On Jovial Nature…

Let’s see…  I think this all began with Gordon, who did a book review for a book I haven’t read yet by Peter J. Carroll (and which, to be fair, I’m not likely to read any time soon).  And then Jason Miller wrote a counterpoint to Gordon’s review over at Inominandum.com, particularly about Jupiter, and then Rufus Opus weighed in on the subject.  Christopher Bradford, too, weighed in with good things to say, and pointed out that Jupiter is really about power; and Blogos has some interesting things to say, as well — reminding us that every planet in the Hermetic world-view projects certain forces and energies into the world, for both good and ill.  I’ve had a little experience working with Jupiter, here and there… maybe it’s time to join in.

First of all, a few fair points:

  • Jason is right when he says that the lower classes of Rome called on Jupiter all the time, particularly in their struggles with the upper classes; the result of these struggles were the Twelve Tables, the written laws of Rome.  Which just goes to show you, sometimes calling on a deity of justice and wealth for justice and wealth does result in a renewal of the legal system. Not that the written laws were much fairer to the lower classes than the unwritten laws, but sometimes you take what you can get.
  • Gordon’s comments on Peter Carroll’s thoughts about quantum entangling your enchantments backwards and forwards in time is interesting. Sometimes I perform a thanksgiving for a blessing I will receive in the future before I actually get the blessing; but this is suggesting that I perform the enchantment to get the blessing after the blessing has already appeared. All this talk about Jupiter suggests to me that I have some work to do tonight, to help cause something to happen that has already happened.
  • Rufus Opus reminds us that sometimes the rules are bent or broken, and they’re not particularly fair nor particularly balanced.

And it’s that last point which is my entry point to the discussion.  I’ve been working with third graders this week: they have been building games.  There are few ad hoc organizations as cunning and devious as a group of third graders playtesting games that have no written rules yet — they’re like one-percenters or Roman senators pulling one over on us or on the plebeians. They have a tendency to wander away from the games they’re supposed to playtest with the cards for this game here, but then use those cards to “win the game” on the other end of the room; or they pick up game tokens from this game over here by the door and put them down on the board over there by the sewing machine.  They behave alternately like 1%-er heavyweights, or capricious gods… or third graders.  And I’d characterize them as Mercurial — flitting here and there, alternately deeply interested in their project and utterly indifferent to it, highly social, and wrapped up in symbols and language that they barely know how to use properly.

Makes for an interesting contrast, no?

In this environment, the part of Jupiter is being played by me — the lovingly authoritative father-figure, who sometimes gets down the box of really special wooden and metal pieces for students who ask nicely, but who also gets out the drills and the saws for the industrious or focused students,  and who sits down with this group over here to hammer out and write down the rules of their game, or assembles a little bridge to cross over the river through the middle of their board. Different gifts and different rules for different folks — each according to measure, need and capacity. The Design Lab is a little universe — a mess-o-cosm, if you will — marvelously untidy with complicated rules both written and unwritten, where patience and persistence are far more often rewarded, but where goofing off and playing have their place too.

And it’s in this whirlwind that I’ve realized that third graders and one-percenters don’t really understand what normal game play looks like.  They’re used to having house rules to make things easier, or to keep themselves from getting ‘robbed’ or to manage the challenges of running things. The effort to create “winning sides” in the games is alarming — a roomful of world-creators who think nothing of stacking the deck so that their favorite side in a given game is automatically assured of victory.

It looks like chess… are you sure you know how to play this game, though?

Time to teach them. I spent the four days of standardized testing this week making my own game-sets: a chess set, a hnefatafl board with drabants and Muscovites, and a draughts/checkers board.  I experimented with making a backgammon board, but I haven’t figured out how that works just yet, especially on a scale prepared for small fingers and not-entirely-skillfully-operated hands.  Oh, and writing little rule books to go with the games — because “house rules” belong to Mercury, but “rules” belong to Jupiter.  Maybe Chris Bradford’s point about power is relevant here.

What’s the difference between “house rules” and “rules?”

As I’ve been trying to teach my students this week, game rules come in many forms.  Rufus says life is a game, it’s unfair, and cheating is allowable within the rules. But it wasn’t until a few months ago that I learned that the oh-so-common Monopoly house rule, “if you land on the Free Parking space, you get all the money in the middle of the board,” is in fact the bugaboo that makes Monopoly games drag on for hours and hours without end.

Because it’s the house-rule — the cheat — that turns the tax-grab into a player subsidy — it’s the game’s tax money given out to a lucky few who happen to have beneficial rolls of the dice.  Remember, the pile of money in the middle of the board winds up there from the taxes and fees that various players are subject to as a result of Chance and Community Chest cards — in other words, the community support system.  In the official rules of the game, the purpose of this rule is to gradually pull money out of play — it doesn’t go to other players, and it doesn’t go to the bank (and the cards imply that it serves the common good in some way); and thus bankruptcy is supposed to be much more common — and come sooner in the game! — than is usually the case in games that follow the “house rule”.

The person who taught me to play by the house rule — and who consequently ruined the game for me — was my father.  I remember one game at my aunt and uncle’s house when I was ten, and the youngest cousin was barely walking by himself.  It began during a rare summer thunderstorm, but it dragged on through the end of the storm and a perfectly pleasant early afternoon high tide that should have resulted in an outing by boat, a trip to the beach, or a bicycle ride to the local swimming hole.  Instead, it turned into a four-and-a-half hour marathon of grueling tedium where I never had quite enough money to declare victory and exit the game, and never had so little that I had to declare bankruptcy and go play in the sun.  Agony.  Torture.  I remember declaring bankruptcy, convinced I was out of money, only to have my father show me how to mortgage my properties and “stay in the game” — a game I no longer wanted to play.  And I remember that my father, who was normally quite a caring and gentle and genial man, was absolutely gleeful at how wealthy and powerful he had become — in a game, played against children.

And it turns out, thirty-odd years later, that he had done so by breaking the rules.  Maybe knowingly. Maybe unknowingly. Maybe someone had taught him the “house rule” and not explained how the house rule made the game drag on.  Maybe he knew how the rule made the game drag, and decided he didn’t care, because playing at being wealthy and powerful is sort of like really being so. (And, touching on Gordon’s point about how Jupiter is the god of bankers who make us pay for their crimes, isn’t it interesting that the “house-rule” about “Free Parking” is the rule that makes someone into a member of the one-percent, Monopolistically speaking? And isn’t it interesting that the house-rule makes the game do exactly the opposite of its intended purpose, which is to teach its players the risks of financial power unfettered from community?)

Game design: Hnefatafl
This version is too small… needs an expansion set.

Yesterday, I taught a student, and a parent, and a colleague, each at different times, to play Hnefatafl.  If you don’t know anything about how to play, consider it a useful game for teaching the challenges of asymmetric warfare. The black pieces, sometimes called Muscovites, have a 2:1 advantage in numbers over the white pieces, sometimes called Swedes.  I’d made a little board of the game, and some pieces out of beads, wooden disks, and glue.  It’s not very pretty, but it’s a miniature prototype that is useful for teaching the game, and teaching the rules, and testing out the “little kids build kits, older kids design the kits for little kids” theory.

It wasn’t until later, when I was making a little “rule booklet” for the game, that I discovered that I’d cheated in every single game I’d played.  I’d used a “house rule” I learned from the person who taught me, but it’s a house rule that turns out not to be part of the original game (insofar as the game’s rules can be inferred from from scattered and sketchy sources, somewhat like some of the information in Gordon’s UFOs and magic posts... thinking too much about that stuff can be unhealthy, as Gordon himself warns).

It’s tremendously easy to cheat children and beginners at games.  It’s even easy to justify cheating, as a way of keeping them interested in getting better (start at 3min 51 sec to get past the dumb martial arts bit):

But that willingness to cheat, in order to arouse interest in the newcomer to play the game, is all too easy to carry on into the regular game.  House rules get passed down this way, that wind up defeating the original purpose of the game — the Mercurial side-bets “to keep things interesting” end up outstripping the game’s ability to model reality.   And tremendously easy for professionals to wallop amateurs, whether that be in banking, or tablut-style games like Hnefatafl, or sorcery, or teaching. If Congress is a game, it’s one that typifies the “house rule” problem to an unjustifiable degree, given that funny money can be used to buy votes and influence.

And it’s costly; if there’s a sticky wicket in my argument, it probably lies in the problem that some ‘house-rules’ are actually ’emerging rules’ — Mercury the Wise Herald advising his monarch on ways to make the existing system better, rather than Mercury the Lobbyist finding hacks to cheat the system and persuading the emperor over a very expensive round of golf, “why yes, of course we’ll be drilling safely for those tar sands, sire.”  But does Mercury know if he’s the Herald or the Lobbyist at any given moment? Not likely.

But now we come back to Jupiter.  Again, I think I side with Inominandum on this point particularly — Gordon has done amazing, wonderful work on the abuses that the ruling class has foisted on the rest of the world, and the ways in which they have used house-rules to tilt the playing board toward themselves; but to say that Jupiter is exclusively on the side of wealth and power strikes me as suspect — the alchemical vice assigned to Tinnus or Tin or Jupiter is Luxuria, or luxuriance… but the relevant virtue is Temperantia, which recognizes the value of a simple life.

Design Lab inspiration
“the more corrupt the nation, the greater the number of laws.” — Tacitus

Because Jupiter is about rules, not cheats. Geography and economics and politics all play a role in making Rome a great power of the ancient world, but empires have their own carrying costs — if you want Luxuria, you have to pay for it, somehow, somewhere.  Once you stop paying the bill, the creditors swarm in, like Senators on the Ides of March (Brutus, with the long dagger, at the base of the statue of Gnaeus Pompey in the Theater of Marcellus, like some giant game of Clue)  and the game is over.

And it’s for this reason that luxuriance is the vice of Jupiter — Jupiter makes it possible to live that sort of life, at least a little while. Totally. The rules allow for it. You have tens of hundreds of millions of dollars, a gold-plated toilet or even a solid-gold one, mansions in seven cities, private islands, your own navy, and more.  But “house rule” Monopoly perpetually results in one bankrupt player who walks away, four dissatisfied players who can neither exit nor win and an ‘almost victor’ who thinks he’s become Big Man on Boardwalk by his own personal savvy.

But Jupiter plays games within games within games within games.  It’s not one game; it’s numerous little games nested inside one another; sometimes with a balance of forces, sometimes with asymmetrical competition; sometimes with inviolable laws and sometimes with rules that are more like guidelines that admit to house-rules.  It takes a pretty deep level of discernment to figure out when we’re making house-rules up as we go along, and when we’re following the Jovial Code… and the key, perhaps, is Temperantia.

I was taught that Temperantia was Latin for “simplicity of life” much more than simply temperance, the middle path.  House-rule lives are tremendously complicated: drill an oil well today, bribe a state senator tomorrow, fly to London on Thursday, hire an astrologer to launch your mind-control satellite at the most optimal time.  It’s the life of a Machiavellian Prince as imagined by William Goldman in The Princess Bride — you’re simply swamped, all the time. Luxuries are nice — it’s good to have your own Pit of Despair, your own castle, your own Archdeacon and your own brute squad at your disposal.

But then what?  And to what ends and aims?

Scroll of PowerTemperantia, though, is quite different from that, and I think it’s telling that alchemists considered it the chief virtue arising or emanating from Jupiter — the mightiest of the gods.  Summed up, it can be expressed as “live within your means — as a person, as family, as a professional, as a member of a corporate body, as a community, as a society.” It sort of feels like a dumb virtue, I know, in a society that’s wealthier than any society has ever been on this planet; and maybe to a crew of magical practitioners who are out to move their “set points” and achieve greatness, it will seem like a cop-out.  But my experience is that Jupiter — whatever his worshippers’ imperial ambitions — has a tendency to pull things toward the original ruleset and away from house-rules… and to collapse the systems where house-rules have utterly replaced the original rule-set. (Gordon has said elsewhere that sometimes the best option is collapse. But maybe “collapse” is just another term for returning to the original rule-set and giving up the house rules; when things are in Fluxx, “draw one card, play one card” is a perfectly reasonable option.)

I won’t try to speak to how *I* live the virtue of Temperantia, because maybe I’m wrong. And your Temperantia probably doesn’t look quite like mine.  And I’m sure that I have blind spots around this as much as anyone, and I’m sure there are more things that I could do to bring simplicity to my life.

This, an ambitious metaphysics? It’s not. But there’s an underlying, implicate order to all things: we’re connected to each other and to all life on the planet biologically, and to the planet itself chemically, and to the whole universe at an atomic level.  Certain hard rules and inviolable laws result from that, and both Luxuria and Temperantia arise from those hard edges of the board.  But maybe, through the metaphor of house rules and regular rules, there’s a way to point out that Jupiter speaks to an ethics and to a manner of living, one which has simplicity of life as one of its core virtues — a recognition that the universe plays by rules which on the surface may seem limiting and unfair, but in truth carry in them the complicated reality that the unfairness often comes from within ourselves and our own potential as magicians and designers and change agents.  Peregrin Wildoak over at Magic of the Ordinary has written quite recently about this. Not in terms of Jupiter, but in terms of magic’s usefulness overall: what is it good for if it doesn’t help you notice that others need your help, too?

Today, some third graders need my help.  And thanks to this conversation about Jupiter, I have a much better sense of how I’m going to teach them about the rules of the game.  I have no doubt that some of them will continue to cheat, and some will still make up rules that favor one side or one player over others; but they have time to figure it out.  Maybe we all do.

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  1. Many people don’t know (nor want to know) the official Monopoly rules. In the proper game if a player lands on a square that isn’t owned, they have an immediate option to purchase it at the listed price.
    That’s normal.
    What most people don’t do, which is also in the rule book; is that if that player declines to purchase the property it goes to open auction ! Other players can grab it at bargin prices,. This usually unused rule tends to speed up the game hugely.

    and Mercurius is ruler of Contracts.
    Jupiter is the Judge and law giver.
    but Metris is the one that relates to justice as we know it. (forensic vs rank, justice)

  2. This is so beautifully written, Andrew. Thank you. I really enjoy how you utilize various games as metaphors for Jupiter’s traits and to illustrate how you perceive them. Just wonderful! This is a terrific entry within the current Jupiter discussion.

  3. I know you said “I won’t try to speak to how *I* live the virtue of Temperantia, because maybe I’m wrong. And your Temperantia probably doesn’t look quite like mine. And I’m sure that I have blind spots around this as much as anyone, and I’m sure there are more things that I could do to bring simplicity to my life.”

    But could I talk you into a post on bringing simplicity into a life in general? I would be really interested in what you have to say about that since it’s obviously an aim of yours, and since your life seems fairly complicated.

    And thanks for the very thought provoking post that had to have taken hours and hours to compose.

    • Part of the reason why I left off the discussion of simplicity in my life, Christina, is that the post was already getting very long. And the other part of the reason is, of course, that my life is not very simple at all, and probably not a model worth emulating as a turn toward temperantia. 🙂

      Part of the reason for the complication, of course, is that I’m currently running a very skills-oriented program in practical design and Maker culture for a school that still has a very traditional program. And while I like what I do, I must admit that I still have quite a LOT to learn about being a designer and a creator, which is part of the reason for the complication.

      That many of the skills and processes I teach are also relevant to the kinds of retraining that many Americans will have to do and be in a society in the early stages of decline, is part of my contribution to the “evolving rule-set”, too. I may not get to the promised land, but I’ve been to the mountain-top, and I can see the encroaching shadows in the hollows below.

  4. Reblogged this on Magic of the Ordinary and commented:
    I rarely simply re-blog, but I am doing so because Andrew’s blog is not only prolific but creative, deep, and disciplined with an amazing breadth of material and thought. Always a pleasure, Andrew… thanks 🙂

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