This episode’s Reem-outburst was the sort of thing that former proofreaders like myself are drawn toward like heroin. Chris said that Reem “gave” the secret advantage to Keith, using a definition of “give” that means letting someone easily achieve something, even unintentionally. (e.g. “Sarah forgot to lock the chicken coop and gave the cult a year’s supply of sacrifices.”) But Reem blew up because she thought Chris meant the definition of “give” that means intentionally providing something to another person. (e.g. “Sarah gave a chicken to the cult on Coronel Sanders’s birthday.”)
However, I don’t want to get into a grammatical discussion this week. Instead I want to write about something that happened in the Kama tribe, even though almost all the strategic action was going on in Lesu and Manu. (The relief and joy in Lesu when they won their first immunity challenge was some of the most intense that I’ve ever seen on Survivor. Too bad it was so short-lived.)
Joe knows that most of his fellow Kamas plan to vote him out when all the tribes eventually merge. He wants to get more people on his side, so he approached Julia. Instead of merely saying that Julia should be wary of the other Kamas though, Joe told her that the other Kamas see her as a good physical player. Which means they’ll consider her the next biggest threat after him.
Joe is making the situation about a larger sense of justice, instead of merely about personal fear. He’s telling Julia that the other players want to attack her because they know she is more deserving of winning. This can be a good strategy for getting people to support your side. They’re jealous because we’re strong. They hate us because of our freedom. They’re parasites who want to bleed people who do the real work. Most people don’t seem to think that the truly undeserving should receive as much benefit as deserving people. I find that even people who say they dislike “meritocracies” are usually using that word as a synonym for capitalism and prejudice. They still want society to benefit the “best” or “good” people – they just want to redefine who those people are so that the rich and bigoted aren’t included. The key is deciding who the deserving are.
If you try to persuade people only by telling them that they’re weak, it can sometimes be hard to rally much passion, because they won’t feel very deserving of winning. Even though their own success is on the line, and they will probably take at least some action to defend themselves, they won’t have the same enthusiasm as when they also believe that justice is on their side. A strategy like Joe’s can sometimes be enough to turn the tide.
This desire to feel on the side of justice can be so strong that people often don’t even need other people to convince them. Humans are very skilled at rationalizing their definition of who the “deserving” are to include themselves. So how do we know if our behavior is actually just and not merely a rationalization of personal biases?
I would argue that rigorous institutions occasionally (but only very occasionally) edited by a system of democratic feedback are probably the best real method of creating a trustworthy system of justice. (By “real”, I mean as opposed to a supernatural method, which I personally do not consider an actual option.) If you have a system of justice that was determined by a source other than yourself, it can often be a relief to hand over responsibility, as long as you think the system is mostly impartial. On Survivor, that system of justice is the all-powerful Jeff Probst and the rules of the game. Laws and institutions have frequently proven effective at keeping societies from tearing apart due to selfish struggles. For now, I’ll put on hold the discussion of how to first establish those laws and institutions. People argue for many possibilities, such as neuroscience, evolution, God, a collective unconscious, etc.
Well, this blog entry has wandered very far afield. The whole Joe-Julia alliance might be a moot point anyway if Lesu starts losing challenges again. One person who doesn’t have to worry about any of the ideas in this blog entry is Wardog. Is he faking being so bad at physical challenges? Is this a strategy to keep from being voted out as a physical threat like Joe? Maybe the best way to win the next challenge is for the other people in Lesu to just eat him.