Yesterday, Alexander Bard, Owen Cox, Raven Connolly and I entered The Stoa to respond to the video/dialogos around Game B, from a “Dark Renaissance” perspective. You can find our video here: Game B: A Dark Renaissance Response.
Here I would just like to reaffirm in written form some of the basic points I wanted to make in the video, both for clarity and in openness to future dialogue.
First, to set the scene, I want to offer two quotes. The first is a definition of Game B from Peter Limberg, and the other a definition of the Dark Renaissance from myself. According to Limberg, Game B (inclusive of its relation to Game A) is:
“Game A is the collective game that the world is playing, that will come to an end, if we continue to play it, we will self-terminate as a species, Game B is a new game, that we don’t know what it looks like, but their is a glimpse or a sense of what it could be.”
In contrast, the Dark Renaissance is:
“The Dark Renaissance is a broader potential artistic, philosophical and religious movement which seeks to reveal, affirm, confront, transform the more disturbing aspects of the human condition as the only way to organize society truthfully.”
These two definitions are not necessarily in a zero-sum competition. However, there are some dimensions of the narrative structure of Game B, which from my point of view, need serious philosophical reflection and reorientation, in light of the ideas of the Dark Renaissance.
The first is that — and as I would like to make clear is my main point — that the very logical structure of “Game A versus Game B” is itself problematic as a starting point. This sets up thinking for an ideological trap. We often set up simplistic narratives and oppositions, whether consciously or unconsciously, to bring thinking to an end in an impossibly clear and certain identity.
Whereas the definition of Game B points towards an openness and an uncertainty (i.e. “a new game, that we don’t know what it looks like, but their is a glimpse or a sense of what it could be”), it does this against the backdrop of a certain and known enemy (i.e. “Game A is the collective game the world is playing, that will come to an end, if we continue playing it, we will self-terminate as a species” etc.). Consequently, as soon as Game B attempts to represent itself to a popular or a broader audience, as it did in “Game B: An Initiation”, it falls into the trap of a utopian reification of an other identity. The A versus B structure is simply too simple:
Game A = bad, i.e. you are parasitized, competitive, far-from-equilibrium, separated, exclusive, rivalrous, dominating, lead to certain death
Game B = good, i.e. you are non-parasitized (wise/wisdom centers open?), cooperative, thriving, whole, no longer excluding or dominating or rivalrous
What if we are all parasitized from within? What if we cannot get rid of competition? What if our society is inherently far-from-equilibrium? What if separation, exclusion, rivalry, domination and death are features of our existence, and not bugs-in-the-Game-A-machine?
In any case, what happens very quickly with “A vs. B” thinking is that you fall into the basic temporality of ideology that has recurred and recurred in many different conceptual frameworks:
We were in a state of wholeness (oneness), and we need to return to a state of wholeness (oneness)
This basic temporality gains its legitimacy in the form of a simplified enemy-obstacle, that emerged to break the unity, and that needs to be banished to reclaim the unity:
Game A is the game “everyone is playing”, it is the source of all our troubles, and once we get rid of it, we will be in wholeness/harmony
Such a structure of A vs. B is the opposite of real thinking, and the opposite of what is needed to approach the very real need to (maybe) think “a new game, that we don’t know what it looks like, but their is a glimpse or a sense of what it could be”
In order to really think such a “new game” where we “don’t know” but “sense what it could be”, I would claim we need to learn dialectical thinking, and we need to learn how to apply this mode of thinking, to our unconscious thinking. Dialectical thinking operates on the logic of A=B. That is, dialectical thinking operates on the logic that embodies self-referential paradox. In applying dialectical thinking to unconscious thinking, we are willing to bring our thought in relation to the knowledge in ourself that we do not know, but which shapes or overdetermines our entire horizon of political action. In other words, we bring our thought to the fact that we are split from within, by a conscious and an unconscious knowing, and often this split reveals opposite desires and drives, which are in turn, often, irreconcilable and contradictory.
From this point of view, we are not in the temporality of “now we are in Game A, but soon we will be saved in Game B”; we are instead in the temporality of “reality is fundamentally paradoxical and split within itself: A=B”. From this point of view, we need to educate the types of minds that are capable of embodying and working with paradox, first within themselves, and secondly, within the intimate networks and communities that they build with others. What is at stake here is nothing like a utopian emancipatory space free of conflict, rivalry, separation, and so forth; but the “potential” for a “broader artistic, philosophical and religious movement which seeks to reveal, affirm, confront, transform the more disturbing aspects of the human condition as the only way to organize society truthfully.”
In order to truly become an artist, or a philosopher or a religious subject, one must be capable of being the type of knower that can embody paradox, first within oneself, and second within the intimate networks and communities, that one builds with others. This demands the logic of A=B, not A vs. B. This should be applied to this very article and this very “Dark Renaissance critique of Game B”. We are not here saying that the basic motive or desire of Game B is inherently wrong. Not at all. We as a species really are approaching global problems that may involve self-terminating dimensions. However, we are saying that there needs to be deeper self-reflection, deeper recognition of paradox, to raise the possibilities that we cultivate the form of knowing to enter a new world. This form of knowing is a form of knowing that cannot “jump to the end” with the vision of a “utopian wholeness”, but rather must “tarry with the thing”, which is the same thing as saying it must “work contradiction of its present moment”. What is essential here is that this tarrying with and working contradiction involves the irreducibility of intimate social reality. The typical intellect, the type of intellect that sets up Game A vs. Game B dynamics, does this precisely to avoid the irreducibility of intimate social reality, where we find the irreducibility of A=B.
To this end, I want to simply echo some of the core points that my “partners in dialogos” emphasized throughout their critique of Game B, as they relate to this dimension of staying with paradox and contradiction of identity.
Raven Connolly started off the session by making the core point that you cannot eliminate conflict from life. She warns that if you do, you end up with a lifeless world without the conditions of possibility for art, without the conditions of possibility to build the type of characters that can really withstand the real complexity of the world, and without the conditions of possibility to recognize our drives and incompleteness. She would later go on to emphasize that this drive and this incompleteness lies at the very heart of our sexual identities, where our very root-origin travels through us, from the genitals to the mind. How do we really channel this energy, in its enormous power? In its seemingly endless capacity for transformation?
Owen Cox started off the session by making the core (Nietzschean) point that we are a tension between “Apollonian” and “Dionysian” drives, and that the Apollonian drive has a tendency to reify a perfect political order at the expense of the Dionysian drive. Here, in this very tension, one could argue the real impulses and capacities for art emerge in the first place (and not from wholeness). When one accepts the tension between the Apollonian-Dionysian drives, we end up with a much more paradoxical character, an A=B character, where sex, power, conflict, cannot be eliminated, but rather worked with, to mature our characters and our capacities to deal with the real complexity of the world (to connect this with Raven’s main point). Owen later makes the point that, intellectuals should take more time to think the very edge of these zones of tension, where tantric forms of subjectivity and organizations, disrupt their identities from within their inner masculine and feminine, and create new artistic modes of being.
Alexander Bard started off the session by framing this same tension with the language of the “Boy Pharaoh” and the “Pillar Saint”. The Boy Pharaoh is the man who loves his body, but hates his mind (from Muhammed to Hitler); the Pillar Saint is the man who loves his mind, but hates his body (from Plato to Zuckerberg). For Bard, it is the failures of these types of men that have led to the reaction to a cynically nihilistic world (“post-modernism”), which cannot really think the masculine, which is not capable of navigating the split between body and mind. For Bard, “liminal spaces” like metamodernism or integralism, are capable of moving from cynical nihilism to ironic nihilism, but cannot take the necessary next step, that is: affirmative nihilism. Affirmative nihilism would be the emergence of the men who can recognize within themselves the tendency to either become “Boy Pharaoh” or “Pillar Saint”, and mature it (reveal, affirm, confront, transform it). In this maturation they can rather admire what they lack. For the man who loves his body but hates the mind, he would be able to admire the genius of the smarter men; for the man who loves his mind but hates his body, he would be able to admire the talent and force of the more physical men.
For my part, it is confronting these main points from Raven, Owen and Bard, that force the emergence of intellects that can ultimately confront sexual division (first within themselves, and then in the society at large). As Bard warns, this is necessary to prevent the continued escalation of the gender wars. I think what underlies all of the “meta” intellectual spaces is the inability (or the simple unwillingness) to think the real of sexual division (for more, see: Sexual Division, A Problem in Ontology). As Bard also suggests, perhaps the real problem of our time is not global warming or atomic weapons, but the very rift at the heart of our social order. What we see is an increasing inability to navigate sexual division. Confronting sexual division also means confronting A=B dynamics, where we have the appearance of two irreducible opposites which must be thought together as a paradox. The literal reproduction of the species and the maturation of the species, lies at this very divisive locus.
