Everlasting Mono

Everlasting Mono was described to me (and my sister Laila on our Rethink the System tour of NZ’s North Island) by the feminist, academic and generally fair-minded Alison McCulloch. It is a means to ensure one game of Monopoly lasts for the full two weeks of a family holiday.

Why, oh why, you may well ask, would you want to make Monopoly last longer than usual? Monopoly is surely the world’s most hated board game, with its penchant for creating gloating winners and demoralised losers. In other games defeat may be brutal and tragic, but at least the end is quick. In Monopoly losers are often forced to play on for hours knowing they are headed for annihilation.

Alison revealed the workings of Everlasting Mono while we were discussing the Infinite Game. As she explained, when she and her siblings went on their summer holiday, they played Monopoly as an infinite game in which the object was to keep the game in play. To do this they changed the rules as needed to ensure that no one was ever forced out of the game. Bankrupt players for example, were given extra resources to ensure they could keep playing. After each session, they would carefully put the board and their stacks of money on a designated table until the next time.

My first reaction to this was how fabulous! To take the game that helps train children into the logic of capitalism and sabotage it by changing the rules and preventing anyone becoming the outright winner. Then I started to wonder if capitalism also knows how to keep people in the game – or at least keep them in just enough so that it is almost impossible for them to drop out and the overall game can continue. There are a thousand ways in which our current system achieves this. One is when people receive loans they cannot repay, so they are kept in a spiral of debt. Advertising is another means; the endless parade of new products and experiences that lure us into an everlasting consumption game.  Then there is the process by which more and more exchanges are mediated by money. It becomes harder and harder for us to imagine how we could live without buying food, medicine, child care, water, entertainment and so on. Whether we are truly “playing” in these scenarios, rather than being “played with” is debatable.

Because children are free(ish) the game between Alison and her friends was probably still at least minimally fun for everyone, or they would have quit and done something else. But we need to be careful not to assume that just because there is some sort of place for everyone in society as it currently operates, that this is good enough. An infinite game isn’t just about keeping it all going, is also about real play – which has to be fun for all.

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School prize giving season

It is school prize giving season. If you are around teenagers you may have noticed that winning a prize is often greeted with an air of indifference. If one of my children does so, I am momentarily overcome with the frantic joy of hearing my child’s name at the prize giving ceremony, with thoughts like, “Oh my goodness, [name of child] has been noticed, she/he is the best! Perhaps she/he does concentrate in class! I can walk out of here with pride!” When the ceremony is over, the child in question throws the certificate at me in an offhand manner, responding to my pride with something along the lines of, “Yeah [name of teacher] likes me,” or, “It’s only because they tested us on electricity which is easy, I suck at the rest of science”. At first glance this seems like a reversal of how it should be. My vicarious achievement should be less worthy of delight than my child’s actual achievement.

But when you think it through, what would my child’s social future at school be like if she/he whooped with joy at beating others? Pretty bleak I would say. From the perspective of the losers it is bad enough to be shown up as not worthy of the special attention given to winners, but for the winner to then gloat would be intolerable. So sensible winners learn to play it cool, because every normal child is still far more interested in having friends than being the best at anything, and so it should be. They are too connected to the losers not to guard their joy. I squirm when people talk about the New Zealand culture “knocking tall poppies” as if we should be encouraging our children to stand above the crowd. This is all wrong. It is awkward and inappropriate for children to be stars. They have far more fun challenging themselves and having their progress noticed in the spontaneous way in which people do take delight in other’s achievements. I have seen children literally jump for joy, clapping and cheering when one of their friends manages an acrobatic manoeuvre that they have all been practicing but, until that moment, none could yet do. I have also seen them teach each other how to make an origami swan, solve a maths problem, sew a hem, or play a new song on the guitar. When there is an ebb and flow to learning and particular achievements are not reified through the ceremonies and trophies that mark one child as “better” than the others, children will strive for the excellence that matters to them.

