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.

Is Loyalty A Type Of Private Prejudice?

I believe in human rights, which is to say that I value righteousness and the utmost importance of moral accountability. I believe that we have the moral responsibility to care for universally acknowledged and shared values such as dignity and to be treated fairly and respectfully, to have equal opportunity and access to employment and education no matter one’s age, gender, sexual orientation, religion or culture and to have the freedom to enable independence – particularly the freedom of thought – which returns back to access to education. I remember when I was in secondary school, I was the person protecting “nerds” from the “jocks” because I was popular as well as smart, the one known to fight against authoritarian teachers and was frequently punished with suspensions and detentions. I reflect how Aristotle’s The Golden Mean and Confucianism were both incredibly appealing to me at a very young age because I naturally desired respect and equality as though instinctually aligned with that type of regularity and balance. I understood the relevance of self-cultivation, appreciated concepts of honour and integrity, and held the ideas of goldin (loyalty) in high esteem as they nurture relationships that promote social harmony.

Loyalty plays a significant role in moral agency as it enables cooperation in order to shape and apply ethical values, and we often approach the subject under the common understanding that it is an ethical principle held in esteem as a favourable moral condition. Indeed, loyalty to your wife or husband and commitment to a promise illustrates moral behaviour and accountability especially through difficult times either during a marriage or when experiencing personal affliction, sharing the burden and helping the other now a part of your life to find relief because you desire both you and your partner to be happy. While the inherent nature of our motivations remains problematic, it returns back to that regularity and balance, this pride in upholding morally worthy behaviour and this is only achieved in mutual recognition based on trust. But is that loyalty? Or is that commitment defined by an underlying friendship or a bond enjoined by empathy, this moral consciousness that I refer to as ‘love’ where one identifies the deeper need to see their beloved happy and desirous to share a life with them? That is, an effortless outcome caused by a will mediated by empathy that stands as a mechanism of reason to mediate the relationship between our private motivations and social patterns? There have been instances where women who are conscious of their husbands cheating turn a blind eye, men who tolerate unbearable circumstances because of their obligation to their religion rather than their will leading to all sorts of hidden depravities as visible with the Catholic Church and the crimes against children some priests have committed. Can one not say that a Nazi was loyal, that criminals who have killed and murdered show loyalty, that ethnocentric behaviour or Othering is a type of loyalty: “By the process of Othering, the colonizers treat the colonized as ‘not fully human’ and as a result, it dehumanizes natives. Othering codifies and fixes the self as the true human and the other as other than human. The Colonizers consider themselves as the embodiment of “proper self” while label the colonized as ‘savages.'”[1] Can we call criminals loyal?

At a social and political level, such unity can be empowering as it enables solidarity that functions as a conduit to communicate order, where numerous people identify with the same ideas and form a sense of belonging and comradeship. Foucault speaks of this power being as much a positive network then negative that shapes society into a coherent whole, indeed the very framework that enables emotional feelings of belonging and give one an identity and purpose. Loyalty nurtures cooperation and social harmony, but it additionally shapes distinctions and differences, that while it characterises ideas of social inclusion and connectedness also promotes exclusivity that loses the essential traits of a community. Therein forms a phenomenological reduction where prejudicial preconceptions are mistaken as the truth and where no other cognitive activity or individual volition is left. Injustice and highly immoral behaviour suddenly becomes “fact” because the group or power structure has reinforced the provision and motivation to believe automatically that it is fact and so prejudice becomes the enabler that destroys the ethical purpose of loyalty.

A man who is automaton in his sexist or misogynistic behaviour removes the individual and turns women into an object, unconsciously or immediately assessing her qualities comparative to this archetype shared to him by his environment. He would defend any man, even the most wretched of men, over a woman (rapists are suddenly given compassion over the victim who appears to be ‘asking for it’ and her behaviour is questionable despite the fact that he is the violent rapist) and without reason or logic involuntarily assumes that his faux ‘knowledge’ is a circumstance of reality. It just is, despite logic, despite evidence on the contrary, therein remains a deeply embedded benevolent sexism that is immovable because the power of this ‘knowledge’ has solidified into the unconscious iceberg where it is frozen into ‘fact’ and therefore no longer requires further thought. His loyalty to men is prejudicial, despite assuming that it is positive and even more disturbingly a moral attribute. Do the men of Sudan and other parts of Africa and the Middle East really find genital mutilation attractive?

Kant purports that the Categorical Imperative is that very maxim where the moral agent is tested, confirming whether they are enabled to rationalise and reason the just and appropriate way and motivated to act accordingly. Loyalty seems to me to not be defined as a standalone moral or ethical attribute but rather the product of one’s private motivations, illustrating the difference between someone who has conformed in blind submission leaving their behaviour to chance with someone who can rationalise and distinguish morally appropriate behaviour independently, to understand moral worthiness without religious or social approval and the need to belong as their primary motivator. They have transcended toward independent thinking and have overcome the fear of any potential aggression or isolation it may initiate. Loyalty is indeed a virtue, but it remains relative and regulated by something much more important. Reason.

It is clear that a distinction needs to be made, one such already touched upon by Josiah Royce and while, albeit, there certainly requires more depth that he has offered, has attempted to explain that loyalty is a commitment and the conditions for genuine loyalty is choice, much the same way he establishes a distinction between a crowd and a community. “A crowd, whether it be a dangerous mob, or an amiably joyous gathering at a picnic is not a community. It has a mind, but no institutions, no organizations, no coherent unity, no history, no traditions.”[2] A community is an emotional extension of ourselves and a materialisation of our subjective individuality through something concrete that society enables and loyalty is that commitment to the choice of serving it ethically. Loyalty is the right word to describe the unity and connectedness that forms through freedom of choice just like a ‘mistake’ materialises only when one feels remorse after becoming conscious of making a mistake, otherwise it would not be a ‘mistake’ and in much the same way ‘loyalty’ only materialises when one becomes conscious of and decides to approach her values willingly. Criminals who are committed are not loyal but predatory because it lacks any cognitive ‘scrutiny’ that enables him to question right or wrong behaviour.[3] What makes something truly moral is the authenticity of the motivations; am I saying this and am I agreeing with that only so that other people will accept me or because I want something or I am afraid of being disliked, or am I saying this because I have a gut feeling it is the right thing to do and I am not afraid of trusting that despite potentially aggravating people or being disconnected or dislocated.

This leads me to the following. I have just left staying in the refugee camp for almost a month and the circumstances were rather dire. As I meet new people and hear their personal and sometimes shattering stories, I see how living under occupation in the extremely dense conditions where everyone is in close proximity to one another, rubbish piling on the streets that is sporadically collected by local garbage collectors paid a measly amount by UNRWA, unemployment at almost 50% where youth roam hopelessly despite many with high academic credentials but who are unable to afford the costs of further study, who are exposed to violence and prison that has almost become normalised, it is hard not to feel a sense of righteousness and to desire improvement. I am loyal to human rights and that all people deserve to be treated fairly and with dignity, the military occupation being predatory by imposing such discriminatory restrictions that it led to the very violence it was seeking to control.

However, the atmosphere of hostility that compelled Israel was also initiated by the aggression and opposition it experienced particularly from the Arab world that led to today’s oppressive military occupation and political groups such as Hamas continue to weaken the prospect of peaceful relations through continued hostility. They are justified. They seek to protect their own and the Palestinian social and political landscape has a great deal of improvements that need to be made. While conditions of the occupied territories can be improved as must the political regime of Palestine, the occupation itself must and needs to end in order to enable that domestic transition and further changes, which again returns to the problem of Israel building settlements and provoking further aggression. It is undignified having Palestinians leave the bus on their way to Jerusalem to be checked at gunpoint while the rest of us remained on the bus.

I care for people and unfortunately the majority of Palestinian people are innocent, they are truly suffering but remain hospitable and kind. Removing the intensity of the security and sometimes the bad behaviour of security personnel, so are the Israelis. Yet, when I say that I support the Palestinian people, I am immediately opposed to Israel. When I say I support Israel, I am immediately opposed to Palestine. I am forced to make a choice and I absolutely refuse to. Therein lies the fear that I will lose favour from either side. My political and legal criticisms will remain impartial and I am determined to be vociferousness against any clear legal, humanitarian and human rights breaches from both sides. I will liberally criticise racism present in Zionism without being called an anti-Semite and I will liberally criticise terrorists labelled ‘martyrs’ without feeling threatened. I believe absolutely in the inherent freedom to criticize governments. Silencing the Palestinian voice and having the military commit gross human rights abuses is unacceptable and I will fight that. It does not imply that I am against the existence of Israel.

I feel like I am a mother with two sons who both don’t seem to get along but both of whom I love very much and both as guilty as they are innocent, the cycle of distrust and violence in continuity because they are too stubborn to accept their misdeeds. I listen to both and hear the same narratives being repeated and I worry that heightened in-group/out-group hostility – the whole “I am right and you are wrong” behaviour – may create the conditions to enable underlying prejudices guide discourse that will eventually solidify into “fact” without thought. I am afraid it has but I refuse to implicit favoritism on either side.

I sit in transit on my way out of Israel, a tear rolls down my cheek.

 

[1] S. R. Moosavinia, N. Niazi, Ahmad Ghaforian, Edward Said’s Orientalism and the Study of the Self and the Other in Orwell’s Burmese Days, Studies In Literature and Language, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2011, pp. 103-113
[2] Josiah Royce, John Edwin Smith (1988). “Josiah Royce: Selected Writings”, p.272, Paulist Press
[3] https://www.iep.utm.edu/roycejos/#SH2b

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.