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Ain’t it awful?

There’s a game that’s mighty popular in respectable left of centre social circles right now: it’s not Pictionary, Trivial Pursuit, or Cards against Humanity: but odds are that you may well play it more often than all of those three put together. It’s called “Ain’t it Awful?”.

Of course, I am being knowingly disingenuous: it’s not a game in the sense of those other games. They are actually PASTIMES, in the terminology of Eric Berne, who wrote the fascinating and groundbreaking book, Games people play, in 1964. Despite dropping some clangers in terms of giving away its half century old sexual politics, it’s a ripper of a book.

What are pastimes? They are things done to pass the time, just as RITUALS are formalised ways of marking momentous and non momentous landmarks in time. But GAMES are much, much more interesting, and it could behoove us at this point to know moderately exactly what it is that he means by the term.

I’m going to paraphrase Berne here. A game is a series of exchanges between people where the actual purpose is not the same as the advertised one, where you pretend to be doing one thing, but are doing something else. And the usual result is often that you feel vaguely shit, but are a little fuzzy as to why.

I don’t think I have to go too far into psycho-speak to explain this. The easiest game to explain is Why Don’t You-Yes, But. This is probably familiar: The protagonist seeks solutions to a problem and proceeds to dismiss all possible solutions. It’s brilliant. The point is that they are pretending to be looking for solutions, but in fact are seeking validation for their helplessness….resulting in a kind of dirty victory for them, and a vaguely frustrated feeling by the other player.

It’s important to note that if you approached someone and said “Can you just confirm for me that there’s absolutely bloody nothing I can do to save this situation?”, then it’s not a game. It’s an honest exchange.

Ain’t it awful?” is one of the best documented games from Eric Berne’s original book. It can be played with any number of players. Any player may begin with a pessimistic statement which is then amplified and expanded upon by other players. The mechanics and detail of our upcoming doom are then explained in ever increasing detail and horror by various players, until somebody forensically details the exact reason, usually quoting an arcane expert of some kind, why we are all utterly and completely fucked. That person then “wins”, there is a dreadful silence, and everybody reaches for a drink as somebody makes a faux cheerful riposte such as “cheerful party, this one, eh? Is there any more prosecco?”

Inevitably, as before, everybody feels both frustrated and a bit grubby after such a game. That’s because it’s a game. That’s because the stated purpose is sharing important knowledge, but in reality it’s a competition to show superior knowledge and superior pessimism. You will note that cheerfulness will inevitably be discarded by the major players because it interferes with the downwards auction. You will feel frustrated because none of the knowledge is in fact of any use except for extra misery, and grubby because you may have got a kick out of how well you could spell out the ghastly details of our fate.

You need to give this game up.

We all need to give this game up, because it is both useless (in the sense that it’s of no use) and worse than useless (because it takes up good time in making you feel less good, implies paralysis as a result, and gives the false feeling that you have somehow “engaged” in a political sense).

We live in the midst of a geo-politico-enviro-socio-clusterfuck which is brilliantly ripe for the playing of this game. That’s not to say, of course that all conversations on these matters are inevitably that. There may be all kinds of important exchanges of information or opinions that could be salacious, pertinent, and usable, even amusing sometimes. But there is usually a point of deterioration, indicated by the sloped shoulders, vague shuffling and hopeless silence it portends.

The various subjects have, if you like, varying half-lives in this respect. A climate change dingdong may well take 20 minutes or longer to devolve, whereas a discussion on Mr Trump may well (after two or three quoted tweets and the universal hilarity and horror that results) arrive there in a much shorter time. But nothing can beat, in the UK, Brexit. The mere saying of the word, in respectable company there invokes instant assumption of all physical aspects of the seventh hour of waiting for a delayed Ryanair flight home at Malaga Airport.

And that demeanour is the clue as to whether you have in fact devolved. And the fact that there is always one smartarse more knowledgable and depressing than everybody else who you subtly hate precisely as much as he feels teensily validated. And the fact that a quick check reveals that everyone present is more or less knowledgable and more or less in agreement so why the dickens are we still talking about it?

Brexit is a perfect example of learned helplessness. The country is in dull lockstep towards a fate that nobody really wants, not the major political parties, not the important interest groups, and not (51-41 atlast count) the people. It would seem like the perfect environment for suddenly yelling out “BUT HE’S NOT WEARING ANY CLOTHES!”. What is stopping people is public exhaustion with the question. But sometimes we are exhausted by a question because we’re continually getting the wrong answer. (Are you an alcoholic-no!). It might require the question to be posed in a slightly different way-and that would take some creative thinking. But it’s doable.

The crushing fact is that if all of us who cared about all the things that matter had resolved to never play this game and instead devote the thus gained time to actually doing something then we would not be in the mess we are in now. The damning truth is that very many of us, beyond casting a vote, clicking on a link from time to time and going to a rally or two, don’t really do that much about these kinds of things. And I’m not saying that anybody should -unless things bother you enough to play ain’t it awful at every available chance.

If you don’t care that things are going to shit then at least your behaviour is consistent with your beliefs if you do nothing. If you do care, I wonder if it’s unreasonable to suggest this: Don’t talk about it. Do something about it.

And, good lord, that is far, far harder than it sounds. Because an unsaid thing is like an unturned stone, an uneaten cake, a stray bit of PVA glue on your hand after gluing something. “I’ll just….” yes, you will, you do. We always do, we always say the thing. We say the thing because we know the thing. But, actually, we already all know the thing.

One possible strategy is to call the bluff of the game and to deal directly with the covert intent, which is to address the elephant, in a sense, such as this kind of riposte:

Wow, you nailed it there. That was so articulate and complete. I don’t think you missed anything, I really do feel completely hopeless. Unless anyone can do better. Can any of us do better at making me feel worse, do you think?” Could work, I don’t know.

Or maybe you can have an agreed code word, much like practiced participants in sadomasochism, a word which takes you out of the game and back to reality again. I think a good word (both for sadomasochism, and for political conversations, is “cornflakes”). It’s an unlikely word to appear randomly in a Brexit or Trump conversation and the agreed meaning would be: “Does anyone else think that conversational jollies have given way to symbolic self nailing of heads to the floor here? Let’s abort the mission!”

Or you might need to do it less artfully, and say “Just fucking stop it you twats.”

Jolly good. I hope we’re all agreed on this, and if we are, we’ve sorted out one half of the situation. Now we just need to find some actual things to do to actually fix the problems. It shouldn’t be too hard. I’ll get back to you on that one.

7 thoughts on “Ain’t it awful?

  1. Love this, particularly the code-word idea. Works for us in all sorts of ways. Saw a particularly nasty/good doco on The Silk Road and Dread Pirate Roberts, with so many well spoken points, like the effectiveness of transferring drug trades from the street to the web – anonymously – and the double standards that pervade those prosecuting such a morally mixedup service, as well as the participants. But I digress.
    We do not wish to participate in competitive dredging, soul flagellation or any mea culpa activities. We prefer to use our wonderful imaginations to create short term and medium term solutions by identifying the often simple assumptions that assist the mistruths and attack/educate there, at the weak points.

    For example – plastic overabundance: very difficult to find useful estimates of how much plastic may be produced from a given amount of crude. This is an interesting omission, cloaking a whole series of possibilities, arguments, alternative strategies. Its a multi-state secret. Turns out the 4% used to make plastics is about as valuable as the other 96% used as fuels and oils. IT cost money to store all this stuff and we could be forgiven for assuming the whole ‘race to consume as much as possible’ is driven by the huge profits from plastic as much as anything. So if we could actually recycle say 90% of plastics we’d be short circuiting the oil industries profitability in a big way. Hmmm.

    Im not so much worried about what DT is tweeting as what is actually really going on behind the curtain while this punch and judy show unfolds.

    I call it the last waltz of the Titans.

    Thanks for your thoughts, always.

