Malcanis over at The Mittani wrote a brilliant article last week about how the player community in EVE interacts. In it, he invoked the ideas of Hitler’s Big Lie to explain how the community deceives itself into taking sides and demonizing others. Malcanis gave a very eloquent summary of the principles as follows:

Ideally, when you’re telling a Big Lie, you tell a lie that fulfills three important criteria

  • i: That the listener’s problems are not his fault. They’re caused by a malicious and irredeemable Other. And they’re going to keep on getting worse.
  • ii: That if this Other weren’t up to those shenanigans, the listener would be recognized and rewarded for being the superior person that he is
  • iii: The implicit, but unspoken solution is to do the thing that the Big Liar wants to happen. And just in case, make the solution explicit and speak it loudly.

Directly before reading that article I had been browsing the comments over at Iron Ribbon and Disqus recommended me another article over at The Mittani which spoke about sexism. Yeah, it was quite a cocktail of articles I’d been browsing, but ones which seemed to intersect and create a bigger picture. Also, it’s not that Hitler’s theory here is always true. But I think it’s true amongst people with certain values, chief amongst them any -ism. If a people already believe there’s such a thing as a better race or sex, then they already believe the premises of the Big Lie. Having a leader come forth and personify it, and institute it as a matter of law and order is merely taking those values to their inevitable conclusion.

What do we tell ourselves as a gaming community about sexism and racism? The primary sides involved are usually posed as males versus females, white versus non-white, because they’re rooted in our very bloody and barbaric past. Adolf was no fool, but the people to whom he told the Big Lie probably were or they were at least fearful enough, lacking in the courage and fortitude required to reject those values. And if not those two reasons then they followed because they believed in the Big Lie.

First, a relevant statistic:

There are scant statistics of any sort about the ethnic demographics of the gaming community at large, but if I find any in the future you can be sure I’ll write an article about it.

Point 1: The Big Lie to Yourself …Responsibility

It’s very hard to admit something is wrong that you’ve done out of habit for years. This is my personal testimony, not to be read as a cliche of do-gooders.  I’ve been a sexist and racist for most of my life. I wasn’t the overt belligerent type nor someone who literally hated or disliked groups of people. I was a pretty nice guy by normal standards, but just somewhat ignorant or aloof. I wasn’t aware of how my behavior patronized females/non-whites, how it insulted them in my gestures of goodwill, or how it oppressed them in what those gestures assumed about them. I was just ignorant, like so many of us. It wasn’t intentional and for those who have been where I have, we’re not evil people at heart. We just picked up some very bad habits and behaviors from our environment. At some point in our lives we simply didn’t know something until it was taught to us or until we were made aware of other things.

When first confronted about being sexist, I was horrified. Being called a sexist isn’t a good feeling but if you’re just willing to listen and try to understand why someone could possibly perceive you that way, then you’ll get over it. Else you’ll likely be defined by how you reacted to that accusation.

The point here is that when you’ve been doing something wrong for a long time, it’s pretty terrifying to learn that it’s been hurting people. It goes beyond just admitting a wrong; it’s an confession that you’ve negatively affected dozens of people, misjudged them, made their lives harder, or scared them away from pursuing something they cared about. That’s offensive to those of uswho believe we’re good people and especially offensive to those people who aren’t willing to listen and consider that they might actually be doing those very things. The first stage is always denial and the one that follows is always anger and resentment. This is a pattern of response many of us should recognize in all these discussions at our age. Many people, guys and girls, instantly jump on the “nuh-uh” argument and paint plaintiffs as bra burning feminists, reverse racists, or sex-pandering men. They say women are sexist for making exclusive groups which men cannot join. They say most gamers *are* majority men so women should learn to accept the way things are, that men are by nature gruff, brutish, and insensitive. Both sides rarely admit to building up the Big Lie which allows them to feel justified in their views of the other. Often when we’re denying the other side, we’re doing so to protect ourselves from the accusations. We’re doing so to dodge responsibility for the way we’ve been behaving, because of what the accusations might suggest about us — which aren’t flattering. At some point, though, we have to admit these things and be free of them. While the process of changing is difficult, the steps towards it are simple. Either you believe a person when they tell you you’re being hurtful or disrespectful or you pretend that what you’re doing isn’t hurting anyone and that your behavior is fine. We have to remember: it’s not the racist or sexist act which will necessarily define you, but how you respond when someone points it out to you. There’s no harm in letting maturity guide our reaction by admitting you might have erred.

Point 2: The Big Lie …About The Other

When you’re the Default, it’s impossible to see that. Impossible. You rely on the feedback of others to alarm you of the injustices that come with having a Default and Other. The bad thing about being the default is that it’s extremely difficult to get past the denial stage; because you can’t see the unfairness because of your perspective, you’re far more likely to believe nothing is wrong at all and that others are simply delusional, or making a fuss out of nothing. That’s doubly true in the 21st century where people, despite national (and global) conditions, believe the -isms to be relics of the past which no longer exist. People are so ready to just be over that stuff that in their haste they dismiss anyone who would dare remind them of our horrible track record with it.  No one wants to have the same fight in 2012 that people were having in the 1960s USA. Yet all of those oppressive values from the ’60s are still wide spread and deeply rooted in our cultural values (albeit in subtler ways, which makes it a greater threat now than it ever was then).

When comment and forum threads in various gaming communities repeatedly host discussions about sexism and racism, I think that’s a sure sign that this is still a problem. But when you believe the Big Lie or when you’re so committed to self-deception on those issues, you’re likely to draw battle-lines in which you stand on one side and everyone else becomes Other. We do this almost instinctively to discredit people, to make them seem ridiculous and to paint ourselves as idols of rationality. The actual topic gets abandoned in favor of bickering about who’s less crazy — which is just crazy.

There is no Other. It’s a lie we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel good about ourselves.  It’s a lie we tell to prop up our egos, to make us feel better. After all, you can’t be the best unless there’s someone who is worse than you. What we ought to value about success is our own personal growth, not our triumph over others. In the gaming community, where competitive relationships are part of the landscape, that doesn’t mean we can’t see who’s the better shooter in NBA 2k. It means that you aren’t being better or making yourself look better by calling people fags, suggesting they’re gay, or telling sammich jokes. You aren’t looking more manly by demanding to see boobs (becuz real men luv boobs, rite?). You’re just celebrating being the default and ridiculing others who aren’t like you.

Point 3: Believing the Big Lie

Sometimes people tell lies for so long or hear them so often, that they believe them and begin to base real decisions on them.

Even military psychology …hesitates to make the distinction between true and false, between the “produced” and the authentic symptom. “If he is this good at acting crazy, it’s because he is.” – from The Procession of Simulacra by Jean Baudrillard

Jean was explaining here how we cross over from pretending something is real to simulating that which isn’t, and how in the end it becomes irrelevant. In the process of simulating, we produce the symptoms of the simulacra. At that point, the difference between what’s real and what isn’t becomes incredibly difficult to discern, if possible at all.

There are levels of self-deception which we engage in on the issues of sexism and racism which amount to us pretending such a thing just doesn’t exist. And this is made possible by just acting like everything is fine, denying things very loudly in an effort to drown out any reference to the truth. But at some point we begin to actually believe the lies and the truth falls away. We’ve made such a convincing show of all the falsehoods, that they start to appear authentic.

So let’s gradually back out of the philosophical woods here. Sexism and racism are extremely real and they pervade our social institutions as they dictate our culture. It’s dangerous to suggest people who point it out are “them”, the crazy, delusional, conflict-seeking whiners who just can’t handle the real world. The irony is that the most fervent deniers (who are usually self-professed racists/sexists) themselves can’t handle the real world, where there really is no such thing as “better” races or sexes.

It’s also bad that some of us want to sit on the sideline and wait for change. It’s those people who say yeah, sexism and racism are bad, but the people complaining about it shouldn’t make a big stink about it; that since complaining won’t change anything we should just be quiet; that games have always been this way and we ought to accept it. All of these responses fail to acknowledge that no change in the history of anything has ever happened by humans standing idly by waiting for it to happen to them. This line of thinking is potentially worse than being the sexist or racist yourself, because it confirms their existence but advocates silence. Dr. Martin L. King spoke out decades ago about these moderate types and how their neutrality is more dangerous than the belligerent offenders.

Getting Clean

So now that we’re dirty, now that the gaming community knows we’ve got some filth to deal with, we come to the part where we must confront the Big Lie and so much more. It all starts with owning your actions, taking responsibility. This is the cornerstone: eradicating a community of difference in order to erect a community of commons. It’s been hard and often un-fun for me personally, but immensely rewarding to make that private change. I began to realize one day that I was looking to gain something at the expense of others which wasn’t mine to gain; that the real value in being a non-shitty person is feeling good about myself and knowing that I’m not hurting other people. The prize for me is a clear conscience, more success, and making a world I can trust with my children. We have to admit to our complicity in the system. Every time any of us has listened to racist rants on vent, or sexual demands from guild mates in chat and said nothing about it, we might as well have said the words ourselves for all the damage our silence did. None of us is untouched, not even women and not even non-whites. We’ve all been soiled, even when we didn’t want to be and didn’t intend to be. That doesn’t absolve us of responsibility. It just means that we were blind to it before, that now we see it, and we will use that knowledge to speak out and act against it.

Next is to stop looking at the difference between you and others because it’s insignificant compared to the similarities. If we view the gaming community as a place full of different people, we will breed a community of conflict. If we view it as a place full of people just like us, we’ll make a community full of cooperation. I know that sounds very idealistic, but it’s just the plain ole’, unstyled, no make-up, hairy truth. Self identified whites, males, blacks, gays, and all other descriptions are fine, but they shouldn’t be used to to differentiate. Identifying and differentiating are very different things.  The former allows us to be unique and the latter creates situations where everyone has varying quality, allows us to create Others.

Finally, we’ve got to grapple with our common reality. We have to accept that one person’s experience of you isn’t going to line-up with who you believe you are all the time, and that this doesn’t mean you’re irredeemable or wicked; it means you made a mistake. We have to be willing to believe that there really is a lot of unfairness out there, that people are wrongly discriminated against on the basis of skin color and genitalia, and that it happens often enough to spawn dozens of organizations dedicated to addressing those problems. If we’re so willing to consider that these people might be crazy, we must also be willing to consider they’re perfectly sane, correct and perfectly capable of identifying a problem when they see it. Listen to them and, if you can, support them. They are you and if you try to keep them down for their difference, someone will try to keep you down. Reject both instead of making space for them in our reality. Things don’t have to be that way.

If Hitler understood the power of the Big Lie, and we believe he was Satan incarnate, then let’s reject the Big Lie forever.

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  • Anonymous

    This is true. And with some persuasion, it can be achieved. For example:

    “It’s kind’ve dumb how they’re dressed in bikinis in snow, don’t you think? I’d like to see some better outfits for the girls in this game, I don’t even want to know where she keeps her items.”

    That’s a good argument, it states problem, ridicules it a little. Get a thousand of these sort of comments in, improve the wording, make developers aware and you can actually start to turn around an entire community, one person at a time.

    Unfortunately for your goal, this is the sort of post that populates the internet instead:

    “This is a clear example of sexism in games, the women in this game are merely objects of male desire. The games industry is sexist and so are you. By the way, I am a feminist.”

    Not only have they rejected everything in that post, but they’ve entrenched them further into their beliefs AND make them reject anything associated with the label “feminism”. They hate the poster, and feel about offended as anyone who has been on the receiving end of a discriminatory remark.

    Using a label like sexist, racist, criminal, murderer, even idiot, not only condemns them in their mind, but brands them (much like you would brand someone a negative stereotype).

    You’ll find that people don’t actually object to their attitudes if they’re simply made aware of them. And should be the goal, simply making people aware.

    • Doone Woodtac

      On the contrary, the most likely response to pointing an error of any kind to a person (especially one which might not paint a kind picture of their character) is denial. Then anger. This is common.

      I understand what you are saying about having hard discussions with people without turning them off. But this assumes that the audience is engaged with an open mind which is not something to be taken for granted. People always resent being told they aren’t nice people or that they’re hurtful, even the most well-intentioned and honest amongst us. The evidence in comment threads around the internet testify to this in the billions. It is rarely related to the kindness with which the message is delivered. We could do comparisons of the ways in which, say feminism, has presented a topic with civility and humility only to gain wide vitriolic response from the target audience. Again, there is a preponderance of evidence spanning the decades on this point. So while speakers should try to get through to the target audience, the target audience has to be willing to accept the message in the first place.

      In fact I disagree with the notion that the speaker has a greater obligation to the discussion than the listener. If a speaker must choose their words carefully, then the listener must do the same. If the speaker must reserve harsh judgement, so must the listener and probably especially so. The idea that just saying things nicely or in a patronizing tone is somehow the necessary approach to getting offenders to change is flawed.

      It is important to call a spade a spade. It’s not a label. It’s what it is. Labeling is a much different matter than merely calling a thing by its name. I cannot label a white person white. I cannot label a racist as a racist. In the latter, they brand themselves. Calling it out is not a crime. It’s a duty, even if I agree it should be done with caution and civility.

      Finally, awareness is a major goal but no one has a greater responsibility to learning and knowledge than the individual has to themselves. There’s plenty of work done on awareness of oppression. And yet ignorance persists, so it’s not incumbent upon those who aware to be better deliverers, even if they should improve. If that were true, everyone would already be aware. It has to be received by a willing audience.

      I hope I understood what you were getting at in your response and if not I apologize. Thank you for your comments. Civility is always appreciated and welcome even if disagreements arise.

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