Carse on Belief, Religion & Warfare

Last night was another Long Now event at Fort Mason, this time with James Carse (author of Finite and Infinite Games). While Carse was on the verge of going off on a long lecture, he checked his watch just in time and reined things in nicely. Here are a few of my thoughts on his talk, which revolved around ideas on Belief, Religion and Warfare.

Belief – he put belief in the category of ‘bounded’ ideas – thinking stops, and it is impossible to go to the ‘other side’ of belief. As he put it, belief is not about the ‘long now’ but about ‘right now’ extended indefinitely. Generally there’s some sacred textual basis for belief.

Religion – in contrast, Carse described religion as open-ended, about wonder and wander. The amount of thought on religion is vast, and yet the questions are essentially unanswerable. He described this thinking as dealing with the ‘horizon’ – out there, but you can’t get to it.

Warfare – clearly classic wars are one of Carse’s finite games, with rules and sides and winners and losers. The interesting point here was that Carse described the Iraq war as Bush’s ‘war on uncertainty’ – and yet this seems to be a failure as we are no longer quite sure who the enemy is and whether there is anyone to defeat…

In closing Q&A he made appeal to poets – the ones who ask questions, and help us see that the boundaries we live with are of our own making. Every finite game involves people who agree to be on one side or another, and just maybe people can decide to end some unproductive games (example, the fall of the Soviet Union).

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