Beautiful Minds Needed to Reach Across the Divide

Perhaps you were a fan of the movie A Beautiful Mind which was a biographical look at the troubled life of mathematician John Nash. You might be a mathematician yourself, versed in the details of gaming theory, or you might well be sick and tired of so little getting accomplished by the political leaders of this country as they spend more time looking to beat 'the other guys' than they do practicing thoughtful governance.

My guess is that most of you fall into the third catagory. If so, or out of general curiosity, please continue reading below the fold to see what may be done, both theoretically and practically, to get our leaders to lead and so lend hope to our now uncertain future.

Adam Smith posited that self-interest promotes the most efficient use of resources and so results in the best outcome for the wellbeing of the public. John Nash turned that around by suggesting that even in a non cooperative setting (like politics) the best results are attained by acting not with self-interest, but with consideration for the desires and actions of all the players on the field. If I recall correctly, Newt Gingrich accelerated the partisanship in Congress because of two critical changes he made in the way the House does business. Prior to Gingrich becoming Speaker, all freshmen Reps went through orientation together, getting to know one another, enduring similar hardships and experiences, creating friendships that might last for years. Gingrich had each party run its own orientation, so that there was no chance for cross-party relationships to develop from the start of a congressman's term; the other guys were the enemy right from the start. Gingrich also discouraged congressmen from staying in DC while the House was not in session. This has had the effect of preventing socialization between members of the House and further perpetuating the "Us/Them" mentality. Democrats and Republicans have been fighting for advantage with more vigor, expending ever more energy and resources (increasing cost and decreasing utility) to win. Win what you say, doesn't really matter, just so long as we win. Oh, and before you say it's just the other guys who go out of their way to win, I will remind you of the heavy handedness of the DCCC in 2006.

Hubert Humphrey and Barry Goldwater would go at it on the Senate floor hammer and tongs with rhetorical sparks just a flying, but when off the floor of the Senate they were good friends. So what gets the most reward, or utility, for the most people? Two sides hammering each other with gerrymandered districts, strident labeling, expending resources that could be better spent all which reflect the pure self-interest reflected in the Adam Smith paradigm. In the movie, A Beautiful Mind, Nash's epiphany comes while in a bar when he realizes that his male friends will have a better chance of scoring with a woman if they pursue the less attractive women rather than all competing for the same blonde bombshell. If they do compete for the blonde they will block each other, waste resources and, at best, only one of them will gain any "utility" out of the situation. If they work with each other's goals in mind they will have a greater chance of success.

We need Beautiful Minds, people who will communicate with each other, who will have a rational conversation to learn the motives and desires of the other side so as not to block each other in a way that justs wastes resources. So will you do this? Will you have patient chats with coworkers and neighbors? Will you reach out to the right wing bloggers with class, adding comments and posts that might let them better understand your thinking, motives and desires? Here are some websites you might try this notion out on -,, Patriotpost, and the Heritage Foundation.

Also, at every opportunity, please encourage your elected officials to engage each other civily and so work for the best outcomes for their constituents. John Nash is certainly a mathematical genius, but his greatest contribution just might be in providing our crowded society with a model of living that let's us be individuals, with individual goals and aspirations, but working in such a way as to provide the best outcome for all of us who must share life on planet Earth.

Thanks for reading.

Front-paged by Anglico


Good thoughts

I will tone down my rhetoric . . . somewhat. :)

You running for office or run a bussiness???

you got my vote and if your business is haircutting, I would love to hang out in your shop!

Extremely civilized thoughts.

Your post should be first read for any class in politics. Work with each other, what a refreshing idea.

Thank you very much for this posting!


Interesting thoughts

I've often wondered about the death of courtesy and civility in our culture. Seems it began the downhill slide in a big way back in the '80's with the rise of the Reagan Republicans and the generation of greed traders ("Greed is good"). Seems like that was when it began to be "okay" to be nasty and rude to people. Never thought of it in terms of Adam Smith and John Nash.

Great idea.

