This started out as a post about GamerGate. (If you haven’t heard about GamerGate, just Google it.) I don’t have anything new to add to the “Which side is right?” or “What is GamerGate really about?” debates. My thoughts go elsewhere…
A child points to a green bowl and says it’s red. He’s adamant about it too. What do you do? You have a number of choices:
- You insist on your point of view and he insists on his. You engage in an endless back and forth of “It’s green!” “It’s red!” “It’s green!” “It’s red!” until one of you gives up.
- You take what seems to be a popular route lately: film it, school him on why he’s wrong, and share it on social media, where everyone who agrees with you can express their solidarity and laugh at the child’s ignorance, and everyone who disagrees with you or your approach can gather their forces against you.
- You detach yourself from your point of view and begin by asking him why he thinks the bowl is red. Chances are, once you truly figure out why he thinks the way he does, you can find a much clearer, welcome, and effective way of teaching him why he should actually call it “green.”
Choices #1 and #2 are about yourself and feeding your own ego. You’re simply showing yourself, and possibly others, that you know the correct answer, and the child gains nothing. Choice #3 is about trying to help the other. It’s the harder choice, and requires detachment and openness from both sides, but it makes a big difference. The poor kid never learned how to correctly identify the color green. He’s just always known what you call “green” to be “red.”
Do you hold it against him and take his error to heart? Shaming him for his ignorance? Teaming up with others who agree with you to insult and mock others who agree with him? Or do you try to understand and help him without taking his mistake so personally? Would your choice be different if the kid was an adult? Would there be less tolerance for what you consider to be a blatantly incorrect understanding as the other person gets older?
I think racism, misogyny, sexism – and all forms of prejudice, really – work in a similar way. I believe most people generally mean well. And that most people whose words and actions are described as racist, sexist, or misogynistic, legitimately don’t know any better. That is literally the dictionary definition of ignorance: “lack of knowledge or information.” This is not about excusing reprehensible actions, but about acknowledging an important aspect of the whole issue that is easily forgotten when emotions understandably run high over racially charged comments. We’ve all known or heard people who begin an incredibly racist statement with “I’m not racist, but…”. They’re just people – who were once kids – who haven’t learned the full extent of what constitutes racism.
The guy who considers catcalling even remotely acceptable is the child who never learned the importance of unconditional respect and courtesy. The man who makes the obscenely racist jokes and goes “What? It’s just a joke! Lighten up!” is the little boy who never learned that skin color and a person’s place of culture have absolutely nothing to do with another human being’s inherent worth, intelligence, potential, or character. The woman in a “Sexy Indian Princess” costume is the little girl who was never taught intercultural love, understanding, and consideration. The worst/saddest part is that these kids likely grew up with other kids who faced similar gaps in their education, inadvertently feeding it, growing it, spreading it, and often creating an identity and label around it that ultimately acts as an extra layer of armor between ignorance and education.
Legislations, resolutions, and policies are not going to end the persistent and systemic problems of racism, oppression, misogyny, sexism, and injustice we see in all levels of society. They may eventually get at a superficial and enforced sense of “equality,” but what good is equality if people are being forced to resentfully uphold it against their will? The only thing that can truly wipe out all the various forms of injustice for good is education. Even more specifically, it requires a systematic program of moral education that helps kids – and adults – develop an internal sense of moral duty and obligation towards helping, respecting, and serving others. And the most successful education requires mutual patience, respect, humility, and open-mindedness from all parties involved.
Virtually anyone who’s ever been in a classroom environment has experienced the instructor who just talks at the class. It’s the worst. The best educators engage all participants in an open dialogue that allows them to voice their thoughts – however vile and horrible they may be – and slowly but surely helps them see why they are problematic. It’s not about blaming and ridiculing, or saying they’re wrong, or pointing fingers. It’s about figuring out WHY they feel that way and showing them the better way that you believe you hold, all while recognizing that you also remain open to changing your view if you learn an even better version of that truth. It’s not about convincing or making them give up their views. It’s about helping each other learn and grow. And it’s definitely not about pretending to care about what they have to say to sneakily persuade them to your way of thinking.
But this started out as a post about GamerGate.
Whenever two sides are placed in opposition of each other in their values, beliefs, approaches, and aims, I don’t think it’s ever useful for either side to start out by pointing out how wrong the other side is, regardless of how completely and blatantly wrong either side may be. The dominant idea of a “debate” is so problematic to me. It’s so often about repeatedly expressing your own views, degrading others’ beliefs, and basically trying to “win.” I don’t see how it can ever result in actual long-lasting learning. Because that’s the biggest thing that needs to happen in any case like this: learning. And labels are a major obstacle.
We love labels almost as much as we love to hate them. Gamergate’s often reduced to “feminists” vs. “gamers” as though we’re all unanimously agreed on what either term means or what values and ideals they each carry. But we’re not. Everyone has a different connotation that they associate with each term. Describe yourself or anyone else as a gamer/feminist/anything else, and no two people will have exactly the same understanding – whether generally positive or generally negative – of what you mean.
So when article after article features headlines like “Terror Threat against feminist Anita Sarkeesian,” “Feminist video game critic cancels event,” “Feminist game critic cancels talk after terror threat,” and “Feminist speaker question’s Utah’s campus gun laws,” I can’t help but think how many people with negative views toward feminism just see that and go “good riddance.” And it makes me sad that an opportunity for someone to learn something positive has been missed.
