A lot of things been written about Gamer Gate. Some of them wrong, some of them stupid, some of them both.
A lot of the confusion (both accidental and malicious) is because Gamer Gate is three separate things clustered together under one name.
The Three Stages of Gamer Gate
Gamer Gate began in a relationship spat. Person X was dating person Y. At some point person X realized that person Y had engaged in a pattern of cheating and lying, and person X blogged about the dirt.
This relationship drama was the first stage of the GamerGate, and as a he-said-she-said tale, it's of interest only to the two people involved, and their friends.
The blog post, though, went beyond "she told me she loved me and then she showed she didn't", and alleged that the unfaithful partner had slept with powerful media figures in the small world of computer games journalism…figures who either reviewed games coded by the unfaithful partner, or managed writers who did review the games. The alleged behavior is (at best) a breach of common sense, and (at worst) a major breach of journalistic ethics.
This gamer journalism drama was the second stage of GamerGate, and as a sex-for-positive press coverage scandal (unproven, in my mind), or just as a "jeez, gamer journalism is as corruptly orchestrated as mainstream media is under Ezra Klein's Journolist" scandal, it's of interest to the tens of thousands of people who read and write game review journalism… which doesn't include me.
This is where things got wacky. And by "wacky", I mean "exploded like a barbecue grill when liquid oxygen is poured on it."
By my read of things (although reasonable people can differ) the charge that "games journalism is corrupt" was not itself inherently offensive to people on the left side of the political spectrum, but the partisans on the debate perfectly matched patterns of good and evil. On one side of the debate was a woman who was being chastised for her sexuality, and not only that, but she was a woman trying to break into the world of game development. On the other side of the debate were a bunch of low status men who did not agree that changing their micro-culture to accept women – women who wanted, after their entry, to change the micro-culture more – was a good thing.
And thus we have the third stage of GamerGate: a good old case of Kulturkampf.
The Thousand Year War is Really the Million Year War
One thing that I find endlessly amusing is that the band of monkeys known as "the cultural left" uses Darwin(tm) as the ultimate rock to beat in the heads of the band of monkeys known as "the cultural right", and yet they do not – in any deep sense – believe in Darwinism. Certainly not in the multitude of actually dangerous ideas that spew from Darwinism like alpha particles from a just-slightly-sub-critical chunk of uranium.
…but that's (mostly) beside the point.
There's just one aspect of Darwinism that I want to (need to?) touch on today: sexual / group selection and alliance games.
In any species that lives lives other than the solitary, brutish, and short variety, members cooperate. Cooperation is often a utility maximizing approach for basic economic reasons: if I'm well fed because I had a good hunting day, and you're hungry because you had a bad day, a marginal calorie is worth much less to me than it is to you, so I should share some of my catch with you. This is true for two reasons: first, because if we're kin, your future reproductive success redounds to the benefit of (some of) my genes, and second, because you might return the favor a day or a year later.
Nature, however, is better at generating frenemies than friends. A better way for me to reproduce my genes is to use a mixed strategy: helping you when it's easy, defecting when I think I can get away with it, etc. I should ideally take food from you when offered, yet give back as little as I can get away with. I should be seen to be a good ally, and fair, and yet stab you in the back when I can get away with it.
In social species, there's advanced technology to accomplish these goals: I can marshal alliances, vote people off the island, harass males away from fertile females, seize more than my share of the food for myself and my offspring.
It doesn't matter if it's nice; it matters if it's effective. Gnon has no pity and laughs at your human ideals…especially because he created your human ideals to help you be a convincing liar in social games.
And thus deception slithered its way in to the garden of Eden and/or earthly delights.
What is the take away here? It is this: evolution has crafted every one of us for one mission: to pass our genes on to the next generation. The fact that you, or you, or you, have chosen not to have kids does not refute this; in fact, in supports this. Your genes will not be present in the next generation, and Gnon will laugh.
And what effects does this mission have on us? High libidos? Well, yes, some of that – but so much more. We're the ape with the run away brains. Any ape that just had a high libido is long removed from the gene pool. Only the apes that also are excellent at joining alliances, marshaling allies, sniffing when the winds are changing, and defecting strategically reproduced with enough success to have contributed meaningfully to our genome.
A million years ago this alliance-making skill meant being on the right side of the alpha ape…and perhaps sneakily supporting the up-and-coming number two male.
Ten thousand years ago it meant being a member of a hunter gatherer tribe, and making status-degrading jokes about the one guy who was acting a bit big for his (deer hide) britches.
A thousand years ago, it meant … well, by a thousand years ago, social alliances for status games were starting to look pretty damned modern. It meant cobbling together wacky alliances from diverse groups like Diggers, Levelers, and Fifth Monarchists in order to overthrow one set of rulers and establish yourself in their place. Once in power there are all sorts of food-and-sex optimizing strategies for those good at the alliance game… like enslaving the foot soldiers of the old regime and selling them into slavery overseas, seizing their land, and more.
tl;dr: I reiterate my point in my previous post in this sequence that the current culture war is a thousand years old, but that's just the tip of the ice cube that sits atop the submerged iceberg.
Gamer Gate as the most recent battle in the Kulturkampf
The two teams in the culture war have had many names over the last thousand years:
Barons and kings. Parliamentarians and Royalty. Puritans and Southerners. Yankees and Rebs. Democrats and Republicans. Blues Reds. Progressives and reactionaries. Social Justice Warriors and homophobes.
These English terms obscure the fact that these two camps are much bigger than the Anglosphere countries. My reference to Kulturkampf earlier was not accidental nor flippant.
One one side you had Otto von Bismark: a Protestant, a man who wanted government centralized, a leader with disdain for regional differences, a bureaucrat who created the first welfare state (Wikipedia's words, not mine), expelled the Jesuits, secularized the practice of marriage, threatened to arrest clergy who took political stances contrary to his own, radically expanded government schools, created a government run retirement system, and more.
On the other side you had people who were for lower taxes, smaller government, regional differences, Catholic doctrine, etc.
I could draw more examples from Russian history, from Italian, from French, from Mexican, from Swedish, but I think it would be belaboring the point.
For at least a thousand years there have been two factions in The West. The magnetic poles drift slowly, and no one compass points with perfect precision, but there is no denying the reality of the poles.
One pole tends (and note that word "tends") to be Protestant, centralized, "scientific", pushing for "the greater good", and "Blue" (as we say in the American language).
The other pole other tends (second disclaimer, same as the first) to be Catholic, decentralized, "traditional", tolerant of inequality, and "Red" (again, in Americanese).
Why two poles, and not three? Because we humans are honed by millions of years of evolution, and understand game theory at a level that we can not explain: small factions are crushed between the wheels, and must ally with a larger faction or be ground to dust.
Our forces have Technograd surrounded are pounding it with shame bombs, and our sappers are inside the walls
As a poet once said: Cthulhu swims slowly, but he only swims left. Isn't that interesting?
The blue team has made amazing progress over the last three hundred years. Occasionally by force of arms, but usually by a much more clever strategy: entryism.
Entryism, for those not hip to the lingo, is "a political strategy in which an organization or state encourages its members or supporters to join another, usually larger organization in an attempt to expand influence and expand their ideas and program. In situations where the organization being 'entered' is hostile to entryism, the entryists may engage in a degree of subterfuge to hide the fact that they are an organization in their own right."
Since World War II the Blue team in the US has entered into the stodgy old universities (taking advantage of the GI Bill and the resulting explosion in size of secondary education institutions), and taken them over completely. It has taken over the media (now called the "mainstream media" or MSM by the red team), because of this. It has taken over many corporate boards (although not all attempts have succeeded).
One advantage the blue team has is the aura of inevitability: as with small Iraqi militias or army units facing ISIS in the Levant, when faced with an enemy that wins every battle, one's priors must be that in the coming battle one will lose. Thus, the winning move is to immediately surrender, ask for forgiveness, and join the winning team (millions of years of evolution make us pretty decent players at this game of thrones, remember).
Over the last few years blue team has been rolling up red team's flank in a new battle: the tech world (or, pace Scott Alexander, they're actually trying to roll up the flank of a minor Red faction / ally that should perhaps be called "Gray": techno-libertarians).
This is a really smart move for Blue, as much of the economy has stalled out over the last ten years, and tech is the only area of growth. Who wants to own 90% of a stalled boat, when you could own 90% of a boat that's going somewhere?
The dismounted skirmishers of this particular Blue attack are the sub-faction known (pejoratively) as social justice warriors. (A quick digression: I hope no one reads my dispassionate "X attacks Y" as being particularly condemnatory of X for the fact of the attack. Humans are a social species, forged in the crucible of evolution. Status games and attacks are what we do. Red team is no more moral than Blue team, and they attack just as much…but because their star is not ascendant, their attacks are in smaller arenas and do not last as long. We're all nasty social apes on this bus.)
The current blue attack (or "pink" in a term coined in parallel by James Poulos) on the tech grays uses two tactics: entryism and status shaming.
The entryism is of the usual type: people with blue/pink ideals join red / gray groups and try to achieve social status with in those groups, then use that social status to push for the admission of – and promotion of – more blue/pink members. Once the blue/pink members achieve a majority they then change the rules of admission to create a lock on their new conquest (in the case of academia, for example, even blue researchers in the Netherlands of all places, were shocked by how blatant the process was).
The status shaming is also of the usual type: high status blue / pinks follow Alinksy's battle plan.
First, they pick a low-status target (rule 12). This target is usually a pale, bespectacled Aspergers-ish nerd) for a transgression against the norms they wish to universalize. The high social status pinks paint themselves as victims of a power imbalance, then they use their superior popularity to out-speak the target and push their version of the narrative. Pink allies in the media join in to keep the pressure on (rule 8). This is easy to do, because the act of social shaming is not only fun, but it's click-bait, so everyone involved not only has lolz, they has cheeseburger (rule 6). The toxic nature of the allegations is usually sufficient to make sure that the target of the attack does not get much, if any, sympathetic press (rule 12, again: "Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions".)
We saw this in "DongleGate", when @AdriaRichards told her almost twenty thousand twitter followers that she was offended by the rampant institutional sexism she experienced when she eavesdropped on two low status nerds, and the entire left wing media piled in to attack two blinking developers who'd been pushed into the limelight with out any warning. The two guys were fired.
We saw this when Gawker writer Nitasha Tiku took a break from making fun of mentally ill hoarders to attack some dweeb sysadmin as "homophobic, racist, misogynistic, classist" because she didn't like the jokes he tweeted to his friends, or that he'd dressed up as a brogrammer for Halloween. The guy was fired.
We saw this when the multimillionaires / Harvard grads who run OKCupid (the 420th most accessed website on the internet) used their megaphone to attack the bespectacled microkernel programmer who'd been promoted to run Mozilla. The guy was fired.
GamerGhazi is Arabic for Kulturkampf
In computer gaming the attempt at entry came by first establishing a few pinks inside the community (not a problem, because the world of gamer development did not think of itself as politicized), and then using these pink resources to promote, give good reviews to, and bestow awards on pink developers and pink games, even when the games in question are not "games" by the normal definition.
The gray flank probably would have been turned in short order (the smart money is always on pink), but the best laid plans of mice and men sometimes stumble for stupid reasons. The War on Jenkin's Ear didn't kill 25,000 people and sink 600 ships because anyone gave a shit about Jenkins or his ear – it raged because the tinder was dry and the spark fell in the right place at the right time.
GamerGate was, for about a hot millisecond, about a female developer and the fact that she cheated on her boyfriend with five guys, or, alternatively, about low status nerds slut shaming a brave women developer (stage 1).
…but it's not any longer.
GamerGate was, for about a day, about corruption in game journalism (stage 2).
…but it's not any longer.
Those topics are sort of interesting for the handful of people who care, but they don't provide enough fuel to keep a fire burning.
The reason GamerGate has legs is because it's yet another battle in the thousand year long culture war between red/gray and blue/pink.
Of course, to put GamerGate in historical context is implicitly to force the conflict off of the ground where the pink team has trained its guns. This is a tactical reversal for the pink team, and through a combination of honest ignorance and dishonest faux outrage, they keep trying to pull the gray team back into the kill zone, where the pink's well-tested tactics of shame and media outrage work so well. Thus we see tweets like this:
As I said at the time:
We and They
I'm not a Blue, and I'm not a Red. It'd be nice if I was crisply one or the other, because then I could give myself wholeheartedly to one alliance and fight the good fight. Instead I'm forced to agree with 50% of what each team does, roll my eyes at 10%, and be damned annoyed at the remaining 40%.
