Nonzero, a book by Robert Wright, might be the best book I’ve ever read. It’s not the best-written book, nor is it the most exciting page-to-page. But the central idea of the book is so attractive, and so revolutionary for me that it has completely altered my worldview. I first read the book a few years back, and it rings as true for me now as it does then.
Years ago, I took some time to meander in the world of philosophy – I had a good teacher for a summer class in philosophy in undergraduate, and I always meant to dig deeper into the field. I read a fair number of books, and thought about the subject a great deal. My first big break came when I found the writings of Ayn Rand. Reading just a few of her books and articles, I realized that I actually had no personal philosophy at all – just a hodgepodge of cliches, traditions, and contradictory themes.
I became entranced by Rand’s work. She offered a full system of philosophy – it was a one-package deal with everything included. Her work motivated me for some time until I became aware of serious flaws in her ideas (the subject of a future post). Still, it needs to be said that Ayn Rand was truly a genius, and her work is better than 99% of the philosophical work out there.
I would try to describe the basic premise of Nonzero next, but I will leave that to former President Bill Clinton, who is also a fan of the book:
"There is an astonishing new book out, been out a few months, by a man named Robert Wright, called Nonzero – kind of a weird title unless you’rere familiar with game theory. But in game theory, a zero-sum game is one where, in order for one person to win, somebody has to lose. A non-zero-sum game is a game in which you can win and the person you’re playing with can win, as well. And the argument of the book is that, notwithstanding all the terrible things that happened in the 20th century – the abuses of science by the Nazis, the abuses of organization by the communists, all the things that continue to be done in the name of religious or political purity – essentially, as societies grow more and more connected, and more interdependent, one with the other, we are forced to find more and more non-zero-sum solutions. That is, ways in which we can all win." – Speaking at the Mayflower Hotel, Washington, D.C., September 2000
To put it simply, nonzero is about both parties winning, about people engaging in activities they enjoy and others enjoying the product. This blog, if all goes well, could be thought of as a win-win game: I enjoy writing it and readers (hopefully!) enjoy reading it.