Realpolitik and Why We Can't Have Nice Things

Realpolitik and Why We Can't Have Nice Things

The reason I dislike political power games played with naked Realpolitik instead of established rules of engagement is that I've spent time playing these games and despite winning plenty I found that I didn't like the person I was becoming as I became better at winning them.

And the people who are exceptionally good at playing them unencumbered by their conscience (or blinded by their fervor) are generally not people you would ever want to spend time with or trust in any way.

Trying to solve the problem of handling opponents who insist on Realpolitik when you don't want to play Realpolitik because of the externalities it imposes on everyone is something I've been thinking about since I was 15 and I have no good solutions yet 20 years later.

This is because it's a winning strategy that completely sidesteps nicety in favor of pragmatism.

However, it comes with costs. The costs escalate every conflict significantly because there are no rules and we can't have nice things anymore.

It's defecting in game theory.

This isn't me complaining about Trump again. I think this predates him significantly and things have just escalated to a very stupid place.

It's unclear to me whether there was ever a different way of doing things actually.

Maybe I'm just shouting into the wind.

I sometimes wonder if WWII was this big culture shock unifier that made things feel very different for a while and we're settling back into the normalcy of human affairs.

There is a lot to be gained in terms of living in a pleasant civilization if we draw some up some boundaries, everyone agrees to respect them, they actually do respect them, and you accept outcomes gracefully. America has lost this art (if we ever really had it).

You can technically win a game of football by shooting everyone on the opposing team and then credibly threatening to shoot everyone who doesn't agree that you won the game, but it wouldn't be very fun to watch.

And of course then your opponents will be bringing their own guns to the next game.

Now instead of football you just have a war zone, and your precedent establishes a new normal.

This is what Realpolitik does. It turns every conflict into an anything-goes power struggle.

This is moral and even necessary when you're literally engaged in a life or death struggle with your survival on the line (war is war, after all), but one of the perks of civilization is that we get to avoid that by playing nicely with each other.

Governance competitions should not be played by the same rules as warfare, and if they are, you're a stone's throw from warfare anyway because the only escalation left to you when the dust settles is literal violence.

The point of having governing bodies is so that we don't NEED to have life or death struggles over laws. That's literally their job. Discuss and decide. We agree to play by the rules. This requires everyone to play by the rules for the game to not feel rigged.

Dragging ourselves into Realpolitik forces violent outcomes and then we may as well not even pretend to be a civilized society. Guns make the rules. Might makes right. Words are just noise.

I would prefer not to live that way. What would you prefer?

If you think this sounds fun, let me assure you that you probably do not have the biggest gun in play, nor would it be as fun or exciting as you might be imagining.