blackfridaySince it’s Black Friday, I’m seeing a lot of Black Friday posts, memes, and videos on Facebook. Most criticize the greed and rapaciousness so typical of this consumer holiday. I, too, feel disgust when people devolve to an animal-like level in pursuit of material things.

I also know why they do this, and it’s not as simple as just greed or materialism.

Introducing the “Zero-Sum Game”
Zero-sum game” is the name for ugly, Black Friday behavior. A basic definition is: “a situation, especially a competitive one, which there is no net gain among the participants.” Quite simply, it is the belief that if one participant acquires something, others have lost.

I believe the zero-sum game mentality goes back to our prehistoric ancestors. It was a time when food and resources were scarce and hard to come by. (It took a tribe to bring down one mastodon.) Thus, any resource gained by one tribe was seen as a loss by other, competing tribes. This made a “zero-sum game mentality” a survival instinct. It’s locked into our genetic memory and drives us on a primal level.

Why a Zero-Sum Game Mentality Looks Ugly on Black Friday
In first-world nations, there is no shortage of goods. This is why a brawl over the last coffeemaker seems ignorant and savage to many. Manufacturers produce near-infinite amounts of coffeemakers. Anyone can buy them at a store or online. Thus, there is no need for caveman-like behaviors typically seen Black Friday.

What Type of People Engage in Black Friday Behavior
In his book You are Not so Smart, author David McRaney shares a valid observation: “Poor people compete with resources. The middle class competes with selection. The wealthy competes with possessions.” This applies to the zero-sum game mentality observed on Black Friday.

So I guess I blame poor people for the madness that is Black Friday sales. Only people with very limited resources – i.e., money – would fight in the aisles with others in similar situations. They perceive the Black Friday deals as the best way to make the most of their limited resources.

So why wouldn’t the middle class get into a Black Friday brawl? Like McRaney said, they compete by selection, aka taste. Most middle class people wouldn’t be caught dead at a Black Friday sale. They are more like to spend money on a Keurig and brag about what amazing coffee it makes. (And how it’s not “too mainstream.”)

Would wealthy people go to a Black Friday sale at a big-box retailer? Not on your life! They are most likely to buy a restaurant-grade cappuccino machine and hire a barista to serve them. That’s how you compete with possessions – only the most lavish and expensive possessions are worth talking about at the country club.

The Ugliest Example of a Zero-Sum Game Mentality
If a cage-fight in the housewares aisle is ugly, keep in mind that it only happens once a year. People who play a zero-sum game for intangible things are horrible human beings all year long! These are people who consider things that can’t be measured – status, popularity, etc. – as a limited resource. If these people see someone gaining these “resources,” they will criticize, slander, and belittle that person to gain their “share.”

Random example: Picture a bunch of guys are hanging out, playing basketball. One of them starts cutting up, telling jokes, and making the other guys laugh. This angers the one guy with a zero-sum game mentality. He ruthlessly criticizes and embarrasses the person… and he makes sure that he does so in front of all the other guys. In this person’s very small mind, he’s taken the resource – popularity, status, attention – from the guy who had it moments ago.

There’s a huge problem with this approach. Apart from being an asshole – and not a true friend – the guy with the zero-sum game mentality cheats himself. Things such as status and popularity are intangible – they cannot be measured, calculated, or weighed. They are ideas and as such, they are limitless. The asshole on the basketball court could’ve achieved the same status without having to humiliate the other person. Sadly, people like this will never get it.

Zero-Sum Game is Here to Stay… Unfortunately
This mentality  isn’t going away any time soon. Sadly, this mad scramble for (perceived) limited resources continues to be successful for so many. Thus, it is hard for us to rid ourselves of a behavior that continues to provide rewards. Because acting like this is so hideous, we rational, modern-day humans must fight to overcome this mentality.

About J.P. Ribner
J.P. Ribner is the author of Viking fantasy adventure series “The Berserker’s Saga.” Currently, the saga features two novels – “Legacy of the Bear” and “Prophecy of the Bear.” For more about his written work, check out his website.

 

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