Meditations on Cultural Libertarianism: Censorship

Censorship is always a contentious topic and in the video above Ms Southern makes a point I’ve been making for some years now, that censorship is not limited to governmental action and that acts of social censure often end up being enforced by the government in the end anyway. Take Gail Dines’ anti-pornography initiatives, now being strong-arm enforced in the UK thanks to the Conservative government drawing strength from her actions, or look at how entry to the UK (and Australia) has been denied to the rap/hip-hop artist Tyler the Creator on dubious grounds, in no small part due to pressure from feminist groups.

Before we go on, though, it’s necessary to define censorship. People who want to censor, tend to claim that an act of censorship can only come from the government. This seems to me to be an odd definition since the office of censor originated theologically, and we also talk about issues like ‘self censorship’. It also seems absurd not to call the threats of death and violence to cartoonists over the Muhammed issue censorship.

The ACLU has a more up-to-date definition:

Censorship, the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are “offensive,” happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups. Censorship by the government is unconstitutional.

They also caution on problems with pressure groups, boycotts etc, which can become dangerous. I strongly suggest reading the whole item.

Let’s take censorship out to its complete extension then, censorship is:

Anything that suppresses, controls or constricts free expression.

The next important point to get across then, is that censorship is not necessarily, inherently, bad. Sometimes there can be valid reasons to constrict free speech – and I say this as a free expression radical. The only absolute is that there are no absolutes, including this one.

Contextually it may be better not to tell your wife she looks fat in that dress. It may be better not to expose very young children to images of torture, abuse and dismemberment. It may be better not to allow someone to sell pictures of grown adults having sex with children, and so on.

So given censorship is not an inherent evil, how do we navigate when it is, or is not, justified (which is the real argument around censorship)?

  • Does it do real harm?
  • What is the context?
  • What is the cost/benefit?
  • Is it avoidable?

The most important aspect here would be the Harm Principle of JS Mill.

The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.

Which is to say that the only true justification for the exercising of any power over others, including censorship, is if it prevents harm, if it is for the greater good individually and collectively.

When we ask ‘does it do real harm?’ we are asking a scientifically answerable question and the truth is, simply, that for most forms of expression there is little or no evidence that it really does – unless it exists in a monoculture. A diversity of opinion allows for what one might consider harmful viewpoints to be challenged and debunked and for new ideas and thoughts – however controversial the source – to circulate.

Expression, then, should not be impeded without being shown to be harmful. The problem we run into here in society right now is that so much activist oriented and funded research is rubbish, as is a great deal of privately funded research – telling people what they want to know.

When we ask ‘what is the context?’ we are determining whether any such control or censorship might be limited, or whether we may allow some things at some times and not at others. We might allow something for adults which we don’t allow for children, for example. In a febrile atmosphere of racial tension we might constrict speech along those lines, more than we might during times of greater peace (even racists, on both sides of the colour divide, have a right to free speech normally).

What is the cost/benefit is an interesting question. There may be some forms of speech, such as the aforementioned racist speech, which have attached costs and benefits, the benefit being that allowing it defines us as a free society and guards against the stifling of other speech via spurious accusations of racism (such as calling criticism of Islam racist). The cost is that it can allow hate to spread and bad ideas to take root (though the best solution to this is generally more and better speech).

The last question is a relatively new phenomenon. Is the expression avoidable? There is, I think, a fundamental difference between a man shouting sexist abuse in the street and the same man doing the same thing on social media. You can ignore, but you cannot ‘remove’ the man shouting in the street without invoking the force of the state. On Twitter, Facebook or similar you can simply block him and he will vanish from your existence.

That’s active media, but what about things such as television, radio and so forth? There you can simply choose not to consume the expression. You can choose not to buy it, not to watch it, to change the channel or to close the book. There it’s even easier – even on broadcast media – and there’s even less reason for restriction.

What about billboards or public advertisements? Two reasonable recent incidents involve those, one a helpline that painted all men as abusers and which was protested by New Fathers for Justice (IIRC) and the other Protein World’s fitness-prompting posters which were said to be misogynistic and fat shaming. Both are unavoidable, but the ‘harm argument’ is not particularly strong in either case, and better met with more speech – in my opinion.

The overall point, which I hope I’ve made clear, is that constricting speech is only really excusable in those instances where harm can be directly shown and, to be even more abundantly clear, that means actual harm. Not hurt feelings, not offence, but actual, lasting harm backed by compelling evidence that this is the case.

Enforcing moral or ideological censorship, purely on the basis of personal objection, cannot and should not be possible and even people with ideologically opposing beliefs, even hatred, have a basic right to free expression. So long as we have a pluralistic media landscape where many ideas and concepts circulate we are all better off.

