The Infinite Game

Photo by Dan Schiumarini on Unsplash


What follows is a quarterly email that typically only goes to my small but rowdy subscriber list (feel free to join here), but I thought it an important enough message to pipe it out through the infinite intertubes. Enjoy!

Hope everyone is doing well during this back, but not really back, but sort of back to school season.

Just sharing a quick quarterly take in the hopes of countering some of the quackery and polarization we’re all living through these days. On the eve of a rather frightening and momentous election, let’s not forget which side we’re really on. You can think of what follows as an introduction to Tayken on Guerilla Civics…and another attempt at self-preservation by way of written reflection. This comes with a hint of TL;DR so feel free to bow out now if you’d prefer to mindlessly thumb TikTok. #Respect

For those who’ve entered my orbit via educational philosophy, cosmonaughtery, or perhaps through the pursuit of optimal psychology, you may come to wonder what place cultural-political analysis has in all this. Simple(ish). The moment we go from having individual peak experiences, we start knitting ourselves together into troops and tribes. And the moment we start doing that, we start creating culture. Well, here we are. As Alice Walker said, “keep in the mind the present you are creating, it should be the future you want!”

Through the civil rights movement of the 60’s there was a saying, “the personal is political!” — meaning that how we live our lives as citizens and consumers mattered, and that our choices had deep downstream impact, intergenerational even.

But the transpersonal is even more political. It’s easier than ever to get out over our skis (sorry, it snowed this week) and return from the Adjacent Possible with garbled messages and injunctions (viz: the massive uptick in conspiratorial thinking).

Don’t forget, the Nazis were mystics too. If we choose to play in these dangerous waters, we need to get better at keeping our feet on the ground and our attention squarely focused on the here and now.

Beware of the Dark Triad.

It’s an old cliche that politics make for strange bedfellows, but in the case of 2020 identity politics, it gets even weirder. Seen through the lens of finite and infinite games, it turns out that anyone seeking to smash the liberal experiment of enlightenment gets what’s coming to them. When we aim to stick it to our enemies, no matter how righteous or seemingly justified, it seems we’re more likely to dissolve the very social foundation we think we’re aiming to protect and defend.

That means that alt-right neo-Nazis actually have more in common with far-left Antifa than either would ever be willing to admit. Rather than recommitting to the Enlightenment promise of the infinite game, they’re both looking to tear it down and start over with their team in charge.

A recent study from the Queensland University of Technology proved that it’s not just a philosophy of the finite game they share, it’s a troubling and problematic psychology as well. They compared over five hundred diversely representative U.S. residents whose opinions all diverged from the mainstream. They divided them into three categories: radical left, progressive liberal, and white identity. Then they assessed how prone each group was to favor authoritarian tendencies and what psychiatrists call the Dark Triad of personality types — Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and Psychopathy; characteristics that show up most often as cold hearted, self-centered and manipulative.

Interestingly, the liberal progressives — those who held pro social values but also valued pluralism and freedom of choice for others — showed no correlation with the Authoritarian Dark Triad, but go figure, both the radical left and alt-right did. That’s the infinite and finite game in basic contrast. Omni-considerate win-win, vs. self-interested win-lose.

Even though those two groups are thought to “reflect opposing ends of the political spectrum,” the authors wrote in the journal Helion that they held remarkably similar psychological orientation: “Our study indicates that an emerging set of mainstream political attitudes — most notably [Radical Left and Alt-Right], are largely being adopted by individuals high in Dark Triad traits and entitlement. Individuals high in authoritarianism — regardless of whether [they] hold politically correct or rightwing views — tend to score highly on Dark Triad and entitlement…[they’re] statistically more likely than average to be higher in psychopathy, narcissism, Machiavellianism and entitlement.”

That’s how otherwise well-intentioned social movements can get hijacked by bad actors who happen to be savvy enough to spout the right words, but self-interested enough to bend ideals to their perverted agenda. And as Dunning-Kruger, helped to illuminate, we’re ALL vulnerable to their persuasion; perhaps more so when we’re convinced we’re not.

As cathartic as it may feel to be not just right, but righteous, as justified as that rage and disillusionment may be, if we continue on that path, it will surely be our collective undoing. To put what’s at stake into perspective, after the Vandals sacked ancient Rome, it took until the Declaration of Independence for us to claw our way back to the same standard of living (some 1300+ years later). It’s much easier to break a few eggs, than to put Humpty back together again. I’m fairly certain QAnon has no interest in taking this into account and playing a truly infinite game.

This study puts in stark relief what’s at stake for all of us. It provides a 21st century update to Yeats’ observation that “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are filled with passionate intensity.” As we hear that “silence is violence” and that “you can’t be neutral on a moving train,” it’s critical to tease apart ambivalence from balance. Learning to form strong opinions, while holding them loosely, appears to be the game we should all aim to play. I’m certainly trying.

Hope that was helpful to a few, not overly political, and perhaps even connected a few loose ends. You’ve been amazing at responding and sharing thoughts to this ongoing quarterly diatribe — I read every word, so keep it coming.

Be well, stay safe, and always aim for context over contrast.

Ok, on to the good stuff…

Taykentots I’m currently snacking on:

With ♥ and skepticism,

~Taylor |