Russians

Old joke:

God came to a Russian man and offered him one wish, whatever he wanted.  Before the man could speak, God cautioned him, “Whatever you ask for, I’ll give twice as much to your neighbor.  The man thought carefully for a long time, then said, “Pluck out one of my eyes.”

The first time I heard this joke, it was painfully funny.  Over time, it has become less funny and painfully true of too many people I encounter in person or read about in the news.  Whenever my wife or I see this behavior in ourselves or others, “… is a Russian” has become our shorthand.

As a stereotype, this is a truth but not a complete truth.  Not all of this kind of russian live in Russia and not all Russians behave like this.  Just enough for a stereotype.

War is all about trying to cause the enemy more loss than you sustain.  So winning is losing less.  Game Theory calls this a negative sum game.  All the losses and gains, if any, for both sides are totaled up and the result is always negative.  Most 2 person recreational games (e.g., chess, checkers) and many sports (tennis, baseball) are zero sum games. The total is one winner, one loser.  Positive sum games are win-win situations and things like New Games movement in the 60s.

What is the appeal of negative sum games?  In the joke above, the Russian chooses a negative sum game over a positive sum game.  He could have gotten something for nothing and his community could have gotten triple something for nothing.  Instead he chose loss for himself and his community.

I will admit to occasionally wanting to do harm to someone and being willing to harm myself in the process.  I stopped acting on the impulse and the impulse is decreasing.

Many politicians have found that appealing to this impulse, promising death/loss/affliction to some demonized/designated Other/minority wins votes and often elections.  And it’s much easier to implement than empowering or boosting the majority.

Millennia ago Moses told the people, “I place before you life and death. Choose life.”

In John 10:10 Jesus says, “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.”

Lessons that few take to heart. The few times I have acted on what felt like a message from God, a Higher Power.  The result was more creative and abundant than anything I could imagine achieving on my own. I’m encouraged to follow these strange messages. If it wasn’t strange, God wouldn’t need to tell you.

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