This Internet Shitstorm as the Prelude to the End of Times

The latest silly controversy in the gaming world is about a youtube gameplay video of an anticipated platform indie game, Cuphead. It’s maybe only chance or perverse shortsightedness that the very first gameplay video allowed to come out, and so going to magnetize attention regardless, shows an embarrassing degree of incompetence in playing this game, and even simply being able to follow on screen instruction or understanding an extremely basic HUD.

Most people would think that with so much going bad in the world, this kind of non-issue wouldn’t even deserve 10 seconds of their attention, are we REALLY talking seriously about this? Yes we do. In my case every little thing seems to be a symptom of a looming imminent collapse. And this little thing has all the basic features we can find on much more serious problems. But also because it’s a tiny issue, it’s a good sample case to easily analyze.

This is what I wrote on a forum about this:

The real issue is the overall structure of every debate and every controversy. This one is just one good example amidst too many.

You cannot have anymore any “but”. You are either black or white. Right or wrong. With us or against us. Friend or enemy. It’s a purely tribal war where identity (political or otherwise) is everything.

You cannot have a nuanced opinion. You cannot examine one problem and explain there are a number of aspects to consider about it. Because if you do this type of analysis it’s not anymore clear whose side you’re fighting for. People don’t understand anymore if they should agree or disagree with you, because people agree not on the basis of good arguments, but on the basis of group identity. When they understand who you are then they’ll automatically agree or disagree.

And because this BINARY view is applied to every single debate, then you get cases like this. Where there are some legitimate concerns whether or not a journalist should be required to have some basic competencies about the subject he’s going to cover, yet harassment shouldn’t be justified either.

And on twitter every single argument is just another type of straw man, for example misrepresenting the other group’s thesis as: “ANYONE WHO WRITES ABOUT GAMES NEEDS TO BE A MASTER”.

Yet no one said that. But if you then try to exhibit some moderation in your own argument, then this moderation is pointed at as a rhetorical trick to try to hide your true colors.

So what’s happening lately and at large is that our world grows in complexity and people’s way to deal with growing complexity is to rely on mighty simplification. Mighty simplification is to divide the world in black and white, enemy or friend. And then you FIGHT.


This is my analysis. But what would you do about it, then? The only way I know is to tear down those walls. To go against the identity of those groups. To challenge their views with the good arguments you can produce, and some patience. Yet your patience itself might be irritating, when people are frothing at the mouth and just want an occasion to unleash their certainty against you, they want you to succumb and play the enemy they want. And then kill to restore their purity: it’s a ritualistic practice. But, honestly, I have a pessimistic view about all this, and I have it about the bigger picture. These days I do believe that even “democracy” is a big lie that we tell us to believe we can lead some form of change. Instead I now believe that these big changes that are happening in society at large are completely off our hands (and climate change is a good example: we’re done. We’re way past the last chance to fix it). Things are going in a direction and there’s no way to steer or even affect this process. Whatever is happening, is happening. You can observe and maybe be conscious about it, but it’s like a big war that is about to happen and the small changes that you believe you can produce are just personal delusions.

But then one is rarely pragmatic when it comes to morals. You just fight for what you believe regardless of whether you think it’s useful or not.

Instead of rounding my corners in order to merge and blend better with a community and be well accepted, I find myself sharpening those corners. One might think that this is a result of a form of egocentricity, because you want to stand out and remark your identity. You want to feel better and different. You disrupt the homogeneity and well being. Instead of creating harmony within a group, you seem to just stir dissent and unease for the sake of it. You become abrasive and, after a very short time, extremely unwelcome. But instead in my case my reasons are different, even if I find myself falling in that situation from time to time.

I do believe that “anonymity” on the internet is a “feature”. It means it’s not anymore relevant *who* you are. It’s not important your history and background, where you live, your political ideas and sexual preferences, the color of your skin or how pretty or ugly you appear. What’s left is purely the validity and merit of your arguments. On the internet you push your ideas without a face. And that’s how it should ideally work. Your ideas aren’t valid and useful depending on *who* you are. Those ideas are only useful if someone else makes those ideas her/his own. The persona is left behind and forgotten. If my idea becomes your own, and you even forget it came from me, then communication was a success! Ideas and opinions, and so information, are an abstract type of currency we share. The value is in itself, not on the holder.

Yet we evolved through other means. We apply heuristics in order to parse a complex world and heuristics oblige us to rely on simplifications in order to quickly make judgements. We cannot properly gauge every little problem, because we’d be swamped in eternity, and an eternity of time is a kind of luxury mortal beings don’t have. Hence we are still strapped to a ‘Facebook’, as an old school style of mindset applied to the virtuality of the internet. We don’t evolve the structures of our minds, we simply re-apply to the internet the old structures we’ve always been familiar with. We build houses in virtual spaces, we build communities, and then we insulate them, we build walls around those communities and end up “hating” the foreigner. And occasionally rise the pitchforks to launch a war against the nearby village. Or, more often, simply take “potshots” from the trenches.

Recently I found myself banned from BrokenForum (being Lum’s latest personal community). I was very conscious of what I was getting into, so this outcome shouldn’t have been a “surprise”. At first I had no idea that I was going to stir some chaos. But then people started contesting that choice I made and I found myself painted in a position like: I made a bad choice on a whim and now I’m trying to rationalize a justification. It would have been easy at that point to just acknowledge the disagreement and move on. But the scenario that was being painted simply wasn’t true. I did engage in a conversation because I thought I had good reasons behind my choice. It wasn’t taken on a whim. It was well motivated, and so I thought that I could at least explain and clarify my position. I was expecting that if I calmly explained my reasons some people would at least understand (not agree) my angle. I was convinced it was possible to have a civil and meaningful discussion about it.

Well, that didn’t happen. Instead I found myself facing a GIANT WALL of hostility. For a time I tried to probe that wall. People kept misrepresenting my position, thinking ‘Oh, now he shows his TRUE colors’. But nope, I was trying to have people engage directly with my reasons instead of clumping my position into a monolithic bad one that is easy to dismiss. Being long winded is a necessary feature of being precise and clear. I was listening to counter arguments, and then clarify my position to dissipate misrepresentations. I was carefully separating insults from insults that were at least grounded on some rational argument and addressed those (and some people even argued they had a right to insult). Filtering reason from outbursts of irrational dissent. But it was also becoming obvious that very few were even interested in understanding my position. I simply became automatically unwelcome.

You’d expect one would think …maybe this is not the right time and place to have this conversation. And I did switch gears even if I still naively believed that there would be at least *someone* who could maintain a rational composure. Let’s set an example by resisting the pressure to turn this into an hateful shitshow, I thought. I was trying to cut short and get to a point: I made my best to explain myself, you still disagree, fine anyway. But that’s when some people started to bring in extraneous stuff. They just wanted to smear me with shit to degrade the whole discussion. If I shut up while people fling shit to me, then I simply admit being embarrassed and guilty. So I was then baited to explain ALSO that other stuff, while thinking: please stop accusing me of extraneous shit so we can all move on? Halfway through that discussion I stopped bringing arguments. I clarified myself, and then there was a longer tail trying to bring closure to the extraneous stuff that was brought up later, but I clarified that too from those stupid misrepresentations, admitted miscommunication when it was my fault, and in the end I moved on. A couple of weeks later I check back and find out I was banned. THAT was a surprise, because I ended up being banned after the discussion was largely over.

But that’s also not why this irritated me. Forums are personal communities and they don’t need to be just and fair. Rules are arbitrary and always legitimate (but I didn’t break any formal rule, I simply stood behind an opinion that happened to go against the grain). Either you accept the standard, or move on. What annoyed me was how I was banned, and that I had a good opinion of this community, and so I thought that the discussion was indeed possible. I was banned after the argument was over and solved, and I was banned with a stupid meme, purely out of spite. I didn’t blurt out offenses despite having received many, yet no one stood to defend me from the abuse I was getting. It’s much easier and problem free to merge with the mob mentality. Most people are cowards in these situations. So in the end I was banned simply out of spite when they did realize they couldn’t provoke me enough to make a misstep or break some rule. But more importantly I was banned in this way by people I’ve known for many, many years. I do expect some respect because I do have respect for them and always treated them with respect along the years. And so I’m proven naive again, I should know better than expecting to find respect and humanity on the internet.

Again, this is just another good example hinting at what is going on. We are becoming increasingly unable to engage with a complex world. Even the most stupid controversy like a journalist who can’t play a game becomes a problem with too much complexity to it. And so we retreat inside insulated communities where no view is ever challenged or truly discussed honestly and transparently, and these communities naturally grow hostile to everything they see outside, more often than not becoming schizophrenic and eventually turning against themselves too. No one ever tries to reach out and find some common ground, or even the basis for a rational confrontation. More walls are being built because we embraced unreason.

All is fine and fair in the world. Enjoy the imminent Apocalypse.

P.S.
Since to write this I looked back at that thread, I still find loose ends that would need to be clarified, like this one.

Yes, I’m certainly against the ‘mean lady writer’ when it comes to her well documented abuse on the internet. But no, I’m definitely not against her literary work. I have no problem to say that if she eventually writes something that falls within the spectrum of my interest, I might buy the book and maybe enjoy and recommend it.

No, this is not because I separate between author and the product. The product always comes intimately from the author, those ties cannot be cut and it’s silly and superficial to look at things that way. But at the same time a human being is never defined by a single trait or a single act or a single opinion. Awful human beings are able to do good acts, the same as human beings we think are awesome are able to do awful acts. This human necessary tendency to divide people into binary states of absolutely right and absolutely wrong is what I explained above as the root of the problem: we are collapsing under the complexity of the world, and answering that complexity through mighty simplification and certainty. Religious, political and moral wars because we abandoned reason.

Reason is all about giving value and understanding those small differences. And criticize not the person, but the act. So that the person can be salvaged when that person realizes the wrong in his/her act.

But most people would rather shoot a Nazi in the face and feel good about it. Not understanding that doing so they became indistinguishable. Monsters who fight monsters. What’s important is not under what flag the monsters fight, but what is monstrosity itself. And understand that it can manifest where you less expect it. Within your own group and sometimes within yourself.

P.P.S.
This is just in:
http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=1431191

Pewdiepie says a racial slur during a stream. This quickly becomes another case of “now he shows his true colors”. So what do you expect to happen, given all I said above? It’s automatic, people are quick to put a permanent label on the guy.

Pewdiepie = racist asshole

What would be a rational stance toward this, INSTEAD? (because putting labels on people is just another byproduct of idiotic oversimplification) The rational stance would be recognize first that he did indeed use a racial slur. In fact he quickly realized that, and it’s evident in that short clip. That simple fact is condemnable, and it should be. But does it make Pewdiepie unambiguously racist and deserving a permanent label? Of course not. He might well be, but we don’t remotely have enough information to make that judgement.

But people’s reaction is that they want to know so that they can judge (empathy, this selectively weaponized instrument). And that “slip” is enough to earn a definite label and not look back.

Rationally, again, we should condemn the act, not the person. If that person realizes the act is condemnable, maybe that person will do his best to correct his behavior. The goal isn’t to rise the pitchforks and going on this witch hunt, the goal is to point out the mistake to the guy, so that the guy can recognize the merit of the critic, and correct his behavior (or, if it was serious, his principles). Understand right from wrong. Because you can be sure that a TRUE racist doesn’t reconsider his own terrible principles. Where people would see a perfect occasion for judgement and final condemnation, I see an occasion for correction.

But in this case Pewdiepie has certain responsibilities, being on the internet and with a pretty large audience. A bunch of kids are going to watch him, so it should be expected he does at least his best to stay within certain boundaries. At the same time I also understand he’s playing a game, and focusing on the game, and being his natural himself he might not be permanently obsessed about his responsibilities. It is not a big deal because I would personally give more importance to a deliberate, intended insult, rather one that was blurted out in the same way one would usually swear: without really *meaning* it.

“The way he easily spewed it out you can tell this is a term he would normally use in most of life’s frustrating cases.” Yes, that’s true. But it also doesn’t automatically reflect or imply ideology. It’s a suspicion you can have, even legitimately, but it’s not a proven one. And it’s completely idiotic to believe these kinds of behaviors are what reveal “one’s true heart.” Even a carelessness in the use of language and a total lack of respect aren’t enough to prove an actual ideology. They only hint at a rather diffused superficiality dealing with certain stuff. It’s condemnable, but it isn’t dangerous. It’s an idiom that directly expresses racism, but here used to express frustration, not ideology. Again, it’s a condemnable carelessness, but not dangerous in itself.

Analysis: he used a racial slur against another player whose actions upset him. He fell into this common phrase, a type of swearing that is commonly used. But just because something is common doesn’t mean it’s *right*. Even if it’s just an harmless form that doesn’t match a true intention (like swearing in general in most cases). An ingrained way of speech isn’t automatically an ingrained true belief. The best you can expect is to point the guy what’s wrong, and ask him to be more conscious about that. Even if it’s a very little thing, it can still be challenged.

But not the person. And because racism is a true and giant problem, we shouldn’t be distracted by purely harmless stuff and going against imaginary threats, when there are instead serious, tangible threats everywhere and real damage being done.

What happens instead is that a giant wave of hate rises against Pewdiepie, and it will smash against another wave of those ready to defend him. Hate will mount, while true racists (and racist acts) out there are completely untouched by this virtual hateful indignation that schizophrenically paints targets on itself, instead of the real threat.

We are on a doomed path of self defeat. There are signs everywhere and at all levels. We have already lost.

P.P.P.S.
Another explanatory reaction:

You can see I asked him below: “But were you a misogynist for doing so?”

It’s a somewhat similar case, since using “bitches” in normal speech has a certain root in misogyny. That use too is a bad behavior that should be criticized, and corrected as he did. But I don’t believe this guy used that word to reflect ideology. It was a bad form of speech, one rooted in misogyny, expressing misogyny in itself, and yet still only a bad form and not revealing a true intention. It’s to be corrected, but still not harmful or dangerous.

P.P.P.P.S.
Another:

Beside the fallacy of the binary “choice”, and the fallacy of the second option, since using that word doesn’t automatically make one embrace an ideology (it’s an obvious slippery slope of convenient oversimplification).

(and unless you don’t want to normalize the concept of ‘racism’ and ‘racist’ to apply to more mundane and harmless situations, which is itself a dangerous slippery slope of more widespread identification, and so justification, of those positions)

What’s interesting is the distribution of “retweets” and “like”, and so what people decided was their priority to signal for. The two options can be read as:
– Retweet, if you don’t personally use the word.
– Like, if you think using that word makes one a ‘racist poop’.

And since it’s a binary choice where one excludes the other (it’s a binary choice, right? Now I have a doubt, but I think you cannot retweet and like at the same time?), and since retweets at this time are half the number of likes, it’s as if twice as many declared possibly being “racist poops” themselves. There’s an unintended hypocrisy in that choice that I find curious.

But more evidently people are simply signaling for their rejection of that person, this is evidently the explicit intent. Yet that ‘will’ originates from a slippery slope of simplification. People are quick to judge and suspend empathy when it’s convenient for their in-fights. Racism itself stems from that slippery slope. Racism itself is an oversimplification that confirms one own’s stupid cognitive biases. It carries the same seed of irrational hatred and unreason, and requires one to have found some good reason to cancel one’s empathy.

Biases aren’t a problem of human cognition. They are the King. Because again the world’s too complex, and to face complexity we increasingly embrace unreason. Our judgements are based on heuristics, those heuristics are a blunt, clunky tool that gets misapplied to an environment that defeats understanding and ever grows more complex. Only disaster comes out of this and, once again, it is unavoidable.

Our society is now a dysfunctional machine. The case of Pewdiepie is like a false positive in an antivirus scan. And for each false positive we lose sight of the real threat and just open the doors and welcome it to come in and feel at home.

P.P.P.P.P.S.
Exhibit C, from a forum thread:

seriously. like im sure he says it daily, especially while recording when something bad happens, but just cuts it out. its fucked really. shows what kind of a person he truly is.

No, it doesn’t. You’re following your own biases and making a suspicion you have into a proof. You cannot know what kind of person “he truly is”. But you can be persuaded you know with certainty. Belief always comes before reason. And that’s called prejudice.

Another guy replying to the one above:

Those 1000 cuts per video suddenly make sense. And we all thought it was just an annoying editing style.

So now Pewdiepie makes 1000 cuts in a video montage because he has this compulsive need to say that word. It “makes sense”, right? Literally, making sense, seeing exactly what you want to see on the basis of an ingrained prejudice. Which is different from something actually true.

I’d say that we should be supposed to condemn prejudices, in general. Of which racism is one category.

And by the way, I thought I’d address this too, I’m not playing the devil’s advocate. I face the true devil in the form of the roused mob that makes all distinctions fade and merge into binary states of tribes that fight each other to the death. On the basis of rotten principles that are a shadow of their original intention. I face that progressive erosion of reason and promotion of cognitive biases that I think are the real threat.

P.P.P.P.P.P.S.
I could update this hourly.

Right now in Italy the heated, loud & public debate isn’t about Pewdiepie, but about two policemen that have been accused of rape by two American students. The issue is, though, that a week or so ago the big controversy was another case of rape but where the assailants were “immigrants”.

You can easily imagine how, at that time, a violent, widespread outrage rose against the danger posed by all those immigrants that invade our country and bring criminality and even diseases (yeah, there was that too, in the news). Just the most typical case of sweeping generalizations founded on the slippery slope of simplification rooted into prejudice.

So it might not be a surprise that, THIS TIME, since it was about cops committing crimes, so “our own”, what rose wasn’t indignation, but a WALL to DEFEND those cops from the supposedly unjust accusation of rape. And it’s not simply public opinion, but public opinion reinforced by mainstream media, journalists and politicians that love to ride the wave.

Yeah, this is fucking hateful and widespread racism happening right now, in a civilized (?) country.

And it still has ties and roots in the cases above. Here too we have public opinion that is deeply rooted into prejudice and unreason. In one case rape was enough to condemn a whole category of people who happen to be foreigners, in the other rape was justified, because those two American students might have been drunk and licentious.

In all these cases public opinion follows identity instead of reason. We’ve already lost.

P.P.P.P.P.P.P.S.