Wednesday, April 13, 2016

American Narratives: The Rescue Game

Last week’s post here on The Archdruid Report, with its analysis of the way that affluent white liberals use accusations of racism as a dog whistle for their own bigotry toward wage-earning Americans, got a flurry of emails and attempted comments trying to push the discussion back into the officially approved narrative of race in the United States. That came as no surprise, at least to me. Every society has a set of acceptable narratives that frame public discourse on any controversial subject, and trying to get past the narrow confines of any such narrative inevitably brings some form of pushback.

Depending on the society and the era, the pushback can quite readily include such entertainments as being burnt at the stake for heresy, so I don’t feel any need to complain about the really rather mild response I got. At the same time, though, I don’t propose to back down. Every society, as just noted, has a set of narratives that confine discourse on controversial subjects to approved channels, but tolerably often those approved channels exclude crucial details and head off necessary questions. In today’s United States, in particular, the facts concerning nearly every significant crisis we face can be divided up neatly into two entirely separate categories. The facts that most Americans are willing to talk about belong to one of these categories; the facts that matter most belong to the other.

Thus one of the things I plan on doing over the months ahead is talking about some of the narratives that keep most people in today’s America from discussing, or for that matter noticing, the most crucial forces dragging this country down to ruin. Such an examination could as well start with any of those narratives—as Charles Fort pointed out, one traces a circle starting anywhere—but given the response to last week’s post, we might as well start with the accepted narrative about race.

It’s probably necessary to reiterate that this discussion is about narratives, not about the things that the narratives are supposed to describe. If you want to hear about the realities of racial privilege, racial prejudice, and racial injustice in the United States, you need to talk to the people of color who have to deal with those things day in and day out, not to a middle-aged white intellectual like me, who’s by and large been sheltered from that dimension of the American experience. People of color, on the other hand, have had very little influence on the officially approved narrative of race in the United States.  Like most of the narratives that shape our collective discourse, that’s been crafted primarily by middle-aged white intellectuals with college educations and salary-class backgrounds: that is, people like me. If I sing you some of the songs of my people, in other words, I hope you won’t mind.

I’m going to approach the opening notes of this first song by what may seem like a roundabout route. There’s a school of psychology called transactional analysis, which focuses on interactions between people rather than the vagaries of the individual psyche. Transactional analysis covers a lot of ground, but I want to focus on just one of its themes here: the theory of interpersonal games.

An interpersonal game, like most other games, has a set of rules and some kind of prizes for winners. In a healthy interpersonal game, the rules and the prizes are overt: that is, if you ask the players what they are, you can pretty much count on an honest answer. As this stops being true—as more of the rules and prizes become covert—the game becomes more and more dysfunctional. At the far end of the spectrum are those wholly dysfunctional games in which straight talk about the rules and payoffs is utterly taboo.

The accepted mainstream narrative about race in America today can best be described as one of those latter category of wholly dysfunctional games. Fortunately, it’s a game that was explored in quite a bit of detail by transactional analysts in the 1960s and 1970s, so it won’t be particularly difficult to break the taboo and speak about the unspeakable. Its name?  The Rescue Game.

Here’s how it works. Each group of players is assigned one of three roles: Victim, Persecutor, or Rescuer. The first two roles are allowed one move each: the Victim’s move is to suffer, and the Persecutor’s move is to make the Victim suffer. The Rescuer is allowed two moves: to sympathize with the Victim and to punish the Persecutor. No other moves are allowed, and no player is allowed to make a move that belongs to a different role.

That may seem unduly limited. It’s not, because when a group of people is assigned a role, all their actions are redefined as the move or moves allotted to that role.  In the Rescue Game, in other words, whatever a Victim does must be interpreted as a cry of pain. Whatever a Persecutor does is treated as something that’s intended to cause pain to a Victim, and whatever a Rescuer does, by definition, either expresses sympathy for a Victim or inflicts well-deserved punishment on a Persecutor. This is true even when the actions performed by the three people in question happen to be identical. In a well-played Rescue Game, quite a bit of ingenuity can go into assigning every action its proper meaning as a move.

What’s more, the roles are collective, not individual. Each Victim is equal to every other Victim, and is expected to feel and resent all the suffering ever inflicted on every other Victim in the same game. Each Persecutor is equal to every other Persecutor, and so is personally to blame for every suffering inflicted by every other Persecutor in the same game. Each Rescuer, in turn, is equal to every other Rescuer, and so may take personal credit for the actions of every other Rescuer in the same game. This allows the range of potential moves to expand to infinity without ever leaving the narrow confines of the game.

There’s one other rule: the game must go on forever. The Victim must continue to suffer, the Persecutor must continue to persecute, and the Rescuer must continue to sympathize and punish. Anything that might end the game—for example, any actual change in the condition of the Victim, or any actual change in the behavior of the Persecutor—is therefore out of bounds. The Rescuer also functions as a referee, and so it’s primarily his or her job to see that nothing gets in the way of the continuation of the game, but all players are expected to help out if that should be necessary.

Got it? Now we’ll go to an example—and no, it’s not the one you’re thinking of. The example I have in mind is the standard narrative of race in the deep South for the century or so after the Civil War.

The players were rich white people, poor white people, and black people—this latter category, in the jargon of the time, included anyone with any publicly admitted trace of African ancestry.  The roles were assigned as follows: poor white people were Victims, black people were Persecutors, and rich white people were Rescuers. The rest of the game followed from there.

Anything that poor white people did to black people was thus justified, under the rules of the game, as a cry of pain elicited by their suffering at the hands of Yankees, carpetbaggers, former slaves, etc., etc. etc.  Anything rich white people did to black people was justified by their assigned role as Rescuers. Meanwhile, anything and everything that was done, or not done, by black people was defined as a persecution—if black people pursued an education, for example, they were trying to steal jobs from white folk, while if they didn’t, that just proved that they were an inferior element corrupting the South by their very presence, and so on through all the classic doublebinds of bigotry.

A variant of that game still goes on in the pseudoconservative end of American politics. When Hillary Clinton went out of her way to characterize African-American youth as “superpredators” not that many years ago, she was playing a version of that same game, in which law-abiding white citizens were the Victims, black youth were the Persecutors, and white politicians were the Rescuers. On the other end of the political spectrum, of course, the roles are reversed; in games played on that field, people of color are the Victims, working class white people are the Persecutors, and affluent white liberals are the Rescuers. The players have changed places but the game’s otherwise identical.

Yes, I’m aware that people of color on the one hand, and working class white people on the other, occupy radically different places in the hierarchy of privilege in today’s America. More precisely, members of each of these heterogeneous groups occupy a range of sharply differing positions in that hierarchy, and these two ranges have very little overlap. What’s come to be called intersectionality—the way that social divisions according to gender, race, class, ethnicity, physical disability, and a bubbling cauldron of other factors, intersect with one another to produce the convoluted landscape of American inequality—is a massive factor all through contemporary life in the United States. So is the wretchedly common human habit of “paying it downwards,” in which an abused and exploited group responds by seeking some other group to abuse and exploit in turn.

All these considerations, though, belong to the real world. They are excluded from the artificial world of the Rescue Game, and from the officially approved narrative about race that derives from that game. In the Rescue Game, all members of the group assigned the role of Victim are always, only, and equally Victims, all members of the group assigned the role of Persecutor are always, only, and equally Persecutors, and the maltreatment of the Victims by the Persecutors is the only thing that matters. If anyone tries to bring anyone else’s treatment of anyone else into the game, it’s either dismissed as an irrelevance or denounced as a deliberate, malicious attempt to distract attention from the maltreatment of the Victims by the Persecutors.

The assignment of roles to different categories of people takes place in the opening phase of the Rescue Game. Like most games, this one has an opening phase, a middle period of play, and an endgame, and the opening phase is called “Pin the Tail on the Persecutor.” In this initial phase, teams of Victims bid for the attention of Rescuers by displaying their suffering and denouncing their Persecutors, and the winners are those who attract enough Rescuers to make up a full team. In today’s America, this phase of the game is ongoing, and a great deal of rivalry tends to spring up between teams of Victims who compete for the attention of the same Rescuers. When that rivalry breaks out into open hostilities, as it often does, the result has been called the Oppression Olympics—the bare-knuckle, no-holds-barred struggle over which group of people gets to have its sufferings privileged over everyone else’s.

Once the roles have been assigned and an adequate team of Rescuers attracted, the game moves into its central phase, which is called “Show Trial.” This has two requirements, which are not always met. The first is an audience willing to applaud the Victims, shout catcalls at the Persecutors, and cheer for the Rescuers on cue. The second is a supply of Persecutors who can be convinced or coerced into showing up to play the game. A Rescue Game in which the Persecutors don’t show quickly enters the endgame, with disadvantages that will be described shortly, and so getting the Persecutors to appear is crucial.

This can be done in several ways. If the game is being played with live ammunition—for example, Stalin’s Russia or the deep South after the Civil War—people who have been assigned the role of Persecutors can simply be rounded up at gunpoint and forced to participate. If the people playing the game have some less drastic form of institutional power—for example, in American universities today—participation in the game can be enforced by incentives such as curriculum requirements. Lacking these options, the usual strategies these days are to invite the Persecutors to a supposedly honest dialogue, on the one hand, and to taunt them until they show up to defend themselves, on the other.

However their presence is arranged, once the Persecutors arrive, the action of the game is stereotyped. The Victims accuse the Persecutors of maltreating them, the Persecutors try to defend themselves, and then the Victims and the Rescuers get to bully the Persecutors into silence, using whatever means are allowed by local law and custom. If the game is being played with live ammunition, each round ends with the messy death of one or more Persecutors; the surviving players take a break of varying length, and then the next Persecutor or group of Persecutors is brought in. In less gory forms of the game, the Persecutors are shouted down rather than shot down, but the emotional tone is much the same.

This phase of the game continues until there are no more Persecutors willing or able to act out their assigned role, or until the audience gets bored and wanders away. At this point the action shifts to the endgame, which is called “Circular Firing Squad.” In this final phase of the game, the need for a steady supply of Persecutors is met by identifying individual Victims or Rescuers as covert Persecutors. Since players thus accused typically try to defend themselves against the accusation, the game can go on as before—the Victims bring their accusations, the newly identified Persecutors defend themselves, and then the Victims and Rescuers get to bully them into silence.

The one difficulty with this phase is that each round of the game diminishes the supply of players and makes continuing the game harder and harder. Toward the end, in order to keep the game going, the players commonly make heroic attempts to convince or coerce more people into joining the game, so that they can be “outed” as Persecutors, and the range of things used to identify covert Persecutors can become impressively baroque.  The difficulty, of course, is that very few people are interested in playing a game in which the only role open to them is being accused of violating a code of rules that becomes steadily more subtle, elaborate, and covert with each round of the game, and getting bullied into silence thereafter. Once word gets out, as a result, the game usually grinds to a halt in short order due to a shortage of players. At that point, it’s back to “Pin the Tail on the Persecutor,” and on we go.

There’s plenty more that could be said here about the details of the Rescue Game and the narrative of race derived from it, but at this point I’d like to consider three broader issues. The first is the relation between the game and the narrative, on the one hand, and the realities of racism in today’s America. I don’t doubt that some readers of this essay will insist that by questioning the narrative, I’m trying to erase the reality.  Not so. Racial privilege, racial prejudice, and racial injustice are pervasive factors in American life today.  The fact that the approved narrative of race in today’s America is deceptive and dysfunctional doesn’t make racism any less real; on the other hand, the fact that American racism is a stark reality doesn’t make the narrative any less deceptive and dysfunctional.

The second issue I’d like to consider is whether the same game is played on other playing fields, and the answer is yes. I first encountered the concept of the Rescue Game, in fact, by way of a pamphlet lent to my wife by her therapist sister-in-law, which used it as the basis for an edgy analysis of class conflicts within the lesbian community. From there to the literature on transactional analysis was a short step, and of course it didn’t hurt that I lived in Seattle in those years, where every conceivable form of the Rescue Game could be found in full swing. (The most lively games of “Circular Firing Squad” in town were in the Marxist splinter parties, which I followed via their monthly newspapers; the sheer wallowing in ideological minutiae that went into identifying this or that party member as a deviationist would have impressed the stuffing out of medieval scholastic theologians.)

With impressive inevitability, in fact, every question concerning privilege in today’s America gets turned into a game of “Pin the Tail on the Persecutor,” in which one underprivileged group is blamed for the problems affecting another underprivileged group, and some group of affluent white people show up to claim the Rescuer’s role.  That, in turn, leads to the third issue I want to consider here, which is the question of who benefits most from the habit of forcing all discussion of privilege in today’s America into the straitjacket of the Rescue Game.

It’s only fair to note that each of the three roles gets certain benefits, though these are distributed in a very unequal fashion. The only thing the people who are assigned the role of Persecutor get out of it is plenty of negative attention. Sometimes that’s enough—it’s a curious fact that hating and being hated can function as an intoxicant for some people—but this is rarely enough of an incentive to keep those assigned the Persecutor’s role willing to play the game for long.

The benefits that go to people who are assigned the role of Victim are somewhat more substantial. Victims get to air their grievances in public, which is a rare event for the underprivileged, and they also get to engage in socially sanctioned bullying of people they don’t like, which is an equally rare treat. That’s all they get, though. In particular, despite reams of the usual rhetoric about redressing injustices and the like, the Victims are not supposed to do anything, or to expect the Rescuers to do anything, to change the conditions under which they live. The opportunities to air grievances and bully others are substitutes for substantive change, not—as they’re usually billed—steps toward substantive change.

The vast majority of the benefits of the game, rather, go to the Rescuers. They’re the ones who decide which team of Victims will get enough attention from Rescuers to be able to start a game.  They’re the ones who enforce the rules, and thus see to it that Victims keep on being victimized and Persecutors keep on persecuting.  Nor is it accidental that in every Rescue Game, the people who get the role of Rescuers are considerably higher on the ladder of social privilege than the people who get given the roles of Victims and Persecutors.

Step back and look at the whole picture, and it’s not hard to see why this should be so. At any given time, after all, there are many different Rescue Games in play, with affluent white people always in the role of Rescuers and an assortment of less privileged groups alternating in the roles of Victims and Persecutors. Perhaps, dear reader, you find it hard to imagine why affluent white people would want to keep everyone else so busy fighting one another that they never notice who benefits most from that state of affairs. Perhaps it hasn’t occurred to you that giving the underprivileged the chance to air their grievances and engage in a little socially sanctioned bullying is a great deal less inconvenient for the affluent than actually taking action to improve the lives of the underprivileged would be. Such thoughts seemingly never enter the minds of most Americans; I’ll leave it to you to figure out why.

On an unrelated note, I’m pleased to announce that the latest After Oil anthology, After Oil 4: The Future’s Distant Shores, is now available for sale. Like previous volumes in the series, this one’s packed with first-rate stories about the postpetroleum future, written by Archdruid Report readers; the one wrinkle this time around is that all the stories are set at least one thousand years in the future.

Founders House Publishing is also offering the e-book edition of the first volume in the series, After Oil: SF Visions of a Post-Petroleum Future, for $2.99 just now. Those of my readers who haven’t yet read the original anthology, and like e-books, might want to give this one a try; if you haven’t read it yet, you’re in for a treat.


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jean-vivien said...


I have not much to comment on regarding the recent series of posts about Donald Trump.

On one hand, because I am not from the USA, and to paraphrase this blog's author, "the last thing the USA needs is another clueless European giving her/his opinion about a mostly unknown nation".

On the other, because I have long felt sympathetic to Trump's discourse, his no-nonsense, patriotic stance on economy and politics, his honesty contrasting with the political correctnedness expressed by much the rest of the political class everywhere today.

And now his expression of racist bigotry, the constant rehashing of the same words I can hear on each of his rallies... though that is unsettling in the mouth of pretty much every candidate in the USA - the "snake" story, for example, but the rest of his idiocies seems to have been rehearsed just as well - and his ambiguous stance on the violent incidents surrounding his rallies, or the way his business is actually run vs how he claims to have been running it...

All those things now make me feel more and more uncomfortable with him. And yet even more uncomfortable is the realization that none of his/her opponents are actually willing to address his take on the economy, or the issues that the US economy is facing.

Of course the rest of the world already knows that all of the USA's policy is just protectionism at the expense of everybody else, under the convenient disguise of "free market".

But the deindustrialization of the USA is a problem we can easily sympathize with, us denizens of the formerly great wealthy industrial nations of Western Europe. We have put ourselves in the same predicament, and his stance on economy truly makes sense in this context.

And then his persona is attackable from a racial minority's standpoint, though it only feeds his divisive tactics.

There is also the constant jokes about how he would legalize incest, or about his wolverine of a hairdo. Those are jokes made by, for example, the humourists at Comedy Central. They are usually able to tackle, within a comic perspective, very serious issues, so they ought to know better and deal with Trump's actual program instead of dealing with fantasies that only exist in Trump's opponents' imagination.

To his credit though, John Oliver did just that in a video where he detailled the actual cost of building a big wall upon the Mexican border. But again, I got the feeling that it was being discussed only because it dealt with the racist side of the character, and not because it was an important cornerstone of the political program.

In general, I am frightened to notice that either Trump or his detractors somehow lack global systemic vision, even though he has my sympathies when it comes to an economic vision.

It is interesting that he should funnel so many accusations of incest, it seems like your nation is summoning the demons it created in the first place, as a society that is increasingly older, tries to predate on the young to avoid facing the self-awareness of ageing, and, in order to do that, is ready to deprive its children from the economic liberty and basic level of control over their lives that your Constitution says they should expect.

jean-vivien said...

Regarding the situation here in Ecnarf, it feels weirdly like we are living at the twilight of an era, and yet not much is changing over the years.

The two big items on the national news here have been the Panama papers scandal and the brick wall that the government has built for itself. After a grandiloquent and juridically useless proposal for reforming the constitution regarding binationals convicted of terrorism, they have come up with an ambitious (and overcomplicated) of the already complex French Labour Code.

Of course most of the points within the reform are already applicable under current laws, just less directly so than they would be with the reform... but its symbolic values was hard to miss, and didn't fail to strongly mobilize a youth already faced with the prospect of mass unemployment.

The month of April has, until a few days ago, turned out to be rather cold even for a Parisian spring, but watch as nights get warmer here and tempers get hotter.

Interestingly, and this had been annonced about a month ago, in order to compensate for the unpopularity of its reform, the governement wants to enforce an extra tax on fixed-duration contracts (to favour the use of fixed-position contracts instead). So they managed to get unpopular with pretty much every side of the debate, but it is true that their project is favouring big firms against both the working-class population and small companies. While everyone now is aware that big companies are increasingly laying off their staff or outsourcing their positions to India, in order to please their shareholders, and small companies are the strongest drivers of employment here.

The contestation has organized around a movement called "Nuit Debout", which would remind a lot a French observer of the Mai 68 mass movements. Some of their ideas are interesting, and had been circulating among the population already, for rxample electing the President by randomly drawing some sort of lottery, to avoid the formation of an oligarchic political class, a minimum salary for every working-age denizen, which would be a good thing in my view since the corporate world nowadays is running short of jobs to keep everyone occupied and at the same time the need for humanitarian work has never been so strong...

But some other ideas left me dumbfounded : the future of democracy would be a decentralized, more participative process - fair enough - so it would most certainly be digital - err... ?

In the end, it fails to deal with the core theme of this blog : we have to face our responsabilities and stop externalizing our costs on poorer countries, since it bears too much burden on the environment and only creates aggravating inequalities. That is one of the core reasons why the labour market has faced a rarefying demand.

Eventually, both the French government, its contestators, and the US anti-establishment candidates all commit the same fallacy of thinking.

I suspect the real ideological debate will not structure along the current divides (French right wing or supposedly left-wing politicians vs the population, Bernie versus Donald...) but along a divide that is unthinkable now : limits-accepting versus limits-denying. Equalitarianism will be a key aspect of that, for sure, but to me, the essential question has not yet been articulated, even amongst the population here.

The Panama thing is a pretty funny coincidence, it shows the predation of the financial sector on the rest of society, with help from the wealth pump that international fiances have become. It is fuelling even more of the contestation originated by Nuit Debout.

jean-vivien said...

As we today commemorated the 5th aniversary of the bloody Paris attacks, with a lot of very sad and moving testimonies of what has truly been a tragedy... I don't feel very reassured at our ability to collectively avoid further tragedies.

We need a society where our youth can enjoy the prospect of a constructive project for a viable future. Any failure in that regard is just more psychic violence piling up, and one day or another all that accumulation of psychical violence will have to be released physically.

For more specifics about what's happening over here :

- our Prime Minister is trying to deal with the issue of inequalities between many areas of the same nation. Violence occuring during the ensuing demonstrations... same old :

- the same dude trying to play onto Front National's playground, with an underwhelming level of enthusiasm from youth or government :

Watch that playground, as the 2017 Presidential Elections loom, it will get as crowded as the first Farmers' Market after winter.

- more accomplices of the terrorists, found in European countries. Those folks were known by police forces, sooner or later people will get the feeling that authorities all across Europe have been neglecting their job and our innocent population has had to pay the price for it. What if the FN whacks were right all along ? The rest of the political class has been awkward regarding the FN, especially now that it will have to adopt some of their stance in order to stay in power :

- since avoiding key discussions seems to be fashionable these days, another round of child predation from Catholic church representatives. A perfect opportunity not to discuss the issue of priests' sexual (and overall sentimental) needs versus the obligation of celibacy, something that the Protestant Church has had intriguingly less trouble to settle :

Marcu said...

A friendly reminder that the next meeting of the Green Wizard's Association of Melbourne will be held in the last week of April. All interested parties are invited to attend. For people who are unsure about the nature of our meetings imagine a long decent support group with some intentional living discussion mixed in. If you are interested meet us on the 30th of April 2016 at 13:00. In honour of the Archdruid's return we are trying a new venue, the Druids Cafe Bar, at 409 Swanston St Melbourne Victoria, Australia.

Please RSVP, or send queries and comments to limitstogrowth1972[at]

Just look for the green wizard's hat.

jean-vivien said...

I confess to writing my comments in order to provide most of this blog's readership with a viewpoint from abroad... and not really with this current post in mind.
But I fail to see how this Rescue game could be tool to understand nowadays' politics here. In Ecnarf I feel that the usual round of idealistic students would qualify as the Victims, the Government and big companies as persecutors... but I fail to see who would be the Rescuers, and benefitting from it at the expense of everybody else. The political class is seen as potential rescuers, while playing the role of persecutors at the same time, just as the whole population is seen as both the victims and potential rescuers too. But in a sense, we are all persecutors too, in the game we are playing here. However after watching a few samples of debates in the USA, so polarized and so simplistic, I can grasp without too much difficulty how it shines a light of clarity upon public debate on your side of the pond.

Curtis said...

Very thoughtful and precisely argued post as usual (long time reader, first time commenter,btw). It leaves me wondering: how, in your view, can a "rescue game" be moved in a more constructive direction? Is it inevitable that they all end in what you call the "circular firing squad," or simply get rearranged into a similar game with the roles juggled? It seems like one ingredient is probably people willing and able to challenge that narrative, as you are trying to do with these posts. Is that the main ingredient, or are there others? Thanks!

Leif Christensen said...

A curious example of this effect is the attention over the Israel/Palestine conflicts. Simultaneously, the rescuers can cry "Poor Palestinians, they're surrounded by people who hate them! How tragic! Someone should do something." and turn around a tragedy later and cry "Poor Israelis, they're surrounded by people who hate them! How tragic! Someone should do something."

The rescuers benefit by perpetuating this conflict because it gives them a constant way to signal virtue with less risk of being outed from the rescuer class. It's also interesting to note that the public on all sides of the political fence are increasingly fed up with the professional media and politicians, the sort of people perpetuating problems like this. Maybe we're seeing them rapidly becoming seen as the persecutor.

Marian Veverka said...

Could we please just go back to the future? The story was entertaining.

Do we always have to be hit over the head with how we all "Can't just (not) get along?" If it isn't race, it's religion or rich vs. poor...

Even the election was better than this.

pygmycory said...

Certainly, the powerful play different less powerful groups off against one another. It isn't unique to the US, it happens all the time in Canada. I'm not sure it is possible for an individual to really avoid it; one is sort of entered in different roles automatically depending on which categories you happen to belong to. ie. female or male, race, sexual orientation, any disabilities etc.

234567 said...

I realize that this entire example was directed at race, but what seems to be happening across the world is NOT race, but class related. You can play this game in any country, with any particular meme (LGBT or small businesses or refugees, for example) - but the only winners are the same as they ever have been, the elite upper salary, rentier or investor classes.

There is no argument that racism is still obvious across the globe, and likely to remain so as mobility declines in the future. But there seems to be a more marked division based on class than race, especially in racially mixed societies.

Media and controlled dialog abet this useless game, where everything but the actual problem is addressed - as media is owned by what group? Well, yes, exactly...

I keep going back to that movie, 'Wargames': "A STRANGE GAME. THE ONLY WINNING MOVE IS NOT TO PLAY."

Michelle said...

"Each Persecutor is equal to every other Persecutor, and so is personally to blame for every suffering inflicted by every other Persecutor in the same game."

Is this an explanation for why "all" white folks are considered to be active participants in, say, racism, when a given individual lives an inclusive life and welcomes friends and colleagues of every shade of skin? I have often wondered how and why it is that there is (among some) an assumption that I am a racist (because I'm white) and I am expected to defend myself against these assumptive accusations, regardless of lack of evidence of any racist behavior on my part. You might just have explained one of life's great mysteries to me, and elucidated why this particular "that's not fair" feeling has run just underground in my life all this time.

Wendy Crim said...

I really enjoy this blog. It makes me feel less alone in the world. All the posts from Trump to today have had me shaking me head in agreement and feeling grateful that someone smarter and more eloquent than me can put their finger on it and express exactly what I think and feel. I find myself reading it aloud to my husband more and more and it is always a great catalyst for us in expressing how just off center all the narratives we have been given are. Thanks for this blog and thanks so much for today's. I can't wait for my husband to get home so i can read it to him!

Tidlösa said...

This is absolutely fascinating. So you´re saying that the present-day behavior of the SJWs was described (to a tee) in a role playing game from the 1960´s?! I should have known...

I always thought the SJW games were more about psychology, and downright cultishness, than real world politics.

The expression "Circular Firing Squad" is a keeper - so that phenomenon (which always baffled me) is actualy a real psychological "trick"?

Incidentally, I think many SJWs are cheating when playing the blame game. They are simultaneously both Victims and Rescuers, perhaps because this doubles their sense of privilege (and their sense of power). Indeed, perhaps this explains why the "Circular Firing Squad" is so vicious among SJWs (I´d say even worse than Marxist splinter groups!). An adversary that is both Victim and Rescuer makes the others extra jealous, while the Victim-Rescuer obviously has to defend himself tooth and nail to keep the extra privilege...

Thanks once again for a fascinating post!

Eric Backos said...

The weekly joint meeting of the Green Wizards’ Benevolent and Protective Association, Tower Number 440, and Ruinmen’s Guild, Local 440 will be held at 6:30 PM on Wednesday April 20, 2016. Our location is La Mesa Restaurant, Concord Plaza Shopping Center, 9853 Johnnycake Ridge Road, Mentor, Ohio 44060. 440-350-1331 Splendorem Lucis Viridis! Public Welcome! Tables for Failed Scholars. Look for the table topper with the Green Wizard Hat.

A Post-Millennial said...

JMG, can you help me map the Rescue Game onto the disputes between certain liberal students and their professors which made the news not too long ago? It seems clear to me that the students are the "victims" and the professors the "persecutors" in your schema, but what group plays the rescuers? The media? I'm not sure whether there is a mediating force playing the role of rescuer in this case. Maybe this just is not a relevant example for the Rescue Game?

Also, please check your email in regards to the blog publishing agreement.


-A Post Millennial

Patricia Mathews said...

"(The most lively games of “Circular Firing Squad” in town were in the Marxist splinter parties, which I followed via their monthly newspapers; the sheer wallowing in ideological minutiae that went into identifying this or that party member as a deviationist would have impressed the stuffing out of medieval scholastic theologians.) "

My word! 17th Century Scottish politics, anyone? Or for that matter, in Germany, Lutheran?

But I note: they'll never run out of Persecutors as long as any white person (if race) or male (if gender, by some factions) can be so identified. Or for that matter, when TSHTF, any person who seems in comfortable circumstances could be dragged to the guillotine. Which makes it a much simpler game than those based on ideology.

Eric Backos said...

Hi John
Thanks for a great column. It has relevance to several ongoing conversations of mine. Wish me luck - I will use your argument in the near future.
In other matters (or the same one), an American Literature professor complained to me that while the period “1945 to the Present” is getting longer, anthologies covering the literature since 1945 are getting thinner. (He had evidence in his hands.) In response, I suggested that the US had lost some vital energy in the recent past, though I couldn’t put my finger on just what…
Perhaps he will get back to me.

Tom Schmidt said...

Perhaps, dear reader, you find it hard to imagine why affluent white people would want to keep everyone else so busy fighting one another that they never notice who benefits most from that state of affairs.

Oh, it took me so long to learn the wisdom in this quote, Archdruid. Divide et impera has been with us since before the Romans.

Howard Skillington said...

And if the various groups of affluent white Rescuers were to swap their victim constituencies, their core interests would remain equally well served, provided – above all – that the Victims and the Persecutors never arrive at the critical insight that they ought to be on the same side.

Max St said...

Dear JMG,

I lived in Bellingham in the 90s; in fact, I went to the same Uni that you did, but, even though you are only two years older than I, I didn't go to Uni until long after the ordained time, so we would not have crossed paths, I don't think.

I lived in Seattle from 99 to 01, and I can corroborate your latest astute observation: namely, the last paragraph in this post, wherein you expose the sham-faced edifice of political correctness, among other things. (And, let me add, parenthetically, that I have found your posts --and I've been with you from the start of this Report-- to be among the most illuminating I've ever read, and I read...a lot. Nearly as much as you do! I think.)

I recall mentioning topics similar to the last paragraph --the sham of certain topical narratives being used as tactics to keep the affluent, well, affluent-- to divers groups of Pacific NW liberals...and being hounded from the room, with the catcall "you're too negative!" ringing particularly asinine, in my ears anyway.

The number of such catcalls inversely correlates with the number of people that I managed to convince about the limits to growth (and I read that in 1980): zero.

It also correlates with the hysterical jingoism that I faced, again surrounded by coffee-swilling seattle liberals, on 11 Sept 2001, when I made a bald-faced comment about karma catching up to imperialist foreign policy, and had every liberal in the room want to assault me. It was that visceral.

So, I completely understand your relief at dodging an auto-da-fe at the hands of the Rescuers. I moved to New Zealand shortly after 2001, and I'm making my stand in a nascent intentional community: Kotare Village.

You have an open invitation to come and visit. I know it's probably too far to journey, but you are one of the village's spiritual fathers (yes, you are!), and you would be warmly welcomed.

Cheers, and very warm regards, from Downundah,

Doctor Westchester said...


Welcome back! Thanks for another excellence and, for me, timely post. Being a Unitarian Universalist and interacting with a number of activist groups, I’ve seen the Rescue Game often in action in an up close and personal fashion. Your post has helped me crystallize some existing thoughts in a more systemic fashion.
I’ve a thought about the Black Live Matter movement for a while which I was thinking of putting in as an off-topic comment last time before realizing it would be a very on topic comment for this post. To wit:

There has been a debate between the use of the terms “All Lives Matter” and “Black Lives Matter” for the movement spark by the police killings of the last few years . I’ve always thought that if properly used, the term “All Lives Matter” could be a very effective verbal weapon to address the ugly underlying issues that the Black Lives Matter movement is seeking to address. One way the “All...” phase could have been used effectively is some form of the following incantation: “You (paleface) consider your life to matter. But for that, all lives should matter. Therefore, black lives must matter.” Stories about more or less innocent white people being kill by the police, while less common than those about blacks, definitely do exist.

In terms of the Rescue Game, I suspect that this use of “All Lives Matter” was avoided since it could have broken the game and created the possibility of a backing for the movement that have could been more than the usual suspects. In particular, it could have possibly drawn in the white population that is the most at risk of police violence – the poor and working class whites. We can’t have that happen, of course. Some useful to the victim group might come of it.

Pinku-Sensei said...

"The Rescue Game...Here’s how it works. Each group of players is assigned one of three roles: Victim, Persecutor, or Rescuer."

I know this by a different name, Karpman's Triangle AKA the Dreaded Drama Triangle. In this version, the roles are self-chosen and the participants are engaging in these behaviors not to fill some greater social need, but to manage their own psychological needs, especially their anxieties, in a way that allows the participants to ignore the dysfunction and harm done to others. The Persecutors get to be "one up" and say to the Victims "It's all your fault." Unlike the version you describe, there are actual benefits to being in this role other than negative attention. In both versions, the Victims get to say "poor me" to themselves and seek sympathy from the Rescuers, who says "poor you" to the Victims. However, the Drama Triangle acknowledges that the Victims can be engaging in self-destructive behaviors and the Rescuers end up enabling the Victims and keeping them dependent. The result is very unhealthy for all involved, as it just keeps the conflict going without achieving solutions. On a personal level, we should all try to break out of these roles for more constructive ways of dealing with each other and our environments. A healthy society should strive to get out of the game, too. However, as you've been pointing out for ten years (next month will be the tenth anniversary of your first post on this blog), we do not live in a healthy society.

I can see the Dreaded Drama Triangle playing out here in Michigan. A task force on the Flint Water Crisis reported their findings last month. Did the actual solutions get people's attention? No. What really made them notice was the opportunity to use the crisis to play Victim, Persecutor, or Rescuer through holding Congressional inquiries and filing lawsuits along with ridiculing Governor Rick Snyder. That last is the least of the state's problems, but it seems people are enjoying the Schadenfreude.

"The most lively games of “Circular Firing Squad” in town were in the Marxist splinter parties..."

That's the situation satirized by Monthy Python's Flying Circus in "The Life of Brian." It's just as pointedly hilarious now as it was 36 years ago. Mind you, the Left isn't alone in this these days. There are pseudoconservatives who engage in that game as well.

siliconguy said...

It's an interesting coincidence that all this racial privilege discussion appears at tax time. If I'm benefitting from a privilege it's a dearly paid for one.

The other thing that crosses my mind is that I missed a lot growing up in a thoroughly white dairy farming area. Where I live now is maybe 70/30 white/ Hispanic, and so I must still be missing out. The local Hispanics seem to be more interested in making money than in playing the Rescue Game.

On the other hand, over in Spokane they had the infamous Rachel Dolezal "but I don't want to be white" kerfluffle. So it's not that far away. Here though, the crops have to go in, and they don't care about such things.

tokyo damage said...

awesome! I must have heard the phrase 'divide & conquer' a million times, but this is the first time someone has explained the mechanics.

Related: I think the word 'privilege' ITSELF is part of the game - the unspoken implication is not that inequality is bad, but that people who have 'the good stuff' are bad people. So therefore, if we (whichever disenfranchised group 'we' is) ever overthrow the Man and get the 'good stuff', then WE will be bad people, too. So what does that leave? A 'race to the bottom' where EVERYONE is benighted, therefore equal?

It beats me how such a small-time sentiment can be hurled with such bombast.

Anyway looking forward to next week! Cheers

Candace said...

The thing I don't get is how is it that the "Rescuers" group has convinced the "victim" group that the group they have labelled the "persecutors" are the persecutors.

From an article on Truth Dig (I mentioned it in the comments section last week.-Chris Hedges "Wages of Sin")

“Many white blue-collar workers blamed and scapegoated the newer black and Latino workers for the plant closure,” he said. “White racism is largely about this loss of self-worth. It is about the fear of nihilism. It creates a false grandiosity to compensate for a deep insecurity. We see this dynamic being played out in postindustrial cities across the country.”

What I don't get is why the group seen as the persecutors would be the newer black and latino workers rather than the owners of the Singer plant that was shut down.

How is it that the people in the owner/salary class get to define the new workers of color as the "persecutors" and they get to label themselves as the "rescuers"?

Nathan Donaldson said...

It seems to me that in all cases of modern American politics the role of Rescuer in the predominately white salaried class, the role of Prosecutor is in all cases the predominately white wage earning class, and role of Victim is a "fill in the blank" minority. Resist the illegal immigration of Mexicans and you're xenophobic; resist the social change of the LGBTs and you're homophobic; resent the blacks for their failures and you're racist; resent the Jews for their success and you're anti-Semitic.

I have two thoughts about this. Is the above "political correctness" just the establishment of class distinction, or aristocracy formation in Orlov's words? And how much of this represents the trend of the feminization of politics, since the roles of Rescuer, Prosecutor, and Victim obviously has it's biological basis in the roles of Mother, older child, and younger child?

Alex said...

I always understood "black lives matter" to == "all lives matter" this is not a hard thing to understand.

Yes, all lives matter, the white+poor,the white+mentally ill, "black lives matter" came about because of a demonstrably provable bias.

Here's an idea: IF ... you see a black person being treated badly by the cops etc., AND you are white/or the "tribe" in power, step in and say "Oh, that's Larry (etc.) he works with me, I know him".

John Michael Greer said...

Jean-Vivien, thanks for the update from Ecnarf! The sense of an era in twilight that you mention is pretty general these days, and quite common in times such as these -- I remember similar comments by perceptive writers in the years leading up to the First World War.

Marcu, may a good time be had by all!

Jean-Vivien, I'd gotten the impression that the Rescue Game was specifically an American bad habit -- notice how often our foreign policy follows the same narrative, unlike those of other countries. Thank you for confirming this.

Curtis, that's a very large and complex question. Obviously the first step is to recognize that what's going on is a Rescue Game rather than a meaningful response to the facts on the ground, and the second is to change the rules -- but how to do that, and what new rules to use...that's an intricate issue. I may do another post on that as we proceed.

Leif, yes, that's another fine example. Notice that for both sides of the issue, whatever violence the Victims do to the Persecutors is justified and whatever violence the Persecutors do to the Victims is motivated by sheer malevolence -- that sort of rhetoric is a dead giveaway that a Rescue Game is in process.

Marian, I write about what I want to write about. If you don't want to read it, hey, there are thousands of other blogs out there.

Pygmycory, the thing that makes the Rescue Game vulnerable is that its rules and payoffs are covert. If you break the taboo and talk openly about the rules and payoffs, it becomes much harder to keep the Game going.

234567, as long as you're still caught up in "this version of privilege is more important/widespread/damaging/etc. than that version," you're missing the point. Look at the forest, not the trees!

Michelle, exactly. What's happening is that racial privilege, racial prejudice, and acts of racial injustice are all being conflated into a single reified thing called "racism," and so any person who benefits from racial privilege (as white people in the US do) is then accused of, by definition having racial prejudices and engaging in acts of racial injustice. That's one of the many gambits by which the Rescue Game recruits Persecutors.

Wendy, I'll take "eloquent" -- I've spent half a century working full time on English prose -- but "smarter"? Don't sell yourself short. Intelligence is so multifactorial that most people, me included, do some things with their brains very well and other things pretty poorly.

Don Snabulus said...

Credit where credit is due...

Wikipedia - Karpman drama triangle

This seems to be a drilling down of what I have read from others about financial/cultural elites using the Hegelian Dialectic (also Wikipedia) to create
a "third way" (beneficial to them) out of the tensions they create in others (victims and perpetrators).

Bryan L. Allen said...

Esteemed archdruid inscribed: The benefits that go to people who are assigned the role of Victim are somewhat more substantial. Victims get to air their grievances in public, which is a rare event for the underprivileged, and they also get to engage in socially sanctioned bullying of people they don’t like, which is an equally rare treat. That’s all they get, though.

Hmmm, perhaps that is true in the pure form of the game, but from my perspective (my wife works for Department of Children and Family Services, and my daughter worked for a year as a Section Eight housing co-ordinatior for Americorps) it seems to me that in the USA the Rescuers craft things so that the Victims are in thrall to the Rescuers because of various social programs and handouts. Not that said handouts are unwarranted, but the tone of the entire exchange tends to cement the probably-undeserved fealty that the Victims give to the Rescuers, to the extent of Victims unreasonably supporting said Rescuers with their votes and loyalty. Nice bonus for the Rescuers, especially when they can make the Prosecutors pay for the subsidies!

Amused that the Rescue Game also works, I think, as a description for the wealthy solar-panel and electric car folks who are Victimized by being Early Adopters of "Green Technologies" and therefore are rewarded by Rescuers (politicians egged on by wealthy Green organizations) with generous subsidies paid from the pockets of those horrible SUV-driving bumpkins who by their very existence Prosecute the soft gentle Green folks!

Bryan L. Allen said...

Oh, arrgh, just realized I said "prosecutors" where I should have said "persecutors." Too much legal system on my mind....

Genevieve Hawkins said...

I got totally lost there on the game theory. To me I would have assigned recently freed slaves as victims and poor whites a perpetrators, but who knows on the history. The Black Lives Matter movement may have had a point on the police as perpetrators angle. Might be why it was moved so quickly into fringe issues related only to people of color experiencing police brutality. No coloring outside the lines there.

Misty Barber said...

We can help expand these discussions and reduce the power of the game by pointing out that the premise strips the victims of agency while simultaneously doing nothing to redress the underlining issues and that the real perpetrator is the narrowly defined narrative. I have found that people filling the observer role tend to be amicable to conversations focusing on why that narrative exists and what would be a better solution to the problem it discribes.

Cherokee Organics said...


Divide and distract, whilst providing an opportunity to let off steam in an approved manner seems likely to be of benefit to people higher up in the social ladder. Who wrote the line: the enemy of my enemy, is my friend? Sun Tzu would have something to say about such matters.

As I was reading your essay - which I have to admit that I'm going to have to put to a visual form or flowchart in order to follow it through completely from start to finish - left me with the mental image of the absurdist and farcical: McCarthy hearings.

So few people forget that they also have a valid option available to them, which is not to play such social games in the first place. I reckon people score benefits and roles by playing such games. Us social primates are very uncomfortable without our assigned roles...

I saw the strangest thing this morning in the online newspaper: Russian jets make 'simulated attack' passes. Is it just me wondering why this is even in the newspaper - some things should not be aired in a public forum. And no disrespect to the guys on the deck of that ship as it would have been an unexpected event, but they're standing there calmly taking video footage of a Russian aircraft doing a mock bombing run on what looks like a destroyer. It was surreal, but the best was yet to come as the White House flunky dude - who clearly looks and sounds stressed and is not the guy to front the media about such matters (you can see that one eye is clearly open wider than the other and he stumbles over a few words and concepts) - tries to explain the situation. I don't know whether it is just me, but the situation requires very little explanation and calls of: "it's just not fair" fall on deaf ears when push comes to shove. Was this an April fool’s day joke that has somehow been incorrectly taken seriously by our media down here? It was surreal and not very inspiring of confidence.

The push to normalise people is very strong, and a person only ever confronts it when they step outside the preferred narrative of the times. It is a struggle to do so, but it is worth it - but it comes at a social cost.



Ray Wharton said...

Very interesting, I think I have shared a few times about an occasion when a good friend of mine tried to recruiter me as a persecutor in a version of the game where women are victims. Fortunately my friendship with him was stronger than his tie to the game.

Last week there was a comment about the SJW meme and whether it was a stereotype against black women. I thought to myself "Nah, the Social Justice Warrior is some white dude!"

The game is organized by the Rescuers, they are the group that has the real power in the arrangement, but there is more than a lust for power driving the psychology. The Rescuers that I know of are generally true believers, and they can recruiter other rescuers based on the fear of being stuck in the other categories.

When I expressed to a friend that I had no interest in being a rescuer for women, he thought that was my volunteering to play a persecutor. Actually what I was doing, in the terms of the game, was suggesting that Lao Tzu was out of bounds; but AHHA! Lao Tzu is a persecutor! Very interesting game, a good 'endless riddle trap'

There is something captivating and compulsory about it beyond the selfish motive of the Rescuers. Thinking of my friend who were in this pattern... I cannot put my finger on it, there was a sense of need, and kind of faith in the game... whose psychological root I cannot yet divine.

Can we hack the game against itself ;) "Rescuers" are the persecutors...

My donkey said...

The online comment-o-sphere now serves as a huge buffer: on one hand, it allows us to whine as a substitute for changing our life style, and on the other hand, it places yet another insulating layer between the ruling class and us, ensuring that nothing we do will have any chance of influencing our masters. Both classes in North America have an interest in keeping this technology-dependent buffer functioning as long as possible. So they will... until they can't.

In many places outside of North America, that buffer never formed, either because living conditions there were never as cushy as here, or because they had already become worse by the time cloud computing and online social networking evolved. And so those people are already familiar with daily hardships (such as lack of food, medicine, or heat in cold weather) that would shock most of us if experienced even once. People who are chronically hungry, sick, cold or otherwise severely stressed tend to take things seriously in a way that North Americans currently don't. That's why you see hundreds of thousands of citizens in Eurasian or African cities gathering in protest, in spite of the real risk to their lives, while we sad cases in North America barely have the energy to get off the couch and grab a beer.

John Roth said...

I learned this one as the Karpman Drama Triangle. I like the way you have it play out on the social instead of the interpersonal level. Now to work on the game-stopper(s).

samuraiartguy said...

"its analysis of the way that affluent white liberals use accusations of racism as a dog whistle for their own bigotry toward wage-earning Americans, got a flurry of emails and attempted comments trying to push the discussion back into the officially approved narrative of race in the United States. That came as no surprise, at least to me..."

I had shared last week's post on my FB, and swiftly received straight-up pushback from several otherwise intelligent and thoughtful f-list lurkers. This from one outraged contributor to the conversation –

"skipped the first 9 paragraphs, object to the main concept in the next few. I really dislike that he makes this absolute construct of, "wage class," americans. America doesn't have class structures like in other countries. Fact is, also, that the majority of the so-called wage class are not white. Meanwhile, he invents this white liberal class that doesn't exist either to make whatever point there is down page..."

If your upset that some people seem to be thinking out of the (comfy and familiar) box, then maybe you need a BIGGER BOX. The accepted narratives are absolutely a control mechanism intended to preserve the system and not let debate deform or restructure it. But the closing fist of global Limits and the fracture lines of sustainability are radiating through the System and threatening to utterly blow it apart, largely under it's own weight.

Karim said...

Greetings all!

Fascinating account. It seems to me that the rescuer's game is a variant of the imperial game of divide and rule.

The rescuers are dividing the populace in persecutors and victims so that they can fight it off and forget their real grievances very often created, managed and perpetuated by people who play the role of rescuers.

Mmmmhhh....interesting strategy.

jessi thompson said...

I noticed a lot of people had a hard time identifying rescuers. I think, in general, the rescuers are everyone saying, "x group is harming y group," for example, when oil companies destroy the planet with greenhouse gases, liberal rescuers defend the whole world (a lot of victims, lol) from the evil corporate persecutors. This narrative fights with its opposing narrative, that conservative rescuers defend the global economy (and jobs and workers) from persecuting government forces. There must be a grain of truth for the game to work or it's obvious nonsense. I think the key to identifying this game is each player is elevating their own self worth by judging someone else. The underlying fuel of the game is guilt and judgement. I'm not Christian, but there is a Christian phrase that transcends this exact game: "Hate the sin, but love the sinner." I will never love Exxon-Mobil, but chasing down the CEO to tell him what he's doing wrong is never going to change a thing. We've had four decades to point fingers at each other and co2 keeps rising. We all need to own our own guilt here and embrace real changes instead of arguing. Instead of yelling at Exxon, or the EPA, if that's your persuasion, we need to create our own sustainable, self sufficient lives with our own local economies. We all need to learn how to extract ourselves from the blame game and build the world we want out of whatever resources we have. If your solution starts with the dictum "You need to do this (or stop doing that)," It's never going to work. If there is a solution, it's called "Hey, look what I did."

Mark Rice said...

I have noticed groups that have a narrative of being victims or having been victims. T A culture or narrative of victimization does not seem to yield good results for the victims -- even if there is a clear pattern of victimization in the past or present.

Consider the plight of Blacks in the U. S. Their ancestors were slaves. There is still prejudice. Just hoping for Rescue does not lead to good results. However if I were black, I could see myself giving up after being pulled over by the police for Driving While Black for the 5th or 10th time.

But then we see in Israel 2 groups competing for the title of legitimate victim. The Israelis saying we were victims because of the holocaust. Palestinians say we are victims because we live in the world's largest open air prison. The Israelis say we are victims because they send rockets at us. Then Palestinians say we are victims because they drop phosphorus bombs on our populated areas. etc. etc. etc.

This is not working out well for the Israelis or the Palestinians.

I guess if the only 2 choices are victim or oppressor, then it is better to be a victim. I am still not clear how to end this game. Gandhi’s non-violent civil disobedience seemed to yield good results.

John Graham said...

Thank you so much, JMG. TA and 'Games' are not new to me, but this exposition is so enlightening.

I'm struggling to write a coherent sentence here, as too many examples are flooding to mind. Perhaps this is a traumatic reaction: I'm someone who can be hyperaware of the sometime-abusive behaviour of 'victim' towards 'perpetrator'. The taboo against noticing must be strong.

"Game-free intimacy" often seems so far away. Playing "Addict" is much easier.

Mark Rice said...

I grew up as a somewhat affluent white "liberal" kid in the suburbs. Somehow I thought I was part of a group that invented tolerance and acceptance of racial diversity. I had no knowledge of History. I did not know that tolerance and acceptance crop up many times and in many places.

