This book was like being cornered by that annoying, extremely arrogant philosophy major slash persistent pothead we all knew in college that would corner people at parties and drone on and on about how there's all sorts of levels to, like, humanity and stuff, and how, like, we just, like, don't even, like, realize, man; and, that he has it figured out and he is better than the lot of us for it.
Carse builds his life philosophy on a foundation of redefined, loaded words that describe a black and white world masquerading as a world in shades of grey; and, he uses his loaded words to clearly describe himself as infinite (superior) and others as finite (inferior). He speaks of the overlap (a finite game can be played within an infinite one); but, he describes the two in opposite terms (according to what he has decided these words mean). The words that he chooses to redefine are words that already have definition and connotation in our world. Instead of finding a word that better describes his philosophy in a neutral manner or, better yet, coining a phrase with no connotation based on his concepts and a logical etymology, he chooses words that do not entirely describe what he is describing so that he can imply a value to it.
Infinite vs. finite is a clear example of his use of loaded words. Who among us would choose finite over infinite? None. Of course, that example might just be too obvious. I can hear people thinking, "that’s the point." There are other examples, such as machine vs. garden, resonance vs. amplification, etc. These are loaded phrases that he uses to show the superiority of his world view. They are phrases that he, then, ties himself to specifically, and then fills in behind with his beliefs. It leads us to, not only, see his argument as obviously superior (of course infinite is better than finite...), then, also, leads us to see him as superior (someone who has chosen infinite over finite is better than those that choose otherwise...); but, it also leads us to either ignore or elevate dubious arguments that fall in behind it. For those that would say that Carse doesn't apply the infinite to himself specifically, re-read it and note that he will refer to "finite players" and "finite games"; but, then, he often says "when I am playing in an infinite game..." or "as an infinite player I do this...", not to mention the whole "I am a genius" section.
Once we have accepted his superiority, we are not skeptical of what he says behind it. His view has a fundamental lack of practicality to it, a distinct naïveté and, in at least one case, makes excuse for malice. Finite games, in his implication, could and should be entirely eliminated. With finite games eliminated, we would live in peace, fostering culture and creation, expecting the unexpected and fostering the perpetuation of surprise, and everyone would help all in a world of total harmony with each other and nature. This world view ignores fundamentals of human nature, and of the human psyche. It is a view that assumes that all are capable of this transcendence and that transcendence will always take this form.
There was, a point at which I found him throwing a malicious act into a list of "infinite" acts of play: adultery. One might call me a fuddy-duddy; but, while I understand that we are better off than the days when adultery was criminal and stoneable sin, I also understand that adultery is a negligent (at its very best) or malicious (often and at its worst) act that should not be added to a list of benign sexual terms such as celibacy and homosexuality. He says you cannot call an infinite player adulterous because it is a concept that requires boundaries; but, infinite players are not concerned with boundaries. If his world view allows for, what I would consider, a malicious act, then what other ideals does this world view hide that is unspoken? Is there no value to maintaining, at least, some order over anarchy?
In that lies a great deal of his naïveté. Again, like the jerk we all knew in college, he banters about all the "freedoms" that we would have with transcendence, but ignores the effect on others. Others, thus, are either obliged to come to the same transcendence, or, they must (therefore: deserve to) suffer the acts of the enlightened. In a sense, this is the urban-spiritualist version of Stalin's Soviet Union: "Be enlightened, or get out of the way." Of course, this book is packaged nicer than a Siberian gulag, so we don't fear it.
I made a promise to myself a few years ago that I would finish the books that I started to read. I used to read a few chapters and then drop them. I wanted to see things through. Within those few years, I have read some really, really horrible stuff: stuff that no one should ever read. I persevered, though, and had no regrets. I was following through.
After reading this book, I have concluded that my promise was the promise of a fool. I would not wish this book on my worst enemy. It is some of the worst hippie, urban-spiritualist, arrogant, catch-phrasey, pop philosophy bull$#!+ that I have ever read in my life. I should have known that it was going to be a horrible book when I saw that an “in praise of” quote on the back was written by Robert Pirsig. If a book ever corners me and talks my ear off like this again, I will have the infinite wisdom to put it the hell down.
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