Posted in Philosophy

## Zero-Sum Game

Game theory is the study of using mathematical models to understand how rational decision-makers would strategically act in a given environment. One concept from game theory is that of the zero-sum game, where there is a finite amount of utility shared between players, meaning that if one person gains something, another must lose something to balance it out.

A classic example is a game of competitive sports, where there can be only one winner. For you to win, someone else must lose. A zero-sum game can have as few as two players (such as a singles tennis match) or many players (such as a game of poker, where every dollar you win is a dollar taken away from the other players).

From a young age, we see many examples of zero-sum games. We play sports and board games where there is a clear winner. We are marked on curve and compared to our classmates in exams. We compete for jobs and romantic partners. Competitiveness is driven into us and is sold as a survival skill.

This leads us to be prone to zero-sum thinking which can lead to many biases. Some studies show students acting more competitively and less inclined to help their peers if they were graded on a curve (e.g. percentiles), rather than grade categories (e.g. A, B, C). We think that if someone is a jack of all trades, they are masters of none, because surely no one can “have it all”. Many people oppose immigration because they believe that immigrants will take the finite number of jobs and houses. Some people negotiate aggressively in a deal, thinking that “your loss is my gain”. In severe cases, people may even sabotage others to increase their gains.

However, life is not always a zero-sum game. Game theory also describes non-zero-sum games, where the net balance of utility between all participants can be higher (or lesser) than zero. Simply put, in a non-zero-sum game, there can be more than one winner and sometimes, everyone can be a winner.

The best example of this is the mutual benefit born from cooperation. Zero-sum thinking may dictate that you must conquer your neighbouring tribe because they are your competition, but throughout history, cooperation, peace and harmony have prevailed as the winning strategy, because it results in greater net gain.

Happiness is also a non-zero-sum game, where just because someone else is happy, it does not take away from your happiness. But for some reason, some people cannot stand to watch others happy, or feel they must be happier than those around them. These people constantly try to “one-up” others, not recognising others’ happiness, or even sabotaging others and making them feel bad because they can’t stand to see other people be happier than them. This is an extremely toxic, unnecessary behaviour, that should be unacceptable in any kind of relationship, particularly between friends or family.

The far healthier behaviour is to be happy for others’ happiness, regardless of your life situation. This is why compassion is one of the keys for happiness. Realising that we can all find our own joy and contentness and help each other find happiness is a key step in being sustainably happy.

1 + 1 = 3

Posted in History & Literature

## Marathon

In 490BC, The Greek city states were hard at war with the almighty Persian Empire. One well-known battle (out of many) is the Battle of Marathon, fought between about 10,000 Athenian soldiers (with some Plataean reinforcements) versus 26,000 Persian soldiers. Despite the Persians having superior numbers and cavalry, the battle concluded with a decisive victory to Athens thanks to a well-implemented flanking strategy and the temporary absence of the Persian cavalry at the base camp. The battle was a turning point in the First Greco-Persian War and the crushing defeat drove the Persian invasion force off Greek lands for ten years.

The popular story goes that a runner named Pheidippides was sent from Marathon to Athens after the battle to bring the good news, as the people of Athens were still gripped in fear that the Persians would directly strike the city soon. It is said that Pheidippides ran a distance of about 40 kilometres back to Athens and on arrival cried out “We have won!”, then collapsed and died from exhaustion.
When the modern Olympics was being designed at the late 19th century, the organisers decided to use this story to inspire what we now call the marathon – a 42.195km endurance run. The story was to recall the glory of ancient Greece and the heroic act of Pheidippides (also referred as Philippides in some texts).

Unfortunately, the story is a romantic amalgamation of two separate stories. But then again, the actual story is just as incredible.
Despite the decisive Athenian victory at the Battle of Marathon, the war still raged on and the Persians changed directions and headed for Athens instead. The Athenian army marched swiftly back home to pre-empt the Persian landing force. They marched 40km within a day – an amazing feat considering the fact that they just fought a massive battle and were armoured from head to toe.
The runner, Pheidippides, actually ran a distance of 225 kilometres from Athens to Sparta seeking reinforcements before the Persian army landed in Marathon (i.e. before the Battle of Marathon). He then ran back to Athens, meaning he ran roughly 450~500km within a few days. There is not much historical evidence of whether he actually ran this far in such short time but there are some anecdotal recordings.

The world record for the fastest marathon is 2 hours 3 minutes 23 seconds (as of 2014) by Wilson Kipsang of Kenya. The world record for the longest marathon ever run is set by Shiso Kanakuri, who started the marathon on July 14, 1912, during which collapsed from heat exhaustion around the 27km mark. He had to withdraw from the race, but could not bear with his “failure” all throughout his life. In 1967, he challenged himself again at the age of 75 to finish the remaining 15km, eventually setting the record time for the longest marathon ever run – 54 years, 8 months, 6 days, 5 hours, 32 minutes and 20.3 seconds.

Posted in History & Literature

## Ignorant Masses Policy

Democracy is a fair system that gives the people the power to run the country. This also weakens the politicians’ grip on the people. If you were a leader of a democratic nation, how could you gain more power? The obvious answer would be to become a good leader who gains the people’s trust and rules a government of the people, by the people, for the people. However, if you want to rule against the wishes of the masses yet not lose their trust, you can use the Ignorant Masses Policy.

The Ignorant Masses Policy is a type of policy that makes the people foolish to make ruling them easier. It was used by Imperial Japan to try make colonising Korea easier in the 1930’s, while also being famous as the policy of choice by Nazi Germany. The most classic example is the 3S Policy used by Japan and Korea in the 1980’s. “3S” stands for mankind’s never-ending interests: sex, screen and sports. The Policy uses these to enthuse the public and making them naturally lose interest over social issues. For example, in the 1980’s, the president of South Korea, Chun Doo-hwan (who rose to power through a coup d’état) hosted the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, while establishing pro baseball, pro football and pro ssireum (Korean wrestling). Furthermore, he installed colour television on a national level, lifted the curfew (promoting prostitution) and lessening censorship on sexually suggestive dramas and movies.

The Ignorant Masses Policy oppresses the people in the complete opposite way to the reign of terror seen in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Instead of destroying freedom, it provides even more freedom and information to drown out interest for the more important field of politics. This policy was well-represented in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. A government that oppresses its people with pleasure and distractions is far more formidable than a government that uses pain and control.

“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.” ~ Goethe