Well this year there was no letter in the mail telling us that the one child we have left at school had won a prize. My daughter had to go to maths while the winners practiced walking on stage. It was hard for her (and me) because no teacher chose her. Having discussed school prizes with several friends this week, everyone seems to have their own stories. One woman always won prizes at school and her sister never did. Get your head around that for a moment. Another said her son missed out on a prize he was expecting because the criteria were slightly different than originally announced. One young man said that five years later, he still resents not getting the English prize in his last year as he had the top exam and assignment marks and “it made no sense.”

The usual cry is to “get over it” and we all do (life has other cruelties in store!), but why, exactly are our schools doing this? What function does it serve to mark out some as grand winners? Surely no one believes it makes students work harder? Imagine lining up all the young people in your extended family each year and the elders giving one or two awards for achievement and effort. Why should teachers be required to do this with the group of young people they have become close to?

In my day there was one prize for each academic subject and it was given to the person with the best exam marks. Now we have more prizes and most have a large subjective component. This is supposed to acknowledge other attributes but it also means that it is more personal. Students already get plenty of feedback on their standing relative to others during the year, and they all know who is good at each subject (at least in the eyes of their teachers). So why deliver this final verdict that simply serves to separate and divide?  School prizes are a finite game that seem to distract from our deepest values. Let’s ditch them. 

Election Games

In any election there are at least two games being played: a finite game of winners and losers, and an infinite game that is about discussing what we truly value and how to keep it in play.

This time around the finite game was overwhelmingly dominant. I watched the first 15 minutes of the news on TV3 most nights in the immediate run up to the election and the relentless, upbeat message was that there is a race on. Any event or announcement was only of interest insofar as it may impact on the fortunes of each party. We were shown the latest polling results and the makeup of parliament if they held. Now I admit this was fun. I too was in competition mode, because, eternal optimist that I am, I thought my side was going to win.

Then came election night. Well, my side didn’t win, and I felt crushingly disappointed. On Sunday I added to the Tweets that attempted to make a wounded community feel a little less sickened and vulnerable. Since the election, I have been shocked to find both the television and radio obsessed with Labour’s “abysmal” performance, and acting like a self-appointed lynch-mob to try and oust David Cunliffe. It has been way beyond anything that could be called “journalism”, to the extent that it became almost impossible to see how he could not resign. The media, it seemed, would not allow Labour to utter a single word until their leader had done what losers must in the post-election ritual, fall on their sword, to show just how deep their disgrace goes.

Where was the infinite game in all this? At a fundamental level each party appeals to some infinite values. Crudely, the left stands for community – our calling to look out for each other and build a society that cares. The right stands for independence – our desire to look after ourselves and strive for personal excellence. Both of these positions are appealing, and surely needed for the good society. That is probably why every election result, even those we call “landslides”, are actually pretty finely balanced between the two.

But the particular mix of these core values is different in each party, and lots of others are added in (like the environment). And it has become extraordinarily difficult for us as citizens and voters to work out how particular politicians or policies target particular core values. Often this is made more, rather than less, tricky by the media. The media’s primary mandate is to transmit events of public interest, but it is also under pressure to win its own finite games. Its core finite game is not to protect the powerful (as I’ve heard some people say) it is far more simply to get more and more viewers, readers or listeners. This sounds benign enough, unless you realise that soap opera like contests are more fun than policy analysis and so the latter gets increasingly squeezed out.

One of the most interesting sites for infinite game play that I came across in this election was the Vote Compass tool. This allowed you to rate your position on a number of statements and only after you had finished to see how your positions lined up with those of various parties. Imagine if a tool like this was at the centre of our discussions about the Aotearoa New Zealand we want to live in, how to bring it about, and who best to lead us to our ideals.

To me, the biggest barrier we face to infinite play in politics is the seeming demand that politicians and parties be sure of their position. Because the system is so adversarial, every player has to act as if they “know” and must pretend to be immune to the ideas of other players. Every debate is a contest, and once people are in competitions it is tremendously hard for them to stay true to their more fundamental values.

