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The Rules of Poker and the Rules of Life

by Paul R. Rickert
Clash Daily Guest Contributor

The game of poker is a game that has something to do with chance (probabilities) and the skill of an individual player. The rules are set up in advance and tacitly agreed to by sitting at the table and anteing up. The players wouldn’t play if they found certain aspects of the rules objectionable, or tilted in favor of another player. Each player wants to take the money of the other, not by force, coercion, or fraud, but through a good ole game of wit and chance. The rules make it so that one player can’t simply grab the chips of another player, but they must be won by getting the winning hand for that round.

Fraud is not tolerated as it would remove the ability for players to compete on an equal footing and tilts the game in favor of another player and make the game objectionable. This may sound a bit odd as one of the basic premises of poker is the “poker-face.” The skill is in the privacy that one player can hold against another. If you can’t read me then you likely will not win against me most hands. The poker-face is one of the skills one must develop for the game to be successful.

Many have had an alternate view – not on what sort of poker will be played this Friday night – but want to change the entire game to go-fish. They are also trying to convince everyone that go-fish is a better game.

So in the 1700s, the general philosophy in the U.S. was the rules apply to everyone equally (well most everyone) and we play poker, and we let the chips fall where they may. I think that this certainly had a lot to do with the fact that most at the time were Christians (at least culturally) and realized that the hand of Providence had a role to play and at the same time, this allowed for diverse outcomes based on chance (probabilities), and skill.

In the 1800s we find people wanting to change the way the rules applied – since they weren’t fairly applied to all. This was a good thing, but the massive use of force to change the rules of the game only traded some people’s lives for other people’s liberties. I think there was a better way, but such is our history. After the American Civil War, politics shifts from largely locally focused to an increasingly Federal (centralized) focus.

In the 1900s, the introduction of the income tax (The Revenue Act of 1913) and the Federal Reserve Act (1913) created both a mandatory entry fee to the poker game AND a firm(ish) valuation of the poker chips that can be altered by introducing more chips into the game by an outside source.

Subsequently, the entry fee started being used to allow other people to play poker. More people playing poker is fine, but the rules changed … that they can play with someone else’s money that was taken without voluntary, mutual consent, but by force. All sorts of handicaps, subsidies, exemptions, and special rules for specific players were handed out, by an allegedly neutral player. New rules were continuously set up, and the players are given incentives to quit the game. If they quit the game, they could then play with someone else’s money.

The real goal is not to let the chips fall where they may, but inhere the rules of a fundamentally different game (faith system). Don’t worry about Providence as the outcomes are controllable for “everyone’s benefit.” If we control the variable of the game, we can control the outcomes. No longer is the game of poker a game of skill and chance and Providence, but a game of equal starting points (funds?), equal skills (handicaps and subsidies attempt to assure this), and varying and changing rules for each player determined by an authority with little accountability. We might be able to control the outcomes, but liberty, fundamental fairness, and the enjoyment of the game all fall prey to this ideology.

Life is a lot like poker, in that deceit and fraud skew the initial expectations one way, when they actually are tilted in favor of another person/group. This is one of the reasons that the principle of subsidiarity (an issue or problem should be addressed by the lowest, most de-centralized authority capable of handling the issue – i.e. 1700s Federalism) is so important. Rather than having one central authorized poker league that coordinates all poker games, most poker games are pickup games with friends on a Friday night. They determine the rules that best suit them, and if you don’t like them, you can change them the next hand. You can also leave if you perceive the rules being too skewed against your skillsets.

A central poker authority would be ineffective (opportunity costs, bureaucratic costs, rent-seeking behaviors, etc.) but it’s also not moral because it tramples the liberties of some with an eye to give a benefit to others. This has been called “social justice.” Of this concept, Patrick Burke (2011) argued, “To make ‘social justice’ the basic principle of the social order is to endorse a wholesale transfer of responsibility from individuals to the state, and inevitably to endorse the expansion of the state and the increase of its coercive powers” (p. 3). In other words, social justice isn’t another way of viewing justice; it runs contrary to the ideas of traditional justice at its foundation. Likewise, Bertrand de Jouvenel (1957) reasoned, “The justice now recommended is a quality not of a man and a man’s Actions, but of a certain configuration of things in social geometry, no matter by what means it is brought about. Justice is now something which exists independently of just men” (p.140).

If politics were still local, this would be more-or-less as easy as going to the next county over OR engaging in local political action, but nowadays we can’t even get to the next state over without having the rules generally skewed since politics has drifted upwards and centralized the rules of the game of life. In place of Providence, the government has substituted itself as rule maker, enforcer, judge, jury, and executioner and the entire new game is set up by the same government that is going to save us from ourselves. I wish we could just go play poker. Go-fish isn’t nearly as fun.

Burke, T. P. (2011). The concept of justice: Is social justice just? New York: Continuum Books.
de Jouvenel, B. (1957). Sovereignty: An inquiry into the political good. New York: Cambridge University

Image: Frisko; Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Paul_RickertPaul R. Rickert is Director of the Criminal Justice program and Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at LeTourneau University. He taught at Liberty University from 2004-2011. Having been a police officer, deputy sheriff, university police officer and private police officer within Virginia, he has had a wide-range of experiences and training at the local policing level which he brings to the classroom environment. Since March of 2012 he has been sworn as a Texas Peace Officer.

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