April 1, 1997
Beginning of the Road
By Dane Sorensen
Senator Wellstone's grand plan for peace and compromise has failed. I am referring to the Mediation Process to solve all the problems concerning the BWCAW. We can't blame the members who represented Ely. Paul Forsman and Barb Berglund tried to explain their reasoned positions to the metro environmentalists. Brent Spink bought his environmental beliefs to the table, but was willing to keep an open mind. All of them wanted this process to really work. If the table had only been restricted to that number, a true compromise may have been possible.
But the hole idea of mediation was flawed. It can only work when both sides are empowered. In the case of unions versus corporations, both sides need each other. The corporations need workers to run the equipment. The workers need equipment to create work. this equal empowerment will eventually temper both sides to seek an agreement.
In the case of Ely versus the enviro-network, it is obvious that the environmental factions had all the marbles. They were well funded. The environmentalists sent an attorney who works for a prominent Minneapolis law practice. This attorney did not have to worry about lost income. The mediation process could take decades and it would not be a problem for him.
What the mediation process and the BWCAW controversy comes down to is game theory. Scientists like Dr. John von Neumann and Martin Shubik brought game theory to a high art. Shubik and von Neumann were part of the Rand Corporation that was a famous think tank in the 1950s. They inspired movies like Fail Safe and Dr. Strangelove with their work on game theory and World War III. Every game from Tic Tac Toe to Chess was dissected to understand the rules of competition and conflict.
Our game started with "Tic Tac Toe." Most people tend to cooperate. However, every now and then the urge to increase one's advantage tempts one to screw the other guy. When that happens, the other guy swears to get even - that is "Tit for Tat." The rules are simple. You cooperate, I cooperate. You screw me and next time I will get even.
the string of "Tit for Tat" hits on Ely have basically been one-sided. The result is that some Elyites are so bent out of shape that even dog poop in the BWCAW is a moral outrage. It gets ugly and emotional at times.
The mediation process became the "Dollar Game." The "Dollar Game" is where you have a group bid for one dollar. The rules are that the highest bidder wins and the second highest bidder must pay his bid and lose it. The game begins simply with a 1 cent bid. Someone then bids 2 cents. The 1 cent bidder still sees a profit to be made and tops it with a 3 cent bid. At the one dollar mark, the losing bidder sees he may lose 99 cents and then bids $1.01 feeling that it is better to pay a penny over $1.00 than lose 99 cents. That same logic works later when the bid is $1,000 and the last losing bidder thinks that it would be better to pay $1000.01 for a dollar bill than lose $999.99. What it comes down to is that we feel we have invested so much into something that at this point in time it would be foolish to waste the investment and quit.
The problem with the Dollar game is that you need to understand who has the biggest purse. The environmental faction knew from the start who had the biggest purse. They knew they could always outbid the Ely faction. They knew they could out last the Ely faction. They will report that the Ely crowd is incapable of compromise and then show another law or two down our throats.
Ely has lost the war. It is time to declare defeat and realize that the more noise we make the more we will lose. The next bid will always be 1 cent more than we have. Many folks have invested a lot of emotional assets in this fight. It is hard to stop increasing the bid, but if you understand the rules of the game you will see only a sucker will continue to bid away the future.
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