Let’s sit down and play a game. I’m sure some of you are familiar with it, but for those who are not, the game may need a little description. First, the game is entitled “I win.” No, no, come back, it is a fun game, I promise! Here’s the rules: I win. No matter what you do, I win. If you follow the rules, I win. If you don’t follow the rules, then you have forfeited, and I win. Pretty simple, right?
We can play this game just about anywhere. We can make it a family event around the dinner table in the evening, or we can even play it in the car, or even—if needed—over the phone or in an online chat room. Just remember: I win.
So, then, how do we proceed? We might, for example, pick a topic to talk about. We could discuss for a bit which topic we’ll debate, but ultimately the topic is what I say it is. You protest? Then you must be forgetting the first rule: I win. In this case, I win in picking the topic. We then proceed to debate. The debate lasts exactly long as I say it does, at which point, we move onto a different, perhaps completely unrelated, topic. What if, you ask, you’re not through making your point? Well, once again I have to point you back at the first rule. Furthermore, to make the game more interesting and challenging—you do like a challenge, right?–I might also add in further rules. For example, I might be able to make racial slurs, but you cannot. I might be able to call you a hypocrite without any proof, though if I do offer proof, you are not permitted to challenge it. Conversely, you cannot call me a hypocrite without proof, and I must approve of any evidence admitted. We’ll keep track of points to make this more competitive, but there’s one final thing you should know. I have a stack of trump cards. I can play them any time, and when I use one I automatically win the debate. No, of course you don’t get your own stack of cards. First rule, remember? Anyway, these cards come labeled with words like “unpatriotic”, “racist”, “socialist”, “nationalist”, and so on. I’ll choose which one is appropriate for the situation.
You don’t want to debate? Well, that’s too bad. Perhaps you want something a little more physical, like a boxing match or a duel. We’ll even have a referee to make sure everything is fair. Here’s how it works. I can either choose the big stick or the little stick. You get the other. Why can’t you choose? Sheesh. How many times do I have to refer you back to the first rule? Now, suppose I choose the big stick. I can hit you with the big stick as hard as I want, but you can only tap me with the little stick. Oh, and if you do tap me with the little stick, the referee will come in and take away your little stick. Now suppose I choose the little stick. Here we have a different set of rules. First, in order to hit me, I must have hit you dozens of times first. But then, if you try to hit me, the referee will interfere and take away your stick. In either case, whoever scores the most points wins.
Now you don’t want to duel? You’re a real killjoy. But here, we can do something more benign. We’ll set up lemonade stands and compete to see who sells more lemonade. Again, we’ll have a referee to ensure everything is fair. Here’s how it works. If you start to sell more lemonade than me, then I can flag down the referee and have him buy my lemonade until I’ve sold more than you have. If I have to do this more than once, then I can have the referee take customers from you and direct them to my lemonade stand. On the other hand, if I ever sell more lemonade than you, I can buy your lemonade stand, fire you, and operate it myself. You then have to make a new lemonade stand and compete against both of mine. If you sell your lemonade more cheaply than my lemonade, I can flag the referee and he will levee a tax on you to ensure that your lemonade becomes more expensive than mine. If you sell your lemonade at a higher price than mine, but you still are attracting more customers, then I can flag the referee and he’ll set a maximum price that you can charge for lemonade. Whoever earns more money in the end wins.
Of course, we’ll have to do things like buy ingredients and mix our own lemonade. If we start doing really well, we can ask friends to help us, even. However, there are a few caveats. At any point in time, I can flag the referee and prohibit you from buying ingredients from particular places. Also, if you hire far too much talent to aid you, I can flag the referee and he’ll force you to take on less skilled workers and pay them more. I, on the other hand, can take on any workers I like and pay them next to nothing if I so choose. No, you can’t flag the referee. First rule, first rule, first rule!
Wow, you don’t even like the lemonade stand? Does nothing appeal to you? Well, surely you’ll like this one. We’ll set up a boys’ basketball team and have them play against each other. We work with a fixed budget—to make it fair, of course—and we can use that budget to hire coaches, buy equipment, and so on. Of course, we won’t give any money directly to the boys. Whenever a team wins, that team gets a monetary award, which can go into equipment, practice courts, better coaches, and even a prize for the boys themselves. If a team loses, though, it receives no prize money. Furthermore, if it loses several times in a row, that team is fined. Any more losses, and the coaches are automatically fired, and the team may be disbanded. Now, to make this a competition, I’ll also restrict our pool of boys to specific regions. I’ll take the region that has all the talent (and I might even redraw the boundaries to ensure such a region exists), and leave you with the people with no talent. Oh, and by the way, my boys will be permitted to make cheap fouls with impunity, while the referees are obligated to call fouls on your boys that they didn’t commit. Also, if you happen to win a game, I can appeal to the referees and have some of your budget redistributed to me, because obviously you have an unfair advantage. What? Yes, you’re finally getting it! The first rule at play again.
Oh, so after all these options, you still don’t want to play? Fine. That’s no problem for me, you see, because by the very fact that you chose not to play, I win.
Ah, it feels so good to be me…