Are we all on WatchCrunch to flex... to ourselves? The "Inner Flex": Thomas Schelling, game theory, nuclear deterrence, time inconsistent utility functions, and watches

Before we get into it, shameless plug:

Charity auction for Seiko SRPH78 “Star Bar” goes until Wed, August 10, 12pm PT.  Every $1 of the winning bid gets matched 4x!

https://www.watchcrunch.com/HotWatchChick69/posts/buy-a-watch-help-save-the-world-7-seiko-srph78-star-bar-houjou-13251

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Okay, per my MO, got another totally autistic, rambling post.  Everything in this post is shamelessly plagiarized from Tim Harford’s brilliant writings:  https://timharford.com/2005/12/lunch-with-the-ft-thomas-schelling-and-the-game-of-life/

So, why are we here on WatchCrunch?

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Can we all agree that Flex Culture is just the absolute worst?  The vast majority of us are refugees from social media, yeah?  Because...

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But, the more I think about Flex Culture, the more I’m coming to the conclusion that it’s just a modern-day / technology-enabled solution to mate selection, and ain’t nothing wrong with that.  I mean, you know, amongst the vast majority of animal species (and especially amongst primates) females engage in hypergamy.  Thus, if you’re a male, you have to signal status in order for a female to select you to mate with.  As a result, I totally get why all these dudes are showing off steering wheel shots of their luxury watches.  They’re saying, “Hey, choose me!  I have good genes!  And you know that because I am able to generate lots of resources - so many resources that I can afford to waste vast sums on this perfectly useless and anachronistic trinket!”  

Given all that, I think I gotta stop hating on Flex Culture.  I mean, it’s just young guys trying to attract mates, like the rest of us old people used to do, right?

So, what does that say about us WatchCrunch’ers?  Probably…

  • We’re all old
  • Most of us are married or with partner or divorced and don’t want to go through all that again
  • We love arguing about lume and pallet fork versus lever escapements

But, that can’t be all of it, right?  I mean, I get that we must love watches at a proximate level, but what is the ultimate reason for our love of watches?  

Here’s an example of what I mean, when I say, “What is the ultimate reason, versus the proximate reason?”

  • Why do so many people have the hots for @Max?  At a proximate level, it’s because he’s so good-looking and so well-spoken.  But, the ultimate reason is because his good looks and intelligence signal incredibly good genes, and everyone wants to mate with him, ultimately, to fulfill their evolutionary directive to produce offspring that will thrive... in order to further replicate their genes

So, what’s the ultimate reason for our love of watches?  I would posit that it may have to do with the Inner Flex.  "WTF is the Inner Flex," you ask?  Well, to get there, we gotta first talk about Thomas Schelling, game theory, and nuclear deterrence!

Thomas Schelling, game theory, and nuclear deterrence

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Thomas Schelling was awarded the 2005 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics for his pioneering work in game theory.  When he entered the field as a young man, game theory was the preserve of theoreticians who busied themselves developing incredibly elegant mathematical models.  Schelling, meanwhile, had the insight that game theory could be more than just cool math, and could be applied to solving some of the world’s most intractable and urgent problems - chief amongst them, “how to avoid nuclear armageddon.”  Today, Schelling is largely seen as the primary architect of the West’s nuclear deterrence strategy that successfully helped the world navigate the Cold War competition without a nuclear exchange.  

While he spent his career teaching at Harvard, he also served as a lecturer at the United States War College, and significantly influenced a coterie of intellectuals who would come to power in the Kennedy Administration.  Per Tim Harford’s reporting:

McGeorge Bundy, national security adviser to Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson; Walt Rostow, Bundy’s deputy, and John McNaughton, who became a close adviser to defense secretary Robert McNamara.

Schelling inculcated in this set of intellectuals a deep and abiding taboo against the use of nuclear weapons.  While this may not sound so revolutionary today, keep in mind that at the time, the Eisenhower Administration viewed nuclear weapons in much the same way as any traditional armament - ready to be used at a moment’s notice on the battlefield.  Schelling, meanwhile, understood that nuclear weapons were a difference in kind entirely, and that their use would lead to the end of all humanity - he thus used his considerable influence to establish international norms prohibiting their use.  Today, our utter revulsion at the thought of nuclear weapons is in part due to Schelling’s tireless efforts.

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[You know how there’s a direct line between the President and Soviet Premier?  Implemented after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and part of Schelling’s advice early on.]

Amongst Schelling’s key contributions in applying game theory to nuclear deterrence was the use of clear and unequivocal communications, “bright red lines,” and pre-commitment devices.  Schelling recognized that while both the American and Soviet leaderships wished to avoid a nuclear exchange, in the heat of the moment, the slightest miscommunication or misunderstanding between the players could result in disaster.  Key to the Cold War competition was removing any and all ambiguity - kinda hard to avoid nuclear armageddon when you have no idea what might set off your opponent!  

“Well, gosh, if I do X, will they nuke me?  I mean, last week, their Secretary of Defense said they’d definitely nuke me.  But, the week before, the Secretary of State sorta indicated that maybe all they’d do is write up a strongly-worded statement to be delivered on the floor of UN.  Hmmm…  should I go ahead and do X?”  

By institutionalizing and codifying precisely what constituted an act that would provoke the use of nuclear weapons, making this information public, drilling into every single official and military officer throughout the vast bureaucratic apparatuses which protocols would be followed and when, and providing the Soviets with all this documented information, Schelling’s playbook removed all ambiguity.  The “bright red lines” were there for everyone to see - and, most importantly, avoid tripping!  Beyond that, Schelling’s playbook called for pre-commitment devices.  Again, there could be no ambiguity whatsoever!  "If you do X, the consequence will always by Y, no matter what, and we’re taking all human discretion out of the equation.”  

Schelling’s work was so influential that it served as the inspiration for Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film, "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” on which Schelling served as an advisor!  In fact, Kubrick lampooned Schelling and hilariously skewered the very idea of the pre-commitment device with the “Doomsday Machine” accidentally ending the world, because the inept Soviet Premier neglected to tell the Americans about it!  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mUCLHzWiJo

Say what you will about the horrors of the Cold War, but at the very least, humanity did not end, and a large part of that was due to Schelling’s application of game theory to the avoidance of nuclear armageddon.

Again WTF does any of this have to do with watches?  Well, hold your horses!  First we gotta talk about applying game theory to addiction!

Addiction and time-inconsistent utility functions

Again, per Tim Harford’s writing, Schelling was a smoker as a young man, and always found that he was at war with himself, trying to quit the foul habit:

In his 1980 essay, “The Intimate Contest for Self Command”, he tried to understand the smoker “who in self-disgust grinds his cigarettes down the disposal swearing that this time he means never again to risk orphaning his children with lung cancer and is on the street three hours later looking for a store that’s still open to buy cigarettes”. For Schelling, the addict was neither perfectly rational nor irrational and helpless – he was a rational being at war with himself, who could deploy strategies to help him win that war.

Schelling’s key insight was that we human beings are not singular entities.  Instead, we are composed of multiple “selves,” each one with a different set of values and preferences, always competing with the other selves for control of the human being’s actions.  Today, I’d like to smoke and I don’t care about my future self.  But, my future self definitely wants to exist and wants the me of today to stop smoking so that my future self can spend time with his grandkids!  We human beings have “time-inconsistent utility functions.”  Knowing that, how does one overcome addiction?  When you’ve got multiple players engaged in competition and cooperation…  you make use of bright red lines, pre-commitment devices, and all the other tools in the game theory toolbox!

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And, well, Schelling was able to successfully quit smoking and live to the ripe old age of 95!

Okay, now, finally, we are ready to talk about watches!

The “Inner Flex"

So, I love Grand Seiko watches, because they’re shiny.  My proximate reason for collecting Grand Seiko is “shiny = me happy.”  

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But, what’s my ultimate reason?  I genuinely think that the ultimate reason behind my love of Grand Seiko watches, and my watch collecting, is that one player in my brain decided to use game theory against another player in my brain.  Sounds absolutely bonkers, right?  But, check it out:

  • I grew up super poor as a first generation immigrant
  • All my life, money has haunted me, and the fear of poverty has been overwhelming!
  • At some point in my life, objectively, I’d become financially comfortable…  and yet I was still buying the store brand ketchup to save $0.30, when all I wanted was that yummy-a$$ Heinz!
  • I would lay awake at night, catastrophizing, imagining the 18 different ways we might lose it all, and then spend the rest of the night tossing and turning, visualizing my family living under a bridge
  • So, I think, finally, one part of my brain said to itself, “How do I get this motherf*cker to calm his a$$ down about money?"
  • And, well, that part of my brain hit upon luxury watches of all things!  Why luxury watches?  Well, who are the only people who can afford to waste tens of thousands of dollars on completely useless and anachronistic trinkets?  People who have money and don’t need to worry one whit about financial security!
  • If you buy that Grand Seiko Spring Drive that has amazing +/- 10 seconds per month accuracy, it’s still absolute sh*t compared to a $2 quartz watch, which is absolute sh*t compared to your cell phone.  So, you’re buying that Grand Seiko Spring Drive just because you got a lot of money and spending that money on something absolutely useless just ain’t gonna affect you financially one way or the other
  • That part of my brain decided to use luxury watches to flex to the part of my brain always hyperventilating about money

And you know what?  It worked!  Ever since I got into watches, I don’t worry at all about financial security anymore.  I don’t give it a second thought.  

THAT is the Inner Flex.  

Well, it’s one type of Inner Flex.  I’m sure there must be lots of others.  

Maybe watch collecting is how one part of your brain convinces another part that you’re well-read and knowledgeable - after all, who else but someone well-read and knowledgeable would know the ins and outs of pallet fork versus lever escapements.  Maybe watch collecting is how one part of your brain convinces another part that you’re still virile and rugged and sporty - after all, who else but rugged adventurers appreciate bulletproof tool watches that can survive rock climbing, cave exploring, and diving?  

Here on WatchCrunch, we certainly ain’t flexing to others - I mean, we’re all anonymous on here!  So, are you flexing to yourself?  Are you engaged in the Inner Flex too?

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Let me ponder this.  I think that you are wrong and I will explain later.  But first, work.

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I can agree that watch collecting can be a form of inner flex. I don’t have any luxury watches as I have small kids and work in construction, instead I’ve purchased about 20 watches in a year. But to go back to your original question if everything you say is true that can’t be why we’re on WC as it doesn’t help with that. Or is showing of to others part of what gives you that feeling? Great post by the though I had to read it a second time to remember what the original question was. 😉

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That's a deep deep post,love it,and yes I've got an absurd amount of inner flex. And Dr strangelove is one of my favourite films,and now every time I watch I will look at my wrist and smile.

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Aurelian

Let me ponder this.  I think that you are wrong and I will explain later.  But first, work.

Amazing.  You and I will find anything to argue about.  

Yo, @Aurelian, which is better?  Penne or rigatoni?  Wrong!  Angel hair is the answer!

Amazon.com : DE CECCO Angel Hair Pasta 16 OZ (Pack of 3) : Grocery &  Gourmet Food
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I don't understand most of HWC69's posts but I love it when I see a new one pop up in the feed ❤

I also love that someone decided to name their child McGeorge

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Matt84

I can agree that watch collecting can be a form of inner flex. I don’t have any luxury watches as I have small kids and work in construction, instead I’ve purchased about 20 watches in a year. But to go back to your original question if everything you say is true that can’t be why we’re on WC as it doesn’t help with that. Or is showing of to others part of what gives you that feeling? Great post by the though I had to read it a second time to remember what the original question was. 😉

Hmmmm...  that's a very good point!  I hadn't thought of that!!!

So, yeah, we could totally flex to ourselves without ever having to get on an anonymous forum to do so.  That's right.  Damn!  Well, this whole post...

Throw Out The Window GIFs | Tenor

Or...  maybe getting on a forum is some sort of performative commitment device?  Like, it forces us to believe even more strongly in the persona we're trying to convince ourselves we inhabit, right?  Like the classic Seinfeld line...

Its Not A Lie If You Believe It GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY
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Let me add this to the stack of reading on my nightstand, Melville. 

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interesting post as always. im thinking hard but still cant find my inner flexing yet 😂

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Stricko

That's a deep deep post,love it,and yes I've got an absurd amount of inner flex. And Dr strangelove is one of my favourite films,and now every time I watch I will look at my wrist and smile.

My favorite scene in the whole movie!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uCIxFizWbc

"Well, listen, how do you think I feel about it? Can you imagine how I feel about it, Dimitri? Why do you think I’m calling you? Just to say hello? Of course I like to speak to you. Of course I like to say hello. Not now, but any time, Dimitri. I’m just calling up to tell you something terrible has happened."

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morganthedruid

I don't understand most of HWC69's posts but I love it when I see a new one pop up in the feed ❤

I also love that someone decided to name their child McGeorge

Named their kid after the famous George Washington shaped McNugget...

$8100 George Washington Chicken McNugget
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For me its just about the time and wearing different watches every day to tell it. I try not to overthink it. Let the rich flex and i'll do me.

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I must say, as a politics graduate who studied some international relations, I find it so refreshing to be reading about game theory, the Cold War, and nuclear deterrence on WatchCrunch 😂

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GreenNeptune

I must say, as a politics graduate who studied some international relations, I find it so refreshing to be reading about game theory, the Cold War, and nuclear deterrence on WatchCrunch 😂

This is required reading for our foreign policy book club...

https://www.amazon.com/Public-Choice-Theory-Illusion-Strategy-ebook/dp/B09L9Y2W7S

Public Choice Theory and the Illusion of Grand Strategy: How Generals,  Weapons Manufacturers, and Foreign Governments Shape American Foreign  Policy by Richard Hanania
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To me watch collecting is similar to a train set, a tiny world you can control and "keep whole". It is also very tangible. I used to work on cars for the same reason, but I don't have the time anymore.

To me it's a form of escapism from a world that forces you to adjust constantly, in very abstract ways.

P.S.: It also helps me preserve the purity of my precious bodily fluids.

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I have many thoughts about this, but only enough energy for one. I would have sworn I’d kept my desire to mate with @Max under wraps.  Bedtime, night all.