July 2, 2015
MarkBernstein.org
 
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In The World

A surprising number of people live as in a cloister.

At Wikipedia, I’ve been trying to get a peace agreement on Gamergate. The facts on the ground are now clear. It’s time to end the conflict which has raged over nine months, a dozen Wikipedia pages, more than a million words of debate, and dozens of blocks and bans and sanctions extending from Gamergate Controversy to “Campus Rape” and Lena Dunham’s sister.

It took too long, it cost too much, the resolution was too uncertain, but here we are. Even if Wikipedia again lost its mind and gave Gamergate what it wants, the outcry of a watchful would soon restore reason. There’s no need for 50,000 words of wrangling and five banned zombies every month; it's just vexation and waste of effort.

The Gamergate attack on Wikipedia has failed. What could they do now? They could make their way in the world. If they did – if Gamergate actually accomplished stuff, if (for example) they published insightful studies of ethics in games – then newspapers would report it, scholars would write about it, and Wikipedia would eventually cover it. That’s their best move, the only productive move I can see that’s left on their board.

So, why does Gamergate stick to the current operation, which pairs sliming women in the software industry with a flood of complaints intended to wear down the referee Wikipedia admins?

The explanation, apparently, is that Gamergate fans don’t think it’s possible to actually participate in the world of ideas, the world outside fandom and Wikipedia. This also explains their peculiar outrage at me: when I took the case against Wikipedia to you and then to the world, I was using my super-powers to cheat. One editor actually wrote that I “accidentally set the Internet on fire.” In their view, I’m the comic-book character who somehow summons up lightning bolts in the middle of a basketball game to help my team win, and that’s just unfair.

We might dismiss all this with a nod to Gamergate HQ in Mom’s Basement, but it’s not just Gamergate. I keep bumping into grad students, for example, who regard living writers as if they were all inaccessible rock stars. Yes, there are some writers who won’t talk to you, but most will. The same is true for scholars: not only will most professors take your phone calls or give you interviews, asking them will make their day. “You can be the most famous Chemist in the world,” Frank Westheimer used to say, “and you’re still not going to be on Johnny Carson.”

Linda says this is a class issue, that the knowledge of these open doors is a secret of privilege. She is not wrong: class is part of the story.

My own initial theory was that it’s literally a matter of experience. When I was in grad school, Mom used to drive me nuts with suggestions that I stop sending stuff to tiny computer magazines and start aiming for places like The New Yorker. I thought then she was clueless, but before she was Mom she’d worked for McCalls and for Hearst, and 25 W 45th St was just another address. Lots of stuff seems impossible until you do it, and the typical Gamergater is probably a bit younger than I am.

Some of it’s a matter of education, of knowing (at least in theory) how things work. In grade school, one teacher – maybe Helen Doughty in 2nd grade – required everyone to send a fan letter to a contemporary writer. “Contemporary” was quite a word for second graders! Somewhere I’ve got a nice form letter, signed by Ted Geisel/Dr. Seuss. (The Cat In The Hat remains a really interesting book when you think about it.)

I was texting yesterday with one of my fellow software artisans about the software economy and all our woe. He pointed it that it’s not just software. His friend the famous novelists isn’t making big money. His friend the rock star isn’t making much money, either. One of my big surprises in The Way The World Works was seeing Amanda Palmer, not that long ago, Twittering for couches in cities where she was touring. The same thing happens fictionally in Wonderland, Stacey D’Erasmo’s nifty and thoughtful novel of a rock tour. Even for rock stars, I slept last night in a good hotel ain’t necessarily so. It’s not just us: it’s the world. Knowing that matters. (More on the software economy coming soon.)

It’s one thing to renounce the world and choose to live quietly by Walden. It’s another to renounce the world and then to stew endlessly in your powerlessness, and to avenge your renunciation with talk page diatribes and mean little exposés and incessant gossip in chat rooms and image boards about Gamergate’s arbitrary victims.