The way I see it, you can accept that life is unjust and that ruthless finite players will often, perhaps usually, win. Or you can refuse to accept it. It isn’t particularly rational to take the second position, but some of us just can’t help it. If you refuse to accept it, you just keep trying to keep the more fundamental conversation, about how to live well together, alive. The question I am sitting with at the moment is whether it is possible to create a base so firmly entrenched in core values that when it comes to elections people will gravitate to those who speak to them. Then we would surely vote for jobs instead of “welfare reform” and thriving children instead of “school reform”.

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What values are NZ political parties appealing to? Party three: Green

It is less than a month before the general election in New Zealand, so I decided to take a look at the websites of the three main political parties and analyse the extent to which they are appealing to infinite and finite values.  I looked only at the messages that were instantly visible on the homepage of each party. This blog extends over three days. Today, it features the Green Party, currently 12% in the polls. (Note: I worked from screenshots taken on August 19, 2014).

Like Labour, the Greens have three sections. The first is headed for a cleaner environment. The text that follows says: We love Aotearoa and we want to protect it. Our kids have a birth right to swim in clean rivers, to fish in the sea, and walk in pristine forests. At first glance this seems to draw on infinite values. It uses the word “love”, the only party to do so, and refers to natural features of our environment. It evokes positive emotions and tangible experiences. But the term “birth right” sits a little uncomfortably in this mix. “Rights” are about entitlement, and they have a finite tone. This term somewhat undercuts the infinite value of the natural world by implying that its value derives from the pleasure people can obtain from it.

The second is headed for a fairer society. The Green Party envisions an Aotearoa New Zealand which celebrates diversity and encourages appreciation between groups. All pure infinite, I envision that too. I can’t help but notice, however, that the term “fairer” almost seems like a less generous, expansive word than the fuller description below. “Fairer” implies dividing things up, whereas “celebrating diversity” implies bringing us together.

Finally the Greens say: For a smarter economy. The Green Party has a plan to deliver a smart economy that will deliver real prosperity to everyone and help the environment. There’s that smarter economy again. As I said in the earlier post on Labour, it makes me suspicious. It sounds too cerebral to be true, or too cerebral to be good perhaps?  It is certainly finite, of value because of what it enables. The word “prosperity” is interesting in here. At first reading this seems to mean more money for everyone, but I suspect the Green’s have been deliberately ambiguous. Unlike Labour’s reference to “higher incomes”, “prosperity” is a broader more open concept that doesn’t necessary amount to money.

It seems a pity that the Greens have framed the natural environment as primarily of value because of what it offers people. I am not sure this reflects their deepest values. Like Labour they are highly focused on social inclusion, a core aspect of the infinite game. But also like Labour they have taken a stake the economic game, implying that they can make us more prosperous through being “smart”.

So here are the questions: Are Labour and the Greens more firmly in the infinite space than National, because this is their genuine base? Is National’s finite-speak a reflection of its “centre-right” or “neoliberal” philosophy, or is a result of being in power (or neither)? 

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What values are NZ political parties appealing to? Party two: Labour

It is less than a month before the general election in New Zealand, so I decided to take a look at the websites of the three main political parties and analyse the extent to which they are appealing to infinite and finite values.  I looked only at the messages that were instantly visible on the homepage of each party. This blog extends over three days. Today, it features the Labour Party, currently 26% in the polls. (Note: I worked from screenshots taken on August 19, 2014).

Labour’s page is headed our values and is divided into three sections, families, work and home. Under the family heading it states: We’ll make sure all Kiwi kids get the best start in life. Our policies will give parents more time to be parents and will empower young people to succeed at school and out in our communities. This has an infinite feel to it in my view. It speaks directly to that which we care about, children’s and young people’s welfare. The use of “empower” and “communities” also takes us into the infinite sphere by implying an ability to contribute to a collective context.   You may recall that National’s webpage referred to young people gaining higher qualifications. Perhaps this is the equivalent of succeeding at school, but Labour has gone for a more open-ended concept that is less precise, and implies a greater diversity of positive paths through school.

 Moving on, the next heading is work.  Labour’s Economic Upgrade policy package will deliver better jobs and higher incomes for all New Zealanders - as we move to a cleaner, smarter, and higher-value economy. This is more mixed. It refers to a package which is likely to be at least as obscure to many readers as National’s Better Public Service policy, and is clearly of finite value.  However, it does go on to explain what it will do in more fundamental terms, such as providing “better jobs”. The appeal to “higher incomes” and a “higher-value economy” keeps us in the finite sphere. It is as if, whenever we talk about money, we are supposed to just know that means a better life, because money has become a universal stand-in for actually talking about what matters. I am a little suspicious of a “smarter” economy as well. I can’t quite imagine what that is, more computers and fewer cows perhaps?

Finally, we have home with the text:  Everyone should have the chance to own their own home but home ownership rates are the lowest they’ve been in 50 years. We’ll restore this Kiwi dream by making home ownership and rent more affordable. Now this talks about “ownership” which has a finite ring to it, but it is also about inviting others in, a core principle of the infinite game. So it can be read in two ways, as an attempt to provide “everyone” with an opportunity to be part of a dominant social game (the home ownership game) or as an attempt to shore-up the system of private ownership and personal debt. On balance, I think this is an attempt to evoke infinite values, primarily the value of giving all people a share of the resources controlled by society.

 So, in my reading, Labour has chosen to frame itself largely in the infinite sphere. It uses aspirational messages, and as I read them, I feel myself expanding towards the hope that we are a community that cares for each other. Do people vote Labour because they are attracted to these values? Does Labour stand behind its inspiring talk?

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What values are NZ political parties appealing to? Party one: National

It is less than a month before the general election in New Zealand, so I decided to take a look at the websites of the three main political parties and analyse the extent to which they are appealing to infinite and finite values.  I looked only at the messages that were instantly visible on the homepage of each party. This blog extends over three days. Today, it features the ruling National Party, currently 50% in the polls. (Note: I worked from screenshots taken on August 19, 2014).

National’s main heading is Good progress on Better Public Service targets. Now, unless you know that National has targets for Better Public Service, you would find this heading extremely difficult to follow. The fact that you need to be in the know to understand National’s stand-out message is a major clue that it is a finite appeal. That is, it refers to something that is valuable because of what it signifies, not something that is valuable in and of itself. If it was an infinite appeal, anyone could understand its merits. Under this heading is some elaboration: Long-term welfare dependency is reducing and more young people are achieving higher qualifications under the Government’s Better Public Services initiative, Deputy Prime Minister Bill English and State Services Minister Jonathan Coleman say. It is still hard to find much of infinite value here. If welfare dependency is decreasing because more people are in jobs, then why wasn’t it phrased in this more positive way? As for young people getting higher qualifications; this is again a relatively finite appeal.  Qualifications may lead to something of infinite value, but we are not told what this is.

Under this are three sub-headings. The first is: $212 million for regional state highway projects.  Given that the number one finite value elicited when playing the Infinite Game is money, and that this is simply a statement of expenditure, then this, too is a purely finite appeal. It assumes we already agree that state highway expenditure is an excellent move. Then comes: NZ among better performers on inequality - OECD. Now, I assume this means that NZ has less inequality relative to other nations, not that it has more. So, finally, the infinite has appeared, as most of us would agree that today’s levels of inequality are intrinsically problematic. But, what is notable about this phrasing is that it is hard to tell if we are meant to be pleased because inequality is reducing or because we are scoring well in the race to do so. The final sub-heading is: Supporting families and returning to surplus. Every time I start to write about this one, my mind hurts. The statement starts in an infinite spirit with supporting families and then, with no transition, brings us back to earth with a claim about the state of the economy. 

In summary, National is appealing dominantly to finite values, and even when infinite values appear they are coupled with, or embedded in a finite context. This leads me to wonder if people who vote National feel we are inevitably caught in a finite game, and this is the party that will make sure we win. The infinite is either too remote or too obvious to be given much mention.  Alternatively, perhaps when you are in power, you start to refer more and more to the structures you have put in place, as if meeting your self-imposed goals is somehow the same as creating a vibrant, liveable society. Has National forgotten the point? Or is it simply using short-cuts that point to a genuine vision for a better society?

