diplomatic victory

Today is my one day off this week, and I chose to spend most of it playing Civilization III. I finally managed to finish a game, instead of quitting in the middle of the industrial era and starting over. Rather than play through to an inevitable defeat, I'll quit when I realize that a) I don't have enough cities to remain financially solvent and ahead in the culture race, or b) a nearby, militaristic civilization is about to conquer me and there is nothing I can do about it.

My first win was a diplomatic victory, which is achieved by being elected leader of the virtual United Nations. I'd traded with everyone, never been at war with anyone, and none of my spies had been detected in other civs' cities, so no one had reason to distrust me, and the vote was 3-1 in my favor. Yay winning.

The possibility of non-violent victory in Civ III appeals to me even more than the brain-stimulating complexity of the gameplay. Every other game with this kind of depth has one and only one path to victory: kill everybody who isn't on your team. I go along with it, since it's essential to the interface, but it's a thing to be tolerated rather than enjoyed. That's not how I approach anything in my life, and that's not a path of action I especially want to wallow in, even in an imaginary world.

That grizzled old axiom, "as above, so below" applies to the personality in a very direct way. Your deepest beliefs about the nature of reality, your operating assumptions, provide the perceptual framework through which you perceive your experiences and come to understand the world and your relation to it. The shape of your desires--the happiness for which you strive, the qualities of the world you wish to create around yourself--can only come together within the limits of the framework created by your operating assumptions. You can't strive to create a reality that contradicts your fundamental assumptions, anymore than Kratos in the game God of War can win by diplomacy. The interface simply doesn't support it.

I'm not really sure where I'm going with this. But I got to thinking on the subject of filters of perception after reading this article on the "quarter-life crisis" to which Gin And Tacos recently linked. (He also has a neat idea about how the US can help Haiti, and others, using awesome things we already have.)

Quarter-life crisis happens to many people my age, though the article focuses on those with educations and skills similar to mine who have also managed to hold on to reasonably decent jobs in the midst of the Second Great Depression (which is what this is!). Yet they are dissatisfied and hopeless, either because they lack the clearly defined ambitions which would give their lives direction, or they recognize that the courses of action they need to take in order to achieve their dreams are mutually exclusive. Have a family, or work hard to gain entry into a career which would enable you to support a family. Spend your income to maintain contact and enjoy leisure time with a network of friends, or spend it paying down your debt so that you can afford to maintain the same standard of living as those friends. I'm looking at some mutually contradictory paths as well, but still, I wouldn't characterize myself as going through a crisis.

To me, personal growth is all about watching the fruits of your assumptions play out in practical experience. "By their fruits you shall know them", though it was something Christ said about people, applies really, really well to ideas, and to the beliefs we form when ideas hit the cold waters of reality. At any given time in the process of constructing your personality, there's a portion of your identity based on new ideas and newly formed beliefs, struggling to find its best fit with the real-life circumstances those ideas were developed to describe. There's another portion composed of the beliefs which turned out to be valuable in the last set of life circumstances you encountered, which must re-form and stretch itself out to meet the demands of the new. And of course there's the core of your identity, the assumptions, passions and purposes which have stood the test of time and form your basic sense of self, the part of you which says "I" and is not contradicted.

All of these facets of your personality are organic things, living structures which grow and change as you employ them to form and develop relationships with the world around you and the people in it. As you express your personality through action, you change the world around you in accordance with what you believe, desire, and intend. You make the world of your experience a little more like the interior of yourself. The 'games' you play in life depend on the interface you've created in the structures of your personality. What you assume, that is, what you know and are certain is true, determines not only your paths to victory, but also your definition of what victory is.

A crisis of any kind describes a situation where you become conscious of the fact that the assumptions you have, your personality as it currently stands, the games you know how to play, can't turn what you have into what you want. It's actually worse, harder to resolve, when you don't know what you want. Not knowing what you want means that you have not found ways to express your desires and beliefs in reality to the extent that you can recognize the outward, tangible situations and qualities which match up with the living ideas which comprise your identity. You need to field-test your beliefs, in other words, to give shape to your desires. On the other hand, for a crisis in which you do know what you want but can't see any way to achieve or obtain it, I see exactly two solutions:

1. Change the games you know how to play.
2. Change your desires.

Right now I'm in the midst of option 1. There are personality parts I've brought online while working at the grocery store that I frankly doubted I'd ever be able to develop. I am part of a community here--and it doesn't frighten or unnerve me. I work hard, enjoy my work, am proud of doing it well, and have accepted the identity structures necessary to make those things happen--something I was never able to manage at any previous job.

Yes, there is a substantial opportunity cost involved in staying here. In my own bizarre way, I'm being compensated, though not in a currency that will (hopefully) ever be exchanged by banks or tracked in financial newspapers. It would of course be nice to have a job that paid me enough that I could afford to do debt service, save towards future goals, and go out and develop more complex relationships with my city and the people in it.

But unlike the folks in the quarter-life crisis article, I know what my priorities are and to some extent what I'm working to build out of the materials of my life. (I may not know what this contraption will do once it's put together, but I know darn well that tab A goes into slot B.) Personality construction comes first for me, resource accumulation, at most, third--because if the personality is shakily built and poorly designed, the resources will slip away in any case. As above, so below. And it's true that right now I have no idea whether I'll be able to have a family with Dave, record several albums, get some books of poetry published, write a few novels, and make a meaningful contribution to the theory of psychology in the course of my lifetime. Two victories out of five ambitions would be great.

However, I know (viz., it is among my primary operating assumptions) that while what I do now changes which victories I'll be able to pursue and how, I can't know the results of my current choices in advance. I weigh the opportunity costs which are visible to me now, and choose which advances, which experiences, which resources I'm going to spend this time in my life to get.

Every time in a person's life is like that. Every moment of our lives, we choose which ambitions we will value above all others, as Paris in the Greek myth had to choose which goddess was the prettiest one, to be blessed and cursed thereafter by her favor. We wrestle with the shape of our lives and the world we live in, as Jacob wrestled all night with the angel. In choosing to stay, to strive, to become, we echo Jacob's vow: "I will not let you go until you bless me."