Off The Mishnory Road: Fun And Games

I’ve subjected my Gentle Readers to three “Politically Insoluble” essays. The themes in those essays have kept me going back to the core concept behind them all:

“They say here ‘all roads lead to Mishnory.’ To be sure, if you turn your back on Mishnory and walk away from it, you are still on the Mishnory road. To oppose vulgarity is inevitably to be vulgar. You must go somewhere else; you must have another goal; then you walk a different road.” [Ursula LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness]

If we’re going to get “off the Mishnory road” – i.e., if we’re to stop looking to political processes for the restoration of freedom – we must do so deliberately, fully conscious of what we intend.

I gave a few examples of what I have in mind in the last of those three essays. They addressed problems that are normally left in the political sphere as if that sphere did not exist. Were the approaches perfect? Assuredly not. But the driving force – turning away from political processes in the vain hope of solutions from those processes – is the important thing.

One of the keys to an improved future is the conservation of what remains good and worthy today. Once again: don’t think ‘politics’ as you read this. Think rather of what you, the Twenty-First Century’s Robinson Crusoe, would carry away from the slowly submerging wreck of contemporary American civilization before the chance is lost.

For today, I’d like to focus on the critical distinction between the psychologies of Right and Left. It’s one that the media have attempted to efface:

  1. Leftists regard all of life as fodder for political processes and State intervention. No subjects, no activities, and no attitudes are regarded as intrinsically private.
  2. Rightists believe in a private sphere in which politics and the State have no place. (Some Rightists disbelieve in any sphere for State action, but that’s a separate subject.)

In this connection, ponder well this essay on the Sturm und Drang besetting the video gaming community. Take particular note of the following highly revealing snippet:

[W]hile watching a video about GamerGate, I clicked on a link to an archive of one of the original articles, “A Guide To Ending Gamers” by Devin Wilson at Gamasutra….

I was scrolling down through the article’s list of strategies for eliminating gamers, trying to keep an open mind, and actually thinking there were one or two somewhat valid points. Then I got to item #11:

We stop upholding “fun” as the universal, ultimate criterion for a game’s relevance. It’s a meaningless ideal at best and a poisonous priority at worst. Fun is a neurological trick. Plenty of categorically unhealthy things are “fun”. Let’s try for something more. Many of the alternatives will have similarly fuzzy definitions, but let’s aspire to qualities like “edifying”, “healing”, “pro-social”, or even “enlightening”. I encourage you to decide upon your own alternatives to “fun” in games (while avoiding terms like “cool” and “awesome” and any other word that simply caters to existing, unexamined biases).

That paragraph represents everything that is wrong with social justice thinking in less than 100 words.

Indeed it does…but be sure to isolate the central concept rather than merely turning away in disgust:

The Left abhors fun because it’s inherently apolitical.

It’s worth a moment or two of your time to reflect on why that is so.

Fun – that which we strive to attain through the “play impulse” – is one of the keys to a successful life. C. S. Lewis noted its importance in The Screwtape Letters:

I divide the causes of human laughter into Joy, Fun, the Joke Proper, and Flippancy. You will see the first among friends and lovers reunited on the eve of a holiday. Among adults some pretext in the way of Jokes is usually provided, but the facility with which the smallest witticisms produce laughter at such a time shows that they are not the real cause. What that real cause is we do not know. Something like it is expressed in much of that detestable art which the humans call Music, and something like it occurs in Heaven—a meaningless acceleration in the rhythm of celestial experience, quite opaque to us. Laughter of this kind does us no good and should always be discouraged. Besides, the phenomenon is of itself disgusting and a direct insult to the realism, dignity, and austerity of Hell.

Fun is closely related to Joy—a sort of emotional froth arising from the play instinct. It is very little use to us. It can sometimes be used, of course, to divert humans from something else which the Enemy would like them to be feeling or doing: but in itself it has wholly undesirable tendencies; it promotes charity, courage, contentment, and many other evils.

We play – i.e., we engage in activities that have no deliberate gain in view – specifically because it’s fun. It comes naturally to us to do so, especially when in the company of those we love. One of the great quantitative differences between America and other nations is the fraction of our resources we have available for play. It could justly be said that Americans are the world’s foremost players – no pejorative intended.

Americans are so fun-oriented that we devote whole industries to it, most emphatically including the video gaming industry. We even seek to make our work lives fun, to the extent that might be possible. My favorite source of business advice, Robert C. Townsend, put it this way:

If you don’t do it excellently, don’t do it at all. Because if it’s not excellent it won’t be profitable or fun, and if you’re not in business for fun or profit, what the hell are you doing here?

(Granted that not much can be done for coal mining or grave digging. But note how such jobs are the ones most swiftly put to automated techniques.)

The entire point of video gaming is fun, delivered through virtualized adventures in which a gamer can face all sorts of challenges and trials without actually risking life, limb, or loot. The gamer can imagine himself to be an intrepid explorer, a mighty warrior, a brilliant detective, a pioneering spaceman, or whatever. For a few hours he can experience challenges and take risks that his mundane life doesn’t offer. Afterward, he can pop out the DVD, turn off the console, and return to that mundane existence nicely refreshed.

But while we’re having fun, we’re not focused on some Cause. We’re not straining under some heavy load of moral obligation. We’re not engaged in some humorless, self-righteous attempt to remake others according to our priorities and preferences. To whatever extent we ever indulge such considerations, the play impulse shoves all of them to the back of the stove.

Fun and the Left are mortal enemies.

The following tangent should give any thinking American pause for thought:

“There is no room for play in Islam. Islam is deadly serious…about everything.” [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini]

Islam, like Leftist politics, attempts to absorb all of life into a single, all-encompassing set of prescriptions and proscriptions. Both mindsets demand that nothing be allowed to exist independent of their dictates. Their hostility toward fun is probably the best indictment one could lay against either. Note also that though many, perhaps most Leftists denigrate and deride Christianity, the very same folks never have a word to say against Islam. Cowardice? Perhaps. But the sub rosa recognition among Leftists that Islam is “the enemy of my enemy” should not be overlooked.

Play – the quest for fun — is a bastion of freedom. It’s inherently invulnerable to the attacks of the “social justice warriors.” They know it, which is why they’re so anxious to anathematize it.

The “social justice warriors” would simply love to take over the gaming industries and put them to use in their preferred directions. However, it’s impossible by the very nature of gaming. As they awaken to this immutable aspect of gaming, they will shift to an all-out assault on gaming. If they cannot conquer it, they must destroy it.

Developments such as “GamerGate” point in that direction. They also point to the best countermeasure available to us: laughter.

Laugh at the “social justice warriors.” Exclude them from your gatherings. Ostracize them so completely that they have no one to rant and rave to but one another. Conserve and propagate the fun in gaming. Make it profitable to produce highly involving, fun-filled games utterly devoid of any political, economic, or sociological message. Then play them, independently or in groups, and hold them out to the unaware as among the under-appreciated fruits of freedom and capitalism. Just because they hate fun doesn’t mean we have to put down our toys.

I’ll leave it to others to draw the parallel between gaming and the independent-writers movement.