Donald Trump and Yuval Noah Harari

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Introducing for the first time
Pharaoh on the microphone
Sing all hail
What will be revealed today
When we peer into the great unknown
From the line to the throne
          The New Pornographers, “The Laws Have Changed

Informed of a rival’s demise, the scheming, turn-of-the-19th-century French diplomat Talleyrand could be heard muttering, “I wonder what he meant by that?” So goes “the great game of politics,” in which even death is perceived as but another move. Of course, real politics is no game; still, there’s a long tradition of confusing the two. It’s the same with war, which is why Clausewitz once felt it necessary to declare that “war is no pastime; it is no mere joy in daring and winning, no place for irresponsible enthusiasts. It is a serious means to a serious end.”

To treat something serious as if it were a game is to aestheticize it − to take it out of the domain that we might call “the practical” and put it in “the aesthetic.” The practical is where we strive to fulfil our values or interests; to do things, that is, for our sakes. By contrast, in the aesthetic we take on a disinterested attitude and so do things for “their own sakes,” as the saying goes. This can be a lot of fun, and fun is the ultimate goal, but we can only reach it indirectly, which is why, to repeat the point, a game’s rules are respected for their own sakes rather than for some practical end. Why should I kick the ball in that goal or shoot the puck in this net? Because that’s how the game is played, nothing more. And why can’t I pick up the ball with my hands or kick the puck in with my skate? Because these things would violate the rules − rules, again, which exist simply because we couldn’t play without them. Of course it’s possible to play a game seriously, which is what professional athletes do, for example. But their salaries or glory are things that exist outside of the game, in the practical rather than in the aesthetic, since one can always play for free or without a care for the recognition of others.

There are three other modes of the aesthetic, and these exist alongside playing for fun and often overlap with it. They are disinterested appreciating, as when you savour something or enjoy its beauty, whether it be an artwork, a fine wine, or a person; disinterested imagining, when you fantasize by using your imagination in ways unrestricted by fact, letting it “run free”; and disinterested presenting, when you put on an entertaining show, a spectacle. … Continue reading