We cannot eliminate men, we should cultivate a “masculinity of the real”; we cannot eliminate women, we should cultivate an acceptance of a “femininity of the real” (Raven makes this point beautifully in the dialogos). Note here that the language “masculinity/femininity of the real” is not the same as “real men” or “real women”, and points towards the capacity for adult sexual identities to deal with self-referential incompleteness and paradox. Perhaps, from this standpoint, we could approach “a new game, that we don’t know what it looks like, but their is a glimpse or a sense of what it could be”. But this standpoint is dark. This standpoint involves a dark renaissance. It involves a movement “which seeks to reveal, affirm, confront, transform the more disturbing aspects of the human condition as the only way to organize society truthfully.” What could be birthed from such a movement, is the emergence of real artists, philosophers and religious subjectivity.
In a society that births real artists, philosophers and religious subjectivity, perhaps we could have real societies capable of tarrying and working with the paradoxes that we are, instead of once more entering the ideological combat of A vs. B.
An excellent read full of excellent points: I took down a lot of notes and find myself inspired both by this and The Stoa discussion to write something. Regarding that discussion, I appreciated how Raven opened noting how difficult it is to produce work like the Game B video, and how she expressed gratitude for its role in stimulating discussion. I can certainly confirm from experience that writing short stories, producing videos, etc. is very very very difficult, and it’s hard to work say five years on something only to have people talk about everything wrong with it. Hence a reason why I appreciated this section of your essay:
‘We are not here saying that the basic motive or desire of Game B is inherently wrong. Not at all. We as a species really are approaching global problems that may involve self-terminating dimensions. However, we are saying that there needs to be deeper self-reflection, deeper recognition of paradox, to raise the possibilities that we cultivate the form of knowing to enter a new world.’
I think that is perfectly put, and I’m of the impression that moves like this is what Derrida hoped to accomplish with his work. Unfortunately, because he did not use Hegelian logic and epistemology (or so is my impression), he himself did not escape “A vs B”-thinking in favor of A/B-thinking. As you teach on so brilliantly at your YouTube page, I think the real problems highlighted by Game B can indeed only be addressed through Hegelian and dialectical thinking. This means that you are correct that ‘the very logical structure of Game A vs Game B is problematic,’ and everything you wrote on the ideological and temporal structure of Game B was awesome. Personally, I also wonder why it is called a “game,” which might be a Wittgenstein allusion, but I’m not sure. Metaphors matter, and “game” creates the impression we can switch the socioeconomic system like changing cartridges in an NES (I suddenly had a flash to being a kid again playing Zelda in 1993…). Additionally, doesn’t this suggest Game B is in a competition with Game A (funny enough)? Is a “game” possible without winners and losers? A game where “everyone wins” might just feel like everyone getting “a participation trophy,” which human pathos will not like…Perhaps Story A vs Story B would have been a better framing, but I’m not sure…
In my view, to use Bard’s wonderful language, pathos must be directed somehow toward service and “others,” but this is one of the most difficult socioeconomic problems of all, because pathos cannot be changed or erased. It has to be channeled, directed, and even “tricked,” which gets us into the critical debates in economics between thinkers like Keynes, Minsky, Hayek, Marshall, and so on. If humans are indeed inherently hierarchical (Louis Dumont), sexual (psychoanalysis, biology, etc.), incomplete (Hegel, Gödel), and the like, then any system which cannot “channel” these drives into a constructive manner will be a system that has to fight them, and human drives always win.
It's another topic, but I fear that the disconnect of literature and economics from philosophy is a reason why philosophy lost psychoanalysis (and in fact I think there is “proof” in literature and economics that philosophy today must indeed be psychoanalytical). As Bard noted, futurology has to be philosophical, but philosophy cannot even be itself without taking seriously pathos, mythos, and logos. Without these three, philosophy is “non-dialectical thinking,” which means thinking becomes non-thinking—an effacement which might take the world with it, precisely at the moment when we think the world is saved.
Superb piece. I bring up a lot of adjacent points in my recent conversation with Jim Rutt on Future Fossils, linked here for anyone who can appreciate the paradox of cultivating sincere appreciation of for and genuine interest in a brilliant guest and the path dependencies that led him to today at the same time that I test the boundaries and potential blind spots of the theory he espouses:
Here's to hoping we can link up soon and continue to prosecute this Dark Renaissance dialogos. <3