Somehow thinking we invented tolerance is like Hugh Hefner thinking he invented sex.

team10tim said...

RE: Max St

I'm interested in Kotare Village. Can you contact me at my username at yahoo a commercial email.


Allexis Weetman said...

I read game theory way back and I find it problematic as it is complex, subjective and only exists in our minds and words. Example; you are a genuine campaigner for social justice, actually doing the right thing and seeking change for the better (I assume they exist as I have not yet become a complete cynic, as that is surely just another game), yet your detractors can label you merely a player and could be said to be playing another game called "the discrediting SJWs game" in which they denigrate any real attempt to seek social justice in front of an appreciative audience. They may catch the rescue players as well, but they cast the net too wide and don't really care who gets caught up in it because they are playing a dishonest game too. Every backlash has its backlash and so on and so forth, until we get to the point where one is afraid to even leave a dissenting comment in case one gets doxxed.

That's not to say we shouldn't talk about it, you are right when you say that bringing it out in the open and discussing the unwritten rules is the only way out of the briar. And now at least I understand why the term SJW is an insult not an accolade.

roberta actor-thomas said...

What a revelation! I can't believe I grew up in the Bay Area in a family that was peripherally to heavily involved with the anti-war, farm labor, civil rights and women's rights movements and never heard of this game. The National Grange and "excommunicated" members of the California chapter are still locked in what appears to be a fight to the death, unless some corporate sponsor is able to tip the table entirely in the direction of National. I wonder how we may be able to expose the game and start to extricate ourselves and our deeply estranged former brothers and sisters. However, given the toxic level of hostility, that may simply not be practical. And a few of us are considering your sensible advice to walk away and to form a completely new fraternal order that actually serves a real need in our communities.

Allexis Weetman said...

Since first reading game theory back in the 90s a lot has changed to make it more relevant to the common human, namely the proliferation of comment sections, forums and blogs where we can all play games with each other 24/7. We could be playing a game right now and not even know it. We try to remain purely rational but who are we kidding, I know where my bias lies. The revelation that some people play games with our cherished hopes and ideals should not lead us to abandon all hope.

John Michael Greer said...

Tidlösa, nah, it wasn't a roleplaying game, it was a description of social "games" -- that is, patterns of behavior that can be modeled by describing them as games with rules and payoffs. That said, yes, the people in TA described it to a T.

Post-Millennial, I'm not familiar with the specific example -- the US media these days are so relentlessly vacuous and propagandistic that I get my news entirely from foreign media -- so I'm not sure I can diagram it out for you. (Thanks for the reminder, btw -- just finished another big project, and am still digging myself out from under the backup of email.)

Patricia, ah, but if the Persecutors refuse to show up and play their assigned role, the game moves into Circular Firing Squad anyway. You have to have somebody to bully into silence, remember, and if people just turn their backs and walk away, the fun goes out of it very quickly.

Eric, please do use it! As for the anthologies -- heh heh heh. Why, yes, as Oswald Spengler points out, once a culture reaches the end of its creative years, its production of original literature worth reading declines rapidly; after that, it's all a matter of curating the legacy of the past, repetition of old forms, and derivative works of various kinds, some more interesting than others.

Tom, exactly. At least you got it eventually!

Howard, neatly summarized. Exactly.

Max, thank you! If I ever get the chance to visit New Zealand, I'll certainly be in touch.

Doctor W., you're certainly right that it could have been used in that way. Unfortunately -- at least as far as I saw -- it was used to minimize the extent to which African-Americans, specifically, are targeted for extrajudicial police killings at a rate that vastly surpasses any other group nationwide. (And of course that played into the hands of those who were using that disparity as more fodder for the Rescue Game. It really is complex.)

Pinku-Sensei, thanks for this! It's been a long time since I read TA literature, and Claude Steiner was the TA writer who influenced me most; iirc, "the Rescue Game" was his term for Karpman's Triangle -- though I may have gotten the moniker from one of the other books and pamphlets I read on the subject back in the 1980s. The first time I watched The Life of Brian, by the way, I laughed so hard my sides hurt for days, and the parody of radical politics was among the reasons why. "Splitter!"

Siliconguy, the Rescue Game isn't the only game in town, but I'm sure you can think of examples not that far away from your neck of the woods. Where are you relative to Spokane, btw? My wife grew up in Spokane, and I spent a good many summers in my childhood in Cheney and Ellensburg, while one or another parent was doing summer school.

Tokyo, thank you. The word "privilege" is a two-edged sword; I should probably talk oneof these days about how it can be used constructively, as a convenient way to talk about all the different built-in biases in society.

John Michael Greer said...

Candace, different groups of disadvantaged people very often see each other as their main competition in the struggle for jobs and the like. It's easy for the privileged to whip up those rivalries into full-blown hatred, and then play the Rescue Game with each of the groups, convincing it that the others are its real enemies.

Nathan, that's only in those aspects of popular culture that are dominated by the mainstream center-left. Go over to center-right culture and it's white working class Americans who are assigned the role of Victims, while people of color are assigned the role of Persecutors -- think of Hillary Clinton's description of African-American kids as "superpredators" threatening law-abiding white folk, blah blah blah, or the vilification of "welfare queens" et al. It really does work both ways.

Alex, sure -- if privileged people start intervening in situations like that, the police will tend to back down. Now watch what happens when you suggest that to your privileged friends, if you have any.

Don, yes, but it's something more specific than Hegel was talking about. (Well, to be fair, it's hard to be vaguer than Hegel...)

Bryan, sure, in some situations you also get handouts of various kinds -- which are always tightly controlled by the Rescuer, of course. I didn't include that because it's not a universal feature, and I wanted to focus on the basics.

Genevieve, er, how you would have assigned the roles isn't the point. I'd encourage you to read a good book or two on the Jim Crow era and see how those roles were in fact assigned in the mainstream rhetoric of that time.

Misty, good. The thing is, once the narrative is identified and discussed as a narrative -- once the game is recognized as a game -- it isn't hard to change the rules. That's why there's always so much pushback against discussing the narrative as such.

Cherokee, excellent! Yes, the McCarthy hearings are another great example. There the Victim role was assigned to ordinary Americans, the Persecutor role to evil Communist infiltrators in our midst, and the Rescuer role to McCarthy and his goon squads. I saw the same news story about the Russian planes -- I assumed that they were trying to get the ship to use as many of its radar signals as possible, so a spyplane or boat in the vicinity could record the data for use in future electronic warfare.

Ray, to hack a game, you have to be fluid. It can be as funny to treat would-be Rescuers as Victims, choosing some utterly unacceptable high-status group as their Persecutors, and watch them freak out.

Donkey, too true! It's worth remembering that any American with a family income above $40,000 a year is in the global 1%; I suspect an uncomfortable if unspoken awareness of that fact is behind the unwillingness to get up off the sofa.

John, TA got applied to the social level in the 70s -- there was, for a while, a quarterly called, iirc, the Journal of Radical Therapy, which came out of TA and applied its insights to politics and economics. It laster for a while, and then had the plug pulled along with so many other promising options in the early 1980s.

Samurai, "this white liberal class that doesn't exist"????? I'm impressed; that's got to be one of the most jawdropping claims of the decade.

John Michael Greer said...

Karim, got it in one.

Jessi, nicely put. You're right, of course, that "look what you did" never gets anywhere, and that may be part of its attraction to people who benefit from the system but are uncomfortable about its ethics. "Look what we did" is so much more threatening...

Mark, if the only two choices are to be victim or oppressor, you need to redefine the game.

John, exactly. There's a lot of emotional force behind the taboo.

Mark, I also grew up as an affluent white kid in the suburbs. I then proceeded to spend the first decade or so of my adult life being downwardly mobile, working in low-status wage jobs such as nursing home aide where I was often the only white guy in my job category, and because I paid attention I got to explore my own prejudices and see how the privileged status I got assigned because of my race, gender, etc. worked out in practice. That's a lot of what's behind this discussion.

Allexis, that's exactly what makes narratives like the Rescue Game so dangerous. People who are genuinely trying to do the right thing and make a difference -- and of course they exist, in fairly large numbers -- can get sucked into a routine that doesn't actually accomplish the good they want to accomplish. That's why it's crucial to bring the narrative to light and talk about it, so we can figure out whether what we're doing will actually have the results we want.

Roberta, my advice remains the same: lace up your walking shoes. As an experienced Granger, you know how to run a Grange-style organization; you might, if you haven't done this already, pick up a copy of my book Inside a Magical Lodge, which explains in detail how to run the very modestly different version of the same thing that's standard in the occult community, and file off serial numbers as needed! A lot of the old fraternal orders are either willing hostages to the power structure, on the one hand, or obsessed with death-wish behavior of various kinds on the other -- one order in which I'm involved now has an influential group of members that insists the menbership fees and dues have to be raised to astronomical heights, for example -- and so it really is time to start some new projects of the same kind.

Allexis, exactly. It's by recognizing the various kinds of games, some healthy, some dysfunctional, that we can start playing constructive games such as "Let's build a better future."

patriciaormsby said...

I love how you acknowledge at the start your own areas of probable bias on racial issues. That is admirable and something worth emulating!

@Michelle, good for you! I always just figured there was some particular blind spot I had for whatever clumsiness on my part was harming my victims. Oh, and I had victims all over the place! At the age of seven, I was required to assimilate among a racially different group of girls. I said, "Oh, wow! Look at all the -----ese!" This childish statement, the result of having seen too many cartoons, was scolded as a sign of my inherent racism, because they were a different "-ese." If my scolders had explained it in terms of "How would you feel if someone called you 'Canadian,' Miss Privileged?" I might have seen the absurdity, but then again, I might have scratched my head and wondered for years what there was to be ashamed about for being Canadian. The girls naturally rejected me. I was an awkward, messy little brat. So I was told that I must try harder. So I did, and once again became aware of what an undesirable little pest I was. I'd go sit down by the girls, and they would all get up laughing and walk away. Finally, I was sent off to a psychiatrist to find out why I was being such a racist little jerk.

He, fortunately, came to the conclusion that I was not racist at all. After subjecting me to a bunch of mysterious rorschach sorts of run-arounds, he finally came out and asked me directly about my feelings towards the girls, and I said I dreamt of being their friend, but couldn't because I was too messy and ugly.

This was in the sixties, so the current game was already up and running. Now I live in Japan, where nerdiness is the norm and my slight differences from everyone else have a visible skin-color explanation.

@JMG, the victim game is not uniquely American. It sounds a lot like the terror inflicted by communism in China. But I haven't seen the same dynamic at work here in Japan. Here, the mythology seems to be "Everyone is equal and we should be happy, and those who aren't, don't exist. Oh, and everyone knows you cannot trust women!" The underlying basis is the three monkeys. Anyone who "sees evil" is blameworthy. I'm not sure whether TA covered that sort of game.

YCS said...

After reading this article many things started to make sense to me. Most importantly, how politicians can do mutually contradictory actions and not get caught out, while some other group is easily scapegoated for votes.

In Australia both major political parties have mastered the art of being rescuer, to the effect that they are able to play victim-persecutor on two groups simultaneously. For the white lower class, immigrants are the persecutors stealing jobs - all while businesses and government outsource employment to Asia in droves. For immigrants, lower-class white racist 'bogans' (the ultimate snarl word here) are the problem - while it is mainly the affluent upper class people (of all races) who benefit from treating immigrants as dispensable. Rural folk are being bullied by the urban majority, while at the same time being narrow minded and bigoted, keeping the economy from being more 'efficient'. Refugees are case in point on how a real victim can be cast as persecutor - somehow they've managed to rationalize putting them in (what can only be described as) concentration caps.

This is brilliantly orchestrated through effectively segmenting the party line and discourse in the media - people live in their bubble and only read and watch the channels and papers that pander to (what is defined as) their interests. The same political part members can espouse two different views and carry out actions that hurt both victim/persecuter parties while benefiting their class interests.

If I went into detail I could easily fill a whole article (which I'm thinking of doing). However, the most important thing to realise is who benefits - and if all the discourse is silently benefiting one group over all others, it's an indication that something is very wrong.


MigrantWorker said...

Good morning mr Greer,

Hmm. Could it be that the Rescuers get most of the benefits because they are the only ones in a position to apply rational approach to the game?

Persecutors cannot act rationally within the confines of the game. Whatever they gain by actual persecuting, they stand to lose anyway - by whatever means the Rescuers arrange. If they do not persecute, the same arrangements ensure that the blame is not removed from them - so they get no benefits while still keeping the losses. They can of course withdraw from the game, and this indeed is their best long-term option, but it may be impossible to achieve in the many short terms from which the long term is composed - or, more cruelly, it can be made impossible through the aforementioned Rescuers' arrangements.

Victims cannot act rationally within the confines of the game either. If they are actually victimised, then this makes them worse off. If they do not demonstrate being victimised, they lose their victim claim and with it the protection of the Rescuers, whatever it may be. They can of course work to improve their lot - and the constraints placed by the game on the Persecutors do make it somewhat easier - and this indeed is their best long-term option, but it comes with a short-term cost of losing ties to the Victim group. This group would contain much of their social and familial circle, so it is no small sacrifice and may be (or, again, be made) prohibitive.

Rescuers on the other hand can act rationally. They get to choose which of the bidding Victim groups receive their (and the corresponding Persecutors') resources, and can choose and discard those groups which best further their own goals. They also set in place the arrangements by which the perceived wrongs of the Persecutors are supposed to be undone - and this creates two conditions which bind Rescuers to the game just as strongly as the other groups. Firstly, they can profit from their own arrangements, which creates a powerful incentive to keep the game going; secondly, it awards them a degree of freedom of action not available to other players. They can of course steer the game towards some sort of compromise, knowing that in the long term it is doomed to end regardless of their efforts to perpetuate it - but again, it creates an uncertain benefit far off into the future at the expense of immediate loss, especially of freedom of action.

So yes, Rescuers are the only potentially rational actors of the game. Egoistical to be sure, but the two terms so often go hand in hand...


. said...

Haha this is so spot on! It's definitely not just an American thing. It's widespread in the UK and German speaking Europe too in political/activist/rescuer circles. It's largely invisible both to those inside such circles and those who've never been in it. You can only see it when you engage with it and break the rules.

Race over here is a different conversation and intertwined with religion -Islam really -but the game is the same. As a privileged salary class person, refusing to benefit from cheap sweatshop consumer goods and cheap personal services I guess is a first step. I'm working on that. But I have a question about leadership. Us privileged types could use our status to actually cause change for the better and I'm trying to do that on immigration. But how does one avoid accidentally slipping into the familiar Rescuer role in that work?

I can say things that wage class people can't, and I'll be far better listened to. But I don't wish to claim to speak on their behalf. I know many of them would disagree with me.


beetleswamp said...

This model is very helpful for understanding some of the recent dynamics in the Hawaiian Sovereignty movement. Unlike the other continental violent epochs of race and class warfare, Hawaii was first and foremost a Kingdom that was illegally overthrown and annexed into the United States (using dubious legal means and gunboat diplomacy) and has been experiencing a prolonged occupation and succession of hostile corporate takeovers ever since. Unfortunately for the Rescuers, this means that pointing fingers at anyone besides long-dead Snidely Whiplash characters will inevitably lead to biting the hands that feed them (with pillaged loot).

The normal ways around this, such as creating an Office of Hawaiian Affairs to try and turn the Victims into “Indians” and undermine their legal clams of independence have failed over the years because of lack of participation in what is seen as a disingenuous official narrative. Dead people make poor Persecutors. This had led to a political stalemate for a few decades due to the imperial wealth pump supplying an insatiable appetite for development and greed overriding due process, but meanwhile Hawaiian culture has been busy re-inventing itself and picking up the dangling threads of the past in order to weave a new national identity.

The recent protests over a telescope that was illegally rubber-stamped by an increasingly uncaring, unresponsive, and ethically tainted State government was the spark for a counter-movement against the tide of slow-death colonialism. The powers-that-be couldn't have chosen a worse battle ground. Mauna Kea is the spiritual center of Native Hawaiian belief systems, and after years of desecration and empty promises the people finally had enough. Enter the ʻAha Aloha ʻĀina movement. There's a lot more to the story and I'd encourage people to follow it especially if they are interested in creating their own grass roots organizations with the underlying ideals of inclusiveness and research as opposed to pointless shouting. Time will tell if this new model is viable, but I'm inclined to believe that coalition building is the answer to dīvide et īmpera schemes. It worked for our imported Japanese and Filipino communities when they united at the turn of the 20th century to combat worker exploitation under the sugarcane barons, and as a result flipped the script on local power dynamics for a few decades.

Hawaiian Sovereignty may seem like a distant colonial struggle that has nothing to do with your personal situation, but keep in mind if you live in a Westernized nation (US, Europe, Australia, NZ, etc.) and aren't a member of the shrinking investment class then by definition you belong to one of the Empire's internal colonies. The politics may be local, but the struggle is global.

Tony f. whelKs said...

Ah, TA - there's a blast from the past; though what I recall is mostly PAC analysis (Parent-Adult-Child) in interpersonal relationships. It mostly reminded me how much I dislike games when they are undeclared.

The Rescue Game certainly does get played here in the UK. Listen to the politicians talking about "hard working families" and it strikes me as a clear attempt to assign the 'vicitm' role. For what it's worth, I get the impression Donald Trump is playing the game, too, but of course he's not the only one.

It seems where these games are played, there's usually more than one going on at any one time, with competing teams of 'Rescuers' phrasing the victim/persecuter distinctions in ways which (they calculate) will yield them the largest constituency. For the average Joe in the trenches, it may appear as if there is a single conflict and they are expected to 'choose sides', whereas I believe the reality is that they are expected to choose between narratives intsead. However, what's needed is a meta-narrative which reveals the games to the victim/persecuter pool so they can see the option to form a 'won't play' constituency. The Rescuers seem to be the only self-selecting group in the game, and get to choose the rules of the game.

Computers and politicians seem to have this in common: the better I understand them, the less I like them...

Bruce E said...

So, am I the only one who wants to label the rescuers as persecutors, label the rest of us as victims, and air our collective grievances and engage in bullying of those people?

Dang, I seem to lack the lack of self-awareness that would facilitate the inability to see the hypocrisy in that, that would keep me from realizing I'm setting myself up as the rescuer and playing the same game...

Christophe said...

Jean-Vivien said, "The political class is seen as potential rescuers, while playing the role of persecutors at the same time, just as the whole population is seen as both the victims and potential rescuers too."

The Euro Zone is a great example of a failed American attempt to impose the rescue game on Europe. The integrationists were supposed to be able to rescue the entire population from persecutions of any non-progressive isolationists/nationalists ad infinitum. As the politicians and bureaucrats in Paris and Brussels continue to play by those rules, they look more and more like perpetrators while the nationalists look more and more like rescuers. Since the migrant crisis began last year, power and influence have consistently been transferring from the integrationists to the nationalists. As John Michael pointed out, the rescuers don't often jump ship when the game gets stale, they just jockey for position in their failing hierarchy. So, while the old order plays circular firing squad, the population is playing another round of pin the tail on the persecutor. Merkel anyone? Schengen suspensions, Scandinavia rejecting migrant quotas, and Holland rejecting Ukrainian inclusion all point to the collapse of integrationist hegemony in Europe.

The rescue game is clearer in the United States because our integrationist hegemony has just begun to be questioned. The Euro Zone is much further along in its dissolution than the "United" States is, though we could still beat you to the cemetery if our political class plays its hand badly enough. As a New Yorker spending March and April in the Haut Var doing repairs on the house I inherited, I will soon have to choose from which side of the Atlantic to watch the spectacles unfold. Can I choose neither of the above?

A Post-Millenial said, "JMG, can you help me map the Rescue Game onto the disputes between certain liberal students and their professors which made the news not too long ago?"

As with the Euro Zone, political correctness is a failing round of the rescue game. It was created by marginalized university intellectuals who saw the power vacuum created when the "dead white male" stranglehold on higher education began to dissipate. Marginalized became minority became preferred minority in the game of identity politics. Once a professor identifies with his preferred minority he can join the circular firing squad and blast all competing minorities with abandon. As in Europe, this pin-the-tail-on-the-persecutor, cry-of-pain competition is mashed up with the circular firing squad of the dying order in a free for all.

The students are very much the victims in this scenario, though pawns might be a better term. Rather than jumping ship when the professors' preferred tool of being more-politically-correct-than-thou has lost its magical ability to redirect scarce resources towards them, said professors are jockeying for position in their failing hierarchy by brainwashing students into acting as their zombie hoards. Of course, what they are brainwashing the students with is the failed discourse of political correctness. This political gambit, collapsing under its own inconsistencies, no longer works at the individual level so can only be successfully wielded by controlled hoards. Will the entrenched professors realize that they squander more resources managing their armies than their gambit will ever give them back, before their students wake up, turn on their masters, and eat their brains? Or will the circular firing squad render the question moot?

Mikep said...

Hi JMG, that's an interesting theory, is it yours or did you find it? I can't find any reference to it on the google or the wikipeadia. I would like to know a bit more about how groups cast into the role of persecutor are able to escape. Do they simply refuse to be bound by the working assumptions of the game by perhaps owning the Racist moniker as Blacks in the sixties began to own their African heritage or should they try to "out victim" the officially sanctioned victim groups. Jamaica has recently requested that Great Britain should pay reparations for Slavery, perhaps we should write to the Governments of the various West African States asking, Those slaves that you sold us, that was very wrong of you, so, can we have our money back please?

dragonfly said...

Too funny! I naively joined this group that has a workers' festival on Mayday. Apparently "workers" are all Latino now. The rhetoric surrounding how the privileged white folks were helping was shockingly racist. The were condescending towards blacks too. And it all adds up to nothing. Just getting people all around them and writing grants. Bucket of puke!

Yossi said...

Here in UK we call it divide and rule and it has worked quite well for the benefit of the establishment for years.

nati said...

But as you explain the percecuter has almost nothing to gane and a lot to lose from this game. Why should he continue to participate?
What happends if he rebels against his role in the game?
Can he stop it without a militar revolution?

barrymelius said...

John,this one hits close to home. My Zen group leader said that it was good to identify what doesn't work,spend a minimum of time on it(although it does give one some good stories) and move on to what does work. Look forward to your posts in next few weeks.

Rebecca Brown said...

JMG, it's so good to have you back! I missed your insights, but I hope you enjoyed your well-earned vacation. This post put into words a lot of my feelings I hadn't been able to describe, and nicely explains who so many of my liberal friends keep accusing me of being a covert Trump support because I refuse to vote for Clinton in the fall.

I've got three more data points for you, all related to the fact that we are temporarily living in the most endangered area of the country, south Florida, while my wife works on the doomed Everglades restoration project and we decide where to relocate to permanently.

1.) Local sea level rise is now measured at 1 inch per year, and climbing by my wife's coworkers on the saltwater side of things.

2.) Housing prices around here are insane, and the people who can't afford to pay $1800+ a month for a tiny apartment are blamed for not going to college and getting a good job (never mind that many of them did). We're living in a working class neighborhood on the edge of the actual ghetto and our rent is "only" $1400 a month for a 2 bedroom 3/4 bath in semidecent shape. The only reason we got it is that our landlord doesn't care about your income being at least 3 times your rent like the complexes do. Our rent is nearly half of our income. How do our neighbors afford? Many don't. Evictions are commonplace in our neighborhood. Most houses are multigenerational or multifamily, even the one bedrooms.
Those complexes that want so much money? None of them are full, yet by my rough count, about 5,000 more such apartments are being built within 10 miles of my house. One of them is advertising 3 bedrooms starting at only $2400 a month! Where do they think that many families making $75000+ a year are going to come from? Roommates aren't allowed unless they each qualify on their own.

3.) I haven't been able to find a permanent job since we got here, so I've joined a growing class of people I wasn't aware existed: the professional temp. These are highly educated people with solid "in demand" degrees like accounting, finance, etc, who also can't find permanent jobs, most under 35 like me. We do salary class work for below salary class wages (but more than minimum wage -$14-$15 an hour is common, but are always temporary and usually part-time. We get no benefits, no perks, and are disposable at the drop of a hat. I've lost two such jobs already because my daughter got sick, and may lose a third today for the same reason. Jobs might last a day, a week, a month, and then we might be unemployed for several weeks until another company needs us. We're not officially counted as unemployed because we work for agencies, and there are thousands and thousands of us in the Miami area. I'm dusting off my business degree and working on a business plan, because this is nuts.

Chris Travers said...

Another post that hits things out of the park.

Something occurs to me in reading this one thing that occurs to me is the role of Western corporations in enforcing a sort of neo-colonial social order when comes to gay rights in Asia. See Google's campaigns in Singapore (a former British colony) etc. Here the Western corporation comes in as rescuer, deciding that a given culture is a persecutor, and demands that laws change.

One sees a similar dynamic when it comes to laws perceived as anti-gay today and corporations but sometimes one gets the sense that some of these laws are passed with the sole purpose of provoking a reaction (the NC law in this regard comes to mind), i.e. in order to be persecuted. So in this case one has persecutors and victims being ultimately interchangeable with two different groups of rescuers treating the two groups differently.

So those with money and power get to be rescuers and get everyone else to fight against eachother. Fascinating.

Matt said...

JMG: "What's happening is that racial privilege, racial prejudice, and acts of racial injustice are all being conflated into a single reified thing called "racism," and so any person who benefits from racial privilege (as white people in the US do) is then accused of, by definition having racial prejudices and engaging in acts of racial injustice."

I find that statement really interesting as it illuminates, I think, something that was unsettling me about some of the salary/wage BTL comments. Analogously, just because members of the salary class may have (more or less) experienced relative privilege, it doesn't mean by definition they have driven that injustice.

On to this week's topic... Real food for thought in this essay. I really liked the way you used an unexpected role reversal when discussing the game in Construction-era racism to help us not miss the point by too many miles.

The thing that's buzzing around in my head is how game, narrative and real-world overlap and interact. I think a true game is one where folks are playing in some sense voluntarily, and with some kind of pay off. That makes me very cautious about applying that to situations where some of the actors are not 'players' at all, but are caught up in the collateral damage. And that makes me wonder whether this is more about a narrative which follows the roles of a game, but don't need anybody really playing one of the other roles - the players can get worked up enough all by themselves.

johndevelopment said...

In the Victim, Persecutor, Rescuer Game, what role is assigned to the Predator who encourages the dynamics of the Game so that the ignorant game players do not see that they are being played?
See Nixon and the Republican Party southern strategy, a brillliant and subtle move from the 1960's. Or take John Erlichman's recent explanation of the genesis of the War on Drugs...Or any political r*tf*cking play?
Or the removal of free higher education in this country, replacing it with debt serfdom and heavy propaganda that it is absolutely necessary?
What are those who play and manipulate the players called?

Don Plummer said...

Your description of the Circular Firing Squad scenario as it appeared among Marxist splinter groups in Seattle made me chuckle. It reminds me of similar activities among theologically conservative and Fundamentalist Christians, with the same kinds of divisions over hair-splitting doctrinal minutiae, and the same kind of oneupmanship over the medieval Scholastics. In fact, the presidential candidacy of Ted Cruz is largely rooted in his assertion that he's the "true conservative" (meaning, of course, that he's the true upstanding, "correct"-doctrine-believing Christian) in the race.

A more serious question: how does the common denial of the very real problem of racial privilege, racial prejudice, and racial injustice among relatively affluent white people fit into the Rescue Game paradigm? As you probably know, just mention the term "white privilege" in such company and you're likely to get an earful of bristling, indignant responses.

onething said...


For a clueless European I found your comments very cogent, and also notice how very similar are the patterns playing out in the entire first world. It must be that the same bunch of multinational Oligarchs are the cause. I still struggle, though, with comments like this:

"it seems like your nation is summoning the demons it created in the first place, as a society that is increasingly older, tries to predate on the young to avoid facing the self-awareness of ageing, and, in order to do that, is ready to deprive its children from the economic liberty and basic level of control over their lives that your Constitution says they should expect."

mostly because I just don't see most people as engineering it or even understanding it. Rather it seems to me like yet another example of the elites getting the various groups to turn on one another, which has been a successful strategy for a very long time. Mostly the reason the young are so much worse off is that running a system in an unsustainable way is rather similar to a Ponzi scheme and the late comers are left holding the bag.

Frank in Reno said...

A variation of divide and rule is what it sounds like. Kinda like the Romans entering Greece in the latter days of the Republic... each Greek city state saw itself as the victim of the others, while the others, of course, where the ones being persecuted. Rome was 'invited' in to settle a dispute, and never did leave until the Ottomans showed up.

Thus the role of Victim and Persecutor is more a matter of perception. Yes, there are real victims in the world, but mostly victimhood is a matter of how one feels at the moment. As a British politician once said, "The only thing worse than being exploited by Capital is not being exploited by capital." The problem with many in the west today is that we are not being sufficiently exploited by capital, or at least not being sufficiently compensated for our exploitation.

Eric S. said...

What’s interesting, is that when I first encountered the concept of privilege, through sociology and teaching classes, through the original Peggy McIntosh essay, it was being presented in terms of advice for approaching different people of different walks of life, not assuming people had access to the same information, experience, and opportunities you do (and in context it was informing would-be teachers, instructors, trainers, and leaders to try to be aware of their own cultural biases and learn how to talk to people who don’t share them.) When I first saw it applied as part of training for community and volunteer work, the concept was presented to make sure that the people who actually belonged to disadvantaged communities and were affected by the things that happened in them took the lead, and that the work didn’t get hijacked by affluent white volunteers who thought they knew better. In other words, Peggy McIntosh was, in a lot of ways, initially trying to call out the game, and give well-meaning affluent white people advice on how to avoid becoming would-be “rescuers.” Now, the entire useful discussion has turned into affluent college students screaming “check your privilege” at people they don’t like.
That seems to be one of the real catch-22s of the game. I can imagine a scenario in which, on unmoderated discussions on this very essay, people begin to use the language of the game itself to keep the wheel turning by turning “rescuer” into just another dog whistle for “persecutor.” In fact, that’s very similar to what’s happened in certain segments of the internet, where a certain brand of affluent white male tech geek has begun using the phrase “social justice warrior,” on its own, the phrase could be carried toward a useful analysis of the rescuer phenomenon, but instead, in actual usage “SJW” is the new form of persecutor; young, socially awkward, economically disenfranchised white millennials are the victims; and suave, tech savvy paternal Gen-Xers are the rescuers. Is there any way to stop it other than triggering an endgame so catastrophic that once the dust settles everyone throws up their hands and says “never again” until a few generations take the last round out of living memory?

All that aside, I did want to share one fairly hopeful thing that was drawn to my attention this week, that shows one of your more optimistic chickens coming home to roost and getting ready to lay some eggs that might hatch once the dust of everything going on right now settles. This article popped up on the American Conservative about Distributism, which shows that big mainstream publications are beginning to think outside the Smith/Marx box we collectively shoehorned ourselves into in the last century. I wonder (considering the fact that they’ve quoted the Archdruid Report before), if someone on the American Conservative ran across your “Advice for Distributists” essay and started looking into some of those third options you discussed there. Either way, new paths in the wake of the next crisis are beginning to be disseminated and discussed more broadly.

John N. said...

@A Post-Millennial

I'm familiar with the professor/student conflicts, and here's how I'd map it:

The liberal professors were historically Rescuers, but the students have moved the game to Circular Firing Squad and have cast their Rescuers as covert Persecutors.

Ekkar said...

Great post. I thought of some diffrent player to the game; evil corporations as persacuter, poor innocent everyone else who just want to buy all the persacuters stuff without any problems that come with. All awhile wanting the persacuters downfall. The government is assingned, of course, the role of protector.

I'm glad that you mentioned that the players may change, but that the roles are intended forever.

whomever said...

Meanwhile, reality keeps rolling onto us, like the Boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

J Gav said...

Great essay JMG. I always enjoy reading your posts but this one I find particularly dense and profound. In short, a good analysis of why nothing 'social' works in the good 'ole USA. It simply was never meant to. The game is rigged.

My one reserve might be with the use of the notion of 'bullying' as the fundamental pivot in the scheme of things (at least as far as 'The Rescue Game' metaphor goes). I think 'schoolyard' when I hear that term, so that's going to be up close and personal.

On the other hand, 'bullying' on the part of the Persecutors will be on a much more massive scale and remain largely hidden from view. I realize that you are fully aware of that, but it means that the term seems to carry a different meaning when employed in reference to one or another of the 'Participants.'

Again, thanks for your perspicacious insights and, as we now don't but used to say: "Amicus certus in re incerta cernitur." - "A friend in need is a friend indeed," which isn't a bad rendering.


RPC said...

I'm pretty sure the game is not uniquely American - the first example that came to mind was the French Revolution, where once the last of the aristocrats were eliminated the circular firing squads began in earnest...

Adrian Pols said...

As an old child of the sixties, I always loved TA as a form of shorthand to categorize attitudes and behaviors. The VPR triad appears over and over as soon as there are 3 or more people together and the roles can get passed around within the group with everyone getting their chance up at bat..
I recall a scene in "Repo Man" where one of the characters proclaimed his victimhood (while participating in a robbery of a store if I recall), only to be told "No you're not; you're just another suburban white punk".
Today the Social Justice Warriors have been really doubling down on this game by persecuting those they accuse in turn of persecutory behavior.
Keep up the good work Mr. Greer.

tokyo damage said...

I agree that affluent whites DO tend to disingenuously play the 'rescuer' role in USA. My question is, are you saying the problem is that we claim to be acting in the 'victim's' interests when actually we're defending our own?

or are you implying that NO ONE should advocate solely for their own interests because it's selfish? Can you clarify?

Because even if we somehow get rid of BS 'narratives' and deal with facts, we're still faced with the question I mentioned.

(Probably after reading you for years I should be able to guess what you meant, but I hate putting words in peoples' mouths)

BoysMom said...

Seems to me you can figure out who the Rescuer is by asking Who Profits? The Media does quite well off the Rescue Game. The political parties do quite well off the Rescue Game. Yes, I'm lumping them together: they just label different groups as Persecutors and Victims, but in both cases they're the Rescuers: explains quite nicely why the big problems never get fixed, doesn't it?

As a visibly white mom of mixed kids and wife of visibly black husband, I've noticed that government employees want very much to put us in their racial check boxes, whether or not we want to be put there. Which we don't, and I frequently have to argue with them that no, in fact, they have no right to choose my kids' racial identities. (One of the nasty little factors at play now is Affirmative Action caused racism/sexism: that is, if you appear to be of a group that benefits from Affirmative Action, then you are assumed to not be capable of succeeding without Affirmative Action.) Our refusal to play along with the game has caused reactions that I can only identify as being cognitive dissonance, including raised voices and insistence that while the form in question says identifying your race is optional, it's in fact mandatory. This Rescue game neatly explains why: We're supposed to be good Victims and go along with the narrative, and refusing to play frustrates their attempts to be good Rescuers, and they don't have any way to handle Victims who won't cooperate.

Island Poet said...

I'd be interested in your take on the United Nations through the lens of "the game".

Greg Belvedere said...

This sheds light on some interactions I have had lately with social justice warrior types. I have not lived in another country for a long time, but I suspect this is not an entirely American phenomenon. Something about it reminds me of the behavior of other primates, but on a larger scale. The alpha males and females play the role of the the Rescuers, the primates that get kicked to the bottom of the hierarchy or out of the group altogether are the Persecutors and the rest of the troup/etc. play the role of the Victims. I suspect this has something to do with this game. I will leave it to others to speculate why it seems so much more distinct in the US.

pygmycory said...

I'd imagine the game has a lot to do with why I'm terrified of being labelled as 'cheater, not actually disabled', despite the fact I know perfectly well that I have major problems that effect me every day, and render working enough to support myself impossible. Thing is, depression, anxiety disorders and fibromyalgia don't show to someone I met two minutes ago unless they caught me on a bad day. I happen to look about a decade younger than I am, as well. I don't look to the casual viewer like someone who ought to need help.

Once people know me I stop having that problem, but I never stop being afraid.

This fear is a classic response to the game, isn't it?

Unknown said...

Interesting column and it reminded me of this recent story in the Boston Globe. It seems that sometimes even the victims resist being taken out of there assigned group. In this case some Jewish activists disrupted a meeting to talk about prejudice because “This was not supposed to be about equal values; it was supposed to be about anti-Semitism”. It almost seems as if this group believes they have an exclusive right to the role of victim.

pygmycory said...

Another example of the rescue game in history might be the way empires often encourage enmities between different peoples in their empire, but keep the lid on tensions to make sure it doesn't turn into outright war. Then when the empire splits apart, the newly-independent nations often implode in civil war/partitions within a decade. ie. various post-independence african countries or post USSR yugoslavia. I'd always thought of it as divide-and-conquor.

Christopher Edwards said...

The irony of this post is that the U.S., and particularly the U.S. Military, plays the role of Rescuer to the World, wherever there is a religious or political persecutor to "U.S. interests", or if the role of U.S. Rescuer plays well with the Pentagon/CIA/NSA view of maintaining its budgetary largesse. Such as the U.S. strategy of confrontation with Russia over the Ukraine, with the role of the Pentagon/CIA "rescuing" those poor enslaved Ukrainians forced to drink that bad Russian vodka.

pygmycory said...

With the rescue game, doesn't there sometimes result in various goodies being rescinded or handed out? At the moment, a lot of attention is being paid to First Nations in Canada, and some money is being thrown at their very real problems. Now granted, some of the money is to study the problems, and will therefore end up in the rescuers pockets rather than those who actually need, but some of it is supposed to go to housing and they've sent mental health people to Attawapiskat, which is in the grip of an attempted-suicide epidemic. Seriously, 11 people tried to kill themselves last saturday in a town of about 2000 people.

Trouble is, that's treating the symptoms. We've known for years about the housing crisis and local governance problems there, and the situation the people are in there really is pretty awful.

Between the housing and suicide crises and the 'where did the housing money go', this sounds to me like a classic rescue game participant, primarily in the victim's role, with larger Canadian society as rescuers.

Lucretia Heart said...

Thank you for articulating a frustration I've long had with popular politics-- all the underclasses fighting for Rich Daddy's attention and a slightly higher allowance. I keep trying to point this narrative out to others in vain, but I think your explanation nails it well.

I'm guessing you'll be moving on to what happens when The Rescue Game stops being played and people insist on real change en masse and turn on the so-called "Rescuers".

Roger said...

JMG, in the corporate world there's these annoyances called "diversity consultants".

It's not like spine-snapping stress isn't a daily fact with that malevolent, wicked witch of a clock ticking out your life minute by minute and every issue a potential career-stopper and every piece of paper a booby-trap waiting to go boom in your face.

And it's not like much energy isn't already spent dealing with disagreeable people from organizations that are rightly feared and loathed. So it's not another is needed.

Never mind compulsory completion of on-line courses on "diversity issues", with score being kept and results disseminated. Another time-wasting, distracting pain in the arse.

It's not like a "diversity consultant" plagues just one company. Multiply the effects of this one consultant in one company many times over in many companies and the effects have a wide impact.

What's the point of it? Part of it is career-building, convincing people of a problem they didn't know they had thus requiring special expertise (and MONEY) to remedy it. I mean, hang your head in shame, you don't want to get on the wrong side of what's right. Right?

But I think - as you say - the main point is distraction, these "diversity consultants" a ground-level manifestation of what you term "rescuer". But it's not just in business, this is a tick-like societal infestation.

In current times I would say that keeping people all riled up with various grievances is a great smokescreen for the titanic economic and financial heist being perpetrated as we live and speak. Off-shoring of jobs overseas is one aspect of the heist, suppression of interest rates to facilitate Wall Street and Bay Street predation is another.

Just look at the "right" and their talk of conservative principles and the "left" with its preening progressive-ism. So, of course, the smoke isn't just coming from one side of the political divide. They all answer to Money.

For the time being the "distractor-rescuers" have a career and are in no personal peril of being financially ruined. That is, for the time being. Give it time.

I think the people presiding over the the hostilities can't conceive of being swept up in them. But I think those people, even if they're at or near the top of the food-chain, are way too smug for their own good.

Shawn Aune said...

The adherence to the game rules (and a dislike of cognitive dissonance) has even led to a racist definition of racism.

It is now said that one categorically cannot be racist if one is a member of a race that is, "oppressed."

It is also said that you are racist by default if you belong to a race that has been, "oppressive."

The same rules apply to sexists now too so pretty much all white males are considered racist sexists even after contrary evidence shows itself.

The Rescuers are already pining for more Persecutors since they've already marched for the teens who were gunned down unjustly and even marched for several others who were justifiably shot due to their inappropriate actions.

Believe it or not the first person to make an All Lives Matter sign was a person involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, not some racist white guy.

She went from Rescuer to Persecutor in the blink of an eye for attempting to remove the inherent racism from the movement's motto.

I'm a player in this particular game too. To me, the biosphere is the victim, humans are the persecutors and thermodynamics is the rescuer.

Lynnet said...

Aha! I think this explains some of the generational bias we have seen in the last couple of months in ADR. The victims are the poor Millenials. The persecutors are the Boomers, which is sometimes stretched to include Gen X. Perhaps the rescuers are the financiers who make unpayable student loans, and the colleges that ramp up the costs into the stratosphere to cover the new football stadium and the countless layers of administration. There must be more, however. There are MILLIONS of people playing this game.

What alerted me to this was the invariably-repeated claim that ALL the Boomers were equally guilty. This covers those who lived on a small farm, those who spent their lives helping people, those who were the long-term unemployed, the wage class of any race or culture as well as the salary class. You name it, every Boomer was personally responsible for Reagan, the dissing of the Limits to Growth, the loss of "appropriate technology", and the general state of the economy and the world. And it is their sacred duty to "get out of the way".

sanguinesophrosyne said...

Thank you for this week's post. Your ability to connect dots I note and to open up entire new realms of thought never fails to impress! Would you have any good recommendations for further reading on game theory or transactional analysis?

As an aside before I forget for the umpteenth time, what are the odds of getting your publishers to do more audiobooks? I would expect a good many of my fellow readers working with their hands would find such fodder very welcome, particularly the fiction which would seem to me nearly custom built for the format.

In my travels I have encountered exactly this rescue behavior pretty regularly and took on a Socratic approach to it. Humbly ceding my own privileges without reservation, so that I could get past that to explore their viewpoint, or to cause intellectual mischief by taking advantage of the circular firing squad, what I saw as ultimately self defeating Sith behavior (yes from Star Wars lol). It seemed apparent to me that even well intentioned as they are, the ends don't justify the means because their policies simply aren't working and are even counterproductive to the stated goals, in the case of women's and blacks equality anyway, and they are adopting worse and worse means to get there. We now have college students fighting against free speech and space as "racist".

Another blogger I follow who has a much more audacious approach to the world than mine put forth an experiment on twitter about projecting the shadow. He posted a professional, positive picture of Marissa Johnson with the caption "This is the leader of Black Lives Matter", no further commentary or anything. People were incensed! They called him out on fat shaming, racism, sexism and more. He illustrated the point that people are going to be nasty no matter what you do, and you can use that to get attention which you can then channel into your own interests and issues, exactly as Donald Trump does.

Sven Eriksen said...

An immensely enjoyable read this week. I did get the impression a while back that you were gearing up for a new long-running theme, and I was hoping it would be something like this.

Sit-rep from Yawron, this narrative as a structure for framing public discourse is even more heavily applied here, and it is hard to find a subject, controversial or not, that doesn't get that particular treatment. Of course, for a country that has modelled its collective sense of self on its role as Rescuer among nations, this is par for the course.

A little less than a decade ago, the Big Rescue Game featured affluent, white, middle aged, upper middle class women as the Victim, our ignorant culture with all its baggage of conditioned stupidity (which pretty much works out to "the habits of thought of white, working class men") as the Persecutor, and officialdom, the chattering classes and the media as the Rescuer. Around the time when climate change activism decided to destroy itself the cast was changed to nature (or at least the the "Silent Running Fallacy" variety of it) as the Victim, people who work in the productive economy and who in turn spend the money they earn on actual goods and services (again, working people) as the Persecutor, and officialdom, the chattering classes and the media as the Rescuer.

It's been losing wind since, and the only people who haven't gotten the memo are by and large millenials with standing prescriptions of anti-depressants and not much to do apart from consuming social media, who put a lot of ingenuity into creating victim groups they can champion (sexual minorities seems to be the buzz right now).

That is to say, we're back to pinning the tail. Right now it seems we're being geared for two separate Big Rescue Games: The first features Syrian refugees as the Victim, people with the audacity to point out such inconveniences as limited resources, demographic pressure and, oh, those terrorist incidents that just happened to occur (and yes, this group more or less works out in practice to "white working class people"...) as the Persecutor, and the chattering classes and the media as the Rescuer. The media has been even sneakier than usual in this regard, by first working up fear and suspicion in the general populace and then serving itself up as a channel through which the chattering classes can condemn said general poulace for being fearful and suspicions (which of course is chattering class code for "stupid"). The second features the gentle and honorable peoples of Western Europe as the Victim, the Evul Russians as the Persecutor, and officialdom and the media as the Rescuer (the approved plan for doing said rescue consists of whining on television and buying F-35s, btw). Note that the only instance where white working class people didn't get dealt the role of Persecutor was the instance where the chattering classes weren't claiming the role of Rescuer.

And now I sayeth popcorn, and lots of it...

Unknown said...

Happened to see this immediately after reading this week's essay:
(via a link from The War Nerd, who is as good as ever)

"...the white middle and lower classes are angry, and they are tired of being blamed for the unhappiness of other tribes."

"But the fact that he has persisted this long may be because the hatred our elites so passionately claimed was aimed at the Other was actually directed at themselves."

Not exactly promoting this guy's analysis (at all--Jeb Bush and Paul Ryan "sober and judicious," just for one thing?) But it's interesting, what's being said, and by whom, just now.

Mister Roboto said...

I'm well familiar with the "more the victim than thou" game to which you alluded in this post, from my days as a college-kid in Madison, Wisconsin, which was hilariously lampooned in a scene from the comedy-movie PCU!

DaveT said...

After reading this article, I couldn't help but see the traditional left as rescue game victims and the right as persecutors. That's how it was always presented in "main-stream" media sources. Of course, in right-wing media, the right get to play the victims by seeing themselves unfairly marked as persecutors. Consequently, the left paints the right-wing media as loony and goes about the business acting like everything is normal.

Fast forward to 2016. Sanders supporters (who are more people who sympathize with victims than victims themselves) see through the game partly and hope to get genuine rescuers to genuinely rescue everyone. They think his policies will help at the expense of fraudulent rescuers and affluent non-players who can afford to help (whether they like it or not).

Meanwhile, Trump supporters are supposed to be the persecutors who limply claim to be victims, but are coming out en masse as legitimate victims. Trump is far more dangerous to the establishment because Sanders supporters are still mostly playing by the rules. They're still globalists and they're still victims. Trump supporters are persecutors acting out as victims and in favor of nationalism.

Diptherio said...

I just got done recording a podcast with a couple of Black women activists about the "White Savior Complex." It's something I've spent a good deal of time thinking and writing about as it relates to the cooperative movement. This all seem very relevant...and very complex. Thanks for giving me yet another way of thinking about these issues.

Raymond Duckling said...


The reason there were only latino workers at the "workers festival" you attended, is probably that those guys were actually celebrating Labor Day. The date Labor Day is celebrated in Mexico, and indeed all the civilized world AFAIK, is May the 1st.

The elementary school version that every child knows is that we conmemorate the Martyrs of Chicago, the brave *American* workers that were murdered (probably by Pinkertons, though I didn't know what those were back in the day) for getting the Labor Rights Movement started.

Of course, in America, no one has murdered any workers ever; but if they did, they wouldn't have done it in a date when everyone would remember. So the US just decided to celebrate the *American* Labor Day at a more convenient date. Or maybe it was a McCarthyist thing and May-1st was considered too Red for the tastes of the American public.

Varun Bhaskar said...


Wow, this clears sooo much up.

I recently had a massive argument with one of my writers about an op-ed they wanted to publish. The op-ed basically argued that voter id laws recently passed in Wisconsin were voter suppression by another name, and were targeted at minorities. Now, I had no problem with the first part of the argument because the Republicans have basically said that voter suppression was their goal. However, the second part of the argument made no effort to talk about class. The fact that it was the poor, regardless of their ethnic background, that were going to be disproportionately affected by this law wasn't even mentioned. I told the writer to correct this oversight, to which immediate offense was taken.

When I pointed out the very obvious rectangles and squares error, that not all minorities were poor, my writer came back with “well, according to the research I've read all minorities will be affected equally regardless of class.” WHAT?!

While I was setting up my paper I kept running into people who wanted to talk about “social justice” issues. All of these people were white middle-class women. I mean that literally. Every single person that wanted to write about SJ were affluent white women. Several times I pointed out that the focus of my paper wasn't social justice, to which I got strange looks from said people. Man, I've read Kipling and I ain't white.


Varun Bhaskar
Slightly Less Confused Editor
View on the Ground

Urban Harvester said...

What I think is interesting about using this rescue game dynamic to look at our cultural blindness (willful or not) is that it does a good job of explaining how the intentions of the rescuer can be both principled and fraudulent. As others have pointed out the dynamic is evident in both politics and religion. It certainly describes what goes on in the religio-political scene in mormon Utah: it is not easy to discern whether the religious leaders (past or present) act out of genuine belief or intent to profitably defraud. Both likely have been the case, but their use of the rescuer-victim-persecutor dynamic (prophet of God-believer-gentile) to perpetuate what is a profitable enterprise with its fair share of sacrificial lambs exposes the nature of what is certainly a dysfunctional dynamic. It also does a good job of explaining how a person's altruism or anxiety both can get hijacked and how otherwise well intentioned people are played against each other. This is definitely juice for the culture-jam cocktail!

I appreciate the notion of bringing the discernment and differentiation of racial privilege, racial prejudice, and acts of racial injustice to what we lump together as racism; so tracing the circle through generationism, classism, sexism, and anthropocentrism ought to be fruitful. May the elephants in the room be unveiled.

Also, I want to second sanguinesophrosyne with one added request... my wife is always asking when you will release audiobooks read in your own, very listenable, speaking voice. The ones on audible are good, but they'd be better read in your voice (as it's easy to hear your tone and manner in your writing). Though I'd understand if you didn't feel like that would be the best use of your very well utilized time... we can still enjoy your talks and interviews.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160414T204752Z

(1) It is good to have you back in the blogosphere, JMG.

(2) No comment here on the scary upcoming USA election, except that (a) the USA scene is possibly now resembling Weimar Deutschland, and that (b) if the USA gets into big trouble, everyone else goes down too. (What year is it now? Is it Deutschland 1920, or is it Deutschland 1932? We'll find out in due course.)

(3) Having pondered and pondered a separate blog for discussing, in a rather Catholic setting, some of the topics raised by JMG (frequent, occasionally prolix, Catholic postings here, in JMG's ADR blog, might become tedious to many readers), I have at last acted.

In those protracted ponderings, I have felt myself in the position of the dinner-party host wondering what kind of party to give.

(i) For three months or so, I kept thinking that I should in imitation of JMG's ADR make my blog a careful, formal, affair, producing the cyber equivalent of white linen and bone china.

(ii) Then I thought that I should largely give up, producing something like pizza on paper plates (in cyber terms, a mere e-mail discussion list, for the seven blog-interested people now in e-mail contact with me).

(iii) What I have finally settled for is a kind of compromise - a cyber parallel to the cold serve-yourself buffet of reasonable sandwiches and reasonable finger foods, with hospital-grade (as distinct from hotel-grade) crockery and cutlery. I have just created a blog This blog is not meant to attain the polished literary quality of JMG's ADR. It is, rather, a place for posting a hasty weekly essay, sometimes JMG/ADR-relevant and sometimes not JMG/ADR-relevant, sometimes of reasonable length and sometimes comprising just a swift paragraph or two. When the weekly posting is not JMG/ADR-relevant, it is liable to address one or another of my various JMG/ADR-irrelevant concerns, generally from a rather explicitly Catholic-environmentalist standpoint: the current green-hermit movement (including its roots in the 2015 encyclical Laudato Si'), or the David Dunlap Observatory and Park heritage-conservation problem here in Richmond Hill (in which I oppose two publicly Catholic families of real-estate developers), or my efforts in physics-of-radio (a topic with its own faint Catholic echoes, as when one considers the conceptual depth of the created cosmos).

Guest comments and guest essay postings, including comments and essays courteously critical of Catholicism, or even critical of environmentalism, are welcome. Admittedly, such materials are liable to elicit courteous rebuttals from me, in my own online comments.

The emerging Catholic-environmentalist blog has just one entry so far, explaining areas of writer interest and rules of conduct.

The first substantive posting, as opposed to the current posting on upcoming topics-of-interest and rules of conduct, should be uploaded in the (Tuesday morning) interval UTC=20160419T0001Z/20160419T0401Z. That posting will perhaps be on green Catholic hermits. But so informal is everything that I reserve the right to change my mind: if - as I do not now envisage - I get obsessed next week with Dorothy Day's social teaching, or with liturgy, or whatever, then let it be Dorothy Day, or liturgy.


Toomas (Tom) Karmo


in Richmond Hill, near Toronto in Canada

(member of Estonian diaspora,
pursuing perceived informal vocation as green Catholic hermit,
outside the more formal framework of Canon 603,
without vows,
within the ordinary disciplines of the Catholic laity)

Sojan Shieldbearer said...

It's funny someone mentioned the Attawapiskat, since one of Canada's more colorful and embarrassing political scandals came out of the Attawapiskat Reserve, and was perpetrated by a tribal leader who had a knack for the playing the Victim.

Chief Theresa Spence was the head of the Attawapiskat Nation between 2010 and 2015. She, her live-in boyfriend and a small group of tribal insiders were living high on the hog at the expense of the Canadian taxpayer, while the other members of the tribe were living in dire poverty. She and her boyfriend were pulling in $250,000 a year, all of it tax free, while most of the tribe was living in the sort of conditions commonly associated with refugee camps in places like Somalia, Haiti or Afghanistan.

When she got caught with her hand in the till, people started asking questions and the Canadian government called for an audit. She played the race card as a distraction, just like Al Sharpton, Marion Barry and Charlie Rangel did when they got into trouble. Larry Elder, who is himself African-American, rather aptly describes people who engage in those sorts of racial victim games as "race hustlers".

She also announced a hunger strike, which turned out to be a fraudulent publicity stunt and an attempt to distract attention away from her questionable financial dealings:

And people wonder why there are a awful lot of people who have a hard time taking people like Spence, Sharpton and the rest of the SJW's seriously.

pvbonafina said...

Very interesting post as usual. The model you describe fits nicely to the narrative being used to sell the ongoing coup here in Brazil. The persecutors in this case would be the president, her "utterly corrupt" party and their supporters among the population, responsible for plunging the country into the worst recession in its history. The Rescuers are played by the media, most oligarchs, oposition politicians and all "concerned" citizens supporting the coup. Coincidentally, most of these could also be labeled "affluent white people". Finally, the Victims are, of course, the people who have been suffering under the economic downturn. Unfortunately, such simplistic narratives tend to have the most appeal, and it seems a lot of people are buying it.

John Michael Greer said...

Patricia, it seems to me that it's crucial for all players in a functional game to acknowledge their own self-interest and their own limitations. To my mind, that's the first non-negotiable step toward the honesty that allows a functional game to develop.

YCS, please do fill up a whole article with it! That's exactly the same game the two major parties in the US play, of course.

MigrantWorker, I'm not at all sure what you mean by the word "rational" here. Each player makes a rational response to the situation he or she is in; it's simply that the rules are defined by the Rescuer to ensure that no permissible action on the part of any other player threatens the continuation of the game.

.Mallow, I don't know that there's an easy answer, but I can think of two important places to start. The first is to accept your own privileged position -- by which I don't mean wallowing in guilt or any such thing, of course; I'm talking about acknowledging the power differential that exists, so that you can correct for that in interpersonal interactions. The second and more important is this: if you're going to try to cause change for the better, find out from the people who are going to be helped by that action what changes they actually want, and then help them achieve those. Don't decide that you already know what they want, or (worse) that you know better than they do; use your privilege to boost their signal, rather than drowning it out beneath a signal of your own. Does that make sense?

Beetleswamp, thanks for the update from Hawai'i! It's precisely from local actions that the rest of us can get some sense of the tactics that work.

Tony, good. That's what I'm trying to do here, by introducing a narrative that says "the map is not the territory, the game is not what it claims to describe," and then laying out the rules in cold print. Do you recall those evil spirits of legend who could only be defeated by speaking their name aloud? It's pretty much the same strategy here.

Bruce, good. The fact that you've noticed that, and not simply fallen into it, shows that you're way ahead of most Americans!

Christophe, nah, the Rescue Game is clearer in the United States because we're deep in the Circular Firing Squad phase; having lost our external Persecutor with the fall of the Soviet Union, we've been playing Pin the Tail on the Persecutor with increasing vim domestically, to the point that every group you care to name is a Victim, a Persecutor, and a Rescuer to somebody!

Mikep, the only way to win is not to play.

Dragonfly, the Oppression Olympics can be a very lucrative game these days.

Yossi, no kidding. Nearly every former British colony I can think of is still riven with ethnic rivalries the British government deliberately stirred up -- think Israelis and Palestinian Arabs, Indians and Pakistanis, Anglo-Canadians and Quebecois, Irish and northern Irish, etc., etc., etc. It was a very profitable gimmick in its day.

Nati, that's why finding ways to trick or force the Persecutor into playing is an essential part of the game. How you get out of it depends on how much force can be applied to keep you in it. A lot of young white Americans, for example, are refusing to go to college these days, and although there are plenty of other reasons for that, part of it is the fact that if they go to a university they'll be assigned the role of Persecutor in the currently popular forms of the game.

Sojan Shieldbearer said...

Jim Kunstler has made some pretty astute observations about the Rescue Game in recent weeks and the toxic racial politics involved.

In this weeks blog post he discusses America's dysfunctional political system and society and argues that

"The reason is that the problems are unfixable, at least not within the acceptable terms of the zeitgeist, namely: the secret wish to keep all the rackets going at all costs.

This is true, by the way, of all parties concerned from the 0.001 percent billionaire grifter class to the deluded sophomores crying for “safe spaces” in their womb-like “student life centers” to the sports-and-porn addled suburban multitudes stuck with impossible mortgage, car, and college loan debts (and, suddenly, no paying job) to the deluded Black Lives Matter mobs who have failed to notice that black lives matter least to the black people slaughtering each other over sneakers and personal slights. None of these groups really want to change anything. They actually wish to preserve their prerogatives."


"The Maoist Social Justice Warrior students are enjoying the surprising power and thrills of coercion, especially as directed against their simpering professors and cringing college presidents anxious to sustain the illusion that something like learning takes place in the money laundering operations of higher ed. The Black Lives Matter crowd just wants to be excused from their failure to follow standards of decent behavior and to keep mau-mauing the other ethnic groups of America for material and political tribute."

John Michael Greer said...

Barrymelius, that's good advice, but only if you already understand why what doesn't work doesn't work. Otherwise, if you don't spend enough time making sense of what doesn't work, you're likely to reproduce its dysfunctional features in other contexts without realizing it.

Rebecca, many thanks for the updates! I hope you and your wife can get out of there before things get really ghastly.

Chris, that's certainly one of the ways the game can be played. Again, finding an adequate supply of Persecutors is essential if you want to avoid the circular firing squad phase...

Matt, I may have to do a post about the differences among privilege, prejudice, and acts of injustice. It really does clarify things to sort those out -- which is probably why this is so rarely done.

Johndevelopment, you're confusing the game with the real world. These people you're labeling Predators -- unless that's just your way of saying Persecutors -- don't have an assigned role in the game; that would defeat the purpose of the game, which is to direct responsibility away from those who benefit most from the system.

Don, I'm probably going to talk about that next week. One of the core features of the American caste system is the loud insistence, from those who benefit most from it, that it doesn't exist at all.

Frank, don't confuse the game with the real world! In the real world, nearly everyone -- other than a tiny minority at the top, and a larger but still small minority at the bottom -- is both exploiter and exploited, benefiting from privilege in regard to some people and suffering from it in regard to others. Of course the proportions vary drastically from, say, me (white, male, straight, salary-class upbringing, etc.) to, say, a wage-class Latina lesbian, but you have to look long and hard to find someone who is either always on top of privilege relations or always on the bottom. In the game, on the other hand, everyone has only one role -- the Victim always suffers, the Persecutor always gains from the Victim's suffering, and the Rescuer is motivated by pure altruism.

Eric, I'm going to try to avoid the hamster wheel of endless Rescue Games by a couple of moves. Defining the game as a game is one of them; stating the rules and payoffs outright is one of them; there are several other moves, which will be made as we proceed. Thanks for the heads up about Distributism -- that's really good news!

Ekkar, exactly. Once you learn your way around the game, it's fascinating to see how many bogus conflicts follow the same script.

Whomever, we'll be talking about that as the discussion proceeds.

J Gav, glad you liked it. Again, though, it's important to keep clear on the difference between the game and the real world. In the fictive reality of the Rescue Game, everything the Persecutors do is bullying by definition, and the Victims and the Rescuers never bully anyone -- no, no, the Victims simply express their pain, and the Rescuers inflict justly deserved punishment on the Persecutors. Outside that fictive reality, the people who have been assigned the roles of Victim and Rescuer get to bully the bejesus out of the people who have been assigned the role of Persecutor, and feel a warm glow of self-righteousness while doing so.

nati said...

But if the persecutor does not accept his role in the game (by not filling gilty, not apologize and not trying to accommodate the rescuer etc) and is forced into it against his will (by the authorities) then it is not a game any more.
For example, I beleive regarding the islamic inmigration into Europe, at some point most of the public will oppose it and no accusation will help, as a matter of fact it probably will enhance it determination.
If this is the case and the public (the persecuter) no way is going to play his role by free will, then the rescuer (EU, goverments, elites, NGOs etc) will use force.
In a scenario like this, can the public quit the game in any peaceful way? Can he do it without a revolution of any kind?

David said...



For what it is worth, I have experienced similar disconnects when I try to suggest that many (though admittedly not all) of our race issues are really class issues.

Jeff said...

Great post, JMG!

Just wanted to add that the reward ultimately for each position is in how it moves the individual forward in their own personal life script and the final payoff however that was conceived in early childhood. Probably also useful to understand that by the time we reach adulthood we are all well versed in each of these roles having cycled through them in many different contexts. e.g. the white liberal female academic playing the role of rescuer at work is coming home and easily slipping into the role of victim to her husband, while the Latino activist victim comes home and steps into the role of persecutor to his family and so on through all of the many contexts in which we have to play this particular game.

Berne said that the only place game playing ends is where a person is able to express consciously what his/her needs and wants are with the reasonable expectation that they will be honored and fulfilled. That is an increasing rare and privileged occasion. I think that one of the fatal flaws in TA is/was how easy it is to see the games other people are playing and fail to see how caught up we are in it ourselves. All of this stuff takes work to understand and the willingness for self exploration. In the meantime, most people (the 80%) need to figure out how they are going to keep a roof over their head and some food in their belly, making this sort of investigation more or more only accessible to those parties who are most invested in keeping the game going so they don't end up playing the game, "oops, I'm hanging from a lamppost." Regardless, I'm glad you pulled this particular item out of the dustbin of history as TA remains pretty near and dear to my heart and remains one of the more insightful frames on the world we live in.



John Michael Greer said...

RPC, granted, and there's also the example of Stalin's Russia. It just seems as though it's especially popular in the US right now.

Adrian, I can't speak to the social justice scene generally, but I've watched a couple of classic circular firing squads in action in the science fiction community, so it's quite possible that there, at least, the game is running out of Persecutors to bully.

Tokyo, the first step is to acknowledge our own self-interest and condition of privilege. The second is to stop "speaking for the oppressed" by drowning out what they themselves are trying to say, and if we want to do something good in the world, find out what the people who would be benefited by it actually want, and further that instead of imposing our own agenda. That ought to be a good start.

BoysMom, exactly. Of course the two parties can be lumped together; they stand for exactly the same things in practice, and simply take different sides of the ongoing Good Cop-Bad Cop routine of American politics. As for refusing to be good little Victims, that's precisely the issue -- if you and your family don't do as your told, how can the other side get poor white folks enraged at you?

Poet, that'd take at least one post -- the UN is one extremely complex flustered cluck.

Greg, I tend to think that baboon analysis -- how would this work out in a troop of baboons? -- is a very useful tool in most human situations, this one among them.

Pygmycory, precisely -- you're afraid, and reasonably so, of being suddenly transferred from the category of Victim to that of Persecutor. That's one of the whips the Rescuers hold over the heads of the other participants.

Unknown, that's a good example of the Oppression Olympics I discussed in the post: "We've been oppressed worse than anybody else, and so we deserve all the attention from Rescuers."

Pygmycory, good. Yes, that's another good example.

Christopher, bingo. The Rescue Game pervades American thinking these days, at least at the levels of higher privilege.

Pygmycory, yes, handouts often play a role, but that's not universal by any means. Good for you, for catching the way that so much of the handouts end up in the hands of Rescuers...

Lucretia, nah, I'll be coming at things from an unexpected angle as usual. Stay tuned...

Roger, and I bet every single one of these "diversity consultants" has more than one college degree and an ample salary-class income -- and the one form of diversity they never, but never talk about is class diversity.

Shawn, that's one of the reasons that the word "racism" (and its cognates) badly needs to be unpacked. What the old logicians used to call a fallacy of composition is involved here.

John Michael Greer said...

Lynnet, equally, I've seen the game played with Boomers as the Victims and ungrateful, slacking Millennials as the Persecutors. It really does appear everywhere in today's America.

Sanguine, the best way to get a publisher interested in audiobooks is to contact them yourself and request those. Most publishers listen to customer feedback -- after all, they're in business to make money.

Sven, is it my imagination, or does "Yawron" sound like an unusually unstable pyramid scheme? You may not have intended that, but it works well. ;-) Many thanks for the update -- the media's role in fomenting unrest and then blaming those who express it is not new, or unique to your corner of the world.

Unknown, thanks for this. It's fascinating to see a set of ideas that nobody was talking about at the beginning of the year suddenly turning up all over the place. Hmm... ;-)

Mister R., funny! Many thanks for the link.

DaveT, that's one of the things that makes the current election so interesting. A bunch of different groups are refusing to act out their assigned roles, and the mainstream media and punditry are going ape in response. Pass the popcorn!

Diptherio, many thanks for the article -- a very cogent piece.

Varun, good. Very good. Class is a massive taboo in today's America -- I'm not surprised you ran up hard against it.

Harvester, I'd have to get together with somebody who knows how to do all the audio stuff, and then there would be the copyright issues and so on. Business is not my strong suit! Still, I'll consider it if the opportunity appears.

Toomas, glad to hear that you're going ahead with the blog. I tend to think we're in about 1928 Weimar time, but we'll see.

Sojan, there are fakes and hustlers in every ethnic group, gender, etc., etc. The place where prejudice creeps in is when the behavior of a fake or a hustler is generalized to every member of one group, while equivalent behavior is not so generalized to every member of another. I really do need to do a post on the difference between prejudice, privilege, and acts of injustice, don't I?

Pvbonafina, thanks for the update from the land of Ordem e Progresso! Not surprising, all things considered.

Justin said...

Sojan, it's amazing that Theresa Spence is still at it. I can't imagine how awful it must be to be a native person on a well-run, but poor and remote reserve (most of them) watching people who could fairly be called race traitors exploit the generations of suffering white Canadians have imposed on the natives.

JMG's explanation of the game dynamics at play here dovetail perfectly with the government and media playing rescuer, while of course demonizing just about everyone who disagrees with the notion that reserves should get even *more* money to spend without oversight(this year's federal budget allots something like $10,000 a year per status Indian, and last year's wasn't much less) - this is roughly 50% of what a Canadian making $32000 a year gets per year, after taxes.

And accurately enough, the voices of people who've 'left the reserve' and dare to speak out, as a few did last time Theresa Spence was in the news, are shamed and ostracized for breaking the rules.

Regarding the black lives matter types and Kunstler, well, I went to high school with a lot of white people who grew up in environments filled with the sort of social problems Kunstler likes to pretend are black cultural problems - there are plenty of lily-white examples of the same dysfunction, even if they are rarely on the scale and pervasiveness of places like Baltimore or Camden. Nearly everything that racists like to call Typical ... Behavior was on display and even valorized to a degree as a mark of perverse pride. The absent fathers, drug abuse, teenage pregnancies, crime and alcoholism were all there. Kunstler would do well to remember that massive social dysfunction and a culture of failure and despair aren't black problems, there's just a strong correlation.

John Michael Greer said...

Sojan, I've stopped reading his blog. I wonder if he realizes that the endless rehashing of nasty stereotypes guarantees that he's preaching to an increasingly small choir.

Nati, it never was really a game -- the label "game" is useful here to get people thinking about what the rules and payoffs are. As I noted, though, a lot depends on how much force the Rescuers are willing to use to make the Persecutors play, and how effectively the Persecutors use what power they have to refuse to play. Bringing down a European government or two might do the trick, for example.

Jeff, no argument there. TA was a useful tool, but like every tool, there are things it can't do, and generating the reflective self-knowledge needed to stop playing games and get real is a job for a different toolkit -- one that doesn't work well en masse. Still, the ideas can be useful -- here, for example.

pygmycory said...

Just thinking about how we are more than our labels. Just because I can't support myself completely and I struggle with things that should be easy doesn't mean I sit around doing nothing all day every day, or that I'm totally helpless.

Right now I work two half-days a week at a minimum wage job, plus I'm tutoring a friend. I volunteer at my church, where I help organize the community garden and in the planting, harvesting and weeding. I also some grow vegetables and small fruit at home for myself. It isn't easy, and I have a long history of overdoing things and then have to cut back and cancel stuff. I'm kind of hoping one or more items will end/taper off soon or I may have to do some triage.

Still, I'm pretty proud of what I've accomplished, given what I have to work with. Where I am now is the product of several years of effort and is a very different place than I was several years ago.

I've kept my expenses low whenever I can... with the odd result that I actually have some savings. No debt either. There's plenty of people around with incomes many times as high who can't say that.

pygmycory said...

There seems to be an idea that you are either disabled and totally helpless, or you don't need help at all. There's a massive number of states in-between.

Good old binary thinking strikes again, and in combination with the rescue game it can cause some pretty nasty situations.

I hope I haven't belabored the point on the applications of this to people with disabilities too much, but it's had a huge impact on my life.

pygmycory said...

I picked the Attawapiskat situation as an example partly because it is complicated, messy, and assorted people there have switched roles back and forth between victim and persecutor at different times and depending on who you talk to.

And most of the population is in a truly terrible state no matter whose fault it is and that has been the case for years. This is despite significant media attention at times.

siliconguy said...

In answer to where I live, a bit north of Moses Lake, WA. Or about two hours west of Spokane.

Ray Wharton said...

We are more ape than any ape. I ponder what hidden lesson and virtue is in this game. It is easy to "hate the game, love the player", but I think that might be missing some lesson... there is something important in this... something yet unstated... a gut feeling.

So, I've got a question. Can you think of a formally different game which fills a similar functional niche? I have been trying to imagine such a beast for about ten minutes, but I haven't caught any fish yet. Might be the bait, might be the waters. But if any one else can think of such a thing, I think it would be useful to contemplate the dynamics under the process. Put another way, if this is a cultural phenomenon, and it addresses a human need. Then there might be things with other forms to address the need in a different form.

So the question becomes, what is the need addressed by the Rescue game? Socrates always wanted one answer, that sneaky sneak, but we might have a hive of answers. Though the clearest answer to me at this time is to address cognitive dissidence. The game cause a social condition to stabilize while making a show of opposing the same condition it stabilizes. So the game only is 'called for' by circumstances where there is some kind of disharmony, a mismatch between ideology and the rest of our motives.

I assume that what I just called 'the rest of our motives' is relatively similar between cultures for the context of this line of thinking. Vices differ greatly from individual to individual, but whole cultures have similar collections of motives which would grok the roles made available by the rescue game. This makes me suspect that ideology is important, I suspect that if the rescue game is not universal (which I indeed would guess) this could be explained by it requiring certain ethical frames to be in place to support it.

Though there are many risky jumps along this line of thinking, I jump forward again. The ethical character of a people should resemble the formal pattern of the Game it plays. Or to be more specific... the Rescue game can only flourish in a contest that is primed with stories where rescuing victims is what heroes do. Ohhh... I like that!

If heroes primarily go questing, for example of something else that lots of heroes do, the rescue game sorta misses the point. I hypothesis, and don't dare push me to figure out how we would test this, that people and cultures that especially cherish stories where rescuing isn't the defining activity of a hero won't take to the rescue game as much as people or cultures where rescuing the innocent from villains is the bread and butter of a hero's role in their preferred stories.

Ray Wharton said...

I have just supposed much. But, if I trust those suppositions I imagine thus. The Rescuers game serves to let a person play out a heroic role, didn't you say the game requires an audience? while having enough 'give' not to over-encumber their more sorted motives. Also, it gives a persecutor the chance to be a thorn for a frustrating dippy goody goody. The victim gets 'rescued' from conditions that are a set for their suffering- a most convincing set features true suffering, and such a set is eagerly looked for by the rescuer, true suffering also gets the best performance out of the victim- and in nastier versions of the game the victim can earn the 'right to justice', or revenge. Lynchings after the civil war; less lethal revenge depending on the tastes of the rescuer.

Concerning tastes. Games generally have stakes, and the violence in such a game I believe reflect the level of stakes the players are accustomed to risking in life. Some people play for bragging rights and indignation. If one is accustomed to 'playing' for keeps then the participants livelihood could be at stake. If players risk life and death in their own lives, their own or others, then escalating to that point becomes likely.

So I have reached the following clue, for those interested in my question, which remains a question as much as my clue remains speculative. There may be corresponding games for various heroic ideals.

Also, I just remembered that only a few months ago I hadn't heard the term SJW. Then in the same week I had a friend try to ring me into a firing squad and the term started to saturate TADR. I suspect this sudden change reflects a phase change in that subculture, likely the beginning of the circular firing squad. Largely death from success, the stated values were so vague that it over recruited rescuers. Circle up.

Avery said...

JMG, I'm with you on Kunstler's blog. The very title of his latest book, "Too Much Magic," betrays your difference in perspective -- what we have is not too much magic, but the wrong kind of magic, the techno-kind instead of the human kind. I have a friend who reads his blog religiously, and I've realized it's because it fits into his narrative where all Americans are totally impotent in the face of massive immanent collapse. But in fact it is the same American minorities who white liberals try to rope into the "victim game" who are genuinely getting more equitable treatment and feeling far more hopeful than rural whites. Hope is the human magic that can rescue us from ourselves. If we can get beyond these games, and beyond the ephemeral knee-jerking of partisan politics, we might see the transformative role that present-day minorities will probably play in the future. That's something genuinely worth thinking and talking about.

Especially in the increasing sense of crisis this year, we need to be able to step back from our dreams of catastrophe and see the mixture of human emotions that exist today as much as any day in human history. You've already discussed that on this blog, but in light of the American election, as well as the natural fears that arise from the growing disruptions of internal and international migrants, war refugees, and climate refugees around the world, I hope you will return to the subject sometime during this cycle.

234567 said...


I wasn't disagreeing with your premise - the game is self-evident and documented.

So how does one break up the game and get past the baloney wagon? This is not a new game, but rather seems to be a group dynamic at work.

Or do you recommend others to, as I do, just refuse to play?

Background disclosure - my family is identified Caucasian, yet we carry the sickle cell recessive. The complete lunacy of all of this has always been apparent with our background. No matter which 'side' we might choose, we are never 'of' a group - hence we do not play the race game. My kids write in "Human" in the blank or select "Other" when required by government - which seems to be the only entity actively trying to keep tabs on race anyway!

Is this a game that other primates play in their group dynamics?

Derv said...


I was a little disappointed when I discovered that I wasn't one of the winners in the contest. I was VERY disappointed when I discovered my story wasn't even listed in the entries!

At any rate, for anyone who's interested, here is the story I submitted which must've fallen through the cracks:

John Michael Greer said...

Pygmycory, no, you haven't belabored the issue -- you've made several good points, for which thank you.

Siliconguy, thank you -- I was wondering which direction from Spokane you were. I've been through Moses Lake more times than I can count, though of course it's been a while.

Ray, another game that fills the same role is the one played in medieval Europe, which we can call "the Rightful Place Game." The overt goal of the game is to get everyone lined up in their rightful place in a single straight line which extends from the king, who's standing next to God, all the way down to the lowliest serf's baby daughter. The covert goal is to take advantage of any confusion or disruption to try to move a notch or two up the line. If anyone gets caught making such a move, everyone else gets to bully him back into his "rightful place," which is usually a notch or two lower than he started out -- and of course the disruption this causes will inevitably give someone else a shot at jumping up the line. It's quite a lively game, with the fiction of a nice neat hierarchy constantly having to be pasted over the surface of something that looks a lot more like Donnybrook Fair.

Avery, yes, we'll be getting to that. I'm also going to have to do some updates on the climate change situation, which is spinning out of control even faster than I expected. Did you know that earlier this week, it was 60 degrees F. and raining hard in southern Greenland. Here we go...

234567, refusing to play is a very important step, and in many cases it's the only way to respond to players who insist on forcing everything into the straitjacket of the game. To paraphrase Sinclair Lewis, you can't get someone to understand something if his entire psychology is built around not understanding it.

Derv, I don't keep track of the listing on Green Wizards, and there isn't a list here -- I count on contestants posting links to their stories on the comments pages here, of course. I did read your story; I thought it was good, but as usual, I had something close to twice as many good stories as I have room for in the anthology, so I had to pick and choose. Have you considered submitting the story to Into the Ruins, the new magazine of deindustrial science fiction? Might be worth a shot.

Ray Wharton said...

I have been thinking more about my heroic hypothesis, and I am increasingly warm to it. Specifically my hypothesis fits my own experiences. I have often been an audience for various versions of the game in my youth. I remember vaguely being an anarchist with a 15 inch mohawk about 8 or 9 years ago. Anarchy, mutualism, some related thought I explored well. I felt the prescribed emotions about the people that 'good sources' told me were victims or persecutors. Though I recall being very jaded about the prospects for rescue... but let's see, I do recall, at the time believe in world improving. I think I didn't view injustice as originating in human sin, but as coming from systematic malfunctions which humans were trapped with in.

The heroic ideal wasn't the rescuer, it was the Quest goer. Grew up watching Star Trek TNG, it had a big effect on me. Say what you will about the cheese and the issue of the progress narrative, TNG had a few episodes which were jems on moral philosophy. Rescuing 'less developed' (translate that code word) 'lower status' peoples was against the prime directive. Some episodes focused on the moral challenges any law drawing such a simple line paints, but often it was played straight. I grew to like the episodes where they had to figure stuff out, discover things, find solutions. Star Trek is not a lone influence, but it is sufficent for the point. To me heroism was about balancing the moral callings of maintaining what is most beautiful about our humanity with accepting transformation and lessons from a Universe that is stuffed with the unforeseeable, and seasoned with the inconceivable.

Fast Forward. Out of college, lost the mohawk, traveling. A friend and mentor says "The World does not need Saving." as an off hand remark. Stuck with me. It was good to heard a belief I didn't know I had stated so clearly. Freeing isn't it? It deserves care, respect, honor, and so on from our human virtues, but it does not need for me to be being a Savior.

Same era, I start to become aware of what I have just now learned to name 'the Rescue Game'. But I don't understand it, tend to bristle around it. The Scapegoating isn't the frustrating bit, it's not like that nasty habit is beneath me, I get pulled into the blame game all too easily. Its the way victims get talked about, makes them seem so pathetic. Even the least of the people I know from groups which are cast as victims are so much greater than any such victim could be; the dumbest persecutors are not the dog pack described in such game, even those that play at being dogs are hammy actors; the least capable rescuers are more capable that their forged achievements show, one would think that if playing heroes they would at least play heroes who did something! The bickering, the grand standing, the tirades, the constant use and abuse of categories. I love categories, and hate to see them abused, the real victims!

Don't get me wrong, I feel danger in my heroic ideal, the game that fills the same need for me. There is danger in growing cold, distant, aloof, arrogant, or abstract from the world; always a foreigner. I have seen games many of it that are fearful and sad to see, I have even dabbled in playing those games.

Ray Wharton said...

I just followed the rabbit hole of personal motives. Returning to the function of social motives. Yes, the example of arranging the links in the great chain of being makes perfect sense! The Rescue game functions in that light as a way to step up and down the rungs in a culture that is required to deny the rungs; similarly the Rightful Place Game has to accomidate for the fact that social status ain't set in stone in a culture obliged to insist that it's just got to be! From these two examples I can generalize to a group of games that are based in accommodating rough facts on the ground with the narrative of the top of the hierarchy, and infer that for the function you are bringing to focus one might expect these games to correspond to the stories justifying a leaders status.

Which makes me realize that there are TONS of radically different stories for 'why so and so is the leader'. The social hierarchy needs stories for stability. To the extent that those stories have bits of reality they don't fit well there is a fissure. Here a savvy player can redefine the split that is relevant to their interests. If things go well for the player they have 'shown' that the story increases their position, if not consequences can be heavy. But everybody who plays has to still believe or at least play at believing the absolute truth of the story they are tweaking. Since the Story in a key mechanism for how power actually is distributed, being able to control ones role in the story is truthfully very powerful. It is a high stakes game, and it is therefore played with appropriate seriousness.

I still stand by the relevance of the heroic ideal on my digression, in terms of how the person who is playing the game takes their cues for how to do it from the narrative structure of their culture. Emboldened by the fact that it seems, on the face at first glance, consistent with the Rightful Place Game. The Holy Warrior upholding God's order and justice.

MigrantWorker said...

Good morning mr Greer,

It's a matter of degree rather than simple presence/absence.

The main thrust of my argument was that for all three groups there are more rational courses of action than the ones which the Rescue Game imposes on them, but only the Rescuers are in a position to take them - because they are the ones who impose the rules in the first place and then have the power to adjust them. So all groups can respond rationally to their corresponding situations, but only the Rescuers can be "proactively" rational.


Rebecca Brown said...

JMG, I came back to add one more thing about the housing problem here. A developer in the county just south of us recently used a complex series of deals to buy up the last 27 apartment buildings affordable for the working class in one fell swoop. These are buildings that are all full with waiting lists. It was outrageous enough that he got called before the city council to explain his plans for the buildings. He intends to evict all the residents, remodel the buildings, and then rent them out again to high again earners. All 27 buildings. This is in a city suffering an acute housing shortage that has one of the highest homeless rates in the country and a waiting list for housing assistance that tops 3 years. One of the council members asked him where the current residents were supposed to go. His response? I quote: "That's not my problem."

Any relocation ideas are appreciated -it has to be somewhere safe for a lesbian family.

(I also apologize for the grammatical and spelling errors in my last comment. I was on the ridiculous device that masquerades as a phone, and it's auto correct function and I get into numerous arguments, and I can't keep it from "winning."

Phil Harris said...

You wrote to Avery
"I'm also going to have to do some updates on the climate change situation, which is spinning out of control even faster than I expected. Did you know that earlier this week, it was 60 degrees F. and raining hard in southern Greenland. Here we go..."
From above link: "But how this melt season progresses depends a lot on the weather. Last year, a cool spring kept Greenland mostly solid before a summer heat wave led to a rapid meltdown of the ice sheet. And in July 2012, a record-setting 95 percent of the ice sheet experienced surface melting due to high temperatures and soot from wildfires in Siberia."

It's the feedbacks that matter and the rate of change. Did you see the piece on likely changes that kicked-off the PETM - carbon cycle positive feedback - those years ago with CO2 at 600ppm the balance point?

Phil H

Phil Harris said...

JMG & All
BTW I realise I do not understand 'The Rescue Game'. The logic seems too impenetrable. Britland has stories that appeal to self-identification across a political and class range - e.g. am I a socialist, Christian, atheist, working class, lower-middle class sort-of-thing. Am I 'normal'? :-( We also have mass-media, which seems crucial for large scale 'imagined communities'. But I cannot get my head round the conversations in what seem to be your sub-cultures. Our Guardian newspaper seems strange enough for me and getting stranger by the day!

Just a passing thought: historically, after a year or more of a 'civil rights movement' in the north of Ireland, low-income pre-First World War housing started getting torched and guns were re-introduced, and we realised we were back into a suspended civil war. (Imperial context: American and Brit mainland and Eire domestic politics, and an undeveloped EU.) The murder rate went through the roof and the whole population depended for identity on which way the gun was pointing: serious stuff! The damage to the narrative of moral fabric including our's on the mainland and to our British self-identification was profound and looks permanent.

Phil H

Shane W said...

The interesting thing about Kunstler is he spends so much time lambasting American culture--the "overfed masses", the "master wish of driving to Walmart forever", the senile elite, and, then, in the same stroke, he lambastes black people for not conforming to American society. I'm not sure if he gets the irony there--I mean, if American culture is as bad as he lays it out to be, and has no future, then why would anyone want to conform to it?
I think he just doesn't interact with enough black people in his neck of the woods--I can count on both hands plenty of black people I know of all classes that don't fit his caricature...

Alex Blaidd said...

Hmmm thought-provoking post, not because I wasn't aware of those terms, I came across them a few years ago and can usually assign them in a given context, but because it makes me think about why I feel how I feel.

What this post does though is highlight for myself why I feel dissatisfied by the current political options for which I can align myself in the UK, and why the left-wing press and commentators leave me feeling uneasy too. Take the GFC of 2008 as an example, whilst I agree with the notion that the banking industry, and the related players in the sub-prime mortgage crash, should've faced stiff consequences for their actions - I also recognise that there is a huge amount of projection going on. The sub-prime mortgage industry had to have willing customers and salespeople after all - for which they found by the tens of millions. Likewise, I hear of people who castigate the food system, and the plight of farmers being paid less for their product than it takes them to produce it, only surviving by way of subsidy ensuring that unsustainable farming practices remain in practice, but then will gladly make 90% of their food purchases at the supermarket. But on social media they'll purport to support farmers and hate the supermarkets and the inequality that they cause. But then none of this should be surprising as the shadow is particularly powerful in a culture that wants to have it all, when they want, how they want, no matter the consequences - and of course don't want to deal with the grim realities of producing everything they want. I want to be able to eat an exotic diet and travel the world, but want clean air and to stop global warming, I want a shiny smart phone but don't want child slavery and I want cheap clothes made by fairly paid workers. Well unfortunately you can't have one of those things without the other. And I know this mentality well because I am talking to myself of just a couple of years ago. No it's far easier to blame climate change on the oil companies, bad working conditions on corrupt sweatshop owners and slave-labour minerals on greedy multi-nationals. After all how else can I possibly afford my habits and buy all my cheap consumer tat? And hey, a few lines of coke on the weekend never harmed anyone did it? viva la revolución!

I suppose to sum up my meanderings, is that it's always someone else's fault and never our own. I, as a privileged middle class liberal can never be at fault, because why those things are foul and uncivilised, no it's the bad guys who at fault. And why do something about those injustices when you can click like on facebook? Meanwhile I can keep my hands clean.

And that to assume by taking simple decisions in your life can actually have an effect e.g. stop supporting Walmart/Tesco's, stop buying yet more clothes, stop flying around Europe on lovely weeks away, stop being so reliant on the global market-based systems etc. etc. is to of course fall foul of individualism because my lonely self can't possibly make a global impact by doing that. No only governments and corporations can change things. But of course if they are the cause of all things evil then of course they are the only ones that can solve all our problems. But if we were to admit that we could play a role in changing things, then we'd have to admit that we are culpable, complicit and ultimately as much at fault as the 'evil elites' who do our bargaining for us (so we don't have to). The idea that just because I believe individual action is important, doesn't mean I don't think collective action is also important gets lost. 0 or 1. no 0.5 or 0.33 or whatever....

Alex Blaidd said...

The other thing that comes to mind is the ubiquitous archetype of the superhero in our culture's stories. We're all just waiting for batman to come along, beat the bad guys up, and once again free us of the evils of society. Meanwhile consumption carries on as normal. (Because we just don't want the evilness in our backyards - it's fine stashed away in Congo or Indonesia - so long as we don't have to confront it on our own turf).

Scotlyn said...

This is such a very interesting "cut to the chase" way to understand far too many long and wasted-word wrangles out there...

As to how to find the egress.

1) one of the first and important lessons I remember learning from Aikido in my 20's: neither a Victim nor a Persecutor be. That the point of learning a martial art is to sidestep this mutually reinforcing duet and be... something else. Something like (searching for the right words here) holding to your own centre (so not a Victim) and not needing to shift someone else from their centre (so not a Persecutor).

2) This game being (as you point out) such a fabulously entertaining way to duck out of seeking and finding practical solutions, the second pointer to the exit, is the very search for practical solutions... once you start, you won't be able to keep playing.

3) Solidarity - the most subversive way to undermine the game is to make common cause "across the aisles" and against the Rescue narrative - and believe me, I have seen this very thing reveal the all-sweetness-and-light Rescuer (who thought they were in control - and in the right) to possess some oddly dark depths.

4) On a deeper level, I think Jesse Thompson may be onto something identifying the game's "fuel" as "[Christian] guilt and judgment" (both, in their way, tempting and even pleasurable indulgences)... and yet, Christianity itself offers the key to the egress - love and forgiveness. (and this is me saying it, who long ago angrily pushed away from the Christian faith of my childhood). Only love drives out fear, and guilt, and judgment. And only in the act of loving (cherishing, nourishing, caring, relating, participating) can we be where positive and useful steps are taken.

Scotlyn said...

The Electronic Intifada certainly isn't a mainstream news source, but you may find their treatment of the Trump v Hillary question of interest to recent themes:

donalfagan said...

Nice post, except that, "Can't you see that I'm lonely!" has been running through my brain. Also, I'm Not OK, You're a Persecutor. One thing I remember from PAC diagrams was that no communication occurred if the lines crossed: the Parent spoke to the Child and the Adult tried to respond to the Adult, or the other Parent tried to speak to the other Child. So I gather that in PRV mode, if the Victim accuses, but the Persecutor responds like a Victim or Rescuer, there will be no comprehension.

patriciaormsby said...

JMG, I'm not entirely sure how your reply related to my observations (thank you, nonetheless). I think forbidding people to express their own needs and limitations may be a completely different way of establishing power relationships, with results that are just as dysfunctional as those of the rescuer game. Victims inevitably arise in any society, but when they are persecuted for saying so, it doubles down on the victimization. The privileged classes take pride in not having to elucidate their needs, and others aspire to that as an ideal. Because pride is involved, encouraging people here to see the irrational nature of the game being played would not bear much fruit. This is why poverty is so invisible in Japan, though it is quickly rising to levels comparable to those in America. I think collapse in Japan will be marked by lots of suicides. But I also think that when stress overtakes them, people will act out in irrational ways that will be hard to predict. I don't know what resentments may be simmering beneath the calm surface. I hear it is like this in Thailand as well, only more so.

patriciaormsby said...

@Ray Wharton, good observation! I've been noting that in Japan, I don't see the rescuer game as such, but another sort of power game that seems to be at play. Interestingly, as per your speculation, Japanese culture/literature does not have much in the way of rescue stories. Bad luck is considered to be the result of bad karma, and the individual must pay and then can hope to take part in privileged society in the future. Misfortune is stoically accepted to a large degree, but people here nonetheless have their limits, and when those are exceeded, the outcome can be very hard to predict except that it will be violent.

For the same reason, self-sacrifice is admired, and a source of pride, and one of the heroes of Edo Era Japan was a religious leader who starved himself to death atop Mt. Fuji, hoping to help bring on an age when people would be kind to each other. The authorities were desperate to stamp out the Fuji-ko movement he headed, fearing it would empower the people to break down the order, but they failed to make a dent in it. The movement was never really about challenging authority anyway, and probably for that reason, the authorities quit worrying about it after a while and it flourished until recent times.

David said...


Only tangential to this week's post, though perhaps relevant from the perspective of a key figure violating the rules of the game by speaking of the game explicitly. An article by Mr. Trump in the WSJ:

Choice quote:

"The only antidote to decades of ruinous rule by a small handful of elites is a bold infusion of popular will. On every major issue affecting this country, the people are right and the governing elite are wrong. The elites are wrong on taxes, on the size of government, on trade, on immigration, on foreign policy."

I am very curious to see how the tail end of this primary season plays out, as the stakes have never been higher for the right-of-center establishment. (The left-of-center establishment is "concerned," but not panicking like its counterpart.)

Class is perhaps (finally) coming to the fore as an issue in this country. That would be a good thing.

Friction Shift said...

I don't intend to pile on Kunstler here because I think he's made a hugely important contribution to our public discussion of resource depletion and the decline of the American empire. I still read him regularly. However, I have grown uneasy with the direction of his discourse as it regards class and race. His tendencies, for example, to refer to rural working class whites as "NASCAR morons" and to focus his scorn on the dysfunctional aspects of African-American society as somehow uniquely divorced from the larger issue of class in the U.S. is not particularly helpful.

Your introduction of the Persecutor-Victim-Rescuer game, on the other hand, gives us an actual tool we can use to begin to slog through the 300 year old swamp of class and race that the United States is built on. My head has been hurting for the last several days because every time I turn around I see the game in play.

Returning to Kunstler, I do applaud him for taking on the anti-democratic climate that has clouded over academia, but his loaded rhetoric, I fear, will do nothing to reach the the high altars of political correctness.

Speaking of academia, many of us are chomping at the bit to start that discussion about America's educational system (Which Kunstler so aptly calls a racket).

Roger said...

JMG, to answer your query, yes, at least one university degree plus professional accreditation and no, there's not a peep about class diversity. No, it's all the usual stuff, race, culture, sexual preference, gender issues in all their profusion. Nothing much about religion either. Seems that the issue is side-stepped, at least in the confines of the corporate world.

Maybe I'm overgeneralizing but it seems to me that the type of person that sees themselves as a "rescuer" see themselves as a cut above, intellectually superior, much more enlightened and, as such, they see themselves as post-religious (I couldn't think of a better term).

Do they look down on religious people? In their private lives, yes, of course, as grads of the University of Toronto and Queen's University, this social class is acculturated and indoctrinated in atheism. They look down on this superstitious stuff from a great height.

But they don't utter a peep if the religion in question is Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism. No, these varieties of faith are allowed space under the protective umbrella of "multiculturalism". But if the religions in question are Christianity or Judaism, well now, that's a different story. Especially evangelical Christianity. Extra special scorn there.

See, to the "rescuer", at least the ones I've seen, if you're a Christian you're a hypocrite, and if you're an evangelical, you're an idiot besides.

Maybe I'm applying some of my own extra special scorn here and maybe I'm seeing something that isn't there. But what I'm sensing in the "rescuers" is a racism of low expectations. That is, as a Caucasian born and raised in North America, you're fully expected to have left behind religion. To the "rescuer" there's no possible excuse for a highly educated white man who's been afforded all the resources and privileges of my race to cling to such patently obvious nonsense. NO excuse.

But, for the non-white from a distant land, it's different, there's only so much you can expect from those people. And don't tell the "rescuer", as I've tried, that people with a different skin-tone and cultural background are adults just like us and they have a full set of moral and intellectual faculties. You may as well be speaking in an obscure Martian dialect. No, the "rescuer" isn't having it particularly when their self-image and social position and career are dependent on it not being so.

Nancy Sutton said...

This seems like the classic 'divide and conquer' as Tom mentioned. Didn't Cortes use rival tribal divisions to conquer Mexico City? Brit colonial power used it everywhere, in their Kipling 'white man's burden' Rescuer role. And the Dems vs Reps is another variant, with the powers that be, 'Wall Street/1%', conducting the 'symphony' in the guise of the 'free market' infallibiity.

I liked it better when the Rescuers were EJW (Economic Justice Warriors), and it was more like two adversaries... the 99% vs the 1%. With 'democracy', the Victims could save themselves :) Gee, Bernie may be the only EJW left!

Actually Jim Webb, long ago, wrote about how cleverly the rich in the South played the race card to keep poor whites from joining their natural economic allies.

GHung said...

A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?

Roger said...

JMG, as you say there's the Rescue Game being played out in varying contexts, sometimes with live ammunition, one of those being the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Under the terms of your game, the Palestinians are the Victims, the Israelis are the Persecutors, various other parties, not least the regimes in that locale, the Rescuers.

The game goes on and on, even after the span of one human life-time, it still goes on. U.S Secretaries of State go there with high-powered delegations to move the - ahem - "peace process", all sides profess to want "peace" but "peace" never comes.

All the parties to the conflict say that American leadership is essential to its resolution. They all say that without American engagement nothing will get done. They sit down with the Americans, pretend to listen to the high-flown rhetoric, pretend to consider the most diligent proposals for compromise, all the while planning the next rub-out. The question is cui bono from this non-resolution?

Maybe I'm cynical but it looks like this is a made-to-order distraction for various regimes, mainly in that locale. The way I see it, these regimes should fervently wish for Israel's continued existence. They should ask themselves every morning as they sit down to tea, what they can do to help Israel. In their innermost councils they should conspire to lend Israel aid. Israel is perpetrating outrages? They should thank Allah. It makes the lives of regime leaders immeasurably easier.

While Palestinians more than adequately fulfilled their role as Victims, Israel is that indispensable country, the perfect Persecutor, that wonderful excuse, the alibi that flies its blue and white flag on hill-tops in infuriating mockery.

Official corruption? Bureaucratic incompetence? Water supply? Sewage disposal? Sorry, but it's the legacy of Western colonialism and imperialist American meddling and especially dastardly Israeli subterfuge.

And, to make it clear, the aforesaid issues are important but attention has to be first on the plight of Palestinian brothers and sisters. If you want to make substantive change, if you want to defend the pious Muslim against the perfidious Jew, do what the Koran says, go wage jihad (but do it over there).

A hazardous game to be sure because "blow-back" isn't something that just blows back on the United States. In the meantime, kleptocratic oligarchs, running their various rackets, stay fat and happy.

Lately though, with ISIS so prominent nowadays, we're hearing less and less about Palestine. Could it be that Israel is declining in importance as a distraction?

Perl Hacker said...

I am convinced that people cannot be rescued, in any meaningful sense of that word. My apologies to purveyors of hope and social justice; your only honest option is to save yourselves.


Shane W said...

Now we know why the salaried classes are screaming "racism" @ the top of their voices @ Trump supporters, hoping and praying that the African-American victims are listening and running away. Uniting the black & white wage class under common cause is the holy grail of American race relations, and now, JMG, you've demonstrated through the rescue game that "civil right" & SJW accomplishes the same thing as Jim Crow. If Trump can peel off enough black wage class supporters who'd benefit by his policies on trade and immigration, then it will be the beginning of something big...

Candace said...

Why US Gov't, State Agencies, and Frequently Not-For-Profit agencies collect demographic information. All Gov't agencies and most NFP agencies have to comply with anti-discrimination rules. The stats are collected so that the agency can report what percentage of each type of demographic group is served. The agency would be expected to fall with in certain statistical parameters. If they have a noticeable discrepancy in the expected number of people of a particular group being served. They will have to explain why the numbers are "off". If a discrimination complaint is filed andinvestigated the statistic are one tool that would be used to determine if an institution was practicing systematic discrimination. Whether discrimination occurred in a particular instance would of course require a more in depth look at the situation.

Too many "refused" and "data not collected" will cause problems with receiving funding.

Bootstrapper said...

Welcome back John. Relating to the rise of Donald Trump, I found [url/"this article"/url] this seems to explain the rise of Pauline Hanson - a Trump-prototype-like figure in Australian politics who enjoyed a brief run of success before being firmly 'shut down' by both the major parties in an unusual show of bipartisanship. Trump may have tapped into a constituency that has laid dormant but is now awakening as economic and social conditions detioriate.

Cheers! Paul.

Juhana said...

After the well-earned hiatus, you have given your readers top notch essays. Couple of ideas from NW Europe, back to you. Globalist consumerism was imposed on Europe after WWII. It was only possible because that great de-fanging of European nations after the war. Roots of tribalism and that bastard offspring of media-inflated tribalism, nationalism, have so much deeper roots here. They go deeper than any particular constitution or form of governance. As EU has drifted from crisis to crisis, grass roots support for globalist thinking, sharing and caring has started to worn at fast pace.

Couple of years ago I introduced to this blog the idea that tentative stirrings in subcultures of European working classes had experienced dramatic shift. Leftism was cast out then. Social democracy has had huge impact on Western Europe and Scandinavia especially. It was force majeur for many decades in our politics. Society shaped by that ideology is probably utterly alien from your North American point of view. Coming of globalism changed vows of fealty that were foundation of this system completely. Class-based voting, totally normative in my own childhood, did not anymore produce loyalty from those elected into power for their support base, as had been case before. As gaze of political class was averted into Brave New World without boundaries or old morality, their base of support started to erode.

In recent decades, various identity groups based on ferociously local feelings of sameness and belonging have slowly replaced older, already brittle Leftist loyalties felt towards trade unions, party and the class that shaped so much of my own working class childhood. From new loyalties, one felt towards local football outfits has been probably most ferocious, most manly, among native Europeans. It has defined borders between Us and Them, shattered working class hoods into mosaic of feudal local loyalties. Amongst Muslim newcomers same role has been assigned to massive religious revival movement, both Sunni and Shiite, which is actually much deeper and stronger than it's most violent manifestations.

Long before Paris attacks claiming rebirth of religious war in Europe, I had wrote to comment section of your blog that then current football riots in France showed us that France is heading into the deep end of troubles. Nationalist and religious undercurrents visible in those riots were so blatant. Of course mainstream media, made by and for upper classes, missed that moment's crucial meaning. Because they have hermetically sealed themselves off from working class cultures of all ethnicities, they just did not see the writing in the wall. Now this grass roots forging of new identities has abandoned all pretensions that they share any mutual understanding with bureaucratic nomenklatura or political correctness of "salary class". Abandonment is total, amongst native and immigrant working classes both. Lets look at Belgium, which has been in news lately. In Molenbeek, nobody recognizes authority of police forces. Niqba is new national costume there. Nobody living in heartlands of FC Brugge football firm supporters anymore trusts official truths, or recognizes apparatus of governance as their own. Their abandonment of official apparatus is not as total as in other side, but resentment runs pretty deep.

Whole globalist dream of non-nationalist Europe has withered among it's economically lower classes. It lives only, and I really mean only, in affluent "salary class" neighborhoods. I have never witnessed before such a contradiction within people nominally belonging to same nation. At the level of narratives, stories about the world, nothing is shared anymore. This is new situation here in Europe, even if has been business as usual in your side of the Atlantic. Rise of political parties based on identity politics in inevitable, in all sides involved. Old political system will wither and dissapear in one generation.

111DFC said...

Hi JMG. Good post

The Game you have described is the plot of all the Empires

In the case of the conquest of the Aztec Empire: Cortés and the spaniards were the Rescuers, the Victims were the tribes oppressed by the aztecs; and the Prosecutors were, of course, the aztec empire. La Malinche was the key person in the Play that show Cortés how to play this cards

What you have described is the current foreign policy of USA and other western countries from a long time
For example the "butcher" Gadafi and his minions were the Prosecutors; the poor oppressed libian people were the Victims, and of course USA, the NATO and all the "Freedom Fighters" were the Rescuers; and as Hilary Clinton said (using cesarean language): "we came, we saw, he died" (sodomized with a bayonet). Happy end...

The same case was the rest of "Liberation/Humanitarian" campaigns as those of Kosovo in 1999 (the butchers was the serbians), the two Irak campaigns, the Vietnam campaign, The Great Afghan War Of Liberation Against The Evil Empire Waged By The Freedom Fighters (1979 - 1988), the syrian campaign (2011 - ?), the Yemen campaign (2015-?), the nicaraguan (Contra) campaign, the Drone campaign, etc...

Because this is the big battle between the Good and the Evil to make the world a better place for our children

Myriad said...

Perhaps it hasn’t occurred to you that giving the underprivileged the chance to air their grievances and engage in a little socially sanctioned bullying is a great deal less inconvenient for the affluent than actually taking action to improve the lives of the underprivileged would be. Such thoughts seemingly never enter the minds of most Americans; I’ll leave it to you to figure out why.

Thus the game is (or perpetually threatens to become) not only fractal but also reflexive. Assuming you're not planning to Rescue these underclass Victims from the Persecution of the habitual Rescuers, the question of how to evade or escape the Game, especially while addressing actual lower-case persecution, becomes paramount.

This week's post speaks to me a great deal, and relates to some of the hardest-won lessons of my own life, which are about that exact question. I'll sum it up in way too few words:

Upon finding yourself in the role of Persecutor, the escape is to repent. Stop doing the persecuting thing. Do so quietly, or else you'll be recruited or caricatured, with or without your actual participation, as a Rescuer convert.

Upon finding yourself in the role of Victim, there are many dangerous options to choose from (having limited options being part of the definition of victim-hood), of which the best is usually, subvert subvert subvert. That's the path least likely to be exploited by would-be Rescuers or thrown back in your face later as a Persecutor badge. I think a good case could be made that black Americans were making strides in subverting the systems of oppression in the U.S. before the Rescuer narrative took over.

Upon finding yourself in the role of Rescuer, the escape is to forgive. This is a challenge, when outrage seems more justified in the face of genuine wrongs. It's easy to mistake forgiving for condoning or tolerating. But it breaks the game like nothing else. (Accordingly, a common aspect of the standard Game is that avid self-interested Rescuers will disregard or condemn any forgiveness offered by the Victims, protecting the Game.)

Hmm, what kind of narrative might be built around the game-breaking ideas of repentance, forgiveness, and subversion? Especially if it disguised subversion as submission…?

Of course, any such narrative would struggle for traction in an era when the Game has become all-consuming.

Sojan Shieldbearer said...

I really wonder sometimes if all those white progressives who rail against white privilege have stopped to consider how the end of white privilege would impact their lives?

I suspect most of them will not like the consequences when it does end. After all, the end of white privilege does not mean that peace suddenly breaks out and we all join hands and sing Kumbaya, nor does it mean the end of privilege and hegemony as a socio-political phenomenon.

It simply means that privilege and hegemony transfer to other groups. We can see this in the Pacific Rim, with the decline of the American empire and the resurgence of China, allied with Russia and Iran. The balance of power is already shifting, and will no doubt shift again as China falls prey to the cycle of imperial overstretch decades or centuries from now.

Likewise, we can see the early stages of an Islamic Volkerwanderung in Europe, while people in Mexico and the Southwestern US are already openly talking about the "Reconquista" of Aztlan.

As someone pointed out, it is true that the history books are written by the victors. But sooner or later, those victors are displaced by another group of victors who take their place and the cycle begins again, as ibn Khaldun, Spengler and Toynbee have all noted.

I know this is an unpleasant truth for a lot of people, especially those who fancy themselves as progressives, but its how the real world works. Humans are tribal animals by nature and always have been.

In a multi-ethnic society, some groups will tend to do better than others for any number of reasons, which are not necessarily related to race or skin color, and this often becomes a source of resentment and conflict. Equality has never existed in the real world and I doubt that it ever will. Even supposedly egalitarian hunter-gatherer bands tend to be dominated by a small group of tribal elders and we know from history that in the absence of some outside power imposing peace, tribal cultures often fight one another for territory and resources, frequently in ways that are quite brutal.

I for one have absolutely no interest in joining the "check your privilege and then give yourself forty lashes with the cat o'nine tails for the crime of having been born white" brigade.

I never have been able to comprehend the self-loathing mindset and the propensity for self-induced guilt-tripping that so many middle class white liberals seem to have. Every group of people, whites included, has done some pretty awful things. But why should I beat myself up because of the bad things that some people who happen to have a similar skin tone to mine have done in the past?

Caryn said...

Thanks JMG for a clear analysis of this dynamic. I find it oddly gratifying that it was actually lain out in one of these 1960's cold war psych studies. I find those fascinating; hilarious and diabolical at the same time.

I haven't had time to read all of the comments yet, so apologies if I'm reiterating what someone else has already pointed out.

I've come to think it is an iteration of something inherent in our human psyche in interpersonal interactions. Certainly not exclusively American, or even exclusive to macro national group dynamics. I've noticed this & very similar dynamics in all levels and facets of human interaction. In families, in school cliques, church and social groups etc. It was blatantly on display in the latest Dem debates (I saw last night) - in exactly the iteration you describe. It seems we NEED an "other" a 'bad' person or group, a perpetrator. Yes the Rescuers, those at the top, in authority benefit vastly from continuing the game, but for some reason we all WANT to buy into it. It's an easy narrative to get behind, however false.

The first time I saw this with clarity was when I was about 11. My sister and I were raised by my Grandparents. There was always 1 good kid and one bad kid. We could never both be good at the same time, one was always 'in trouble', had done something unforgivably wrong. It was usually me, but at the infrequent times I had done something noticeably 'good' and was the good kid, my sister had to step into the role of 'bad kid'. My Grandma simply couldn't be happy or proud of both of us at the same time. It was a hellish dynamic to live in. At one point in some family fight, my uncle complained of the same treatment of himself and my father when they were growing up. That's when it clicked and became clear to me.

I see this in my school in the teacher/student dynamics - It doesn't seem enough to praise a kid without comparing them to some other 'bad' kid. I've even felt it myself. Yesterday, I gave 2 gold coins, (tokens of good behavior), to the afternoon class. I know my congratulations speech to them was very odd and stilted as I was battling in my mind as I gave it. I kept thinking of comparing them to the awful morning class we's just had, but I didn't want to as that's just not fair on the morning class and only serves to divide the kids from their friends in that other class; mostly it doesn't allow the morning class room to improve into the good behavior. It just labels them as 'bad' which is a terrible teaching tool!! It's a cheap, lazy trick to boost one side up by tearing the other side down. Yet it was definitely in my mind. I've seen a fellow teacher harangue a small group of silly noisy boys for misbehaving, not because it disrupts her, or cuts their own learning time, but because "You're ruining it for everyone else". In fact, they're not, everyone else is doing fine - WHY did that teacher have to plead the case for some fictional other 'victim'?

I know this is not specifically the Rescue Game, but I do suspect the Rescue Game stems from this cheap lazy thinking. I've thought since I was a young adult, that the nations of the world will never come together until we are invaded by hostile aliens - we need someone to fight and hate.

I guess the best we can do is to recognize that when we are feeling it and fight against it, as I tried to do in my stilted, congratulatory speech to my afternoon class. "Y'all are great!" is enough. "Y'all are great because 'they' are terrible" is destructive to both groups in the long run. And sooner or later those kids too will see through the cheap lazy thinking that we teachers are manipulating them, not helping them, so ultimately it undermines us too.

Thanks again. :)

John Michael Greer said...

A brief note before I start responding to comments. Over the last few days I've had to delete several otherwise good and interesting comments because their authors couldn't resist the temptation to ignore this blog's ban on profanity. You know the rules, folks; there are plenty of less hackneyed ways to say anything you can say with profanity, and -- as always -- posts that use obscene language will be deleted out of hand. (My blog, my rules.) Thank you, and we now return you to your regularly scheduled Archdruid Report!

John Michael Greer said...

Ray, good. I'd encourage you to pursue that line of reasoning, and work up the result into an essay.

MigrantWorker, fair enough. Of course that's the whole point of a dysfunctional game -- it exists to shut off constructive options that, for one reason or another, aren't acceptable to those who make the rules.

Rebecca, that's the story of our time in a nutshell -- the process by which the privileged convinced themselves that they owe nothing to anyone else, and set themselves up for the inevitable (and inevitably violent) reaction. Oswald Spengler would have laughed, and reached for the popcorn. As for relocation, presumably you have to go where your wife can find work; I'd simply encourage you not to wait too long.

Phil, I did indeed. I wonder what all those climate activists who drive SUVs and live high-carbon lifestyles are going to say when their favorite vacation hotels in Puerto Vallarta et al. are flooded by rising seas! As for the Rescue Game, well, I don't know the British scene well enough to be able to say whether that's in common use there or not. There are many potential games; the Rescue Game is simply the one that's most commonly used to stop social change in its tracks here in the US.

Shane, I know. Yesterday I was hanging out at the laundromat -- our sewer pipes are too creaky to handle a washer here at home, so that's a weekly chore for me -- and the usual multiracial crowd was shooting the breeze as the dryers turned. A minor local crime wave was the topic du jour. Care to guess who was using the sort of lock-'em-up rhetoric that is supposedly the province of wage class white folk? An African-American guy. Kunstler needs to get out more; I'm sure he could find a local laundromat if he tried.

Alex, excellent! You've earned tonight's gold star by pointing out the thing that next to nobody wants to talk about -- social change begins by changing your own actions, not by waiting for a superhero or by shouting denunciations at someone else. Thank you; it's a point that deserves repeated underlining.

Scotlyn, certainly love is one of the ways out of the trap. I think, though, that wisdom is another. It's also possible to look at the game, see it as a waste of time for all concerned, and walk away. That was certainly my motive.

Donalfagan, of course, but it would have taken a lot more than one post to cover the whole range of TA insights relevant to this subject!

Patricia, I may well have misunderstood your comment! Never having lived in Japan, of course, I have no sense of how things might play out there; one way or another, though, that many people on an island chain that can only support a small fraction of them without petrochemicals and global trade, heavily committed to the survival of a dying hegemonic power and caught in a rising spiral of suspicion and hostility with the rising power nearby...this is not going to end well.

David, thanks for that. Fascinating to see Trump coming right out and talking about the class issue. I suppose it's just possible that someone in his staff read a copy of Donald Trump and the Politics of Resentment...

Friction Shift, I won't argue at all. The Long Emergency was a hugely important book -- one of the two books (the other was Richard Heinberg's The Party's Over) that convinced me that the long winter of the Reagan era was finally over and it was once again possible to discuss resource depletion and the end of the industrial age in public. That's why I've stopped reading his blog; it's too depressing to see someone who made such an impressive and iconoclastic impact sinking into a swamp of class-and-ethnicity stereotypes.

Roger, okay, that's about what I expected. Ick.

Shane W said...

(Kunstler)& obsession w/the Fed...
regarding Japan, I've never been there, but I'd say that the atrocities of Imperial Japan during WWII offer a blueprint of the darker side of what Japanese culture is capable of?

John Michael Greer said...

Nancy, exactly. One of the core elements of "divide and conquer" is not letting the people being divided notice that that's what you're doing.

Ghung, good! Now watch the privileged players demand two extra queens, in the interest of "fairness"!

Roger, true enough. One of the things that makes current discourse about Israel so toxic is that everyone, on all sides, seems fanatically committed to seeing every issue connected to that discourse in the most extreme Rescue Game terms. It's typical that the one death threat I've ever fielded in connection with this blog came when I published a post discussing the future of Israel that sidestepped the whole "who did what to whom" rhetoric.

Perl Hacker, just don't let that kind of thinking become an excuse to keep stomping on the fingers of those below you on the ladder who are trying to follow your advice and rescue themselves.

Shane, yep. As I noted last week, when an affluent white liberal shouts "Racism!" what he's actually saying is, "How dare you challenge my privilege, wage class scum!"

Candace, on the one hand, that helps ferret out prejudice on the part of local functionaries. On the other hand, it can all too easily reflect the prejudices, or simply the cluelessness, of the central authority. A complex issue!

Bootstrapper, exactly. Kick a dog often enough and it'll learn to bite.

Juhana, thanks for this. Your comments helped me see something that I hadn't quite grasped before, about what it means that the process of warband formation is so far advanced in Europe, compared to the situation here. I'll be doing a post on that down the road a bit, because it casts a great deal of light on the future of Europe. The very short form? Warband formation normally takes place in border zones, not in the core areas of an imperial state -- and what that stresses is that Europe these days is peripheral, not central: it's one of the borderlands on the fringes of the American empire, and can expect a borderland's experiences as we go forward. More on this in due time!

111DFC, exactly. The US in particular is utterly addicted to the Rescue Game in its foreign policy, which is why US foreign policy always perpetuates the crises it's supposed to solve. After all, one of the rules of the Rescue Game is that the game must go on forever.

Myriad, brilliant. That is to say, in Spengler's language, one of the benefits of the Second Religiosity is that it provides a way out of the Rescue Game.

John Michael Greer said...

Sojan, nah, you've missed the subtle nature of the Rescuer strategy in the present game. They couldn't care less about white privilege, because they've got class privilege; they're perfectly willing to admit a small number of people of color into the ranks of the affluent salary class (cough, cough, Barack Obama, cough, cough) so long as the newcomers share their values and support their approved policies. Thus they're perfectly willing to bemoan their whiteness at the top of their lungs, or buy one of Rachel Dolezal's used wigs, or what have you -- but if you even breathe a hint that their class privilege might be an issue, you can expect instant and furious pushback.

I really do need to do a post on that, don't I? Among other things, in the circles where Druids abound, there's a useful term for the habit of distracting attention from one's own privilege by demanding that everyone pay attention to some other issue: it's called "Starhawking." I'll explain why in next week's post.

Caryn, if you have the chance, you might want to read Eric Berne's Games People Play. The game you've described your grandparents engaging in is called, if I remember correctly, "Bad Child," and it's a very common and very destructive one. That is to say, you're quite correct, and finding ways out of the habit of boosting one person by penalizing another is very important indeed.

Stuart said...

There's a related game one might call Study, Solve, Blame! of which Roger's diversity consultants are also a good example. Diversity issues may or may not be a good Problem to study, but dollars to doughnuts the appointment of a Diversity Expert is about the least likely way to do anything about it. Fortunately, those who bear the negative consequences of the Expert's ministry are ideally placed to also collect the blame when the Problem remains. But *why* are they so intransigent? Sounds like a job for the Diversity Expert!

(Obviously study of problems is fruitful. It's just that a powerful spell is clearly at work when people try to drive a chair because it came in a box marked 'Car.')

Sojan Shieldbearer said...

Some theme music for this weeks post...

nuku said...

@Max St,
Ah so, another “refugee from the Evil Empire” living in NZ. I’m down in Nelson; got here in ‘89.

aiastelamonides said...


This blog always introduces me to such intriguing ideas.... I'd like to see a solid page of your book recommendations.

I am very pleased to see someone else describe the conflation of injustice, privilege, and prejudice in the word "racism." It's something of a personal bugbear. I am more supportive of the current SJ left than many of the commenters here (e.g. I think trigger warnings are a pretty good idea, though not very high-priority), but I cannot stand how some of them will switch meanings in the middle of a train of thought without even noticing. The same is true of "sexism" and the rest. I would add that "racism" is also used to mean the belief that there are real biologically distinct races, which does not necessarily imply prejudice or support for unjust policies. This is more of a problem with the word "sexism," since there are actual differences between the sexes, whereas the evidence for racial differences is overall not that convincing, but in either case the bad logic is frightening. Often people use the term "privilege" in a similar way, jumping between meanings without being careful not to carry over the implications of the one meaning to the other.

It's good to see that the new anthology is out! I got to read the draft, and most of the stories you chose are really excellent, though my own made me cringe at all the things I considered on many an evening's walk that still ended up awkward and unconvincing. I suppose that's always the way with one's own writing.

Ozark Chinquapin said...

Your analysis makes a lot of sense, it explains why the practicalities of the race issue are so rarely discussed. A specific example I'm thinking of is that white supremacicist ideologies came to the forefront during the era of western global dominance that is currently in its last phase. Ethnic conflicts are part of human nature and will undoubtedly continue, but I think the days are numbered for the modern western concept of race that white supremecy is based on. The question is whether it will fizzle or go out with a bang. White supremacist ideologies won't lead to many allies among nonwhite people/nations, and in fact will tend to unite their enemies against them. Once the global balance of power shifts, a race war of whites vs everyone else on any significant scale would likely lead to loss for the whites.

Most white Americans who claim to be fighting racism won't listen to that argument at all because it doesn't fit into their rescue game, they are as attached to their own power and privilege as the overt racists are.

Glenn said...

JMG Said:

"a useful term for the habit of distracting attention from one's own privilege by demanding that everyone pay attention to some other issue: it's called "Starhawking.""

The name is a familiar blast from my past, I came of age in the Bay Area in the '70's. Snort! It's interesting what a person's name tells you about them when they can choose their own. Not a modest ego there.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Gloucon X said...

JMG, this gamesmanship by our elite looks quite clever and quite successful. How do you square that fact with your previous declarations that we have a senile elite?

Patricia Mathews said...

Starhawking? Any connection with the Bay Area's celebrity witch?

PRiZM said...

JMG, as to the USA playing the rescue game in it's foreign policy, I think that is very evident in the Middle East. Those countries have always needed a "rescuer" against the "Muslim" "persecutors." Has Russia, and by proxy China and some of the other countries who want to see the US fall, turned the roles around in this game by hacking the game? The Middle East has largely been important to us because of oil. How OPEC lost control of the oil market

Bootstrapper said...

I'm currently engaged in a public debate on a 'hot-button' issue and your essay has given me an interesting insight into who is playing what roles -I'm currently in the group cast as "persecutors" - but we're trying to redefine ourselves as victims. The government and media have claimed the role of "rescuer". I can see how it would be far better to redefine our role as "rescuer", the media government as persecuters while leaving the victims as-is. I will adjust my rhetoric accordingly.

Hubertus Hauger said...

The elite in the Rescue Game are the profiteers. Is it, because they have such a good brain, ehh?

I say; They aren´t cunning, they are instinctive. They are just following their impulses in the struggle for survival. And ... staying a-top has plenty of advantages in this struggle, doesn´t it. Unenlitghened self-interest with energy-saving activity to stay up high.

Sience says, there is no one to blame for the Rescue Games automatic triangle. It´s part of the human fabric. We enact a written script from nature. All is due to evolution, where benefit is the result of the endgame. Behaviourism!

The easy way for already privileged to gain continously. Explotation aka selfish manipulative behaviour is benefitting. We only discontinue to do so, if we reflect that behaviour.

The opposite to such egocentric behaviour would be to behave altruistic, wouldn`t it. However Altruism needs more energy and know-how. Its more difficult to manage. Wouldn´t you agree?

That´s why the easy way comes the first. Unenlitghened self-interest. It is not evil. It is trivial.

JMG saying “… social change begins by changing your own actions, not by waiting for a superhero or by shouting denunciations at someone else…” That´s where our exit is to find.

Crow Hill said...

JMG: It's very interesting to analyze situations according to this format, and maybe use it like Bootstrapper suggests.

How would you analyze development discourse? Here's a go at it: World Bank + donor countries via local government = rescuer,; "the poor" = victim; Persecutors: variable; rescuers /beneficiaries: TNCs backed by industrialized countries + multiple feedback loops.

Prizm: as to the USA playing the rescue game in it's foreign policy, I think that is very evident in the Middle East. Those countries have always needed a "rescuer" against the "Muslim" "persecutors." : no, the victim i.e. the population is in its vast majority muslim and often the persecutor is more moderate from a religious point of view than the victim.

John Michael Greer said...

Stuart, excellent! I've also heard that game called "Paralysis by Analysis," when the appointment of the expert, or better yet a blue ribbon panel of experts, takes the place of any actually constructive action, as it usually does. (I have often wondered whether blue ribbon panelists, like blue ribbon heifers, ought to be destined for the barbecue.)

Sojan, now there's a blast from the past! Many thanks.

Aias, exactly. The current use of terms like "racism," especially when combined with the "is of identity," are great examples of the kind of sloppy thinking against which Korzybski contended in vain. Privilege is not the same thing as prejudice, and prejudice is not the same thing as acts of injustice; all three are problematic, but they're problematic in different ways, and responsibility for them lies in drastically different quarters. More on this next week.

Ozark, bingo. We'll get into that in detail shortly.

Glenn, well, yes. Quite some time ago -- in the early 1990s, when I was dipping a first tentative toe into the Neopagan scene, after well over a decade of solitary practice in the Golden Dawn tradition -- I penned a little satirical essay titled Lady Pixie Moondrip's Guide to Craft Names, which got uploaded without my name on it to the newborn Web (and which three or four people, last I heard, have claimed as their own work). Of all my writings, it's arguably stood the test of time better than any other. ;-)

Gloucon, most senile people keep going through routines that they started back when they still had a full set of marbles. The same is true of elites. The Rescue Game isn't new, not by a long shot -- and in fact, it's because the elites have gotten senile that it's being played so clumsily and reflexively now, and it's thus become so easy to point out what's going on.

Patricia, why, yes -- due to an incident at a Pantheacon a little while back, though it wasn't the first example of the kind.

Prizm, the advantage the Russians and their allies have is that they know how to play more than one game, and we don't. Beltway pundits here are still babbling incoherently because the Russians didn't play the Rescue Game (aka "Quagmire") in Syria -- they went in, decisively changed the balance of power, and then sent most of their people home. It wasn't even a matter of hacking the game; we were playing checkers, and they brought in chess pieces, made chess moves, and brushed our checkers right off the board.

Bootstrapper, that's always an option, especially when exposing the game as a game isn't likely to work.

Hubertus, there I disagree. There are many possible games, and the Rescue Game is only one of them; cultural forces, not biological ones, have the US elite trapped in an endless loop of Rescuing, which will keep on working...until it doesn't.

Scotlyn said...

JMG and Aias, I have often been frustrated by people trying to talk about sexism/racism etc as blame games, when what I want to do is analyse them as "prevailing social currents" which function to push unearned benefits in one direction and unearned detriments in another... There are many of these currents (class, proximity to empire centre, are others) and the forces they exercise upon any individual is unique. Each of us find ourselves, and acts out our will from, a specific point in time and place, where we push against or run with those currents as we can...

I find that as soon as it becomes a conversation about whether "X is/isn't a bigot/privileged/etc" it becomes IMPOSSIBLE to make any headway in analysing these social currents and their various pernicious effects on all of us. Or to consider what to do about them to the benefit of all of us...

I shall now mull upon your "deconflation" of privilege, prejudice, injustice as a way of breaking out of that discourse trap.

Scotlyn said...

Myriad, thank you, you put what I was struggling to say, so much more elegantly and clearly. I have always found your comments most refreshing. And encouraging.

111DFC said...


There are some cultural trends in the way the Games are played, and the game you describe is similar to almost all the Hollywood films where the plot is always the same:

There are some bad guys that are absolute evildoers, who have not any other intention or purpose in their lives but to make the Absolute Evil (the Prosecutors), then there are the Victims, who in some case (the prefered case) are the same than the Rescuers, and leading by an Hero. The Hero overcome a kind of unbelievebles/impossible obstacles, as if there was a kind of "divine" hand helping the Hero to achieve his goal, which is the total destruction of the evil people, normally made in a very sadistic way, well justified because the inherent depravity of the bad guys

This makes a kind of Catharsis for the film viewers that liberates some part of the internal sadistic trends we have inside, but in a way that legitimazes the carnage

I think the way how this plot is built is based in the Predestinationist roots of the american culture; from the very beginning the hero was pre-destinate to overcome all the huge obstacles and achieve his glorious Manifest Destiny to destroy the Evil, of course helped by God (behind the scene)

On the other han, in the Mediterranean-catholic or Orthodox cultures, the plot revolves around the "losers" (most of us) not around the "winners", in fact "loser" ("perdedor" in spanish) does not originally exist in the spanish lnaguage, because we "lose" or "win" as a fact of live (if to lose or to win has really any meaning at all in the living life), but we are not inherently "winners" or "losers", we are not "predestinate" to lose or win in the live

Our main plot is "Don Quijote de la Mancha" which Cervantes built, in fact, as a "Predestinate Hero" but in a curious way, because all his actions goes wrong, but anyway he continue to "feel" his glorious destiny as "winner", making a lot of jokes in the meantime. It was a kind of metaphor of the sinking spanish empire fo that time

The russian novel, the italian or spanish films, or even the ancient Greek Attic Tragedy always revolve around the "losers", is a very different way to build the ethics of the Hero, which has a human nature, with ligths and shadows

Evidently I am talking about the american mass culture, not of the large amount of very good american writters with a totally different approach to this narrative, but anyway the mass culture in the countries show a lot of interesting things about the culture of the societies

So I think some cultures are more prone to play the Rescue Game than others, because to play the game to the end you must believe in the inherent Absolute Depravity of the Men, and the existence of The Justs (Saints) and The Doomed decided by God from the beginning of the Time (as Luther and Calvin teach)

Anyway this all is falling apart now, and even Trump cannot stop it (his "Makes American Great Again" is a continuous calling to be again "winners" as he say in every speech)

Phil Harris said...

JMG replied to Rebecca re local social de-housing: "story of our time in a nutshell"
Rebecca wrote as postscript: "I get into numerous arguments, [with automated decision mechanism] and I can't keep it from 'winning'."

Indeed. Automated mechanisms are not restricted to modern phones!

Phil H
PS Here in Britland changes in atatutory laws and to carrot & stick rules for public sector operatives automatically deliver increasing numbers of the vulnerable to hellish fates.

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks. The funny thing is that it is my understanding that at the time of the McCarthy hearings few if anyone down here actually cared about such labels. It just wasn't that big a deal with the general populace. Even today, I can walk around in Melbourne and spot lampposts with "Marxism today" and/or "Marxism 2016 conference" posters (the last conference clearly worked out so well!). They always make me laugh because I seem to recall that that system has been tried in the flesh and it didn't work out so well. It is interesting that they use the label "Marxism" to somewhat differentiate themselves... ;-)!

No doubt that you are correct in that assessment. Matters both small and large tend to usually escalate slowly, but surely. Edges and mettle are tested and weak points are exploited mercilessly.

They keep telling me that inflation is dead - or that we are in a "sustained" period of deflation. Yet, today I noticed that the dog food biscuits which used to be $5.30 for 1kg (that is AU$0.53 per 100g or 3.5oz) and today, the box size has reduced to 800g and now costs $5.00 (that is AU$0.625 per 100g or 3.5oz). I smell a rat. Give a person a KPI (key performance indicator) and sooner or later they will game it. Incidentally, that is an impressive increase to their sales revenue if units sold remain at the same volumes. Dogs care not a whit and are very unlikely to be fooled on such important matters as their dinner!

Fortunately for me, I make my own dog biscuits nowadays. Along with the decline in quality of goods this is our future, I reckon anyway. I'll write about this - and strategies to adapt to it - on the next blog Monday night. The whole thing just annoys me as I rather suspect that the powers that be have a rather low opinion of our collective intelligence. As an interesting side note, I've read that sociopaths often believe that they are smarter than everyone else, even when such beliefs are counter to their interests.



Tidlösa said...

He he. I read "Lady Pixie Moondrip´s Guide to Craft Names". Is that even a parody? Sounds more like a strictly empirical investigation... ;-)

Patricia Mathews said...

Glenn, JMG, so what does the handle "The Grey Badger" tell you?

I'm in a circle run by a no-nonsense midwestern-bred pre-school teacher with a gift for bringing out the best in people and calling them on their stuff. He lives in a triplex in the sort of neighborhood where if you put something out on the curb, people take it, having a truck is routine, and being able to fix stuff is good. He cooks the suppers and they're generally simple and tasty.

He looks like a leprechaun and talks aery-faery, but don't be fooled. Dealing with ages 2-5 had truly prepared him for handling the half-dozen who meet at his place every Saturday night. And his outlook on practical matters is truly down to earth. I'd give examples, but they're not my tales to tell. However, I've seen people come in as basket cases and mature into finding places and friends in the tribes where they fit (a lot of it s/f fandom.)

At any rate, while we all go by given names in circle (Pat, Timmy, Jay, Al, Daisy....) they all agree the Grey Badger nickname suits.

Phil Harris said...

JMG & All
I'm perhaps beginning to get it.

Lewinsky has some good advice in the Guardian:
"Lewinsky has advice for bystanders, too: “Don’t bully the bully. It doesn’t move the conversation forward. I see bullying as similar to cutting. People who cut are trying to localise their pain. I think with bullying, people are suffering for myriad reasons and are projecting it. Instead of cutting themselves, they’re cutting someone else.”

And she has some great emoticons for the phone age: perhaps some realistic solidarity and support to stand with others in times of unbearable loss.

And as Ghung said above on this ADR: "The only winning move is not to play." Win-win.

Phil H

patriciaormsby said...

@Shane, actually, what I hear about modern-day America strongly resembles what I hear about imperial Japan. Because Japan defeated Russia early in the 20th century, a military clique gained power over the idealistic, modernizing nation, and took steps to consolidate its dominance. Their rhetoric about a "co-prosperity sphere" meant "rescuing" China and other Asian countries from western colonizers. They considered Japan specially gifted and uniquely able to help their neighbors, regardless of whether or not they wanted it. Dissidents, of course, arose, and to maintain power, the ruling clique established a secret police and began persecuting anyone who disagreed about going to war. One of the generals involved had visited America and knew that going up against this major industrial powerhouse would be suicide, but he had no way of convincing the clique of this. Their dispirited soldiers fighting under unrealistic demands all the while being told that they must maintain a "winning attitude" committed a lot of atrocities.

Japan didn't have drones, though they tried one or two tricks with balloons. Instead, they traumatized an entire generation in a last ditch attempt to stave off an invasion by what they all had been told were barbarians.

Having said that though, the path to ponerization of a self-sacrificing, peace-loving people like the Japanese is simple. Victims do not stick up for themselves, and that empowers abusers. Other people become afraid that they too will be abused and have no recourse, so they fall in line and join the abuser. Ostracism is one major tool resorted to in trying to avoid this. Confucianism also provides social stability, which discourages people from trying to accrue unearned power. But you can see how in the end, it all worked out just about the same in these vastly different cultures.

Roger said...

Sojan, you say:

"I never have been able to comprehend the self-loathing mindset and the propensity for self-induced guilt-tripping that so many middle class white liberals seem to have."

As JMG implies, such "self-loathing" is largely an act and I would agree. IMO it's just another diversionary tactic to obscure advantages they've been able to extract for themselves.

In any case, in their own opinions, this "self-loathing" puts liberals on a higher moral plane and moral superiority is a big part of what middle-class white liberals are all about. It's taken decades of refinement in institutions of higher learning and elsewhere but they've made talking down to people a high art. And this very public self-flogging gives liberals licence to flog you.

And nobody does the sneer better than them. Just watch Ruth Marcus and Eleanor Clift. If there was ever an Olympic sneering event, these two would get gold and silver.

It's a sneaky game liberals play with a lot of careful word-smithing. "Globalization" they call it, as if off-shoring tens of thousands of factories and millions of good paying jobs was the result of an implacable force of nature, like plate tectonics, instead of the result of deliberate trade policy.

As JMG has pointed out, those guilt-seeking white liberals benefit handsomely from lower product prices as goods flood in from China. And, as beneficiaries of central bank monetary debasement - living in coastal cities with mind-blowing real estate prices - these members of the managerial and administrative and self-declared "creative class" fully earned all they've got, at least in their own minds.

As for the now destitute inhabitants of blighted, former industrial cities, well, what can you say. Not much you CAN say, can you? Those tattooed morons had it coming, didn't they? They failed to keep up with the times, chose deliberate ignorance, opted for drugs and sloth and bad living habits. Their condition is all their own fault, every bit of it, at least in the most astute and enlightened opinion, that opinion being liberal, of course.

There's another aspect to "self-loathing", at least of the public sort. This comes from people that are utterly confident of their position on the societal pyramid. They think that maybe they can be scratched and dented but never brought down low. Maybe they should reconsider. Nobody is invulnerable.

Patricia Mathews said...

For what it's worth: The Rescue Game in full cry...

Note: when the first screaming about unisex bathrooms began during the brief push for an Equal Rights Amendment, the solution was quite obvious to me: private homes, very small businesses, and the airlines already offered one-holers, first come, first serve, wait outside politely ...

Since then, slightly larger businesses with two such stalls have simply made them first-come, first-served, wait politely....

And some larger operations have added them, greatly to the relief of ordinary parents who did not want their small sons going into the men's rooms alone. UNM's Mitchell Hall, when it upgraded, added 3 or 4 of them across the hall from the snack bar, to the great relief of the students on that floor.

Shakes head.... a little common sense works wonders here.

P.S. McCoy loads the dice here ... very, very rarely do you see an adult in the facilities for kids!

ed boyle said...

The racist narrative has held Deutschland as exemplary member of western, usa led alliance since the war. The holocaust, similar to slavery, is a very strong, if not the strongest such narrative globally. And of course neither slavery nor shoah were games, but very real. Now however the victim role is being realstically reapportioned to native Europeans, due to terrorism, gang rapes, mass immigration by economic migrants who abuse social welfare systems and due to the obvious role of the press and consensus politics controlled directly from Washington in EU, NATO area.

Of course in daily life I work with immigrants from muslim, African and Ea8stern European countries and each person is an individual human being tied into their own culture. As one knows anyone better, differences and prejudices blur and disappear. 'Love is the answer' to quote a liverpuddlian.

Hubertus Hauger said...

JMG @: "... there I disagree. There are many possible games, and the Rescue Game is only one of them; cultural forces, not biological ones, have the US elite trapped in an endless loop of Rescuing, which will keep on working...until it doesn't."

I don’t disagree with more games being there.

However I see, that cultural forces are entwined and entangled with the biological ones. Where they are actually separated, is still a dispute in scientific debates?

Never mind if you and I have different views on the origin of the trouble. More important is to me, what the result shall be. There I enthusiastically embrace your predictions and foresight. So lets go and enjoy the coming events and see what happens and what kind of difference we make with what we do.

The other Tom said...

It occurs to me that the bulk of the misused mental health industrial complex is a misdirected rescue operation. A disproportionate share of the very expensive therapy and psychiatric medication seems to be consumed by upper middle class professionals, and not by those on the street with PTSD, the ones more likely to experience violence, or the ones talking to themselves without a cell phone. It is much easier for those who have really good benefits or other resources to indulge in endless therapy that never seems to lead to a practical result for "issues" most people in the world would be glad to have, than the less compensated. It is curious to me that so many people I have met who are further up the food chain can claim a kind of victimhood while perhaps being the rescuer in another part of their lives. I have gotten myself in trouble at times by pointing out that affluent Westerners too readily give up their independent minds and resilience by playing this game instead of avoiding it.
I imagine in a future without a surplus of resources a wider spectrum of behavior will have to be "normal." Maybe a greater variety of perspectives will be more useful than pathological.

Don Plummer said...

I too quit reading Mr. Kunstler's blog a long time ago. Not only did I get tired of his stereotyping and scapegoating, I realized he long ago had run out of new ideas to offer and was merely rehashing the same things he had written in his book "The Long Emergency" (which was a very good book).

Jeanne Labonte said...

Northern Pass seems to fit the bill on this dynamic. HydroQuebec/Eversource is coming to the ‘rescue’ with ‘sustainable’ power generation. ‘Persecutors’ can take the form of its opponents who don’t like the idea of ten story power lines marching across the landscape and are trying to get either get Eversource to bury the lines or just not build it. So the ‘victims’ accuse the ‘persecutors’ of trying to leave New Hampshire in the dark or with sky high electrical rates. Or, on the other hand, ‘victims’ can be the locals who don’t want to see huge power lines defacing the landscape and the ‘persecutors’ are the ones trying to ram an unwanted project down their throats.

We got a brief but revealing glimpse behind the scenes over these past few weeks when a developer received a $2 million ‘loan’ from our ‘rescuers’ Eversource, and immediately began twisting arms at the North Country Chamber of Commerce and got them to change their stance from opposed to neutral. Opponents on the board were naturally portrayed as troublemakers by the developer and the board members (two of whom resigned in protest) fingered the developer as a persecutor. Who’s the victim? Depends on which side you take, I guess. Those who are curious can click on the link below and read the gory details. Don’t forget to check out the comment section.

On a lighter note, I am in the process of finishing up not one but two submissions to your latest Space Bats challenge and hope to have them posted soon.

Lynnet said...

Nice suggestions. One point not covered is when a person cast in the role of the Persecutor actually isn't. One example: if your skin is white, you MUST BE a racist according to a certain class of Rescuer. You can't repent of being the race that you are. But if you stay white, regardless of your personal activities, you stay stuck firmly in the Persecutor class in one form of this game.

Just to turn about: another class of Rescuer believes that if your skin is black, you MUST BE a thug; there is no other possibility. Therefore this Rescuer needs to keep rescuing white Victims (ie Law and Order), and absolutely no facts on the ground will prove to him/her that a black person is not a Persecutor.

Truly in many forms of this game, it is the Rescuers who are actually committing the evils against both Victim and Persecutor. Look for the real power: it is the Rescuers.

Sylvia Rissell said...

Mr Greer:

First, I would like to point out that "diversity training" did have some benefit, to at least a few people. Back in the '90s, I worked for a large company that tried to take diversity seriously. I was part of a group that was about 75% white males over 45. The remainder were almost entirely young white women, but there were a few men and women who identified as African-American in the mix. The diversity trainers were always African-American women, so at least they got a job out of the deal.

I always kept quiet during training, although an occasional curmudgeon would ask "why don't we want to hire the best people for the job?" and no one ever challenged him about why he felt that white men were always going to be the best candidates.

As far as games go, I would like to propose the following game:

How close is your job to the "primary economy"? (as defined by JMG, which is the actual natural processes which create something useful to humans)

I'm going to suggest (please come up with something better, readers) that the closest possible human job is breast-feeding an infant. Or maybe donating blood. In either case, the natural processes of the human body are creating a food/product for another human.

The furthest possible job (yes, I'm just being snarky now) is probably a hedge fund manager, or maybe a presidential candidate.

This process creates a hierarchy, although somewhat different from the one that puts the King at the top..

C.L. Kelley said...

Rebecca Brown - if you're still reading this far down, please consider Waldo County, Maine. We have a nice steep shoreline, lots of skilled people (the county population increased 20% on account off back to the land folks) who are also quite tolerant as a rule, and a desperate need for civic minded youngish folks. Evidence of our demographic need can be found in the fact that "youngish" here applies to anyone under current retirement age. Winters aren't as bad as they're made out to be, and children still play outside. The internet fad never really caught on, either. Find me at if you'd like to talk more. Thanks JMG!

Patricia Mathews said...

Oops! Elucidation: "The Grey Badger" is not our circle leader, but Yours Truly. The circle leader does have a craft name and signs his paintings with it, though. Rather good paintings, BTW.

Dennis D said...

I too am involved in the game, both as Persecutor and Victim, because I own a tool (a firearm). Those that place me in the persecutor class seem to think that merely owning such a tool makes me mentally unstable, and if, heavens forbid, I was to use it to stop a "Victim" from reliving me of my personal safety or property I am the one at fault. The Rescuer here is the Government & Media. At the same time I am the Victim, the persecutor is the Government and Media, and the Rescuers are the Firearms associations. Of course, I am also the Rescuer when the coyotes come to dine on my chickens.

Doctor Westchester said...


This is probably being too nit picking, but I view the Reagan era as ending with this election, one way or another. I know you have indicated that pre and post turn of century periods as possibly different. I do view what has happened in the last fifteen years as simply a decaying continuation of the pervious twenty.

Sojan Shieldbearer said...

@ Prizm and JMG:

There was an article that appeared in the Russian press that contrasted the US and Russian approaches by echoing Hillary's tasteless quote about Qaddafi "We saw, we came, he died"

According this Russian op-ed, Putin's version was "I thought, I came, I won, I left". Sums things up pretty well in my estimation...

Sojan Shieldbearer said...

Juhana, glad to see you back.

I missed your observations and commentary about current events in Europe, which I believe are right on target. Greetings to my brothers and sisters from the North.

Myriad said...


Ideally, falsely accused designated Persecutors should refuse to participate. In ordinary low-stakes cases that can be as easy (or as difficult) as resisting being baited in by pride. But should the Game become rough enough, there may be no safe option.

"More weight." -- Giles Corey, refusing to participate.

Rita said...

@ the Other Tom - you might be interested in Garth Woods, _The Myth of Neurosis: overcoming the Illness Excuse--in which he asserts that the concept of curing neurosis by endless therapy is just a way out of taking responsibility for ones problems and actions. And a cash cow for those giving the therapy. Once again not to be confused with mental health practitioners helping people with the results of abuse or with actual mental illness.

JMG--I wasn't sure "Starhawking" would survive. Look forward to your explanation--and won't spoil it. But I was there on at least one occasion of said behavior.

Emmanuel Goldstein said...

Another eye-opener for sure JMG. In 1974 while in High School, I managed to break the rules of this game without understanding what I was doing; My High School had a student group that called itself the "Society Of Soul (SOS)." They met after school just like the other student groups, and periodically would issue public statements complaining about being ignored or oppressed because of racial bias. I had read the book, "Black Like Me," and wanting to learn more first hand, I joined the group by just showing up to their after-school meeting one week. To their credit, the SOS let me join, but the third time I showed up for the meeting I was the only one there. I was told by the faculty sponsor that they decided to meet at homes, not in the high school. After that, some of the SOS members would dodge me in the halls, and some continued to say "hello." A few of the members and I got to know each other a bit. For we few, there seemed to be fear of friendship on both sides, but willingness to try. It was interesting. Some of my other friends explained to each other that I had joined SOS 'to show their hypocrisy,' ie., that they complained about being excluded but ended up excluding me. When I tried to tell them that wasn't why I joined, they did not believe me.
At the end of the school year, I posed with the other SOS members for the club picture. I actually think we SOS members did pretty well overall, and I can see now how difficult it is to break out of the 'Rescue Game.' The players keep trying to press you back into a role.

Pseudorandom said...

An article I think is worth linking here:

Tesla And Other Tech Giants Scramble For Lithium As Prices Double

Short abstract: Tesla intends to produce 500K electric cars with lithium batteries per year... which unfortunately will "basically need to absorb the entire world’s lithium-ion production", according to a Tesla engineer. The tone of the article is get into lithium investments before yesterday, because prices will soar sky high.

Another bubble is abrewin'.

Martin B said...

Here in Acirfahtuos (maybe I better stick with South Africa) the Rescue Game has been turned on its head with the coming of majority rule.

For most of the 20th century, Blacks were the Victims, Whites the Oppressors, and the liberal and international intelligentsia the Rescuers. Everybody knew their place, and learned how to play the game.

But since 1994 when black people got the vote and Affirmative Action became the norm but has scarcely dented the white economy, both sides are claiming the Victim role, and the Rescuers have wandered off, unsure of whom to rescue.

These games may be unhealthy, but they do lend a certain stability to society.

I guess we'll just have to wait until things settle into a new pattern and we know with confidence who to complain about.

Batalos said...

Wouldn't it be enough to use just "affluent people" instead of ""affluent white people" as usual Rescue team?

As for the rest - very interesting post thanks

Gottfried Wilhelm Melvin Hicks-Leibniz said...

First-time poster, although avid reader of this blog since I stumbled upon it late last year.

Perhaps breaking some taboos with a first post as the one that follows, I trust that it will clarify some of the perspectives I wish to share now and later.

To build on current themes, I was born into and grew up in a wage class family, catching several "lucky breaks" along life's journey to land where I am now in the salary class. I live as an "outsider" in a foreign country for more than a decade, once playing the role of unconscious pawn of "Imperial Power Play" games only to transform into a conscious pawn of "Corporatocratic Golden Cage" games.

Imagine the hypothetical scenario of Donald Trump engrossed in an internal dialogue over downsizing his elite lifestyle and terminating other bad habits -- "collapse now before the rush" -- vs. maintaining his "brand" as a means to influence the future direction of Pax Americana -- "Make America Great Again!". That is analogous to the personal struggle in which I currently find myself, albeit on a much smaller scale ! I am working on a self-improvement program, in case you were wondering.

Before commenting on the topic of "Rescue Games", I want to thank JMG for his deconstruction of prevailing narratives, aiding my own self-reflection. I must say that ability to remotely alter someone else's "Identity Games" requires magical skills on par with the "Corporatocratic" elite ! ;-)

On the topic of "Rescue Games", I was planning to comment on how they are unavoidable until I re-read the thread and came across a post from Dennis D, who proves the point I wanted to make ! So, I'll end the post as follows:

How does one avoid being persecuted for trying to save him(her)self from playing the game?

How does this not imply we are all victims deserving of rescuer, either by our own hands or that of another?

Seemingly, we are operating within an infinite loop of Nietzschean proportions.

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