Through the dark and not so dark millennia of human history, we have
organized ourselves into adversarial cliques, communities, and
nations. World events were like deadly pong balls hurdling towards
us, and these groups were the paddles who's goal it was to knock the
ball into someone else's court. Add military might as the means of
wealth distribution to an inefficient system which eats surplus
wealth to sustain itself, and competition became the fabric of
everyday life. The technology necessary for global cooperation did not exist.
Competition was thus established as the default way of interacting
with the world. In its genteel form competition meant games where
nobody got killed. Gladiators turned to soccer turned to table
tennis. By 1972 computers became advanced enough to simulate
competitive games, and Pong was born.
Pong is a vestigial trace of our competitive nature. If we don't want
the pong ball to go off the table, we can program the computer to
control the paddles better than any human can. Our desire to play
competitive pong versus other humans through obsolete hand operation
is nothing but a vain show of relative one-upmanship. There is no
point to competitive gaming in the computer age.
The technology pill
Technology could save us if we'd let it. There is enough material
wealth for everyone on the planet to have a sturdy home and a steady
food supply, if we stop competing and use our global communication
and computation capabilities to level the playing field.
In the brave new version of Pong, there is no need to try to hit the
ball into someone else's court. Relax. Move the ball wherever you
want and the computer will make sure it doesn't fall off the table.
What is good about competition?
Competitive systems such as evolution and capitalism are terrific at
creating unpredictable change very quickly. It's the trial-by-error
system. If you're looking for a wide variety of output, competitive
systems are the best. Not only will the product of such systems tend
to improve over time, they'll fill just about any niche available to them.
Competition can be a great inspiration to develop skills related to
the goal, which is great if inspiration is needed and the skills are
useful ones. In a system like pong however, you just wind up getting
better at playing pong.
A competitive system also is great for ensuring that people who are
ahead in the game get exactly what they want when they want it, like
the hawk who uses highly evolved vision to catch it's prey, or like
first-worlders who use their superior buying power to get iPods.
Why is competition an outdated ideal?
Although competitive systems produce such good things as human beings
and diet cola, we also wind up with such things as wooly mammoths and
It's a horribly inefficient way of producing things people truly
need. Most energy in a competitive system is spent not in producing a
product, but in staying competitive.
In evolution this manifests in a less than desirable cycle of
predator-prey adaptation escalation, where more energies are spent
surviving than enjoying life.
In capitalism it results the same sort of relationship, except
between those with capital value and those without. People who don't
have capital value are trapped working for those who do, and their
energies are directed towards keeping their team competitive.
A waste of resources.
In our competitive system, most of our energies are redundant and
wasteful. Redundancy is the result of the wasted overhead when
multiple people are working on the same problem in different "teams".
Team Coke and Team Pepsi are both working on the cola problem, but
each spends huge amounts of resources battling the other.
Even within a supposedly cooperative society, most businesses exist
in order to support other businesses. How much would the production
of our essential goods decrease if we laid off our accountants, and
all the people who supply computers to them, and all the people who
print brochures for the computer salesman, and the people who produce
the ink for those brochures, and the people who make packaged food
for the truckers who drive those materials around.
Think of the construction workers who build our office towers, and
the companies that supply raw materials, and the miners who dig them
out of the earth, and the manufactures of processed food, since
everyone involved is too busy to feed themselves. This is all within
the same nation-system, where we supposedly share a common goal!
In pong, the fact that your opponent keeps hitting the ball at you
means you must spend your resources defending your goal instead of
using your time for more noble endeavors.
So while we're at it, let's get rid of the patent office and all
advertising everywhere. How much effort goes into staying ahead of
the game! Most of our jobs are not directly responsible for producing
the things we need as a society, so imagine how much manpower could
be freed to work on other things.
A Brave New Pong
Evolution and capitalism have brought us to the point where it's
possible to propel ourselves out our current state of affairs. We're
intelligent enough now that we don't need the randomness of a
competitive system. We can program randomness.
Things that used to be competitive games should now be cooperative
games, or even non-games.
The world is no longer made up of unpredictable systems separated by
incommunicable distances. By using computer models to produce what we
want and distribute it fairly, the age old game of producing for
production's sake can come to an end. Humans have tried organizing
themselves in more equitable arrangements in the past, but these
systems were ultimately run by other humans. In the new world we will
be able to relax and let technology do the job. The pong ball will
never fall off the table again!