimension of social roles and come to freely adopt a more personally intimate view of reality not subordinated to the collective, to think against the grain of social cliche’s. It is only that and meeting another of individual, equal standing can two people – separate and authentic – can become genuine friends and lovers. The only admiration you should have is for their ability to be true to themselves and not how well they socially perform.

Social Media. The Good. The Bad. The Ugly.

Several years ago during the most difficult period of my life, the internet became the conduit for me to interact socially while at the same time enabled me to be protected by this simulated reality, where I could sit at home and remain behind the computer at a safe distance from people. It was only earlier this year that I realised I actually believed in this virtual reality, where words that were written online by someone somewhere half-way across the earth was real and I used that as a basis for creating a person in my mind. It was not them. It is not solipsism, they actually exist, but my interpretation of them was imagined and based on the words or the language being communicated between us. John Searle’ famous Chinese Room thought experiment sheds light on the theory of mind where he is sitting alone inside a room in front of a computer and outside there is another person who slips cards with Chinese characters under the door. Using a computer program, he interprets the Chinese characters and reiterates this to fool the person standing outside that he understands Chinese. While the thought experiment is primarily about the differences between artificial intelligence and the human mind, it also argues how we can simulate an artificial appearance of someone that is not really us using language to articulate a type of personality, and by manipulating a string of words that symbolise a personality for someone on the other side of the computer who believes we can appear to have type of character that we really don’t have. It is how we communicate with the external world in order to imagine that we are not alone or separate from one another.

This period of difficulty was primarily due to the loneliness that I felt and social media provided the platform to feel connected and enabled me to share narratives of my experiences to a small but supportive cohort of friends, helping me increase my self-esteem by feeling safe and comfortable to open up and share my experiences. It fostered social connections where I made new friends that influenced me to take a break from the continuous rumination I felt trapped in at the time, teaching me to find that balance in how I communicate by objectifying my ideas and opinions to suit an audience through trial and error [through a ranking system of “likes” – the less likes, the less significant] and helped me escape from that repetitive themes of negative thought. I slowly became actively engaged and have forged satisfying and positive friendships by creating an environment of like-minded people. This was based on the decision to remove toxic people from my life and to begin believing that I am worthy and deserve to create my own happiness, removing myself from an environment that once stated how bad I am and how worthless I am where this noise pollutes your sense of self-worth and clarity to be yourself. I was encouraged to feel included by good people.

This socio-semantic web is a platform that enables virtual communication both with words but also with images and these images become symbolic that, viz., Peircean semiotics, is interpreted and given value. According to Pierce, a ‘sign’ which is any object that conveys meaning involves a combination of a ‘signifier’ which is the image but can also include words and sounds along with the ‘signified’ or the mental concept that arises, the latter entirely how the individual addresses and gives meaning to these images. It may be a sign or object – such as a picture of me standing near the Pyramids – but it could represent freedom, a love of travel, passion for history and this enables me to recruit the positive reception from my audience.

But what happens when there is a shift from making positive connections with real people that you know personally to those who you don’t even know? The more likes, the more popular and since it is therefore you in the photo, your value or meaning becomes dependant on the amount of likes you can get and this only alienates you in a different way. The vicious cycle here is that like how people avoid liking photo’s that are not liked by others, they can also like photos because other people are liking and you being in the picture obtain superficial meaning from this; there is no authenticity when they like your photo, it is just people who want to feel part of a community, who want to feel like everyone else and are afraid of being different. And by targeting a particular culture or community in order to garner more likes (i.e. #hashtag), the more likes you have, the more meaning the photo itself has and there the more significant you become. You transform into a product where you start to sell yourself to people rather than sharing your experiences with your friends. The utility or purpose of social media transforms into a mechanism that engineers our imagination into virtual reality, an unreal world of faux interactions.

There are a plethora of studies that show links between social media and depression. The highly competitive “capitalistic” space develops Others or enables comparisons where people become pressured to sell themselves or buy into the selling of others in order to fit in and feel popular. It is indirect peer pressure, telling you that if you do not look a certain way or behave a certain way then you will never be happy, you are different, the Other. Tammy Hembrow, a so-called “fitness” personality who appears to be mimicking the Kardashian mould uses Instagram to display her body and family life and her photo’s can garner up to 500,000 likes. While she is covered in plastic surgery and layers make-up, she pretends to be promoting self-esteem when she has turned herself into a product that causes it. Who she is personally is irrelevant, she could be a complete moron or a lovely person, but what she represents and how she teaches others to be through her images is the problem that is represented as the solution. People then believe they must like her pictures and even be like her in order to be a part of what her images are supposed to represent, despite those liking her photos are likely those that feel alienated and want to feel connected to something that doesn’t even exist.

It becomes a social pathology where virtual reality has offered the medium that hides the evident sickness of this social condition. A pattern forms where the more people behave the same the less it will be seen as a problem. They start to feel at ease in this pattern and normalise what would otherwise be very concerning behaviour. If I were to individualise this pathology – imagine Tammy Hembrow posting but no one liking her photos, or you are an alien wondering what she is doing – the photo clearly shows a crazy woman copying the Kardashians who themselves are crazy. Why is it suddenly acceptable because she has so many followers? And the worst part about this is that when I challenge these very followers and the meaning they have attached to such people in reverence for doing absolutely nothing for humanity, a type of panic forms as though my comments initiate some fear within them. What is that? Is it the fear of exposing their immorality, since what they thought was ‘good’ behaviour – equating goodness as majoritarian – is no longer a good thing and they simply cannot accept that they are wrong or bad in someway? Are they afraid of forming their own identity since they developed meaning through others and when that begins to collapse who they really are becomes visible, which is an empty and separate person from all others? Does that panic amplify the hatred where people like me become the troll or hater to silence me in order to feel secure again?

It calls into question what is real? Is taking a picture with a man and kissing him mean genuine love? Does what the majority approve make something real? Or is everything that we do virtual, a mirror reflection, something that is visible but does not actually exist? Is that the only way we can communicate to one another whether virtually or in reality and if so, is authenticity just an imagined construct? Rousseau stated that our dependence on others diminishes the authenticity of our self-hood and once lost, hierarchies and inequality forms as contrasts from our desire for the approval from others.

Now that I intentionally destroyed my online presence, I saw my life for the first time after years of hiding behind virtual reality, feeling safe and secure but not really forming any real bonds with people. My imagination was shattered and my actual life was suddenly exposed to me where I saw all the future risks and difficulties both present and future, my aloneness and separateness, the panic and the fear of my existence. But, being mature now, accepting this reality, overcoming that panic and fear, I also saw the chance to create happiness and just how outstanding love really was. I was no longer scared. I felt no sadness and all anger was gone. Instead, I felt present, here and now, and a certain relief came over me as though I have finally accepted reality. Social media is merely a utilitarian platform that we must recognise objectively. Authenticity is a choice and gives credibility to our actions and behaviour, whereby it is only in freedom, or free-will, that small part of our consciousness that enables one to discover this contrast and realise her own self-hood.

It is time for me to strengthen real friends and real bonds and be OK at the risks that are associated with that, to feel secure in myself and never escape to virtual reality again.

Copycat: Social Imitation and Reciprocal Determinism

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

~ W. Shakespeare

What would you say to the possibility that the very fabric of our learning and cognition, of how we perceive and identify the external world, our opinions, our world view and ultimately our identity is actually determined solely by our social and environmental conditioning? That what you consider to be your ‘individuality’ is really an integration of a number of learned behavioural patterns that you have spatially identified and assimilated into a cohesive language which you alone understand and refine into a framework assuming it to be your own? Indeed, Carl Jung spoke of a Collective Unconscious where people share common experiences and emotions and form archetypes or characters and personalities that we shape and mould and pretend to be ours. “The mirror does not flatter, it faithfully shows whatever looks into it; namely, the face we never show to the world because we cover it with the persona, the mask of the actor.” [1] It is not difficult to believe that societal processes can appear to be nothing more than a simulation of reality. Indeed, the idolisation of celebrities such as the Kardashians – an empire built on the incredibly intelligent and effective marketing ploy and PA for what is essentially a rubbish family of senseless people – has provided the social instrument to form a continuum for millions who attempt the same effective marketing ploy and PA for themselves, covering themselves in a thick layer of make-up, spending thousands of dollars on breast augmentation or injecting fillers into their lips as they dishonestly present this archetype of normality to others. Psycho-social interaction and masquerading a false identity puts a question mark around whether we are capable of introspection and honest self-reflective examination and whether we have the cognitive capacity to transcend the determinism of our social environment.

There was a moment several days ago that resulted in an epiphany for me as I sat on the train on my way to work and in my sleepiness looked out at the cold scenery through the window covered in speckled rain. Briefly stopping at a local station to collect new passengers, across the platform another train had arrived to go the opposite direction and I saw a woman attempting to board the that train, albeit with a great deal of difficulty. My attention was first drawn to her feet, my concern immediate as she wore a mangled pair of flip-flops on such a cold day and I thought ‘goodness, you should be wearing a thick pair of socks and boots!’ She was incredibly thin under her tattered clothing, had tattoos on her gaunt face as she flicked her cigarette when someone finally helped her open the door. My thoughts, however, were drawn momentarily away from my concern for her well-being as I suddenly imagined this woman a young child, pretending to myself that for a moment I knew her mother and father who themselves were repeating a history of abuse and they raised this young girl in an environment that made her feel worthless, her existence valueless that she had grown to believe the same in herself. She could not find the will to take care of herself until one day she encounters some drug-dealer who deceptively made her feel significant for his own benefit and trapped her into a vicious cycle that, over time, the light within her completely diminished to the state that she had now found herself in.

