Sunday, March 16, 2014

Mr. Cogito Goes to Ukraine

Zbigniew Herbert
The Polish Poet Zbigniew Herbert created a character named Mr. Cogito ostensibly based on the Descartian cogito ergo sum. Considering the current stalemate in the Crimea (hopefully it will remain a stalemate and not up itself into something more) can we imagine Mr. Cogito, a cosmopolitan Everyman and citizen of everywhere who has developed a kind of post ideological Weltaunshaung that is half world weary malaise and half enlightened materialism facing a similar situation in microcosm. Mr. Cogito is driving along in his non-gas guzzling hybrid looking for the turn that’s indicated on his GPS. He hesitates and in back of him a horn starts to honk, followed by a slew of what sounds like invective, in some kind of Cyrillic tongue that sounds like it might be Russian. Naturally the car in back is the kind of Lincoln Continental Town Car that isn’t even made anymore (the kind that is apparently favored by the elite employed by former Soviet bloc clients like North Korea)—and a gas guzzler to boot. In a moment of fury, enraged by the noise pollution, Mr. Cogito yells back something like “shut the fuck up, if you don’t like it you can lump it." Mr. Cogito even commits the cardinal sin of getting out and making threatening gestures. Now the driver of the Lincoln, whose English is barely understandable gets out. What is going to happen next? Does Mr. Cogito avoid violence by getting back in his car and finding another route to where he is going or does he stand up to a bully? Either way he loses. If he throws a punch he ends up in the local station house. If he receives one, he’s in the hospital. The only way out seems to be to avoid  conflict entirely. Is this what Tyler Cowen was talking about in the Sunday Business section of the Times (“Crimea, Through a Game-Theory Lens," 3/15/14), when he wrote, “While the military and political frictions made the biggest headlines, the Cold War couldn’t be well understood without using economic theory—specifically game theory which analyzes the strategic logic of threats, credibility and conflict.” Cowen went on to show how the current conflict could be viewed in terms several notions of game theory described by Nobel laureate Thomas C. Schelling and others: “nuclear deterrence,” “tipping points,” “market deterrence” and “credibility and consequences.” But let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Let’s say you’re Mr. Cogito, peacefully driving along in your Prius, game theory or no game theory, are you going to allow yourself to get pushed around?

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