Thursday, July 14, 2016

Return to sender

Someone has posted a thing on Medium.

No, it's not that one. That article deserves a far deeper look, and a survey of the responses to it. This is an an open letter on Identity Politics, To And From The Left. It appeared in my timeline no less than 10 minutes before I started writing this, and in those ten minutes everyone has already come to hate it. Let's examine why. You'll come back here once you've read the letter, right?

The problem with the letter isn't that it says anything untrue or unreasoned. I broadly agree with the demands it makes, because I agreed with them in 2013 when this exact sentiment had been the main discourse of online progressivism for over a year. The problem is that none of it is new.

Insufficient novelty isn't really a damning charge. A lot of things had to be said a lot of times before work was actually done on them. So instead, we should judge this open letter on how well it frames these known points of attention. This is where the entire enterprise falls apart.

To underscore the necessity of the demand for a more inclusive left, 'anecdotes' are given, ranging from recent and familiar harassment of feminist activists to Sylvia Rivera's experiences with trying to get the gay liberation movement to help transgender women in prison (it didn't go very well). Sylvia Rivera, strangely enough, is introduced as a 'queer leftist' and "one of the women who started the Stonewall Riot", but she is never actually identified as a trans woman herself. Perhaps to offset this strange erasure, the paragraph does a little dance at the end where it says "cisgender", just to really let you know it's serious about this intersectionality thing.

To get closer to why this letter is bad, we have to examine a point in the letter where the contours of its purpose become more obvious. While recounting stories of recent abuse in progressive circles, this anecdote is included:
One woman worked for seven months on loan modifications; she has been accused, over and over, of “throwing poor black people out of their homes” (she is, herself, a black woman); complete strangers have dug up documents pertaining to her former employer, posted them publicly, and spent hours browbeating her via social media.
As a call for intersectionality, this letter is not helped by including this as an example of the struggles of marginalized people in leftist spheres. Some people reading may be familiar with this person and her experience. They will know that, minus editorialising, the things talked about here actually happened. But some of you may take issue with how it is framed. The parties who initially floated the issue of the woman's (who's anonymity I, and hopefully you as well, will maintain) former career were leftist black women, as well as a large portion of the 'complete strangers' 'browbeating' her. In the letter, they are erased; and their concern that she found employment in a field that disproportionately forecloses loans on black people acceptable is turned into an anonymous smear directed at a black woman.

This situation is perhaps familiar to people who have read about or experienced the Clinton campaign's expert deployment of the "Bernie bro".
Critics of Clinton, the campaign assured, are disgruntled white men. Many young women - who as a homogeneous group at points in the 2016 American Democratic Party presidential primaries were polled as favouring Sanders over Clinton - often found themselves dismissed as "Bernie bros" when taking issue with Hillary Clinton. Eventually, anyone could be a Berniebro, including people of colour in nations which Hillary Clinton will bomb if elected (bizarrely even when they are pointing out that Bernie Sanders, if elected, would also do this).

This problem, the weaponization of what this letter would call "identity politics", has been much discussed in leftist circles as of late. Insufficiently careful elucidation of the problem can cause it to seem like things such as dismissing a white person's opinion on racism to also count as "weaponization", so we will go into it here. The weaponization of identity politics involves something which within the very logic of identity politics itself is violence: the erasure of marginalized peoples. By casting critics in the role of the establishment, stripping their identities from them so that they are a voice that you are allowed to ignore, one's own position can be defended.

Why can this happen?

A lot of the actual critique of 'identity politics' has rested on the fact that it atomizes the structure of oppression. Many draw parallels between this tendency and the metaphysics of neoliberalism, where there are only individuals and forces that enter into causal relations with these individuals. In both cases, there are forces which benefit some individuals at the direct expense of others (in liberalism, these are the forces of hereditary privilege and dogma, which in neoliberalism has strangely become personified by the state - despite the state having a form these earlier liberals considered vital for maintaining the absence of these forces). It logically follows from such a model that removing these forces would improve the lives of the oppressed.

A problem inherent to this classical mechanics model of oppression is that it has no ground. There is nothing upon which everything else rests, there are just a relation between a force and individual that we can speak of. While many world views are composed out of exactly this idea, it lends itself extremely poorly to a very material concern such as oppression. An explanation of capitalism along such lines would go "the government and industrialists conspire to keep your wages low", without explaining anything about the economic system from which that sentence receives its meaning.

The problem with models like this is that while they can be good introductions, much like classical mechanics is used as an introduction to physics, they do not and cannot provide a method for actually changing society. Society, after all, is not depicted in the model. We can notice manifestation of a particular form of oppression as individuals encounter them, but this doesn't tell us anything about how this state of affairs emerges or where it can best be attacked. The material causes of how the model behaves are never revealed.

Attempting to just insert white supremacy, which is not in and of itself a material thing, as the ground for this model does not answer the question. You can follow the logic that emerges from this to either a self-caused white supremacy, which sounds suspiciously white supremacist; or an infinite regress where each point in time where white people are in the position to enforce white supremacy must be explained by a previous one, which eventually ends us up in a time period where the concept of white people would not be invented for another dozen centuries (though sentiments that prefigure racism and the basis for white supremacy can be found as early as the ancient Greek notion that the climate in which darker people lived evaporated much of their blood, making them cowards).

I want to further illustrate the wonkiness of the identity politics model by talking about kyriarchy; which, if you've never heard of it, means "everything-that's-bad-iarchy". The term encompasses the attempt by a white woman to reproduce Kimberlé Crenshaw's intersectionality theory, which was a product of currents in Black feminism. The woman, an academic, depicts a interdependent hierarchical structures in which every individual has a place. They all influence each other, and depending on which position is most privileged in a given context, all other relations (which you can think of as 'privileges') are experienced through that position. Such a model definitely answers questions people may have about how exactly they experience oppression.

The same problem emerges. Though this model can show how our society is one where the power lies predominantly with white, cisgender straight men, it cannot identify the why. The only why possible is that they have power. They do because they do. This makes the only solution removing them from power. But as the model tells us, this would be very hard to do as the people who are disadvantaged by the power of those they wish to remove.

'identity politics' of this kind can be inspiring and validating, revealing to you a structure behind the garbage in your life, and allies who experience roughly the same reality as you. But over the long term it is demoralising and disorienting. What is to be done? Is it our destiny to disappear into shelter societies, small enough to allow a concerted effort to root out forces of oppression?

The ambiguity and existential horror at the heart of the identity politics system allows for its use in delegitimizing critiques of the actual status quo. Because the status quo exists in civilization itself, it is completely invisible to a model that only speaks of individual human beings and the relations they experience. It is possible to make statements which parse as perfectly well-intended within the realm of identity politics, but which have the explicit purpose of defending one's 'turf'. After all, how exactly would you prove that what you are saying ISN'T skewed because of a privilege you have, when these privileges are the only axioms you are given? The only way to determine who comes out on top is the relative social capital of each party in a community.

This makes identity politics a dangerous weapon, easily used to shape discourse and attain power in a given space. Note that this assertion only holds in spaces where identity politics has currency, which does not include the overarching society these communities are part of. However, these are precisely the spaces that marginalised people make their home - sometimes their only home.

