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Shall We Gamble Together?

Yazan al-Saadi
2019 / 1 / 1

I quite enjoy listening to the British Zen philosopher Alan Watts from time to time, and especially now as we enter a new chapter in the passage of time. Recently I came across this excerpt of one of his numerous lectures; here are the good bits edited for you consumption that I wanted to share and discuss:

Is the game worth the candle? If you think “No,” then you’d better commit suicide. That’s the logical thing to do. If—on the other hand—you’re not sure, then you’d better make up your mind. Because if you’re going to go on with the game of life and not be sure as to whether it’s really worth going on, you’ll make a mess of it. That’s quite certain...

… And so, either suicide or gamble seems to me to be the great alternatives of this life. And what will the gamble be? The gamble—or the gaming—has to rest on the assumption that this game is superb. No other assumption will work. If I may put it in another way: the game is to be trusted. The universe—you, yourself—it is fundamentally to be trusted, and this is the act of faith which underlies all gambling. Because if you don’t make that assumption as absolutely basic, the game will not work…

…Now, there’s another, which is of a much more ethical type, and that is—I will call it—trusting the game. Because if you don’t do this—in other words, if you won’t gamble—you won’t play. And here is the point of the necessity of the gamble that corresponds a little bit to the necessity of having chance as well as skill in any game that really works. But the necessity of gambling is very much overlooked, I think, in our contemporary culture because this is a culture where we are trying, as much as possible, to take the risk out of things. And when the risk is taken out of human relationships they become impossible...

… When any community of people is founded on mutual mistrust, it sort of loses half of itself, it becomes clutched up, it becomes paralyzed and unable to move. So, the basis of any community—and thus the basis of any game—is the act of faith that I will gamble; I will bet my life on this scene. And, you see, that also is fundamentally not only the attitude of faith, but it’s the attitude of love. Love is self-giving. When you love someone—say, you fall in love with a member of your opposite sex, or whatever—and you got mixed up with someone now. You’ve really committed yourself to heaven only knows what! Because love is a letting go of direct control…

…So then, in playing the game, if you don’t make the assumption that I can let go of myself in the act of faith and in the act of love, you may just as well commit suicide right now—because you can’t play it on any other basis than that. Any attempt to do so will merely make the whole thing clutch up and become insupportable, and will—in any case—be suicide. See, when we get the ultimate weapon with which we know we can be safe because nobody else has it, just because we wanted to get that ultimate safety and get that ultimate weapon to defeat our enemies, it will be suicide. Because life really is not the avoidance of death. Death is the avoidance of death. The constant terror of death, the constant putting it off, the constant vigilance that one will not die—that is death! What we call life is, fundamentally, willingness to die. Constant jumping of being into not-being. So long as you do that, it goes on. So: so long as you shake the dice and you don’t know how they’re going to come out and flip, the game goes on, you see? So long as you take a chance.

I’ve thought of these words spoken by Watts, not only along personal lens, rather also reflected outwards to our collective situation. What are we facing today? We are facing a condition of utter depression, devastation, disarray, disunity, and a feeling of damnation. These feelings are natural, of course, when you see who dominates us all – within these borders and outside it. Things are indeed desperate, a sense of urgency, an alarm blaring underneath our senses. Xenophobia, fascism, misogyny, hate, and barriers are on the rise; our planet is being smothered in toxic death; and the exploitation of our bodies, minds, and lives seems to persist and evolve stronger than ever before.

I understand and sympathize with many of your apathies, your attempts to disconnect, and your attempts to strive with the crumbs provided for you as life stutters and putters along. I understand the paralysis you have, and the fragmentation that envelopes us. I understand the egos that separate us. I do, I really do. I do not denounce or judge these sentiments and feelings that you have. I have them for time to time, and how alluring it would be to simple turn off, tune out, and bury our heads and hearts in solitude and security. But… is that not already suicide, a living death, as Watts states?

We have a game to play here, as frustrating and inconvenient and unfortunate that fact may be.

It is a long game against these regimes – as well as against the various manifestations of repression (political, economic, social, and all in between) that exists and emerges, even within us – which spans space and time, in which many before us have played and perished, and many after us will be forced to play. To make matters even worse, the powers-that-be have the advantage as they always do, of course, with the amount of power, capital, guns that they hold. And they are coordinating amongst themselves – while we remain divided, bickering and biting ourselves and each other, and trying to push our respective causes forward, inch by painful inch.

Yet, we have a game to play. It is a game of life and death, not limited within these borders of Lebanon, but extends into the region (where hope has rekindled in Sudan, and will stubbornly rekindle itself elsewhere as it always splendidly does), and even beyond as well to our blue planet which spins alone and tiny among the vastness of the dark and cold.

We do have an advantage; it is a simple but powerful one: We are truly the many, they are but the few. We each have our roles to play, small or large, yet all profound in some form that will seed greater momentum for victories in the hazy foggy future. For us to truly up-end this eternal grand game, we must work together, we must trust each other, we must assist and support each other in order to individually and collectively leap successfully to the unknown, come what may into the fray of this multilayered struggle against the powers-that-be.

And also I must say, it is okay to hesitate, to be afraid, to be confused about the right paths to take. I do not have any absolute answers myself, I have ideas that I would like to share and suggest and mull and argue over with you. From another point of view, this uncertainty should not shackle us; rather this liberates us for we are already in a very weak position, and we have more to gain in the end.

So my friend, my reader, my partner, my lover, my enemy, my stranger…my palm is raised to you, fingers spread wide and open… Will you grasp it in solidarity, and shall we leap, shall we dance, shall we roll the dice, shall we play this grand game against these fuckers that have stolen, stifled, humiliated, and killed from us?

January 1, 2019

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