Monday, 27 October 2014

On Human Laziness, False Limitations, And How Wordsing Is Hard.

I promised myself not to talk about GamerGate, and, actually, I'm a little lucky here, because this is something that has a wider implication than just that constant back-and-forth arguing. Let's begin our discussion of how Words Are Hard with a statement nobody reading this is going to like:

You Are All Lazy About Word Usage.

Oh dear, that's not a strong start, is it? Let's examine why. First word: "You". Not me, even though I can be just as lazy as the worst of you in the right conditions. "All". There isn't actually a problem with this, but many people will consider it a gross generalisation, until I explain a bit further. Many people won't get that far, because reading is also hard. But it's a start. Let's rejig that.

You Are All Lazy About Word Usage, And So Am I.

On the face of it, that at least appears better. But it really isn't, because it gives the impression that "I" am an afterthought. I am less important, in the context of this subject, than you are. And so somebody is going to take offense. While we're at it, people will take offense at the word "Lazy", even though it's technically true. It's not true at all times of the day, it's not true in all situations, but as a general statement (which it is), it's true. We all expend the minimum amount of effort, on average, to say what we want to say to our satisfaction. Key phrase there. Okay, one more go, and then we'll skip along to a demonstration of how easy it is to slip up.

Humanity, As A Whole, Is Lazy About Word Usage.

Much better. Everyone's included now, and... Wait, you don't want to be included? You think you aren't, or at least, your batting average is higher than everyone else's? Oh dear, I've offended someone because they think a generalisation, however true, doesn't apply to them. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

Well, let's talk about why, even if this is the case, you can't actually demonstrate it. Firstly, you'd have to have a comprehensive documentation of everything you've said, written, and thought. Yes, thought, because you think words before you say them, and sometimes, what you think and what you say isn't the same thing. What you say may have similar goals to what you think... But it might equally betray what you're actually thinking, over what you say. Then you'd have to exhaustively analyse the whole thing, and... Oh, wait, we've reached a situation where, seemingly, I can't prove you wrong, and you can't prove me right.

Except I said nothing about "all the time". I spoke about quantity of people, not a quantity of time. I even took pains to let you know that it isn't true all the time. In some cases, it isn't even true for much of the time. But you don't have to believe me that they're rare cases. Because you see it every day. In a job interview, where you were told you'd worded something so it was a yes or no answer (apparently, a bad thing in salesmanship). In a research paper, where you used the wrong definition of a word (My most recent one there was "Agency". Turns out grammatical agency and gender politics agency are ever so slightly different.) Even in a conversation. Let me show you two examples of that to bring my point across.

In a German oral exam (the one where you speak, not the one where they examine your mouth for how german it is, or a mouth examination in germany... See how easy it can be to confuse?), I made a mistake that apparently even many Germans make, to great amusement. Instead of "Ich schlafe im mein hosen" (I sleep in my trousers), I said "Ich schlafe mit mein hosen" (I sleep with my trousers). One word, and I'm now forever associated with sexual deviancy in the mind of the native German speaker who examined me. Good times!

Here's another one, and more germane to a situation that's been on my mind (and the mind of many gamers recently)... "I'm laughing with you" and "I'm laughing at you." What's wrong with the second sentence? Well, if you're even vaguely educated in English, you'll know that the first is inclusive: You're sharing the joke. But the second is exclusive: You're laughing, but they aren't, or shouldn't be. One word. One.

Now, here's where it gets fun. Single words, used often enough, can be interpreted in a negative way. Let's use some common GamerGate examples to illustrate my point. Let's start with "fallacy"

Such an innocent sounding word, it trips off the tongue, and, if you say it just right, makes you think of dicks. But homophones are an entirely different problem, let's concentrate on why using "fallacy" a lot might get you into trouble in the current GG debate.

A fallacy is a flawed argument, pure and simple. But it's what's called a loaded word, because it also has connotations in debate. Some phrases that instantly come to mind when someone uses fallacy are "You are arguing in bad faith" (because hey, that's often what a fallacy is used for), "You don't know how to argue" (because I have to tell you what fallacy you're using), and "I want to demonstrate that I am educated (whether I am or not) to argue from a position of superiority"... No shit, that instantly comes to mind whenever someone uses specialist terms like fallacy. And, in a very real grammatical sense, it is a specialist term. It belongs to a field of expertise that you may or may not possess, namely Logic. If you don't believe me that Logic is a specialist skill, try and use it on people who don't have it. And I apologise in advance for any friends you will lose for doing so.