This is what the critique of identity politics generally entails. The language of the bad faith objections this is conflated with by the letter has long since evolved, and is mostly concerned with "cucks" and "sjws".

So why does the letter conflate them? Why does a letter so concerned about intersectionality bury all of the intersections that are inconvenient to them? Why does it take as given that an analysis of capitalism cannot uncover the sources of multifaceted oppression?

Much has been made of the signatories to the letter. Many have been noted to be hostile to marginalized people who believe that racism and capitalism are interdependent, or who state that simply placing more women in charge of things does not undo patriarchy. There are probably lots of articles that really go into this, so this one will not attempt to use these people to prove the letter must be flawed.

The PROBLEM with the letter, in the final account, is that it asks us to go on as we have. It shows us problems we specifically adopted identity politics to solve. It shows us that they are still there, but shames any critique of the tactics which have done nothing to alleviate them (while the examples in the letter are from a very broad left, in which identity politics cannot be said to be the rule of the land; the exact same problems pop up in those communities which pride themselves on being the most intersectional). It raises the spectre of the ascendant right, but will not come to grips with the fact that it is completely impotent in the face of this.

Identity politics has failed to provide the unity the letter calls for in the face of the return of fascism, nor can it properly UNDERSTAND fascism within its own context. Fascism happens because white people are worried about losing white privilege, right? Worse, fascists have turned to 'identity' as well, hiding fascist ideology in an 'appreciation' for 'white identity'. Worse still, to an uninformed public they can justify this by pointing to the "vilification" of the white person. "If everyone else gets to have Pride, why can't we?", they will ask. The only coherent answer you can give to this using identity politics is that they cannot because they have white privilege. While this is the CORRECT response, it will probably not be well-received by privately-owned media who have been suspiciously helpful in generating the critical mass of far-right activity in the past few decades.

I'm not sure what this letter believes The Left is. An association dedicated to making society Better? A sort of mechanic who points out and works to fix the flaws or cracks in the edifice of human civilization? But a strange sort of mechanic, who keeps working long past the point where patchwork has any effect on the creaking, groaning structure. A sci-fi dystopia sort of creature tinkering away at a failing space ship it cannot understand in any terms other than that some of it needs to be fixed.

This is not what The Left is. The Left does not exist as the collective mechanic of society, but as the collective architect of its future; as the collective invoker of previously non-existent possibilities. The Left is not meant to prevent the degeneration of society into fascism, but to create a society which does not degenerate into fascism. Doing this requires perspectives far beyond the personal. It requires dreams far bigger than "this, but without misogyny". But The Left does not ignore the 'smaller' goals identity politics points out for us. For it is exactly these individual aspirations - "I wish my child was safe in this world", "I wish my ideas were not ignored because of who I am", "I wish I had comfort at all" - that point towards and give meaning to the desire to build that better world.

I reject the course this letter would send The Left on. It sounds too similar to the arguments of the right-wing revolt in the British Labour Party, who argue that a platform of radical solutions of any kind will fail to resonate with a large enough section of the populace; which contravenes the purpose of the Labour Party (which is, according to them, to prevent the Conservative Party from being in power and making things worse). It invokes in all but name Horseshoe Theory, where the 'far ends' of the political spectrum are equivalent, and that we had best all gather somewhere closer to the middle.

This is not an open letter. But if you want one, consider this:

It no longer suffices to make this civilization better. We are a few decades away from living in a world which is altogether less suitable for human life. We struggle on national or local levels while international trade agreements encircle us and terraform our communities into markets and commodities.

If we are to survive, we will have to replace it. We will have to dare, as The Left has dared. Against fascism, we must again raise banners of hope. Windows into a different future, a future only possible if we unite in wanting to bring it about.

At any cost

Sunday, October 18, 2015


Following are over 6000 words about America and the Special Relationship it has with the rest of the world. I recommend that you sit down for this one. This article was made possible by my Patreon, where you can pledge to give me a small sum of money every time I write for the internet. You can also buy me a book.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Why I write words

Why I write words 

This article was made possible by my patrons on Patreon. It is republished on Medium, If you like these words, you can become one as well at . You can pledge to give as low as one dollar for every article I publish here, though more would net you various (most of them future) rewards.

We talk a lot, and should talk a lot, about improving the material conditions of the oppressed classes and groups. This is one of the most important parts of our shared struggle: that while it happens, we hold back the tide of suffering and destitution from the most vulnerable. We do this not because of our morality, nor because it improves our standing in society; but to allow for these marginalized people to have partnership in that struggle. For they are as powerful as those who can wave a red flag in the streets, and as communists it is our duty to allow them to exercise that power; whether they are also communists or not. Never to speak for them, but to march with them. Not to shroud all struggles with one big one, but to exist in solidarity as a vast interdependent force.

But there is another condition we should work to improve. A condition we have neglected since the end of the 20th century.

Living under the multifaceted oppression that exists today does not simply throw up material blockades to a free life. It also constantly erects barriers for the mind. We are familiar with many of them. The sowing of discord between comrades with antique yet eternally renewed nonsense: “This black man who works with you? He may be a worker, but he is other than you. He will put his own interests first. Shouldn't you as well?”, “Women do not even have to work, how could they be allies? How do they understand the plight of the worker?”, “Black women hate you as a white woman first and foremost, how could you possible work with them? The suffragettes didn't either”, “This immigrant will come to take your job, do not concern yourself with them”. You've heard all these things before, and it is in our best interest to stamp them out. But there is a less easily-noticed force imprisoning us.

The idea that we can’t do any more than hold back this tide.

This is a very important idea to the ruling classes, and one that they have spent the entirety of the 20th century perfecting. That century, and the one before it, showed the oppressed clearer than ever before that all of the objections to their freedom were just air.

The Paris Commune, born from the besieged capital of yet another bourgeois republic turned empire; showed that the working class could govern itself, that it was in no way dependent on the bourgeois ‘revolutionaries’ who were in tight control of a supposedly revolutionary moment.

Workers on the barricades in the Commune

The October Revolution, which European socialists did not think could actually occur, ended a monstrous state of tyranny and oppression.

Could a society which had not even fully advanced to the capitalist stage perform Communist revolution? Yes.

Many revolutions expelled colonial oppressors. While they had always known that this would one day happen, the revolutions of Vietnam, Burkina Faso and Indonesia showed what would actually come to be. How what white men from a tiny corner of Eurasia said was the natural and most developed state of society could be wiped away as easily as dirt from a mirror.

Free Vietnam upset the colonial world so much that the supposedly anti-colonial United States would commit one of its greatest atrocities to combat it

All that was once inconceivable had revealed itself to be possible. The 20th century had spoken. It said that indeed, no one had anything to lose but their chains.

The Chinese, who westerners for centuries claimed were a naturally submissive people, unlikely to ever move from beneath the heel of an Emperor; fought a war of liberation which would see China become the largest Communist state in history.

Though the west would not see freedom, these victories emboldened its people. They were able to agitate for better conditions, their leaders spooked by the possibility that they might do what they now knew could be done.

This situation is of course unacceptable to a bourgeois ruling class. They, after all, were the guarantors of liberty. It was only the nobility who could possibly oppress. No, the bourgeoisie believed in inalienable rights. It is they who were the heirs of the French Revolution. They who benefited all society with a peaceful and productive order. They were NECESSARY. By no means could the working class determine its own destiny.

This idea is of course ridiculous. To make it seem even remotely likely, western governments would need to find every possible thing that could be wrong in these enemy civilizations. They would have to tear them from context, invent new ones even. They would need to claim famines happened a full decade later than they did, that actual nazi war crimes were in fact the doing of the Soviet Union. That China, on which all other nations now depend, is not even truly Communist. They would need to create an idea of freedom which somehow existed here but not there, where the blessed peace of capitalism did not rule.

It is now 2015. When I wrote against the idea that This Is How It Is, I showed it to a long-time friend of mine. He is well-travelled and learned (he studied to be a monk but did not become one). But even he, when discussing the article with me, repeated only empty slogans which he had heard about the matter of communism his entire life (Since he was born in 1945, he got to enjoy the full spectrum of Cold War nonsense). “Human nature,” he said, “would not tolerate something like communism”. Things which people naturally wanted, he said, would not be accessible under such a system. Even though much of what he was saying was already discussed in the article he had read, he could simply not conceive that they might not in any way argue against communism.

This then is the prison. That the great victories which showed us a free world are now so obscured by a specifically crafted pessimistic narrative that many can no longer look to them for inspiration. The songs of revolution that kept us upright and fighting are now only muttered. Oh, a revolution! Those are bad news. UNLESS they happen in the Correct Way, which strangely always results in a western-friendly coup.

We should consider this narrative an unacceptable burden on the oppressed. We should consider it as harmful as racist rhetoric, reactionary populism or the rational self-interest right-liberal ideology espouses. This narrative does not merely beat down and depress minds, but also makes them incapable of seeing the future they could fight for. Maybe, dimly, we might see a chance to advance ourselves. To step on the backs of some others, who are of no consequence, and perhaps obtain a better life.

But this is not how it has to be.

We should not see ourselves as cut off from the revolutionary generations. They were not unique to their time, and they did not see themselves in that way. They were themselves inspired by those who came before them. As Paris once sang La Marseillaise, so it would later sing the Internationale (which was originally intended to be sung to the tune of the former). Both these songs have been translated into every tongue that has ever yearned to speak freely.

The revolutionaries understood the kind of unity that would lead them to victory. Not the unity of the common denominator, the oppression shared by all; but solidarity with those struggles you do not have to experience. As each comrade aids the other in the small breathing space their relative privilege allows, together they can open the sky. Together they can see the sun rise again.

When we think of revolutions past, we should not think of them as imperfect experiments not to be repeated. We must be inspired by them. If a nation of mostly illiterate peasants can sail into the void of space, imagine what we can do. Imagine what possibilities now lie obscured by the order of capitalism.

The Communist Manifesto, by today’s standards, asks for fairly little (though many of the demands that we once saw realized are now vanishing). But consider that once, these things were inconceivable. They were absent from the world, and and what was in their place was said to be our lot.

You should consider what actually happened when a factory worker was exposed to such a document. It would not be so that previously, he was content or at least resigned to his fate. He already wanted better pay, better hours, the dignities of humankind. But how would he fight for them? If bourgeois society would come to the aid of a capitalist afflicted by a strike, how would he win? Where had such an inconceivable victory ever occurred?

The Manifesto would have told him that he and his fellow workers are not isolated from history. That history, in fact, is full of occasions where the oppressed class overthrew the entire structure which kept them in his position. That the capitalists, glorified as the enablers of labor, were but a dead weight on it; gorging themselves with the fruit of their works.

After it had said this, the worker would see a new world. Yet not all he could see would have been described in the little pamphlet given to him by a friend. It is likely that most of what he could see was inconceivable to its authors. With this knowledge, his experiences, his heart and his soul would reveal hidden things in the world. And as he revealed these things to his comrades, they too would begin to see what was previously simply not there. And together, they would imagine a new world.

That is why I write words. Because I know that the power of the oppressed united in solidarity is that they are all so very different from each other. That each could see some aspect of a better tomorrow that the other could not. And that, all having faith in their comrades, they would share these visions; and fight for them.

If anything I have ever written has done something for you, this is the only thing I ask: write down how your world looks through its lens. Because as much as you may suspect I have seen it, your mind can grasp things I never could. If you write them down, you would do for others what I had done for you.

We are under no obligation to disown revolutions of which capitalist society speaks only ills. These revolutionaries did not simply sacrifice for their own kin, but also for the future. For you.

The Wall of the Communards. Here, one-hundred and forty-seven volunteer Communard guardspeople were shot by the army of the Third French Republic.

The Paris Commune is not considered a failed worker’s revolt despite it ending in a sea of blood, as the cowardly French Republican government turned its guns on those people who had lived through the siege of Paris by the German army. The Communards opened a door that could never be closed. The oppressed could stand against the most vicious foe, and be victorious. This is the victory of the Paris Commune:

Banner of Victory #5, raised over the Reichstag by Red Army soldiers at the final defeat of Nazi Germany

74 years later, those who had walked through the door would march into Europe and drive a stake into the heart of the old order. This is how we should see the progression of revolutionary history. And when we have seen it in this way, we can begin to wonder what door the Soviets opened for us. What bridges were built by the revolutionaries of Latin America. Which paths were cleared for us by the People’s Republic of China.

And when we see them, we must recognize them for what they are: roads that lead to the impossible. Daunting as that may be, is it any less so than what used to be unimaginable? Is it any less daunting than a road one might take so that one’s child might some day be able to read? That one’s parents would not starve because they were now too old to work? A road that lead to all these things, for everyone who took it?

Your chains were already broken by the blood of your comrades. All you must do to honour them is recognize it.

Monday, August 31, 2015

I have started a Patreon

There's really no other way to say this: I need you to give me money.

People apparently like the words I write. This is great news, because that usually means people are interested in making more words happen. You can do this.

This is the url for my Patreon:

A Patreon is a place on the internet where you can go to pledge monetary support for future content someone will create. What this means is that were you to pledge one dollar, the next time I post something on Medium (not here, because this is just my blog), that dollar will become mine. As a result of this, I am driven to write even more words. Also, if the Patreon is very successful, I could buy a house and live with my boyfriend.

Let's do it, let's make the words happen. Together ♥

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Thing That Goes Beep

This article has been republished on Medium. If you like this, you can support my Patreon!
Everyone loves space exploration. The oldest readers may actually remember the joy and optimism of the Space Age, and those who didn't have that could at least look to the Space Race as a peaceful alternative to the arms race that went along with it. But the way we think about the history of human space exploration is very strange.

Center stage is always taken by NASA. NASA, who built a weird version of Thunderbird 2 that goes to space. NASA, who went to the moon. NASA, who did all these things

It has also never done anything without it being a reaction to the work of others. Who were these others?

To tell you, we have to talk about the history of Russia.

The Russian Empire is considered by fans of the idea of absolute monarchism to be a horrible thing. European kings, monsters to the last, viewed the Tsars as the black sheep of the extended royal family.

