Optionality versus Duality

Abstract: Many people have a simple ideal of natural harmony in which everything has an opposite which with it should be 'in balance'. This article argues that duality's plural look is deceptive. Obviously, such a fixation on two opposites is an inaccurate simplification of far more complex matters. This article also argues that duality inevitably restricts optionality. A fixation on the number 'two' restricts optionality as it endorses situations such as monopolies and cartels.

A. The Deception of Duality

The concept of duality is very old. It plays an important role in Taoist philosophy, dating back thousands of years. The opposites of Yin and Yang represent respectively negative and positive forces, feminine and masculine, the moon and the sun, dark and light, winter and summer, the left hand and the right hand, passive and active, etc, etc. This duality is deceptive as the different appearances are in fact part of one larger concept, e.g. gender, seasons, etc. When it becomes a rule, such duality is very close to singular thinking, as anything must have its opposite to complement it into unity.

Such use of opposites is also common in western philosophy. In the dialectic system of Hegel, each thesis calls up an anti-thesis and together they establish a synthesis, which in turn is a thesis calling up another anti-thesis to form a new synthesis, and so on. This is very similar to the method used by Socrates to search for 'the Truth'. Many scientists have based theis theories on the presumption that if something is there, the opposite must also be there, right through to the existence of anti-matter. But again, it is deceptive to claim that one can always put together two opposites to find completeness, truth and reality. In many cases, this kind of thinking is merely an exercise in hollow rhetoric without much deeper thought or logic.

B. Duality and Competition

To present duality as the summum of competition is another example of this deception. Two suppliers, each concentrating on opposite parts of the market do not really compete with each other, they complement each other, forming a duopoly that, when institutionalised by law, prevents any other supplier from operating in their joint area of the market.

A duopoly is sometimes presented as a highly competitive environment. The claim is that competition will be most fierce between two players that have only each other to fight for market share. In this kind of rhetoric, competition is portrayed as a fight between two parties, resulting in a single winner. The fighting may be fierce, but as the winner emerges, competition has ended; the competition has effectively been destroyed.

It is as if the two parties are tugging a rope each at one end; there may be fierce competition, but in this tug-of-war all energy is spent on fighting each other, rather than on providing competitive services to customers. This kind of competition is therefore also unhealthy and unproductive.

C. More 'healthy' Competition

A duality is not the best environment for competition to flourish. Either the two parties concentrate on opposite ends of the market and start jointly acting as a monopoly, or a tug-of-war breaks out between the two, destroying the very concept of competition. Consumers are not benefiting from all this, they are ripped off one way or the other, as there is no mechanism to prevent dual suppliers to exploit the absence of other players in 'their' market.

If there were more players in the market, say five or six, there would be little chance that two of them would start a tug-of-war, a cut-throat fight between the two; if they did, the other ones would be smiling at the sideline, watching the two fools disappear from the market; the fight makes that the two can no longer compete with the other players that do not have to spend so much of their energy on such a fight. The very existence of more than two players prevents such a destructive tug-of-war.

D. An even more 'healthy' Environment

In a more 'healthy' environment, consumers can choose between suppliers and they should not even have to give such choice much consideration; competition will ensure that any supplier represents a good choice.

The problem is that such competition needs a legal framework that insists on multiple suppliers. And such a legal framework comes with the risk of governmental abuse of power. Furthermore, a healthy environment can technically exist even when there is only one supplier active in a given area, as long as market entrance for other suppliers is not obstructed.

Therefore, optionality is conceptually superior to competition. What is clear is that a healthy environment is not so much a question of numbers; thus, any fixation on the number two is likely to do more harm than good, not only because it diverts attention away from optionality, but because it actually restricts optionality.

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