Playing Wendy: Laurie Penny amongst the ‘Lost Boys’

nadyaphoto1I am an angry, disaffected, far leftist. I find, constantly, that my ire is not directed where it should be – to the Trumps and Brexiters of this world – but towards my own side.

You expect the right wing to be sociopathic, hypocritical cunts. That is, after all, their modus operandi. You do not, however, expect it of the left with its professed values of reason, tolerance and fairness.

And that’s why I end up railing against my own side so much. They have betrayed these values and continue to betray these values. They have developed an arrogance, an orthodoxy, a set of commandments and taboos. They have forsaken equality for a spectrum of special interest groups. They’ve forsaken fairness for special pleading. Principle is gone, science is gone, reason is gone. They won’t even bother to make their case any more. It’s almost religious.

When they attack people like Trump I often find myself compelled, through my own principles of fairness – that I considered to be left wing principles – to defend him. The constant misrepresentations, lies and – yes – ‘fake news’ represent a moral and ethical outrage to me.

They’re especially baffling when there’s so many good, legitimate reasons to be horrified by the international swing to the right. So many good arguments to be made with factual bases.

Why lie?

There’s one manifestation of this collapse and betrayal of principle I take pretty personally though. Laurie Penny.

***

It’s awkward and disappointing every time I run into something that Laurie Penny has written.

If we weren’t ever friends we were once acquaintances (I’d discovered her via the writer Warren Ellis). It was possible – in the past – to have a discussion with her about one topic or another and while it was clear we came from different traditions and perceptions of what ‘the left’ is, we could talk.

It’s also awkward because we’re now ‘friend of a friend’ to each other in ‘meatspace’.

From Laurie’s perspective it seemed, to her, that I slowly drifted to the right. My becoming interested in free expression issues, my engagement with men’s issues, my growing involvement in the skeptic community appeared – from her perspective – to be someone becoming more reactionary and conservative.

But, in the immortal words of Hans Zarkov: “I haven’t changed.” I’m the same libertine, skeptical, rationalist, far-left optimist but primary pragmatist I ever was.

Rather, the ‘left’ (I regard the scare quotes as necessary) changed. It went from being the principled, funny, consistent, even, rational voice to the mirror-universe version of everything it had used to oppose. Schoolmarmish, authoritarian, censorious, irrational, elitist, racist, sexist, prejudiced and otherwise insane.

My criticisms and issues with my own side, my attempts – however feeble and unsuccessful – to keep the ‘left’ on track, my warnings about what was going to happen were ignored. They made me a ‘Cassandra’ and Laurie, ultimately, fed up with being argued with and contradicted – especially after my critique of one of her books and the dismantling of a book by one of her feminist icons – cut me off. Blocked. Secured the safe space against transgression. (She also participated in the disgraceful failure of reporting on Cologne).

For a while, fairly recently, Laurie was doing her bargain-basement Hunter S Thompson bit and trailing around after the ill-fated Milo Yiannopoulos ’embedded in his entourage’. After the Berkeley riots over his college tour she ended up being accused of being a ‘Nazi sympathiser’ for her writing and work around him. I had hoped – against hope – that this would lead to a moment of awakening for her similar to the various ones I’d had. That…

“These people have good intentions, but – by Klono’s iron hooves – they’re divorced from reality,” moment.

When I saw a new article, ‘On the Milo Bus With the Lost Boys of America’s New Right’ I was hopeful that we might see something of a revelatory article of realisation – especially in the wake of the Traditional Conservative coup that sparked Milo’s downfall.

Alas, it was not to be. While there are some insightful moments in the article, there are also some breathtaking absences of self awareness and missed opportunities. Another lapse in the integrity and fairness which I, perhaps unfairly, have high expectations of in others as in myself.

***

This is a story about truth and consequences. It’s a story about who gets to be young and dumb, and who gets held accountable. It’s also a story about how the new right exploits young men — how it preys not on their bodies, but on their emotions, on their hurts and hopes and anger and anxiety, their desperate need to be part of a big ugly boys’ own adventure.

Almost right from the get-go Laurie demonstrates that she doesn’t understand what has happened or who Milo’s audience is. That a lot of them are on the libertarian end of the new authoritarian/libertarian divide and a lot of them are more properly on the liberal/left end of the spectrum. Alienated by a left that has abandoned every principle for… some reason. It’s not so much that the right has preyed upon these people, or their emotions, but that the left has abandoned a huge swathe of people, has become too insane to support in its current incarnation and that people like Milo – sincere or not – are at least saying some of the things that people want to hear. Traditionally left-wing things.

Freedom.

Fairness.

Equality.

Reason – or at least the appearance thereof.

As I write, Yiannopoulos, the fame-hungry right-wing provocateur and self-styled “most dangerous supervillain on the Internet,” is fighting off accusations of having once endorsed pedophilia. Former friends and supporters who long tolerated his outrage-mongering as childish fun are now dropping him like a red-hot turd: His book deal has been canceled, CPAC has disinvited him as a speaker, and today he resigned from his job at Breitbart.

The absolutely most important part of this summary of events is missing.

That these accusations are false.

If you don’t believe me, go and listen to the podcasts in their full, original form, with the context, cadence and tone intact.

The second most important thing about these events is also missing.

That these attacks did not come from the left, which has singularly failed to land a meaningful blow on Milo since his star became ascendant (and its not as if he’s not a target-rich environment) but that they come from the right. The traditionally conservative, anti-Trump, anti-libertarian wing of the American right.

I’ve been following Yiannopoulos’ tour for months, and I can absolutely confirm that he means almost nothing he says, that he will say almost anything for attention, and that none of that matters to those who face violence and trauma as a result. Yiannopoulos has cashed in hard on the cowardice of American conservatives, exploited their complete allergy to irony. Now it’s payback time.

This passage is one of those unselfaware moments. While I agree with the assessment of Milo’s character – I don’t like the guy and the difficulty of spelling his surname lends a false intimacy of most people using his first name – this is absolutely not the story of Milo. The cowardice that Milo has cashed in on is that of the ‘left’. The unwillingness of the left to debate, to argue, to make a case. The way the ‘left’ has come to treat its viewpoints as holy writ and any skepticism or dissent as blasphemy. The way the ‘left’ has tried to silence and crush opposition and expression, that cowardice is what has allowed Milo to bloom.

Not only has the left’s cowardice and authoritarianism caused it to quit the field of debate – and leave it open to the right – it has made Milo’s meta-message, that of freedom, scrutiny and debate – appealing to people on the liberal left, like me. We ‘Voltarian’ cultural libertarians may despise much of what he has to say but we support his right to say it and that puts us at odds with the authoritarian wing.

And that divide only increases when they start calling culturally libertarian leftists Nazis.

As they did with you Laurie, but you didn’t tackle it. You displayed that same cowardice and failing.

Nobody has faced any violence because of Milo.

Plenty of people have faced violence because of the failings of the ‘left’. I don’t think Laurie – or people like her – are responsible for that any more than I agree with them that Milo’s mere words place anyone in danger, but there has been an abject failing to oppose that violence.

Yiannopoulos should know full well the American tendency to take sick jokes seriously, and the reason he should know it full well is that it’s the entire reason his shtick works in America when it didn’t work in Britain. It’s the entire reason hordes of teenage fans follow him from speaking event to speaking event, hanging with desperate loyalty off every word that comes out of his face.

I criticised Laurie’s book, ‘Cybersexism’ because she didn’t seem to understand the internet. At all. Despite claiming to have essentially grown up on it. All her conclusions seemed 180 degrees from reality to me and this is no different.

Gamergate gave Milo a big rise in his profile. It’s also the reason I don’t like him. It was clear to me from the get go he was both using Gamergate for personal gain and trying to sell right wing viewpoints to a younger, tech-savvy, libertarian demographic. He was, however – at least at the time – the only person willing to report fairly and accurately on the movement and beggars can’t be choosers.

That, even though it has grown beyond Gamergate, is the character of his audience. People steeped in irony. People, genuinely, raised on internet culture. People used to the freedom that the internet can provide. People who play with sick jokes and irony and manifestly do not take them seriously.

When people like you, Laurie, take it seriously you’re doing a disservice to yourself, your readers and to Milo’s ‘fans’ (across the political spectrum). When people honestly report, po-faced, that drinking milk in front of failed art installation ‘He Will Not Divide Us’ is a fascist act, all you’re doing is providing ‘lulz’ and showing how stupid you are.

People follow him, primarily for the free speech issue (which he’s absolutely right about) and for the fact he’ll broach and argue topics that are otherwise verboten (which he may or may not be right or wrong about to varying degrees).

His audience, however, knows not to take him too seriously.

Do you?

Or are those teenage trolls smarter, more savvy and better at parsing intent than you?

This time, it’s backfired. This time, an ugly joke about having been taught to give head by a Catholic priest fell flat, as did a selection of quotes from video debates where, in Miracle Boy’s own words on Facebook: “My own experiences as a victim led me to believe I could say anything I wanted to on this subject, no matter how outrageous. But I understand that my usual blend of British sarcasm, provocation and gallows humor might have come across as flippancy, a lack of care for other victims or, worse, ‘advocacy.’ I deeply regret that.” Yiannopoulos protests that, this time, he really didn’t mean it, that his words have been taken out of context, that child sex abuse is real, and that he understands that words have consequences for victims.

A joke that people got and understood in context. A joke which caused no problem for an entire year. A joke many of us heard, in context, when it was first made and which, while it had shocking effect in the moment, was contextually not to be taken seriously. A self-deprecating joke even, about his own victimhood.

He was taken out of context, he never said child abuse wasn’t real, as to the apology I think that was insincere and out of character for him and he probably shouldn’t have made it, but there weren’t a lot of available choices.

This time, the same shtick fell flat as a burst tire on the freeway, and the pile-up is getting ugly. The reason it fell flat is that, for all that the American right likes to show off pet homosexuals to prove its modernity, it turns out that it still hates gays. Christian conservatives worldwide are still unconvinced that LGBT people deserve human rights, and the old false slurs — that gay men abuse children and ignore the age of consent — still hit home.

This passage, at least, is accurate and describes what is really going on. This is a counter-coup against the more libertarian and socially progressive (believe it or not) wing of the current American right by the traditional conservative right. They’ve already hemmed Trump in and now they’ve attempted to take out Milo (I suspect he may be more resilient, we’ll see).

This attack upon him is, I believe, rooted in homophobia and the smearing attempts to link homosexuality with paedophilia or, sorry to get all ‘MRA’ here for a moment, the misandrist assumption that all men are paedophiles by default and treating them as such.

This attack did come from the Christian conservative wing. Trump doesn’t give a fig about gays, Milo represented a degree of progress – love him or hate him – on this issue that aspects of the Christian Right are still struggling with. This was a counter blow and to the shame of the left which had been trying to attack Milo for years, it came – successfully – from the right.

All the ‘left’ could do was bandwagon on it, at the abandonment of their supposed principles and progressivism. Doubling the shame in their opportunistic, revenge fuelled glee.

It is horribly ironic that of all the disgusting nonsense Yiannopoulos has said — about women, about Muslims, about transgender people, about immigrants — it is only now that the moderate right appears to have reached the limits of what it will tolerate in the name of free speech. The hypocrisy is clarion-clear: This was never, in fact, about free speech at all. It was about making it OK to say racist, sexist, transphobic, and xenophobic things, about tolerating the public expression of those views right up to the point where it becomes financially unwise to do so. Those suddenly dropping Yiannopoulos are making a business decision, not a moral one — and yes, even in Donald Trump’s America, there’s still a difference. If that difference devours Yiannopoulos and his minions, they will find few mourners.

And I think that would be a mistake. I think you should be mourning Laurie. I think you should have the integrity to be shouting much louder about what you and I have both noticed; that this is a homophobic attack upon a prominent gay man. You may hate Milo for a lot of things but he does represent part of a step forward for the right, a more progressive right. The right may be morally and ethically bankrupt for only caring about the bottom line but you, and the ‘left’ as a whole are morally bankrupt for not applying their professed principles to an enemy.

That’s the test of a principle. How you apply it to people they don’t like.

Milo’s ability to talk about issues with feminism (not women), about Islamism, about the transgender issue, about the immigration issue IS about free speech. Free expression absolutely includes being able to say ‘racist, sexist, transphobic and xenophobic things’ not that I would agree this is necessarily what he does, nor agree with a lot of what he says. These are just things you don’t agree with or won’t countenance.

That you’re happy to silence someone like him for secular blasphemy while hte right is happy to silence someone like him for religious and financial blasphemy makes you as bad as each other. An illustration – again – of the new political divide between authoritarianism and libertarianism.

Yiannopoulos followed the path of least resistance until, suddenly, it resisted. Now he knows just what it is to have the Internet turn on you and take away your control of the narrative. Now the entire alt-right is realizing, in full view of a few million popcorn-munching online leftists, that they were never the new punk. They were never the suave and seductive blackshirts of the new American authoritarianism. They are, at best, the brownshirts, and they are becoming less useful to their benefactors by the day.

Except Milo isn’t alt-right, at least not as the definition has settled. The fascists have successfully, largely as a result of left-wing media hysteria, wrested control of the term. For a while though it was closer to representing something more like what Milo, Lauren Southern and Paul Joseph Watson were selling. A more libertarian right. The ‘Ron Paul’ legacy. A more progressive – in many ways – culturally libertarian and, dare I say it, progressive and intellectual (or at least pseudo-intellectual, points for effort) right. Certainly one I’d rather have as the opposition, since we can agree on a few points, rather than the authoritarian, Christian, corporatist, dominionist right.

Tactically alone, we should have been shoring up Milo and those like him for the sake of long term progress.

As things stand now? Maybe the ‘alt-lite’ will end up becoming a part of the new, radical centre that’s emerging as the authoritarian left and right both get increasingly bucked against by the small ‘l’ libertarians across the spectrum.

Rewind two weeks. It’s a wet night in Berkeley, California, and Yiannopoulos is running away from the left. He was scheduled to speak at the University of California–Berkeley, but the event has been shut down. It was shut down because thousands of anti-racist and anti-fascist protesters decided that there should be no platform for what they called white supremacy. They are marching to say that free speech does not extend to hate speech, that the First Amendment should not oblige institutions to invite professional trolls to spout an auto-generated word-salad of Internet bigotry just for fun, and that, if the institutions disagree, students and allies are entitled to throw fireworks and smash things until the trolls run away. Which is exactly what has happened.

Well this is sort of promising. This passage seems to betray a kind of confusion. You don’t want to defend Milo and his fans but at the same time you don’t appear to really want to condone the violence that occurred over mere speech. I think you understand he’s not racist, not fascist and I think you feel – just a touch – of inward cringe at the AntiFa and other idiots whose actions so spectacularly backfired.

Perhaps because it was in the aftermath of this that you were personally attacked, and felt the absurdity of their sting yourself.

Five minutes after I arrive on campus, klaxons are blaring in the event space and the entire team on his “Dangerous Faggot Tour” has been obliged to make what might generously be termed a tactical retreat. Police in full riot gear are everywhere, and the whole place is evacuated because of the real possibility of everyone inside getting a serious — and arguably deserved — kicking. Whatever the rights and wrongs of punching fascists, if people of good faith and conscience are publicly debating whether or not you deserve a smack in the mouth, it’s probably time to have a think about your life.

And then you let me down again. If people are trying to shut you up in such manifestly illiberal ways, maybe you’re onto something. Maybe people who are willing to toss aside their own principles so easily shouldn’t be listened to and maybe when someone is trying to shut you up, you have something worth listening to.

That’s why these actions aided Milo so much and, while he’s not a fascist, why historically and currently violence and hysteria has aided actual fascists.

Nobody who isn’t engaged in violence deserves a kicking. This is a case where there isn’t an argument. There’s no ‘right or wrong’ about punching fascists for thought or speech crime. It’s just wrong.

The team is mostly composed of young men. Extremely young men. The sort of young men who are very brave behind a computer screen and like to think of themselves as stalwart fighters for the all-American right to say whatever disgusting thing they please, but who are absolutely unequipped to deal with any suggestion of real-world consequences. I end up spending most of my time stuck in a hotel lobby, interviewing the people who follow Yiannopoulos around, doing his grunt work and getting into scrapes as if the whole thing were a holiday lark rather than a serious political project with real repercussions for real human beings.

There shouldn’t be consequences for free speech. That’s what makes it free.

There shouldn’t be ‘real world consequences’ for mere speech, online or otherwise. Again, that’s what makes it free. This is why the internet is so liberating and so important.

This whole tour and event absolutely is more of a holiday lark. It’s not really a serious political project and it would have zero consequences if not for violent idiots beating people in the street and setting fired, whipped up on their own hype and hysteria.

You can’t have it both ways. If it’s serious, debate and deal, address the ideas and don’t rely on outrage. If it’s just trolling, then we all know – or should know – not to feed the troll. Milo’s opposition has failed consistently to do either.

It is vital that we talk about who gets to be treated like a child, and what that means. All of the people on Yiannopoulos’ tour are over 18 and legally responsible for their actions. They are also young, terribly young, young in a way that only privileged young men really get to be young in America, where your race, sex, and class determine whether and if you ever get to be a stupid kid, or a kid at all. Mike Brown was also 18, the same age as the Yiannopoulos posse, when he was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014; newspaper reports described him as an adult, and insisted that the teenager was “no angel,” as if that justified what was done to him. Tamir Rice was just 12 years old when he was shot and killed in Cleveland for playing with a toy gun. The boys following Yiannopoulos are playing with a toy dictator, and they have faced no consequences as yet, even though it turns out that their plastic play-fascism is, in fact, fully loaded and ready for murder.

Milo isn’t a fascist or a dictator. His fans are not fascists. Many of them are still on the left, the Voltairian left. This is why he is able to talk with people like Dave Rubin and why his Maher appearance was successful, marked by the stark contrast between his interactions with Maher – a genuine liberal – and his panel of faux-left authoritarians.

In this passage you also demonstrate why Milo has gained a following and why much of that following, that disagrees with him so much of the time, is cheering him on. You bring race and gender to the table. Telling people merely because they’re white or male that they have ‘privilege’. Not only is this a semantic atrocity and deeply racist and sexist, but it’s untrue. This is also unrelated to the point here, save that it’s you demonstrating why so many young people, not just whites, not just men, are so disaffected and pissed off. Why there has been a reaction of ‘white’ and ‘male’ identity politics to the racist sexist identity politics of the pseudo-left.

There’s no fascism here, no threat from Milo or his fans. They’re just enthusiastically pointing out that the ID politics Emperor has no clothes. If the left would debate, fight, argue and reform then there would be no space for the right to move in, in their wake.

It’s your own absurdity and bigotry that creates the crisis.

As the evacuation gets going, the young men in Yiannopoulos’ gang seem scared. They’re right to be — these protesters aren’t playing, and there has already been real violence at these events. One week earlier, in Seattle, a Yiannopoulos fan shot an anti-fascist protester in the stomach. The victim is expected to survive. The impression that this is all an exciting adventure in pranking the left, a giddy game of harmless offense where nobody actually gets hurt, is not holding up so well.

You fail to note that the shooting was in self defence.

The violence is not coming from Milo fans. To my shame and what should be yours, it is coming from people who supposedly share our political stance and philosophy. It’s our side that’s the thugs, the brownshirts. By resorting to violence our ‘side’ is aiding those they claim to oppose. Without their violence that’s exactly what it would be – harmless offence where nobody gets hurt.

For all the attempts the pseudo-left makes to equate words with violence, they’re simply not. Violence is violence and it’s not Milo or those like him causing it.

The vehemence of the protests and the headline-baiting images of masked men setting fires and breaking glass represent a small win for Yiannopoulos: He gets to go on Fox News and play the victim. The rest of the crew are purely freaked out. One of the younger hangers-on has an anxiety disorder and had to fight down a panic attack that could have held up the swift retreat. Whatever anyone claims, it’s hard to shake off being run out of town by 3,000 people screaming that you’re a Nazi. It’s the sort of thing that gives everyone but the coldest sociopath at least a little pause, and most of this crew don’t have the gumption or street smarts to function outside of a Reddit forum. They’re not the flint-eyed skinheads that many anti-fascists are used to fighting. I’m not a brawler, but I’d wager that these kids could be knocked down with a well-aimed stack of explanatory pamphlets, thus resolving decades of debate about whether it’s better to punch or to reason with racists.

It was a huge win and it continues to resonate. He wasn’t playing the victim, as so many do, he really was one (as he is now). For someone so willing and incapable of skepticism when others play the victim I suppose I should be pleased you finally find the gumption to be skeptical and hope it is even applied in the future.

The fact is that he’s not a Nazi. You’ve been accused of Nazi apologia yourself. You know you’re not a Nazi, right Laurie? Yet a lot of people were screaming that at you. Are they right or just hysterical?

They’re not flint-eyed skinheads or brawlers, sure. They’re also not remotely fascists and if Milo’s joke about blowing a priest is in bad taste, yours about punching people with different ideas (he and his fans aren’t racist either) is in much worse taste.

I was hustled in past the police barricades with three wide-eyed young event volunteers, to thunderous cries of “shame” from the crowd. They’d no reason to know that I wasn’t a volunteer myself. When the evacuation bell sounds in the stifling green room, the bravado rapidly dissolves into panic as the team heads through a maze of corridors to the car park. One look at what’s happening outside tells me that if I value my bodily integrity, I’d better go with them.

And yet you’re still making excuses for this mob. Did the accusations – both on site and since – scare you too much to do the right thing? Do you still have principles? Are you liberal – and in favour of free expression – or not? Do you honestly think violence is an acceptable response to mere words?

“I think a lot of people in this crew wouldn’t be part of the popular crowd without the Trump movement,” says one young man, who is Yiannopoulos’ voiceover artist. “I think that some of us are outcasts, some of us are kind of weird. It’s a motley crew.”

And this is probably true and it’s why the moral bankruptcy of the ‘left’ over what has happened now with Milo outrages my principles so much. In many ways these people are, and could be, our allies. Their natural home should be more amongst the left, but the left has changed, lost its way. The right was weak and there was space for them to push, but now they’re biting back, that traditional right and the left has forgotten what it’s about.

These young men seem to have no conception of the consequences of allying yourself publicly with the far right, even before their hero gets accused of endorsing pedophilia in public. Yiannopoulos has been good to them. They’re having a great time. Over the course of a few hours, I find myself playing an awkward Wendy to these lackluster lost boys as I watch them wrestle with the moral challenge of actually goddamn growing up.

And here’s the ultimate irony. These feckless nerds and their ringleader, their Peter Pan, are the ones who pass for grown ups in this situation. They’re able to parse humour, to handle irony, to have difficult and uncomfortable conversations. They are the adults and the black-clad protesters setting fire to buildings, not to mention the nose-picking pixie in their midst (you’re more like Tink than Wendy Laurie, to be honest) are toddlers throwing a tantrum because they didn’t get what they want. A romper-suited riot with all the finesse of a child being denied Haribo.

It is the left that needs to rediscover its maturity and capabilities. To make a commitment to its principles again. If these people are children, the Berkeley rioters are infants, but then so is most of the ‘left’ now.

I enjoy most respectful conversation, and these boys are scrupulously polite to me. They were polite to me a month earlier when I slept on their tour bus — right until a door closed between me and them, and they immediately started talking loudly, to each other, about the crass and anatomically implausible things they wanted to do to me. Intellectually, they must have known that I could hear them, but these kids grew up on the Internet, the world’s locker room, where if you can’t see a woman, she doesn’t really exist. The one grown man on the bus started yelling at them to go the hell to sleep — “there’s a girl back there!”—and they yelled back that they’d let me sleep if I let them “suck my titties.” It’s no surprise to hear that they’re still yearning for the teat, but these babies had best be careful where they go slobbering for the milk of human kindness. I’m just about dried up.

They were fucking with you. Treating you like one of them. ‘The bants’. You should be happy to be accepted and treated equally. Instead you vacillate between comprehension and praise and damnation. Turning their acceptance of you into an insult.

This is What Equality Looks Like. Being one of the boys.

These are not the scheming crypto-fascist masterminds I was led to expect. Seabass is 18 years old going on 12, Argentinian, and the sort of person who thinks that “Seabass” is a pretty cool fish to call yourself after if your mother named you Sebastian. His mother was worried about him palling around with Yiannopoulos “because he’s gay, and she always says how handsome I am” — but apparently calmed down after seeing how much Yiannopoulos has helped her son, fixing him up with connections and equipment to produce video and photos. Seabass is the one person who seems entirely unaffected by the full-on riot we’ve just run away from, but Seabass has had several root beers and two Magnums (the ice cream) and is on too much of a sugar bender to care about anything. I ask him how he sees his future. I’ve been asking this of everyone I meet in the Scream Room of Trumplandia. “I want to make a lot of money, get married,” he says, thoughtfully, “and then I want to kill God.”

Good for him, because much as I suspect religion led to his mother’s concerns, it has fuelled the scurrilous smear attacks on Milo.

Here’s the thing though, the thing you notice and should be trumpeting. These are not fascists. You know it. I know it. They know it. ‘Fascist’ has just become another in a long line of meaningless attack labels and sadly it’s overuse is giving cover to genuine fascists as the word now causes suspicion rather than outrage.

I suppose we should be thankful that ‘paedophile’ hasn’t lost its power to disgust, but if this keeps up, that too will lose its power.

Most of them seem more than a little surprised that this has actually happened, that Trump is actually president. “I voted for him because I thought it was funny,” one of them tells me. “I don’t think that he can become a dictator like people say he can. We have too many checks and balances for that, and that’s why we have checks and balances. Right?” He picks at the label on his beer bottle.

This is likely true for a lot of people but, looking forward into the future, Trump may well be – painful as it is to admit – the better of the two prospects that were offered. Trump is, at least, some sort of change and his artless, guileless method of governing is exposing the rotten guts of the American political machine, much as Hilary’s breathtakingly corrupt campaign exposed the rotten guts of political campaigning and funding.

If we can moderate and take the edges off the inevitable left wing backlash to the current administration, if we can reform, update and make the left sane again this is a massive opportunity for both the USA – and the world – to make some genuine progress in the not-too-distant future.

And the kid’s right and, again, has shown a great deal more maturity and a better sense of perspective than most. Trump isn’t Hitler, you have checks and balances, the world isn’t ending. It’s just more difficult for a while.

What they do, in fact, is have a long late-night fight about whether or not gay marriage will encourage the spread of AIDS, whether Britain is already overrun by Sharia Law (I assure them that it isn’t), and exactly how stupid the voting public has become.

Aside from the last one, can you imagine a band of left-wing activists having any similar, transgressive discussions? At all? Or is there an established orthodoxy, straying from which gets one burnt as a witch? Whether there’s an answer to these or not (and IMO there is and I would tend to agree with you) just the fact that there is a discussion is an indication of relative maturity and healthy debate. One absent on the ‘left’.

“I’m pretty sure Milo has three times the brain capacity of Donald Trump,” says one young man who is aimlessly editing video of the protests. He still thinks right-wing voters were duped — in Britain and America both. “You’re giving the decision to do something that is so intricate and economically complex to an entirely uninformed, uneducated populace,” he opines. “The day after Brexit, the most Googled thing is ‘What is the European Union?’ I think that’s how Trump got, I would say 75 percent of people voting for him. He made a lot of promises, but the words he was saying — he was saying a lot, and not saying anything. I don’t think Trump knows what he’s doing.”

And this passage, a quote from a ‘spotty teen troll’ is more insightful and on point than much of what you’ve written yourself in the last couple of years Laurie. Shocking, isn’t it?

Most of these young men are looking to build careers in media — as filmmakers, newscasters, producers. Yiannopoulos mentors them, gives them advice and equipment and support and connections. That’s what most of them are getting out of this deal, but many of them may now have to consider how the consequences of a known association with Trumpism might affect those careers after tomorrow, when the rush and rage of this tour is over and most of them have to go home and face their parents. These are not the “just following orders” kids. These are the “just making my career” kids. The two are functionally the same in the United States, but this still feels filthier.

Why though? There’s precious few opportunities these days so why shouldn’t they be ‘forgiven’ for taking the opportunities presented? Why should voting for Trump – a mainstream candidate for a mainstream party – be treated like voting for some KKK aligned militia leader? You know these lads aren’t fascists, you seem to be being as sympathetic as you dare before swinging back to condemnation, surely you recognise that the rhetoric and hate in and from the ‘left’ is out of hand here?

Trump’s terrible, but no more or less so than Dubya, just more transparently terrible.

Slow down here, because this is important. However they may bluster online, the new right and the alt-right hate being called Nazis. They’ve all seen too many movies for it not to matter somewhere deep down where they tell themselves the story of their own heroism. In fact, ever since Inauguration Day, the alt-right has been in meltdown, splitting and splintering in cascading identity crises as only a formerly underground movement can when it attains power. Of course, it’s not my job as a reporter to give activists advice, but if it were, I’d say: No, they’re not all fascists, and not everyone reacts to being called one by changing their tune. But the strategic application of Nazi-shaming works. The real pity is that conservative hypocrisy seems to work faster.

It doesn’t work outside of the pseudo-left echo chamber, where it whips up black-bloc to the point where they’ll attack people for semi-comedic college tours. Elsewhere it has, indeed, lost its power. Nobody, however, likes to be called something that they’re not. To my shame, again, it’s the ‘left’ that more closely resembles the Nazis these days. Deeply racist, deeply sexist, deeply elitist. Almost occult in the religious way they treat symbolism and ideological orthodoxy, and the first to reach for violence as a tool.

The alt-right has been shaking down its meaning, but that’s not really the same thing as an identity crisis.

‘Nazi shaming’ has been a tactical disaster Nazi punching even more so. The sad fact of the matter is not that conservative hypocrisy works faster, but that it is the only thing that worked (much to the left’s quiet chagrin I think) and that it worked at all.

You may have noticed that, in this piece, I have not explicitly described Yiannopoulos or the movement that has made him famous as white supremacist, Neo-Nazi, fascist, or racist. The main reason for that is that it has been made explicitly clear to me that, were I to write such a thing, a libel suit the size of Mar-A-Lago would drop on me, and Yiannopoulos would use every trick in his surprisingly defensive playbook to prize out an apology, because that’s what friends are for. He’s done it to other reporters. He’s not the only one. In fact, a defining feature of the new-right populists is their ability to build a reputation as rhino-hided truth-sayers while flailing their hands in panic if anyone uses whatever words happen to hit them where it hurts.

I think you’ve given your own answer there. They style themselves as truth-sayers. Libel and slander must, necessarily, be untrue. If you can demonstrate that they are true, then they’re not libel and slander. If you are weaselling an accusation in this passage, you’re also admitting you can’t make the case.

The fact is that for all their obnoxiousness and as much as I disagree with Milo and his ilk they’re not Nazis, they’re not fascistic and they’re not racist. They’re really, when you get down to it, just the libertarian right and their ‘crime’ is a mild blasphemy. Wanting to talk about things, to debate and discuss things the ‘left’ considers settled and orthodox.

That’s it.

So, for legal reasons, I must state that Milo Yiannopolous, possibly alone of all the smug white people in the world, is not a racist. For moral reasons, however, I must state that Yiannopoulos’ personal beliefs are irrelevant given that he’s built a career off peddling bigotry in public. What about sexism? “Sexism I don’t have the energy to wrestle with you over,” says Yiannopoulos, who, I can personally confirm, is the maple-cured bacon of misogynist piggery — oily and sweet and crass and, on a gut level, dreadful for your health.

‘Possibly of all the smug white people in the world…’ see, this is the kind of thing that gives people like Milo their power. You decry racism, but you are then massively, unapologetically racist in your assumption that all white people – except Milo – are racists. A child can see through such hypocrisy.

Disagreement isn’t bigotry. Rejection of ideological feminism’s overreach isn’t misogyny. It is hard to have the energy to debate that with someone who thinks rejection of an unsafe ideological house of cards equates to hatred of a gender.

He questions, he probes, he challenges – usefully if not sincerely – but that doesn’t make him a bigot and that accusation is as spurious and self-defeating as the accusations of Nazism or, indeed, paedophilia.

It seems perfunctory to point out the hypocrisy of building a movement and a career on the back of insulting people — Muslims, migrants, women, people of color — while nursing a hair-trigger sensitivity to any personal attack you haven’t pre-approved. That hypocrisy, though, does not appear self-evident to anyone within this movement, because a fundamental tenet of far-right pro-trolling is that it’s only other people’s feelings that are frivolous. Their own feelings, by contrast, including the capacity to feel shame when they’re held accountable for their actions, are so momentous that infringing them is tantamount to censure, practically fascism in and of itself. These are men, in short, who have founded an entire movement on the basis of refusing to handle their emotions like adults.

This is the part that prompted me to this lengthy reply, because the desperate lack of self-awareness in the last sentence is almost physically shocking.

Laurie, you’re on the ‘side’ of people who want to turn entire campuses into safe spaces. Who retreat to a childhood of Play-Doh and colouring books at the slightest hint of a different point of view. Who throw destructive, public tantrums because someone else gets to have a ‘sweetie’ (in the form of a speech).

Milo and his followers may dress up their discussion in crass humour and /pol irony, but they’re having the discussion.

Are they insulting Muslims or discussing Islam? If people as calm, measured and intelligent as Sam Harris, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Majid Nawaz will get called racists and hatemongers for having far more careful discussions about the topic, why not just have the discussion without regard for that hypersensitivity?

Are they insulting migrants or discussing the problems around immigration? There are problems. There are discussions to be had, are there not?

Are they insulting women or discussing the overreach and dangers of the worst end of ideological feminism? Again, we have more scholarly people addressing these issues in a more moderate way, but they get treated just as badly. So why even try to be politic?

Are they insulting people of colour or underlining issues that both political wings know exist but posit different solutions for? Are they looking at statistics and trying to glean the truth or propagandising? What about their opponents? Should we not be concerned about the black supremacy in BLM or the craziness of their demands?

If they’re truth warriors and speaking a truth that they feel they can back up, that’s very different to the accusations tossed at them which you seem, at times, to acknowledge aren’t true.

Has refusing to have these discussions and defend or modify our positions done any good or has our dogmatic adherence to unmovable writ allowed the right to move free and unopposed in these debates? To present their concepts and interpretations unchallenged and without alternatives?

Who, really, allowed Brexit and Trump to happen? The lying right or the arrogant, elitist left – unwilling to even countenance debate.

I believe the left, the genuine left, has better answers to all these issues, or is capable of compromise and revision, but the pseudo-left dominating the (lack of) discourse does not and won’t even try.

For all his faults and his insincerity, Milo is at least having the conversations and making a case. We should do the same.

Many of them don’t agree with what Yiannopoulos says, let alone what Trump says. They agree with the way he says it, because their life experience does not extend beyond interpreting being criticized as censorship. Yiannopoulos’ brand is all about “fuck your feelings.” But the kids following him around are nothing but feelings. I have empathy for fragility. What frightens me most is the feeling that the only way to deal with the new right is to treat them as monsters, when it is precisely their idiot humanity — precisely the fact that they are fundamentally decent kids who have done fundamentally despicable things — that makes them dangerous.

They’re not dangerous. They’re hopeful. They hold and retain many of the ideals the left has forgotten. Free expression, tolerance, trying to use facts to come to conclusions. That’s what they agree with, that’s what I agree with. That even horrendous speech should be free. That there should be a free and open marketplace of ideas and that even people I disagree with, even people I hate, have basic and fundamental human rights – such as speech.

They have feelings, yes, but they’re not led by their feelings in the majority, unlike their opposition. They’re angry at an authoritarian and interfering world, and they have every right to be. The way to deal with them is not to treat them as monsters, because they’re not, but we – on the left – have become monsters. Everything we used to rail against. The right has its own monsters, which are stirring again and have tried to gobble up Milo as one of their first acts. The small ‘l’ libertarian left and right are caught between two insane monsters with nowhere to go.

They haven’t done despicable things. They’ve done the right thing. Our side, Laurie, has done despicable things. Betrayed its principles. Betrayed its foundational philosophy and identity. The authoritarian right? They’ve always been monsters. That part doesn’t surprise or shame me.

Over the course of these hours, the boys start telling me how they got lost. I hear stories of strict religious parents, sexual misadventures, a feeling of drifting in a world which has not offered them a clear way to be heroes. A desperate longing for something to belong to, for adventure and friends and enemies to fight. It would be adorable if it weren’t fundamentally chilling. They are wedded to a political analysis that might as well be written in fuzzy felt. “I’m not sure how you can be a feminist and want more refugees,” one of them tells me, “because of the ways they treat women.”

And you’ll hear similar stories amongst the bored middle class protesters LARPing at being Che Guevarra before they crawl on home to have their mistress peg them with a black rubber cock. At least Milo’s entourage aren’t hurting anyone or breaking anything. At least their scope exists beyond a miseducated upper middle class of genuine privilege. At least they’re real people.

That analysis isn’t fuzzy felt, it’s cogent and it’s something we need an answer for (or would, if I considered myself feminist). If you are concerned for women’s rights how can you not experience a moment of pause about importing people from some of the most genuinely patriarchal and misogynistic cultures on Earth? The answer might be ‘they can live a more liberated life here’ but you also have to account for incidents like Cologne, which you so famously dropped the ball on Laurie.

You offer no answer to his question. Do you have one?

It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for them. That “almost” is important. There are many uses for empathy. To point out that the people who join this far-right movement are damaged and hurt is not to minimize the hurt and damage they themselves are doing. On the contrary: the pain is the point. Stripped down to its essentials, the new far right is an ideological vacuum calcified in a carapace of pain. Hurt people hurt people. That’s nothing new. These hurt people are hurting other people deliberately, in order to up-cycle their uncomfortable emotions, reselling the pain they can’t bear to look at as a noble political crusade.

They’re not hurting anyone though. All they’re hurting is feelings and ‘fuck your feelings’ or ‘reals over feels’ is a perfectly valid, indeed absolutely key, principle. What matters is what’s true, not what feels nice.

They’re not far right but they are hurt and ignored and as Trump’s election has demonstrated, as Brexit has demonstrated, you have to address the concerns of these people in a democracy or it comes back to bite you on the arse – and not in a good way.

The ‘left’s’ racism and sexism, it’s retreat into orthodoxy created new victims of genuine prejudice and hatred, left to rot for not having the right ID politics designation. We forgot that class and wealth cuts across all these meaningless identities and we allowed ID politics to deepen divisions and leave many people, deserving of help, behind. Now we’re experiencing a backlash.

Yes, there’s a vacuum we left for the right to fill. That’s on us. You’re perpetuating it.

I don’t believe that Yiannopoulos endorses pedophilia. I do believe that he exploits vulnerable young men. Not in a sexual way. Not in an illegal way. Yiannopoulos exploits vulnerable young men in the same way that every wing-nut right-wing shock-jock from the president down has been exploiting them for years: by whipping up the fear and frustration of angry young men and boys who would rather burn down the world than learn to live in it like adults, by directing that affectless rage in service to their own fame and power. This is the sort of exploitation the entire conservative sphere is entirely comfortable with. What happens to these kids now that the game has changed?

What happens is that they end up ripping apart the authoritarians on both sides of the spectrum unless one side or the other finally learns and absorbs the lessons. Whether the old prejudices of the right wing or the new prejudices of the left wing are the first to crumble determines the future.

At least you admit he’s not a paedophila or a paedophile apologist. Credit where it’s due, unlike that greasy little cervical smear Owen Jones, you didn’t bandwagon. Maybe I still like you a little.

You still don’t understand the people you’re talking about though. You’re projecting, from the ‘left’ when you talk about children burning down the world. That’s the protesters. Not the people following Milo’s career. They only look like it, because they have a sense of humour. To me, however, that’s a sign of relative maturity.

Whether or not these kids deserve a second chance matters far less than whether the rest of us can afford not to give them one. There are millions of them, after all, and not all of them have the strength of character to recognize their wrongdoing and make amends. They are, however, coming to see their mistake. Some part of them believed that this was a game that would end when Trump became president. That was the big boss, the ultimate defeat of liberal social justice snowflakery. But guess what? You don’t get to check out at this level and quit the game and go back and cuddle your cat. Politics is a whole different kind of game, and the stakes are real, and there are no non-player characters.

It’s not down to you to give them a second chance, it’s whether they give us on the left (or ‘left’) a second chance. This arrogance, this belief that it’s down to your, our, largesse is what will scupper us and another thing that has contributed to our losses. Until we deal with that and kill it, we’ll continue to lose.

They haven’t done anything wrong. There’s nothing for them to make amends for. We have and we have to make amends.

Trump wasn’t the ‘final boss’ because the regressive left has responded to Trump not with introspection and adjustment for the most part (Justice Democrats being a visible exception) but by doubling down and entrenching in the existing mistakes.

Politics is a different game and we on the left are reaping what a fixation on morally, ethically and scientifically bankrupt ID politics has sown.

It’s not up to these kids to fix things. It’s up to us to fix things and win them back.

If Yiannopoulos is as screwed as he seems, the left has little to celebrate in the manner of the defeat; he has been brought down, after all, by the one weapon we don’t want to give power to. He has been brought down not by reasoned liberal argument, nor by moral victory over his cod theories, nor by anti-fascist agitation. He has been brought down by conservative moral outrage. Specifically, by conservative moral outrage over gay male sexuality. I can think of nobody on Earth who more richly deserves to be humbled and held accountable. I just wanted my team to be the ones to do it.

And you didn’t, because you couldn’t.

You didn’t bring him down by reasoned liberal argument because you didn’t try, and you had none.

You didn’t counter his theories for the same reason.

Anti-Fascism was never going to work when the fascists only exist in your tortured imaginations and your childish desires to fight a moral battle as pertinent as WWII, when there isn’t one to fight.

He was brought down by conservative homophobia and the establishment seeking to nip this secular, libertine, libertarian version of conservatism in the bud, by their dishonesty.

The right thing to do would have been to have stuck up for and supported Milo, to have firmly established ourselves on the moral high ground. Yet the closest we seem to have come on any large scale level is your milquetoast equivocation on the matter.

It seems demonising a homosexual man as a paedophile, with no evidence, is perfectly acceptable so long as that gay man is conservative. Conservatism won’t protect you from right wing hypocrisy and homosexuality won’t protect you from left wing hypocrisy.

He deserved a comeuppance, sure, but for something meaningfully wrong he actually did -like his failure to deliver on various projects, his dodgy business dealings or the few times he’s absolutely and confirmably wrong in every regard, as with his supposed transgender statistic on Maher.

The ‘left’ couldn’t make their untrue smears stick, the right did. That has to sting, but it’s not right to lie about someone to bring them down, whatever political wing you’re on.

Today, absolutely nobody, from his publishers to his former tour promoter, is defending Yiannopoulos’ right to consequence-free speech. This is not liberalism winning the day. This is the victorious far right purging the brownshirts.

These aren’t brownshirts, this is a counter-revolution of the traditional conservative right. It traces back to a virtually admitted hit piece published by the ‘Reagan Battalion’ with links to a fringe anti-Trump presidential candidate and Democratic anti-trump groups. This isn’t conspiracy theory like the ‘the right wing paid for the protests at Berkeley’ thing, it’s out of their own mouths.

I, however, at least do defend his rights. Me. Someone who doesn’t like the guy in the least. I at least have the comfort of standing on unwavering, universalist principle.

Professional trolling is a perilous profession in a country where people take your bullshit seriously. The best thing Yiannopoulos could possibly do now is go and live quietly somewhere he can have a think about the damage he’s done — and he will be allowed to do that if he wants, because those are the sort of consequences personable white men face in America today, when and if they ever get over themselves.

Laurie, when you’re continually calling someone a racist, sexist bigot you should probably stop being a shameless racist, sexist bigot yourself constantly.

There is a big question here though. You’re not stupid. Most people, at least in editorial positions in media, aren’t stupid. So tell me… why is anyone taking him seriously? Isn’t that dishonest? Doesn’t it make you look idiotic when the proverbial 14 year old troll on the internet is better able to parse English in context than a supposed media professional? Is it about the clicks? Isn’t that just as morally and ethically bankrupt as your earlier statement about the right being led by money?

Where’s the integrity? Where’s the intelligence?

Where’s the honesty?

As of today, Milo Yiannopolous no longer has the luxury of that choice. His fall from grace has collapsed not just the cult of personality he built around the emptiness inside himself, but also the entire edifice of conservative self-deception around Free Speech. They can take down Yiannopoulos, and they must, but they can’t do it without proving to the entire world that this was never about the First Amendment — it was about plausible deniability for weaponized prejudice, and that alibi has just vanished.

It hasn’t collapsed his support. He could, instantly, have a very lucrative career on new media. Indeed he seems to be about to launch his own efforts and he’ll probably be very successful in doing so. A hatchet job by the establishment and by old media will only cement him as a folk hero for the internet and for left and right libertarians everywhere.

A status he honestly doesn’t deserve, but for all his faults and issues he does underline and expose fractures and problems in society and in the establishment – both sides of the aisle.

The conservatives may have been self-deceiving, but Milo’s followership wasn’t. They mean it. That will save him.

It wasn’t about weaponised prejudice either. Again, regardless of Milo’s intent or sincerity it was always about reasserting and securing free expression. Even for difficult and taboo topics. The lesson to be learned is that, at least in that aspect, they are entirely right.

The truth is that the new right never had any interest in principles of freedom. The truth is that Yiannopoulos was always a weak joke under a bad bleach job. The truth is that Peter Pan was never a folk hero, but a malevolent man-child whose parable remains racist to the core. What will his Lost Boys do now they have outlived their usefulness? Somebody might offer them a teat to run back to, but it won’t be me. I’m done. That whining noise you can hear is a string symphony of the world’s tiniest violins. I think they’re playing Wagner.

The new right did. The old right didn’t. The new pseudo-left was so blinded by ideological hatred they couldn’t see Milo et al’s rise as a twisted kind of progress, just an enemy. Well the old familiar enemy is back at the tiller now – and that’s not an improvement.

You won’t offer them anything because you forgot how to be left wing, you forgot how to be liberal, you couldn’t see that – at least in part – these ‘trolls’ are upholding the principles we let slide. We have to reach out, we have to reform, we have to get them on side if we want to win and to make progress.

Ironically, for all you rail against ‘bigotry’ throughout your piece, it’s your bigotry that won’t allow you to do the right thing, even for tactical reasons.

I do not like Milo. I think he is a shallow, narcissistic, terrible person. He exploited Gamergate to his own ends. He has been terrible on things like the ‘privilege scholarship’, a bad joke that could make a genuinely positive change for some people that desperately need it. He has left a string of discarded and disgruntled volunteers and business partners behind him who are worth talking to.

This paedo thing however? Bullshit. As are the overwhelming majority of it unintentionally ironic accusations of bigotry you have tossed at him.

He’s an arsehole, but a useful arsehole. The ‘kids’ around him are not bad people, not Nazis, they’re people whose natural home should be on the left. The left I remember anyway. The left that cared about equality, not ID categories. The left that attacked social issues regardless of race, gender, sexuality or status. The left that was rooted in science, in 13557130_544070502462556_200033014_nlogic, reason, evidence, debate, understanding. The left that was able to shift and moderate and adapt. The left that cared about and protected freedoms, even for people it disagreed with.
If Milo is a monster, he’s a monster of our creation from our negligence, from our bigotry, from our ideological missteps, from leaving a vacuum for the right to fill.

And he’s right about free speech.

Dark Days Ahead

ClzMCDvXIAA9QhS

A scene from Britain today, not the 1980s.

Against all odds I got back a bit of defiant spirit last night and tried to think of how we can make any sort of progress or preserve some of the progress that had been made over the last forty years.

Sadly, thinking about it just made me more depressed.

Things look pretty bloody bleak for the near future and the people worst affected are going to be the poorest and most vulnerable. All that EU funding for deprived areas is going to vanish and if you think our (already vanished) savings from not contributing to the EU will be redirected that way I have a bridge to sell you.

The worst wing of the Tory party is likely to sail into power following Cameron’s resignation, very likely with Boris at the helm (barring the exit chickens coming home to roost rather quickly). That’s going to me super-double-turbo austerity and a rolling back of workers and human rights legislation.

Even if there’s a general election, the combination of gerrymandering, Brexit-fallout nationalism and Labour civil war (not to mention Liberal irrelevance) is likely to mean another Tory victory and likely a stronger one.

The NHS is under threat as never before. The economy is going to be uncertain – and fucked – for years.

It’s hard to see any silver lining.

All we can really hope to do is to fight to maintain the ground we currently have and in the current situation that stands little chance of success. It would take Poll Tax Riot era unrest to turn things around and that seems massively unlikely no matter how bad things get. The era of protest having an effect seems to have passed.

Perhaps we can’t hope to affect anything in the immediate future and part of the reason for that are the problems on the (broadest church) left.

While there has been racism and xenophobia on the Leave side and while a lot of people appear to have voted leave because of ignorance (in the non-pejorative sense, they just didn’t really know anything about the EU or the fallout) or because of false promises and lies (350m for the NHS, immigration control, ‘the EU isn’t democratic) I think the fault can be laid much more at the feet of the Regressive Left itself.

Many of the Leave side were not and are not racist or xenophobic. They have had legitimate concerns about their access to public services. They have legitimate concerns about Islamism, about work, about council housing, about access to the NHS. It isn’t racism so much as resentment, fear and hardship. The benefits of the EU membership were not made obvious to the people who benefited the most – as has become apparent as areas that strongly voted Leave now come begging for replacement money.

Much of the Remain camp – who tossed around insults rather than arguments have continued to do so in the wake of the referendum, as though carrying on doing the same thing would work. People have increasingly become pissed off – and even immune – to insults that portray their legitimate concerns as racist, sexist, xenophobia.

This Regressive Left bullshit has to end. This vote has made it obvious where the fractures and problems in society are and they lie in wealth, class and the uneven distribution of services and wellbeing. This is a legacy of Thatcher gutting social housing, the deliberate undermining of the NHS and all the other inequalities in our system. The smug remnants of the Middle Class are fighting on relatively petty issues that pale into insignificance compared to these massive cultural divisions and have alienated the base they need to activate to get these changes in the process. When you can’t get work or access to a doctor or dentist, when you’re relying on food banks to eat, these more esoteric concerns are meaningless.

A society can only be so liberal and tolerant as it can afford.

I’m much more frustrated with my own political ‘side’ than I am with the racist opportunists and even the softer right-wing that has re-channelled hardship into hatred and fear so they don’t have to deal with it. The sneering Guardianistas did a lot of damage looking down on people and with wealth disparity so high in this country you simply can’t afford to do that.

The left needs to cant back to dealing with the primary source of inequality – wealth.

  • Basic income.
  • Helping small businesses, start-ups, part-timers and micro-businesses.
  • Hand-Ups.
  • Wealth redistribution.
  • Economic diversification
  • Education and leadership rather than popularism.
  • Commitments to science, pragmatism and modernity.

I can’t see it happening though. Maybe there’ll be a split in the Labour party, but for all Corbyn has acted with muted class this referendum it would be a split between the Regressive Left and ‘Blue Labour’ – the Blairites. Not the split we need.

We also need societal reform in the media and in education. That is also massively unlikely to occur.

We have to fix the left/liberal side of politics before we can even attempt to fix anything else.

Brexit Analysis

13516417_991265384320055_27609446110530854_nWhere to even start? There’s so much to analyse and comment on in relation to the EU Referendum, so much to say. It’s also a struggle to set one’s own emotions aside as someone whose business, friends, parents and others are going to be massively negatively affected. That’s why I’m not doing this as a video. In writing I can keep a bit more distance and the level head I like to think that I aspire to have.

Respecting the Vote

There’s a quote that appears in various forms attributed to a number of different people, including (of course) Churchill, which runs something like this: “Democracy is the only form of government that gives the people what they deserve.” Obviously I am tremendously unhappy about the result (taking some solace in the fact it was so narrow) but I believe that the vote should be respected and followed. It’s the wrong decision, but you have to allow for wrong decisions to be made and then you have to cope with the fallout.

Divisions

This whole affair has laid bare the extreme divisions in British society along multiple fault lines. You can see where Britain is broken by examining the demography of the polls and results, the regions that voted in and voted out.

Class: The lower classes and much of the middle classes were in favour of Leave while much of the middle class precariat – along with the upper and political classes appears to have trended remain. This is not necessarily what one would expect as the EU has protected worker’s rights and its regulations have helped secure safer and better working conditions and hours. This is not to damn the working or middle classes but rather to acknowledge that their concerns have not been addressed, have been dismissed, or have been used as a club to beat them with. If the lower and middle classes did not get a share of the benefits of the EU, or had more pressing concerns, how could they be expected to vote for it?

Wealth: In general, the wealthier someone is, the more likely they have been to vote remain while people who were poorer have been more likely to support leave. This is something of a surprise given the EU support for workers mentioned above, and its financial support for underprivileged areas. Again, I think, this relates to the unaddressed concerns of the poor as well as the successful demonisation of immigrants and the shift of the blame onto the EU. A society is only as liberal – and forward thinking – as it can afford to be and the huge wealth gap in the UK means few people can afford either. A stark example of this is Cornwall. Cornwall voted out, even though it benefits hugely from EU membership in terms of investment (to the tune of 60 million, if memory serves). The county is now cap-in-hand asking for their funding to be guaranteed in the future.

Metropolitan/Urban/Rural: Our metropolitan, multicultural populations have tended to vote to remain, while our industrial towns and rural areas have tended to vote leave. This, again, is not necessarily what one would expect as it has formed a rare show of unity between the traditionally right wing rural areas and the traditionally left wing urban areas. It is only the cities wherein multiculturalism and a greater sense – perhaps – of class solidarity over race has taken place where we have seen a (much bigger) support for leave. It appears that the experience of the ‘other’ softens people and lessens the effects of demonisation. In London in particular it is obvious that we are an international country, elsewhere, particularly outside metropolitan areas, this is more deniable. London is, in many ways, its own country.

Educated/Uneducated: There has been a big divide in opinion between the educated and the uneducated. Again, this is not to judge those of lower educational standard, it is simply to point this out. This relates to the wealth/class points above. Graduates are far more likely to visibly benefit from the EU in terms of being able to migrate, work and see the world. It also relates to the age issue below. Again, it comes down to those who benefit, and those who visibly benefit versus those whose benefits are less, not apparent, or non-existent.

Young/Old: Another sharp divide is between the young and the old. Amongst the younger voters (18-24) as much as 75% were in favour of the EU while amongst older voters (65+) only 39% were in favour (YouGov). This, I think, ties into a lot of the earlier divisions that have been mentioned. Younger people are not only used to the idea of the EU but are also experienced with the digital world and the gigging economy where borders seem an archaic inconvenience.

The Debate

The debate has been fucking atrocious on all sides. Particularly the pro-leave camp but the remain camp has been just as horrible in many regards.

Facts have played virtually no role in this debate and when employed they were almost completely ineffective compared to jingoism and outright lies on one hand and half-hearted scaremongering on the other.

There has been a total failure for a very long time in this country to address the concerns of the working class and the underclass. A near total failure to spread the wealth and make the advantages of being in the EU visible. We have completely abdicated the discussion on immigration and Islam allowing the far right and racist xenophobes to hoover up people with legitimate concerns about both – and they are legitimate.

The idea that the EU is undemocratic is pure bunk, but had a great deal of purchase over people. The same was true – to a degree – on the immigration issue but these pernicious myths had far more sway over people than the facts.

On the one hand the leave campaign exploited the worst characteristics of Little England. The xenophobia, the racism, the ignorance of many. On the other hand the remain campaign blew these up and applied them to all of the leave campaign and – shockingly – scolding people with legitimate concerns as racists backfired. The smug condescension of the Guardianistas and their judgement, rather than attempts to explain and sell ideas to people was just as horrific. On the one hand we have (some) racism, on the other we’ve had endemic classism.

It’s been immensely polarising and the last time the UK was this divided my ancestors beheaded a King.

The Fallout

Things are going to get incredibly messy.

The UK economy is going to be utterly fucked in the immediate and short term. Some of that will recover, but it’s going to remain knocked for some time. The UK is likely to be in a very weak economic position for some time and likely have a second recession. The European bloc is likely going to punish us (if we do leave, Parliamentary Sovereignty still being a thing and Parliament being much more pro-EU than the public).

Scotland is likely to leave the UK now.

Northern Ireland is likely to slip back into violence.

Classism and racism is likely to get worse.

The Tory party is likely to sharply shift even further right, likely with Bojo as Prime Minister. The hard right has just been handed a gift and its not going to be immigrants that feel that heat first. It’ll be the poor, the unemployed and the sick. It’ll also likely mean the gutting – or even end – of the NHS and the repeal of human rights legislation and worker protections.

The Labour Party is likely to replace Corbyn who, for all his faults, was a much needed return to the left for the party. Whether they’ll replace him with a Blairite or a compromise candidate remains to be seen but they’re in a poor position to exploit the Tory civil war since they’re fighting their own. They’re also unlikely to return to championing the working classes if they do reject Corbyn, but are likely to retain the worst, but more Champagne Socialist acceptable aspects of the ‘Social Justice Warrior’ agenda.

The finance sector, upon whom our economy has relied, are already upping sticks and moving to the continent. Trickle down never worked, but what little of it did trickle down is likely to vanish.

Many of our best and brightest are likely to brain-drain to Ireland, Europe and (speculatively) Scotland over the next couple of years as well.

Its a much smaller, more precarious and – in all honesty – a LESS democratic and LESS free world we’re likely to see. The outcome is almost certain to be a much more vicious, nasty, less fair and more corporatist Britain.

What Next?

Who knows really? We still may not leave. Parliament may still express its sovereignty and vote against the people. This is unlikely, but it has taken leadership in the past on issues where the people were against it – such as capital punishment. It’s also possible that the EU will offer more concessions – though this seems unlikely at the moment. That could, perhaps, trigger another referendum if its sufficient. It’s also possible that the huge hit to the economy could prompt such a disaster that there’s demand for a re-vote.

Once the formal process to pull out is invoked it can’t be stopped and we’re likely to have a much worse deal, to have to go along with aspects of EU rules but to no longer have a say in them.

We’re going to have a tumultuous few years as a much smaller, more insular nation and the genies of nationalism and racism are unlikely to be easily put back into the bottle. The only way we’ll be able to move forward is with a total reconstruction of both the right and left wings of UK politics and I can’t see the right softening or the left being willing to address the concerns of the working class any time soon.

I have little or no hope in the future of my country, or in politics in general now.

This was the last nail in the coffin of my optimism.

Why Nazis Weren’t Socialist – And What Socialism Is

Panel-09There’s a persistent attempt to distance from Nazism and Fascism on the right wing of politics, by seeking to associate fascism – and particularly Nazism – with the left. Specifically Socialism. This despite the fact that in virtually every regard Fascism and particularly Nazism are diametrically opposed to everything Socialism and Communism stand for.

It’s important to start from a base of understanding what these terms mean. Many people don’t.

Socialism

Just to be difficult, Socialism has two definitions. One within the context of Marxism, one as its own ideology.

Marxian Socialism: A transitional stage between Capitalism and Communism where the means of production are taken into the control of the state as a steward for social ownership until Communism can be enacted

Standalone Socialism: A political outlook centred around the principles of equal opportunity, egalitarianism, equality before the law, equality in rights, the state in a limited role of administrator and guarantor of equality and the elimination of systems of control (such as inherited power, corporate monopoly etc).

Communism

A social and economic structure in which no particular person owns significantly more than any other and in which everything is held in the common weal. Communism eliminates the state, with everything being held in common ownership and via cooperation. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

Fascism

Fascism is notoriously hard to categorise having common themes but no common doctrine. Features include:

  • Nationalism.
  • Hostility to democracy, egalitarianism and enlightenment values (logic, reason, evidence, free expression and enquiry).
  • The cult of the leader.
  • Strong identity and identarian symbols.
  • Tendency for violence.

Nazism

A form of fascism presented as a nationalist answer to international socialism. Nazism centred around German nationalism, racism, the definition of an Aryan elite, expansionist violence, lack of division between the state and the personal, corporatism, hostility to the labour movement in all its forms and conspiracy theories about Jews.

So, is Nazism Socialist?

Despite having the term in its name, no. Consider the traits of fascism and Nazism and compare them to the trait of socialism.

Egalitarianism? The Nazis stratified people by allegiance to the party and by Aryan bloodlines. There was no equality for slavs, Jews, Gypsies, gays or many other people with whom they found themselves at odds.

Limited state? The Nazis saw no separation between the state and the individual, or the nation. All were one. The state was unlimited and absolute and was not the guarantor of equality, but inequality and favoured parties.

Eliminating systems of control? While the Nazis did somewhat move against the old established order in Germany they set up new systems of control. Their embrace of Corporatism saw vested interests and big players controlling Germany. They brought in vicious secret police organisations and set up Aryan and Party elites.

The only respect in which the Nazis could remotely be considered Socialist was in their provision of a strong welfare state but ideologically this was because they saw the nation is one entity, not because of a sense of fairness and egalitarianism.

Anyone calling the Nazis a Socialist party, just doesn’t know what words mean, furthermore, you can also see that supposed ‘Communist’ governments were anything but.

#Gamergate – Not Everything is Political.

gamergate1One of the aims of #Gamergate is to de-politicise the consumer media, at least with regard to reviews (editorialising belongs in editorials). Gamers want to know about the features and qualities of the games and systems they are buying, they don’t want to read a treatise on the failings of pre-Franco anarchistic Spain in the middle of a feature on Farmville.

Even when game plots are explicitly political, injecting politics into professional reviews is pointless. A libertarian reviewer who can’t set their politics aside when reviewing the original Bioshock is going to be about as useful as a chocolate fireman for discerning what the game is about and whether it’s any good – and so it goes for all shades of the political spectrum and for causes like radical feminism.

There’s two articles which have brought this problem to my attention.

In Game Design is Always Political Owen Grieve spectacularly invalidates his own article with this passage:

To begin: Understand that, in real life, there is no such thing as objective neutrality. Everything that everyone does, at all times and places, occurs within some kind of political context – even if you’re stranded alone on a desert island, the absense of society still contributes towards this context. You can assume you will not be arrested for scrumping the odd coconut, for example. 

I reject this premise and in so doing reject everything that stems from it within the entire article – because if your base premise is wrong, then everything built upon it necessarily collapses. How and why can I reject this PoMo viewpoint? Because science exists and because science depends on objective neutrality. Gravity works the same way whether you acknowledge reality or whether you think it’s because Buddha is pressing down on your head with his finger. If objective neutrality and a fact based outlook wasn’t possible, you wouldn’t be reading this blog, because without it we wouldn’t have mathematics or science or the fruits of those enterprises such as electricity, computing and so on.

Can we apply the principles of objective neutrality and reason to other spheres? Yes, we can. Which isn’t to say there aren’t subjective experiences and values also, but even subjectivity can succumb to objective examination. Indeed, it’s possible to assert that many of the problems we face as a species are down to failures to think objectively and neutrally, so encouraging or excusing that behaviour strikes me as a dangerous game.

One need only look at the clash between Sam Harris and Ben Affleck recently on Bill Maher’s show to see this clash of ideals. Harris has a more objective, neutral outlook and believes that we can use reason to determine the most effective moral good. As such he objectively examines the issues surrounding Islam and sees it as a problem. Affleck, however, is not remotely objective or neutral and responds – not intellectually – but by hurling slander (racist) and making content free emotive arguments.

Gamergate, if you’ll allow me to skirt with hyperbole, is just another battleground in this current culture war which manifests as intellect versus emotion, objectivity versus subjectivity and authoritarianism versus libertarianism (small ‘l’). You’ll note the same problems arising in regard to Gamergate. Gamergate is about ethical, objective journalism and de-politicising games media as well as preserving the right to free expression for game developers and artists.

Gamergate’s opposition doesn’t address these, at all. Instead they make emotive arguments that devs should moderate their creativity for fear of offending people. They pretend that Gamergate is responsible (somehow) for doxxing and threats (while ignoring doxxing and threats made against Gamergate) and where Affleck disingenuously invoked racism as his silencing tactic, those against Gamergate invoke misogyny in much the same way.

In his article ‘A Thing About Gamergate‘, John Walker engages in a lot of hedging and evasion. If there’s no ‘anti-gamergate’, then there’s no Gamergate either, just people with loose sets of similar values. So that invalidates that argument. The claims that Gamergate abuse is somehow the only abuse the counts is disingenuous and it’s amazing how quickly people forget the ‘tone argument’ when they’re on the receiving end of a lot of anger.

Of COURSE people are angry at places like RPS that have been corrupt and which have wilfully misreported Gamergate since the start. Read it yourself if you fancy a good facepalm, I’ll answer some of John’s peculiar questions at the end, since Gamergate has hardly been shy about these I don’t know why he doesn’t know them already.

Here, though, I’m talking about the politics claims and how Gamergate wants reviews, at least, de-politicised.

Here’s his imaginary example of a game and his assertion that you can’t report on it without being political:

There’s a new game out, called Koala Fighters XVII. It’s a game about an elite squadron of fighter pilots, who are taking on the menace of the invading koala hordes. In it, throughout, are cutscenes showing bare-breasted women being kidnapped by the evil koalas, threatened with torture and death, to be rescued by the amazing gang of pilot men. The game is, obviously, brilliantly well made, featuring some of the best koala shooting action ever seen in a game. However, when reviewing this game, gaming site Poltaku comments on how the nudity and sexual stereotypes are disappointing. Meanwhile, Sensible Gaming Reviews, leaving the politics out of games coverage, doesn’t say anything of the sort, not seeing the feature necessary to mention. GameBros4Ever, meanwhile, reviews the game and comments on how brilliantly the breasts are animated, and how great it was to feel like a powerful man in the cockpit of the plane.

All three reviews are inherently political. Choosing to mention this specific feature of the game is a political decision, whether to condemn or celebrate. And crucially, choosing not to mention it is a political decision too. Not thinking it worth mentioning, also, is born of a political position on the matter. Indifference to something of importance to others is, of course, a political position. You cannot “leave the politics out of games coverage”. Politics are inherent. What is instead meant by this demand is, by its nature, “Leave politics I don’t adhere to out of games coverage.”

Of his example reviews, only Poltaku is actually political, and I will explain why.

Poltaku’s commentary on the boobs and nudity is explicitly political and it is bringing politics into an apolitical arena, the recreational experience of playing a game. It isn’t a judgement on the game or its content, it is an extraneous insertion of the idea that nudity and ‘stereotyping’ is somehow bad (this might also be a religious objection, comparisons between the evangelical right and anti-sex ‘feminism’ in games culture is very valid and telling).

In comparison Sensible Gaming Reviews just reports on the game and puts no spin on it, leaving that up to the reader and GameBros, while more subjective and gonzo (in talking about their feelings and experience) talks about the ‘jiggle physics’ which is an objective part of this hypothetical game engine, just as it was for Dead or Alive.

Neither SGR nor GB4E have made any political judgements or recommendations, they’ve both just reported on the game as it is. Only Poltaku has inserted an entirely irrelevant political ideology into its review. While GB4E is subjective, I think the claim that Gamergate wants ‘objective reviews’ is down to poor English skills and what’s really being talked about is the depoliticisation of reviews, or at least saving the politics for editorials rather than messing up reviews with it and allowing ideological bias to prejudice examination of a consumer product.

Are there times when politics does intrude? I would argue yes, there are. I think EA’s treatment of their staff is notably awful, I think Apple and other manufacturer practices are worth covering, but in these cases one can point to actual harm to human beings and while you can make an argument for it being about outsourcing and capitalist business practices at heart it’s really more about basic human empathy.

So, then, to answer John’s queries and wrap up this blog.

What does Gamergate want?

Collective consensus seems to congregate around the following:

1. Ethical Journalism: People have referenced various codes of professional ethics to the websites in question, The Escapist implemented a good, model, set of prospective ethics. What would it actually hurt to implement similar on other sites? Why is that so hard? So objectionable? Don’t fund or fuck people you write about (and vice versa) and declare conflicts of interest. It’s not hard! (Disclosure: I have friends at The Escapist) – see? How hard was that? These standards are just in application to political and financial corruption in Indies, stand up to the AAA bribery and extortion as well and Gamergate will have your back.

2. De-Politicisation: I come primarily from tabletop gaming but I’m also involved in erotica writing and science fiction and fantasy publishing. I may lose your attention if I say ‘radical feminism’ but I’m going to anyway. Radical feminist and ‘social justice’ agendas are devastating the creative fields, especially the nerdy and geeky ones. Free expression and creative independence is seriously threatened by bullies and harassers – often in positions of power – using those positions to gatekeep on an ideological basis. People enjoy all sorts of different things and we don’t think it is the job of games media to tell us – on no basis – that what we like is somehow unacceptable, sexist or whatever else. Personal distaste doesn’t translate to a massive societal issue that must be rooted out and solved. Save it for editorials. Odds are, if we’re interested in Dragon’s Crown – for example – we already know it has fantastic and sexualised art. We don’t need or want a radical feminist spin on unproven concepts like objectification in our reviews thanks, we’re trying to work out whether it’s a good GAME.

3. Defending Free Expression: We want devs, writers, artists etc to be free to create with as few constrictions as possible, whether individually or as an aggregate. Surely, as writers yourselves you can understand that motivation? Free expression is a fundamental human right as recognised by the UN and even if you can’t accept that this IS censorship at least accept that, for creators, this atmosphere of bullying, harassment and spurious accusations of rape apology, misogyny etc has a chilling and limiting effect on free expression – and that’s not good.

Additionally, and separately, I would also suggest:

a) Report honestly on Gamergate, without obvious bias. When Gamergaters are harassed, doxxed and threatened give that the same publicity you do the antis.

b) Stop trying to split the hashtag. Gamergate rejects the harassment, doxxing and threats and a few outliers say nothing about Gamergate just as the few outliers doing the same to Gamergaters says nothing about the antis. What DOES say something about the AGGros is the disparity in the reactions and coverage. Deal with Gamergaters as they are, ignore the trolls.

c) Stop trying to paint Gamergate as misogynistic, right wing, reactionary etc etc. On aggregate Gamergate is left-libertarian, inclusive (NotYourShield) and all the rest. What’s not agreed on across the lines is the way change is gone about and – to reiterate – the corruption and politicisation of games media and the creeping censorship of creators.

There’s a rather good breakdown of these differences HERE.

Alright #gamergate, let’s do politics

Left Vs Right
Gamergate has gone political, or, at least that’s where people seem to want to take it now. One of the latest attacks on the hashtag is to appeal to people’s tribalism, to make it into a left/right, liberal/conservative conflict. This isn’t helped by the fact that the media response to Gamergate from left/liberal media has been wildly inaccurate and (ironically) hateful and that the only honest reporting and commentary has come from, ostensibly right wing pundits, commentators and actors.

Unfortunately, this narrative and this re-frame of the argument is just another deflection, albeit one that plays well to existing prejudices and fractures in western political debate. It also plays well into, and reinforces previous attempts to make Gamergate about misogyny, sexism, racism, the supposed toxicity of gamer culture (actually troll culture, and I thought ‘gamer’ wasn’t an identity now anyway?)

The truth, however, is that this is absolutely not about left Vs right, but about authoritarian versus libertarian (please note the small ‘l’).

I, for example, am very, very much on the extreme left and an extreme liberal. An anarcho-socialist if you will. You can get a better idea of a political position (though it’s still imperfect) using the questionnaire and charts at politicalcompass.org

Here’s mine, left of Hugo Chavez and south of Gandhi.

pcgraphpng

False Dilemma
Framing the argument in a left/right way is an attempt to create a false dilemma, that is, ‘You’re with us or you’re against us’. If you’re for Gamergate, do you realise you’re on the same side as Adam Baldwin and Milo Yiannopoulos who [insert said/did ghastly thing or political viewpoint here]?

This, of course, is a logical fallacy. If Stalin told you that a) grass was a rich burgundy colour and that b) 2+2=4, he’d still be right on the maths problem despite being wrong on the grass issue and despite being a genocidal despot. Agreeing with Stalin on the mathematics issue has nothing whatsoever to do with his enthusiasm for gulags and doesn’t imply that you agree with his policy of support for Lysenkoism.

Nonetheless, it’s sufficient for people to use as a smear and to try to undermine the gratitude many gamers feel towards people who have taken them seriously and addressed their issues honestly. Fortunately, this too doesn’t appear to be working.

Left/Right-Libertarian/Authoritarian
The division here is not, really, left versus right (collectivism versus individualism) but rather authoritarianism versus (small ‘l’) libertarianism.

On the one hand the liberal point of view would (should) be summed up, amusingly enough, in part of the Wiccan Rede: “An it harm none, do what thou wilt.”

That is, maximum liberty for the greatest number of people and that so long as nobody is hurt by it, it shouldn’t matter to anyone else.

On the other hand the authoritarian point of view could be, admittedly uncharitably, summed up as ‘I know what’s best for you and for everyone else and I’m going to make sure that happens’.

Of course it’s more nuanced than that and there’s plenty of room for in depth debate and discussion about what constitutes harm and where the balance lies between collective security and freedom and individual security and freedom, but those are questions that can – mostly – be answered by hard facts. Contextually, however, we’re talking about a medium (interactive video), one that can be avoided using off buttons, purchasing decisions, broad, voluntary rating systems and so forth.

There is little discernible harm that video games can, or could, cause and they are entirely avoidable for those who do not like certain elements, tropes, representations and so forth. While many attempts have been made over the years by people with various gripes over various forms of media to associate them with antisocial behaviour, crime and ‘immorality’, none have actually been able to show any real link between consumption of fictive, recreational media and these social ills.

At the risk of flogging a dead horse, I’ll reiterate some of those instances with which I am historically or personally familiar.

  • Fredric Wertham and The Seduction of the Innocent (Comics).
  • PMRC hearing (Music).
  • Backmasking/Heavy Metal & Suicide (Music).
  • The Satanic Panic (Heavy Metal, Tabletop RPGs).
  • ‘Murder Simulators’ (Video games).

More recently sex workers and porn workers have been smeared with associations to trafficking and child porn by those engaged in moral panic over pornography and prostitution. Again, no link has been found but moral panics have their own power and legislation such as the UK’s ‘extreme porn ban’ and on-by-default internet filtering have come about as a result.

Wertham’s actions and the moral panic he fed upon brought about the Comics Code which ‘sanitised’ comics and killed diversity in them. The PMRC fell short of many of its desired goals, but did put ‘explicit lyrics’ on many albums, which instantly – of course – made them more desirable. Heavy Metal won its days in court, thanks to Judas Priest. Tabletop gamers formed the (now defunct) CARPGA to battle the smears against them, but Pat Pulling (Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons) had many police on her side and RPG playing was used to profile suspects in some cases.

The most interesting case, to my mind, is Jack Thompson. Thompson hitched his wagon to, and became the face of, the moral panic about violence in computer games (though this had existed going way back, even to the computer game version of Death Race 2000).

Thompson and the claims about violence in video games having a real world effect were, rightly, laughed out of gaming circles including by the games media, production studios and the players themselves.

Despite the claims of the likes of Anita Sarkeesian being extremely similar, the response from media, academia and some players has been different. It’s useful to ask why that is, without immediately assuming it must be that because, this time, these arguments must have merit.

Cultural Marxism & False Consciousness
Some people in the debate over Gamergate like to toss around the words ‘Cultural Marxism’ at the anti-gamergate crowd and so I think it’s useful to educate people on what this term actually means and to also explain the concept of ‘False Consciousness’.

Cultural Marxism is the idea that, along with economic forms of oppression, there are cultural forms of oppression that intersect to preserve hierarchies and the status quo. Examples might include the traditional family, particular gender roles, racial stereotyping, national character and other forms of cultural identity.

Intersectionality ideas in modern ‘social justice’ movements are probably the modern incarnation of Cultural Marxism though conservatives do seem to like to throw the term around with incautious abandon, simply because it contains the magic word ‘Marx’, and is therefore able to panic people.

False Consciousness is another Marxist term used to describe how people can be mislead, lied to, manipulated and controlled into acting against their own interests. An example of a False Consciousness might be the belief in ‘The American Dream’, that is that one can ‘make it’ out of pluck, skill and sheer determination in American society, an idea that is largely statistically disproven in the current socioeconomic state of America, but which does keep the populace relatively pliant. Hope is powerful stuff, as is religion, for keeping people from getting fractious.

You’ll most likely come across False Consciousness these days in reference to feminism, through ‘internalised misogyny’, the idea that any women who disagrees with the current crop of third wave feminists is brainwashed.

Is there mileage in either of these ideas? Certainly there is. It’s hard to argue, however, that living in a pluralistic society as we are fortunate enough to do in the west, that people aren’t aware of alternatives and haven’t been exposed to them. It becomes very hard to argue that people aren’t operating of their own volition and making decisions – that some happen to think are bad – in good faith and with their own minds.

The attempts to manipulate the gaming media that have emerged of late, along with the DiGRA files, do reveal an agenda – and a secretive one – to manipulate and control the public message, to stifle debate and opposing points of view. This is diametrically opposite to the idea of Cultural Marxism, which would be to dismantle these authoritarian, singular, controlling stereotypes, and is an attempt to create a false consciousness, not to eliminate one.

Well Meaning Disasters
If there’s one thing I want people to take away from this essay on the politics of the situation, it is that people on both sides mean well. The ‘Social Justice Warrior’ side sees inequalities and problems in society and wants to address them. For reasons known only to themselves they have chosen to attack artistic expression – the output of society – rather than the actual causes of inequality and problems. Still, they think that by changing cultural cues and gatekeeping messages, they can influence society for the better.

Gamergate supporters, and those opposing ‘Social Justice Warriors’ more broadly are genuinely concerned with free expression, open and honest reporting, corruption in games media and all the other issues that have come up.

I have taken Gamergate’s side because it is the one that allows for the greatest plurality and diversity in art, and because it is the one that minimises authority. Also because I know my history, hinted at above, and I know how this kind of thing tends to go.

History is littered with well-meaning busybodies, interfering with the activities and entertainments of others because of their moralistic concerns.

Since we’re referring to Marx a lot, let us continue to use Marxist terms. What we have here is a petite-bourgeoisie, a social class of would-be middle/upper class with pretensions to their influence and impact on the world.

Netizens have, very much, become a petite-bourgeouisie class. Bloggers, writers, independent game developers, social commentators, SEO agents etc are their own commodities, branding themselves, selling themselves through patreon, crowdfunding etc yet not really owning their own means of production. I am as guilty of this as anyone, a necessary compromise of my own morality as a semi-freelance writer. In a modern context this is the new army of the self-employed or partially self-employed. Your etsy and ebayers as much as anything else.

Having garnered a little bit of power and influence, do the petite-bourgeoisie use to help others and break down systems of control and obstacles, or do they set up systems of control of their own? Our petite-bourgeoisie, despite having been the victims of roadblocks and difficulties in the past, now seek to set up their own gatekeeping and barriers in judgement on others, just as they were judged.

It’s breathtaking moral hypocrisy.

The well-meaning and interfering petite-bourgeoisie, puffed up on their own sense of entitlement and worth has done this many times before in the past as well. A sniff of legitimacy seems to turn some people into tyrants.

An excellent case-in-point would be the temperance movement. An interfering body of, largely, morally motivated and middle class people concerned by and interfering in a dangerous (or ‘dangerous’) pastime associated with the lower classes. Doing it for ‘their own good’.

Another would be the decline of Blaxsploitation cinema. At the time a large part of the cinematic audience was young, poor, urban, black and male. Films were made to cater to that audience and were wildly popular, often subverting the hierarchy of society at the time and creating popular people’s heroes. Yet this too was seen as dangerous, perpetuating insulting stereotypes and setting back the cause of equality – despite its riotous success with its target audience. Again, the interference largely came from those outside its cultural context, interfering for other people’s good.

An overly concerned, moralistic, would-be-respectable group has been responsible for some real cultural disasters and, in the case of temperance, one of the bloodiest gangland periods in American history.

No coincidence, then, that a genuinely populist art-form, with an audience primarily male and working class, should terrify the same moralising, respectable, petite bourgeoisie that it always has. The main critics of games, and the main body of ‘social justice warrior’ culture as a whole seems to be made up of white, middle class, products of academia. Particularly rather insular, echo-chamber topics such as gender or media studies, where the respect for genuine academic process and the usefulness of evidence seems to be low. Crippling white guilt, for things that distant ancestors did, seems to be a driving force behind this kind of self-loathing as it gets expressed externally and projected onto others, and it seems to excuse the ‘ends justifying the means’, whether it’s circumventing peer review, colluding to control a media message in gaming or hypocritically smearing and hurling abuse.

Culture War
If there is a genuine culture war going on, of which games are simply one battleground, it is one of postmodernism versus rationalism, of subjectivity versus objectivity. Postmodernists, who seem to be dominant in media positions, seem to believe objective understanding is not only impossible, but shouldn’t even be attempted to be striven towards. With regard to Gamergate we saw this most egregiously in prideful boasts that no attempts were being made to even try to be objective.

As an atheist I’ve seen this in the backlash against New Atheism from non-skeptical divisions like the ironically named ‘Skepchick’. As a tabletop gamer I’ve seen this atmosphere poison games discussion there. As a writer of erotica I’ve seen it happen there, with companies and payment services being scared away from supporting ‘adult material’. Overall it seems to be a very broad cultural conflict in which – currently – feelings are being put well ahead of facts.

Games are a funny thing in that they contain both technical and artistic content. One can objectively talk about many features of a game, while other elements – such as style, story etc – are necessarily matters of taste. Objectivity with regard to those elements is difficult, but not impossible (if the review on these sections is balanced). What appears to be being objected to is not so much subjective matters of taste but gatekeeping based on a) whether a particular company or individual has created an ethical issue with the reviewer and b) political grandstanding in a game review.

People want to know if a game is fun, value for money, if the graphics are good, if the sound is good, whether it has replay value. They don’t really give much of a damn whether it conforms to 16th Century ideas about the Divine Right of Kings and nor do they give much of a damn whether it is suitably PC or conforms to third wave feminism.

There’s a time and a place for that, and it’s called editorials.

Part of the problem here is that game sites have explicit (and seemingly identical) political slants, yet do not seem to advertise or be known for that slant. When it comes to television news we know what we’re getting from Fox or MSNBC – a biased, tribalistic viewpoint. As a consumer we can choose to get a one-sided view or we can try and find a more balanced and objective view from another source or from multiple sources.

With games sites we don’t have that kind of up-front knowledge of what we’re in for and while, personally, I loathe the editorialising of ‘The News’ to the point where we now have ‘A News’, such might be useful on games sites so that we know what we are getting.

Conclusion
Gamergate is not a left/right conflict and those claiming to be on the left, while fighting gamergate – a genuinely grassroots, consumer rebellion – are not members of any left I recognise, given the left that I know is broadly anti-authoritarian and pro-egalitarian and given that these people want to set up a gatekeeping, moral ‘elite’ to politically vet material – to turn their petite-bourgeoisie into a nomenklatura (bureaucratic elite). That’s one side of the problem, the other side is the much larger corruption around the large companies, their schmoozing of reviewers and the bribery and threats involved against sites that don’t conform.

With these issues in mind, I propose the following.

  • Review sites should be more explicit and open about their agendas, if they insist on having them.
  • Political and social judgement should be limited to editorials, or at the very least boxed-out addenda to reviews.
  • Gamergate should shift its focus, slowly, to the AAA corruption. That fight should – hopefully – unite media and gamers together in a drive for reviews that are honest.
  • We need to investigate solutions that will pay games journalists and sites sufficiently that they are less vulnerable to and have less need of corruption.
  • A Patreon model that actually untethers from the individual relationship, a voluntary ‘microsubscription’ might be one option.