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234. Retreat (VII)



I once knew a man who was sent to a very swish private school in England, in the heart of England. I do not say this is bad; under English socialism even the people who go to private schools pretend it is bad—just as the people with private medical insurance talk very loudly about how much they admire the NHS and say the word private with shame. Nobody wants to be caught out as a defector on the people’s state, and yet everybody who has the chance pays for the private school or private medical insurance—so no harsh words for this man.


At this school, it was the custom to wake the thirteen-year-olds up with a smash on the stomach from a studded football boot; then they were made to kneel on the hard wood floor for fifteen minutes—and then they had to run round the playing fields before they went under polar showers. And after that there were lessons, lessons, lessons—and bad food, and faces smashed on the concrete by the class bully. It all went on from 6:30 to 19:30, even on a Saturday—for half a day, anyway.


So why do parents spend thousands upon thousands of pounds for their sons to be beaten and fed bad food and live rough? To acquire the finesse and the non-verbal cues of the upper class—the main reason to send a boy to that type of school, the real asset to pay for; the exams are secondary. But all that could be inculcated without the brutality and harshness; but, in fact, they pay lots of money for the harshness. The parents know that they could easily spoil their child with all their money: so he is packed off at seven to have cold showers and be beaten and learn to stand up and say “Sir” when the teacher enters the room.


This is what Goethe called creative limitation; it is the reason why computer games have become so bad in recent decades. To create we must first have a superfluity—the vital dragon energy of chaos—and then we must trim that back in a disciplined way. When Hemingway said, “Write drunk, edit sober,” he described this process: the superfluous drunk dragon followed by the sober limitation. In the early days, computer games were made with limited processor power and memory; the designers had to trim their chaotic imaginings very tightly: the result was taut gameplay and narrative that was developed in a creative way. Today, programmers have oodles of processor power and memory to play with, but the games have become limp and flaccid. It is too easy to take the creative and chaotic idea and implement it without any need to trim; and so the gameplay has become weak. And so retro emulations of the 1990s appeared—strength in artificial limitation.


This interplay between chaos and order also constitutes what we call virtue. A virtuous society is one where there is a strong interplay of chaos and order that maintains the taut creative limitation that drives society forward. To compare two objects is the most simple form of knowledge acquisition; and so the primal Tao—the interplay of masculine and feminine—is an information-preserving transformation. When a society loses this interplay it loses virtue and becomes decadent—just like contemporary computer games, systems that have vast potential but no limitation.


This not only matches observations made by Goethe and Peterson, but it is also connected to the philosopher Deleuze and the AI theorist Hofstadter. Deleuze’s philosophy is baroque: it is a philosophy of striations; a philosophy of marble, of marbled layers: it is a philosophy of layers put down by successive waves of barbarians and settlers—just like baroque curtain folds. For Hofstadter, the loops of baroque music—of Bach—represent an eternal information-preserving transformation; we hear eternity in the fold; and this folded cosmos was also imagined by Leibniz—the interplay between hard and soft, masculine and feminine.

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