“The excessive use of force creates legitimacy problems, and force without legitimacy leads to defiance, not submission.”
This quote comes from Malcolm Gladwell’s wonderful book, David and Goliath, which I just finished re-reading. I posted it on Facebook; one of my friends commented “poker betting philosophy.”
Upon reading the quote again, yes, it definitely applies to poker.
The Facebook post was a follow-on to an earlier post of another quote from David and Goliath: “When people in authority want the rest of us to behave, it matters – first and foremost – how they behave.”
Reading this “principle of legitimacy” on a fall Sunday afternoon brought to mind the ongoing civil disobedience of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem as a symbolic protest against racial injustice perpetrated by some law enforcement organizations. It’s broader now, but that’s how it started. POTUS and some team owners have attempted to force these football players to behave (i.e., stand during the anthem), even while their own behavior fails to create the necessary legitimacy. Consequently (and predictably if you follow Gladwell’s reasoning), the number of NFL players protesting has increased.
Gladwell raises this concept in chapters about the decades-long conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, law enforcement strategies in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, pockets of French resistance to the Nazis during WWII, and the U.S. civil rights movement.
To be clear, poker is by far the least of our worries when considering the relationship between force and legitimacy.
In 1969, two RAND Corporation economists wrote a report on dealing with insurgencies. It was based on a fundamental, yet fatally flawed assumption, “that the population, as individuals or group, behaves ‘rationally,’ that it calculates costs and benefits to the extent that they can be related to different courses of action, and makes choices accordingly… Consequently, influencing popular behavior requires neither sympathy nor mysticism, but rather a better understanding of what costs and benefits the individual or group is concerned with, and how they are calculated.”
Sure, just treat disobedient Irish Catholics, Brownsville hoodlums, French villagers, civil rights activists and pro football players like a math problem. Make the cost of their insurgent behavior greater than the benefits, via use of excessive force, and they will stop. Doesn’t everybody pencil out a few economic cost-benefit equations before starting a riot?
There is a lot to learn here.
Back to poker. Next time you are bluffing, ask yourself if you have established the legitimacy that leads to submission rather than defiance. If your bluffs aren’t working, it might be more than just a math problem.
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