You’re not metamodern before you understand this. Part 1: Game Change

This is a follow up on my previous post on ‘5 things that make you metamodern’. The purpose is to present the two major objectives of the metamodern project, politically and philosophically: Game Change and Proto-Synthesis. This post, part one, introduces the underlying political thinking behind metamodernism. We call it Game Change. Failing to understand this principle leads to very serious mistakes; such failure transmutes glowing idealism into murder most foul.

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“The good news is that we can change the rules of the game, making it fairer and more forgiving for everyone.”

The Political Goal of Metamodernism: Game Change

The major objective of the metamodern political project is to change the rules of the game. Our simple message is that life as we know it can and must evolve. The Game Change position is:

  • Life is a plus-sum game with possible win-wins.
  • Life is also often a zero-sum game with lose-win.
  • Life is often even a tragic dilemma of lose-lose.
  • But the rules of the game can change, evolving into more win-win, less lose-win and less lose-lose.
  • Nobody actually ever “deserves” to lose games and suffer defeat or humiliation. Seriously – would you tell a kid that she “deserves” to be crappy at school? To be ugly and smelly and lonely or poor? To starve? To have low self-esteem? To have a fragmented, anxious mind? To be part of the losing side of globalization? That baby turkeys in factories got what they deserved?
  • All injustices in the world are caused by the playing of games.
  • People and other beings have no choice but to partake in games.
  • No injustice or suffering is ever excusable or tolerable.
  • It is our ethical imperative, without compromise, to change the rules of the game.
  • Successful changing of the game is that which produces more winners in life, and fewer losers. It is also that which softens the fall of the losers, increases the rewards of the winners, and makes people act more kindly and fairly while playing the game.

What do we mean by “the game”? The game is the fundamental, interactive process by which human beings and other living creatures either become happy or suffer. Going to work is a game, because you can win or lose. Asking for a date is a game. Hey, even texting a friend is a game. Or having lunch. You eat the salmon. If the salmon would have won, things would have been different. It is not in the optimal interest of the salmon to be part of your sandwich.

Games produce dynamics of interaction. They dub losers and winners. Just like you and me. We all know both sides, in different contexts, to different extent. The bad news is that any interaction produces relative losers, that suffering and loss are here to stay for eternity. That goes for all your hopes and dreams, all your life time, in all ages, and everyone you will ever love and care about – and everyone they will ever love and care about: your kids, your mama, your favorite gold fish. If you become an idealist NGO-hero or Nobel prize medalist, it means somebody else didn’t get that same satisfaction, attention and appreciation. Some win, some lose.

The good news is that we can change the rules of the game, making it fairer and more forgiving for everyone.

Game Change is the most deeply idealistic political strife conceivable. It is the love impulse of politics and progress. It is the measure of real positive development. Communism, socialism, Marxism, feminism, critical thinking, genders studies, animal rights and ecologism – these are all utterly and unforgivably primitive and oppressive crap compared to Game Change. Or rather, without being subdued to the clear, analytic power of Game Change, these concepts lose their meaning and become oppressors. As they have all been, and will very likely continue to be.

Game Change is what gives a political, social or intellectual movement its meaning. If the movement happens, and the subtle and not-so-subtle rules of the game of people’s interactions stay the same – then it will have achieved nothing. If partaking in everyday life has not become kinder, less manipulative, less harsh, the movement has failed. Game Change is the essence of real solidarity. Failure to understand Game Change is the essence of human evil in this world.

Most movements fail. You fail because you deny the existence of the very game you are trying to change. Or because, like with fascism, capitalism or conservatism, you actually accept the game and reinforce its injustice.

“You need to know the rules of the game, even if you think they’re wrong, and to some extent play along – in order to change them. If you don’t, you will lose and thus fail at changing the game.”

Game Denial

Game Denial is the inability to perceive, or a complete negligence of, the rules that regulate all human relations. It is when you ignore or “wish away” certain uncomfortable truths regarding human relations and how reality works. The simplest form of this is make-believe and wishful thinking.

Game Denial is to expect everyone to become vegan tomorrow, that people would accept lower wages and increased work hours to mend the poverty of the world, or to think that you can drastically increase corporate taxes without losing business to markets abroad. It’s Game Denial to expect that all social hierarchies would disappear, just by pretending that they are not there and we’re all equal; to believe that we can remove all power games between humans and ensure that everyone always gets what they want. We live in a world with limited resources and people will always strive towards things that others have. We can’t all get married to the same person, or get the same job; few can become rock stars, there’ll always be someone who wins and someone who loses. Everyone can’t get everything; everyone doesn’t even want be friends with everybody.

The most striking and tragic example of Game Denial was communism. An economic system based on the assumption that everyone was solidary and equal, and pretended that human relations weren’t characterized by competition and power games. Evidently it was very difficult to plan economize and enforce a political correctness upon society about everyone being solidary, and then believe they actually were. For all their apparent analysis of human relations and cruel economic power, the communists attempted to deny and repress real, existing power games instead of actively and consciously evolving them. The result, as we know, was catastrophic – people that didn’t fit the idealized mold were deemed an enemy or monstrosity, somebody that had to be removed. Killed. Murdered.

