I was born a nerd, and I will die a nerd.
Like every nerd growing up, I was not much of an athlete. I preferred to play board games with my best friend Thad, a fellow nerd. This was long before Nintendo and PlayStation, long before World of Warcraft or Minecraft. We played chess and checkers, Risk and Stratego, and many of the Avalon Hill war games, like Tactics II and Stalingrad.
But I was not just a nerd. I was also a tycoon wannabe. And so I enjoyed the games where you made a million bucks: Careers and Masterpiece and above all, Monopoly.
I was a cutthroat player in Monopoly. It was the greatest game, because (unlike every other game in which you might merely come out ahead) in Monopoly you only ever won by absolutely wiping out your opponents. The game was over when every property on the board was yours, from Mediterranean Avenue to Boardwalk, and everyone else’s dollar was in your pocket. If you knew how to play the game right, down towards the end when your opponents were struggling, you could ignore a few of their stops at your hotels, let them pass GO a few more times, allow them to stick a few more dollars in their pockets, and then finally bankrupt them when the Bank was out of money and the other players were, too. You could own everything. Monopoly is more than just a game of about real estate. It is a primer in how to rule the world.
So imagine my glee in 1975 when I espied on the shelf of the local bookstore a tome with the title 1000 Ways to Win Monopoly Games. I bought it and devoured it three times in a row. Then I invited my pal Thad over to play Monopoly. Thad was always a savvy gamester, but this time I wiped the floor with his tooshie. Thad suspected something was going on, and then he spotted the book on my shelf. Naturally, I declined to let him borrow it. (And in the days before Amazon.com, with a less popular book, one could easily own the only copy in town.) The next week Thad invited me to his house to play games, and asked me to bring the book … and not to worry … he wouldn’t try to read it. Naively, I brought it. We played Monopoly and I won again. But towards the end of the play date, Thad distracted me. I realized when I got home that my book was still at his house. By the time I got it back at school the next day, Thad had read the whole book, and my days of domination at Monopoly were done.
There was, though, in that silly little book (co-written, it so happens, by the future founder of Priceline.com and a future president of Cornell University), a story that stuck with me for life (which you can read for yourself here). It had to do with a time when these tournament-level Monopoly players—some of the best in the land—decided to play a game for fun … except one of their buddies was a sub-par Monopoly player. They wanted to give poor Andy a handicap. But what should it be? To start with more money? To own some properties from the outset?
One of the gang came up with a better idea: let Andy have the power to demand that a roll of the dice be done over. But only three times in the course of the whole game. Three times only could he say, “Pick ‘em up and roll again.” Andy chose wisely. The first time he called for a re-roll was when a player barely missed Andy’s Yellow properties; on the re-roll, the poor sap landed on Marvin Gardens and went bankrupt to Andy. The second time, Andy used his advantage to miss a Chance card that would have advanced him to Boardwalk and someone else’s hotel there. The third time, Andy negotiated with another player to call for a re-roll that might have bankrupted the other guy, but in exchange Andy got a Red property that completed the color group for him. Not long after, Andy mopped up and beat four tournament-quality champions.
For me, that story was a life lesson. Tiny changes, even few in number, can make a huge difference in outcomes. It was a variation on the theme of Edgar Allan Poe’s story, “The Gold-Bug.” Whether you hit buried treasure or come up empty all depends on which eye socket you drop the scarab through—a matter of millimeters can make you a millionaire or leave you a pauper.
I am reminded of these stories often as I browse through conspiracy theory postings. A while back, a commenter here at Piece of Mindful had questions for Mark about how deep into the fabric of society extends the dabbling of The Powers That Be. To me, this is one of the most interesting of all the questions debated here.
My take, for what it’s worth, is that the manipulation (of election results, cultural trends, court rulings, financial markets, social media forums, you name it) is as light-handed as can be. It simply doesn’t take that much to push things in a desired direction. A few faked Napalm Girl photos, for instance, have the power to sway the mindset of a generation.
I, for one, do not find reason to think that all the polling results on Election Day in every single contest are fictitious. The Powers That Be, wanting to put Trump in office, only have to tweak a few key precincts in a few swing states to get the outcome they desire. I am sure that the NSA employs crack mathematicians to run the numbers for that hanky-panky.
Likewise, I do not see evidence that every single football or basketball game, professional or college, is scripted. They need only to finesse particular contests, and then only by having a few fouls called (or not called) here or there. Change the roll of the dice three times—and three times only—and you can rule the world.
For me, the Monopoly story is a cautionary tale. If we in the Truther community posit that “everything is scripted, everything is falsified, everything is manufactured by the elites,” our claims are easily falsified. Theories should be tight, rigorous, well-evidenced, and with clear markers for confirmation or falsification. I see too many arguments, especially about revised chronology or genealogies, that depend on absence of evidence (known in logic as the argumentum ad ignorantiam). Folks, this hurts the cause. Just asserting that “everything is fake” will convince few and will prove to be embarrassing in the long run.
How deep into local politics does the tinkering of the Elites extend? Are they deciding the race for State Attorney General? House of Representatives? County Drain Commissioner? I doubt it. There are enough useful idiots in every system. There is no need to dictate every outcome. A little cajolery … a few incentives … a well-timed warning here or there … and the human herd instinct kicks in. Most things will go in the intended direction of those at the top.
And if they lose a deal here or there, like Vegas, the house still wins in the end … without having to stack every deck, rig every roulette wheel, and load every pair of dice from time immemorial.