Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Diplomacy - Man's Ruin

The game of Diplomacy can really ruin a person.

Let me explain. In my Criminal Law class (required, so don't blame me), the textbook analogizes Bush's "anticipatory self-defense" doctrine to the phenomenon of "battered- spouse syndrome." The idea is that, in both cases, a potential victim acts before an existential threat is imminent, deploying lethal force to forestall an anticipated threat, not to repel imminent danger. In both cases, the aggressor subverts legal standards but argues that the justification of self-preservation (of the state, in the one case, and of the individual, in the other) purifies the illicit conduct.

I can't help being a little amused by the whole idea of international law. I have two chief problems with it: it has no credible enforcement mechanism, and it entertains a fiction of nations as persons. I'm willing to tolerate a substantial amount of Machiavellian behavior among nations, even while believing that persons ought to obey the laws of their respective nations fairly strictly. There is a philosophical argument for this duality of treatment - international relations constitute a "state of nature" unless and until a unified world government is created. Check out Hobbes for more about that. What I wonder is if my prejudice against taking international law seriously isn't just a product of playing too much Diplomacy.

Diplomacy is a brilliant game. Diplomacy affords full scope for cynical, naked ambition with no ill consequences. When you've made a nonaggression pact with a weaker, less diplomatically well-connected neighbor, you break it as soon as it becomes beneficial. You promise to move a fleet north when you actually intend to move an army south. No agreements are binding, though agreements are made (and broken) constantly in the game, a seeming contradiction that increases the pleasure of a particularly vicious, effective backstab. None of this is to say that the blatant self-interest necessary to be successful at the game consists in lying all the time or betraying everyone; on the contrary, true skill involves aligning, as much as possible, one's own interest with that of others so that mutual self-interest will produce mutually beneficial results. At some moment, though, my self-interest and yours collide - and whoever can most effectively and quickly create a favorable imbalance triumphs.

As you can imagine, some people think that real treaties in real life ought to be the law whether they are immediately beneficial or not, because reputation is important and because following through on one's word is good in itself. In Diplomacy, true chivalry is weakness.

In conclusion, I am the best ally to have in Diplomacy. Really. I promise not to attack Sevastopol.


At 12:51 PM, April 02, 2008 , Blogger Nick Milne said...

But are your words backed with nuclear weapons?

This is what is called cross-platform humor

At 1:29 PM, April 02, 2008 , Blogger Vernunft said...

Diplomacy is more Serious Business that nuclear war, actually. You'd know that if you played, Gisgo. :mad:


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