Game Denial is a fully and thoroughly unconscious process. That’s why it’s important to check yourself if your analysis is based on a realistic, sober observation on how the world really is, or if it’s characterized by one’s wishes about how it ought to be. You need to know the rules of the game, even if you think they’re wrong, and to some extent play along – in order to change them. If you don’t, you will lose and thus fail at changing the game.

“You must change the game of life. That is the only result that counts. That is the only victory worth keeping, because it includes everybody.”

What if I Win?

But then again, you can accept the game and learn to play it. Be successful and happy. Ah, the American dream! How beautiful. I mean, what if I win? What if I become this awesome movie star, this saintly good-guy, this cool musician, this loving mother of children, this clever pundit…?

To do that I will have to play by the rules handed to me by the environment. Want to be a doctor saving poor children in Africa? If you work hard and play the game by its rules, you know the rules and optimize your game, you can become this or that person. Every president and CEO and famous professor and artist and movie star in the world knows this. They all want to tell you that they just did their thing and by spontaneity and the goodness of their heart ended up where they are. They truth is they played the game. They maneuvered. They learned good and bad stances and strategies. They went after power. They let go of that which couldn’t help them. This includes Mother Teresa. She didn’t become a saint without playing the saint game. This goes especially for idealistic left wing writers who must maneuver to become that symbol of critical thinking and idealism.

Sure, we can knock ourselves out and play to our heart’s content. But the point is, winning in life is never enough. What if you become that successful? What if you get those chicks? What if you save that many lives? What if you really save the world from climate crisis?

Then you’ll still have a kid, or somebody else you care about, who is crushed and humiliated by the same game you played and happened to win. The game is still there. Still grinding. For every winner, there is a loser. You were that awesome idealistic writer who pointed out injustice? You were a hero? The very fact of your moral victory means that you just trashed, humiliated and out-competed somebody else. That somebody else could have been you. It could have been your own kid.

And more fundamentally – it is you. Winning in life is fun. But it is just not enough. Liberalism, conservatism and capitalism and fascism, are all based on accepting the game and “may the best player win”. They are all defenders and upholders of an injustice and cruelty and suffering that just cannot be ethically justified.

So what if I win? In deeper sense, you have still lost. You must change the game of life. That is the only result that counts. That is the only victory worth keeping, because it includes everybody.

“The game cannot dissolve, disappear. But it can evolve. It can change.”

Game Change and Human Freedom

To accept that life is unjust and merely play along, leads to Game Acceptance which is just as bad as Game Denial. Realism and idealism should go hand in hand – the greater the level of realism, the greater the potential for idealism. To include realism is to have a good analysis. At the very core of Metamodernism lies an ambition to change the rules of the game. This is what we call Game Change.

The rules of the social game can be changed so as to be fairer and have less harsh consequences when people lose. But there will always be a game and rules that manage it. Game Denial, to ignore the rules and repress the game, will always have negative consequences.

But there is something real here. Something worth striving for. We can develop the conditions for solidarity to blossom. Such Game Change is only possible, in practicality, if we admit the all-pervading existence of the game. To deny the game is to repress and deny the fundamental tragedy of the world. If you argue against me on this point, you are already proving my point. You are trying to win the argument, and making me and my point lose.

Again, the game cannot dissolve, disappear. But it can evolve. It can change.

Throughout history the rules of the game have been continuously changed for the better. Human freedom has developed through definite stages. During the days of the Roman Empire losing the game meant losing your head, thus “game over” at the slightest mistake. Christianity meant the near abolishment of slavery in Europe and changed the rules of conduct between people to be less severe. Democracy changed the rules so that the poorest in society also had a voice. Social democracy meant that losing your job or getting sick didn’t mean complete marginalization. Over and over the game has been changed to give people more chances. This can be developed further – with the help of behavioral science. By for instance nursing for poor mothers and cooperation games for children, and mindfulness in schools, and sexual education, and increased social security – we can change what life is felt and lived like for everyone.

What are the harsh realities of the game in late modernity? How can the rules be made more fair and just? How can we see to it that people will be given more chances when they lose? And how can we make the rules that conduct our relations to one another less brutal and more humane? These are the ultimate questions of the metamodern politician and activist. The principle of solidarity with all sentient beings is the ethical premise; game change is the way of conduct towards reaching that goal.

One thing is to determine that things are unfair and society is rotten to its core. This was the postmodern anti-thesis. It’s a completely different ball game to understand why it’s so and how it can be changed.

Don’t hate the player.
Don’t hate the game.
Know the game.
And play to change it.
Because you love the players.

Part 2 on proto-synthesis can be found here!

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, and the upcoming books ‘Nordic Ideology’ and ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of World History’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.

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