Saturday, January 17, 2015

At the gates of truth

If you look at the thing called Gamergate, it's easy to become despaired and confused. Despaired, because there seems to be no end to it. Confused, because what why how and why again.

How can it keep going? Why?

If you ask these questions using the hashtag, it is very likely you will get a response. Usually in one or two forms: either in the form of a canned, massproduced message about ethics in games journalism, or an equally canned message filled with utlranonsubtle passive/active aggression.

In either case, there will be little in the way of dialogue going on. Those who monitor and respond the tag, in all their sockpuppety forms, are not interested in listening to anything you have to say, and are even less interested in establishing lines of exchange. What will happen will be decidedly one-sided: there is Gamergate, and there is everyone else, and the latter has to be bashed in the head repeatedly with the message of the former. Bash all the SJWs.

Until ethics arrives, presumably.

This has implications for democratic theory.

Now, groups withdrawing from the rest of society is by no means a new thing. There's no shortage of historical examples of people departing from whatever is going on in order to do something else. Usually, however, these groups have had the explicit aim of having as little as possible to do with those left behind. It's a split both physically and socially - and neither group tends to be the worse for it.

In a pluralistic society, there's room for them. People going off doing their own thing is usually enshrined as a fundamental right - or, in the case of Silicon Valley startup mythology, a fundamental virtue. One group does its thing over here, another other there, a third one over there, and the democratic ambitions of the republic can on keep going strong. The fact that there are different groups doing different things is not a threat to democracy: to the contrary, many would leap at the opportunity to argue that this is the very core of a democratic society.

Goths being goths does not undermine democracy, as it were.

Thing is, though. This presupposes that these people keep two things: civilized and to themselves. They don't form roving bands of marauding raiders who lash out at anyone and anything they perceive as wrong, incorrect or simply not unconditionally agreeing with them.

Such as Gamergate.

As they grow ever more hostile to outsiders, they also turn ever more isolated from them. It's a circular process, where the hostility turns to isolation turns to even more hostility. Over time, the radical disconnect becomes sect-like - there is only one truth, and there are many who need to be bashed in the head with it until they understand it.

Until ethics arrives.

The democratic implications of this have little to do with Gamergate specifically, and more to do with the rise of other such radical splinter groupings. Groups defined by an aggressive communicative isolation, lashing out at anything and everything that is not themselves. Groups who, by virtue of this, becomes ever more suspicious of others, forming strong beliefs that there are forces at work to keep the truth from public view.

A common theme is conspiracy theories of how the media (as in, all media, at all times, all at once) is controlled by a very specific category with a very specific goal in mind. Be it Jews or feminists, the alleged control is greater and more far-reaching than anyone is allowed to know.

It's about ethics in journalism, to be sure.

How do we respond to the ever increasing number of groups who, by design or by chance, slip in to such a radical disconnect from the polity? How to talk to groups who, with the efficiency of ctrl+v, know exactly how to non-respond to anyone not of their own? How to account for such groups in a system of representative democracy?

Implications abound.

As an experiment, I shall post this to the Gamergate tag. As part of this experiment, I'd encourage the gaters to give a *nod* in acknowledgement that you've actually read this far. As a sign that you are, in fact, listening. Before engaging with the usual order of business.

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