Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Whips, chains, whistles, dildos, and a book.

So, I was on Twitter the other night. building my brand, developing relationships with fans ("influencers"), and talking about the problems of "correspondence" epistemology with @DoritosOntario. A number of my feedlings, notably the loudly thoughtful @HULKGAMECRIT, were discussing some scandalous doings over at Destructoid, with which I'm only barely familiar. But I followed the breadcrumbs to this essay by one Ryan Perez. It gave me pause. Afterwards, it gave me quit, and soon after that it gave me watch Arrested Development.

You see, dear reader, this essay is a piece of shit. It's that uniquely gamerly combination of defensive, self-pitying, and self-congratulatory. It's utterly unremarkable, in that way, but the material it covers was fresh in my mind from something else I'd been working on, and it happened to be in front of me, late one Saturday night. I wanted to make a joke about it, but found too many opportunities. It deserves better than 140 characters of mock. It's so bad that it deserves to be taken seriously.

This is a terrible essay. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

I'll skip the opening paragraph, because fuck you. If you clicked the above link, you already read it anyway. So I'll rejoin the essay already in progress:

What instantly draws my gaze toward these oh-so-common floggings is the most common factor: those carrying the whips.
Wait. It's always the same people? I assumed it would be a general assemblage of garden variety liberals. But if it's the same dozen people who are mounting these vilification campaigns against you and your colleagues, and they're not famous enough for me to have heard of them, it seems like you could probably indemnify yourself by just blocking them so you won't be tempted to respond to their criticism.

Like clockwork, they labeled Allistair “transphobic,” demanded that he be punished, and seemingly dusted their hands off for what they perceived was a good deed. This is not the first time they’ve done so.
Well, he'd done something that was apparently offensive to the trans community and their allies. These individuals were offended because they believed his actions were motivated by, and likely to inspire, antipathy toward transsexuals. "Motivated and/or likely or intended to inspire antipathy towards transsexuals" is the definition of "transphobic." By organizing public sentiment against a perceived injustice, it's entirely sensible that they would think they were engaged in "a good deed." Public sentiment is important; it's less accurate than it used to be, but most humans intuitively think of their popularity and reputation as matters of life and death. This is why people often react very severely to what are, from our pleasantly distant perspective, quite minor. But props on the whole "lurking horror" connotation there.
Ironically, they are the biggest proponents for positive change, yet they seem so consistent with their own negative behavior. Their usual approach is far from persuasive, and is even potentially damaging. An eye for an eye, if you will.
Leaving aside that "positive" and "negative," in this context, are utterly meaningless terms employed to create an illusion of moral distinction: an eye for an eye? Really?

How one gets from "far from persuasive" to "retributive violence" is difficult enough, but "eye for an eye" refers to using exactly the appropriate amount of retaliatory force and no more. In the Hammurabi Code, and later the Law, the principle was employed to prevent feuds from escalating into bloodbaths. It does not gesture towards reconciliation, but it does settle the issue as far as everyone is concerned. So it's not just a matter of hyperbole, it's also fucking stupid. (In all fairness, Perez refers to his "devoutly religious beliefs." Just because his beliefs are devoutly religious, we cannot assume out of hand that he is as well, and it's possible he just knows fuck-all about what the Sermon on the Mount was actually about.)
I can’t really avoid pointing this out here: In the past, I made a stupid mistake on Twitter that cost me my career and a lot of respect.
Considering that the stupid mistake in question was almost a year ago and he's still being published, it's hard to see how it can be said to have cost Perez his career. Perhaps he had a second, unrelated career, and now must fall back on writing about games.
Similarly to Allistair, I had a significant (and somewhat unjustified) amount of hate and criticism hurled my way. I admitted my poor actions, and also accepted much of what resulted from them, but it made me raise a brow toward similar instances of public scrutiny that others have faced. Leaving my own experience out of the equation,
That is not what this paragraph does.
I looked to others whom were “burned at the stake” for their trespasses, both minor and extreme. In the process, I made two inquiries: What is the intended goal of those with torches, and what lesson are the ones aflame supposed to learn? Not enough people ask these questions.
Congratulations?
In fact, too few individuals even bother considering every potential result when it comes to their actions, particularly those convinced that they are doing something noble or good. It’s a damn shame, because some of the worst offenses anyone can commit are often perpetuated by God, “justice,” and a personal sense of absolute morality.
Actually, almost all violence is deployed for the purpose of asserting or maintaining social norms. I'm not sure it's really worse than the minority of violent actions inspired by greed, sadism, or simple boredom. I'm even less sure what this sweeping moral claim has to do with being yelled at on the internet. Nevertheless, having established a line of argument popularized by middle-schoolers, we continue:
Nevertheless, those two questions remained, and the answers I found are as follows:
1. Concede, you piece of shit! Disagreement is almost always accompanied by a desire to persuade. The main reason we enter debates, discussions, or arguments is to potentially convince someone to see things from our point of view. Even those who present their case with exposed teeth aspire to have the opposition kneel before their passionate conviction. 
Sometimes, sure. But we don't execute people because we think it'll help them learn a valuable lesson, and we don't respond to embarrassment with rage because rage is an effective rhetorical strategy. Here's a hint: did you and the aggrieved party have your dispute in person, in a room that contained no other people? All the examples provided here happened on the fucking internet, the most public forum in the history of ever. People were watching, and there were more of them than there are of you. Which means that, in terms of influencing opinion, they matter more than you. This is going to be a theme, so I hope you're taking notes: not everything is about you.

When this piece goes up, maybe a dozen people are going to read it. Perez is almost certainly not going to be one of them. The rhetorical "you" situates the preceding paragraph for the people who are reading, for whom it's largely irrelevant whether Perez actually exists at all, or is just someone I made up to represent a point of view.
Many people seem to forget two things: Opinions are only worth the amount of thought that goes into them, and a part of getting others to consider them is a matter of presentation. Yes, the “tonal argument” is indeed a logical fallacy, but let’s be real: People don’t like being spoken to like they are inferior … or evil, in this case.
I'm not sure about the first one. Statesmen, scholars, and clerics have put an enormous amount of thought, over the centuries, into arguments for white supremacy. It takes a lot of thought, because the idea is counterintuitive to a lot of people. Non-whites, for example. Also, lots of whites. Whereas some opinions don't require very much thought at all, but nonetheless remain correct under scrutiny. Epistemology does not have participation trophies; you have to actually be right about shit.

As for the second, I'm somewhat sympathetic. I think the tonal argument is quite appropriate when discussing marketing, public relations, propaganda, or any other persuasive pursuit. When the issue is "how," talk about how. Where the tonal argument becomes irrelevant and/or intellectually dishonest is in discussions of "what." I'm not interested in how our friend the white supremacist makes his argument. I disagree. If I believed that I could be convinced by a better presentation, it would only be because I already agreed, in which case I would need no convincing. Furthermore, I'd much prefer that the people who are amenable to white supremacy reject it. Our friend would have to be very stupid to think I was legitimately interested in helping them improve their sales pitch. A smarter interlocutor would be insulted.
Your argument is your product, and you are its salesperson. No matter how compelling and valuable your commodity may be, if your sales pitch consists of vilifying language and a condemning regard for your hopeful customer, they will not feel inclined to give two steaming shits about what you’re selling.
Your ethical argument has a lot of merit, but I'm not interested in being a better person if you're going to be mean.
When people stumble — myself, Allistair, and even greater authorities like David Jaffe and Jim Sterling — the goal is to make us learn from our mistakes, but what do we learn if the lesson is delivered by a figurative bat to the head? Treating offenders like dirt not only gives them a reason to ignore you, but it can also reaffirm their original position, as well as reinforce any negative preconceptions they had about you and your case.
Who gives a shit? The lesson is for the onlookers. We're the present, they're the future. They matter more. And while humor, derision, and spite might make you like your opponent less, they sure can help get the crowd on your side. Every retweet counts.
2. If you don’t yell, they won’t plug their ears. Do you want to know how to gain a valued, loyal customer?
Dude, you're writing an essay about how you got fired. This is not a time to brag about your salesmanship.
I was raised in Bakersfield, California. For those who don’t know, “Bako” is quite conservative … and a bit of a shithole [...] This, coupled with a Christian upbringing, meant I retained a relatively non-existent knowledge regarding gay people. I don’t hide the fact that, when I first moved to San Francisco nine years ago, I was genuinely homophobic. I hadn’t a single clue about how to feel or behave when it came to gay men and women.
While my Christian upbringing was considerably more liberal than most, I didn't knowingly meet a gay person face-to-face until undergrad. I had no clue how to act around anyone, so if there was any specific awkwardness relating to gay students, it got lost in the general terror. I don't recall ever having a lot of questions for them. I never found it particularly mysterious that some people wanted to fuck different people than I did.
I didn’t hide it then, either. Given my inquisitive nature, I was open and honest with gay people when it came to my devoutly religious beliefs, what I was taught, and my confusion regarding their sexual orientation. Considering my exposed Christian tattoos, I couldn’t hide it, even if I wanted to. All I desired was to gain some perspective, some understanding. An odd thing happened, though. The gays I spoke with weren’t angry. They didn’t despise me for knowing so little about their ordeals. They didn’t lambaste me for being raised to believe that their way of life was wrong or immoral.
That Perez feels it worth pointing out that these things didn't happen  implies that he had reason to suspect that they might. He didn't. People you've just met have not spent their lives thinking about how you feel about them. Their emotions are tied up in people and things that they care about.
They heard my case, considered my misinformation, and carefully answered with some of the most valuable and level-headed responses that I’ve ever been given in my life. Due to their kindness and patience, I was sold. I had absolutely no excuse to be repelled by homosexuality or the issues it faces in this country, and I never will.
Woohoo!
Though I’m no longer religious, I can’t help but feel a sense of amazement that people could go through such trauma, yet never bother to use my past faith and upbringing against me.
This is a really weird thing to say. It's like bragging about being petty.
So many of them (particularly gay women) were incredibly grateful that a straight, white male would actively desire to learn what it meant to be a gay American, and I was equally thankful that they didn’t scold me for not knowing in the first place. For several years now, the gay community has had one more supporter because of it.
Great that it worked out that way for you, but it's not incumbent upon them to convince you to be a decent human being. That's your responsibility. It sounds like they felt your heart was in the right place, and were willing to be patient with you on your behalf, but I suspect your account leaves out a great deal of eye-rolling and condescension.
The paradox of shelling a munitions factory. It’s not difficult to understand how some can feel so hurt that they resort to armed retaliation.
Dude, that's aggravated assault. Call the fucking cops.
But to fire back at the “bad guys” is to equalize the battlefield. In that instance, villains and victims become grayed. Treating anyone like they are subhuman is equally as deplorable as whatever behavior may have instigated it.
Forget the cops, call the UN. When you insult Felicia Day, the internet strikes back with motherfucking genocide.
This industry certainly has its issues, and I dare not deny that its transgendered, gay, and female members have and will face an unfair amount of problems. But their target demographic — those who do not fall under the three aforementioned categories — will rarely provide their patronage if the service being offered is laden with glass shards and caltrops.
We all desire for others to understand us. In the process, though, we so often become the new embroiderers of scarlet letters (“M” for misogyny). We claim to have the high ground, yet voluntarily remain in the piss-soaked dirt of the struggle below.
Who is this "we" of which you speak? The ones who are mistreated, or the ones who aren't sufficiently insulated from criticism when they mistreat the first group?
That provides nothing substantial or positive to the games industry we claim to serve, and it perpetuates an even greater disconnect between social groups.
I'm glad Perez is looking toward a broader understanding of ethics in a complex and interdependent society. I was beginning to worry this was just self-serving whining justified by false equivalencies.
“Goodness” and “kindness” are not subject for debate, nor are they anyone’s to redefine.
Three thousand years of moral philosophy would like to have a word with you.
If you still feel that fighting fire with fire is a reasonable and justifiable strategy for extinguishing a societal blaze, then perhaps you should spend more time off to the side, watching the flames burn everything to the ground.
As of press time, the internet is still here. Destructoid is still here. Perez is still here. Pinsof is still here. Aside from no longer maintaining writing gigs at one particular website--and apparently having sewn large, garish Ms into their clothing, for some reason--Perez and Pinsof seem to be doing ok. They aren't in jail, they haven't been doxxed, and they aren't regularly threatened with rape and murder. They embarrassed their employers, and will try harder not to embarrass future employers.