Russia is very large. Prior to railways, the way the Russian Empire solved the problem of logistics is through a sort of person called a burlak. These were people who's job it was to pull cargo barges upriver. This is a practice which existed from the 16th until the 20th century, because even then it was still cheaper to have burlaks pull a barge somewhere than to invest in a railway.

Russia is very cold. The houses afforded to serfs and other working people provided so little protection, that in winter many had to sleep on top of a burning oven to survive. This practice existed from the 15th until the 20th century.

The Imperial Russian 1897 Population Census counted the percentage of literate people in all Russia as 28.4%. For women, this was 13%. In the British Empire, a similarly barbaric entity, the literacy rate in 1750 was 54%. The earliest available figure for the Russian Empire is 1820, when the figure is 8%. This means that for the entire time a Russian Empire existed, the vast majority of people in it were not literate. The impact of litetacy is very hard to understand if you are sitting here, reading this. So I will take a detour to a different place, Cuba.

Here's Michael Parenti talking about the effects of the Cuban Revolution,

And today this man is going to night school

he said "I can READ"

I can READ

Do you know what it means to be able to READ?

Do you know what it means to be able not to read?

I remember when I gave my book to my father (I dedicated one of my books to my father). Gave him a copy, he opened it up. He looks at it.
He had only gone to seventh grade, he was the son of an immigrant, working class Italian.

And he opens the book, and he starts looking through it. And he gets misty-eyed, very misty-eyed.

And I thought he was so touched that his son had dedicated a book to him. But that wasn't the reason.

He looks up at me and says "I can't read this, kid". And I say "that's ok dad, neither can the students, it's ok. Don't worry about it. I wrote it for you, it's your book. And you don't have to read it, it's a very complicated book. It's a very academic book."

He says "I can't read this book". And the DEFEAT, the DEFEAT that this man felt, that is what illiteracy is about, that's what the joy of literacy programs is. That's why in Nicaragua you've got people walking proud now for the first time. They were ANIMALS before, they weren't ALLOWED to read, they weren't TAUGHT to read.
If you lived in the Russian Empire, and were not part of the small few who were afforded either the grand prize of noble blood or the tempting offer of social mobility, these were the things that were true:

- You would be extremely cold, because warm houses are for the few
- You would very likely be unable to read and write. If you were fortunate, you could ask a literate person to perform a great service to you: to teach you to write your name. Being able to do this small thing could mean the world to someone.
- You would work for someone else, and regardless of whether this work involved farming or craftsmanship, you would only see enough of the fruits of this labor to keep you alive.

This had always been true, and the only way in which it would change is under which Tsar it occured, and which labors your masters desired you to perform. And this would always remain true. This could not be changed.

Dissatisfaction with this notion slowly pushed the Russian Empire to revolution. Before that time, the Tsars attempted appeasement by quickly introducing the last 300 years of liberal reforms to monarchies, including the Duma. At all costs must order be maintained. If not this, what then? What then? Only chaos awaits, ready to swallow you all.

But people were not impressed by this. In an October that is retroactively in November; they grabbed hold of the bathtub, and threw out both the bathwater and the rotting carcass rulers assured them could not be thrown out with it. The Russian Empire, cruel tyrant, was thrown from the world stage. The stage hands who had done it bowed to their audience, and seized their right to be players. They called themselves the Soviet Union.

After this, they had to go out into endless Russia. To its dark corners they would bring electricity, education, and fair work. With education they also brought literacy.

In 1926, the literacy program was not performing as well as the Soviets expected. Oly 51% of the population over the age of ten was now literate. For men this statistic was 66.5%, but for women 37.2%.

According to the 1939 Soviet Census, 89.7% of people between the ages of 9 and 49 were literate. During the 1950s, the Soviet Union would achieve a near 100% literacy rate.

All of the things that could not be changed were changed.

What does this have to do with space exploration?

In 1954 it was decided that the creation of an artificial satellite would be a good avenue of research for the Soviet Union's rocket technicians (Russians had, even in the 19th century, theorized the idea of space explorations). In 1955, Eisenhower announced the intention of the United States to do much the same.

Now, the United States is a very different sort of country from the Soviet Union or the Russian Empire.

In the 20th century the United States had established itself as the only 'real' superpower. At this time, such a position required that you were an imperial state which had crafted the world order such that you would be on top and remain on top as part of the functioning of the system. The United States worked on achieving this through its oppertunistic policies in both World Wars. From its behavior, we can tell the United States was utterly delighted with the prospect of a Nazi Germany-led Europe.

A state the US did not like at all was the Soviet Union. As an empire, the United States must count on the enduring belief of people that this is just how it is. That the way things are organized now is the best it could be given the situation. That altering it to remove perceived flaws could threaten the whole thing. You should never threaten the order that is keeping everyone alive! Especially not by doing something rash like overthrowing your oppressors. Nothing good ever comes of that.

But we have seen what good came of the Soviet Union. Despite the entire world being against it, despite agents of Imperial Russia committing acts of terror for decades after their Tsar was executed, the Soviet Union prospered. This is the worst thing. Who would be content with what America offers those it leeches life from when such a great leap is possible? Why would you hesitate for a moment to overthrow something that harms everyone you love and will not ever change?

"But no!", America screamed at every worker yet to be liberated, "it's not actually that great there. Now, I need you to ignore all historical context whatsoever. Look at this image. This doesn't look like here. This seems pretty bad. I bet, even if we WERE preoccupied with FIGHTING THE NAZIS and winning World War 2, America would not look as bad as this!".

Nothing was more important than this: to spread the message that if you were to do what the Soviet Union did, you would see nothing but misery.

But then the Soviet Union did something which frustrated this to no end.

They created a thing that goes beep.

The thing that goes beep was placed on top of a modified ICBM, and a small piece of metal preventing contact between batteries and systems was removed (this is the only surviving part of the thing that goes beep).

The rocket launched on October 5th, by the reckoning of the launch site. It climbed to an altitude of 223 kilometers. Then, something happened which had never happened before in the history of the world.

Humans put an artificial satellite in orbit around their home.

To announce this, a radio transmitter switched on. As the new satellite began to orbit, it beeped.

Everyone who turned on a radio and tuned to its frequency could hear the message of the thing that goes beep. A new companion to the travellers their ancestors had long considered gods.

The thing that goes beep could only say beep. But that is all it had to say. Because what it meant was this:

I was made by people who were said to be powerless.

Thousands in Europe and the United States heard the beeping through their radios. And it meant this:

I was put here by the will of a free people

As Eisenhower cursed from his slave-built office, the thing that goes beep announced ceaselessly:

Anyone who tells you

that you cannot change anything

is wrong

The thing that goes beep was called "Sputnik" (satellite), and it completed 1440 orbits of the Earth. A country which, for the most part, lived in the 17th century at the dawn of the 20th, had now done what America could not do. What America had explicitly set out to do.

This was a big problem. Whatever could be said in capitalism's favor, it could not ever be "from pseudo-feudalism to the space age in 5 decades".

Here the Space Race, and NASA, are born. With the full resources of the world's most powerful empire behind it, NASA would begin claiming its own milestones in space.

It would miss all of them. Well, though this happened prior to NASA, the United States CAN claim the honour of putting the first organism in space. They were fruitflies, and they pierced the void in a nazi rocket. Oh wait, that's not good, is it? I can never tell with you people and your unhealthy relationship with nazis.

In 1951 the Soviets would launch two dogs into space, and recover them from there. This might seem strange to you if you are a fan of space age history. You KNOW that LAIKA, the SPACE DOG, was CRUELLY MURDERED by the Soviet Space Program.

Laika was not the first space dog. Though one of these pioneer space dogs would die on a subsequent mission, the amount of animal deaths in the Soviet Space Program is considerably lower than that of NASAs (though there are more than I have mentioned here). In its attempts to safely put a human being in orbit, NASA risked and claimed the lives of several great apes.

Laika, though, was the first animal to orbit the Earth. Unfortunately, her mission did require the ultimate sacrifice. Because it was 1957, there was actually no technology at all to safely recover an organism from orbit. This mission would provide valuable data to actually create this technology.

The mission, then, was a success. Laika was the last space dog to be purposefully sent out to die. Dozens more would follow her into the cosmos (some of whom would die in accidents). Their descendants are still among us today. The Russians would always honour Laika; because without her, none of what would come next would be possible.

(Laika cigarrettes)

On April 12, 1961, the spacecraft Vostok 1 was launched. At this point, putting things in space was routine for a nation where the population remembered not being able to read. But this one was special. There was a human being on board.

Yuri Gagarin would be asked to do what no one had ever done before. He would become the first of us to leave our home. He would pass through a barrier beyond which none of our ideas about existence penetrate. Before he left the planet where he had been born as the son of a farmer, he wrote this message:

Dear friends, both known and unknown to me, fellow Russians, and people of all countries and continents, in a few minutes a mighty spaceship will carry me into the far-away expanses of space. What can I say to you in these last minutes before the start?

At this instant, the whole of my life seems to be condensed into one wonderful moment. Everything I have experienced and done till now has been in preparation for this moment. You must realize that it is hard to express my feeling now that the test for which we have been training long and passionately is at hand.

I don't have to tell you what I felt when it was suggested that I should make this flight, the first in history. Was it joy? No, it was something more than that. Pride? No, it was not just pride. I felt great happiness. To be the first to enter the cosmos, to engage single handed in an unprecedented duel with nature - could anyone dream of anything greater than that?

But immediately after that I thought of the tremendous responsibility I bore: to be the first to do what generations of people had dreamed of; to be the first to pave the way into space for mankind. This responsibility is not toward one person, not toward a few dozen, not toward a group. It is a responsibility toward all mankind - toward its present and its future.

Am I happy as I set off on this space flight? Of course I'm happy. After all, in all times and epochs the greatest happiness for man has been to take part in new discoveries.

It is a matter of minutes now before the start. I say to you, 'Until we meet again,' dear friends, just as people say to each other when setting out on a long journey. I would like very much to embrace you all, people known and unknown to me, close friends and strangers alike. See you soon!
Yuri Gagarin summoned the human space age to us with simple words; "Let's Go". He bid his friends, because that is what they were, at Star City goodbye for now; and ascended.

Soon his capsule would take him further than anyone had ever gone. He described, elated, the things he could now see:

The Earth is blue. How wonderful. It is amazing

Yuri Gagarin knew better than anyone the truth of Sputnik's message. His father had been a farmer, like his father had been. They had toiled endlessly for a Russia that would give them nothing back. Great destinies are not laid out for a farmer's son. Who would tell him - and mean it - "You will go up there. where stars are. Where Gods are"?

Sputnik told him this. It told him that things will always change. That what is insurmountable now or what has been unthinkable for generations may not be in the future. That any argument against what could be is folly. That anyone who would benefit from holding onto a an unchanging status quo is doomed. He knew this more certain than he had ever before when he saw below him the blue marble on which every single thing that mattered to him had occured.

Yuri Gagarin would return to our planet on the Kazakh steppes. The first human beings he met were a confused pair of grandmother and granddaughter. Gagarin calmed their fears:

I am a friend, comrades, a friend.

The Soviet Space Program would do more. It would put Valentina Tereshkova, technically a civilian, in space. Where she touched down on our earth, they would build a monument to her.

The Soviets would eventually build a space station, giving humans a home in the most inhospitable place, When the limitations of Mir (it was quite cramped in there, being the very first thing of its kind) became evident, the Soviets originally intended to boost it into a graveyard orbit. In the future, when technology had advanced, they wished to build a space museum around this grand achievement of the Soviet people.

The Soviet Space Program is a space program of a different sort. Where America felt compelled to match their achievements at every step, the early Soviet Space Program beams with the optimism of a free people that are trying to find out what it is that is possible now.

Going to the moon was the only thing left. At this point, all of the important research and trialing had already been done. Both the US and the Soviet Union were perfectly capable of going to the moon. All that was left to do was mash the technology and knowledge they had together in just the right way to get there and back. That the US, fueled by the blood of millions, got there first is not the landmark achievement it is portrayed as.

A landmark achievement is to step inside what is ultimately a diving bell for space, completely unsure of what it is even LIKE for a human being to exist beyond the Earth.

A landmark achievement is to take a device from Earth and to make it Earth's companion. To let this new voyager announce its presence to the entire world.

A landmark achievement is for all of those things to be done by human beings who remember what it was like to toil only for the latest descendant of a lineage of criminals. Human beings who were once told they could not change anything.

Sputnik is just a thing that goes beep. Every other thing we have put in space is more complicated than it. But it is only Sputnik which could be the prophet of the time to come. Only Sputnik, youngest god of a free people, could say this:

Anyone who tells you

that you cannot change anything


Monday, August 3, 2015

This Is How It Is

There are some things I'm mentally allergic to. I can't abide having them pop up in conversation, and I take their appearance as a sign that someone is not engaging in good faith. I can tune out a lot of things, like whatever misconception about trans people is currently in vogue; but there is one thing in particular that I can't ignore and have to engage with.

The thing is "this is just how it is". It can be offered in response to absolutely anything at all; but after The End Of History, you will mostly see it in defence of the neoliberal status quo. This is the last time I say "neoliberal" in this article, because too often we say it when we really want to say "capitalist".

Status quo bias is real and pervasive. People under its influence see the current situation as the best possible one, even if it is verifiably worse than things were 30 years ago. "No!", they say, "it got worse for other reasons, it has nothing to do with this!".

The Dutch are the masters of this. In 2006, we killed our public healthcare system. It had existed since 1945, and there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. We were simply riding the wave of privatizing absolutely everything. We had done it to utilities, regionally-owned power companies, and the parts of the railway and postal service that make money. They constructed an elaborate system where the government would barter with health insurance companies to best manage the 'rising costs of healthcare'. The government would set limits, and define things that MUST be covered in the most basic package.

This was a disaster. Prices for everything immediately went up. The new insurance companies demanded that people both pay a monthly fee and a co-pay in case they actually accessed healthcare. Both of these fees have been steadily rising since 2006. The things that are funded from the most basic healthcare insurance package you can buy have been cut substantially. They are even advertising 'budget' insurance that covers even less.

