Wednesday, 25 February 2015
Why I Wish Zak & Mandy Had Stuck Around at the Escapist
So if you haven't yet heard the news from the last couple of days, after having announced that they were going to be doing another round of their very successful "I Hit it With My Axe" series on the Escapist (a video series where Porn Stars and Strippers hang out playing D&D), there was a surprise twist where Zak announced that he was cancelling his deal with the Escapist and would never work with them again on account of the Escapist having hired Brandon Morse, who had posted a tweet in November 2014 saying "If you want to be trans, then you go right ahead. Don't force everyone else to pretend along with you".
For the record, according to the management of the Escapist with whom I got in touch, Morse was hired by the Escapist to "write a weekly round up of video game news" and, they added "he has been explicitly instructed to leave his politics behind. We have been outspoken that our 2015 vision for the site is one focused on escapism, not politics." I was pointed to the recent announcement on the new direction for the Escapist, and that "the 2015 vision for the site is focused on escapism, not politics".
Now, since Zak's group has LGBT people in it, they particularly felt like they could not be working for the same website that would hire someone who would express transphobia in that way. I totally get that. Morse is very clearly an ass, and that's about the kindest thing that could be said about his view on this issue.
And I get, and support, Zak & Mandy & co.'s right to choose not to work at the Escapist for the reasons they've chosen not to. They've done this at some cost, though it's not clear just how much cost that actually is (I mean, from what I understand the Escapist isn't demanding that Zak return any of the money they already invested in the project). I'm sure regardless, with their smarts, they'll be finding a new venue, and given that he's a renowned artist and just produced the hottest indie rpg product of the year, I'm sure he won't be at a lack for things to do.
But I wish they had chosen to stay. I don't think they're wrong in what they feel, and I don't think they're wrong per se for leaving but I think they'd have been more right if they'd stuck around. Let me explain why.
I write on Everyjoe.com (you can find my latest article, on how to make a free-market argument FOR Net Neutrality here). Unlike the Escapist, Everyjoe is an explicitly political website, it will have people making explicit political statements on it (whereas, again, Morse has been explicitly told to keep his politics out of the Escapist). The general bent of Everyjoe is what you could call "South Park Libertarian", a mix of people who are socially SUPER-libertine, economically super-capitalist, tend to be into philosophy and political theory, and are generally pro-sex and pro-drugs. But there are some exceptions among the writing staff, like we have one guy there who's an end-of-the-world Survivalist (and has a very big very loyal following of readers, that tend not to read or engage with the rest of the site). He's a bit weird, but cool enough, and doesn't really bug anyone (why should he? I'm pretty sure he thinks we'll all end up starving to death when the zombie hordes are unleashed).
Then you have John C. Wright. He's there too. Let me make something clear: Wright is human smegma. He's a reactionary ultracatholic asshole, who spews hate-laced intellectual drivel out of his mouth while trying to form arguments that would have sounded quaint in the 15th century; stuff like "the reason why we make a distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children is because we make a distinction between chastity and fornication, that is, a distinction between sex inside marriage versus sex outside marriage" - no, you asshole, no sane and rational person still believes that there's a moral deficiency in babies whose parents weren't bonded for life in a ceremony approved by your Sky Grandpa. He may be known as a sci-fi writer, but his social policy comes straight out of a Medieval Fantasy, namely the one he's having in his own head. He's the type of person who'd probably describe the Renaissance as 'mostly a bad idea', and think of the Age of Enlightenment as 'the fall of civilization'.
I have probably disagreed with the gist of everything the man has ever written, and I find him a despicable human being, as indeed I would any worthless shitface that uses the term "homosex agenda" with deadly seriousness.
Now, I honestly believe that it does Everyjoe no particular good having Wright and his absurd, grotesque, sickeningly primitive and ultimately anti-intellectual ideas around (anyone who seriously believes that two penises touching will cause an eternity of hellfire because a man in silky robes and a pointy hat with a history of suspicious behaviour around altar boys told him Sky Grandpa said so, and then calls that "reason", is an anti-intellectual in my book; and is a deluded ass blindly embracing the insane superstitions of a dogmatic megacult, no matter how many big words he tries to mask his stupidity with). I think it will ultimately draw in very few (most people who would agree with Wright will be extreme religious conservatives, and therefore prudes, and thus would not engage with the site as a whole), and run the risk of turning off the South Park Libertarians who naturally dislike that kind of social-conservative bullshit being preached at them, and generally dislike outright sexual and gender bigots overall. I would cheer if John C. Wright were gone from Everyjoe tomorrow.
But I don't think me quitting Everyjoe because of John C. Wright would serve any purpose at all. On the contrary, it would do more harm than good. So long as the site doesn't require me to endorse Wright's shitty shitty ideas, or to be silent on what I think of him outside the confine of the website (we'll see what my Invincible Overlord thinks of this blog entry, but I feel pretty confident that the site's commitment to freedom of opinion will mean that I'll still be working for Everyjoe tomorrow, or in a month or a year, for that matter), I don't see my presence there as something that helps Wright's 'cause' in any ways. I can instead provide a completely contrary set of ideas than Wright does, about freedom of expression, about the value of liberty, about why we must oppose the tyranny of Religious Theocrats as much as we do they tyranny of self-styled social engineers, of what the conservative's opinion on things like sex and homosexuality etc. OUGHT to be (hint: it should be "everyone has the inherent and absolute right to do what they want with their own lives, bodies, and sexuality, government shouldn't force any moral view on anyone"), and generally present a vision of Individualism that works directly against his Religious Collectivism. I cut off Wright's hateful theocratic bullshit at the knees just by being there, in the same place he calls home, and by making a better argument than he does. I piss him off more by my presence than I ever would by my absence (as I have no doubt Zak's crew being on the Escapist would have pissed Morse off more than their leaving it has).
And I'm confident that the ideas I subscribe to are better ideas than the ones Wright espouses (after all, they created those little things like Democracy and Liberty, while his created the Holy Inquisition and the Wars of Religion). I'm confident that my philosophy is more sound than his dogma, and that I'll be ultimately more appealing to the potential audience Everyjoe is seeking to grow.
And all this is in an environment where politics actually enters into it. Over at the Escapist, it doesn't; Morse won't get to say what he thinks about trans people there, but Zak and Mandy could have sure SHOWN us trans people in a way that would have inherently sent a message without the need to say anything explicitly.
Again, I don't blame Zak for choosing to leave, I respect his decision, but it also wasn't particularly anything I'd define as "heroic". I don't condemn him for going, but fundamentally, what he did in the end was to concede the field, and to concede it in the worst possible place to concede it. Because it's one thing to get applauded for "taking a stand" by a large swath of people who already agree with your views, but it's another thing completely to change minds. I like writing on Everyjoe for any number of reasons, but one important one is that I know there are conservatives reading there that have certain ideas about things, be it the "war on christmas", global warming, Islam, Feminism, Christian Values, or others, and that while no self-styled liberal or 'activist' or what-have-you is likely to change their mind on these subjects, there's a chance that reading something from a conservative viewpoint that presents a totally different (conservative) perspective on all of them might just change someone's view. In world where punditry increasingly consists of tribalism, increasingly the only way to change views is from the inside of a tribe.
By leaving, Zak got a lot of applause from people who are already in agreement with him, but he gave up the chance to even try to win over anyone over at the Escapist, the gamers who read the site and who might be the ones most in need of convincing. By staying, Zak, Mandy, & Co. could have unleashed a weapon far more powerful than some moron's tweet; they could have shown anyone who goes to the Escapist, without the need for any off-putting preachy sermonizing, an awesome show featuring a bunch of LGBT and sex-positive people in it, geeking out on D&D old-school style, and generally creating a powerfully memorable positive impression on the viewers which could have actually changed minds.
I think it's a pity that's not going to happen.
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