Thursday, October 23, 2014

Gamergate, Feminism and Getting the Right Numbers

In high school I read a book called Games People Play.  As science goes, it was weak pop psychology but I vaguely remember two of the games described, rapo and hurrah.   In rapo a person is the aggressor but as soon as that is noted they immediately become a victim and then start the game of hurrah, a game where a mob piles on to the person who noted the person playing victim.   This is what is going on in web activism in some corners these days.   It has become mob rule and that is how the web has operated in far too many social justice campaigns.   Aggressors start culture wars to advance a social agenda then claim to be victims.   They may have a just cause but means matter.

Before getting into the meat, one note: if you are sending emails, tweets or passenger pigeons to other people threatening violence, you are committing a crime and in this wall to wall, 24 x 7, bathroom to boardroom surveillance state, you can expect a knock at the door and you deserve it.   If there is one unarguable issue above all, it is this: violence is a matter of humanism and against the law.  Threats and violent actions are unacceptable.  There is a considerable body of writing on that aspect of Gamergate.  Read it and be well-informed.

The point of this article is Gamergate illuminates what web activism too often comes down to: Spy Vs Spy. The same strategies played by all sides for power, not fairness, superiority not equality. As from the very inception of the web, they are played in the cause of social justice.

So Microsoft hires Danah Boyd and sets her loose on openness in technical systems and the party goes on despite the fact that in technology, change that does not improve form, fit or function is fashion, and usually for profit. This is how we got the WWW and then traded away privacy, security and local culture. And so it goes.

Here is a campaign message that makes me ask a different question: is this video an example of feminist activism or child abuse?

As a parent, if my child were used that way I'd be taking heads regardless of the message or cause.  Means matter and that video doesn't inspire me to look at the message.  It obscures it in the offensive content then says we can't be offended.

So.... fuck that.    We're adults and we protect children.  And feminism takes a bruising kick to the head by it's own boot heel.

That the video is on a page next to a picture of Renee Zellwigger showing off her "new look" and being celebrated for it by the Hollywood press could not be more ironic  or a better example of how hypocritical the web press is on the topic of feminism.   It's ALL click bait.  Web activism is a mess of "crossed streams" and as Egon said, "Don't cross the streams."

It seems that Gamergate will be seized on as a cause to promote the need for feminism at a time when feminism in the West is at an all time weak point. This may or may not be justified as the gamer community can't be said to be representative of the world at large.

There is wide variation across the globe in conditions that justify feminism as a call to action.. If a woman lives in Pakistan, for example or India or Saudi, feminism may be the difference between life and death. In Southern California or London England, much less so.  In Iran a woman who killed a man that she accused or rape was hung.  Unless she did that defending herself during the act, it is likely she would face serious jail time in the US.  Is that good law?    It is situational and generalizing can have side effects in systems of precedent or case law.   Justices stay up nights.

I think it important to have some perspective of locale or this topic devolves into Spy vs Spy, Men Bad Women Good, your side sucks but we don't, etc. And it is too important to let that happen. Memes so shrill as to be offensive even to supporters will surely weaken the discourse.

The statistics rolled out are in dispute. For example there is a study published by the US Senate that disputes the claim of a 23 per cent salary gap.

And another that says it is real.

And a video that says the favorite statistics are all myths:

Who to believe? 

If you have the time, here is a Marxist theorist's approach to the theories about the identity politics.   Have a glass of wine first.   This is hard reading.

A more useful question is not what does equal pay mean but how does one quantify equal work. It isn't as easy as citing job classifications but that may be all that can be done.  The Hudson Group study cited above does exactly that and the difference is around 9 percent, not 23. Who is right?   That takes reasoned research where the answer is not assumed before the question is asked.

Yet asking that question of Ronny Cox, a famous character actor elicited harassment and harrangue from him. Vile stuff.   And when the famous do that rather than have a reasoned answer, the gaming of the conversation is way over the top.   So I unfollow them.   Not a problem on Facebook but an example of how strange things have become.

There are disputes based on FBI incident reporting that the rape count is as high as claimed. However, anyone famiiar with NIBRS and UCR knows these are not the right source for those numbers but I don't know what is. The claims are wildly varying and there is too much personal anecdote taking.

If we have learned one thing from media-driven cause du jour events lately it is wait until there are hard forensics before burning down the village.   We cannot simply pile on and assume the social justice activist has a valid cause.   Perceptions fool us.  The common knowledge can be dead wrong.  A reasonable scepticism is reasonable.  We need a cold sober professional assessment of rape statistics. Even one is too many but as gas on a fire, this one needs real numbers.

As Monica Lewinsky has been opining as Patient Zero, the web is a marvelous tool for shattering and ruining lives.     Feminism has heroes but also foolish examples who became victims of their own foolish actions in the eyes of mobs.   She kept the dress, shared the infidelity and let the dogs out.   If we are to be reasonable, perhaps we shouldn't be so willing to sacrifice a 22 year old to a political agenda disguised as a social justice cause.   It was a private event between consenting adults.  In my opinion, not my circus, not my monkeys as they say.  On the other hand, it is not clear what her current campaign is about.   If it is that the web is a very large amplifier of whatever is cited most frequently by the most people at the greatest amplitude, then she is right.  And the lesson is?

"Mama told me not to come.  That's not the way to have fun."

Gamergate finally elicited a response from the Queen Geek, Felicia Day. I'm a fan of her writing. When she wants to be funny, she is. This piece is sad because as someone who has profited by being the role model of online female gamers, this piece has the feel of a first class passenger rowing away from the Titanic realizing that the gaiety has ended and though she survives, the deck on which she danced carefree is forever gone.

Yet as in the great sea tragedy, she never once asks if perhaps game content might have something to do with the raw ferocity of Gamergate.   She doesn't seem to be capable of questioning, just expressing fear.  That's a pity because for some reason we do expect an elevated concern of our celebrities although as with Cox, I'm not sure why.  They are actors, not scientists.   And that is a clue that who we elevate to prominence in conversations on matters of importance should be able to reason as much as emote.  

Here unfortunately the hard right has a point:  Hollywood and the entertainment community don't of necessity have a better seat at the show or a wiser point of view.   They have opinions just as the rest of us do.  The size of their fan base is the tool of those who may simply use them.   Once again, these are mob politics not reasoned debate.  As soon as she published her opinion, she was doxed (malicious publication of personal details such as address, phone number; a favorite tactic of web hacktivists such as anonymous).   And it sucks.  It is also a nasty problem of being a celebrity.   She did speak up and that is laudable but because she made her reputation as a famous geeky gamer, loves the games, perhaps she took some responsibility however shallow and it is the best she has.   I am sceptical about her surprise as the author of those Guild episodes where she pummels a Wil Wheaton clone for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.  In other words, Felicia Day has always known about the sexist side of gaming and has parodied it for fame and fortune.  Now she is afraid.   Wow.

Some try to have a conversation about real and well-documented problems of women in other cultures but will often be shouted down by a person representing yet another social justice cause, then remonstrated by a member of the original group of victims.

Social activists on the web have become like web standards:  there are so many to choose from.

Then there are the no-denials-possible sexists.

This is where posts and remarks and moves made in and out of tech companies are straight up Title VII events that should and must get a response.  I've seen too many Title VII actions in tech companies come to nothing because the guy OR the girl making the complaint was guilty but couldn't be touched.   And yes, both genders use Title VII for power and a quick ride up the ladder.   If you work in the office world be it old school brick or neo-startup, young or old, guy or gal, become very familiar with Title VII.  It is precedent based and really bad law but it is what we have to protect ourselves so learn how it works, what doesn't work and what to be careful about.  

Title VII is a Human Resources nightmare and managers fear it because it rips across business units like a seismic fault and does lasting damage.   So accept the responsibility to understand the implications and everyone will be better off, but don't expect it to be automatic.   A Title VII complaint can kick off six months of the office cubes shaking and grinding.   Caveat vendor.

Feminism is not a minority cause as was the case with gay marriage or treatment of racial minorities. Women ARE the majority. They have the power of the vote and can make that work for them. Or they can be made to work for others who adopt feminism as a mantle of social justice but who only seek power for its own sake and have no intention of changing much past the election. We do well to be wary because we have been and continue to be fooled again.

Games are simply product.  Feminism should be taken more seriously and it may not be the case that we can say which is more important without being attacked.  The vitriol of a Ronny Cox or the fearfulness of a Felicia Day can't be the ponies we cling to.   We must take the riders off the horses if the race is to be adjudicated fairly.

Feminism is important. If those statistics are valid, we have a lot of change to make but we cannot make it based on false assertions, premises and questioned statistics. And we can't do it without each other. It simply won't work. And playing games for points will destroy any credibility this issue has and rot any change required in the box. If the cause isn't important, let it die in the soup. If it is, turn down the heat before it boils over and is ruined for a generation.

Yet instead some feminists are working up a mighty steam, calling it humor but their approach is what it is:  hate in service of power, belittlement in service of superiority.

Men are asked to approve.   It is not surprising some don't and many others consider it yet another reason to dismiss feminism.  

After all, the last laugh is the laugh that is heard just before things get hairy.   We've a long history of hate movements.   They are seldom composed of the majority of any particular group but they are the loudest and they provide the excuse to look the other way or dismiss a legitimate cause.

Look at this video. In my opinion, this is feminism: humanism with a woman's face, a woman's heart and a woman's achievements not simply for other women, but humanity.

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