Why? The real reason, of course, is that if you allow for-profit healthcare, people will do these things to make profit. There are already deals between health insurance companies and INDIVIDUAL HOSPITALS so that they can get a 'better deal' (and deny funding the procedure in other hospitals).

But this is not what government infomercials and private insurance commercials say. No, they claim, the Dutch are just using too much healthcare. We must be more aware of how much we spend on healthcare. Costs are rising and we need to pay attention to our spending! That way, healthcare can remain sustainable! (there was briefly even a plan to make people pay a fee for visiting their physicians).

They also warned that the middle-aged should start saving up for healthcare expenses in their future.

These are the monstrous things that happen if we do not see "this is just how it is" as dangerous rhetoric. Anyone who speaks these words must be attacked, taken from their platform and never allowed back there again. These are the people who's ideological project is not in any way associated with the world we live in, and who can so never hope to positively influence it.

But there are even worse ways this sentiment can be expressed, and it too is often used to defend capitalism: "this is just human nature".

This posits that human beings - who apparently have a single definable nature despite having lived in dramatically different environments throughout their existence - somehow lifted themselves out of the hunter-gatherer condition while being averse to cooperation and unity. They claim that this imaginary human being, one who would say "no we have to privatize everything because that makes sense", would also have said "we should maybe settle", "let's dig this well" or "I have the inescapable feeling that I am part of this". This is a bizarre belief, and you should never let it go unpunished.

This statement sweeps all of our worst acts under the rug and claims that they simply Happened. There is no reason for them, they didn't emerge and they can't go away. No, deep inside every human being is a weird hateful thing that automatically and irrevocably generates complex assumptions like "it is best for the economy to subjugate the working class" or "black people are literally some sort of inferior shadow cast by my radiance and I'd rather not be near them". Obviously.

This sort of thinking leads to fatalism. Nothing is to be done. Nothing CAN be done. The best this world can be is a world where a momentary experience of comfort is the carrot, and homelessness and starvation the stick. These two instruments lead you to, every day, pool your labor into a organization of productive forces that is set up explicitly to benefit only a few. This is how it must be, then.

But this is not a neutral way of thinking. Insomuch that that is even possible, surely you can't arrive at such a place by starting with the assumption that the way things are laid out are just The Way Things Are. There is no Way Things Are that can be put into language, and to assume otherwise automatically blinds you to almost everything that is going on around you.

What we CAN put into language is our experience. Currently, many human beings experience the following:

They have to sell their labor to survive; and this is complicated by the intersecting circumstances of rent (which ever increases), of food (which may not even be continuously available to you in a 'prosperous' nation) of physical and mental stress (which both compound each other and make less work possible) and of the varying ways in which they differ from the default human - of which every differing aspect in humanity is the inferior counterpart (which can affect any of the previously mentioned things). Sometimes, things just get worse. A new government may be friendlier to the people who want to close the factory you work in, a western nation may arrive to destabilize your country and turn it over to fascists, or you are suddenly the subject of genocide.

None of this is Just The Way Things Are. All of these experiences required deliberate acts by governments, businesspeople; and those who, despite sharing your situation, are nevertheless enticed to go into business for themselves (more often than not, they are really going into business for someone else). Whenever we explain away the atrocities integral to the status quo in this way, we make ourselves helpless.

If you have ever found yourself saying "this is just how it is" or "that's human nature", ask yourself why you did. You may have been doing it to escape the natural feeling of despair one has at living in our current situation. Humanity, you automatically cognate, is capable of sending its own into the void of space, of gaining power from the sun as plants do; and yet a very large group of people lives in worse conditions than your great-grandfather did. This is terrible. "Oh, we must just be like this", you think.

But we are not like this. We cannot allow ourselves to think this way. Not for our own comfort, and especially not for the comfort of billionaire fuckups who concern themselves entirely with the well-being of the capital we have collectively agreed is valuable (more valuable than the people who are able to generate it in the first place).

Consider what had to occur for you to be reading this. Well over a million and a half years ago, the primates with hardware capable of running the human spirit arrived in this world. At some point, they controlled fire, used other things in the world to extend themselves, and created language. They crossed unimaginable distances on foot without ever being certain there would be anything there, or if it would be anything like what they had seen before. How could they do this? Would you think modern humans capable of this? Surely not if you believe that our nature is something defined, like "violent" or "selfish".

No, we are none of those things. The only thing human nature can be is something that allows us to be all of the things we are. Something that allows us to adapt to a changing environment. Something that does not exclude or favor any of the behavior we have seen human beings perform: because otherwise, we would not be capable of doing them all. Taking this assumption, we then recognize that we have survived for well over a million years.

Is this the species that can do no better than capitalism? Is this REALLY what you believe?

Some believe that no, we could do better - but CIVILIZATION has made us EVIL. These primitivists imagine removing these malignant growths on humanity, after which we will be free and h- sorry, I meant "after which everyone who in any way depends on technology or the sophisticated organization of human labor and thought of any kind will die".

But there are also people who actually DO believe that we can do better; that the pieces we have divided the world into can fit together in different ways, more useful ways. These are people who look at the early humans and see how they, though each possessed of an individual self, transcended the limitations the structure of their organism had dictated to them. That by somehow merging the contradictory opposites of one and many, they achieved more together than would have been possible if one of them had worked at it for the duration of the universe. These people feel that this is a thing we are always able to do. They point out that we DO do this, but usually only in service of the capitalist class. They point out that there is NO REASON to restrict our use of this tremendous power in such a way. That if this power is turned to the betterment of all humanity, our future as a species would be unimaginably bright.

We call these people Communists. I am one of them, and I would very much like for you to be as well ♥

Saturday, August 1, 2015

We are gathered here today because of a Thing

Human beings have this habit. In the world, we see Things. Here "Thing" is an incomprehensibly wide category, including events, processes, ideas, forms, sensation and all ways you could cut experience into defined bits. One could say, in short, that the history of humanity is a bunch of incredibly different people uniting over a Thing. The internet has been a great boon to this behaviour, and now it is possible to relate to people halfway across the world because like you, they Like A Thing. This is great! You get to share things that are important to you with someone else who has similar and yet entirely different experiences. If you can't draw, someone who can may have made a moving tribute to the Thing You Like. It's a great time for everyone. But people go very far in this. They create an identity around Thing-Liking.

One of the worst examples of this is ~video game culture~. A lot of people like video games as a Thing, and so want to incorporate this fact into their identity. But doing that requires a definition of everything that makes video games so great. A definition that you are going to construct entirely out of your own perceptions and experiences (which are of course influenced by others). When it's done, the goal is to holler about this definition as loud as humanly possible until you attract others. In this way you find video games heaven.

The urge to find others who also like video games is understandable, born in a time where you might - for most of your life - be the only person who plays video games. But we are not here now. Video games are everywhere. The people who now create instances of human culture grew up playing video games. They have very specific, personal memories that make Metroid more than "a game where you shoot aliens and traverse an alien world to collect powers", and the ability to express them in new work. We now exist in a world where gamers have made their monkey paw wish, making games truly art - art that can be examined, made, criticized and enjoyed by human beings who are completely unlike them.

The single coherent video game history we imagine, with champions and universally adored classics,  does not exist in reality. If you actually sat down and talked to a diverse, international group of video game players, you would hear a very different history. Here's one:

I was born in 1988, which is about the best time to experience both very old and distant electronics and more mature video games technology within the same childhood. The first games I played were on IBM PCs - Prince of Persia, Alley Cat. My first 'console' was a 100-in-1 NES games device that looked like a SNES (I had borrowed it from someone). It was one of the good ones, it didn't repeat games that many times and all of the big favourites were there. Contra, the tank thing. You know.

I did get a GameBoy fairly early though. With it (and Tetris, obviously) I got Duck Tales, and this remains the only version of that game I have played. GameBoys would become the Holiday Console, a thing I would play on a farm camping ground in Fryslan for years and years. The SNES would arrive in a Donkey Kong Country bundle, a large box with the green tree textures from the game box and manual.

When people talk about their video game childhood, the personal conversations often quickly devolve into a litany of agreed video game history. "oh yeah, that game was the best", three people might say. Five others have never played it, though by now they've of course heard of the game. They nod and the conversation moves on to a game all but one of them have played. The one person feels a bit left out.

Unless you were in a fairly fortunate position, you never owned that many video games. You may have rented a bunch, but its unlikely that you were able to collect every single Historically Significant Video Game in advance. Here, for example, is a picture containing every single SNES cartridge I have ever personally owned.

You can't see them all, but you'll find a whole bunch of 'classics' missing. The first Metroid game I played was Metroid Prime. Super Mario AllStars was the first time I experienced the original three Super Mario Bros games. I didn't buy Starfox until I was 16 or something. The only side-scrolling beat-em-up I have ever owned is Captain Commando. The NES cartridges (there are more in the box) are not from my childhood, because I never had a NES then. I did however, have an N64 (the games are in that Mario case). I also own two sets of Donkey Konga bongos.

Why is this? Did I not read enough video game magazines to know which games are worth buying? Even without the Internet, I could be aware of what games might be good, right?

People often forget that video games are expensive. I remember getting Perfect Dark, and it being A HUNDRED GUILDERS. My parents are far more generous than the norm, but still these are all the games I owned. I often swapped games with friends or rented some, but most of my time was spent replaying the games I had. So was yours. Your parents, even if an envelope from the future arrived each month detailing which games were the very best, would never have bought you All Of The Games. You could never have become the shit king of video game mountain, because your life could never have been (as much as you would have wanted it to be) entirely about video games.

You have an encyclopaedic knowledge of your favourite games not because of your Superior Gamer Skill, but because you could play them over and over again for hours and hours, days and days, weeks and weeks. I have played at least one SNES game more than I have played World of Warcraft AND Warcraft 3.

The first time we could look back on childhood was during our teens. The teens are an interesting time, because this is when most people first become aware of the identity crafting game. As we flooded onto message boards, we began to take pride in our 'gaming experiences'. Many often pretended they knew more than they did or were better than they were. I once read the entire script of Final Fantasy VII on GameFAQS so that I could talk about the game and appear as if I had played it (I couldn't have, because the first Sony console I got was a PS3). Video Game Scholars had high status, and we venerated people who had collected the rarest items (which were often commercial failures that are only rare because of that).

We wrote huge posts glorifying every game we held dear. We made jokes that became less jokey the more we repeated them. We lambasted mothers, fathers, parents, sisters, brothers, siblings, friends; for not 'getting' video games. They said video games were pointless, or bad. They were obviously an inferior sort of person.

I'm talking about the 90s and early 00s here, but you could easily think I am talking about 'video game culture' NOW. But this 'ironic' white supremacist tinge to video games rhetoric is not at all an aberration, or the result of a small taint spreading throughout communities unchecked (though this of course helps). The video game fascist grew directly out of our teenage attempts to create the video games culture, to demarcate the culture of the Video Games Peoples. I would never want to do this, and the outcome of this project should make perfectly clear why.

Every child born from the 70s until the early 90s has had a pure innocent wish for "a video gaming community". A place where they could safely enjoy a thing they love, and meet other people who love the thing to. A place where no one would be mean to them because of the things they like

Nothing in this wish implies the creation of an exclusionary right-wing culture based on the glorification of consumption and identification with branding. Yet that is what happened. Why?

If you attempt to form a community based around a common interest, you are very likely to make certain assumptions. This is not any different from the fact that you make assumptions when you go outside and walk across a zebra crossing. But the assumptions often make us blind to dynamics that are going on around us, and so also in the community we are creating. There are two assumptions in particular that get in the way:

There is the assumption about people inside the community. The assumption is that they are like you. They must have had similar experiences to you, and they would never hurt you. These are the safe people. Clearly, if someone in the community is unsafe, there must be some sort of mistake and they should be removed from it.

The other assumption is that people outside the community are NOT like you, or even dangerous and unsafe. They don't understand the things your community values, or have not had the experiences that you see as fundamental. They probably even hate video games. But you are a very complicated person, and even the smallest possible group of 'non-gamers' could be shown to be very much like you, even much more so than all of your in-group friends. But you distrust this artificially created outgroup, and suspect any criticism you receive of being based in ignorance of your community.

With these assumptions, the community project is doomed to fail. Our experiences ARE NOT similar, but we are aided in appearing to conform to a single standard by the complex interoperating set of things that society has agreed you are. A cishet white man may look at the video game community and see nothing BUT people like them. For this person, the wish is fulfilled. It appears this way because the specific set [cis,het,white,man] is very good at allowing you to function unimpeded in a space. The space seems designed SPECIFICALLY FOR YOU, even if this was not CONSCIOUSLY done by the space's creators.

Others are not so lucky. They do not see people like them in the community. Because of this, all of their problems are alien to it. If a community has no context whatsoever for issues people might have with it, it quickly becomes insular. The community does not see the complaining member as a part of it. It will quickly move to isolate them.

Over the years there have been a lot of attempts to create a video game culture that does not do this, but they then gleefully continue to reproduce the initial conditions that lead to this situation. For instance, a great many people still associate "challenge" in a video game with "difficulty" and "unfairness". This association only ever emerged because video games first appeared in the arcade setting, where it was necessary to extract as many coins as possible from customers (you have heard about the Space Invaders 100 yen coin shortage). Even when games appeared in the home, some of them were almost unenjoyably hard. Many classics - if they had not had the benefit of existing for 20 to 30 year with an adoring fanbase who mastered it through weeks and weeks of afterschool playing - would have been destroyed in the press.

Because of all the time we could invest in these games, we WERE good at them. I often see Youtube personalities who have a far deeper and wider skill in playing than I do fumble during parts of old games I breezed through. This is because they are 15 years younger than me, and did not play them in the same context as I did.

Certainly mastering a game can be extremely fun. Some people do this continuously, eventually appearing at *GDQ to great applause. But we have made a mistake in portraying this kind of person as the peak player, who is one with video games and who's skill is an expression of the fundamental nature of video games.

Video games are not about designing great obstacles to overcome, having a deep combat system or telling a story, or having a wonderful world to explore. Video games are supposed to be fun, and they are supposed to make you feel happy.

