And yet the emphasis, even these days, is not on such forms but on moving beyond them. A decade ago, when developers attempted to bring Dungeons & Dragons into the twenty-first century by stuffing it with rules so that it might better resemble a video game, the glue of the game, the narrative aspect that drew so many in, melted away. Players hacked monsters to death, picked up treasure, collected experience points, and coolly moved through preset challenges. The plotters of the game’s fifth edition seemed to remember that D. & D.’s strength lay in creating indulgent spaces (get lost in your gnomish identity, quest or don’t, spend time flirting in the tavern) and opposing whatever modes of human industry prevailed among the broader public. D. & D. now has vastly simpler rules than those found in an iTunes terms-and-conditions agreement. The structures the designers made are also simpler and more subjective. If a player thinks of something clever, you don’t have to thumb through a handbook for a strictly defined bonus. The Dungeon Master can ponder the idea for a moment—could a dwarf with low charisma, with a few well-chosen compliments, really convince a city of elves to love him?—and then decide to reward the player with an extra chance to succeed.
Unless you are reading this in North Korea, or perhaps Cuba, capitalism is your problem. Your suffering today — right now, this minute — almost certainly has something to do with the market allocation of goods and the selling of your labor power. (This is true even if your suffering is of the unavoidable human variety that can be at most eased by a superior system of economic distribution: the difficulties that come from the hard work of being young, being old, or being middle-aged.) The profit motive as an organizing principle for human societies has not disappeared, though in some places it has been tempered. The basic promise of liberal democracy — that it should be possible, through collective action, for people to exert control over their own lives — strains against the power of money and markets to influence political outcomes. It’s 2017, and capitalism is still your problem. And if by some miracle it isn’t your problem, then congratulations: you’ve managed to offload your problems onto some poor souls located somewhere else in the system.
In “The State of Affairs,” Perel delves into cheating, asking the usual questions (Why did it happen? How can we recover?) and some that might occur only to her (What if an affair is good for a marriage?). She doesn’t dispense advice as much as scratch at orthodoxies, and pose questions with wit and a Continental exasperation with American mores. Our obsession with transparency, total disclosure and suffocating intimacy stanches desire, she argues — “fire needs air.” Furthermore, our expectations have gotten all out of hand. “Lovers today seek to bring under one roof desires that have forever had separate dwellings,” she writes.