Have US Politics Become a Game?

Today I read chapter 12 (Can’t We All Disagree More Constructively?), the chapter I have been most excited about since picking up this book a few weeks ago. To me, the problem posed in the book’s subheading, ‘Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion’, is inextricably linked to the question of why can’t we approach our differences from a rational perspective, as opposed to an emotional one?

Why is the goal so often to convince others that you are correct and they are wrong, instead of mutual understanding and finding common ground?

Jonathan Haidt opens this discussion with a poster from the Chamomile Tea Party:

We're Losing Our Competitive Edge

I’d never heard of this organization before today, so I went to their website (chamomileteaparty.com) and skimmed through about 80 other posters their artists made. Some I found to be much cleverer than others, but all had to do with this issue: Why have US Politics suddenly become a zero-sum game?

In my economics classes at UMass-Dartmouth, we often discuss social issues with the help of game theory—the study of strategic interaction between individuals or groups. A zero-sum game means that one player’s gain is another player’s loss. The size of the pie is perceived to be fixed, so there is no choice but to fight against others if you want to improve your own condition.

But not all games are zero-sum games. There are many win-win situations in life: a baseball trade which fills in key missing pieces on both teams, or a partnership where people bring their fields of expertise together to kick-start a successful new business.

Our US Congress also used to be a good example, as the two parties would frequently cooperate; giving a little here in exchange for a little there in order to help the US economy as a whole. Since strong economies greatly help incumbents get reelected, this collaboration became even more of a win-win.

Now, however, it seems like the true merits of any new bill are pushed aside by the perceived zero-sum ramifications to each party’s reputation. A well-crafted bill aimed at creating long-term job growth, for example, might find itself blocked by every member of one political party simply because they believe it would be perceived as a win for the other party.

I feel that US politics have always been a ‘game’, by the strategic/mathematical definition, only now everything seems to have become a zero-sum game.

So what do you think about Haidt’s question of why can’t people disagree more constructively? Whether or not you’ve made it to chapter 12 yet, let me know if you’ve seen anything in this book which relates to this question for you. Feel free to use US politics or any other example, but if you post something like ‘It’s all the ______ party’s fault!’, are you disagreeing any more constructively than the zero-summers? We have four exciting years just ahead at UMass-Dartmouth. The more we can disagree constructively, the more win-wins we’ll all discover.

-Randy Hall, UMass-Dartmouth Economics Dept.

79 thoughts on “Have US Politics Become a Game?

  1. Haley Donahay says:

    Since birth you are already preexpose to your parents personally liking. I would not say that the politically party you affiliate yourself with is in your genes, but I would like to think that up until you are able to fully understand about the political world you are susceptible to your parents political preference. As you grow and become more knowledgeable about that part of the adult world you will be able to decide whom you would like to see in office and what you would like for that person to do within their term. In order to be able to decide what political party you agree with more you need to first be able to research both parties and politicians plan.

  2. I personally think that everyone is greatly influenced by their parents political views and will believe what their parents believe until they come up with a greater understanding of the world and can decide for their own. There are a lot of people who don’t have an open mind when it comes to politics and cling on to what their parents believe when they could be understanding the views of other people instead of being closed minded.

  3. Casey Mackenzie says:

    “Rather, people care about their groups, whether those be racial, regional, religious, or political.” pg. 100
    Political parties work for the benefit of political parties as Haidt explains in this line from the chapter “Vote for Me (Here’s Why). Over the past two elections I have begun paying attention to the way politicians speak to and about each other. The main theme of almost every political speech during an election is “Why our policies are better than theirs” or “What they aren’t doing right” Essentially, our group is better than theirs, our policies are better than theirs, and we can’t let them get away with looking better than us. In order to advance our own political parties cause we have to shut down the other side. “Our politics is groupish, not selfish.” We work for us, against you, not I, for me.

  4. cotey monte says:

    I believe that the vast majority of young adults’ political views are heavily influenced by the adults close to them. In a psychology perspective this is an example of nurture. Nurture comes into effect with political views because it is basically everyone elses’ opinions that you take as your own, since politics is not nature to people, it is all learned. As people get older and take in many different opinions about politics some decide to make up their own view on them , while others keep close minded and stay strictly to the one sided opposition their parents molded into their minds. I agree with the comments above that general say to really pick a side you should be knowledgeable on both parties and not just know about one side.

  5. Rony Alvarez says:

    I believe that politics is a clear reflection of what can be considered to be human nature. We are selfish, we were trained by evolution to deceive or dominate other beings in order to survive. Anything that may harm our existence we must retaliate with even greater power to survive. To speak in analogies, each political party is within itself a living organism with the common goal of consuming as much prey as possible, us, the major population. So when which ever side grabs a larger bite of the population the other side feels threaten and fear their extinction in congress. As Haidt states, we are all “selfish” and “groupish”

  6. Shannon McAndrews says:

    In my opinion, many political elections have in a sense, been turned into popularity contests. Many people will vote for a member of a particular party for the simple reason that their parents or family support that party. Political opinions can be easily passed down from your parents because you are submerged into their political views and opinions starting at an early age.

  7. Quianna Walker says:

    The reason why i think that people can not disagree constructively is because each side of the arguement wants their piont to be the most major side in a case of an an agreement. For example the grid lock between memebrs of the republican and democratic parties. This led to a government shutdown because both sides had a problem agreeing constructively.

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