The Gamesmen

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I was inspired to post the following by a recent mail from T. and some earlier writings on the ecology of society. I would like to draw your attention to The Gamesman by Michael Maccoby. In this book, which I have not read yet but I got a summary from Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot by Jim Stockdale, Maccoby identifies four types of people. These types should perhaps more accurately be identified as traits in that a person encompass all these traits in varying degrees.

The four traits are

  1. The Craftsman (Ben Franklin) – characterized as being inventive, self-contained/independent, resolute, and sincere. Since any strength has a corresponding weakness they are also prone to being obstinate, stingy, and suspicious. Craftsmen were the dominant type from 1776 to the early 1900s and laid the foundation of society.
  2. The Jungle Fighter (Andrew Carnegie) – characterized as being tough, competitive, and bold, but also ego-driven, paternalistic, and authoritarian. Jungle Fighters operate in a world of finite resources and thus play zero-sum games. Us against them. Jungle fighters often start from poor circumstances and battle their way up.
  3. The Company Man – much like the jungle fighter but his primary motivation is the fear of losing rather than the desire to win. The company man is loyal, hard-working, honest, and eager to please, but he is also afraid to take risks. Company men were born into the affluence associated with fitting into a structure and they are afraid to lose it. Lacking the skill-focus of the craftsmen and the guts of the jungle fighters, company men were the ones that made marketing and appearance important.
  4. The Gamesman – was the new breed of Ivy League educated people who saw the world as a giant chessboard. The Gamesman believes that everything can be analyzed, dissected, and optimized. And thus the Gamesman does not believe in the zero-sum world of the Jungle Fighter. Rather everybody can win if he plays his cards right. Gamesmen like awards. The Gamesman is cool, detached, intellectual, and open-minded. However, he lacks heart, inspires little loyalty, and does not like confrontations. Gamesmen do not like to fire people. Instead Gamesmen have invented elaborate systems of performance reviews, e.g. “it was not me that fired you – it was your performance review”.

The current world is dominated by gamesmen. Hence the importance of sports rather than having served in the military (war does not allow time-outs and it requires performance under the worst conditions rather than the best conditions of Gatorade and Under Armor, think about it!) as a career ladder asset. Hence the long books on exactly how to behave during an interview, what to say, what to do, and even where to sit at meetings in detailed analyses. The oldest culture, the craftsman culture, is hard to find. If you want to see the difference try to contrast and compare an popular science magazine of a hundred year ago, full of information and requiring a solid foundation to understand (if you can get your hands on old copies, get them!), and a present popular science magazines with it’s glossy pictures and prose written to entertain rather than inform.

Ecologically speaking most species will naturally tend to feed on another species and in turn be fed upon by the next species. It is exceedingly arrogant to think the humans or their culture is the one exception to this rule. At the frontier, the craftsmen rule. They deal with nature and as such are used to dealing with problems that don’t care about the man. For instance, being on a small boat in a storm, the storm does not care if you are seasick – it will kill you regardless. Craftsmen will colonize barren land. They will set up government where there is none. The will invent tools where there were none. The jungle fighters will then move in and capitalize on these tools using them to fight each other until the domain has been conquered. When there is nothing more to fight for and no places to expand into, the jungle fighters can no longer expand. They have reached their population density. Hence they are gradually replaced by more social creatures, the company men. This allows the population density to overshoot. In other words, there are now more people providing essentially the same functions. In other words, productivity per person decreases. Having a fully formed environment with redundant assets to be terminated, the gamesmen will sweep in and start discarding people. In this sense, the gamesmen are like trees that cover the bushy undergrowth of their predecessors.

It is important to note though that the gamesmen are not self-sufficient. This will be a problem that will be realized by the next generation. Interestingly enough it is also inevitable and unavoidable. The gamesmen, which are actually net-negative contributers (this interpretation fits exceedingly well with the focus on appearance and their belief that everybody wins), will eventually cause their own downfall. For instance, it is apparent that as companies eliminated their jungle fighter loyalty to their employees, the employes eliminated their company man loyalty to their employers. This makes the structure less more skill based but less solid (much like a modern bicycle helmet is less bulky and thus less safe while still skirting the standard – yacht racing is an even worse example of this problem, here computer programs design yachts not according to sea worthiness but according to race regulations). I see this problem playing out fast. The main question is, who will be the next type to replace the gamesman. There is a suggestion in Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot. I am not sure I agree.

Originally posted 2008-05-11 10:54:25.

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