I, personally, think Perez and Pinsof were thoughtless and stupid, and are unaccustomed to being called on it when they had done thoughtless, stupid things. That said, when you do stuff in public, you will be criticized. Some of it will inevitably be unjustified.

This is ok.

Total strangers--the ones who might be convinced by things they read about you on the internet--aren't ever going to have an entirely accurate picture of what kind of person you are. Hell, an entirely accurate picture might not even be possible. But your friends and loved ones won't care. Your fans, if you have them, aren't going to be easily swayed either. When someone accuses you of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, or any other recently discovered sins, you are not actually facing imminent violence. If you find yourself on the privileged side of any of those -isms or -obias, you're still basically protected. You really do have the option of just saying, "Yeah, that was inappropriate. I'll try to be a better person" and letting it go. You can think it over on your own time, decide whether or not you feel it was valid, and make changes accordingly. Talk about it with your friends. In private. Don't worry about being unfairly maligned, worry about being hurtful and deserving to be maligned, irrespective of whether or not you get called on it.

Remember those gay folk that so impressed Perez? Want your own heroic narrative? Then show a small fraction of their fortitude that you claim to admire, and endure. Don't let your pride get in the way of what you believe is right. Your feelings are not more important than social justice, and you are not so fragile that you need to be kept in the dark about your fuck-ups. Own it. If you have a soapbox, stop justifying your behavior and work on preventing other people from making the same mistakes.

Who knows? If you do it right, if you're influential enough, the people now lionizing you for standing up to the forces of political correctness will be sending you death threats. And then you can talk to us about moral fucking authority.

What a bunch of assholes.

Oh, and while we're on the subject: Osama bin Laden had ten daughters to David Jaffe's two. Just sayin'.

1 comment:

Brandon O'Hara said...

Thank you for pointing out that an argument is not always about convincing the other side you are right. Being less than polite can be effective when you are trying to sway the minds of the undecideds and not those you are arguing with.