“Keeping the old game alive” is the name of a chapter in Gwynne Dyer’s book War. In the chapter, Dyer discusses those who, in this age of mass destruction, are responsible for old-fashioned military interests like the infantry. I’m not sure whether Dyer intended the title to be sarcastic, but for me it has always suggested that the effort was futile and irrelevant, and that those involved in it were in denial of this fact. However, that is the implication that I’ve meant as I’ve started to apply the phrase to all sorts of other situations.
For example: Traditional newspapers are concerned that the Internet has overtaken them and eroded their reader bases. However, instead of analyzing their practices or considering how they might make themselves more appealing to readers, many journalists and newspaper managers take refuge in pride. They may not be as quick off the mark as online journalists, they say, but they provide deeper, more thoughtful analysis. They are better trained than online journalists, and somehow more legitimate.
Behind the scenes, they may be frantically trying to imitate online news (something they can never altogether manage to do), but the image they present to the world is that of the respected Fifth Estate, the spiritual heirs of Ed Murrow or Joseph Addison. In other words, they have retreated part way into fantasy, pretending that nothing has changed since the heyday of the newspaper and they are still leading figures, keeping the old game alive by being in strenuous denial.
Similarly, voter apathy seems at an all-time high in Canada. Participation in elections has plummeted to 55% or less, where it was 20-30% higher less than two decades ago. Even a new party such as the Greens is unable to interest many people, even among the young, who are the most disaffected. Other parties remain within a few percentage points of where they were at the last election, apparently because nobody is following political events closely enough to react – or, perhaps, because people consider all politicians from any party to be interchangeably corrupt.
A sane reaction to this situation would be to change the way you do politics. Some forthrightness, a principled stand, maybe a cause or two might all work wonders, assuming they were genuine and consistent.
But instead, all the Canadian parties prefer to keep the old game alive, attacking each with ritual savagery in Parliament and accusing each other of chicanery as if they still have the support of the electorate. Politics becomes a formal ritual, in much the same way that a verbal war with people swearing and shouting at each other in the House of Commons becomes officially recorded as “Some Honorable Members: Oh, oh!” And, in this case, the more artificial that elected politicians’ behavior becomes, the more disenchanted the public becomes, and the fewer people are watching the government and opposition to help to keep the corruption down.
Really, keeping the old game alive is a form of double-think – the holding of two contrary ideas at the same time. On some level, those who keep the old game alive are very aware that the importance of what they are doing is decreasing. They may even discuss the problem and suggest solutions for it. But, at the same time, their behavior is a denial that any such problem exists.
That, no doubt, is why they often sound so hysterical as they play the old game. The contradiction in their attitudes is easy to detect, and they have to insist that nothing has changed in order to go on at all.
It all seems a lot of effort to me compared to looking for solutions. Yet I suppose that, in some ways, keeping the old game alive is more comforting, contradictions and all, than seeing the world for what it is – especially if you’re middle-aged and realizing that the standards that existed when you were in your twenties no longer apply.