So much poker to watch and play for weeks on end! Lots of news on the cheaters of late, as well. The basic follow-up is, those who actually can do something are promising to start to do so. As the wise Dr. Samuels suggested in our interview, certain industry orgs promise to indeed enforce blacklists.
It’s a big development, potentially, and not to be dismissed, even if the idea didn’t exactly reach the powers that be here at Las Vegas’ World Series of Poker.
What the poker pool usually does these days with bad actors such as cheaters is castigate, scapegoat, and rehabilitate. It happens without direct discussion or planning – it’s a cultural mechanism. We take a bunch of shots at each other, mostly on social media, duke it out for a bit, take a breath, then get ready to laugh it off soon enough. Very traditional, really, and appropriate to the landscape: send the baddie out on a goat into the desert, let’em fester, then bring them back. You know it, I know it: all you have to do is look for an innocent face in the big game – do you remember one? Do you even know which ones already got caught and have already returned their goat?
And why shouldn’t we forgive them, after all? Who are we to be so absolute?
(We almost need the WSOP just to flip our way into some fresh, untarnished heroes – maybe they know that.)
So tough questions exist, maybe, but now we get to dodge them, and leave them to the hosts: businesses with incentives to please customers are taking actions that the community cannot.
It’s interesting when a pool of people cannot do something directly about an obvious problem.
What is going on? Is our problem in fact not a problem? Do we even know what the problem is?
There are some parallels to the mass shooting question.
The U.S. can’t or won’t fix the mass shootings at this time because, first, the problem is devastating but still effectively rare. This ends up meaning that the resources required to eliminate the issue at scale, similar to further eliminating car crash deaths or drug overdoses, seem to exceed the cost society is willing to pay for the benefit. Local solutions rule for now; that could well change if the shootings do not plateau or fall. Related, fixing the problem also seems to create numerous new moral hazards. In other words, we can’t or won’t confiscate and lock up our way to safety, which is all the most passionate solutions offered by all sorts of viewpoints really amount to.
Second, the lack of correct information, just as in the even more passionate abortion question, poisons the well of discussion. While gun controllers identify weapons such as the AR-15 as the culprits and make an effort to ban “modern” guns, thinking that they are more destructive, the fact is that semi-automatic rifles such as the M-1 Carbine made since the thirties are essentially the same weapon and produce the same results. In fact, the M-1 is now coming back into vogue for a variety of obvious reasons and thus likely to skirt whatever latest dysfunctional law is created by the centrists to keep suburban parents and metropajamaparty types satisfied until the next outrage. So, silliness fills the debate and replaces solutions, creating more danger in its voter placebo approach to real issues.
It goes deeper, however, as there are even more serious impediments to quick solutions. The second amendment is often criticized by those who would, essentially, not be citizens but subjects. Whether there is a militia or not, the whole point of the Bill of Rights is to separate the subject of the crown from the free, new man, who really does have the liberty to pursue more liberty. Whether it is from half-educated Amerikarens, “our democracy” chicken littles, or contemptuous Europeans and Europhiles, their voluminous, facile criticisms and answers for the shooting problem are almost always misinformed about U.S. history and civics. Ignorant of why things happen the way they do, most offer nothing helpful, and instead of persuading the persuadable, make any real discussion impossible.
So then, what causes mass shootings in the U.S., and are there any lessons for poker players? The most striking things about today’s mass shootings are 1) the numbers have gone up in frequency and rate, and 2) the targets no longer bear any direct connection to the shooter, and 3) the increasingly uniform wish to be caught or to suicide following the act.
In other words, we have a whole bunch of aspirant murderers taking up a kind of bloody ritual performance rather than a bloody vengeance, but who simultaneously and instinctively want moral justice for their outrageous decision. Notice that they take out their frustration on mostly defenseless targets: an audience, sometimes a literal audience, not the opposing actors of their personal lives. Strange. They are deliberately not solving a problem except through their death or death via the law. Thus, the shooter today is many times more immoral, pathetic, and dangerous than the shooter of the past, who mostly settled scores with broken social ties. Instead of minimally understandable, passionate vengeance, today’s mass shooter wants to keep other people from their own paths and scores: very interesting, very hall of mirrors. Very unwell.
However, there is hope in seeing this clearly, as we see the imaginary impotence, the very fixability of the future criminal at the heart of the matter. What must be in the rage of feeling trapped, of a kind of jealousy of perceivably happier people inevitably backing one into a terrible scenario ending in, yes, a justice no one else really wants.
This terrible cycle is called despair. It is not mental illness in any meaningful sense, only a pop cultural or a pharmaceutical one, as the shooter may be confused in almost every way but clearly understands his horrible crime and, almost oddly, does not shirk the consequences and does not attempt, like many other criminals, to now live a new life or otherwise escape. The kernel of the crime pattern requires a certain fraught rationality and guilt: surely this kind of pathology is a kind that can be treated.
Unfortunately, he may be out of his mind for a further reason and all the more unreachable, however: despair is often exacerbated by drugs. It doesn’t need to be, as despair is bad enough, but it’s worth thinking about. I have a hard time imagining drugs are not involved in many of these cases – look at the Ritalin eyes of the worst of them – if only to work oneself up to their psychopathic climax. One and the other go together, as any serious person knows, because all humans self-medicate and soothe in some way. We may even be creating some of these monsters through our passion for pharmaceutical answers.
Of course, this last point is sticky because most people are happy enough and drugs amplify that state instead; people literally get silly when they get high and we celebrate this in culture in all sorts of humorous ways. That’s one thing, but what if they don’t have the imagination to see what happens to the despairing minority once on certain stimulants?
For the person undergoing manic depression or despair, the drugs occasionally amplify that horrible problem. You might remember a “bad-trip” – now imagine a deranged, potentially armed villain going through amplified psychosis. Drug-rights advocates do not like this reality even being discussed and would rather you not hear it, but it can be plainly stated outside of mindless social media. Of course, I’m not for taking away rights, including drug rights, my point is simply that we should not sweep the truth of drug abuse by the deranged under the rug like so many selfish hipsters, pharmaceutical lobbyists, and entrepreneurs whose incentive is to charlatanize their dangerous if exciting product into a healthful one.
Now, given that we can likely never obviate the second amendment without revolution nor should we carelessly obviate such remarkable and experimental rights overall, we are forced, if we are acting in good faith, to confront the character of the country and the people who would do this as the only way forward. So, there you go, get after it.
But what does this say for poker? I’m afraid the parallels are clear but unequal, and so the answers are different. We could clean up the character of the actors but unlike the country, there is no founding document or myth or bill of rights to look back on and build on, only the prisoner’s dilemma of our behavior. The myths of poker in fact confirm cheating as borderline mandatory, almost all hidden advances are is some sense, cheats. This state of affairs is the opposite of the mass shooting problem and answer, where behavior in society has mythological and documented incentives to be good, to be better, built right in.
For this reason, we will likely solve the horrendous sacrifice of our children to broken men and teens far sooner than we ever will rid our game of cheaters. And that is probably how it should be. Hope where we need hope, and doubt where we need doubt.
Of course, all this came up because of the fake shooting on the strip the other day, where panic was all too easily created. Now this is Las Vegas, and is full of crime, poverty, and grey zones. Most of you hide from all that, and say, haven’t seen the AIDS patients, thin like holocaust survivors, picking up their donations at the warehouse, or the lines at Catholic Charities, where endless poor seek any work or aid at all. Games players are more worried about which sushi place in the desert is most natural. These are not people I expect to handle a crisis, but I think they have to do a bit better.
I myself witnessed a drive by shooting between drug dealers a few months ago and happened to look one in the eye while he sped off. In a moment of natural communication, I acknowledged them and their deal, then averted my eyes so they would know I wasn’t going to pull out a gun or start screaming or whatever, and they took off. Another day at the office.
Being afraid of these people, in other words, is not the way. A mass of people could easily turn the tables on a single shooter and would likely save far more lives than, well, barricading yourself behind a poker table. Nor should even a single person necessarily panic.
Sometimes the way you avoid being a victim is not being a victim. Old fashioned, I know, but some things simply never actually changed, and that is the real news that some people have needed for a long time: you are not a subject, and you never were.
It is interesting that the objection to this rather mundane and unoriginal point is often so strong, but such is the decrepitude of our citizenry, who, completing a nice circle, increasing call for themselves to be subjects again. “No one should have to go through this” claim our most confused but best-meaning people regarding the vicissitudes of life, because they believe in rights that cannot exist, in fact a very specific right to not deal with the world under a phantom crown that solves their problems. Now the old crown is long gone and merely a metaphor, of course, but the new one is the system and the systems they call for. Those who seek systems to solve everything betray themselves at every turn, because the point of a system is to remove responsibility and place the burden of living on the institution, even though no one or thing can ever actually live for you without yielding up a piece of both your conscience as well as your own power. There is no should, alas.
That’s the easy part, but let’s go one tick deeper. These attitudes that praise subjectitude, that place an emphasis on others removing your responsibility, tie society and its discontents to the new wave of mass shooters. Both have a profound wish to escape some specific fate that cannot be evaded, to seek rights that cannot be in the name of avoiding the struggle. To evade despair through a ghastly performance upon the lives of others. To wish for conditions of ease where you never have to stare down the enemy. Rights that are created out of the air and yet written on no heart. Of course, these attitudes are obviously not equivalent, but they are obviously also not unrelated and in fact linked in a kind of character parade. The images of people overturning chairs and tables to escape a prank, to trample and wound others who also flee in fright, seem to arise in my mind at this moment.
And so the new attitudes and their inevitable associated behaviors and crimes become explainable, and maybe even fixable. The mystery evaporates and the sore is briefly exposed, at least before we cover it up, once again, ready to pretend we can’t see the answers because no one should have to deal with this.
Yet who would say such a thing out loud? I can’t even begin to start to imagine to think to know about it.
Enjoy the close of the series. Amazing performances. The Wednesday game will pick up again with the tournament excitement winding down; see you around.
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