I started this book expecting a popular treatment of game theory. I was in for a surprise! Contrary to what the title might lead you to believe, "Finite and Infinite Games" is actually an extremely dense religious/philosophical text. The insights-per-paragraph rate is insane.
Carse - a religion prof at NYU - tends to set up dualities: power vs. strength, culture vs. society, language vs. history, machine vs. nature, and - most crucially - finite vs. infinite. He often inverts language in strange ways: "A finite player puts play into time. An infinite player puts time into play." This makes his book particularly difficult to grok, especially when considering all of the complex topics he covers. While meditating on the nature of time and evil, Carse packs into a tiny 150 page book startlingly radical ideas about everything from sexuality and property to war and poetry.
This is an odd book and I'm still trying to figure out what I really think about it. I'll need to re-read it before I can decide whether this is an important book or a bunch of hooey. A comment from someone in book club was, "I would gladly sign up for a religion based on this book." Not sure I'm there yet, but we'll see what a re-read yields!
My highlights below.
1 - There Are At Least Two Kinds Of Games
A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.
In one respect, but only one, an infinite game is identical to a finite game: Of infinite players we can also say that if they play they play freely; if they must play, they cannot play. Otherwise, infinite and finite play stand in the sharpest possible contrast.
The rules of a finite game are the contractual terms by which the players can agree who has won.
A point of great consequence to all finite play follows from this: The agreement of the players to the applicable rules constitutes the ultimate validation of those rules.
The rules of an infinite game are changed to prevent anyone from winning the game and to bring as many persons as possible into the play. If the rules of a finite game are the contractual terms by which the players can agree who has won, the rules of an infinite game are the contractual terms by which the players agree to continue playing.
Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries.
There are, to be sure, games in which the stakes seem to be life and death. In slavery, for example, or severe political oppression, the refusal to play the demanded role may be paid for with terrible suffering or death. Even in this last, extreme case we must still concede that whoever takes up the commanded role does so by choice. Certainly the price for refusing it is high, but that there is a price at all points to the fact that oppressors themselves acknowledge that even the weakest of their subjects must agree to be oppressed.
Unlike infinite play, finite play is limited from without; like infinite play, those limitations must be chosen by the player since no one is under any necessity to play a finite game. Fields of play simply do not impose themselves on us. Therefore, all the limitations of finite play are self-limitations.
Some self-veiling is present in all finite games. Players must intentionally forget the inherently voluntary nature of their play, else all competitive effort will desert them.
The issue is whether we are ever willing to drop the veil and openly acknowledge, if only to ourselves, that we have freely chosen to face the world through a mask.
“To believe is to know you believe, and to know you believe is not to believe” (Sartre).
Seriousness always has to do with an established script, an ordering of affairs completed somewhere outside the range of our influence.
To be serious is to press for a specified conclusion. To be playful is to allow for possibility whatever the cost to oneself.
Dramatically, one chooses to be a mother; theatrically, one takes on the role of mother
It is the desire of all finite players to be Master Players, to be so perfectly skilled in their play that nothing can surprise them, so perfectly trained that every move in the game is foreseen at the beginning. A true Master Player plays as though the game is already in the past, according to a script whose every detail is known prior to the play itself.
Surprise in finite play is the triumph of the past over the future.
Surprise causes finite play to end; it is the reason for infinite play to continue.
Because infinite players prepare themselves to be surprised by the future, they play in complete openness. It is not an openness as in candor, but an openness as in vulnerability. It is not a matter of exposing one’s unchanging identity, the true self that has always been, but a way of exposing one’s ceaseless growth, the dynamic self that has yet to be. The infinite player does not expect only to be amused by surprise, but to be transformed by it, for surprise does not alter some abstract past, but one’s own personal past. To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated.
It is a principal function of society to validate titles and to assure their perpetual recognition.
When life is viewed by a finite player as the award to be won, then death is a token of defeat. Death is not, therefore, chosen, but inflicted. It happens to one when the struggle against it fails. Death comes as a judgment, a dishonor, a sign of certain weakness. Death for the finite player is deserved, earned. “The wages of sin is death” (Paul). If the losers are dead, the dead are also losers. There is a contradiction here: If the prize for winning finite play is life, then the players are not properly alive. They are competing for life. Life, then, is not play, but the outcome of play. Finite players play to live; they do not live their playing. Life is therefore deserved, bestowed, possessed, won. It is not lived. “Life itself appears only as a means to life” (Marx).
