Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The World as Won't

"The surest way to fail is not to try." Everyone has heard some variation of that injunction. Every American especially, as the civic religion and mythos of America declares at every turn all things are possible for those with the Will. That "those with the Will" have historically been property-owning white men is often left out of the pithy proverb.

Another such proverb, "You only lose if you play the game," appears at first to be promoting the same can-do exceptionalism. The words are superficially the same, but the core idea is different. Where "The surest way to fail is not to try" compels - commands, even - the listener to go out and seize the day, "You only lose if you play the game" presents the natural state not as failure but as null. One does not court failure except by engaging in whatever pursuit the first proverb commands, and so failure may be avoided altogether simply by not getting involved.

Digging deeper, we find "You only lose if you play the game" further offers a critique of the dog-eat-dog paradigm our opening proverb takes for granted. "The surest way to fail is not to try" presents failure as the default state, the state you're in right now. A state that persists until you actively take charge of your own life and destiny, shaping the world to your Will!

A stirring idea, if you've never worked an office job.

The reality, which we've all experienced, is that the World is not amenable to Will. The World just is. The idea that by giving it the old college try we can rectify this rests in the same instrumentalist view that animates everything from neoconservative foreign policy to new age cults like The Secret.

This is the game that you only lose if you play. A rigged game too, as demonstrated by the continuing foreclosure crisis amidst yet another Wall Street boom. Millions have played this game, or tried to, only to discover that as you try and try you still fail. Because effort does not correlate with success, nor success with righteousness, no matter what Calvin and Adam Smith claimed.

But if you refuse to play - reject the logic imposed by the game - you escape the default failure state imposed on everyone not born into the winning class. It may not reshape the World into something more amenable to your own notions of justice, but it's a damn sight better than being ground under the treads of this awful Megamachine our forefathers have foisted upon us.

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