Frame metaphors: Games, ecology, and organization

by Suspended Reason

Last night at The Scratcher, Rip Dcb suggests that, even as our running games metaphor pays perpetual lip service to cooperation and positive-sum payouts, it still implies, to most people, an adversarial dynamic at its core. And within human societies, competition is almost always marginal on top of a fat baseline of cooperation: driving on the right side of the street, dressing and speaker in shared ways.

So what are some alternative metaphors?

We could talk about coordination problems, and language as a coordination problem that solves coordination problem. (First coordination: Readers must interpret writing in roughly the way a writer intends it to be interpeted. Second coordination: We use language to decide where to go for dinner; to enter implicit contracts—where and when to meet up; to express our preferences and agendas so as to shape future equilibria.) This still reads as pretty game-theoretic and jargony.

Maybe we can talk about organization: language is an organization problems; humans are constantly self-organizing. They use surrogates and selection games in order to properly organize, and prevent their organizational equilibria being disrupted.

And then there’s ecology as a possible frame metaphor. Ecology doesn’t imply cooperation the way organization” does, but it at least feels more neutral, and comes with a feel-good connotation for the hippy moms out there, myself included.

Whichever metaphor we go with, strategy to me remains essential. To be strategic is completely independent of the ends you’re being strategic towards—selfish or selfless, cooperative or adversarial. Strategic is just not being a dumbass, and thinking things through.”