Immortality is therefore the supreme example of the contradictoriness of finite play: It is a life one cannot live.
The finite play for life is serious; the infinite play of life is joyous. Infinite play resounds throughout with a kind of laughter. It is not a laughter at others who have come to an unexpected end, having thought they were going somewhere else. It is laughter with others with whom we have discovered that the end we thought we were coming to has unexpectedly opened. We laugh not at what has surprisingly come to be impossible for others, but over what has surprisingly come to be possible with others.
The joyfulness of infinite play, its laughter, lies in learning to start something we cannot finish.
If finite players acquire titles from winning their games, we must say of infinite players that they have nothing but their names. Names, like titles, are given. Persons cannot name themselves any more than they can entitle themselves. However, unlike titles, which are given for what a person has done, a name is given at birth — at a time when a person cannot yet have done anything. Titles are given at the end of play, names at the beginning.
Power is a feature only of finite games. It is not dramatic but theatrical. How then do infinite players contend with power? Infinite play is always dramatic; its outcome is endlessly open. There is no way of looking back to make a definitive assessment of the power or weakness of earlier play. Infinite players look forward, not to a victory in which the past will achieve a timeless meaning, but toward ongoing play in which the past will require constant reinterpretation. Infinite players do not oppose the actions of others, but initiate actions of their own in such a way that others will respond by initiating their own. We need a term that will stand in contrast to “power” as it acquires its meaning in finite play. Let us say that where the finite player plays to be powerful, the infinite player plays with strength.
Power is concerned with what has already happened; strength with what has yet to happen. Power is finite in amount. Strength cannot be measured, because it is an opening and not a closing act. Power refers to the freedom persons have within limits, strength to the freedom persons have with limits. Power will always be restricted to a relatively small number of selected persons. Anyone can be strong.
Evil is the termination of infinite play. It is infinite play coming to an end in unheard silence.
Evil is not the attempt to eliminate the play of another according to published and accepted rules, but to eliminate the play of another regardless of the rules. Evil is not the acquisition of power, but the expression of power. It is the forced recognition of a title — and therein lies the contradiction of evil, for recognition cannot be forced.
Evil is never intended as evil. Indeed, the contradiction inherent in all evil is that it originates in the desire to eliminate evil. “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”
Evil arises in the honored belief that history can be tidied up, brought to a sensible conclusion. It is evil to act as though the past is bringing us to a specifiable end. It is evil to assume that the past will make sense only if we bring it to an issue we have clearly in view. It is evil for a nation to believe it is “the last, best hope on earth.” It is evil to think history is to end with a return to Zion, or with the classless society, or with the Islamicization of all living infidels.
2- No One Can Play A Game Alone
Only that which can change can continue: this is the principle by which infinite players live.
When Bismarck described politics as the art of the possible, he meant, of course, that the possible is to be found somewhere within fixed limits, within social realities. He plainly did not mean that the possible extended to those limits themselves. Such a politics is therefore seriousness itself, especially since politicians of nearly every ideology represent themselves as champions of freedom, doing what is necessary and even distasteful toward the end of enlarging the range of the possible. “We must learn the fine arts of war and independence so that our children can learn architecture and engineering so that their children may learn the fine arts and painting” (John Quincy Adams).
But in the infinite player’s vision of political affairs the element of intentionality and willfulness, so easily obscured in the exigencies of public crisis, stands out in clear relief. Therefore, even warfare and heroism are seen with their self-contradictions in full display. No nation can go to war until it has found another that can agree to the terms of the conflict. Each side must therefore be in complicity with the other: Before I can have an enemy, I must persuade another to recognize me as an enemy. I cannot be a hero unless I can first find someone who will threaten my life — or, better, take my life. Once under way, warfare and acts of heroism have all the appearance of necessity, but that appearance is but a veil over the often complicated maneuvers by which the antagonists have arranged their conflict with each other.
The United States did not, for example, lose its war in Southeast Asia so much as lose its audience for a war.
It is because of the essential theatricality of politics that infinite players do not take sides in political issues — at least not seriously. Instead they enter into social conflict dramatically, attempting to offer a vision of continuity and open-endedness in place of the heroic final scene. In doing so they must at the very least draw the attention of other political participants not to what they feel they must do, but to why they feel they must do it.
