Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"Cool Cool" and Other Wisdom From The Escapist

So yesterday we announced we weren't going to do our D&D show, I Hit It With My Axe, with The Escapist website anymore because they hired a transphobic dickhead.

So that's that. People in general seem to be really wondering What Is Going On At The Escapist? so I am going to do my best to say what I can tell you from the inside about how something this fucked up happens. And maybe under what circumstances it might happen again. This summary was written quickly--and poorly.

So who are these guys over there? We had meetings, some in person and we talked many times.

From the first phone call I got the impression that these are very much people for whom The System Had Worked. Not necessarily the school system or the government system or any institution, but the broader dork version of the American dream where you are smart and ambitious and so eventually by hook or by crook you get what you are due--that had worked for them. "We're smart so we win." They had respect for technocratic smarts. They do like games, for what it's worth.

Yeah, there was a libertarian vibe which I was really not into, but I've heard Daily Show writers say they were libertarians, and that place seems alright. In the beginning I wasn't paying much attention. It was inside baseball video games and that's mostly pretty boring.

The most common comment you'd get when you said something outside their experience was "Cool cool". Mandy might do a column about feminism and gaming? You want this metal band to do the music? "Cool cool".

"Cool cool" was a way of saying "I don't know what you're talking about, but I like that you are thinking and therefore smart about something so I trust you, I am not going to think about this any more, go to it".

You could show them things and they would appreciate that a thing was being shown to them, but lacked curiosity about it. Like your dad when you talk about some band you liked covering a Hendrix song.

I think a lack of genuine curiosity is one of the most dangerous things a person can have on the internet.

Like the women on the show would go "We are getting a lot of hate on your forums and it's fucked up" and they'd go "Ok, we'll see what we can do" but, like, they didn't get it. They had a Keep The Talent Happy attitude but it took a while for it to sink in that this meant that Tons of their users were abusive assholes and this had to be dealt with constantly and you need someone on it. It seemed like they kinda overall did not have a lot of experience dealing with women with strong opinions who weren't in their same line of work.

What did they have a passion for and what could they talk about with passion? In the cases I saw--history. Particularly military history. I don't mean to suggest that they were crypto-fascists, more just that this was something the dudes could wrap their heads around: a clear foe, tactics and strategy, total victory, total defeat, Clausewitz, the greater technocrat wins.

The most common compliment you'd hear was "____ knows more about ____ than most people in the world so _____". The idea was: you divide things up, and you put an expert in charge of each thing. Which makes sense when you're fighting a war.

It reminded me of that Killing Joke line: Business, lawsuits, market forces - No philosophy courses

Here's the problem: the current argument the Escapist is embroiled in requires philosophical thought. And they don't have a guy for that.

I think they're not the only ones. People--especially dorks--like to set aside thinking about whether to do something and just set their minds to doing it. Just assume Bowser is an asshole and the Princess needs to get saved and get to work on the jumping and fireballs.

So to apply this to the current situation. So here's Brandon Morse talking about calling trans people what they wanna be called:
Here's his defense:

Now what you notice right off is this sounds like an evasion:

You can say whatever you like. People then can decide you're a dick based on that. Every human in the history of the planet has had that experience and is ok with it. When they go "You can't say xxxx" or "You shouldn't say xxxxx" what they mean is just a shorthand for "You say that and I will decide you're a dick and maybe take action based on that".

I don't think Morse thinks this is a dodge, though. I think he actually believes that. I think the emotional logic of "I do what I want!" is as far as he's thought about it.

Like so many people on the internet, he wants to get what he believes out of the way so he can get on to sickburning people for not believing it.

When I went to The Escapist about this dick, the response was basically pretty libertarian: we don't tell people what to think, his ideas are his own, the market will sort it out etc etc. They didn't have a defense of his ideas, just a defense of their right to slather them in money and slide them across the Internet.

The obvious question is like, Would you use the same logic to employ--ok, this is nerddom so we're not allowed to say a Nazi but fuck it, my dad was Jewish--a very polite Nazi?

My honest-to-god read on The Escapist is they're so libertarian it's a 30-70 shot they'd say something like "Well so long as they weren't advocating violence and were putting out great content, why not?" Not because they hate Jews, but because they just believe that hard in the Marketplace of Ideas.

Or maybe they'd go "Well that's different."

And I'd go "How?"

And at that point, no matter what they say textually--it'd be a desperate cover for the fact that we'd just crossed beyond their experience. Because they never thought "Ok, what if we set up rules at our company to make ourselves money harmlessly and it doesn't work and makes the world genuinely worse for people during our lifetime and theirs and you could've stopped it and didn't because greed?" Their whole lives there has literally been no reason to ask a question like that, so it's never seriously occurred to them.

Just like when you ask people how any 140-character life rule they just made up for themselves breaks down.

I'd like to pretend this is just The Escapist, or just libertarians, but it's really really not. It's a pattern you see over and over with people online when push comes to shove.

Most people don't actually have very clear rules about when to take action or what the words they're throwing around mean. They just have loyalties. That's why you can go "Brandon Morse is a bigot and so is that guy Ettin" and the same people will be like "Yeah Brandon Morse is a dick" and "Calling out Ettin in public like that for something he said months ago? Not cool, dude! You don't go starting drama like that."

Not unless it's, like, important.
What counts as important?
I'm not here to debate you.

(Why do people feel ok about saying that? Just so you know: I am always here to debate you. Ask me whatever.)

But if you're on the internet to announce ideas instead of talk about them, you end up basically using those ideas as a kind of faceless fuel to gather steam for a much larger enterprise and one with more certain rewards: fighting on behalf of them. Tactics, strategy, a clear foe.

And the impression I get is that even if they don't agree with Morse, they like that he's offensive about something even they don't approve of because it somehow in some weird realm proves the macho robustness of their libertarian ethic.

I think the level of Nope Not Gonna Think About It dismissiveness here is hard to wrap your head around if you don't share the mindset. Morse's take on trans issues has been consigned to a certain bin of Less Relevant and there it will stay.

Brandon Morse says something transphobic--4 people retweet it and 11 people favorite it--and that hugging fuels Brandon to say the next thing. And the next thing. That is The Job. That stuff beneath where people, like, question the ideas? Addressing that is not the proper work of Brandon Morse. Or the Escapist or anyone else who ever used the "I was just giving my opinion on my blog jeez isn't this a free country any more?" excuse. You are here to advertise ideas, not use them.

And Brandon makes money somehow, I guess, so it's ok--the same reason RPGnet won't just get rid of the ad server that keeps sending them sexist ads.  Dudes Need To Make Money.

Long ago someone at the Escapist decided that We Hire Whoever So Long As It Makes Us Bank--and, moreover, they decided that decision wasn't a secret, cowardly compromise, it was What They Believed and they were proud of it. So, cool--now they have something to Fight For. And the rest is just tactics.


If anybody at The Escapist has a problem with what I just wrote:

Hey kids, buy my new D&D book! It's the fastest-selling and best-reviewed indie RPG book of the season!

...if I follow your logic, if I make even a dollar today, everything I wrote up there was totally justified. Because, like, money's the most important thing, right?


Eric said...

Not related to this post, but are you going to fall afoul of google's new blogger regulations, and have to move somewhere else?

Unknown said...

"the response was basically pretty libertarian: we don't tell people what to think, his ideas are his own, the market will sort it out etc etc"

The market is sorting it out. You are leaving, and stirring up bad press for them in the process. Well done.

Unknown said...

Any thoughts as to the announcement that Greg Tito (formerly an Editor-in-chief at Escapist) has been hired by WotC as their new Communications Manager?


Just curious - there seems to be a fair bit of vitriol in the comments there.

Zak Sabbath said...

it only "sorts it out" if that revenue change is both quick and effective.
which it may not be. --it certainly hasn't tanked FOX or RPGnet

Zak Sabbath said...

Whoa--news to me.

I will now go back through my emails with Greg and see whether this stuff applies to him. He was not at the forefront of the behavior I describe here so far as I remember.

Zak Sabbath said...

Looking through, Greg seems like he was one of the good guys.

Zak Sabbath said...

…just based on my email--which is all i know.

Das T said...

lil bit all over the place.
found your blog because of porn,
really liked the show back in the day. seems focus to having fun not winning no matter what, cause that is boring. If I dont have fun what does it matter if I win?

As with gamergate, the thing with you and other people in pen and paper rpg and the internet in general it seems that a lot of people seem to forget the most important rule:"dont be a dick."

Anonymous said...

I'm a libertarian. Being a libertarian doesn't exempt a person from treating another person like a person. Sorry you had a bad experience with other libertarians.

Morgan said...

I've got a question that might sound like a snarky rhetorical question but I swear is motivated by 100% sincere curiosity:

What does publicly cutting ties with a business that employs someone who publicly says something hateful in their personal life do to advance social justice?

I ask because I usually see this playing out in one of two ways:
A) The company shrugs and says, "Not my fight." Nothing happens to the employee, who is now more strident than ever because Those People tried to silence them (and they've learned that there are no consequences).
B) The company fires the person, who rallies other people to their cause because they can now claim to be persecuted by Those People, who are the true oppressors, right?

At best, you've deprived the hater of the appearance of tacit company support; at worst you've given the hater a bigger audience and an aura of moral superiority due to the controversy. No one is persuaded, and usually they're not even silenced.

So what does this accomplish? What am I missing? I ask because I often see people doing this out of a knee-jerk sense of outrage, but knowing you, I expect you've given it some thought.

Zak Sabbath said...

That is not a bad question. Here's what it does:

1. It means that my labor is not helping improve that guy's quality of life and if I take my time elsewhere maybe I have more time to help people I like.

2. It gets us, personally, away from people who probably we were gonna have friction with anyway. Likewise it brings people on good team over here.

3. It shows trans people struggling in the industry that they're not alone and it's one more reason not to give up

4. I think B is an acceptable outcome: they can claim what they want and all those people they "rally" were shitheads to begin with lying dormant but still dangerous. I welcome the debate that would bring on.

Many people just don't like "drama". I would much rather have a situation where something dramatic happens and you see whose side people are on then lay down with dogs and then get bit in the throat..

Morgan said...

1&2: Fair enough.

3: I didn't think of this and I feel dumb.

4: I guess I just know a lot of people who have slightly-bigoted views that are not strongly held but will fight to the death against anything that even remotely smacks of censorship (and are therefore relatively easy to persuade as long as you don't push those buttons), but I suppose there are probably people for whom the opposite is true.

Zak Sabbath said...

4: I am not a person who is ever going to be good at appealing to those kind of irrational people. It is not in my nature to moderate in order to persuade the Slightly Fucked.
That job is the job of some other motherfucker on some other blog.

Morgan said...

Now I kinda want to start a social justice-oriented blog called Some Other Motherfucker.

Martin said...

I have no idea of what is going on with the Escapist, but I am happy that most of the people I like and follow have been let go, and the one person left (Yahtzee/Zero Punctuation) I can get on Youtube. I'm honestly hoping he gets let go so I don't have to pay attention to the site anymore.

On a related note, who in your group are Social Justice Warriors, and which ones are Social Justice Bards, Clerics, Rogues and Wizards?

Zak Sabbath said...

No real humans talk like that.

Montel said...

"I think a lack of genuine curiosity is one of the most dangerous things a person can have on the internet."

I value this statement. I apply to people in general.

Renegade Paladin said...

I dunno, real humans who learn English as a second language sometimes do. :p

Montel said...

*it to people

Revenant said...

Either the guy winds up unemployed and on the dole, in which case taxpayers collectively support him, or he gets a job and his employer supports him, or he becomes homeless and dies from starvation or whatever.

All kidding about option three aside, it seems to me that "a company supports him in doing something useful but doesn't give him an outlet for his hate" is the best possible outcome.

That being said, I wouldn't want to work with him either.

Holly Oats said...

I consider myself a conservative (in the Burkean sense) libertarian, and I gotta say, their whole "let the market handle it" excuse is both idiotic and harmful. Do they not realize that they're part of the market? That this just lends credence to the idea that we need the government to get involved? It'd be like a Christian coming across someone in dire need and saying "Well, I'm sure God will send someone their way to help." If anything, it sounds more like Ayn Rand's pseudo-philosophy, Objectivism, than libertarianism (which is a pretty broad label. I can't imagine Proudhon making an argument even remotely similar to theirs)

Charlie said...

'When I went to The Escapist about this dick, the response was basically pretty libertarian: we don't tell people what to think, his ideas are his own, the market will sort it out etc etc.'

Eh, I'd say this isn't really a libertarian thing. This is a cop-out thing. There's a difference between 'can someone get a job anywhere' and 'do I pay this horrible person,' and these guys are deliberately conflating the two. They tell y'all they're going to deal with a forum full of idiots; they do nothing. They'd rather be amoral and make more money - though really, since they're being amoral and you're calling them out on it here, hopefully they'll dwindle in viewership. It's not that money is the only thing that matters - but it's nice when being an asshole has consequences.

Also, thought your notes about their love of history were interesting. There's the Big Men of History view of history, which these guys seem to get into. But there's another reason history is neat to study. Because it's such a nightmare (from which we must awaken).

Military history can be like that nightmare, utterly concentrated. Just don't read what the generals write about it. Read what the grunts thought as they slogged through, an inch at a time. But I assume these guys, technocrats all, were reading the Deep Thoughts of Great Men, playing at their mathematics of logistics and death.

I swear, I didn't just come here to defend libertarianism and military history. Thanks for all the great stuff, Zak. And thanks to all the folks at the table, where the thing itself actually happens. Sorry shit like this crops up. Someone once, in a novel (The Fall Revolution), illustrated how progress feels in real life, at real time. Two characters are in a truck. The driver hit the gas, then slammed on the brake; the truck bounded forward and jolted to a halt. Moved a few inches.

"That's progress," he said.

It always take too long. Like my comments. But eventually, it's done.

Charlie said...

"I'm sure God will send someone their way to help." This is a fantastic image! It'd be a great time for the hypocrite walk away and say, over his shoulder, 'You know, God works in mysterious ways' to the person in need of help.

Shadow said...

Haters are going to hate; If mandy put a giant stuffed fish on her head and ran around saying "Im' aquagirl" they would probably start giving her crap about being aquagirl.

Anonymous said...

Or the classic "God helps those who help themselves", last vestige of the self-righteous and unbothered. Redeemable, if you don't object to picking someone up and dusting them down and helping them get started, but all too easily brandished as an excuse to not involve yourself at all.

Martin said...

Okay, now I'm confused. I'm not a real human? Last time I checked, I was. Your posting makes no sense whatsoever to me. Could you possibly explain?

Konsumterra said...

I saw a show on korean vid bloggers who just eat online and have 9000 followers+ in a current craze - many of the stars of this scene have 4 moderators to check for abuse and unwelcome sexual speak

also this good article on online abuse concequences

only peripherally relevant but im seeing flame wars errupt more and more HPL historical soc has been ruined with ppl unwilling to discuss racism at all and block it

i got into row with a friend who is a libertarian/conservative who posts on something awful - involved you, story games and online abuse - i still claim lying slander and slutshaming in arguments over game systems are unacceptable - im a little less impressed by my "friend now"

keep on doing what you do

jmk jr said...

I don't mean to derail the conversation from this real life incident for a hypothetical one, but what if this was the 1920s, The Escapist was Weird Tales, and Morse was Lovecraft? Or is that just completely ridiculous because Morse has never produced, and will likely never produce, anything of enduring worth?

Is it not hypocritical to appreciate Lovecraft's work because we can no longer engage him personally, and because he has no means of benefitting from such attention? And at some point his work ought to be allowed to stand on its own for its obvious impact?