This set condition then shattered into a matrix of an interconnected set of imagery, where I remembered an overweight man sitting at a bus stop eating from one of three large containers of fried chips smothered in gravy, or that girl who defensively boasted about having sex with the same number of men as her age and in one night for a birthday gift to herself, or that middle-aged man that aimlessly sat outside the local shopping center chain smoking. They contained the same root problem; each of them appeared to lack any sense of dignity as though they eventually became disillusioned to point of becoming truly lost. I could see this pedigree or continuity of abuse beginning from others before extending to the self as though persisting in this maltreatment somehow justified the former. Indeed, a woman who experiences the oppression from a violent husband who in turn creates the right conditions – keeping her away from her family, from friends, from an education or employment – enables him to gaslight her through psychological manipulation and make her believe that she is at fault enough for her to begin to believe it herself. The social and environmental conditions facilitate this failure for many to perceive objectively the overall wrong in their experiences that they finally stop caring for themselves as a coping mechanism for the initial mistreatment that they experienced.

Violence is not strictly physical, whereby vicious or cruel words, threatening behaviour and persistent harassment can be just as violent as physical harm. “Battering is not merely physical violence but a range of coercive behaviours that often consists of physical, sexual, psychological, verbal, and economic abuse. These behaviours serve to undermine the victim’s self-esteem and independence.” A marijuana addict or an alcoholic, those that eat too much or starve or smoke among a litany of other concerns are just as violent to themselves as physical self-harm can be. The causes of aggressive behaviour can be a direct result of learned responses, whereby according to Albert Bandura’ theory of Triadic Reciprocal Causation, there are three factors that play a determinative role during the process of imitation where people model themselves to their social environment as part of an identification process. This includes learned conditioning through the continuous interaction between personal, environmental and behavioural influences, whereby interplay of psychosocial processes enables an individual to simulate prominent role models that ultimately expand and become included into ones self-regulatory mechanisms and behavioural patterns. While mirroring such behaviour from others has been attributed to violence or aggression against others, it is clear that person who harms themselves in some way may be reproducing the same harm they experienced, only back to themselves.

Mapping the reciprocal interactivity and cognitive functioning that enables an individual to simulate and imitate their environment, whereby the construction of an individual’ reality is based on the adaptation and modelling of external behaviour, has been used to understand a number of internalisation and self-regulatory processes. This includes the mechanics of motivation, values and models of self-guidance and indeed the complexity of this development continues into adulthood where individuals may encounter new experiences that can result in a alteration of cognitive processes and perspectives and in turn shed light into the possibility of whether we are cognitively capable of self-reflective determination.

Globalisation itself is an ambiguous term but reflects the continuous discourse on the ever-changing and complex social structure of contemporary western society. The socially constructed idea of beauty or the concept of masculinity for instance has played a major role in developing the right conditions that provide the landscape for widespread abuse by external parties. Just as our immediate environment – such as family and friends – can impact on the structure of our personal identity, the broader social configuration causally influenced by economics and engendered by profit additionally influences behaviour that subliminally networks into this influence and shapes our view of ourselves. Like how some men or women, or drug-dealers, or even sales agents can calculate an opportunity to use the vulnerabilities of others for their own advantage, parties of globalisation have opportunistically captured the right tools through commercial and consumer marketing to diminish any resilience against this disregard to oneself. Cosmetic surgery for the purpose of being ‘beautiful’ is a form of self-harm normalised by the disillusioned as a number of social and environmental factors have enabled the right conditions that tolerate the absorption and consumption of an image, a symbol of something better then they are. It is a form of social violence that imperceptibly tells others to copy and paste an identity that is not their own. A way of making one feel unworthy until they reach a state where who they are becomes truly lost, just like a drug addict. Indeed, the construction of masculinity is no different; conceptions of physical power and violence as determining the identity of a ‘man’ can be considered a form of violence by society against the identity of men.

Cosmetic changes for the purpose of being ‘beautiful’ is a form of self-harm normalised by the disillusioned as a number of social and environmental factors have enabled the right conditions that tolerate the absorption and consumption of an image, a symbol of something better then they are. It is a form of social violence that imperceptibly tells others to copy and paste an identity that is not their own. A way of making one feel unworthy until they reach a state where who they are becomes truly lost, just like a drug addict.

The question that inevitably comes to the fore is whether we are enabled with the cognitive tools that would allow us to transcend learned social behaviour. Indeed, but perhaps a post for another time. It is moral consciousness in my opinion, the state or capacity of genuine love that will enable one to take the necessary steps toward reaching an actual state of authenticity. The evil here is the subtle hatred that infects the person who desires to be loved and so appealing is this need that it causally disconnects them from the ability reach a state of self-determination, making one believe that yielding to the whims of society and receiving accolades for a false image is better than the harsh reality of the Desert of the Real.

[1]C.G. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Routledge (2014) 20
[2] Lee Ann Hoff, Violence and Abuse Issues: Cross-Cultural Perspectives for Health and Social Services, Routledge (2009) 152
[3] See Albert Bandura, Social foundations of thought and action: a social cognitive theory, Prentice-Hall, (1986)