Just as infinite play cannot be contained within finite play, culture cannot be authentic if held within the boundaries of a society. Of course, it is often the strategy of a society to initiate and embrace a culture as exclusively its own. Culture so bounded may even be so lavishly subsidized and encouraged by society that it has the appearance of open-ended activity, but in fact it is designed to serve societal interests in every case — like the socialist realism of Soviet art. Society and culture are therefore not true opponents of each other. Rather society is a species of culture that persists in contradicting itself, a freely organized attempt to conceal the freedom of the organizers and the organized, an attempt to forget that we have willfully forgotten our decision to enter this or that contest and to continue in it.
The prizes won by its citizens can be protected only if the society as a whole remains powerful in relation to other societies. Those who desire the permanence of their prizes will work to sustain the permanence of the whole. Patriotism in one or several of its many forms (chauvinism, racism, sexism, nationalism, regionalism) is an ingredient in all societal play. Because power is inherently patriotic, it is characteristic of finite players to seek a growth of power in a society as a way of increasing the power of a society. It is in the interest of a society therefore to encourage competition within itself, to establish the largest possible number of prizes, for the holders of prizes will be those most likely to defend the society as a whole against its competitors.
Culture, on the other hand, is an infinite game. Culture has no boundaries. Anyone can be a participant in a culture — anywhere and at any time.
Deviancy, however, is the very essence of culture. Whoever merely follows the script, merely repeating the past, is culturally impoverished.
It is essential to the identity of a society to forget that it has forgotten that society is always a species of culture. Its citizens must find ways of persuading themselves that their own particular boundaries have been imposed on them, and were not freely chosen by them. For example, it is one thing for persons to choose to be Americans, quite another for persons to choose to be America. Societal thinking easily permits the former, never the latter.
One reason for the necessity of a society is its role in ascribing and validating the titles to property. “The great and chief end therefore, of Mens uniting into Commonwealths, and putting themselves under Government, is the preservation of their Property; to which in the state of nature there are many things wanting” (Locke).
There is no effective pattern of entitlement in a society short of the free agreement of all opponents that the titles to property are in the hands of the actual winners.
Only by free self-concealment can persons believe they obey the law because the law is powerful; in fact, the law is powerful for persons only because they obey it. We do not proceed through a traffic intersection because the signal changes, but when the signal changes.
This means that a peculiar burden falls on property owners. Since the laws protecting their property will be effective only when they are able to persuade others to obey those laws, they must introduce a theatricality into their ownership sufficiently engaging that their opponents will live by its script. The theatricality of property has, in fact, an elaborate structure that property owners must be at considerable labor to sustain. If property is to be persuasively emblematic, that is, if it is to draw attention to the owner’s titles in past victories, a double burden falls on its owners: First, they must show that the amount of their property corresponds to the difficulty they were under in winning title to it. Property must be seen as compensation. Second, they must show that the type of their property corresponds to the nature of the competition by which title to it was won. Property must be seen to be consumed.
Whoever is unable to show a correspondence between wealth and the risks undergone to acquire it, or the talents spent in its acquisition, will soon face a challenge over entitlement. The rich are regularly subject to theft, to taxation, to the expectation that their wealth be shared, as though what they have is not true compensation and therefore not completely theirs.
The intuitive principle here is that we cannot be justified in owning what we do not need to use or plan to use.
Consumption is an activity so different from gainful labor that it shows itself in the mode of leisure, even indolence. We display the success of what we have done by not having to do anything. The more we use up, therefore, the more we show ourselves to be winners of past contests. “Conspicuous abstention from labour therefore becomes the conventional mark of superior pecuniary achievement and the conventional index of reputability; and conversely, since application to productive labour is a mark of poverty and subjection, it becomes inconsistent with a reputable standing in the community” (Veblen).
It is apparent to infinite players that wealth is not so much possessed as it is performed.
If one of the reasons for uniting into commonwealths is the protection of property, and if property is to be protected less by power as such than by theater, then societies become acutely dependent on their artists — what Plato called poietai: the storytellers, the inventors, sculptors, poets, any original thinkers whatsoever.
But any policy of forceful restraint so extreme that it requires an officer for each potential criminal is a formula for quick descent into social chaos.
Societal theorists of any subtlety whatever know that such theatricalization must be taken with great seriousness. Without it there is no culture at all, and a society without culture would be too drab and lifeless to be endured. What would Nazism have been without its musicians, graphic artists, and set designers, without its Albert Speer and Leni Riefenstahl?
