There Is No Freedom In Games

False freedom and compulsivity are inescapably linked – they are two ways of talking about the same thing. This is like saying that a game and the sense of compulsion we experience when we are playing it are inseparable; as James Carse (1986) says in Finite and Infinite Games,

Players must intentionally forget the inherently voluntary nature of their play, else all competitive effort will desert them.

If we didn’t experience this sense of non-negotiable need with regard to winning, then there couldn’t be a game. There’s no such thing as a game that we don’t have to try to win, any more than there can be such a thing as ‘a rule that we don’t have to obey’!


These are all different ways of talking about the same thing, which is ‘the separation of the opposites’. When we go all out of attain the goal, to obtain the desired outcome whilst avoiding the undesired one, then we’re trying to have one opposite without the other. When we strive to win rather than lose we’re trying to separate the opposites and when we do our best to obey the rule we’re also trying to have one opposite without the other – successful obeying is one opposite and ‘failed obeying’ is the other. All purposeful doing is the attempt to separate the opposites, just as all rational thinking is. Inasmuch as rational thinking is always directed to obtaining a ‘definite answer’ it must involves polarity – it must involve having a YES without a NO or a NO without a YES. If this can’t be done then we won’t have any certainty.


Rational thinking and purposeful doing both take it for granted that the operation whereby we obtain the separation of the opposites is a perfectly legitimate one. This operation – which is the essential operation of the rational mind – is however not legitimate at all. Far from being ‘legitimate’ it is actually fundamentally impossible, as we can easily see if we bother to look into it. It’s the most impossible thing there is YES only means YES because of NO and NO only means NO because of YES and so how can we ever separate the two? Separating the opposites is a fundamentally impossible act and so the motivation to do so – which is an overwhelmingly powerful (and persuasive) one – is motivation that is supplied by an illusion. The motivation comes out of a mistaken way of looking at things and the freedom which we think we have to obey it (or ‘act it out’) is false freedom.


The illusion which is False Freedom has a key quality or characteristic to it and that quality or characteristic is – as we have already said – compulsivity. There exists what we might call ‘a subjective field of compulsivity’ between the two opposites, the two poles of YES and NO. It’s not an ‘objective’ field of compulsivity because the opposites can’t be separated and so it’s not a real situation that we’re talking about here. The opposites can’t be separated and so there can’t be any space between them, and if there can’t be any space between them then there can’t be a field there in that space within which we are compelled us to move in one direction but not the other. And yet we spend most of our lives living in the ‘virtual compulsive environment’ that is made up of +/- field lines – it is the VCE that determines how we see the world, and how we see ourselves.


The VCE – we might say – is made up of ‘false freedom’. When we want to do something (when we want to realize a goal) we see freedom in terms of the possibility of enacting this desire – this is the only freedom we’re interested in. It’s the only thing we see as ‘freedom’. This however is not freedom at all – we could say that it’s a ‘nonsensical form of freedom’. It is a nonsensical form of freedom because both ‘what we want to do’ and ‘the one who wants to do it’ are functions of the compulsivity. We want what we want as a result of the compulsivity and we see ourselves in terms of being ‘the wanter’ (of whatever it is we want) also as a result of this same compulsivity. Both the wanter and what the wanter wants only mean anything because of the subjectively-existing ‘field of compulsivity’ that is strung out like a hammock of magnetic field lines between the two opposites, between the two poles of [+] and [-]. So when we talk about our so-called ‘freedom’ to obtain whatever goal it is that we want to obtain this is plainly the very height of absurdity! If the compulsive field creates the wanter as well as the wanted, the seeker of the goal as well as the goal, then to talk about freedom in terms of that wanter getting what he or she wants, in terms of that seeker finding what he or she is seeking, then this construction of what is means by the word ‘freedom’ is nonsensical in the extreme – the one thing that definitely isn’t present in this situation is freedom!


We don’t have the freedom to separate the opposites and we never will; but what is true is that the belief (or distorted perception) that it is possible to carry out this impossible act gives rise to the illusion that there is both ‘the wanted’ on the one side and ‘what is wanted’ on the other. The type of freedom that we’re looking at here is therefore the freedom to believe in the world of duality, or ‘the freedom to believe in an illusion’. This comes down to ‘the freedom not to be free’ since there is clearly no freedom to be had as a result of believing in an illusory world! So if we don’t have the freedom to separate the opposites (but only the imaginary freedom to believe that we can when we can’t) what then is ‘real freedom’? What would genuine freedom look like? What constitutes genuine freedom and how would we utilize it? Clearly, the only genuine freedom would be ‘the freedom to move out of confining framework’, or ‘the freedom to move out of the assumed context’. If false freedom is ‘the freedom to move about (or attain things) within the imaginary world that we create for ourselves by never looking beyond the framework’, then genuine freedom would be the freedom to move beyond this ‘limitation that we cannot see because we think that it is everything’.


We could also say that the movement of freedom is the movement which takes us away from taking seriously what we always take seriously, what we can’t help from taking seriously. As long as we take what the rational mind tells us seriously (as it very much requires us to do!) freedom will only ever be a mirage for us. What we always take seriously is the mind-created polarity of YES and NO and when we can’t see beyond this polarity then the only type of freedom we will ever know is false freedom, which is ‘the freedom to separate the opposites’. We usually take the separation of the opposites very seriously indeed – this is of course like saying we take the polarity of win versus lose, good versus bad, very seriously. Absolute polarity is seriousness itself because there is no questioning, no relativity, no irony – everything is completely pinned down, everything is exactly what it is said to be. There really isn’t a more appalling humourless situation than that the mind-created polarity of YES and NO! Genuine freedom is therefore to realize (and this is a humorous realization) that this business of ‘separating the opposites’ isn’t serious at all. It’s a joke, but we just don’t get it


The ‘humourless subjective space’ that comes into being as a result of imagining that the opposites can (and ought to) be separated is the same thing as what we have called the virtual compulsive environment. The VCE is a ‘compulsivity field’ that exists between the PLUS and MINUS poles and this mind-created compulsive field defines everything about us. We are creatures of compulsivity – ‘have to’ is our middle name. Our existence, our thoughts, our perceptions of the world and ourselves are all cobbled together out of compulsivity (which is to say, ‘lack of freedom’). If there was freedom then there wouldn’t have to be a humourless wanter, and there wouldn’t have to be a serious goal – a goal that we have no choice about trying to attain. If there was freedom then there wouldn’t have to be any humourless wanting


Instead of compulsivity, we could also think in terms of reactivity. The ‘me’, the ‘self’ is always reactive because it is always in a state of need – it always needs to be correcting itself, maintaining itself, progressing itself. The self (which is ‘the wanter’) always needs to be holding itself together against the omnipresent threat of dissolution (which is the state of ‘not existing’, or ‘not being maintained’ or ‘not being held together’). This – then – puts us slap-bang in the middle of a pair of opposites – ‘existence’ and ‘non-existence’. These two poles – when apparently separated as they are – create the ‘virtual compulsive world’ where everything we do and think and perceive is defined by the need to move in the direction of one pole (existence) rather than the other (non-existence). It is the relevance of activity to this ‘overarching compulsion’ that gives meaning to it – if something helps us or hinders us in obeying the compulsion then it has meaning (with regard to our narrow field of focus) and if it contributes nothing with regard to us fulfilling the prescribed agenda then has no meaning and as a consequence we don’t take any notice of it. It’s invisible to us; as far as we’re concerned it doesn’t exist.


This is of course a very straightforward point to make – what exists between one pole and the other is a logical continuum and when we’re in this continuum there are only two possible directions, either [+] or [-]. Plus and Minus are the only two ingredients in the mix – nothing else makes sense within the context of the logical continuum. Nothing else exists within it. We can say therefore that the continuum of logic (which is strung out like a comfortable hammock between the two poles of Plus and Minus) is an extreme oversimplification of reality – everything is represented in terms of this one dimension, everything is loaded upon this one skinny dimension. Reality itself is open-ended – which means that there is no limit to the number of independent variable that it might have in it – whilst the polar world of YES / NO (or PLUS / MINUS) reduces everything to just the one variable. Really what we’re talking about here is ‘playing a game’ – when we play a game everything is simplified down to WIN versus Lose and what it takes to win rather than lose. Anything that doesn’t have any bearing on this single non-negotiable agenda doesn’t exist as far as the game is concerned, which means that it doesn’t exist as far as we are conceptual (just as long as we are playing the game). Games are how we simplify reality, in other words.


Any situation where there is one pole at one end and the other, complementary pole at the other end, and all we know is the virtual space or gap that exists between the two, is a game. So one pole could be existence and the other nonexistence, or we could be talking about validation versus devalidation. One pole we want whilst the other we don’t want and this means that we are stuck in the realm of false freedom! We want to exist and we also want not to ‘not exist’ (which is of course the same thing) but what we don’t see when we’re playing the game is that both of these poles are equally unreal. Both poles are equally unreal since the one who wants to exist (and fears not existing) is actually being defined by the closed framework that is being assumed in playing the game. The one who wants to win (or wants not to lose) is defined by the game just as much as the losing and the winning are – it’s all the same closed system and whatever goes on in a closed system only ever means anything within the terms of that closed system. Since the closed system only exists because we say it does (which is to say, ‘because the closed system or game only seems to exist because we are ignoring or screening out everything that isn’t relevant to it’) this means that actually nothing ever does happen in that closed world. Nothing ever happens in the closed (or polar) world because that closed (or polar) world isn’t real in the first place!


