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Ego: The Game of Life by F. Schirrmacher

Ego: The Game of Life

by F. Schirrmacher

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It’s a John Nash World out there

Ego: The Game of Life in inflammatory. Extraordinarily so. On nearly every other page there is an inflammatory statement to challenge the reader. It is relentless and effective. Right in the preface, Schirrmacher says in the game of life, you have to accept the idea that “the universe has singled you out to be its personal enemy.” It is not possible for me to put down a book that begins this way. And it does not disappoint.

At its core is Schirrmacher’s premise that rational choice theory and game theory are now running society. And that they were developed by a certified paranoid schizophrenic – John Nash. Nash could not countenance people acting selflessly. Fraternity and solidarity made no sense to Nash, who dismissed them as factors. It was all about self interest, and nothing else mattered. Nash is aided and abetted by economists who invented homo economicus, the evil twin of every human, who only acts selfishly to maximize returns. Plugged into faulty, incomplete models, the results have been unparalleled disasters, producing “impossible” failures and repeated once in a million year setbacks.

We are now players in John Nash’s game, the game of life. Google, Yahoo, Amazon and Facebook all build assumptions about us. They take us in new directions whether we want to go or not. Google Adwords uses an algorithm reputed to be the most advanced in the world, more sophisticated than any military app, which also models everyone and every action on Nash’s paranoia. Every internet search is an ad auction that adds to the knowledgebase. They are same as the algorithms used by hedge funds and real time traders, pumping millions of trades around the clock. Finance and the internet are merging to dominate everything.

This reductive analysis is as good as any out there, and better than most. But the primary impact from the book is in the challenging statements that pop up continually. Some are Schirrmacher’s and some are from other people, but they all have the same disturbing quality:

-The Cold War simply moved to Wall Street.
-After the end of the Cold War, a new cold war is opening up in the heart of societies.
-Economists invented homo economicus and convinced the world that it was natural law.
-Wall Street has reinvented the alchemist, turning worthless paper into real money at will.
-Derivatives went from zero in the 1970s to $1.2 quadrillion: 20 times more than the GNP of the world.
-In the 50s, stocks were held an average of four years. In 2010 it was two months. In 2014 it was 22 seconds.
-The most imperialistic economic theory was obviously Marxism.
-Everywhere today it is a binary question of exclusion or inclusion. You are with us or against us, you are worthy or not, you are in or you’re out.
-Individuals are being fashioned by the machinery of an unrestrained information market.
-What if the system didn’t reflect our “preferences”, but actively shaped them?
-The Philosopher’s Stone was not a stone but a fluid: pure liquidity
-Information is not the precursor of knowledge, but the tool of salesmen.
-Twenty years’ experience is really one year of experience repeated twenty times.
-Computers, from stock exchange terminals to PCs are merely tools that imitate the capabilities of the autistic.

He lays the blame for the financial crisis squarely on the shoulders of John Nash and those who leverage him. The perverse result is the twisted, unequal society we have today. Schirrmacher died in 2014 at the age of 54. It’s unfortunate he is not around to collect the reactions to The Game of Life, and tell us how right he was.

David Wineberg ( )
  DavidWineberg | Jul 27, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0745686877, Paperback)

Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, a new Cold War is being waged in our societies. During the Cold War a theoretical model of man was developed by economists and the military, an egotistical being interested only in his own benefit and in duping his opponents to achieve his ends: a modern homo oeconomicus. After his career in the Cold War ended, he was not scrapped but adapted to the needs of the twenty-first century. He became the ringmaster of a new era of information capitalism. He sought to read, control and influence thoughts; to predict, price and eliminate risks. Today stock-market trading is guided by him. He uses computer algorithms and Big Data to build up detailed pictures of our preferences and then suggest and sell goods to us. The model has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We are no longer the masters of our own fate. The Game of Life runs without us.

Schirrmacher traces the progress of this extreme rationalization of social life from the Cold War games of the 1950s Rand Corporation to the stock-market trading techniques that brought about the financial crash of 2008, showing how these developments were interwoven with the rise of game theory, rational choice theory and neoliberal economics. The state and politics increasingly submitted themselves to the logic of computerized game theory and an economistic view of the world, evading real decision-making in the process. In this brave new world individuals, alone in front of their computers, may think they are constructing a reality of their own choosing, but in fact they are being manipulated all along by others who are setting the rules of the game.

This international bestseller by one of Germany�s most distinguished journalists is a powerful indictment of a way of thinking that has become pervasive and threatens to undermine not only parliaments and constitutions but also the sovereignty of the individual to be the person he or she wants to be.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 27 Jul 2015 15:32:37 -0400)

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