The deepest and most consequent struggle of each society is therefore not with other societies, but with the culture that exists within itself — the culture that is itself. Conflict with other societies is, in fact, an effective way for a society to restrain its own culture. Powerful societies do not silence their poietai in order that they may go to war; they go to war as a way of silencing their poietai.
Alexander and Napoleon took their poets and their scholars into battle with them, saving themselves the nuisance of repression and along the way drawing ever larger audiences to their triumph.
What confounds a society is not serious opposition, but the lack of seriousness altogether. Generals can more easily suffer attempts to oppose their warfare with poiesis than attempts to show warfare as poiesis.
This is why patriotism — that is, the desire to protect the power in a society by way of increasing the power of a society — is inherently belligerent. Since there can be no prizes without a society, no society without opponents, patriots must create enemies before we can require protection from them. Patriots can flourish only where boundaries are well-defined, hostile, and dangerous. The spirit of patriotism is therefore characteristically associated with the military or other modes of international conflict. Because patriotism is the desire to contain all other finite games within itself — that is, to embrace all horizons within a single boundary — it is inherently evil.
Since a culture is not anything persons do, but anything they do with each other, we may say that a culture comes into being whenever persons choose to be a people. It is as a people that they arrange their rules with each other, their moralities, their modes of communication. Properly speaking, the Renaissance is not a period but a people, moreover, a people without a boundary, and therefore without an enemy. The Renaissance is not against anyone. Whoever is not of the Renaissance cannot go out to oppose it, for they will find only an invitation to join the people it is.
A people, as a people, has nothing to defend. In the same way a people has nothing and no one to attack. One cannot be free by opposing another. My freedom does not depend on your loss of freedom. On the contrary, since freedom is never freedom from society, but freedom for it, my freedom inherently affirms yours. A people has no enemies.
For a bounded, metaphysically veiled, and destined society, enemies are necessary, conflict inevitable, and war likely. War is not an act of unchecked ruthlessness but a declared contest between bounded societies, or states. If a state has no enemies it has no boundaries. To keep its definitions clear a state must stimulate danger to itself. Under the constant danger of war the people of a state are far more attentive and obedient to the finite structures of their society: “just as the blowing of the winds preserves the sea from the foulness which would be the result of a prolonged calm, so also corruption in nations would be the product of prolonged, let alone ‘perpetual’ peace” (Hegel). War presents itself as necessary for self-protection, when in fact it is necessary for self-identification.
Finite players go to war against states because they endanger boundaries; infinite players oppose states because they engender boundaries.
Poets who have no metaphysics, and therefore no political line, make war impossible because they have the irresistible ability to show the guardians that what seems necessary is only possible.
We can find metaphysicians thinking, but we cannot find metaphysicians in their thinking. When we separate the metaphysics from the thinker we have an abstraction, the deathless shadow of a once living act. It is no longer what someone is saying but what someone has said. When metaphysics is most successful on its own terms, it leaves its listeners in silence, certainly not in laughter. Metaphysics is about the real but is abstract. Poetry is the making (poiesis) of the real and is concrete. Whenever what is made (poiema) is separated from the maker (poietes), it becomes metaphysical. As it stands there, and as the voice of the poietes is no longer listened to, the poiema is an object to be studied, not an act to be learned. One cannot learn an object, but only the poiesis, or the act of creating objects. To separate the poiema from poiesis, the created object from the creative act, is the essence of the theatrical. Poets cannot kill; they die. Metaphysics cannot die; it kills.
3 - I Am The Genius Of Myself
Inasmuch as finite play always has its audience, it is the audience to whom the finite player intends to be known as winner. The finite player, in other words, must not only have an audience but must have an audience to convince.
As we enter into finite play — not playfully, but seriously — we come before an audience conscious that we bear the antititles of invisibility. We feel the need, therefore, to prove to them that we are not what we think they think we are or, more precisely, that we were not who we think the audience thinks we were.
The more we are recognized as winners, the more we know ourselves to be losers. That is why it is rare for the winners of highly coveted and publicized prizes to settle for their titles and retire. Winners, especially celebrated winners, must prove repeatedly they are winners.
There is a humiliating memory at the bottom of all serious conflicts. “Remember the Alamo!” “Remember the Maine!” “Remember Pearl Harbor!” These are the cries that carried Americans into several wars. Having once been insulted by Athens, the great Persian Emperor Darius renewed his appetite for war by having a page follow him about to whisper in his ear, “Sire, remember the Athenians.”
