Rifkin: Deep Play

In a column in today’s Globe and Mail, Doug Saunders critiqued Jeremy Rifkin for ignoring the hidden immigrant labour upon which a European life of “deep play” is built. Intrigued, I went looking for what “deep play” is, and here is an interview that defines it, Claiming Our Primary Role in Our Society and Global Economy; An Interview with Jeremy Rifkin. Deep play is all the meaningful activities we engage in from art, religion to culture. It’s what we work to make time for? Is it play? Is it deep?

Here is a quote from the interview,

People never start bonding through commercial relationships. Every society first starts in the culture, where people create language and agree upon ways of behaving. Societies create deep social meanings that explain what is special about life. Only then, when they have enough trust and have created sufficient bonds do they create trade and then government. It’s never been the other way around.

This (nongovernmental) sector is also the primary sector because it is where we actually engage in deep play. Deep play is where we create deep bonds of participation to explore our humanity, our relationships to the human principles of life. If you take all of the art, religious, secular, social justice, civic, community, and sports activities, all of those are deep play because the activities are an end in themselves. The end result is joy, actual revelation. It’s experiencing each other and exploring our humanity. People do it because it gives life meaning. It’s what you remember about life on your deathbed. It’s a much deeper arena than the commercial arena or government.

We have taken this sector, which is the primary wellspring of human life, and we have marginalized it as if it deserves last place in our social priorities. Think about the language we currently use to describe this sector. In Europe, they call it non-governmental–not quite public but dependent upon the government. And in the U.S. we colonize toward the commercial arena, so we call it nonprofit–not corporate but dependent upon the corporate sector. A lot of the way we view ourselves is dependent on metaphors and language–we act out of these metaphors. We should get rid of nonprofit and non-governmental–these are colonial terms and attach us as subsidiary to the secondary institutions of market and government. We are the culture and that is primary.

The interview appeared in The Nonprofit Quarterly, “Job or Vocation? Exploring the Nonprofit Workplace”, Volume 7, Issue 3, February 2001. The interview was by Kenneth Bailey of Third Sector New England.