Zero Sum

1 – 1 = 0, 2 – 2 = 0, 3 – 3 = 0 and so on. That’s exactly what 0 sum is. In poker and some other forms of gambling, there is a “pot” of money, and the more I win, the less there is for the other players, but outside of gambling, “zero-sum” has little utility. “Zero-sum” thinking is a perversion of the “golden rule”, turning “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” into “do unto others BEFORE they do unto you.” Unfortunately, “zero-sum” thinking still permeates and drives the mindset of the envious. While various labels are applied to the envious–liberal, leftist, progressive, radical–at their core, envy is both the limitation and the source of passion of their philosophies. Envy is zero sum thinking! Why? Because envy is both additive–I want what they have–and subtractive–I hate that they have it. Envy isn’t happy until it takes away what others have. The envious believe that life is “zero-sum”. More for you means less for me, there is only so much that can be shared. Is that true, or is the REAL SCARCITY good ideas? Why do some people cling to zero-sum thinking? There are emotional payoffs for a certain kind of person. Emotions which birth Zero-sum thinking include:

  • total scarcity — if you gain (wealth, status), I lose
  • Schadenfreude — your misfortune brings me gladness;
  • envy — your success diminishes me;
  • triumphalism — I’m bigger because you are smaller; and
  • resentment — as long as you have more success than me, I despise you, if necessary in secret.

Why do I say emotions are the cause and the thinking or paradigm the effect? Because emotion tends to spring up spontaneously, triggered by who knows what, THEN human beings create the rationalizations to justify or explain the emotions and feelings. Emotion preceeds thinking!

Wanting more than you have is not necessarily evil. In fact, it may be a source of creative striving, and the midwife of world-changing ideas. In 1958, Jack St. Claire Kilby, from Great Bend Kansas, started work at Texas Instruments (T.I.) as an electrical engineer. Most everyone had left on a mandated summer break, but Mr Kilby stayed in the lab and worked on combining a transistor, a capacitor and three resistors on a single piece of germanium, and on September 12th, 1958, the integrated circuit was born. Despite the ugly wires hanging off of it, it was a start.

In January of 1959, Bob Noyce was keeping busy at Fairchild semiconductor in Palo Alto, California. He deployed a photographic printing technique–the planar process–which uses glass as insulation, to deposit aluminum wires above silicon transistors. Without the messy wires hanging off, this new version of the integrated circuit, the chip, became manufacturable. In March of 1960, T.I. introduced the “Type 502 Flip Flop”–one bit of memory for $450. Fast forward to 2018. Your iPhone probably has a trillion bits of memory. Cost per bit? Too small to mention. Think about zero sum in this context. From a couple of wires and a few cheap components came an invention which changed the world, because someone had an idea and decided to play with it.

Do we live in a world of scarcity? What REALLY limits how human beings live is their own ideas, and the political and economic systems that grow out of those ideas.


Author: iamcurmudgeon

When I began this blog, I was a 70 year old man, with a young mind and a body trying to recover from a stroke, and my purpose for this whole blog thing is to provoke thinking, to ridicule reflex reaction, and provide a legacy to my children.

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