I am not touched by an other when the distance between us is reduced to zero. I am touched only if I respond from my own center — that is, spontaneously, originally. But you do not touch me except from your own center, out of your own genius. Touching is always reciprocal. You cannot touch me unless I touch you in response. The opposite of touching is moving. You move me by pressing me from without toward a place you have already foreseen and perhaps prepared. It is a staged action that succeeds only if in moving me you remain unmoved yourself.
This means that we can be moved only by persons who are not what they are; we can be moved only when we are not who we are, but are what we cannot be. When I am touched, I am touched only as the person I am behind all the theatrical masks, but at the same time I am changed from within — and whoever touches me is touched as well. We do not touch by design.
The dread of illness is the dread of losing.
Sexuality is the only finite game in which the winner’s prize is the defeated opponent.
A society shows its mastery in the management of sexuality not when it sets out unambiguous standards for sexual behavior or prescribed attitudes toward sexual feelings, but when it institutionalizes the emblematic display of sexual conquest. These institutions can be as varied as burning widows alive on the funeral pyres of their husbands or requiring the high visibility of a spouse at an elected official’s inauguration.
Insofar as sexuality is a drama of origin it is original to society and not derivative of it. It is therefore somewhat misleading to describe society as a regulator of finite sexual play. It is more the case that finite sexuality shapes society than is shaped by it. Only to a limited extent do we take on the sexual roles assigned us by society. Much more frequently we enter into societal arrangements by way of sexual roles. (For example, we are more likely to refer to the king as the father of the country than we are to refer to the father as king of the family.) While society does serve a regulatory function, it is probably more correctly understood as sexuality making use of society to regulate itself. This means that society plays little or no role in either causing or preventing sexual tensions. On the contrary, society absorbs sexual tensions into all of its structures.
Since the emphasis in this relationship is not on what our parents thought of us but on what we thought they thought, they become an audience that easily survives their physical absence or death. Moreover, for the same reason they become an audience whose definitive approval we can never win. To use Freud’s famous phrase, the civilized are, therefore, the discontent. We do not become losers in civilization but become civilized as losers.
This is also why the only true revolutionary act is not the overthrow of the father by the son — which only reinforces the existing patterns of resentment — but the restoration of genius to sexuality. It is by no means an accident that the only successful attempt of the American citizenry to force the ending of a foreign war occurred simultaneously with a wide revision in sexual attitudes. The civilization quickly recovered from this threat, however, by tempting these revolutionaries into a new sexual politics, one of societal standoff, where sexual genius is confused with such struggles as the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and the election of women to national office.
However, who wins empire, fortune, and fame but loses in love has lost in everything.
Lovers often sustain vivid reminders of extraordinary moments, but they are reminded at the same time of their impotence in recreating them. The appetite for novelty in lovemaking — new positions, the use of drugs, exotic surroundings, additional partners — is only a search for new moments that can live on only in recollection. As with all finite play, the goal of veiled sexuality is to bring itself to an end.
Fathering and mothering are roles freely assumed but always with the design of showing them to be theatrical. It is the intention of parents in such families to make it plain to their children that they all play cultural and not societal roles, that they are only roles, and that they are all truly concrete persons behind them. Therefore, children also learn that they have a family only by choosing to have it, by a collective act to be a family with each other.
4 - A Finite Game Occurs Within A World
Early in a game time seems abundant, and there appears a greater freedom to develop future strategies. Late in a game, time is rapidly being consumed. As choices become more limited they become more important. Errors are more disastrous. We look on childhood and youth as those “times of life” rich with possibility only because there still seem to remain so many paths open to a successful outcome. Each year that passes, however, increases the competitive value of making strategically correct decisions. The errors of childhood can be more easily amended than those of adulthood. For the finite player in us freedom is a function of time. We must have time to be free.
The outcome of a finite game is the past waiting to happen. Whoever plays toward a certain outcome desires a particular past. By competing for a future prize, finite players compete for a prized past.
The infinite player in us does not consume time but generates it. Because infinite play is dramatic and has no scripted conclusion, its time is time lived and not time viewed. As an infinite player one is neither young nor old, for one does not live in the time of another. There is therefore no external measure of an infinite player’s temporality. Time does not pass for an infinite player. Each moment of time is a beginning. Each moment is not the beginning of a period of time. It is the beginning of an event that gives the time within it its specific quality. For an infinite player there is no such thing as an hour of time. There can be an hour of love, or a day of grieving, or a season of learning, or a period of labor.
An infinite player does not begin working for the purpose of filling up a period of time with work, but for the purpose of filling work with time. Work is not an infinite player’s way of passing time, but of engendering possibility. Work is not a way of arriving at a desired present and securing it against an unpredictable future, but of moving toward a future which itself has a future.
For the finite player in us freedom is a function of time. We must have the time to be free. For the infinite player in us time is a function of freedom. We are free to have time. A finite player puts play into time. An infinite player puts time into play.
If the goal of finite play is to win titles for their timelessness, and thus eternal life for oneself, the essence of infinite play is the paradoxical engagement with temporality that Meister Eckhart called “eternal birth.”
5 - Nature Is The Realm Of The Unspeakable
“Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed” (Bacon).
Because of its thorough lawfulness nature has no genius of its own. On the contrary, it is sometimes thought that the grandest discovery of the human genius is the perfect compatibility between the structure of the natural order and the structure of the mind, thereby making a complete understanding of nature possible. “One may say ‘the eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility’” (Einstein). This is as much as to say that nature does have a voice, and its voice is no different from our own. We can then presume to speak for the unspeakable. This achievement is often raised as a sign of the great superiority of modern civilization over the many faded and lost civilizations of the ancients. While our great skill lies in finding patterns of repetition under the apparent play of accident and chance, less successful civilizations dealt with the threats of natural accident by appealing to supernatural powers for protection. But the voices of the gods proved to be ignorant and false; they have been silenced by the truth.
There is an irony in our silencing of the gods. By presuming to speak for the unspeakable, by hearing our own voice as the voice of nature, we have had to step outside the circle of nature. It is one thing for physics and chemistry to be speaking about nature; it is quite another for physics and chemistry to be the speaking of nature. No chemist would want to say that chemistry is itself chemical, for our speaking cannot be both chemical and about chemistry. If speaking about a process is itself part of the process, there is something that must remain permanently hidden from the speaker. To be intelligible at all, we must claim that we can step aside from the process and comment on it “objectively” and “dispassionately,” without anything obstructing our view of these matters. Here lies the irony: By way of this perfectly reasonable claim the gods have stolen back into our struggle with nature. By depriving the gods of their own voices, the gods have taken ours. It is we who speak as supernatural intelligences and powers, masters of the forces of nature.
“We have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning” (Heisenberg).
The unspeakability of nature is the very possibility of language.
If nature is the realm of the unspeakable, history is the realm of the speakable. Indeed, no speaking is possible that is not itself historical.
Explanations settle issues, showing that matters must end as they have. Narratives raise issues, showing that matters do not end as they must but as they do. Explanation sets the need for further inquiry aside; narrative invites us to rethink what we thought we knew. If the silence of nature is the possibility of language, language is the possibility of history.
Major challenges, however, are too serious to be met with argument, or with sharpened explanation. They call either for outright and wholesale rejection, or for conversion. One does not cross over from Manichaeism to Christianity, or from Lamarckianism to Darwinism, by a mere adjustment of views. True conversions consist in the choice of a new audience, that is, of a new world. All that was once familiar is now seen in startlingly new ways.
If explanation, to be successful, must be oblivious to the silence of nature, it must also in its success impose silence on its listeners. Imposed silence is the first consequence of the Master Player’s triumph. What one wins in a title is the privilege of magisterial speech. The privilege of magisterial speech is the highest honor attaching to any title. We expect the first act of a winner to be a speech. The first act of the loser may also be a speech, but it will be a speech to concede victory, to declare there will be no further challenge to the winner. It is a speech that promises to silence the loser’s voice.
It is chiefly in magisterial speech that the power of winners resides. To be powerful is to have one’s words obeyed. It is only by magisterial speech that the emblematic property of winners can be safeguarded. Those entitled to their possessions have the privilege of calling the police, calling up an army, to force the recognition of their emblems. The power of gods is known principally through their utterances. The sicut dixit dominus (thus says the lord) is always a signal for ritual silence. The speech of a god can be so perfectly expressive of that god’s power that the god and its speech become identical: “In the beginning was the word. The word was with God, and the word was God.” One is speechless before a god, or silent before a winner, because it no longer matters to others what one has to say. To lose a contest is to become obedient; to become obedient is to lose one’s listeners. The silence of obedience is an unheard silence. It is the silence of death. For this reason the demand for obedience is inherently evil.
