The Long Now

San Francisco is a spectularly diverse—and just plain spectacular—place to live. Your life is touched, or at least neared, by people, places and things, the breadth and depth of which leave you with this astonished feeling. And that’s a feeling that too many people are afraid to experience. Fear of the unknown is perhaps, at least the Westerner’s, most enduring bugaboo. Fear of the Other, which is different to fear of the unknown, is just as insidious. Fear of change, fear of death (which in itself is just another change from here to heaven or to oblivion or to the next incarnation). Fear of upset expectation. Fear of Being Wrong.

Astonishment, to my way of thinking (and feeling!), is a blood relation to wonderment. Socrates’ flavor of wonderment: “Wisdom begins in wonder.” That sort of thing.

Who bothers with wonderment anymore? The Age of Reason seems to have all but killed the Eons of Wonder. More’s the pity, I say, and this is quite something coming from one who escaped intellectualism only by embracing scientism, and escaped that only by being defeated and overwhelmed by the wonders of the world as they are diverted through the prism of San Francisco.

To me, San Francisco helped make a multiplicity of spirit and of mind possible. It’s a staging area, a testbed, a control (we never do escape the teachings and teachers of our youth), and most importantly it’s a home base from which to believe nothing and everything, to be yourself and countless others, to choose and be chosen for, to progress and reflect, to conserve and to spend, to hurry and to tarry.

It’s not so much losing one’s self in the flood or one’s footing when the riverbank washes away, so much as it is discovering a 3rd dimension—up!—and exploiting one’s newfound freedom of movement.

And it was with this light and fearless heart that I went with my good friend Dave to an event at Fort Mason here in the City. I have known Dave since before I even moved to San Francisco. He and his wife Lisa have been splendid friends and sherpas throughout my entire time here, inspiring, cajoling and sometimes even instructing me on the Rest of the World, that which I never even dreamed existed.

Also at the event was my rediscovered friend, Steve, quite the clever monkey in his own right, and less credulous in general than either Dave or myself. In other words, a terrific and valuable presence.

The man speaking at the event was James Carse, author of Finite and Infinite Games, giving a talk on the relationship between Religion and War.

A too-simple background: finite games are those which have solid boundaries/rules, with the goal of winning. Infinite games are those whose only goal is to continue the play, and have horizons instead of boundaries (look at a horizon line and imagine going to that spot, look off in the same direction: another horizon!).

An infinite game might be hitting a balloon around at a family picnic and trying to keep it from falling. A finite game? Chess. Another infinite game: survival, as in the survival of a religion across eras, across governments and across ethnicities. Another finite game: war.

Carse described war as the application of finite game rules to an infinite game. A big, broad statement with too many degrees of freedom, to be sure, but that was his point. He described religion as an infinite game, whose followers often—almost periodically—wish to grab worldly power and play out a finite game with it.

It’s all too easy to find an example in the world out there.

When talking of religion, Carse pointed out that belief is different to religion. This is something I had already figured out for myself. He pointed out that thinking ends at belief, that point at which we accept something as true or even True and stop considering the veracity of it.

Aquinas had a big old brace on his brain, in my opinion, in that he accepted the Creeds of his religion much too early in his critical thinking. I have gone even further in this, here and on other blogs, insisting that Aquinas was just a bad thinker and that his works suffered from begging his own questions. In Carse’s parlance, Aquinas set out to prove that his own boundaries were correct, instead of just expanding the known horizon and humbly accepting its infinitude.

I find it odd whenever people of faith (or merely religion) attempt to use critical thinking in order to prove the correctness of their position. Arguably, proof is nothing more than a true-statement derived from the rules/boundaries of the system. And why do believers play this Finite Game?

Probably because they’re more about their religion than their beliefs.

Of course, there was plenty more to Carse, and to his lecture, and to the Long Now Foundation, but we have plenty of time.