I support an unlimited right to keep and bear arms…and I think LGBT folks should pack heat to keep queer-bashers at bay.
I'm a social con who's queasy about tearing down the Chesterton gate ideal of monogamous heterosexual marriage…and I think that an ideal ancap society would have polycentric law such that six lesbians could all marry each other.
I like rural landscapes and salt of the earth people…but I live in a dense blue state so that I'm surrounded by museums, coffeehouses, and restaurants.
I bring all of this up to make the point that I'm not unwaveringly opposed to the blue alliance. It's done a lot of good things.
The problem I have is that the blue alliance has been on a winning streak, and with recent Blue success in gay marriage, immigration of client populations, university-and-media roll-up, etc. I feel like the culture war is over and the victors are going around (metaphorically) humiliating and shooting survivors of the losing side, and conducting mop-up operations. Witness team Blue forcing bakers to bake cakes and forcing photographers to shoot photos for partnerships that they consider immoral. Witness blue team arguing that innocent people should go to jail for rape, because – and I'm quoting Ezra Klein here – we "need to create a world where men are afraid." Red team men, I take that to mean. Football players. Frat boys. Not nice guys like Ezra.
"The people must be reeducated!" goes up the cry. …but that's not the reason for the ritual humiliation. The reeducation is merely the rationalization, the justification.
Orwell had it right:
"Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power."
As the paleo diet folks note, we are not evolved for the physical environment we now find ourselves living in; we are evolved for the physical environment of the savanna.
Likewise, we are not evolved for the social environment we now find ourselves in; we are evolved for the social environment of the small tribe.
Today, though, we still follow that ancient programming. We pick fights, we form alliances, we portray ourselves as the weak party (when it is to our advantage, to gain sympathy) and then we act as the strong party (when it is to our advantage, to humiliate our enemies and warn our enemies-not-yet-met-in-battle).
Humans be humans. Don't hate the playa, hate the game.
…and that's all well and good, but the problem between a tolerable game and an intolerable one is whether the players shake hands as they exit the field.
Robert Conquest wrote a great book We and They: Civic and Despotic Cultures. He divides societies into two types: those that allow the vanquished their survival, their honor, and another bite at the apple, and those that seek to crush, in perpetuity, the temporary loser.
I'm certainly not asserting that GamerGate rises to the level of a totalitarian threat against all that we know and love. That would be ludicrous.
GamerGate is, however, a small battle in a thousand year war. The Blue team is neither entirely sympathetic nor entirely unsympathetic. The Red team is neither entirely sympathetic nor entirely unsympathetic.
However, the Blue team is ascendant, and it's a valid question as to whether it wants a peaceful rise. It's not crazy to note that Blue Team has used policies that arrest, deport, and kill "thought leaders" from Red Team on occasion (in Ireland, in France, in Mexico, in Germany, in Russia, and so forth) and to note that the ascendant Bright majority today is happy to talk about imprisoning or killing people who disagree with their conclusions on, say, global warming. Sure, the slickly produced videos of AGW deniers being exploded for their thought-crimes are meant as a light hearted joke, but many a truth is spoken in jest.
All things being equal, I'd prefer to live in one of Conquest's "civic" cultures, and not one of his "despotic" cultures. But if I'm forced to live in one of the latter, then it behooves me to play a game of realpolitik and back the weaker side.
I don't play video games, and I don't care about video game
journalism. But I know a culture war when I see one, and I've chosen
my side. It might be the losing side, but I'm still not convinced it's the wrong one.
[ Tip your waiters generously, and if you like my flavor of crazy, follow me on twitter @clarkhat ]
Last 5 posts by Clark
- Clark's Farewell To Popehat - December 30th, 2015
- The Current Refugee Crisis - November 18th, 2015
- Top Seven Things I Like About Internet Shame Mobs - July 29th, 2015
Gamer Gate vs Anti Gamer GateA Civil Discussion on Inclusiveness - June 23rd, 2015
- Two Kinds of Freedom of Speech (or #Strangeloop vs. Curtis Yarvin) - June 10th, 2015