When to not Play the Game

Yesterday, I talked about seeing life as full of overlapping and complex games.  Doing what is socially acceptable in certain contexts is part of the game.  Playing it is fine, so long as it’s not confused with real life.  Getting bitter at is is not usually productive.  But when is opting out a good idea?  The short answer is, only you can decide for yourself.

Russ Roberts and Bryan Caplan have been discussing being “weird”, the pressure to conform, and the costs and benefits of non-conformity.  At Cafe Hayek, Roberts is more optimistic about the rewards gained by breaking free from status quo games.  At EconLog, Caplan seems to think it rarely pays off.  Both offer valuable considerations.  It is very costly to opt out of social games and prevailing narratives.  But the biggest rewards often come to those who don’t just play games and win, but who “change the game”, to use some business buzz-wordage.

Peter Thiel discusses the common traits of weirdos and great individuals in this fascinating lecture.  Thiel seems to think innovators share traits from both tails of the distribution curve of “normal” people.  He channels the ideas of philosopher René Girard, particularly his idea of Scapegoats.  Girard claims that societies tend to focus all of their violence or conflict (born of envy) on a few individuals, and destroy them as a form of sacrifice while alternately worshiping them.  This deification and sacrifice is seen in religious beliefs and rituals throughout history, as well as the treatment of celebrities by major media.

It seems realizing that a dominate game is immoral or inefficient and refusing to play has the potential to make you a criminal outcast or an innovative hero, possibly both.  There may be ways of opting out of social games in quiet fashion without incurring too much cost, but is there any way to change games, create new games, and achieve greatness while avoiding the wrath of the mob?  I’d like to think so, but I’m not sure.