I'm not surprised that it was shot down at Kos, but I'm willing to give it a shot, but I'm not going to go it alone. Let me know when a discussion is going on, point us in the direction, and I will do my level best to be - level and coherent.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi

Thank you for your kind words. It would seem that BlueNC

is more amenable to this notion than the folks at Kos. There is some serious hate flowing around DailyKos, unfortunately. Here's a little example of exactly why gaming theory applies.
In this example of Hawk vs. Dove the opposing sides are not meant to be literal animals but postures taking by noncooperative sides vying for a Valued resource. If they both go Hawk then there is conflict and so Cost is deducted from any Value gained. Here's the diagram: (note:diagram didn't take the formatting I would have liked. It's a little tough to read. It's a 2 by2 square matrix)

Hawk Dove
Hawk (V−C)/2, (V−C)/2 V, 0
Dove 0, V V/2, V/2

The best outsome for both sides occurs when both are dove as then they share the Value equally. Otherwise either one side is left out completely (hawk v. dove) or the Value is divided after being reduced by the cost of the conflict (hawk v. hawk).

Sun-Tzu had his own take on this: "The greatest general is not the one who wins 100 victories in 100 battles. The greatest general is he that wins without fighting."

Person County Democrats

I actively oppose gerrymandering. Do you?

As human kind evolves, will we become humane?

I want this very much persondem, very much. I can not help but to lament the state of our union today. But isn't this exactly what our leaders have been trying to do since the take over in January? I ask to what end so far? The Republicans will not reach back, it is their way only, no discussion. They only see any magnanimous effort as weakness and exploit it with dirty tactics and outright lies.

At every opportunity, they twist the facts like Foxx did in her last newsletter when she tried to insinuate that the Katrina fiasco was the current Congress' fault.

How do we do this if people like Dole call Bush out publicly on his "litney of mistakes in Iraq" yet continues to vote to enable his war?

The political process has dropped into the sewers, but it was because the Republicans took it there. They demand that we allow them to keep digging their holes, they refuse to put down the shovel.

No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots.

Progressive Discussions

Good points. I was challenged on this at Kos

My response was to separate the neocon leaders from the sheep who follow them. Educate (without being pedantic, just in conversation) the sheep through reframing and adding a few facts. The Republican leaders and their media mouthpieces have too much invested to really change, but the average joe republican who is just as worried about paying bills, taking care of his family, his retirement etc. and has been watching Fox and/or listening to Rush for years might be reached if presented with another viewpoint presented honestly and recognizing that he is part of this country/world, is valued and has a part to play in securing our future.

Person County Democrats

I actively oppose gerrymandering. Do you?

Building Bridges

This is the heart of my campaign message of "Building Bridges" - I think that many of us, Democrat, Republican, and Independent alike are tired of the food fights and want to see good work get done for our nation and our state.

To those that say: "The Republican's started it!" I say you are correct. But as Democrats, we have to be be better than that - turns out we are the adults in the room, and we should continue to act that way.

Very good post!

Ed Ridpath

Ed Ridpath

Hear, hear

or here, here. Whatever the phrase is.

I think that many of us, Democrat, Republican, and Independent alike are tired of the food fights and want to see good work get done for our nation and our state.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi

I get the general idea here....

and it might be a good one in theory. I especially agree with the idea of separating the followers from the leaders in terms of rhetoric. However, the people that we are fighting against (the leaders, that is) do not have enough in common with us for there to be a basic level of civil discourse.

In Brooks and Warren's Modern Rhetoric (this is from memory, but I am about 95% sure this is the right text) the point is made that in order for there to be a constructive debate, there needs to be a common ground that all sides agree to and work from. In debate, this is can be the definitions of the terms, an agreement to what the question to be debated is, etc. On a national level, or actually in politics in general, this is often the "values" question. One thing that you here a lot here is the term "mountain values," those intangible, often unexpressed, ties that bind. In our country, one that does not have a common ethnic background, religion, etc., this common ground was intended to be represented by the founding documents, most importantly the Constitution, including the amendments, but also should include the Declaration of Independence as well since this is a much more concise expression of the political ideology of the founders.

Here is the problem with taking a more conciliatory tact with "those people:" We are not working off the same page and from the same values. Their values, how they frame their thoughts and their arguments, are not based in the Constitution. With some, they basis of their thinking is a limited, modern, false construct of a religious tradition that has not adequately dealt with the changes of the modern and now, post-modern world. In other cases they fall to the Lincoln idea that the Union comes before the Constitution, therefore, negating the Constitution in order to "Save and Protect" the Union. And others appear to have no other motivation than an insatiable greed for personal wealth and power, an idea certainly not shared by our Liberal founders.