Meditations on Cultural Libertarianism

Allum Bokhari, a liberal fellow writing for – of all places – Breitbart, has posited that we are experiencing a new cultural phenomenon, which he dubs ‘Cultural Libertarianism‘, and which has been somewhat discussed – critically – by the Centre for a Stateless Society, pointing it out as one side, or an emerging counter-revolution, in the increasingly vicious culture war.

Mr Bokhari defines this Cultural Libertarianism largely by defining what it is in opposition to, rather than what its values and positive characteristics are. He does cover, briefly, what he identifies as Cultural Libertarian values which I’ll use as the basis for this discussion.

  • Championing free expression.
  • Resisting Identity Politics and public shaming.
  • Defending and understanding humour.
  • Opposing nannying and ‘safe spaces’.
  • Defending personal freedom.
  • Facts over feelings.
  • Valuing consumers and producers over third parties.
  • Celebrating culture in all its forms.

Some of these seem redundant to me and the aspects which are oppositional to what is being called ‘progressivism’ often stem from existing values. In promoting that positive value you inevitably come into opposition with others.

If I were to identify what I thought of as the core values of this emerging phenomenon, I would identify them as such:

  • A belief in the inherent value of free expression.
  • A belief in the equality, potential and strength of human beings.
  • A belief in the power and value of personal liberty.
  • A belief in the power, utility and relevance of reason.

It is, probably, necessary to define ‘libertarianism’ (small ‘l’) before going any further. If you say ‘libertarianism’ to most people, they picture some some of Ayn Rand worshipping anarcho-capitalist with an absolute belief in the free market and no sense of fairness or life-goals beyond unbridled profit.

This isn’t necessarily an unfair assessment of many economic Libertarians (big ‘l’) but libertarianism is not so specific an idea. The toxic and specific definition is so pernicious it has even begun to infiltrate dictionaries. Scruton’s Dictionary of Political Thought includes the extreme laissez-faire economic perspective, but also describes more classical libertarianism as a form of liberalism which…

…believes in freeing people not merely from the constraints of traditional political institutions, but also from the inner constraints imposed by their mistaken attribution of power to ineffectual things. The active libertarian is engaged in a process of liberation and wages war on all institutions through which a man’s vision of the world is narrowed… …among them the institutions of religion, the family and the customs of social – especially sexual – conformity.

This doesn’t quite describe what we’re talking about here either, though you can see the spirit of it within it. You can see echoes of what we’re talking about in both economic and social libertarianism though. An economic libertarian advocates minimal – or no – societal (governmental) interference in the conduct of business, a social libertarian advocates minimal – or no – societal (governmental) interference in social conduct and, then, a cultural libertarian would advocate minimal – or no – societal (or governmental) interference in cultural conduct.

  • An economic libertarian might argue against business regulation.
  • A social libertarian might advocate for the legalisation of sex work and recreational drugs.
  • A cultural libertarian might advocate against any and all constrictions of free expression.

To me, much of this seems to be what I have often longed for in the past five years, a reassertion of Enlightenment values and of classical liberalism.

All of western society which, love it or loathe it, has been powerfully successful, derives in its modern form from Enlightenment values of reason, empiricism, skepticism, independence, individualism and, you might say, an attempt to bring about the maturity of society by separating it from political and religious tyranny.

Classical liberalism, to finish contextualising cultural libertarianism, has the asserted values of:

  • Belief in the supreme value of the individual, their freedom and rights.
  • Belief in natural rights, inherent and independent to society and government.
  • Recognition of the supreme importance and value of freedom, with the view that interference should be limited and minimal and only justifiable to the extent that it maximises freedom.
  • A humanistic view of human affairs, rather than a theological view.
  • Universalism, that rights and duties transcend place and time and that the human condition is our common experience.
  • Advocacy of tolerance in morality and religion.

I believe we can see a common thread, then, running from the explorations of the Enlightenment, through classical liberalism (and democratic socialism, much as that may shock and horrify some cultural libertarians) through to today’s new cultural libertarians.

That’s a noble tradition.

Of course, there are points of confusion where the values from this heritage also seem to be held by cultural libertarianism’s opposition, or where it seems to run at odds to some of the other values of people who might be dubbed cultural libertarians. I don’t want to dwell too much on the negative – as I stated at the start – but some aspects are worth pointing out.

It confuses many how people of such opposing values on other scores can find themselves in common cultural cause. I, for example, have little I agree with – say – Adam Baldwin or Katie Hopkins on, but however obnoxious I find them or they find me, I think we all would agree on one thing. That we each have the right to our opinions and the right to express them. Supporting a person’s right to free expression does not entail agreeing with their economic or social positions. People are so quick to slap an identity on someone – friend or foe alike – that nuanced discussion becomes impossible because you’ve been written off as a ‘conservative’ or a ‘misogynist’ or whatever else.

People are more than their identity tags.

Another point of contention might be the nature of freedom and of rights. There’s always a tension between ‘freedom from’ and ‘freedom to’ and between a person’s right to do something and another person’s right to be free of something. ‘The right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose’, so to speak, but how much nasal protection is in order?

Cultural libertarians will tend to favour ‘freedom to’ and JS Mill’s formulation of the Harm Principle would seem to offer a good guide to where intervention is morally and ethically justified.

“The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

‘Harm’, of course, is the centre of much of the modern debate, what constitutes actual harm, whether it includes emotional harm, whether it includes taking offence and whether it’s acceptable to take offence on behalf of someone else. I would argue that cultural libertarians mean genuine and actual harm – such as direct advocacy of violence – and not insult or offence.

Tolerance is the last arena I shall briefly touch on, where confusion might arise. Tolerance, in common parlance, has come to mean ‘strenuously not offending or upsetting anyone’, whereas tolerance in this sense – and more properly if I’m any judge – means putting up with and coping with running into contradictory views and being able to cope with their existence. Ironically the opposite of what ‘tolerance’ has come to mean.

These are some initial thoughts on a phenomenon and proposed ‘new’ social movement that I find fascinating and I shall probably continue to discuss and attempt to identify what it means as time goes on.

#SPJAirplay – Towards a Modern Corrections Policy

3d_tipp_exOne of the things that came up at the recent SPJ Airplay event was the need for a decent corrections policy. Absent some sort of financial or other penalty process there’s currently little or nothing to stop an online publication putting out nonsense and then putting out a small retraction or amendment later when it’s already too late. It’s certainly possible for a publication to blatantly lie and make a big noise about it, and then to retract near-silently.

Any policy is also unenforcible, but in the spirit of the positivity after Airplay here’s some ideas on how such a policy could be enacted.

Step One: Correction

One of the beauties of the internet is that material can be edited live. If an article has made a wrong assertion, accusation or other problem it can be actively changed – immediately. There’s no need to wait for a new edition or anything like that. This is a two-edged sword however, given that this also allows for mistakes to be covered up.

As such an article should be corrected, but the mistake should also be acknowledged. Correct the article in the body of the text, but acknowledge and spell out the mistakes and apologise for them at the head of the original article.

Step Two: Publication

Part of the problem with corrections is their lack of reach. The corrections never travel as far as the original story. As such the full, corrected story as well as existing as a correction should probably get its own publication with the full front-page, social media promotion treatment that a new story would. This would mean that the same story would effectively be published twice and both would now be the corrected versions – and this would happen as many times as corrections would be needed.


This is not a perfect solution, but as a policy it helps ensure that mistakes are not covered up and takes advantage of the way internet publication and social media work to try and ensure the maximum spread and to encourage good practice in order to avoid making mistakes and having multiple versions of the same article up.


#Gamergate Fisking Felicia Day (No. I said FISKING, grow up).

Piracy is bad, don’t do it, but someone leaked the chapter out of her book that addresses Gamergate. I’m not going to be buying the book, but I’m not going to link to the leak or quote it in its entirety, but I’ll address the specific claims made about Gamergate in the piece and quote those bits here.

This is difficult, since the majority of the section supposedly about Gamergate has nothing to do with Gamergate. It’s a general whinge about trolls. Yes, trolls are bad, but Gamergate =/= Trolls and Trolls =/= Gamergate.

Listen to the wisdom of Gawker on this issue.

Screenshot from 2015-08-12 19:55:43

OK, so they’re talking about #BlackLivesMatter but the principle is sound.

Anyway, on we go…

And then #GamerGate happened. A perfect, hateful, digital gumbo that gave the gaming world, and me, a black eye not soon to be healed.

Felicia doesn’t really explain why she ended up getting a ‘black eye’, which was mostly upset, disappointment and outrage that she’d turn on her own audience without having done any research or having put any thought in. Just in case there’s any new people reading this, Gamergate is a consumer revolt against corruption in games journalism, politicisation and censorship. It’s not unlike the gaming revolt against Jack Thompson in the 90s, only this time its corrupt journalists and spurious accusations of misogyny, not legal threats and spurious accusations of encouraging violence.


I would suggest that a measure of hate is an appropriate reaction to corruption.

The whole #GamerGate thing started in August 2014, with a guy getting revenge over a really bad breakup by publishing every excruciatingly and maniacally specific detail online.


Gamergate came later. The sex scandal stirred up two tags/reactions (BurgersAndFries and Quinnspiracy) but not Gamergate.

The blog was also the kind of action normally lauded in social justice circles, an abused romantic partner warning other people about their abusive partner. Eron Gjoni – the writer of the post – made the mistake of thinking that as a man he had the right to do what lots of women have done without any real backlash or judgement.

He was cheated on many times, manipulated and emotionally abused by his partner, but the part that would eventually become Gamergate was the revelation that started here that there were undisclosed relationships between developers and press – a breach of basic journalistic ethics.

Evidence of her cheating on him, peppered with implications of sexual favors traded for reviews of the game Depression Quest that she had designed (accusations that were later disproven. Repeat: disproven).


The claim was never (until the lie got repeated a lot) that fucking had been traded for reviews, but for positive coverage – and that’s proven, especially with regard to one journo in particular. There were also financial entanglements. The point in all cases is not necessarily that there was wrongdoing, but that as a conflict of interest – undisclosed – it’s a breach of ethics. As it turned out that was merely the tip of the iceberg.

The roots of both incidents lie in 4chan, an anonymous website generally associated with hate speech and cartoon porn addiction, and the starting point for the attacks on Zoe Quinn. Basically, it’s the watercooler for some of the worst of the internet.

Not really, no, given that even 4chan ended up censoring discussion. The outrage was EVERYWHERE and was censored EVERYWHERE without being addressed. People had few places to go save 4chan and then 8chan. I also think this is an unfair characterisation of chan culture, something that someone claiming to be part of geek culture should know better about.

But it didn’t. It got worse. Because the issue somehow morphed from attacking a single woman over a messed-up revenge post to a quasi-conservative movement striving for “ethics in game journalism.” A large segment of the newly anointed “#GamerGate movement” decided that as a result of “the Zoe post” there was corruption running rampant in the game journalism world. And THEY were the people to fix it.

Because these were different things Felicia, things you’ve conflated into one. Nor is Gamergate conservative. As it turned out there were massive issues (see Deepfreeze again). The gamers were right, as you’d know if you’d bothered to check. More to the point, Gamergate has massively succeeded in this goal. So as it turns out, they WERE the people to fix it.

They focused a large amount of their wrath on people trying to add dialogue about feminism and diversity in gaming, condemning them as “Social Justice Warriors.” (That label was always so weird to me, because how is that an insult? “Social Justice Warrior” actually sounds pretty badass.)

Because this was where a lot of the corruption and issues were centred. It’s actually fairly incidental, but in the process of the scandal a lot of people – yourself included Felicia – tried to turn it into part of the ‘women in tech’ discussion, when it really wasn’t. As to SJWs, you seem to fail to understand that it’s not anti actual social justice, its a reference to extremism. You can think of it as the difference between Muslim and Islamist.

Ironically, the #GamerGate movement never focused on some of the big game companies who actually ARE unethical, bribing vloggers and censoring bad reviews on their products.

Actually it did. Totalbiscuit’s expose of this was signal boosted by Gamergate and old scandals were brought back out into the light, but since the current wave of corruption related to the indie scene, that’s where the attention fell. Should that corruption simply be ignored because other stuff goes on? Clearly not. Silly argument.

But as those two gamers walked toward me, for the first time in my life I didn’t have the impulse to say hello. Or smile. For some reason as I approached the corner . . . I crossed the street instead.

You’d bought into a lie, you were terrified for no reason. People may well have been angry at you for betraying your fans and turning against a hobby you profess to love, but this is clearly a ludicrous overreaction.

How sad I was that the actions of #GamerGate had created that feeling in me, to separate myself from people whom I would have assumed were comrades before.

That’s the thing though, it wasn’t Gamergate’s actions. It was your own and that of the same corrupt journos who were at fault. Those who painted a movement against censorship and for ethical journalism as a hate movement, without any evidence that this was so. You were sold, bought into and helped sell a lie and that’s why people are angry with you. Nothing to do with your vagina, but what you did. What could be more egalitarian than that? What could be less egalitarian than to hide behind being a woman when you’ve done something wrong?

And how the whole situation was creating the outside impression of a culture driven by misogyny and hatred, which I KNEW wasn’t true.

And wasn’t, and isn’t, true of Gamergate. If you knew it wasn’t true, why perpetuate the lie? Why act like it was true?

#GamerGate as a movement created an environment for attacks to flourish.

No. It didn’t. Trolls are always going to troll. Your own chapter here points out this shit was going on for years before and it will go on for years after. Wherever there is drama trolls will arrive and gender issues are great bait for them because gender activists are virtually guaranteed to overreact to any provocation whatsoever. Gender was, of course, nothing to do with Gamergate until gender activists barged in to make it about them.

You’re also forgetting that Gamergate members have also been doxxed, harassed, had their jobs threatened – or lost – but this message is never repeated. The victim narrative only applies to one side and so many – perhaps even most – victims are ignored.

The controversy created irresistible bait for trolls, but that ended up hurting everyone and most of it was probably nothing to do with either side. Indeed, if Gamergate were a hate movement, it’d be a damn sorry excuse for one.

I recently got a message from a mother who said, “I asked my fourteen-year-old what #GamerGate was and he said, ‘It’s because women are trying to ruin video games.

Simplistic and inaccurate, but after a year of this and the issue being hijacked by con-artists like Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu for self promotion, maybe not as inaccurate as it was at the start of all this, and that’s not Gamergate’s doing.

Because if you can’t be your own weird self on the internet, where can you be? And what would be the point.

And what if taking joy in games gets you branded a misogynist? What if you want to make games, but unless they’re a box-ticking exercise in forced ‘diversity’ they get panned? What if someone finally does manage to censor games with spurious science in the way Wertham did with comics in the 1950s? What if this great hobby is ruined, not by ‘women trying to ruin videogames’ but by dishonest activists killing genuine diversity because of their strange obsessions with identity politics?

You’ve joined an array of voices that is determined to NOT let people be their ‘own weird self’ on the internet, that want to bring petty real world concerns crashing into fantasy. You sided with the people harming gaming, you didn’t give ‘your peeps’ any benefit of the doubt and you did no research before simply assuming that a band of concerned consumers were trolls.

Then you wonder why they’re upset with you.

Then you write a whole chapter of your book, which claims to be about Gamergate but mostly isn’t, and repeats the same lies about it all over again.

Maybe talk to some of us like human beings. You, Wil maybe, a few others. Let’s actually talk, listen to each other and pretend – at least for an hour or two – that the other side is being sincere.

How’s that sound?

You know, I’ve been trying to get something like that set up, on and off, for over a year now, but nobody will do it. Afraid we might have a point?


How the Fuck do you Persuade People, You Dick?

persuasionArgumentation and discussion is virtually always pointless it seems. People very rarely shift from their existing positions and so the whole effort is usually for naught. Strenuous argument can often only cause people to entrench. This means that many arguments aren’t really fought to win over the person you’re arguing with, but to demonstrate the strength of your argument and the weakness of theirs to undecided onlookers.

One thing that remains very difficult, even impossible, for me to reconcile is that I strive very hard to only be persuaded by logic, reason and evidence – as I believe everyone should. Everyone slips, but it’s a good standard to work to, the trouble is that in the real world most people aren’t rational actors making weighed, rational decisions. It would be a much better world if that were the case.

Most people appear to be led by emotion and this is what leads to to such blatant acts of hypocrisy and rationalisation that we see.

Take the example of Gawker.

A writer at Gawker recently wrote this after Sanders was forced off the mic by #blacklivesmatter activists:

Screenshot from 2015-08-12 19:55:43

This from the same ”””””news organisation””””” that has condemned #Gamergate – a similarly disorganised group – as a whole, with absolutely no reservation.

The principle given above is a reasonable, rational approach that should be universally applicable in these sorts of situations but where they are willing to make room and forgive a cause or group they seem to believe in (BLM) the same principle is not applied when they don’t (GG).

Is there any way around this? I don’t know that there is.

The previously discussed ‘Rules for Radicals’ advocates methods that acknowledge and accept that most people are not rational actors, but it tends to add ‘heat’ to discussion and to celebrate and encourage vicious confrontation. It’s a war of attrition rather than persuasion.

How do you win then? Embrace the irrational and strike at people first in order to elicit an emotional response and ‘buy in’? To return to Gamergate as an example, being full of ‘spergs’, has highly valued logic, reason and evidence (with notable exceptions). It has catalogued all the transgressions of journalists, it has meticulously tracked and presented every detail and it’s inarguable at this point that there are serious problems around corruption and collusion that need to be addressed.

But has that persuaded anyone?

A handful perhaps, but the dominant media narrative is that of ‘misogynistic abusers’ despite the total lack of evidence that this is so and the huge amount of countermanding evidence that exists. Still it persists, and is an emotional appeal, and it reached more undecided people (especially normal people) than Gamergate could – to the point where people who agree with everything Gamergate actually stands for and does, aggressively position themselves as ‘neutral’ to avoid being smeared.

To return to #BlackLivesMatter there’s no argument over whether the disruptive elements were ‘truly’ part of it in the first place, and we see how the aggressiveness of the argument has – arguably – made the situation worse. We now have poor white people standing between the police and the protesters in Ferguson, when really the poor should be united, regardless of race/colour. Racial activism is bad PR and less likely to lead to change.

Productive action has to be based in fact, whatever PR it happens to be sold on, but the battle for hearts and minds is fought more in the heart than the mind, sadly.

I honestly don’t know what the solution is. When we do argue on logic, reason and evidence we do it in formal arenas such as science or the court, with a great deal of apparatus to try and ensure objective and reasoned argument and evidence carries the day. We don’t have that in personal argumentation.

I don’t know if I can change to a different tactic, because logic, reason and evidence are everything to me I expect them to work (and they should!) Specious, emotive arguments feel like they should be avoided or are beneath someone who is being serious, yet there’s no denying their efficacy.

Perhaps some ground could be made by taking people at their word, and taking it to its logical extension. To argue indirectly by bringing up things they have failed to consider – though this certainly doesn’t work in the case of ‘what about the menz?’ as there’s zero compassion there, regardless.

Any thoughts or suggestions?

What success I have had fighting creationists, which is the only point of comparison I can really make, has come through prolonged application of evidence, or provoking emotion that requires them to defend the morally indefensible, but even these don’t seem to work in activist arguments.

Any ideas?

#Gamergate – GG Via Rules for Radicals

I generally prefer Sun Tzu or Machiavelli, and I’ve read them more often and more recently than Alinksy, but Sargon’s video was a reminder that there’s some good stuff there and that Gamergate has actually done very well by Alinsky’s standards.

It’s worth taking a moment to reflect upon Gamergate from the Alinsky perspective and see where it’s done well, and badly, and where – perhaps – Alinksy is no longer quite so relevant or effective.

It’s important, before we start, to first frame what’s going on with Gamergate. Even though we all know.

Gamergate is a year-long, anarchistic and emergent campaign (99% online) against corruption in games journalism, against censorship of video games and against the politicisation of video games media.

Gamergate’s enemies are the status-quo games media (the large sites and commentators/critics), pseudo-academia (the soft humanities and agenda-driven cultural critics) and cultural authoritarians in general, including the mainstream media when it’s also pushing an agenda.

Gamergate is characterised by being a politically neutral, genuinely grassroots movement of game enthusiasts and consumers.

Gamergate’s enemies are characterised by being the existing, comfortable establishment even though they exploit and use a victim narrative and pretend that they do not have the power.

RULE 1: “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.” Power is derived from 2 main sources – money and people. “Have-Nots” must build power from flesh and blood. (These are two things of which there is a plentiful supply. Government and corporations always have a difficult time appealing to people, and usually do so almost exclusively with economic arguments.)

Gamergate has both the money and the people, hypothetically. Gamergate is much larger than its opposition and, as a consumer movement, controls a great deal of money in terms of advertising clicks and consumer dollars spent on product and merchandising. In theory, then, Gamergate should have the power in this situation, and it could.

Gamergate’s opposition, however, has power in strategic points and places which acts as a great force multiplier. If you only had games media and mainstream media to go on, you would have no idea what Gamergate actually is. Gamergate’s enemies control the narrative and gatekeep people’s access to the genuine Gamergate, preventing many from finding out what it truly is.

For Gamergate to continue, expand and succeed it must find ways to get around the enemy’s control of the mainstream media and to gain access to the wider array of ‘normal’ people.

RULE 2: “Never go outside the expertise of your people.” It results in confusion, fear and retreat. Feeling secure adds to the backbone of anyone. (Organizations under attack wonder why radicals don’t address the “real” issues. This is why. They avoid things with which they have no knowledge.)

Gamergate has, relatively speaking, the ‘common touch’. Jargon is light and what is there is well known in the gaming community, and gamers KNOW GAMES. When nonsensical news stories come up about lack of diversity in games, gamers know it’s bullshit and can rattle off thousands of counter-examples. When accusations of ‘privilege’ come up, again, from personal experience there are thousands of compelling counter-stories.

Gamergate’s enemies do not know or understand games or gaming culture to anything like the extent that gamers do and they’re strangely proud of that fact. Their ‘play’ is made at the corporate, reputational level and with mainstream ‘normal’ people by painting Gamergate as misogynistic, racist, hostile etc, though their jargon and lack of relatability lets them down.

Gamergate can get around the ‘shaming’ tactics that have served AGGro so well simply by continuing to do what it has done, to ignore and mock it. We don’t need to understand or adopt their argumentation when your average normal person fully understands racism to be ‘prejudice on the basis of race’ and NOT ‘prejudice plus power’. Examples like Bahar Mustapha and Rachel Dolezal have been great for Gamergate as your average person just squints at either like they’re crazy – which they are.

In short, it’s unnecessary to be experts on race/gender etc, only to speak in commonly understood – but decent – terms on these things.

RULE 3: “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.” Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty. (This happens all the time. Watch how many organizations under attack are blind-sided by seemingly irrelevant arguments that they are then forced to address.)

Gamergate already occupies an arena outside the expertise of the enemy and can make them look ridiculous whenever they try to talk about games or nerd culture at all. Every attack can be countered by greater knowledge. This is our default position, so this is not hard at all.

AGGro’s area of expertise is ‘social justice issues’ but this is a naturally small demographic of particular echo-chambers when taken to extremes. We don’t need to meet them in this area, but in the common understanding of these issues where they will flounder and look foolish.

RULE 4: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters. You can kill them with this because no one can possibly obey all of their own rules. (This is a serious rule. The besieged entity’s very credibility and reputation is at stake, because if activists catch it lying or not living up to its commitments, they can continue to chip away at the damage.)

Gamergate could do with doing more of this. Not a single anti-white or ‘uncle Tom’ message from the enemy should exist without a string of replies pointing out that it is racist. Not a single anti-male message should exist without a string of replies pointing out misandry, the same goes for the ‘damseling’ that goes on and the presentation of women as ‘weak’ which can be interpreted as misogynist. Not a day goes by that AGGro doesn’t make a mistake in this regard and they need to be vigorously pointed out as hypocrites.

AGGro has begun to use this against us, most notably with the attacks on Sargon. They are attempting to hold us to our own demands for ethics, even though we are – by and large – not paid journalists and (thus far) haven’t actually done anything unethical. It has been a tactical mistake to answer these accusations when they should probably, simply, be dismissed. After all, we’re not journalists, we’re not being paid to do that job and so are not beholden to journalistic ethics.

Of course, we should be reasonably circumspect, for PR if nothing else.

RULE 5: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions. (Pretty crude, rude and mean, huh? They want to create anger and fear.)

Gamergate wins massively on this score. Gamergate is FUN, Gamergate is FUNNY, Gamergate has the BEST memes and Gamergate as a collective entity is an expert at taking the piss. AGGro, on the other hand, have zero sense of humour, take themselves deadly seriously and this makes them vulnerable. Exquisitely so.

RULE 6: “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.” They’ll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They’re doing their thing, and will even suggest better ones. (Radical activists, in this sense, are no different that any other human being. We all avoid “un-fun” activities, and but we revel at and enjoy the ones that work and bring results.)

To reiterate, this is somewhere where Gamergate shines. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s amusing. We need to find more fun activities and we need to make the less fun activities easier.

AGGro, by comparison, are not fun or amusing. They’re just mean and they think everything is terrible.

RULE 7: “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.” Don’t become old news. (Even radical activists get bored. So to keep them excited and involved, organizers are constantly coming up with new tactics.)

This is why ‘happenings’ are so important in Gamergate, they fuel engagement and re-engagement. ‘Ops’ need to come back too in a big way and in ways more innovative than ‘send email’.

AGGro have been repeating their same tactics since the start, so a refresh and renew on Gamergate tactics should be even more effective.

RULE 8: “Keep the pressure on. Never let up.” Keep trying new things to keep the opposition off balance. As the opposition masters one approach, hit them from the flank with something new. (Attack, attack, attack from all sides, never giving the reeling organization a chance to rest, regroup, recover and re-strategize.)

Gamergate was good at this initially but has begun to slacken off. This is a reiteration of the need to keep the heat on, to keep piling the heat on and to develop new tactics and operations.

AGGro do this, naturally, but they are not fighting just us. The pressure is a constant push from media outlets and pseudo-academia and needs to be met just as strongly every single time it appears.

RULE 9: “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.” Imagination and ego can dream up many more consequences than any activist. (Perception is reality. Large organizations always prepare a worst-case scenario, something that may be furthest from the activists’ minds. The upshot is that the organization will expend enormous time and energy, creating in its own collective mind the direst of conclusions. The possibilities can easily poison the mind and result in demoralization.)

Perception is not reality and one major departure I have from Alinksy is his innate embracing of irrationalism. In the end reality is always what determines what happens, not perception. You need to know and have the reality AND to work the perception to the correct end.

Also Gamergate doesn’t want to be seen as a threat, we want to be engaged. Being seen as dangerous and a threat is counterproductive to the narrative that we want to sell. We also want to sell the narrative that it is the opposition that are dangerous and a threat – to fundamental human freedoms such as free expression.

RULE 10: “If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.” Violence from the other side can win the public to your side because the public sympathizes with the underdog. (Unions used this tactic. Peaceful [albeit loud] demonstrations during the heyday of unions in the early to mid-20th Century incurred management’s wrath, often in the form of violence that eventually brought public sympathy to their side.)

We are the underdog in Gamergate and we have been subjected to a great deal of brutalising treatment from doxxing and threats to brigading, jobs being threatened and so on. We’ve also been censored from even discussing the problems we’ve found in most remotely mainstream places.

Yet AGGro has successfully presented the narrative that Gamergate are the harassers, the monsters and so on. This needs challenging and countering constantly with concrete examples from topic bans and blockbots to documented cases of harassment.

RULE 11: “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.” Never let the enemy score points because you’re caught without a solution to the problem. (Old saw: If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Activist organizations have an agenda, and their strategy is to hold a place at the table, to be given a forum to wield their power. So, they have to have a compromise solution.)

We have our solutions. Alternative sources of media, truly egalitarian and meritocratic games, truly free expression. This side does, however, need to be pushed more. Since the start we’ve pushed ethics policies and we’ve made ground on that, but we need to go further.

RULE 12: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions. (This is cruel, but very effective. Direct, personalized criticism and ridicule works.)

Personally, I do not like this tactic. It’s an automatic ad hominem, but there’s no denying there’s plenty of awful people in AGGro who are easy to demonise from Butts and Harper to Sarkeesian and Joshathan McInjosh. There’s a steady flow of awful people doing awful things.

AGGro has done well in demonising certain people like Davis Aurini and smearing our whole side based upon them. They do a similar tactic with websites like 8chan and their constant accusations of paedophilia etc or trying to claim that Gamergate is inherently ‘conservative’.

I personally can’t condone this tactic, but there’s no doubting its effectiveness. What I could advocate is holding up certain AGGro personalities as exemplars of everything that’s wrong with the ‘Social Justice’ movement.

Those are the twelve rules but there’s something else in Rules for Radicals worth addressing and that’s building a broader movement and constructing alliances. We’ve been wary of doing this and of going beyond ‘ethics in journalism’ because of the lessons learned from Occupy Wall Street where bringing in too many subjects ended up breaking the movement and removing its power, turning it into a lunatic fringe.

I think it’s possible to expand Gamergate without becoming lunatics and that’s by building alliances.

  • The moderate end of the Men’s Human Rights Movement are good allies with similar experiences, knowledge of tactics worth sharing, a higher media profile and an existing network.
  • Skeptical Atheism has been through this same situation with Atheism Plus and has a good array of Youtube personalities and debaters that make good allies – ‘The Slymepit’ especially may make good common-cause fighters.
  • The Sad Puppies pushback against PC culture in genre fiction is a cause worth supporting and allying with.
  • There are similar disorganised pushbacks in comedy, music, pornography and elsewhere.
  • Then there are individual causes and issues where the opportunity for broadening appeal and allies exists. Shirtgate or Tim Hunt being fine examples.
  • The moderate right wing are not people we should be afraid of, nor the equity feminist movement. We don’t need to agree on everything to agree on something.
  • Alternative publications, such as Spiked, which also occupies a left-lib position could be strong allies, as could groups such as the ACLU and the Comic Book Legal Defence Fund.

Reflecting on all this, my own suggested guidelines for Gamergate moving forward into a second year would be these…

  1. Come to a consensus on what Gamergate IS: We pride ourselves on disorganisation and consensus, but there are aspects to Gamergate that are more easily ‘sold’ to normies. A consumer advocacy group is a good selling point. Free expression is a good selling point. These are things people will reflexively support. Being apolitical is also a good thing, and probably why people try so hard to make Gamergate out to be ‘right wing’.
  2. Come to accept that PR matters: We all hate it, and yes, it shouldn’t matter, but it does. The Harassment Patrol needs to make a comeback and we need to be ruthless with trolls like Ayyteam etc. Disassociation from these kinds of people will disempower the harassment narrative and, honestly, we’re more often their target lately anyway.
  3. Challenge Everything, Expose Everything: We can’t let these things slide. Every attack is an opportunity to fight back. Every instance of racism, sexism etc by the opposition is an opportunity to build alliances.
  4. Mix Things Up: We need new operations and new tactics and to streamline existing tactics. Our email campaigns are effective, but would be a lot easier with form letters and mailing via a website. The less effort, the more effective, the more mails. We also need more innovative operations to bring our message to new places and to get around the bans on discussing Gamergate. New scandals and nastiness could probably be addressed independently without mentioning Gamergate and supplementary hashtags to use (without the Gamergate tag) would get around those who automatically write off anything Gamergate. Multiple accounts are also useful to get around blockbots, though that sails close to harassment.
  5. Broaden and Build: Gamergate can’t just be ‘ethics in journalism’ if its to succeed and continue. It needs to be a broader anti-SJW movement and a free-expression movement. These naturally combine together as it is, since they all interrelate in the issues anyway. We also need to signal boost, and be signal-boosted by, groups that can be our allies.
  6. Link, Share, Host, Spread: OpSkynet was very effective on bringing people into contact with each other. We need to use these networks to share and host material. Thumbs-up and reshare each other’s videos, reblog, host, pick up on good stuff and spread it around – without the tag necessarily so that we can reach more people with this material.

Gamergate’s message IS positive, so hammer that home.

  • Your media shouldn’t lie to you.
  • Your media shouldn’t preach to you.
  • You should be free to make what you want.
  • You should be free to buy what you want.
  • You should be free to say what you want.
  • You’re not evil.