“I'd Like to Have an Argument, Please”
This post has been fermenting for a while. I’ve postponed writing it because I've gotten somewhat tired of constantly “spitting in the wind”. Because that is what speaking out on certain subjects frequently feels like these days. There is a sense of tedious inevitability that any post on sexism, racism or any form of marginalisation will eventually lead to a torrent of vile, ill-informed and just plain dumb comments. The list of subjects “best avoided” seems to be getting bigger each day. Politics, religion and social issues have now been joined by the likes of economics, education and healthcare. But it doesn’t end there. Critiquing a book, movie, TV show or game can be deemed contentious and open a can of worms. Frankly, soliciting comments on any subject via social media seems to be courting disaster these days. The sad reality is that some people just revel in being vile and trying to hurt others. It puts me in mind of that quote from Platoon "Hell is the impossibility of reason". And you'll find precious little reason on the internet.
Two things have occurred recently that prompted me to write this post. One is the ongoing decline of both the Official and Unofficial LOTRO forums. The other was a minor twitter exchange I was involved in recently. A simple comment made in reply to a political pundit, meant that my timeline was subsequently flooded by an argument that went on for hours, as all parties chased their own tails and frothed at the mouth. As for the two LOTRO forums, they’ve become so polarised that they now mirror each other with their own militancy and are effectively different sides of the same coin. Both of these events are far from unique. It happens every day (“no matter what you say”, according to Tom Jones). Yet they got me thinking why does it have to always be this way and is there anything that can be done?
Well I believe there is. However, don't go looking for a miracle cure in this post because I don’t claim to have one. What I am suggesting is fairly basic and certainly requires lots of time. In a nutshell, keep writing and debating. Don't throw in the towel. I know it's very tempting sometimes, hence my spitting in the wind reference. Yet if we do, then the only information that will remains out there in the public domain is misinformation. Therefore, we should not shy away from speaking out on difficult matters. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is our duty to do so. Sooner or later you have to pick a side. The alternative is to do nothing and watch it all go to hell in a hand basket (other portmanteaus and porterage devices are available). Here are few thoughts on what specifically can be done.
Research and a well-constructed argument: Debating is a skill. There is a process applied to discussing and arguing a point, the same way as mathematics and grammar have specific rules. Unfortunately, most folk either aren’t ware of them or feel their opinions are not subject to such criteria and so are happy to jump in to arguments feet first. It's a shame more schools do not teach critical thinking as it is an invaluable skill that can be brought to bear on so many aspects of life. However, it is prudent to consider that logic and objectivity cannot always be imposed upon a debate. Emotions do play a part and cannot necessarily be set aside. Especially if you have first-hand experience of the very matter being debated.
I believe it was the blogger Tobold who stated, "There cannot be any meaningful discussion of any subject if you start out by declaring only one side of the argument as valid". That is perhaps true of some subjects, especially if you are debating a matter that hinges on subjectivity and personal taste. However, in a debate regarding a subject such as equality, I cannot logically see any argument to validate a contrary stance. There are no degrees of equality. You either believe in it and live by it as a concept or you don’t. I guess the same can be said regarding certain scientific discussions, where specific rules and concepts are established. Mind you that doesn’t stop some people. But that raises a different matter where some individuals like to play devil’s advocate just for the fun of it.
Life is not simple: If you are intending to hold forth on a particular subject, it never does any harm to remember that most problems are what they are because of their complexity. Which is a nuisance because contemporary society really doesn't like or do “complex”. Listen to most radio phone-ins, read any internet forum or just glance through a tabloid newspaper and you'll find many of the most difficult and contentious problems the world currently faces, distilled in to some rather glib and factually questionable sound-bites. Furthermore, the public lap these up because they're easy to remember and trot out. It's far less hassle to spout some superficial nonsense you gleaned from the pages of the Daily Bastard, than spend time researching a subject and actually having to think and analyse data.
So, bear this in mind when you tackle a big issue when blogging etc. Question whether you are in a position to make a substantive point. Do your research and ensure you link to the sources you quote. Check the credentials of those supplying data and statistics. Is it a reputable organisation? Do they have any reason to be bias? Too often I see links in comments and forum threads that lead to questionable sources. Therefore, ensure that when you write about complex issues you don't make the mistake of inferring that it's a binary situation and easy to fix. Unless of course it is.
Change takes time: The previous point dovetails nicely in to this one. Progress is a long and often arduous path. Entrenched social attitudes and ideologies do not change overnight. Often, it’s a generational thing. For example, my parents were born in the 1930s and both have specific views on social status, race, religion, politics, patriotism and that other old favourite drugs. A quarter of the world was part of the British Empire during their most formative years and this era definitely shaped their world view. They have made some changes over the years but on some matters their beliefs remain strong. No amount of arguing will ever change that. However, such views are not so endemic with my own or my son’s generation. Simply put, some of the more unsavoury views from my parents’ generation will die with them. Change doesn't always come by winning "hearts and minds".
However, as with complexity, many people these days can't be doing with "long waits". Thus, we live in a time where knee-jerk reactions and crass, ill-conceived quick fixes abound. Why should gaming be any different from politics? All I can really say to the ardent campaigner or blogger with a strong social conscience, is it helps to cultivate some patience. Actually, you’ll need a lot. Bucket loads.
Be measured and fair: If for example, you as a gamer want to lobby the games industry with regard to the depiction of women in games. There is a requirement for you to engage with those who are either directly a part of the problem or those who seem to be indifferent to it. It's all about winning the middle ground and generating a head of steam. This process needs to be handled with subtlety and tact. Although passion is inspiring and anger can be power (or so The Clash said), step too far over the line and your perceived militancy (whether it is real or not) will work against you. It scares people and it may even drive those you need on-board to the other "side" of the debate. So, pick your battles, be firm, measured but always remain civil.
Another thing to be considered is the use of knowledge. Some gamers (and bloggers) are not as smart as others. Some folk are smart but driven by their emotions. It can therefore be easy sometimes for the intelligent or knowledgeable party to run rings around the other. Be careful in how you "wear" your intelligence. There's being clever and then there's wanting to be seen as being clever. Crushing a person publicly through Vulcan like logic does not necessarily mean that they will immediately recant their views and embrace yours. Quite the opposite. You may have made matters worse. Just watch them dig their heels in. You can be smart and make your point without being condescending or smug. However, that can be a difficult path to tread. Like it or loathe it, dealing with people in these situations requires a degree of diplomacy.
I sure we can all think of other points to add to the list. There's also an element of finding an approach that is right for you. Then of course there is always the option to simply not blog about some aspects of gaming or to stray in to certain areas of debate. However, I don’t think remaining “neutral” is a permanent option. Sooner or later you’ll get dragged in through tortuous logic as “opting to not have an opinion is tacit approval of status quo”. That being said, as a blogger, podcaster or streamer you are not obliged to discuss thorny issues if you don’t want to. That is your (and Bobby Brown’s) prerogative and you are free to create content in the manner that makes you happy. I am merely suggesting that if you feel the need to do express a view that may court debate, then you should not be deterred by the facts that it is hard to engage with some groups and that change takes time and work.
As I get older I do find that my passions have tempered over time. I do not find the need to go on that many demonstrations, nor to hold an "absolute" opinion on everything under the sun. I do tend to focus on more immediate issues that affect myself and my family (like the closure of my local A&E) rather than wider international matters. But even in my most sceptical of moments, I cannot truly advocate a total withdrawal of interaction on social issues. Because that means handing the floor over to the idiot brigade and therein lies madness. Plus, if we all did that then blogging would be a lot less interesting. Oh, and don’t forget that an argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition. It’s an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes.