Talya Miron-Shatz

For the Kidnapped: The Tragedy of the Loss Domain

Benny is at the casino. He loses $5,000. And boy does that hurt. Because, as Behavioral Economics, defined by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman tells us, losses loom larger than gains. Three things happen when you enter the loss domain:

  1. You feel the emotional pain of losing. Ouch.
  2. You are eager to get out of the loss domain, and ‘close the account’ by winning, or at least breaking even.
  3. Additional pains, though they sink you deeper in the loss domain, don’t cause you substantial pain.

Benny has many more jetons, which he keeps gambling on, in the hope of breaking even and getting out of the painful loss domain. He wins $500, then loses another $2,000, $4,000, $7,000… When he runs out of jetons, he rushes to exchange his car keys for a fresh pile of jetons, which he proceeds to lose.

Benny’s girlfriend is turning pale by the minute and urges him to leave the casino. Right now!

Benny says no! He shrugs off his accumulated losses and proceeds to lose, stubbornly, in the hope of leaving the casino victoriously. As you can imagine, it does not end well. Broke and disillusioned, Benny leaves the casino a few hours later, his pockets much lighter, and his girlfriend furious. The next day he ponders what happened, and how he got sucked into losing so much, when all he wanted was to break even.

Now let’s get back to Israeli reality and think of the kidnapped who have been in Gaza since October 7th. It’s been too long. Some of them are dead. The living, as we heard from the ones who returned in exchanges, are starved, tortured, physically, mentally, and sexually abused. For them, every moment is a horror.

We’re counting their days in captivity, 99, 100, 108, 111 today. That’s 111 days too many. For anyone in a tunnel, deprived of freedom and hope, every second is one second too many, and is experienced acutely. 111 days turning to 112, 113, God forbid 120, are a loss we cannot accept. It’s a loss that needs to end. Right now!

Behavioral economics tells us that when you’re deep in the loss domain, like Benny has been, we are jaded to additional losses. It tells us that it should not matter whether the kidnapped suffer for another second, moment, hour, day, week. But, as humans, as Israelis who believe in the eternally binding contract between us and our country, we need to do all that we can to protect our country, and to know that our country will go above and beyond to protect us.

We need to rise above behavioral economics, and the numbing effect of the loss domain. We need to accept that this horrible war we were forced into on October 7th may not end with a victory picture. We need to do all we can to bring the kidnapped back home. Right now.


About the Author
A decision scientist who trained at Princeton University with Daniel Kahneman. A former Wharton lecturer. A full professor at the Ono Academic College business school, specializing in medical decision making. Born in Jerusalem to Tunisian-Syrian Jews, I grew up to become an author, researcher, mother, grandma, and fierce activist.
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