Whack-A-Mole and our Theory of Empathetic Evolution

On the Mekong River, south of Ho Chi Minh City

I’ve felt a bit of pandemic stress myself here recently — my dear students are definitely suffering from a lack of social contact, and I can see the fading of resilience in our young people that only connection can heal.

It’s forced me to think a bit about what I write — and why anyone should care. I do know my R0 << 1, regardless of my own regard, or the actual virtue of the work. So recently I was thinking about how to explain why someone should bother, or even attempt to steep themselves in the work on this blog, which, for the most part, avoids descriptive narratives, along with the inevitable good or bad, of current events.

So I came up with this. Whack-A-Mole. For those that care, “Whack” is the Anglicized version of the Japanese-Anglicized world “Whac”. In Japan, the game is called mogura taiji, “Mole Buster” — and so was rebranded to “Whac”, which then got turned into “Whack”. The Wikipedia post is well worth the read.

For those unfamiliar with the game, it is a mechanical arcade game where, for a certain amount of time, little moles pop up out of holes, and you have to whack them before they retreat. Your score is dependent on how many of the moles you whack. When your time is up, it’s up, and your score is tabulated. I’m sure there is a theoretical maximum of moles one can whack in a certain amount of time. Here’s a picture pirated from a software consultancy in Germany.

As you can see, one can really get into this game

Whack-a-Mole is the resonant paradigm for our time, with all our various Wicked Problems. We never can get ahead of whacking the heads of the little critters. They keep coming on and coming on until our time’s up, or our shoulders are tired. You’re set up for fun (or failure) from the moment the system hands you the padded hammer. And yes, you’re never going to really destroy the moles. The best you can do is count coup on the little suckers.

What does this have to do with our Theory of Empathetic Evolution? Or rather, why should you care about the complex, interwoven structure of knowledge, social systems, personal development and culture? If you were to draw a big circle around everything that was involved in Whack-a-Mole, you’d include the arcade game itself. You’d also include the workings underneath. And you’d also have to include both the person doing the whacking, as well as the person who handed them the hammer.

The only real way of winning Whack-a-Mole is to have the self-realization that it is a game, and that the game is actually embedded in a framework where the actual, underlying dynamics are hidden, and elusive. I myself don’t know if the randomness of the moles is generated digitally, or if it’s a complex mechanical system with a non-repeatable pattern. Either way, the only way out of the endless game is to either break the machine, or do game-change beneath the surface. The moles’ behavior is, quite literally, emergent — and we simply can’t know on the surface what makes the moles pop up in the order they show their little faces. They just do.

But if we understand the Deep OS, at least we have a chance. You have the work on this blog about the social physics of game change, and you can, if you’re willing to sweat your brain, make more educated guesses on the pattern of the moles. Or you could potentially reprogram the game, so the moles popped up in a more orderly fashion.

And if you do need a more top-level description, you could read Hanzi Freinacht’s book Nordic Ideology. Highly recommended and as exciting a book on political philosophy as one can find!

Or you could elect not to play. But be aware, just because you decide to sit out a couple of rounds, the moles are going to keep showing their little noggins. As long as someone keeps putting quarters in the machine. And someone is ALWAYS putting quarters in the machine.

3 thoughts on “Whack-A-Mole and our Theory of Empathetic Evolution

  1. Thanks Chuck, I still read your blog. We met several years ago on a trail in the Smoky mountains while you were visiting Knoxville. Subscribed and have been reading your blog ever since.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s