Another [?] of the Anonymati asks this:
“I'd love to know, Bob, what it is about the zero-sum game that you find so compelling. You have repeatedly mentioned it over the years. I am no game theorist, but as an economist I know enough to know that nothing you say here or in your previous post is at all original - what is it about the idea that inspires you so? Or is it just to admonish that we should use the term "correctly"?”
Here is the answer. For almost sixty years, I have been interested in the ways in which nuclear deterrence theorists, economists, philosophers, political theorists, legal theorists and others cloak their partisan arguments in formal garb as a way of claiming an objectivity that they do not [and could not] have, and to cow non-technical readers into thinking that something objective, mathematical, scientific has been said.
I first came upon this phenomenon in the very early Sixties when I was totally absorbed in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the rise of non-military Deterrence Theorists like Herman Kahn arguing for First Strike nuclear policies. In the summer of 1962, I wrote a short book, The Rhetoric of Deterrence, in which I tried to expose these fallacies, a book I was unable to get published [even though Noam Chomsky, after reading it, urged me to do so.]
Later on, I published criticisms of Bob Nozick [in an essay review of Anarchy, State, and Utopia], Jack Rawls [my book Understanding Rawls] and Jan Elster [in my review essay “Methodological Individualism and Marx: Some Remarks on Jon Elster, Game Theory, and Other Things”], all focused on what I saw as the same failing.
In the mid-Seventies, at UMass, I several times gave a course entitled “The Use and Abuse of Formal Methods in Political Philosophy” in which I first taught the students the formal materials and then showed them how they had been misused by Nozick, Rawls, and others.
Later still, when I turned my attention to Marx, I found the same phenomenon in the invocation by neo-classical economists of the notion of marginal product as an ideological justification of capitalist profit.
I freely admit that the wanton and invariably incorrect invocation of The Prisoners’ Dilemma and Zero-Sum Games bugs me, and since both phrases are so frequently misused in public discourse, I tend to react allergically to their appearance. But the larger issue is the ideological use of formal mathematical arguments to cloak partisan defenses of powerful interests in the garb of mathematics, to misrepresent them as science and hence not subject to political debate.
You might say that all of this work is a fiercely partisan footnote to C. P. Snow’s famous 1959 lecture, “The Two Cultures.”