I played a lot of video games before I got my SNES, but I did not truly love video games until I got to play a certain game. This is the game I mentioned as having played more than an MMO that was actually designed to prevent you from quitting.

(you should click play while you read the rest of this imo)

Yoshi's Island is the greatest video game of all time, and a playable manifesto of the correct video game design philosophy.

Now of course, these words are opinions. Yoshi's Island can be many things. It can be the game you weren't good at at all, or the game your sister played - which you hated because the noises kept you awake.  It could even be a complete unknown to you. But this is how I feel about Yoshi's Island, and I want to tell you why.

In 3-2 of Yoshi's Island, there is a very easy to find secret. When you go inside, Poochie is there. There is also a message box. What it said made me very emotional, as a small child [1]

"We, the Mario team poured our hearts and souls into creating this game for your entertainment. It is full of secrets. Enjoy."

I knew PEOPLE made video games. When the credits scrolled, there were many names, and at the end it would sometimes say "THANK YOU FOR PLAYING!". But I had never considered that people made games FOR ME TO ENJOY. That they would work very hard to make sure that I would have fun playing their game. That a bunch of complete strangers cared in some small way whether I was happy or not.

To this day, whether I feel this way when playing a game or not is how I decide if it is truly 'good'. Games can still be very fun when I do not have this feeling, but they will often have been designed on the basis of how challenging they are, or how well they portray some classic genre.

Yoshi's Island did not feel like this. It had challenge, and it got harder as it went on, but the way it achieved this was by creating a bewildering variety of levels and enemies (some appearing exactly once) that you could still overcome with the basic set of skills the game ingrained in you by the end of the first world.

Yoshi's Island did not attempt to 'feel like' a Mario game. It did not attempt to approach the new realistic style pioneered by Donkey Kong Country, instead using the processing power to appear as a living crayon drawing. Freed from these lesser goals, Yoshi's Island could be born.

Yoshi's Island was exactly not what people were asking Nintendo to make at the time. They just made what they thought would make everyone happy. At the last E3, a Nintendo employee finally said what I wanted someone in that industry to say: "Most of all I want people to feel happy when playing this game". You'll notice she works on the new Yoshi game, and is the person who made the yarn Yoshi that inspired the game's look.

This is the kind of person I want the video game industry to contain. When we sit down to think about game design; we often think "how can I make the best x", because x is something that makes you very happy. But why allow x to obscure your primary goal? Would the game not be better if your primary goal was to make a game that makes people happy? When "fun" is paired with "happiness" instead of "challenge" or "replayability", much more room is left for innovation. Look at Splatoon: this is technically a shooter, but it was very clearly designed according to this philosophy. Shooting other players is not valued. It can be a tactic that allows you more time to control the map, but the game never associates a name with your target or killer (just the weapon) and there is no mode where shooting at other players is the primary gameplay.

It is obvious why they did this: some people are extremely good at the traditional FPS gameplay, and some are not. The former, if they become the established playerbase, can make the game MUCH LESS FUN for everyone else. By de-emphasizing key parts of what makes a multiplayer shooter, they kept the game fun and allowed it to make more players happy.

Anyone can do this! There is no hidden power in the Nintendo Building that lets them create the best video games. They have a tradition of game design that includes a very simple and easily adopted idea: that games should be fun, and make people happy.

Maybe we should have a similar view of how to make communities. Instead of creating an identity to adopt and a stronghold to be invited into, the focus of the community should be specifically to let incredibly different people come together because of a Thing. If this is taken as a maxim, and if it is accepted that people might be more different from you than you can even conceive, we might actually succeed in building safe and fun spaces around our hobbies, our shared experiences, and our beliefs. If we see hobbies as contexts for understanding each other, we would not create these nightmarish Gamer Holds, where you MUST have This Loud Of An Opinion About Video Games to be treasured as a comrade. We would not exclude but remediate, knowing that the short term fix of removing someone from the community is not actually a substitute for solving the problem.

Maybe, the goal of community should be to make people happy.

[1]I would have been 7 when Yoshi's Island came out. My mother began to teach me English when I was 5. Since video games often used short words because of limitations (you could do much less with the latin alphabet in the space allowed than with Japanese characters), this meant that I could usually understand the gist of what they were trying to tell me.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

America's national myth is an insult to the victims of the British Empire

Today is July 4th, when everyone writes their requisite attack on American imperialist narrative. This is one of those, about the false division of American colonies and the British Empire.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

five million discarded revisions

Introduction post and a Grandpa Story

My name is Helénē Schouten. I'm a trans lady. I like to ride bicycles until my body aches and I'm too far from home. I'm a harm reduction advocate and I sometimes eat a fungus for entheogenic purposes. I'm a weird kind of Discordian and I prefer Alan Watts to Robert Anton Wilson as the point of origin to run away from as quickly as possible. I am a feminist and I enjoy run-on paragraphs about what that means.

A few years ago I was none of those things.

On average, I start a blog/writing project every two years. I always abandon them after cranking out things that apparently have lasting appeal but which I hate within three months. This is the latest installment of that endeavor.

The last two such blogs all had the Important Essay You Should Read tone, and I can only very rarely make that work. This one will just be whatever, and in two years we will all look back on it and wonder who exactly this strange woman was.

Structure will probably barely exist in these posts, but they will possibly tend towards a subject in the end. 

Now I will, of course, talk about my grandfather.

My grandfather was born in 1918. By the time he was 93, he had been given his last rites three times (one of which I got to see). All three of these were pre-emptive. When he did die, he went in the way old people are allowed to go when their work is Done, and there was no time to have a member of the dwindling Dutch clergy do their thing.

He was an engineer, and his mandatory service in the Dutch Army was spent in the Engineer Corps. While this gave him the chance to do all of the things he found interesting and get paid for it, the environment in which it had to happen was not to his liking. His attitude towards the military appeared to be that it was fine that it had the day-to-day routine it had, and that he had to do the things he had to do; but this was all made intolerable by people among him who had the incredibly strange thought that they were vested with Authority, and that the military had let them indulge in this fantasy with such devices as "chain of command" and "promotions". What I will next tell you is one of the stories that require trust between us: that I am not polishing them up or making my grandfather cooler than he is. These are things that happened. If this trust exists, I need you to understand that my grandfather was at least 195 centimeters tall. For Americans, I will create understanding by saying that this puts him in the upper pecentile of basketball players.

A man higher in rank than my grandfather had become drunk and rowdy. If you followed along, you'll know that this situation became unacceptable to him once this guy started hollering about how No One Can Touch Him.

My grandfather knocked him over the head with the butt of a rifle.

He then left notice that A Higher Authority must come around to the camp holding cells, where he had locked himself in with the unconsious guy.

The story is said to end with my grandfather's freedom and an uncertain fate for the officer in question. I believe this because I believe men who come all the way from 1918 without turning into pieces of shit.

This is your Helénē's Grandpa story for the day. Tomorrow there might be a thing about being an angry lady, or about wrestling. If they are the same post, they won't be related (because wrestling is fine right now, qualitatively speaking).

I do tweets at @_scaryh, and you can make the decision to put those in your timeline.