  2. I firmly disagree Stephen with your proposal.

    What else am I going to talk about at functions etc. if not the Flat Earth, The Illuminati, False Flag events etc. No I’m serious………what else is going to take its place? The latest Strictly contestants? The latest happenings on The Soaps? The latest football results? How well Jemima is doing in her ballet classes?

    The world needs a hell of a lot of things at the moment, but what it doesn’t need is less talking about factors that effect the economics of ordinary people. Is it a co-incidence that especially in Britain (or the latest incarnation, the ‘UK’) public debate has dwindled over my lifetime to the point where it is too expensive to go to a pub, not that there’s much point, as the smoking ban killed off all the trade (and working men’s clubs can be considered here as well). Where it now is a criminal offence to criticise anything remotely Jewish, whether it’s to do with historically dubious ‘facts’ or current Zionist expansionist plans. Where it is considered a real faux pas to talk about ‘multi-culturalism’ in any aspect lest be cast as a racist? I could cite probably another twenty or so subjects where to express an opinion or even raise a debate so that your own current opinion can be challenged and from which an individual could change their mind because of new information learned.

    As a life-long atheist I have lately become interested in religion. How is it that the stories I’ve heard through the Christian message have always sounded unreal, almost farcical on occasion. Has something been lost in translation? Gematria is something I’d never heard of until a year ago. Whether it’s co-incidence or it is indeed written within the King James edition of the Holy Bible, the cipher or code hidden in Scripture is probably something that 99% of Christians are totally unaware of. How could you have Christian beliefs and be unaware of possibly the true meaning of Scripture? Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes truth.

    I hate going to most social gatherings these days because of the crux of your argument…….that there are some subjects better left unsaid. I also disagree with your argument that people’s involvement in the game are purely for ‘egotistical’ reasons. On the contrary, for me it is to ‘wake the sheeple up’ (ok….smatterings of ego there) but only in response to the vast weight of media that is force fed to us from morn til dusk with THEIR agendas. I recently learned about John Wesley (of the Methodist movement). Ask around your English friends, who was John Wesley? Most of them will probably respond with….’Oh he was in court again last week, wasn’t he’ (confusing the most loved man in England at the beginning of the nineteenth century with the crappy disgraced ex-‘Blue Peter’ star).

    The older I get, the more surprised I am at things I don’t know about the world I inhabit. I think there’s a reason for that. The same reason why in my lifetime, music-making (a pastime?) has been decimated from our society and especially within education. Music, of all the arts, is an instant way of connecting with our life-spirit. Kill off the spirit in man and you can get whatever you want. This is the modern world and the reason why THEY don’t want you connecting with each other.

    Now if people were as musically literate as their fore-fathers, then a quick distribution of copies would have part-singing ringing round the room. A much better distraction from our mortal coil.

    Maybe at your next social gathering, you could whip out an A4 image of a cornflake and rather than debating anything, just have a ‘hating’ session around the cornflake (a la Orwellian ‘1984’ if the meaning wasn’t clear).

    Over the last fifteen years I have researched lots of different subjects including Big Pharma, politics, economics, astronomy, history and many sessions have revealed a darkness about the human condition, akin to the kind of feeling I think you were attributing to these pointless discussions. I heard something recently from Marty Leeds, a gematria exponent talking about the darkness within these subject matters. I paraphrase but it goes along the lines of, the more darkness you investigate, the more intrinsic light you need within to offset it. I have found that as a musician, there is no better charging of my internal light cells than ‘doing music’. I suspect the ‘euphoria’ described by most people after singing, isn’t just a chemical production of seretonin, but goes much deeper than this and ties us to the very fabric of life and existence.

    • alan!
      thanks for your considered response. I couldn’t agree more that real discussion and debate is needed more than ever before. please note that the described pathology of the game does not refer to
      1. robust exchanges of views on various subjects (though if this is just a public dingdong with some wrongheaded boofhead it may become just like the butting of heads and futile for a different reason), or
      2. the discussing and learning of informations that some people didn’t know, or
      3. even, possibly the sport of mocking loopheads (flath earthers, scientologists) of different kinds….if it’s fun. but I don’t usually find it much fun, because it’s too predictable, and often, basically, sad.
      it refers to a sad charade where people who already know something get some kind of kick by telling each other in more minute details of things about that thing that they already know.