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England's green and pleasant land

I realise it is an unfashionable cliché, but I am in England and it feels like coming home. I was born in London, so perhaps that is a good enough excuse for feeling an attachment to the motherland.

What I love about England’s green and pleasant land is the evidence of layer upon layer of people working with the natural landscape. Worn, comfortable buildings that have been re-purposed over the centuries as monasteries, hospitals, schools and libraries. Tiny rooms, cobbled streets, ivy growing on walls, wildflowers on river banks. I also love witnessing the reversal of British imperialism as people from Britain’s old colonies have gathered here in their millions to produce a new culture.

I feel surrounded by signs that power is always temporary; and that people and nature can grow together in, if not exactly harmony, at least an always changing tapestry. It shows that the infinite game eventually overlays our finite endeavours. It is harder to grasp this in the new world where the environment is marked by people bulldozing their way through nature at a speed impossible at the time Europe was first inhabited.

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Deep democracy

No one is so rich or powerful that they are immune to the rootlessness, loss of meaning and loss of love that accompanies

flattening all values to material values,

uprooting people in the name of economic growth,

losing the big stories that tell us of our place within historical communities of memory and hope.


Worldwide, people express an urgent need for faith, hope and charity,

for the life-reviving experience of guiding ideals within functioning communities,

for the prophetic sense that justice will come


And for advancing toward that day together in friendship and meaning.


The time is right for rebuilding the public square,

for a democratic deepening of our hearts and minds,

for shaping our diverse lives within and toward the Beloved Community.


Concepts and most words by Judith Green, from her book Deep Democracy. Selected, paraphrased and arranged by Niki Harre.


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Winners and Losers

Sometimes the only common intention we have been able to establish with each other is that we have each wanted to win.

The result of such union is separation, always separation;

it divides us into winners and losers, those who have achieved and those who have failed.

It becomes difficult, now that some of us have won and some of us have lost, to find a game that we are all willing to play together

even though this is the game that we have always cherished most.


Insights and most words by Bernard de Koven. Selected, paraphrased and arranged by Niki Harre

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Infinite play

Last week I stood for four hours to listen to the young British singer, Jake Bugg. He clearly found it painful to be in front of a large audience and only talked three times. Each utterance was brief and so mumbled I couldn’t make out the words. But he sung with such intensity that every fibre in his body seemed to resonate with the beauty of his voice. He has a gift, and he offered it to us. That is an infinite play. In another sense, the teenage girls and boys around me were also playing an infinite game. They were singing and dancing and looking out for each other. They showed Jake that they loved his talent and could fill in the gaps he left with their cheering and clapping and laughter.

In the end, life takes place in our exchanges with each other. Sometimes we can plan our infinite play, by setting a goal or following self-imposed guidelines. But sometimes it just flows from our intuitive ability to conjure up a community.

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Holding our finite games lightly

I was talking with my friend John the other day about how to navigate through life when almost all your time is taken up with finite games. There’s the mortgage with its lifetime of repayments; not to mention the dread of dropping house prices. Ha! Loser! You bought at the wrong time. Now you will never, ever be able to win at the game. Then there’s the body project, trying to keep up with the barrage of health advice to eat this or that, exercise in this or that way, avoid nasty chemicals, and most of all not get stressed or once again - you lose! A debilitating disease awaits you, probably the very one you were trying to avoid.  And of course the family, with its obligation to supervise children in playgrounds made of plastic and plan your holidays around their locations, weddings, ailments and other peculiarities. Gosh, family is the most important thing.

All of these games offer moments of fun, human warmth, giving of your best and so on, but the overall effect is that there is no room to move. Was life always like this we wondered, for other people in other times? What does it mean to play an infinite game in this context? Well of all the answers human wisdom has provided, the one that floated to us while we sat in my Honda Logo on that warm autumn night, is to try and hold your finite games lightly. To know that ultimately and perhaps even right now, they don’t really matter. To remember that there is relief in failure, the relief of not having to try anymore. Hope, as Joanna Macey has written, can be exhausting. Every so often, instead of being inspired to climb the ladder of success by those who have done so before you, try being inspired by those who failed. Good people who tired their best at the very games you are playing and lost. They, just like those who won, have a place in the grand human narrative. Liberation, we figured, doesn’t lie in giving up all our finite games but in trying to grip less, care less, fear less in relation to them. Maybe if we do this, the infinite game will become more apparent, more alive, more beckoning. Maybe we will see how we already play it as best we can, and with that insight be able to take it to the next level. 

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Why are we scared of farmers?

It is widely accepted that education and medicine are part of the commons. We (or our representatives) are responsible for making decisions about these institutions, as we know they exist to serve us. Teachers, doctors and nurses have expertise that most of us greatly respect, but they do not have the freedom to run their services as they wish. The rules are tight and our vigilance is keen. It is different with farmers. Maybe this is because farmers own their land. This means their rights and freedom are always part of any conversation about their land. The farmer’s personal gain is seen as central to farming itself, in a way that the doctor’s or teacher’s personal gain is not. Yes, it is good if teachers get satisfaction from their work, but this is first and foremost because it makes them better teachers. Farmers on the other hand, have a right to satisfaction because of the entitlement that comes with ownership, and we must fight to put boundaries on their activities in order to protect the land as a whole. The emphasis, therefore, is totally reversed. Yet land is an even more ancient and fundamental commons than hospitals and schools. The latter, after all, are the products of people and are secondary gifts, not the fundamental gift on which the whole system is based. 

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What haunts us when we strive for social change

Here is Alistair McIntosh on the shadows that haunt us when we strive for social change: “We fear the whole process getting out of hand. Can we handle it? Where might it all end? Won’t people think that we’re peculiar, and then there’ll be no way back on to strait-street? We also fear that if we engage the Powers it might be for the wrong motives. It may just be ego; indeed, we know ourselves, and so we realise that to some extent it will be ego! Also, it may be that the corporation, or the Government, or ‘the system’, or whatever it is represents an unresolved complex with a parent or some other authority figure from childhood. There’s nothing really wrong with the world – we’re just projecting our own crap out on to it!” (Soil and Soul, p. 124).

Yep, that’s about it. Just when I feel the energy of a group of like-minded people, hear about a positive breakthrough on the world stage, reach a new insight; simultaneously in that moment is doubt, prodding me. But I think I’ve got a solution, or at least a way of standing back from the problem and realising that it is actually our friend.

The solution is faith, but not necessarily as you know it. Over the past two weeks I’ve been re-listening to a CBC podcast series called After Atheism, and it has a lot to say about faith, particularly the episode featuring John Caputo. As a non-Christian I’ve never understood faith, assuming it to be a sort of mental gymnastics through which people “believe” something with no evidence for it being the case. I am so far from being able to do that wilfully, it seems like a directive from the Queen of Hearts. But these scholars present faith as something else – a choice or calling or intuition to act as if something is true, while always knowing it may not be. Without knowing our choice may be false, there is no faith. There is no sense of freedom, as it could be no other way. No freedom, no faith, only a sure reality. Now “sure reality” would be fine, except that when it comes to questions like creating a better world, it is simply not an honest position.  No one can really know what it takes; it’s not that kind of problem (although we all pretend at times, as our political, rhetorical games make certainty pop out like a cat’s fur balls).

So my faith, is something about the worthiness of working towards a world of human and ecological flourishing – a world that aims for all life to be as good as it can be – to express its character, and, especially as it matures, to be aware of allowing other life forms to do the same. It is faith because it feels like a calling lodged somewhere deep inside of me, but I also know it is possible to be human and feel differently. I know this for a fact, because of the times I see through my faith – I see how a successful talk grows my ego, I remember how I was told I was argumentative when I was 13 and knew it to be true so what better to pit myself against than global capitalism?; and so it goes on. Occasionally, just occasionally, I think that maybe the right is right after all. 

Now, if I am relentlessly trying to understand “reality” in order to take a position on what a better world might look like and how we can create it, these doubts are paralysing. But when I call it faith, a choice to play, the doubts lose their seriousness. Not that they can be arrogantly brushed aside, but they can be seen as a necessary part of the play. There is a story that when the South Island of New Zealand was created, the gods realised it was dangerously beautiful. This meant people may become spellbound, unwilling to tear themselves away from simply drinking in its majesty. Therefore sand flies (pesky little bugs that adore human flesh) were brought in to keep us on our toes. Our doubts, then, are a necessary part of not simply taking for granted the beauty of our own vision.

Hey people, we might have got it completely wrong! Wow, isn’t that liberating – to know you could spend your entire life on the wrong track but it actually isn’t your role to fuss over that endlessly – unless you want that to be your role of course. After all, in 100 years all new people – assuming someone played their cards right.  

So, go forth in faith I say. Not the faith that distorts the mind into “belief” but the faith that frees the mind from having to know before being what, most of the time, we are called to be. 

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Homeland versus The Bridge

When I first watched the US TV series Homeland I was completely captivated, and told many people it was the must-watch show of the decade. Then my husband, Keith, and I watched The Bridge a Danish/Swedish detective series. At first, I found The Bridge ugly. It featured the grey panoramas and bleak cities that dull rather than enliven the spirit. However, gradually, its warmth crept up on me. The main woman, Saga, whose un-brushed hair irritated me at the beginning, became so vulnerable and beautiful in her struggles to be a good person. In the final scene of the first series her hair seemed to say it all – how impossible it is to get all the details right. We then started on the third series of Homeland.  Now the characters seemed stereotypes, representing different ways to be a person, but not actual people. As Keith said, “It is as if they have no personality.” I still think it is brilliant television (more on why in another post) but it is a show of archetypes, it conveys messages about politics and war, naivety and arrogance. The Bridge is a show about people who cannot quite be placed, who are subtle, complex. If these shows say something about their cultures, then perhaps what is most interesting about the US is how they play at power. It is as if the culture has become jammed by the stories of their success, making it difficult to move fluidly – one must jiggle between positions or leap from one to the other. The Scandinavians, on the other hand, seem freer to be nuanced individuals – their public story being more humble and less certain. Have the Americans forgotten that winners look desperately uncool as soon as they take fall for the illusion that their victory is real? I guess that is why some of their best art tries to point this out.

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I had a tempting proposition this week. I was asked to be an occasional panelist on a late night TV show.  It was flattering – I felt briefly fluffed up, like a proud chicken strutting around the yard. But my feathers soon settled and acute ambivalence kicked in. My thoughts went something like this: It is such a great opportunity to influence public conversation, it is so late it will ruin my evening and probably the next day too, what if I get seduced into making trivial points, it will improve my public profile and so make it easier to attract people to the infinite game, well yes but it is also a distraction from my writing about the infinite game, well yes but the infinite game itself is the point not your self-imposed writing schedule and it is such a great opportunity to influence public conversation…

Ah temptation, how do we know if it is a diablo, thrown in our path to lead us astray or sent by the angels to light up that same path?  Here is what I’ve figured out. We all make plans. I don’t mean grand plans, just ideas of how life will be for the next while. If you like your plan, whenever anything comes along to interrupt it, you become agitated. Sometimes it is easy to reject the intruder, even if it takes a bit of work. Sometimes it is easy to accept it, because its angelic character is clear. Sometimes, often, it isn’t one or the other. Ambivalence follows. It is painful because it requires us to try and predict the future (that little thing). We’ve already got our plan, damn it, and imagined the flow of events, and now, wham – can and should we adjust? It is the question mark itself that causes the pain, it leaves us dangling, hoping, wondering, when we just wanted to get on with it.

By the way, I said yes.

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