This is the difference in the debate a generation ago and the debate now. Goldwater, for all his faults, at least believed in the Constitution. While he and LBJ might have disagreed on the how to serve the "values" (a loaded term that I am hesitant to use) to the country, they at least agreed, in a general sense, in what those values were. Now the greed-heads have had 30+ years to create their perversion of "conservatism" that now so strongly pervades the minds of so many, and they have created an ideology that in divorced from the American tradition of political thought. Their ideology resides outside the sphere of what the founders gave us to work in. I can think of no greater example of this than how people like Hannity et al treat Ron Paul. They malign him at every opportunity, yet what he says certainly resides firmly in the American tradition. By calling us or people like Paul "unAmerican" they are projecting their fear that they themselves are the unAmerican ones, and in the process hope that they will successfully reshape the debate in their favor.

There are a lot of fairly complicated ideas in this that I am not sure that I expressed all that well. I hope in the future to be able to expand on them a little more. Suffice it to say, that i believe that the course of action that is being advocated here, while nice in principal and makes us feel good, is simply not possible at this juncture, at least not with the leaders of the "movement" and their true-believer followers. I think that we should treat people with respect, but not give them an inch, for they certainly have no intention of giving us one.


The Great appear great because we are on our knees – Let Us Rise!
-- “Big Jim” Larkin

The Great appear great because we are on our knees – Let Us Rise!
-- “Big Jim” Larkin

Very well expressed

Which is why I added the word "somewhat" to my promise to tone things down.

The truth is, we are up against a formidable enemy. I'm not talking about the average citizen on the right . Those folks are people like my parents were, disengaged followers. But as you correctly point out, the leadership on the right - the corporatists at the top of the Greed Machine - are not nearly so benign. They have taken us into unending war and built their power base on fear. They have decided that "the rich get richer" is the formula for happiness and are pursing that goal with reckless abandon. The list goes on, but you get the point.

Add to that the fact that they are funded to excess by corporate interests, people who literally spend billions of dollars to get their way, to make markets, to buy influence . . . and you have a good glimpse of the challenge.

Here in North Carolina, the personification of that model is Art Pope. He is spending upwards of $300,000 a MONTH to push his free-market extremist agenda, and he is very good at it. His minions have been at it for decades, and they have built a solid base of influence inside the unthinking mainstream media.

A couple of organizations have been pushing back for years, with Chris Fitzsimon at NCPW (and formerly with Common Sense) carrying much of the load. With far fewer resources (i.e., no sugar daddy like Art Pope), the left has not matched the right in terms of marketing impact and influence.

Enter the progressive blogosphere and BlueNC.

Without the constraints of any official structure, organization, funders, non-profit status, whatever, BlueNC and others like Scrutiny Hooligans, NC Politico and Pat Go Bye Bye have provided a haven for people of all kinds of minds to share ideas and build support for progressive political action. And we're playing like our lives depend on it.

Sometimes success calls for civil discourse and moderation, but sometimes it calls for flat-out hostility. In the face of Pope's gigantic opinion-manufacturing machine, we are David in a battle with Goliath. Spitballs can be just as effective as well-heeled pontification, and sometimes even moreso. Ridicule works, especially against the corporatists, who have profits and reputations to protect. Against people like me? Not so much.

Playing nice and looking for common ground works when it works, but it doesn't work all the time. Indeed, it is a model that has gradually slid the center farther and farther to the right over the past 20 years. By engaging in full-frontal assaults, I believe we at least dig in enough heels to stop that slide from continuing. They key is to stop short of some imaginary line - both legal and moral - where good people might suffer unnecessarily.

I've often said that one of my main missions in blogging is to make others seem reasonable in comparison. If by making fun of the Art Pope Puppetshow I give policy makers on the left a bit more comfort with progressive positions, I will consider that a major accomplishment.

"If boiling people alive best served the interests of the American people, then it would neither be moral or immoral." Max Borders, Civitas Institute

If you work from the ideal

that voters deserve to know what may influence the decisions of elected officials, be it corporate cash, personal vices, etc., then exposing that information becomes the primary concern.

Ridicule works, especially against the corporatists, who have profits and reputations to protect.

Propriety and decorum are fine in the sitting room, but if they stifle the dissemination of information to the general populace, they are a liability.

As far as there not being sufficient cooperation between the two main parties, I have one thing to say—we just extended the cap on the National Debt to over nine trillion dollars. There's entirely too much cooperating going on, and the fact that we're still in Iraq with more troops than ever before and spending money faster than ever before proves it.