Obviously, you don't have to entertain my question, and please delete this comment if it unnecessarily distracts from the discussion at hand. I post it for purely selfish reasons: my ongoing internal debate regarding separating an appreciation for an artist's work from however that artist lived his or her life. Personally, I love Lovecraft's work, particularly because it seems 'honest' to his artistic aspirations despite my distaste for his personal views that factor into his works' honesty. On the other hand, I so far can't bring myself to buy Orson Scott Card's work because of his homophobic stance. In the end, I'm probably just being irrationally loyal to one piece of shit because I discovered him in my formative teen years, while the other I've never read but heard him say shitty things.

Thanks for your time. James

jmk jr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
maasenstodt said...

Many markets are rigged, not free, so the "sorting" is often skewed, sometimes to benefit those doing the rigging, sometimes in unintended ways.

I'm a libertarian, but I also think Morse's views on this are wrong, and I think it's great that you're speaking out and taking action on this.

Zak Sabbath said...

That is a good question. Here's what I say:

1. It's slightly more complex because Lovecraft made interesting things.

2. But not that much more complex: I would simply arrange for Lovecraft not to receive any money.

I suppose if I lived then, I would try to steal the magazines his work appeared in.

The money is the thing. You can appreciate whatever you like. It's bigots getting money that's bad.

Anonymous said...

With Lovecraft we also have the advantage of biographical material (drawn from his prodigious letter-writing) which indicates he came to regret and recant at least some of the poisonous tripe he spewed in his youth. Bigots learning to be less bigoted and amending their behaviour - that's a step in the right direction, right?

Zak Sabbath said...

Yes, but making that happen's not my responsibility.

piles said...

I just had a look at Morse's tweets of last week and sadly it seems that A is true ...

piles said...

It seems that Morse is more concerned about his freedom of speech than someone else's freedom to be.

Unknown said...

I'm a firm believer of the principle that a creative work should not be blamed for its creator. But that doesn't obligate me to subsidize the creator by spending my money on his works. His works will outlive him, and I can wait.

Lovecraft's dead. Orson Scott Card and Mr. Morse here aren't. Whatever value their creative works contain, I can evaluate when they're gone.

Or by obtaining their works through means that don't involve me giving them my money.

Mike Monaco said...

That's a very interesting and persuasive take on the libertarian thing. My take has generally been: libertarianism is attractive to a lot people, including otherwise very smart people, because it is both an easy way to claim to have a "principled" stance and a an easy way to avoid worrying about actual facts, other people's experiences, and anything that is not measurable by a very limited set of criteria (usually just $). It is a very comforting world-view, and removes ambiguity and worrying about what if I'm wrong or what if this case is not adequately analyzed by my theory because everything is reduced to a principle of "freedom." Not a very profoundly analyzed principle, but a principle, I guess.
(Ayn Rand style libertarianism doubles down on the refusing to think too much about anything, e.g. her description of objectivism as as taking "objective reality" for its theory on knowledge. She very aggressively refuses to understand how epistemology is even a question; purposefully conflates self-interest and selfishness, and so on.)

Archaeopteryx said...

Why is theft licit but the ideas being complained about evil?

Zak Sabbath said...

It's fine to steal from bad people.

Zak Sabbath said...

Not that I recommend it--the legal repercussions are shitty

Archaeopteryx said...

But WHY is it okay to steal from 'bad' people, but not presumably 'good' people? And on what basis is someone to be judged 'bad'?

Zak Sabbath said...

Stealing from bad people means their harmful projects advance slower.

And as for what basis to judge someone bad:
Bigots are bad. The bigotry is described above.

All modern legal systems (and thus societies) are based on defining people who commit certain acts as bad and then taking things away from them (stealing from them) based on that decision. So anyone who has ever lastingly framed a law system agrees with this principle.

I happen to think being a bigot makes someone bad. Some legal systems agree with my assessment, some don't.

Unknown said...

Who said anything about stealing? There are these things called libraries and used book stores and borrowing from friends.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, I've had a similar experience with my own political darling, anarchism (in the Kropotkin, Goldman, Debian sense, not in the laissez-faire libertarian sense). I've had a huge sense of disillusionment; I just don't know where to go from there.