Unlike most of the books and DVD’s I’ve reviewed for the Pride and Prejudice Challenge, Jane Austen, Game Theorist is not an easy, entertainment-oriented read. It is a scholarly book, published by Princeton, complete with a long reference section and an index. Nevertheless, it is a complement to Pride and Prejudice (and Jane Austen’s other books) from a somewhat different point of view than the usual literary approach.
I am not a game theorist, and after reading this book I suspect I am a very poor strategist as well, being highly numerate and paying attention to details of my surroundings rather than how other people think and what they want. The book starts with a quick analysis of game theory principles in folk tales such as Br’er Rabbit, which illustrates both some of the pitfalls (thinking the tar baby is sentient) and manipulating the opponent by understanding how he thinks (please don’t throw me in the briar patch.) In fact it appears that most good character-driven fiction has a strong game-theory component, but the author argues that this is particularly true of Jane Austen, and gives numerous examples.
One of the things he particularly emphasizes, especially in Pride and Prejudice, is the handicap of the inability to get inside another person’s skin, to see things from their point of view. Certainly neither Darcy nor Elizabeth start out understanding each other. Some of the reasons have more general application: a superior is often clueless about how an inferior (in social standing, chain of command, or merely in his own mind) thinks, simply because he is unable or unwilling to degrade himself to think like the other person. Darcy, a male and in his mind superior to females, cannot understand a female. Lady Catherine is even worse, thinking that her orders will automatically be obeyed.
The principles and be and should be expanded to such fields as international relations, though all too often it seems they are not. And this unfortunately seems also to apply to corporate managers and politicians. This morning’s news, for instance, and an interview decrying the game of “chicken” our political leaders are playing.