Strategy and Morality
You would be hard pressed to find a person who does not enjoy victory. Everybody loves winning. It is the pizza of life experiences.
However, just like we can’t eat pizza all the time, we can’t always win either. Pizza is great, but we need to eat salad sometimes to keep our bowels out of an acidic quagmire. Winning is great, but sometimes you need to take other factors into consideration to keep from becoming a terrible person.
Pursuing a sound, winning strategy is not always the same as doing the right thing. In fact, sometimes strategy and morality are completely opposed to each other.
We see this opposition play out all the time. It spans from the trivial situations of our everyday lives all the way up to very important events that can have far-reaching consequences.
I. Trivial is a word used to describe things that are not important. Little facts and events that don’t matter, but can be written down on cards and recited for an evening of bland entertainment.
Trivial things are good. They teach us important lessons in a context where the stakes are nice and low. The occasional opposition of strategy and morality is one such lesson.
Traffic is a trivial situation. When stuck in its midst, it seems all-important, but navigating traffic is just getting from point A to point B with lots and lots of other people in the way. It is something most of us have to deal with, unless you are a perpetual pedestrian. Or even worse, a cyclist.
Getting through traffic is all about strategy. Especially if you want to get anywhere on time. Why leave a little early when you can just drive fast?
Knowing when to merge, when to speed up or slow down, or when to make turns requires a volume of strategic knowledge that would challenge Caesar and Sun-Tzu. It also requires ruthlessness. Is it worth putting lives in danger to get to a place you probably don’t want to be just a little bit faster? Or is it better to be a little late, but usher the other cars along?
Should a driver win by putting others in danger, or lose by keeping everyone safe. There is no easy answer. Unless there is melting ice cream in the back seat. In that case, all bets are off.
Perhaps a better example of winning vs. doing the right thing comes from an even more trivial situation. Competitive video games are also all about strategy. The most solid strategy ever invented is to find some little corner and wedge yourself in there with the most powerful weapon you can find. Then, the game is nothing more than waiting for another player to walk by so you can shoot them in the back. This is a great way to rack up kills, but no righteous person would be proud of this maneuver. You might win, but everyone else will hate you.
II. Unfortunately, not all events are trivial. Strategy and morality can be opposed in extremely important situations, and then the choice between the two isn’t so easy.
Economics is a complex subject. It’s one of those things everyone sort of knows about, but few people actually understand. In a drastic simplification, economics boils down to two essential questions. Where does our money come from, and what should we do with it?
The strategy of economics is straightforward. An economically strategic person makes as much money as they can, and then uses that money to make investments that will make even more money. It is a neat little feedback loop that, when done correctly, will guide a bank account toward never-ending growth.
The strategic way to use money is to make even more money. The moral thing to do with money is somewhat different. Moral money-spenders, like their strategic counterparts, are also concerned with making investments. But these investments are of a different sort. They give to people who are down on their luck, historic institutions that have lost funding, and any other number of charitable causes.
The key difference between strategic and moral investments is the expected result. Strategic investors want to see gains and returns. Moral investors just want to make another person’s life a little better. This is a great way to be loved in the community. It is also a great way to lose all of your wealth. Giving is a good thing, but without strategy, how do you know when to stop.
Strategy and morality have dramatic effects on individual finances. This opposition has an even greater impact on national and international scales.
As of this writing, a person cannot consume any form of news for ten minutes without coming across the topic of illegal immigration in the United States. For several months now, news stories have been circulating about thousands of unaccompanied children traversing a large portion of the landmass of the Western Hemisphere to come to the United States. No one disputes their courage or hardship. What is disputed is what should be done with them when they arrive.
On one side, the strategic side, are claims that we should turn these kids away. America is full. After all, we are having a hard time taking care of our own people. How can we take on these extra burdens and still come out on top? Strategically speaking, it is a bad move to welcome all these extra people. If we really want to win, we should send them back where they came from. Besides, I hear the way back to Central America is easier.
Then again, how could we do such a thing and still hold our heads high as a moral nation?
If we send the immigrants back those who are suffering will continue to suffer, but the prosperous will continue to prosper. There is no net gain or loss.
On the other hand, if we try to extend prosperity to everyone the whole system could collapse. Nobody wins. Everybody loses. This is a tough choice. We must decide what is more important. Winning, or doing the right thing?
Of course, like all things opposed, there is an opportunity to find balance. Perhaps through strategic morality, or something like that, we can have our victory and feel good about it, too. This is a daunting challenge that people long before and after this moment will struggle to achieve.
How do we solve this conflict? How do we strike a balance between strategy and morality? Well, don’t ask me.