A few weeks ago my colleague David Steven went back to the Long Peace report, and extracted a few passages are probably worth repeating ‘in the day that’s in it’:
That battle ended yesterday, it seems, as the DUP’s Ian Paisley and Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams sat next to each other for the first time, and then agreed to serve together in government. Four years ago, we were optimistic that this might happen (other commentators were sure that the marginalisation of moderate politicians was a sign of impending disaster). We used to the Prisoner’s Dilemma to model what we thought might be going on.
In particular, it worth putting the outbreak of unfamiliar civility that’s broken out since that March photo op:
The fourth lesson follows from the third: avoid envy at all costs. The Prisoner’s Dilemma is not a zero-sum game, where one player’s gain is necessarily the other’s loss. To the contrary, if total victory for one side is impossible, there are only two outcomes: both sides do well, or both sides do poorly. As a result, comparisons are deceptive. ‘Asking how well you are doing compared to how well the other player is doing is not a good standard unless your goal is to destroy the other player,’ Axelrod advises.
Most commentators will recognise how corrosive a force envy currently is in the unionist body politic. Working class Protestants contrast their plight with the supposed success of their Catholic neighbours. Protestant community leaders are convinced that nationalist groups have preferential access to funds. Unionist politicians treat every nationalist (let alone republican) gain as a unionist loss, and are convinced their opponents have a whole range of illicit advantages.
But envy makes sense only if unionists wish to follow Gore Vidal’s advice: ‘It’s not enough to succeed. Others must fail.’ If not, they need to insist that the fate of unionist causes and of Protestant communities has absolute rather than relative importance. The relevant question is not ‘are we doing better than the other side?’ but ‘could we be doing better than we are now?’
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty