Talkback: The Fallacies of the End Game

Talkback IconTalkback is a feature for cross-blog dialog (where one blogger writes an article and response articles are published by other bloggers). Join the conversation with your own talkback article if you’re a blogger or hit up the comments section of the participating blogs.

Settle in for a long read. This talkback began with a recently published article here titled “Better Gamers for a Better Community”. One response came from Roger at Moderate Peril who seems to agree with the thrust of my article, but disagrees with it’s delivery.

J3w3l penned a really nuanced response yesterday about her personal experiences and understanding of what it means to be a gamer confronting the toxicity. She made a strong point that when she’s blogging about games, it’s often the time she uses to get away from abuse or to take a break from activism. I think she’s right that many game bloggers feel this way. I completely agree and I just want to say I think that’s a totally valid stance to take. It was the stance I took when I created T.R. Red Skies (and subsequently why I have changed blogs). We all have to take care of ourselves first and championing your favorite cause cannot be a 24 hour affair. It’s emotionally, psychologically and physically draining. In the original article, I called strongly on men to get more involved but I do want to make it clear that I understand and agree that we’re not duty bound to be on patrol 24/7. I think for my part, I just want gamers to not go quiet in the face of abuse and I still think more participation from men in the community is sorely needed.

Then there’s the response article from Tobold, ever the champion of strawman arguments, extremism, distortions and omissions. He wants to change the topic of discussion to that of political correctness and use ideological framing because, depending on whether you’re a “ultra-liberal” or a conservative all bigotry is/is not a problem. Apparently, speaking up in the face of abuse and bigotry is vague and fascist. I’m satisfied that there has at least been active engagement by bloggers on the topic, many of whom have responded thoughtfully, even when they disagree. This was not the case.

I’ve discussed in detail this year the problem with such terms as political correctness and the purpose it serves for those who use it. As I’ll discuss here, that’s just an argumentative fallacy. It conveniently shifts conversation to something respondents are more comfortable with. And it’s OK, we all get uncomfortable. But derailing discussion isn’t helpful. Political correctness is a coded phrase we use to dismiss each other’s experiences and concerns. It’s not useful to throw this around and you can read this article for details about why I think so.

The end game for all of us should be addressing the issues that plague our communities. I would think this is something we can all get behind if we believe change is required. Change is the end game.

Cognitive Dissonance

The general concept of cognitive dissonance is that we ignore, assimilate or accommodate conflicting information in ways that affirm our beliefs and behavior. Pointing out that there’s something wrong with our behavior causes our minds to work to decrease the dissonance, make it resonant with our current beliefs and actions (or else block it out and ignore it). We all experience cognitive dissonance. In order to mediate the dissonance, we have consciousness. Without consciousness, we are slaves to our psychology.

Consciousness is awareness. It doesn’t mean we will act on information, but that we are capable of being self-aware. Think of consciousness as a way to monitor your own thoughts, beliefs and behavior.

Awareness is part of the solution to cognitive dissonance. Another part is personal will. When it comes to activism, I see my role as a source of awareness for those unaware of the issues I work on. My role is not to effect change, but to make change possible by increasing awareness of problems in my circle of influence, problems the people around me may not otherwise see or understand.

“Moral Superiority” Fallacy

The “moral superiority” claim against those who point out or who want to discuss those problems is a textbook ad hominem fallacy. It’s consequence is to circumvent or dismiss the subject by refocusing discussion on the person bringing it up.

I write from experience. When I write about bigotry, it’s because I’ve been a bigot. When I write about sexism, it’s because I’ve been a sexist. I’ve also been a racist and ableist. I’ve been a silent bystander and it seems overwhelmingly likely that I have been part of every kind of bigotry (I’m not immune to socialization). Anyone who knows me would never, at any point in my life, have described me as any of those things but my behavior has spoken for itself on those matters, despite my beliefs (dissonance). I write because I am now aware of the harm I have done to others (experience) and the harm I can do (education). All of these experiences make me more like everyone in my communities, not less like them (superiority).

We’re all products of our experiences and education. Our growth is based on our willingness to change and striving to do better while inviting others to the same is NOT an act of moral superiority. The moral superiority response is an attack on the character of the speaker and is a tactic used to silence, discredit, and derail. We should, as the saying goes, attack the content not the author.

“Sugar Coating” and Vanity

Something else I have to deal with often is being told that my message isn’t sweet enough. Somehow, I’m the reason others will not listen about problems or change. Somehow, the “actual” problem is the messenger. I’ve noticed that we sometimes have a tendency to externalize problems, to distance them from ourselves. This is why awareness of the problem alone isn’t enough. We have to be willing to change. And that requires a desire to listen deeply and think deeply, to entertain the idea that you could be part of the problem. If we’re not willing, there’s nothing to talk about. 

When we think that it’s the task of others to “sugar coat” their words in order to make someone willing to listen, we propose two things which I think are harmful and counterproductive to addressign the real issues. The first is pandering. Pandering to the vanity of the audience is disrespectful to that audience. It implies that they must be lied to in order do what’s right, that they should be manipulated by the speaker, that the audience cannot cope with the raw information. Pandering is patronizing breeds contempt of your audience.

The second problem is that “sugar coating” puts the onus on the speaker to inflict change on their audience. The person speaking becomes responsible for whatever happens (or doesn’t happen) next. This is where pandering is usually proposed as the solution. This shifts ultimate accountability for the resolution of the problem to the messenger. Ordinarily, we’d call this scapegoating but in these instances it becomes magically appropriate.

Individuals have to change themselves and this task cannot be assigned to the speaker in any way. If a person’s willingness to listen to issues or their willingness to change hinges on superficial pandering; if they’re waiting for a message that makes them feel good about themselves in order to act, then they’re not committed to change in the first place. They’re committed to something else that only they can interrogate through self-awareness. Accountability for change begins and ends with the man in the mirror.

Interrogating Our Beliefs

The unexamined life is not worth living. – Socrates [1]

I am aware that my articles may feel harsh to some. I’m always grateful for constructive criticism. I sometimes vet my articles by fellow readers and bloggers in order to take that feedback to heart and action. I think my readers have seen me evolve my writing style the past 5 years. I’ve come a long way. I strive to improve every time I sit down and write. I’ve kneaded my messages, moderated their tone, modified their vocabulary and learned when and how to use pronouns best when speaking to an audience. I do my very best each and every time. But I equally understand that the message itself isn’t usually the problem. For some in the audience, it is the fact that I deliver it at all.

You can imagine how tricky it is to navigate such an audience who is ready and waiting to conclude that the message and it’s messenger are the actual problem. I have to balance my decisions to speak out with the knowledge that some listeners have no intention of discussing the subject on it’s merits. They prove it every time by leaving the message unexplored while they deconstruct what they think is wrong with me and my approach. To an extent, I get it. It can feel personal and like we’re under attack by social calls to action. But at the end of the day we must understand that that kind of reaction is about YOU (individuals), not the messenger or the message.

Even messengers have to heed their own advice, walk their own talk, and do their own work. Instead of imagining the messenger as shouting from a pulpit, see them instead as doing their best with their own personal struggle to heed their own message (I can’t ask you to speak out if I don’t). I work and care very hard. The extent of the work I put in precedes and supersedes this blog. I’ve been participating in consciousness raising and support before I decided to include my blogging in it. Usually by the time I publish something here, it’s after I’ve had a related experience with the subject matter in the real world.

The end game is personal change. It’s commitment to change. If we’re really concerned about tact and pleasant experiences, then let’s turn our discussion to the issue at hand and away from one another. Let’s talk about all the nuances of our ugly problems, the research involved in their resolution and the outcomes of our efforts to make a change. Wouldn’t that be more pleasant? Wouldn’t that be the end game?

Scree Tags: #gamerscandobetter #gamertalk #activism