The march of foolhardiness and the zero-sum game

6 mins read

The rules of the Zero-Sum Game are quite simple: If I win, you lose; if you win, I lose. All or nothing. Black or White. No shades of gray.

In Jared Diamond’s lengthy but insightful book, Collapse, he makes a strong case why some societies survive and others do not. He identifies five major elements that contribute to either winning or losing. Decisions (or lack thereof) made by the powers that be often play a dominate role in this game of chance.

Diamond references historian Barbara Tuchman’s book, The March of Folly, which focuses on major episodes in history where those powers made foolish, idiotic, reckless and imprudent decisions that were NOT in their own best interest. Indeed, most were fatal, not only to human lives, but also to its society or institutions.

In today’s fragile sociopolitical environment where our democracy seems to be under attack by some of those reckless powers, Tuchman and Diamond’s insights are critically important, and the lessons to be learned from them, are more necessary than ever in preserving our nation’s short experiment with a democratic republic form of government.

The governments of the State of Israel have always been divided; yet they have managed to make existential decisions that were in their best interest. However, today, polarization has reached a level of grave social and political threats. With the forced “retirement” of Prime Minister Netanyahu, Israel has had to establish a regime of forced compromise between political opposites, because it has only a one-vote majority. It is the only way this newly formed government can succeed, and maybe resurrect the civility and consensus that has been absent for decades.

In meaningful ways, our deeply divided government resembles the current status quo of Israel’s, as it too has a voting majority of but one vote. Both countries’ most recent leaders have left their nations divided through their divisive rhetoric and toxic proclivity for pushing the boundaries of each country’s democratic founding principles for the sake of retaining power.

Tuchman has identified “folly,” broadly defined, to be the primary culprit of felonious societal failures. The foundations of these stupidities, historically reflected in government mismanagement, are all too familiar: tyranny or brutal oppression; excessive ambition; incompetence or decadence; obstinance or ignorance.

These “principles of folly” are often found bound together, and they constitute the critical ingredients in the recipe for government “policy” that is, by definition, counter-productive to the well-being of those governed.

Sometimes, it takes years or even decades for the tragic effects of marching to the drumbeat of folly to manifest themselves. It took almost 60 years of blatant unashamed Papal corruption to bring the destruction of Rome and the ruination of the “universal” Church, drowning under the tsunami flood of righteous reformist Protestants, led by Martin Luther.

From 1470 to 1503, the six so-called “Renaissance Popes” whose follies led to perdition, were variously characterized by indescribable depravity, corruption, penury, simony, nepotism, sodomy, incest and out-right criminality.

As evil and disgusting as these Vicars of Christ were none could hold a candle to the degeneracy of Rodrigo Borgia, aka Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503). So destructive and long-lasting were the effects of these continued follies perpetrated by the Papacy that it is no surprise that Protestantism is the current prevailing Christian denomination in the US.

At other times, the catastrophic outcome of wretched governmental foolishness seems almost to have happened overnight. The sorrowful tales of LBJ’s habitual, pathological lying about Vietnam, and its resultant indiscriminate slaughter of the innocent, is another grievous case in point.

Today in America we have yet another regrettable example, although its race of folly has not yet been completed: it is the inexplicable idiocy in and by one of our major political parties, who have bought into The Big Lie, lock, bankrupt stock and rotting barrel.

A falsehood of folly based on demonstrably fabricated conspiracies and treacheries, underwritten by an unquenchable thirst for complete and permanent power. Foolhardy decisions being made (or not) by these do-nothings is paving the road to political purgatory. Few outside this tribe believe this nonsense. But will it succeed in ending our precious republic as we know it?

History reminds us that if we choose to enter the Race of Folly, which is contrary to our own best interests, we shall inherit a hurricane that will destroy our democratic republic. It is past time to awaken to the reality of the speedway of craziness that we currently find ourselves in, and do something about it.

If the Tribe of Folly wins, we all lose. Game over. The sum of zeros is zero!

“Well, all I know is what I read in the newspapers.” – Will Rogers. 

David M. Taub was Mayor of Beaufort from 1990 through 1999 and served as a Beaufort County Magistrate from 2010 to 2015. You can reach him at david.m.taub42@gmail.com.

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