The redundant thing about the game can also be explained by saying that we aren’t that self anyway and so the whole dynamic between being validated on the one hand and devalidated on the other is completely beside the point – no matter how compulsive the drive or urge to be validated might be when we are playing. It’s only when we think that we are that game-playing self that it all seems so important and we only think we are that game-playing self because we’ve got stuck in an extremely (ridiculously) oversimplified version of reality – a ridiculously oversimplified version of reality that doesn’t actually exist. The compulsivity (or need to react) might be said to be a substitute for being (which as we said earlier contains no compulsion, since we cannot be compelled to be free); it is in other words only by feeling the compulsion acting on us in the way that it does (which is the force of attachment or ‘desire / fear’) that we know ourselves to exist. Or as we could also say, it is only because we are yearning to be validated (and at the same time in terror of being devalidated) that we feel ourselves to exist. Our very existence is defined by the tension that exists between winning and losing and yet ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ are entirely unreal things…


This is how it is with all games. Games are always the same – there is a pole at the end which we are attracted to and a pole at the other end which we are correspondingly repelled by. There is a PLUS / MINUS continuum. The motivation (or rather coercion) that makes up the game is therefore to move in one direction rather than the other. A very particular type of illusion or hallucination is created by this situation, as we have already noted. The illusion in question is the illusion of the wanter and the wanted, the desirer and whatever it is that the desirer desires. Or we could say that the illusion that has been created of the chooser, the one who can choose what strategies to employ in order to have the best chance of winning the prize. The illusion is that we believe ourselves to be this wanter or this fearer; we believe ourselves to be this free agent who can make choices within the context of the game that we don’t understand to be a game. This is a profoundly compelling illusion. Just how compelling it is is easy to see – all we have to ask ourselves is how often, during the course of the day, we question this reality that we are presented with, this reality of ‘the wanter and what is wanted’, the reality of ‘the fearer and what is feared’. Or we could even ask how often we question the reality that is presented to us during our entire lifetime. Do we ever question it?


As we keep saying, neither pole (either attractive or aversive) matters a damn in the bigger picture of things. It only matters to the game-player. It matters a lot to the game play but the thing about this is that the game-player isn’t us. The game-player isn’t who we are at all. It’s just something that has been provided for us by the game and which we are compelled (by the ‘restricted or simplified reality’ of the +/- continuum) to identify with. Because the wanter or the fearer isn’t who we are, neither winning nor losing matter! Winning and losing are meaningless propositions for the simple reason that – in reality – there is no one there who can do either!


It is the +/- tension that is creating the self, that is creating the game-player – without that tension the self cannot come into existence. If there is something to be desired then there must be a desirer; if there is something to be feared then there must be a fearer. This is equivalent to saying that unless there is attachment (i.e. greed versus fear) there cannot be a self. No matter what we might think, there is simply no such thing as a self without attachment – when there is no attachment there is no self. The freedom to obtain what we want to obtain (or avoid what we want to avoid) is no sort of freedom at all, therefore. The only sort of freedom that would actually mean anything – which is the freedom not to have to believe that we are this illusory self or game-player – is missing. The type of freedom that we do believe in, the freedom to ‘chase our dreams’ (which are the dreams of the imaginary game-player) is therefore not freedom but the purest folly. This is the folly that we engage in whole-heatedly every single day of our lives! Freedom means freedom from folly, not the freedom to go on committing folly over and over again and never seeing it for what it is. To call that freedom is a bizarre perversity.


In conclusion, the self only gets to be the self because of the way it likes and dislikes, because of the way in which it desires and fears. What the self likes and dislikes, desires and fears, are only its own projections – they are itself in projected form. The self is reacting to its own shadows, its own reflections. And this is (of course) a tautological loop because – as we have just said – the self only gets to exist because of the projections which it is either drawn to or repelled by. The game-playing self can only exist by reacting automatically (or ‘unfreely’) to its own unacknowledged projections, and so these projections can hardly be any more real than it is! The self is the illusion that begets itself by either chasing itself or running away from itself, therefore.


This odd situation is brought about by the way in which we split reality in two and make it into a POSITIVE half and a NEGATIVE half. This can’t be done because reality can’t be split in two – reality can’t be subdivided, it can’t be partitioned or fractionated. When we do divide reality into two poles however we end up with an unreal situation and the unreality of this situation shows itself in terms of compulsivity or ‘lack of freedom’. We know that the polar world is unreal because there is zero freedom in it, in other words! The point here is that there is no such thing as ‘zero freedom’ – reality (or being) is nothing other than freedom, so how can we take the freedom out of it? It is impossible to take the freedom out of being, out of reality. Reality is always freedom. It is the game-playing self (or the ‘me’) that has no freedom because it is driven in everything it does and thinks by its mechanical attachments, by desire and fear, by like and dislike.  But – as we have just said – there is no such thing as ‘no freedom’, just as there is no such thing as this game-playing self we think we are…






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