There are other loaded terms, of course, and the language you use gives away your thoughts on how you really see things, even if you don't intend it that way. "revolt", "war", "us" and "them". When you label a person, you're deliberately not acknowledging them as a person, but an idea (Good example: A drunk on the square, yelling at the "Fookin' Paki!" who, presumably, offended him. This actually happened, and I can tell you, that there are folks from China... Folks from Turkey and Cyprus... Folks from Mumbai... But, funnily enough, nobody from Pakistan around here. Yes, I know, it's a dehumanising insult for people from India, but it was directed at the Turks, in this case... Go figure.)

To continue, though, when you think of things in terms of "war", you aren't doing this from a viewpoint of discussion. And nobody wants to discuss with someone who isn't prepared to discuss, but rather wants to stab you or shoot you very, very dead. When you think of things in terms of a "revolt", you're instantly associating yourself, in your mind, with your own ideal of what a revolt is. The most common one I (and others) got when asking what particular revolt they were thinking of was the French Revolution, which, as an ideal, was about freedom. However, the French Revolution has an entirely different connotation for anyone who actually researched it, namely, that the leaders of said revolution were, themselves, mostly given to Madame Guillotine, one of the few true victors of the French Revolution.

So yes, humans are lazy about words, and it hurts them, and others around them. How do we combat this? Well, there isn't really an ideal solution. We could limit what words people say! Ah, we tried that, and people cried foul. For, it must be said, very good reasons, because many of the folks who had that idea didn't want rather inconvenient words like "Freedom" or "Slaves" to be bandied about, because that caused dangerous ideas.

We can educate people not to use those words! Ah, that would require effort, and it's not just words that humanity's quite lazy about. For example, a couple I was talking to, long ago, were arguing about the events of their bedtime rompings. The man in the argument, unsurprisingly, was rather put out that she defecated on his member while it was being inserted into her rectum. The woman, on the other hand, immediately rejoindered that she'd done so because she didn't want him in her rectum in the first place. The man was lazy because he hadn't established a safeword (a good practice in general, folks), and, more importantly, hadn't asked how his paramour felt about things being shoved in her bottom for pleasure. The woman, on the other hand, was lazy for exactly the same reasons. I'd like to add that neither of them could be bothered to not discuss this in the hearing of someone who might turn round and mention how they really didn't want to hear this. And I am not, in fact, being lazy here, but deliberately shocking to make a point, because I definitely wanted to shock you into reading how lazy they both were. Every solution except stopping and thinking before you act (not, in and of itself, an ideal solution in life or death, instant reaction situations, but an argument on the internet, or a conversation about ethics in journalism, or even whether that boy/girl/androgyne/thing from Delta Upsilon really wants you to carry on asking them for their phone number is somewhere you can apply it) seems not to work really well.

So, with that little demonstration out of the way, let me point out that, before you turn around and tell someone they're a liar, or using a fallacy, or whatever the hell you're going to say (even in rebuttal to this article), don't be lazy. Stop, think... Look around. I know it's hard work, but you'll be rewarded with more knowledge, and less likelihood that people will stop listening to you.

Oh wait, I offended you all from word 1, and so you aren't listening to this post. Whoops. Oh, here's one final piece of laziness. Those false limitations? Think for yourself what situations you might have where you think you're limited in what you say and how you say it, but you actually aren't... Like, say, the internet.

EDIT: Folks... Well, one person so far has stated that this is "tone policing". I'd like folks to think about that phrase. Yes, it's shitty to tell someone to not be angry at each other, but is that what I'm saying? Be very careful before you answer... Because, as I noted, I'm sometimes lazy with words, and I may not have gotten the real message across that it's not what you say that's important... It's why you're saying it, and whether what you're saying is true.

EDIT 2: Here's a really good example of needing to think, to research, before you do something you'll regret.

