The Winner Takes it All

While watching the protests in Wisconsin and Qaddafi’s response to his people’s rebellion, I think of two things:  Clausewitz, and thus, Abba.

I confess a grudging admiration for the Governor of Wisconsin.  He’s been clear, self-defined, aggressive.   What if Obama had shown the same resolve?  Walker may be wrong about how to stimulate an economy, and short-sighted not to communicate with his opponents.  And I personally agree there some good reasons to question the reasons public employees are unionized, but let’s be clear – this is no shared sacrifice:  the powerful aren’t sacrificing at all.

It looks to me like this is a conflict where the governor, or the dictator, believes that the winner takes it all.   It’s like a scorched earth campaign, where the victors seek to decimate the enemy to the point they can never return.

But it never works.  It simply postpones the conflict.  Walker may (and I think he will) win this one.  But he is also stoking the anger of the middle class.  And it will get worse because I guarantee that his “pro-business” policies won’t work well – not in the short term future.

I suspect as the stakes get higher, both will seek to dig in their heels.    Economists call this “loss aversion.”   The combination of needing to win, and fearing the consequences of loss fuels the conflict.

When Jesus talks about giving a cloak, walking a mile – he’s critiquing our psychological fears of losing.  Instead, he offers us the possibility of being generous freely.  He’s not encouraging that we become ascetics; nor is he critiquing modern capitalism (although he might be critiquing the psychological character of capitalists).   He’s asking us – what do we really lose?

Jesus pauses the conflict that irrationally overwhelms us.   We want total victory; and for that reason we’re afraid of losing.  Absolute victory, however, need not be for us, but for God; and what we lose may be our greatest gain.

That said, Walker, Qaddafi and other leaders – by stating falsely that they have no choice – devastate their economies.  Their credibility is now judged solely, now, if they win or lose this battle, rather on improving the lives of their citizens.

And, alas, it also means leaving tattered lives in the wake of the battle.  In a sense, everyone loses if they insist on carrying their demands to the final battle.  Yes, the winner takes it all.  But what will they have?