Are we headed toward win-win?

By: Arthur Wenk , Jul 28, 2012

How is technology affecting our human interaction?

The growth of technology contributes to the increase in non-zero-sum interactions.

The most commonly played games are described in terms of game-theory as "zero-sum."  In other words, the game offers a finite reward and to the extent that one player benefits, the other player or players suffer. The reward may be regarded as a pie: if one person receives a bigger slice, all the others receive smaller. 

In the past, human interaction has often been viewed as a zero-sum game. If you get the choicest pieces of a slain beast, I do not.  If my tribe gains control of a watering hole, we gain and everyone else loses.  Territorial wars on a global scale follow the same format: i. Yet human interaction does not have to be defined this way.  Division of labor, for example, can produce a non-zero-sum result, whether it be in agriculture or in manufacturing.  Individuals joined in a band can exert greater power than operating alone.

Robert Wright, in his book Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny (New York:  Random House, 2000), studies the growth of "non-zero-ness" in human affairs and observes that "as history progresses, human beings find themselves playing non-zero-sum games with more and more other human beings."

The growth of technology contributes to the increase in non-zero-sum interactions. The invention of printing and the resulting dissemination of ideas greatly expanded the compass of an individual world-view. Improvements in transportation during the industrial revolution made possible commerce on a much broader scale. Today globalization has been accepted as a fact of life in every realm. "Improvement in the transport and processing of matter; improvement in the transport and processing of energy; improvement in the transport and processing of information:  all foster the growth of non-zero-sumness."

The increasing complexity that characterizes human interaction can also be seen as a fundamental principle of biological evolution.  When we look at the chain of life from the single-celled amoeba or paramecium to the simplest plant and animal forms to the primates we observe a constant increase in complexity. 

Wright dares to pose the question of a purpose behind evolution and offers the tentative conclusion that "a strictly empirical analysis of both organic and cultural evolution reveals a world with direction—a direction suggestive of purpose, even (faintly) suggestive of benign purpose."

A simple view of human strife in today's world would portray it as a zero-sum game:  either the rebels win or the dictatorship wins; every vote cast for one party in an election is a vote not received by the opposing party.  Yet a larger perspective, taking in the entire history of human evolution, suggests an increase in non-zero-sumness and a resulting betterment of the human condition.

Arthur Wenk holds a doctorate in musicology and masters degrees in information science, music theory, and psychology.

Art‘s client-centered approach is based on empathic listening, helping clients integrate thoughts, feelings and actions, and assisting them to revise self-stories that have kept them enmeshed in problems: all in the interest of achieving mental, emotional and spiritual wholeness.

Art currently practices at Wilson Counselling Associates in Oakville, Ontario.