This was posted just a short while before this edit (name has been removed because I don't wanna be a dick beyond pointing something out). The first half is quite correct. The second half, however, ignores that -gamy has a meaning already deeply entrenched. Monogamy sound familiar? Polygamy? Yes, that's right. Misogamy: A hatred of marriages/relationships. And that could have been avoided if someone thought "Hey, maybe we shouldn't be appropriating classical languages to make new terms without understanding how they're constructed!"

Thursday, 16 October 2014

How Not To Have A Civil Discussion.

I've talked before about the whole GamerGate mess, and am currently planning a call for de-escalation. This is my case for it, and, at its core, it's really quite simple: If you have genuine concerns, Twitter is not the place to do it. If you don't want to support harassment (in general, I'm not going to say one "side" or the other is dicking the other over more, because that misses the bloody point), Twitter isn't working for that. Let's explain why.

The origin of the GamerGate hashtag is only tangenitally relevant to our discussion here. What is more important here is what it has become. Now, let's take a quick screenshot of a portion of the hashtag's current output, shall we? This is a highly frustrating thing to do on TweetDeck, by the way, because unlike Twitter's frontend, TweetDeck refreshes constantly, giving you a true impression of how thick and fast stuff is being posted.

Huh. So, GamerGate is currently, for those who don't know, a hodgepodge, and nothing demonstrates it quite like a selection of the tweets currently on the tag. Look at this. GamerGate is ostensibly meant to be focused on ethics in journalism, and we have, in that set of tweets, someone having a common misunderstanding (It's not the "sexy" most critics object to, it's the objectification, the idea of "Women as furniture/tools" that causes problems.), someone using #GamerGate to post an open letter (that appears to be "on message"), and someone who, quite frankly, is beginning to get what I'm aiming at, although, like many, he's still stuck on the gender-war part of things, and not the flaw underlying the hashtag.

Here, we have several different agendas. Including, er... anti-gamergate sentiments, which is sort of the opposing view, is it not? So let's talk about momentum for a second. Momentum is seen as the main reason to stick to using a hashtag for a movement, because the tweets are short, punchy, and it supposedly means you can all blitz along in a single direction, overwhelming opposition as you go.

Except that isn't happening, for a simple reason. Anybody can post on a hashtag. I did that earlier today, in fact. 

What's even more interesting is that the statement I made isn't even true. I've never even tried an aubergine. So there you have it, a nice, simple demonstration of the most fatal flaw of basing your movement around a hashtag. Anyone can post anything. It's been around 35 minutes at the time of this sentence, and not a single person has noticed I've introduced useless noise into the supposedly clear signal of GamerGate.

So what's ended up happening is that you have folks tweeting anti-gg sentiment (in many different forms, whether they're anti the 8chan involvement, anti the misogyny, anti journalistic ethics, or just anti everything and wanting a fight about it), and that momentum is... Not actually a single force. In fact, it never has been. From almost the beginning, people added that hashtag on the end of their rebuttals, and all you get from looking at the hashtag in tweetdeck as it goes by is... An endless blur of words. Words that contradict each other a lot of the time.

So, in order to make sense of things, folks go elsewhere. They go to mass media, they go looking for information elsewhere. And much of the media, looking for a simple story, have gone for what they perceive as the biggest problem: The harassing elements. The anger, and the fear, and the hate.

This person isn't necessarily one of the people who send death threats and hate speech to people like Brianna Wu, John Walker, or any of the folks involved in this, pro or anti. They hold an opinion I personally disagree with (and are making a generalisation, to boot, which is just sloppy thinking.) But there's no guarantee this person is actively endorsing or participating in hate crimes.

This person probably isn't sending death threats either. He's angry, just like the pro-gg example I gave above, and saying things he may well regret... But that's all.

Ah, but I say that's all, when this is the very core of the problem.

What do "anti-gg SJWs" want? They want better representation of women in video games, and for female developers to not have such a raw deal in developement, and a host of other things that can be summed up as getting the industry to grow and deal with genuine concerns.

What do "pro-gg Gaters" want? They want to answer some questions like whether patreon funding ought to be disclosed, whether review copies are a matter for disclosure, and whether there are conflicts of interest in the industry, and how can we resolve them? This, too, can be summed up as getting the industry to grow and dealing with genuine concerns.

So, here's the main thrust of my argument: This has, through the alchemy of the internet, become something else. And no, before you say it isn't, there are people who have come directly to me with issues about patreons, and asking why reviews are political and objective (And they were pretty satisfied with my answer that this is because you can't actually remove politics and opinion from a review, because lots of things are politics, and even saying "I like this game" is a subjective opinion.) There are people who've come to me with concerns about objectifying women, and I agree with them. There are folks with concerns about employment in the industry, about review copies, about patreon, kickstarter, Early access... And I'll let you in on two little secrets.

First, for the most part, even though many of those folks post on twitter under #GamerGate... We were perfectly able to have a civil discussion. Secondly, that's because they're just folks, same as us. Brianna Wu is a normal human being. Erik Kain is a normal human being. Boogie2988 is a normal human being. So is MundaneMatt. They have opinions, sometimes those opinions differ from ours, and sometimes they do things that count as "getting angry" or "being hateful"

So... The majority of folks are normal... human... beings. This doesn't sound like an epiphany until you realise that a lot of the language in the tweets isn't referring to those normal human beings. It's all about whether you support a fucking hashtag. What's more, a hashtag that anyone can post anything, anything at all in.

And this is where we come to the crux of things. I'd like to propose a different pigeon-holing. And pigeon-holing it is, it's what we human beings do. But you'll like this one, I think...

There are three factions in GamerGate. Just three.

Folks - Folks have concerns, and opinions. They are angry, and concerned. They want the second group, the Industry Folks, to address those concerns. Some of those folks are feminist. Some of those folks don't understand some parts of the other Folks' and Industry Folks' points of view. These two groups need to stop with this hashtag business, Industry Folks need to open up forums and moderate (explaining clearly what they're moderating, and why), and both these groups need to be concerned with the third group.

The third group are Hate Criminals. These are the only clear winners right now, because anger, and fear, and hatred serve them well. Every time you tell a normal person who uses the GamerGate hashtag they're a misogynistic fucktard? They laugh. Every time you tell a normal person who doesn't use the hashtag they're a man-hating ice bitch? They laugh. Which brings us to another reason Twitter's no good for calm and civil discussion (although some of us, myself included, have managed... But not without a lot of work...)

Twitter's current rules mean you have to be directly involved to report a hate crime  . That, in layman's terms, means you have to be the victim, or you have to be the Hate Criminal. And, forgive me for stating the obvious, but the Hate Criminal isn't going to report themselves. The victim isn't always going to report either. And, when the victim lives in fear and doesn't report, the Hate Criminal laughs again. 

(FACTCHECK EDIT: There is an option for not being directly involved, but being offended. Use that... But the rest still stands.)

So here's my call for de-escalation. It's really simple, let's start with the Industry Folks end of things.

Industry Folks, you need to show everyone there's a place for civil discussion that isn't a bloody hashtag. You need to be really obvious about it, and you need to keep at it. Yes, you'll need to moderate your forums, make sure that haters get banned, and preferably reported to the proper authorities. You'll also need to clearly state that's what's going to happen.

Folks, you need to stop thinking of this in terms of hashtags and "sides". Once you've done that, you'll quickly find out which other folks are angry right now (don't get angry back, just back off quietly, let them calm down. If both of you folks get angry, then the hate wins.) You need to be able to agree to disagree, to explain clearly to each other (yes, I know some of you don't words good, but that's what sitting back, organising your thoughts, and writing things down to help your own thinking is for.)

Both of you, however, need to concentrate on that third group. Because that third group doesn't want the industry to grow. It doesn't want calm and civil discussion. It doesn't want to understand, like many of you do. All they want is hate. Do you want hate? I don't want hate. I find hate utterly useless, because it makes you make mistakes, it makes you over-react, it makes you stupid.

We can't discuss until the hate is dealt with. We can't grow until the hate is dealt with.

Stepping off the soapbox now, although I may try and reiterate this message elsewhere. I'm not going to bang your heads together to make you stop arguing, because you're better than that, I think. I don't even care whether you prove me wrong. But for now, know that this is my stance on claims that "we have it worse than the other side"

I don't give a fuck, because I consider it more important that this is happening on any "side" you care to name. I am not pro or anti gamergate. I'm just anti-hate, and pro-calm discussion.

EDIT: Here's a little numbercrunching by NewsWeek. For all the claims of "anti-harassment" and "ethics in journalism", that sure looks like a major off-message focus to me!

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Spare A Thought For Normal Folks.

So, for the past few months, I've been embroiled, in various ways, in the hot-mess on the internet that is GamerGate. For those who don't know, I chatted with fellow Let's Player Skippy Granola about the whole phenomenon a while back, and we put our thoughts on Tindeck (Part 1 , Part 2 )

Neither of us truly believe that the majority of folks are harassers, misogynists, and doxxers (doxxing, as an aside, is the releasing of someone's private stuff all over the internet, usually to allow other harassers easy access, or to shame the individual in some fashion. It ain't cool, and is definitely illegal), although we have both, at times, gotten angry at folks for joining the hashtag... We go a little into why we feel the hashtag (and twitter) don't work for social movements in the chat, but to sum up: Anyone can use a hashtag. Harassers and asshats on both sides, people with genuine concerns, and people trying to address those concerns. And it's about those last two groups that I want to talk about, because, regardless of the history of the tag, there are folks trying to discuss.

I've reached out to a few of those folks in a variety of ways (Why didn't I reach out to lots, do more? More on that later), from attempting to clarify, to attempting to show proof they ask for, to just talking and trying to find common ground. And two things that sound obvious, but are actually very important, come up nearly every time.

People are angry. People are scared.

People are angry for a variety of reasons. The harassers are angry because, as much as they are causing fear, they are also being exposed, one by one, and organised groups of such harassers are slowly being dragged into the light. The reviewers are angry because people appear to be blaming and attacking them. The readers are angry because they feel like they're being lumped in with the harassers, while often being harassed themselves, simply for taking a stance.

The harassers are scared for the same reason they're angry. The reviewers are scared because they feel it's a case of "Damned if you do, damned if you don't", and because harassers are trying to shout them down. The readers are scared because they feel they are being disenfranchised by all these articles saying "Nope, GamerGate be harassers, and anyone who tweets on the hashtag, yo!"... And, obviously, because they themselves are being harassed by extremists on both sides.

[EDIT: I'm simplifying a lot, but you get the basic picture, I hope.]

One thing that also comes up, time and time again, is that reviewers and developers are somehow... Better than normal folk. Bigger. Giants in the earth, that sort of thing. And while it's understandable (We want to put those who are good at speaking out, at creating, on a pedestal), it's also untrue. I actively reviewed for two years, and in all that time, I was, respectively, in a cottage in the middle of West Wales renting from family, and a bedsit in West Wales renting from an agency. I've mostly done voluntary work, one or two film extra bits, but mostly I'm an unemployed joe trying to make it in the world, same as you, dear reader (*laughs* the trying to make it in the world bit specifically, just to clarify!). That's why I didn't speak to hundreds of people, just a few... Because I'm human, just like you, and there's only so many hours in the day I *can* spend talking shop and discussing such things... Just like you only have so much time to do so a day.

And both of these things tie into one common thread: We are all just folks. We are trying to make sense of our world, we are trying to find belonging, we are trying to make our world better (Yes, even the harassers, although their definition of "better" is definitely one I disagree with... On both "sides".)

So I'm not going to get on my high horse and say I'm better than you. I'm not going to tell you you're wrong, or right. All I'm going to say is that, whether you feel the people using the GamerGate hashtag are wrong or right, whether you feel they're supporting harassers or being attacked, they are people, just like you. They have the same spectrum of good and bad as the rest of the world, the same spectrum of intelligence and capacity for "getting it" as the rest of the world... And you can, if you find those good people, explore other options without name-calling, find other places to discuss that aren't inundated with hate speech. You can send mails to twitter, asking for change. You can help your fellows who are being harassed find help, you can give them support.

But please, keep it in mind when you get angry at what Fish or Wu or Kain or Sarkeesian, or whoever the hell is getting angry/saying something you don't like, that they are normal folks like you, with all that implies. And keep in mind that responding to anger with anger, as much as it can make you briefly feel better, isn't going to help your peace of mind, or to help de-escalate this and promote actual, constructive discussion.

Okay, okay, my ankles are starting to ache from this rickety soapbox, I'll step down now... I hope these words helped you. Oh, and Twitter? Please help ensure that folks can feel you're a safe and cool space for folks to hang out, it's not what you started as, but it sure as hell is something you need.