Focusing on labels, like “gamer,” “feminist,” or “GamerGate,” keeps us from getting to the root of the problem because it makes it too easy for anyone to counter any potentially legitimate criticism or concern with “well that’s not what [insert label here] is really about, so I’m not even going to address it.” Or try to divert your attention by pointing to some other thing as an even bigger problem that should be talked about first, for example, pornography, or movies, or the role of parents, or whatever. So accusations of GamerGate being only about misogyny can be easily refuted, because – however minimally accurate it may be – #NotAllGamerGate is about that. Similarly, attention can be drawn to the very limited definition of feminism as man-hating, because although clearly #NotAllFeminists hate men, you cannot deny that some do.
It’s almost as if #NotAllHumans have the exact same understanding of every single thing…curious. #sarcasm
Plus, I don’t think it ever helps when either group attacks the other in an attempt to further legitimize their own stance – which I’ve seen from both sides. For example, calling feminists “feminazis” and all manners of misogynistic statements on one side. And a lot of jabs at the stereotypical view of “gamers” as out of shape losers who live with their parents, have no friends, and whose overall patheticness renders any of their threats harmless, on the other.
But labels are most problematic and even dangerous when priority is given to the label itself over the values they’re supposed to represent. You become more concerned with maintaining your identity as a member of that label than to honestly follow through with the implications of the beliefs you claim to hold. So “Gamergaters” are unlikely to “switch sides” because, well, then they’d be “feminists” too, and that’s what a lot of them, by self-definition, have apparently sworn to fight. A Democrat-Republican debate is a good example. It’s fair to say that for many people, their association with either label is typically more important than what they actually believe or what anyone in that debate has to say.
But what if instead of starting with the label, we begin with an acknowledgement of our fundamental values and ideals? Don’t tell me you’re a “gamer” or a “feminist” or a “Democrat” or a “Republican” or a “liberal” or a “conservative” or whatever. Tell me you believe in equality, justice, service, respect, honesty, and courtesy. Better yet, SHOW ME that you believe in equality, justice, service, respect, honesty, and courtesy. And join up with others who believe in the same positive values to make a positive change. For everyone. Not just for those who share your label.
Principles, ideals, and beliefs don’t make exceptions. Can we just start by clearly identifying what our beliefs are? And can we stop gathering clusters of values and beliefs under names and labels that are often inherently exclusionary and prone to contradictory definitions? There are so many people who believe in the same values and who could be working together to accomplish great things, except for the opposing labels they identify with. Labels are most often created for the purpose of separating things, not bringing them together. And they’re constantly evolving. But principles and virtues? They are eternal. Here’s the dictionary definition of principle: “a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning.” If you commit to a principle, you can’t use a label as an escape from following through with all the implications of that principle.
If you claim to believe in the importance of ethics and integrity in video game journalism, then you have to extend those beliefs to your day-to-day interaction with every single person in the world. And you have to see how those purported beliefs naturally extend to the ethical obligation of expanding the views and experiences represented in the world of digital games. If you claim to believe that every single person in the world deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, then you should see how that must extend to your interactions with people you disagree with, so that no one is rejected with a reference to the stereotype of gamers as pathetic losers who live with their parents (which is a whole other issue with an interesting system of values).
Do you believe in the equality of men and women? And that you can and should do things to help make that equality a just reality? Great. Many would consider you a feminist. But you’re not a feminist? That’s great too. Just do the work alongside others who want the same thing, regardless of what they call themselves.
This started out as a post about GamerGate, but it all comes down to education.
A child points to a green bowl and calls it red. That’s all the kid has ever known that color to be. An adult points to another human being and – depending on their skin color, sex, gender, sexual orientation, culture, etc – essentially sees something sub-human, less worthy of human dignity and respect than he/she would expect for him/herself. That’s all they’ve ever been encouraged to see and know, often with little motivation to change their ways. They’re both wrong and, by definition, ignorant. One of these knowledge gaps is obviously more harmful to society than the other (spoiler alert: it’s the prejudice), but shouldn’t that make us even more determined to fill in those gaps with patience, perseverance, confidence, and most of all, our own living example? Unfortunately, the public online spaces where most of these debates occur are not very conducive to productive talks. It’s never helpful when people are more concerned with being witty, acerbic, cynical, and amassing “likes,” “favorites,” “retweets,” and “shares,” than they are with learning something new. But it’s not impossible.
Brianna Wu (one of several female game developers who’s had to flee her home because of insanely violent threats surrounding Gamergate) recently wrote: “Harassment is not the problem of Gamergate. Death threats are not the problem of Gamergate. They are a symptom of deep problems in gamer culture…” I agree. But I also think we can take it one step further, and say that even the problems within gamer culture are not the problems of Gamergate. Gamer culture reflects the general culture of society and perhaps amplifies some of its symptoms. What we need is a cultural change, not only within gamer culture, but human culture itself. Gamer culture is made up of humans, after all. And a cultural change does not come easily or quickly. It will take time, dedication, perseverance, patience, humility, respect, and forbearance. It’ll create more social upheavals like Gamergate – and likely even worse than Gamergate – as people are forced to own up to their own knowledge gaps. We’ve seen a lot of these recently in the way-too-frequent cases of police brutality, domestic violence, and terrorist activities. They all involve people who are clearly suffering a major moral gap in their knowledge base. But I think the fact that so many people are speaking up, and so many of these events are coming to the fore in cultural discussions is a good sign.
Changing the current culture and helping all people see each other as fellow human beings who are inherently and unconditionally worthy of respect, kindness, justice, love, and generosity will probably be the hardest thing we’ll ever do as a species.
But the results will be beautiful. And it can start right now, by fully committing to one basic idea: