I never was good at the game rock-paper-scissors. I can’t explain why. Either I lost interest after one or two rounds, ultimately conceding, agreeing the other person was the winner, or I simply didn’t have the requisite skills to compete. Wikipedia describes the game as “a zero sum game in which each player simultaneously forms one of three shapes with an outstretched hand.” A simple fist (rock), a flat hand (paper), a fist with the index and middle fingers extend forming a V (scissors). Rock beats scissors, paper cover rocks, and scissors in turn cut paper. If both players choose the same shape, the game is tied and is usually immediately replayed to break the tie. Maybe my inability and unwillingness to compete was because the game seemed to reduce winning to a simplistic absurdity. Corrupting the game’s rules for me involved displaying the same form repeatedly. No, I don’t know whether my chance of winning increased or decreased by forming the same figure. No, I can’t give you any mathematical probabilities. Opting out, choosing not to play – which I did, always, walking away, worried little whether rock-paper-scissors won.
I disagree with Wikipedia defining rock-paper-scissors as a zero-sum game. To me a zero sum game, in life, is a hand which is played when all else fails; occurring when there is a total loss of hope, followed by a be-damned decision, an act of defiance. It is when life becomes unbearable, thus reducing winning to destruction, annihilation. I am not sure I am making sense. Let me try explaining with real world examples.
Palestinians strapping bombs onto their bodies to kill themselves and Israelis represents a zero-sum game – “my loss is your loss” – winning by losing, reducing life to an absurdity; an act which is clearly not a game of rock-paper-scissors.
A Tunisian vendor (Arab Spring), standing in the middle of the plaza and setting himself afire, taking his own life, is a zero sum game. Rock-paper-scissors, ha!
Prisoners electing death over living is a zero sum game; indefinite detention, no hope of formal charges, or trial, in an isolated setting, invites hopelessness. The game played at Guantanamo Bay is not rock-paper-scissors. It is a life-game played against the backdrop of the total loss of hope causing the prisoners to react, taking power away from their captor, giving all, forsaking all to win.
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I have been in a state of daze since the presidential election. No, not because my candidate lost. No, not because the United States continues to limit its highest office to a limited class of persons (Just Musing: Babble, babble, babble …”). No, not because of my health is failing, allergies, the change in seasons, or because I just realized, at this late date, that elections have consequences (Just Musing: “No longer a chameleon”…). No, no, no … this haze is different, much different.
When Barry Goldwater ran for the office of the presidency (1964 election), I was nine/ten years old. Mr. Goldwater was a United States Senator from the great state of Arizona. I remember, even at that age, being insulted by his words. He was talking about me and people who looked like me. His picture of America, cast under the umbrella of conservatism was much like the black and white television sets of my youth – clear – black and white – pitting white folks against black folks. Telling his fellow America to follow his lead, give him their vote, to protect “us from them.” The American public didn’t follow his lead, rejecting Goldwater’s call to hate.
In 1968, George Wallace, the Governor of the great state of Alabama, ran for the office of the presidency. He, Wallace, was an avowed segregationist. His image remained ingrained in the minds of every southern black child, standing in front of the school house door, telling the rest of America that America was a white man’s country and he, and he alone, would remain principled to protect America from us. The American public by and large rejected Wallace’s message, affirming that hope remained part and parcel of the American dream.
Oh sure, part and parcel of any election is an “us against them” message; encouraging citizens to vote for a particular candidate, showing contrast, extending a hand requesting “the privilege of your vote.” Absolutely, communities of interest become important, even when those communities of interests invoke race, sex, nationality, religion. But this election seems different. A tactical invitation to separate “us from them”, played masterfully from beginning to end, an in-your-face display of hate. The results of this election caused the haze to roll over the hill, clearing the horizon, making it clear the American public accepted this candidate’s words and lead.
When he moved down the escalator and cast aspersions against Mexicans, a good friend of mine who is a White female, a liberal most of her life, told me she thought the candidate was funny; as if he didn’t mean it, as if he was play acting. I listened to her hearty laugh, curled my mind around her words and laughter; curled my body around my anger and anxieties. I explained then that his invoking race and racism could never be funny to me; it is always personal.
He never stopped his supposed joking – grabbing and reaching – touching any many disparate groups as possible. But he was not joking, not at all a play of symbolism, no, no, no – his were direct words – directed against “the Muslims”, “the African Americans”, those lying women (whom he promised to sue), the disabled (whom he openly mocked and then said he wasn’t mocking; sort of like others contention of his joking, play-acting). The consequences of his actions however were clear – causing others to laugh, point, cheer and jeer.
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Americans stood up in 1964, a time our society was under fundamental pressure to do better; truly a zero-sum time in the country’s history.
Americans rejected Wallace’s attempt to import his hate to other states – Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin – and white women – said no – but not now, but not now.
No, this time was different. They laughed at him while gifting him as much press time he needed to import his hate. As if making a point, they remained silent, saying they were undecided. Ginger-flexing (if ginger-flexing is a word), self-reflecting, assuring the rest of us he didn’t mean a word he said, while casting their ballots in the privacy of their homes, in voting booths throughout the land. Not like Goldwater. Not like Wallace. Not like the rest of nation who rejected the hate – then. Not this time. A stark reminder we do have something to lose, while they closed their doors in the rest of our faces, to finish their hearty laughter.