  3. Thank you for putting into words the reason I find excuses to leave conversations! I used to feel a bit guilty but no longer. I just need to find a really good exit line rather than mumbling about the urgent need to clear out the vacuum’s filters….

  4. Terrific stuff! BTW the good news is that this problem doesn’t last. Once you get over the age of ;”/!, the conversation (can go on for hours) will just fluctuate between ailments/their treatment and what tricks you can’t get your computer to do. Any suggestions for an exit code gratefully accepted. Cornflakes , unfortunately, is likely to be already in there somewhere ….

  5. My 59 annums gone world view is one where I keep trying to find our why exactly I incarnated on this planet in the first instance!
    Most things humans do, say, dream of, admit to or lust for are simply cyclic repetitions of pointless efforts foregone! No wonder some unthinkers say that to clear the air we need a ‘good war’, its like wishing for a tornado to tear the roof off No10 to freshen the air of farts & B.O.

    BRexit begins with the same 2 letters as BRoken, same as TRump does with TRouble, enough said!

    Todays ‘leaders’ are like ISIS, they are ‘So Called’ Leaders because all though they exist it is often only because they massively lied and when in power act as squirrels in Autumn.
    Call that a leader? You follow them if your that stupid, count me out!
    Our ‘Leaders’ are no more than embedded ticks in Elephant skin. They are warm, well fed, safe and can breed more of themselves in safety, just like all established C0n$ervative$ worldwide.

    Change the system?
    Most dunderheads think our ‘system’ is OK as long as a hurricane doesn’t tear up their home and dump its bits 2 miles away or a fracking rig doesn’t start shaking its foundations like a huge hammer drill nearby. By the time it happens, too late sucker!
    So until things go wrong they will flock like hypnotised lemmings to airport terminus and join long queues to sunburn and consequent poverty, only to repeat it as soon as they can.

    The meaning of life seems to be meaningless, there isn’t one for anyone with full strength awareness.

  6. Hey Greg,
    You wrote:
    ‘I keep trying to find our why exactly I incarnated on this planet in the first instance!’

    Isn’t that what most people are trying to figure out?

    There are ones that will occupy themselves 24/7 with anything that distracts them from confronting that question.

    It’s funny, but the more science I learn, the more I’m tipped towards us being the product of a Divine Creator, not necessarily of the whole uni/multiverses, but maybe just a lot smarter than we are. If we are living in a simulation as quantum physics suggests,

    how different is that view from a historical religious view that in order to reach some kind of eternal life, our actions here and now dictate that future?

    I’ve found two interesting speakers on this type of discussion are Terence McKenna and Rupert Sheldrake. Their work seems to point to some other fields of energy operating that during our conscious lives we seem oblivious to…..dare I call it ‘Spooky?’.

    I defintiely feel that there is a huge void in lots of people’s lives at the moment that religion used to fill. Whether people went to church fearing the wrath of God if they didn’t, the simple act of coming together reinforced the idea of an inclusive society. I’d like to see unused church buildings being offered up to artists and musicians to put on weekly ‘shows’ (‘services’, if you want). These shows could include communal singing and prayer (of the non-denominational type). Replace the word ‘God’ which has too much historical baggage with ‘Spirit of the Universe or ‘to be decided’) and we could pray for world peace, specific events etc, and could probably achieve a joint concensus. I’d also like to see these events hosting ‘lectures’ or ‘storytimes’ much like the kind of thing featured on Radio 4’s ‘Saturday Live’. I guess churches that move with the times are already doing this type of thing, but the prayers including the words, ‘Father, you gave your Son, Jesus’ etc, and the fascination with stories from the supposed Middle East featuring Judaism, turns me right off, whether its Catholic or Protestant. It’s irrelevant IMHO and needs to stop.

    Mind you, maybe I’m not the audience they have in mind.

    Time to research John & Charles Wesley and find out how two men on horseback could leave a legacy up and down the land that still is operating today in certain communities.

    The power of faith?

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