I'm with Anglico

At least on the national stage, there is no bargaining with the modern conservative movement. I am not endorsing incivility or vulgarity. But progressives need to be assertive...even aggressive...and at times hostile. Look at what's happened in recent history...a presidential election decided prematurely along partisan lines by the Supreme Court, a war under false pretenses, and an unconstitutional and unprecedented usurpation of power by the Executive branch.

These are not small grievances.

Progressives need to fight back by every legal means available. Hit them with everything you've got. I like Russ Feingold as an excellent example of how this should be done.

Buncha prissy libruls

I say Screw 'em! Screw 'em all.

You want civility?

Screw 'em all, pleeeeze.

ruh, roh......Betsy's in a bad mood. :)

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

This suggestion (in th OP) is not about

some kind of capitulation or Chamberlainesque appeasement. If neocons or rank and file republicans (or anyone really) at any level have broken the law, subverted the constitution or acted in a morally reprehensible way, then by all means get in the perps face and call them on it.
But both sides sling muck unnecessarily and seem to expend much energy (cost) in their obessession with power. From my viewpoint Reps. do it more then Dems.
Pushing usually only gets you pushed back (hawk vs. hawk), and besides, staying calm and delivering concise, reasoned answers or explanations is a great way to make the other side look bad. Now your opponent in the discussion might get irritated, but the observers, the other rank and file republicans, just might learn something and actually develop some respect for us where none existed before. And the bitter rhetoric fades just a bit.
Also note that this is a strategic endeavor, the background, the canvas and is not meant to be a tactic to be used exclusively in all controversial situations.

Person County Democrats

I actively oppose gerrymandering. Do you?

and in the long run,

by remaining reasonable, you win.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi

That was Kerry's personality not a coherent strategy, and

Kerry made many blunders ... changing his message to suit the news ... The W = "Wrong" speech ... not hitting back when the swiftboating started, running a narrowly targeted electoral race, leaving himself with $12-15 million (about?), saying stoopid crap about voting for X before he voted against X, not hammering away at Bush's vulnerabilities ... I could go on.
There is nothing about weakness or allowing your opponent to throw darts unchallenged in this suggestion, and it is certainly not intended for elections which are by definition winner take all - ain't no sharing going on after the votes are counted. It's for the time after the elections.

Person County Democrats

I actively oppose gerrymandering. Do you?

There is a time after elections?

It's always election season for some of us.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

Heh, heh ... I Know what you mean.

I have a storage room full of signs from '06 ready to go again for next year. Just, and I do mean just, today finished a city campaign for mayor and city council (which went rather well). It's small compared to the even years, but still involved some signage and 4 saturdays of neighborhood walking.
I take it you are rather heavily involved in elections in your neck of the woods?

Person County Democrats

I actively oppose gerrymandering. Do you?

Yeppers...Mom's on the City Council

so these "off" years are pretty big for us. Congressional campaigns don't seem to be taking a break this year. It's getting old.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

Brad Miller is having an event up here in

November. We really need to do something about the endless cycle of elections, campaigning, fund-raising, elections, oh by the way do the public's business for a few days, campainging, repeat ad nauseum.

You are definately involved. Gotta help mum out.

Person County Democrats

I actively oppose gerrymandering. Do you?

Yep...I know Brad took a long break from fundraising

but the endless pleas from the pres candidates AND the DCCC, DSCC, DNC is working against the folks like Brad who did take a break, as well as folks like Larry Kissell who really can't take a break from it since he's running against one of the wealthiest members of congress.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

By doing our part,

By doing our part, especially on a local level, to raise the level of debate, perhaps we can prevent further atrocities like the stolen elections of 2000 and 2004.

I sat in a Dem. Party meeting here last year, and was told by a man who is now a precinct chair that we could go set up a table to register voters at the local community college, and then "lose" the UNA and REP registrations. I told him that wasn't the way I wanted to do things; that wasn't the way I wanted to win. His justification wasn't that it was okay to do, just that the other side does it.

So we play by evening things out? Bullshit. I don't want to be part of a group of cheaters. At any level.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi

Interesting, that.

I kind of shut the idea down.

Since I am an officer, I have warned the county chair and other officers to watch him - he's very good at other things, such as GOTV. And to my knowledge, he never actually threw away or "lost" any registrations. The event we were talking about was in the planning stages.

And yes, incredibly Rovian. Wish I'd thought to call him that at the time.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi