SPIRITUALITY 103

GAMES THAT PREVENT YOU FROM GETTING WHAT YOU WANT

REVIEW FROM ARTICLE 101: There is such a thing as objective reality, but from the day you're born, damn near everyone in your life plays mind games to get you to believe what they want you to believe independent of the truth. Spirituality is a discipline for untangling the false belief systems and discerning the underlying truth.
REVIEW FROM ARTICLE 102: Instruments of social control condition you to respond to certain cues, or "buttons." The anthem plays and you stand up and a tear comes to your eye and a lump to your throat. The lights dim in the theatre and the crowd hushes. The preacher uses a certain cadence and everybody shuts up and pays attention. More complicated buttons, rituals, signal important events and changes of condition. A wedding is a ritual that connects two people in a legal sense. An innauguration is a ritual that impresses on the country that the old guy is not the president, but this new guy is. People use this against you. They give trivial events a false sense of importance by surrounding them with mock ritual.

MASKING A CHEAPER SUBSTITUTE WITH A COMPLICATED GAME

EXAMPLE ONE: THE ALL YOU CAN EAT BUFFET

A customer walks into a restaurant and trades cash for food. Sounds simple enough, but it doesn't take much to change this transaction into a game. The restaurant owner wants to minimize his expenses by providing the customer with the least value for the most money. He wants his staff to spend the least time serving the most customers. The customer wants the most food and the best food for the least investment of time and money.

The all you can eat buffet turns lunch into a contest that the customer thinks he can win. The customer is going to hurt himself trying to maximize the return on his investment. He's only got an hour for lunch including drive time to and from work, so he's going to eat fast and he's going to eat the fried meat because he figures that's more expensive than the vats of canned vegetables.

When the restaurant owner designs the defenses against the upcoming assault, he's thinking about volume before quality. That ten pounds of catfish is only going to be piping hot until the first couple of pounds are eaten. Food's going to cool off and dry out, and he knows the customers will eat it anyway once those dried, lukewarm fries are mixed with hot ones from the kitchen; and the unwitting customers will put stale on their plates right along with the fresh. That way, less bad food goes uneaten, and score one for the buffet.

Dining considerations such as food quality, presentation and relaxed, quiet atmosphere conducive to digestion and conversation are all set aside. We're no longer having a meal. We're playing a game, and the people who show up are determined not to lose.

The winners get a tummy ache. Victory is to your physical detriment. Defeat is to your psychological detriment. You were beat when you walked in the door.

Somebody put a game between you and lunch. Instead of selling you lunch, they sold you a game. It's no longer a commercial transaction between partners who are trying to satisfy one another. It's a game which, if played well, cheats both players.

EXAMPLE TWO: DOUBLE COUPONS

If a manufacturer can give you a dollar off a box of sugar coated cereal with a coupon, he can just as easily take that dollar off the purchase price and save the expense of printing coupons in the paper.

They wouldn't do it if it didn't result in profits, so somebody must be going for it.

My Dad's coupons are better organized than Operation Overlord. He's got the times mapped out for which stores offer double coupons, senior citizen discounts and store specials. He's eighty-one and his proudest achievement is a cupboard full of sugar-coated shelf-stable puffed grain. A cabinet of cardboard trophies. "This box cost me three cents!"

He wouldn't buy that stuff with his own money, but now he has to eat it to justify playing the game. Instead of selling him breakfast, they sold him a carnival game and created the impression that it can be beat. And if the occasional coupon maniac comes along and gets a box for three cents, I guess you'd have to say that he did beat the game. Surely Battle Creek can't make make and ship a box of SugarTron for three cents. So my Dad eats a breakfast he wouldn't otherwise eat and the cereal guys lose thirty-five cents.

There's a fast food chain headquartered in Memphis called Back Yard Burgers. They discontinued their coupon projects a couple of years ago explaining that coupon clippers are not the kind of customers they want. A customer that walks into your store with a coupon this week will stop walking in when you stop offering coupons. He's not shopping for burgers, he's shopping for coupons. He really doesn't care what he's eating. It's not about the food any more. it's about the coupon. It's about the plastic toy in the kiddie box.

EXAMPLE THREE: SCALING THE HOUSE

When I was in grad school I managed the box office for the theatre arts department. Ticket sales accounted for very little of the department's annual budget. The only reason they even had a box office was to give management students something to practice managing. I managed to learn a few things there like how to look at a crowd and guess how many people are there. How to count tickets by flipping them past my ear. Then there was other stuff going on that I really didn't understand until years later. Games, of course.

Our top ticket price was about five dollars for orchestra, four for less desirable seats. There were senior rates, group rates, child rates student rates and various combinations. Depending on the phase of the moon you might pay any one of seven or eight prices for your ticket.

It might have been that I was young and poor and the difference of a buck for a show seemed more significant to a kid operating the college equivalent of a lemonade stand. Years later it struck me what a useless timekiller this had been. Any SOB so cheap that a dollar discount would motivate him to see a show is not the kind of guy that would go to a live theatre production under any circumstances. No more than an opera fan would go to a tractor pull in hopes of snagging a cool gimme hat.

It was a game that had very little to do with selling tickets. There were all kinds of checklists to mark how many were sold at this price and how many at that price. The embarassing part is that when I took over I found the procedures in place to be silly and convoluted. By the time I graduated I had made the procedures twice as, well, let's say "thorough." The reality of putting butts in seats was replaced a game of mouse trap that kept me chasing my tail much of the day.

Like the other examples, a game had been created which relegated the underlying reality to a minor consideration. Selling tickets was just a great excuse to fill out forms and do something other than pay attention to my life.

Look for examples in your own so-called real life. What is the essential purpose of a beauty contest? What's the game that masks that reality? Why have they started calling them "scholarship pageants?"

What's the essential purpose of a primary election? If it's for the party and not the electorate, why is it funded by the electorate? Why does it take two years of game playing to pick a president? All of the candidates have been in politics for decades, why do they need two years to explain their positions on the issues?

What's the essential purpose of a 401k? When you shift your allocations from say "growth" to "mid-cap" or "income" or "bond fund" or "money market," do you know what stocks are in each fund? For all you know, the stocks in the "mid-cap" fund are the same as those in the "growth" fund. You might be exercising as much control over your own destiny as a kid in a Chevy Suburban spinning his plastic steering wheel. But then how would you know? When shareholder meeting time comes around, who votes your shares? The fund manager? Think of all the money employees in your company have in managed portfolios and think of the guy who gets to vote all those shares. Then think about all the consideration he might get for safely casting your vote for you. If you're managing enough money, your buy or sell decisions can affect the stock price.

They didn't mention when they sold you that fund that all your votes would be cast by the fund manager. Ever wonder why there's always such overwhelming approval of executive compensation packages? Sounds like a little different game now, doesn't it?

Does your boss motivate the sales force with sales contests? Why does he motivate you by giving you a game to play instead of increasing your commission? Why insert this game into your job?

Why is our tax system so complicated? Does it have to be? Is it a game? In a word, "Fizzbin?"

How many jobs involve one hour of work followed by two hours of paperwork proving you did an hour of work? And just so you don't have too much sympathy for the little guy, how many employees make a game out of avoiding work? Do they discover the spot on the loading dock that the boss can't see from his window? Isn't it an incredible coincidence that the number of days they get sick is the exact number of sick days they have?

...to be continued.

RTJ--05/15/2003


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