Storytellers do not convert their listeners; they do not move them into the territory of a superior truth. Ignoring the issue of truth and falsehood altogether, they offer only vision. Storytelling is therefore not combative; it does not succeed or fail. A story cannot be obeyed. Instead of placing one body of knowledge against another, storytellers invite us to return from knowledge to thinking, from a bounded way of looking to an horizonal way of seeing.
Historians become infinite speakers when they see that whatever begins in freedom cannot end in necessity.
6 - We Control Nature for Societal Reasons
Indeed, prediction is the most highly developed skill of the Master Player, for without it control of an opponent is all the more difficult. It follows that our domination of nature is meant to achieve not certain natural outcomes, but certain societal outcomes.
Machine and garden are not absolutely opposed to each other. Machinery can exist in the garden quite as finite games can be played within an infinite game. The question is not one of restricting machines from the garden but asking whether a machine serves the interest of the garden, or the garden the interest of the machine. We are familiar with a kind of mechanized gardening that has the appearance of high productivity, but looking closely we can see that what is intended is not the encouragement of natural spontaneity but its harnessing.
The most elemental difference between the machine and the garden is that one is driven by a force which must be introduced from without, the other grown by an energy which originates from within itself.
Vitality cannot be given, only found.
Our freedom in relation to nature is not the freedom to change nature; it is not the possession of power over natural phenomena. It is the freedom to change ourselves. We are perfectly free to design a culture that will turn on the awareness that vitality cannot be given but only found, that the given patterns of spontaneity in nature are not only to be respected, but to be celebrated.
Human freedom is not a freedom over nature; it is the freedom to be natural, that is, to answer to the spontaneity of nature with our own spontaneity. Though we are free to be natural, we are not free by nature; we are free by culture, by history.
To operate a machine one must operate like a machine. Using a machine to do what we cannot do, we find we must do what the machine does.
Because we make use of machinery in the belief we can increase the range of our freedom, and instead only decrease it, we use machines against ourselves.
Such travel is not through space foreign to us, but in a space that belongs to us. We do not move from our point of departure, but with our point of departure. To be moved from our living room by an automobile whose upholstered seats differ scarcely at all from those in our living rooms, to an airport waiting room and then to the airplane where we are provided the same sort of furniture, is to have taken our origin with us; it is to have left home without leaving home. To be at home everywhere is to neutralize space.
The inherent hostility of machine-mediated relatedness is nowhere more evident than in the use of the most theatrical machines of all: instruments of war. All weapons are designed to affect others without affecting ourselves, to make others answerable to the technology in our control. Weapons are the equipment of finite games designed in such a way that they do not maximize the play but eliminate it. Weapons are meant not to win contests but to end them. Killers are not victors; they are unopposed competitors, players without a game, living contradictions. This is particularly the case with the airborne electronic weaponry of the present century, where the operator deals only with the technology — buttons, blips, lights, dials, levers, computer data — and never with the unseen opponent. Indeed, so empty of drama is the modern machinery of slaughter that it is intended to assault enemies only while they are still unseen. This reaches an extreme form in the belief that our enemies are not unseen because they are enemies, but are enemies because they are unseen.
While machinery is meant to work changes without changing its operators, gardening transforms its workers. One learns how to drive a car, one learns to drive as a car; but one becomes a gardener.
A garden is a place where growth is found. It has its own source of change. One does not bring change to a garden, but comes to a garden prepared for change, and therefore prepared to change. It is possible to deal with growth only out of growth. True parents do not see to it that their children grow in a particular way, according to a preferred pattern or scripted stages, but they see to it that they grow with their children. The character of one’s parenting, if it is genuinely dramatic, must be constantly altered from within as the children change from within. So, too, with teaching, or working with, or loving each other.
Waste is the antiproperty that becomes the possession of losers. It is the emblem of the untitled.
7 - Myth Promotes Explanation But Accepts None Of It
Knowledge is what successful explanation has led to; the thinking that sent us forth, however, is pure story.
A culture can be no stronger than its strongest myths.
A story attains the status of myth when it is retold, and persistently retold, solely for its own sake. If I tell a story as a way of bracing up an argument or amusing an audience, I am not telling it for its own sake. To tell a story for its own sake is to tell it for no other reason than that it is a story. Great stories have this feature: To listen to them and learn them is to become their narrators.
Whole civilizations rise from stories — and can rise from nothing else.
There is but one infinite game.