27 February 2015

#GamerGate: The End of Libertarians?


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One of the grievances of the so-called GamerGate movement last August was an article by Dan Golding titled “The End of Gamers” (August 28, 2014). The title referred, not to the literal extinction of gamers as individuals, but of the “gamer” cultural identity as it had previously existed. Golding argued that the previously dominant gamer demographic of white, middle-class males in their teens and twenties, who played games designed for the desktop, was a dying breed. They would cease to define the gamer demographic, and the industry would evolve to reflect the needs of a larger, more diverse market including women, people of color and players using consoles or mobile devices — in other words, the demographics dismissed as “fake geeks” by “real” white male hardcore gamers. The latter demographic, whether sincerely or disingenuously, denounced the article as a literal threat by the dreaded “Social Justice Warriors” to physically eliminate them.

I write, in similar vein, to predict the end of libertarians.

Libertarianism is frequently perceived by the general public, not entirely without justice, as a movement of mostly white male 20- or 30-somethings, disproportionately from the tech industry or other white collar jobs, who see themselves as victims and everyone unlike themselves — women, LGBT people, people of color — as naturally collectivist barbarians.

David Weigel, in his coverage of the recent International Students for Liberty Conference (ISFLC) (“Bow Ties and Slam Poetry: This is Libertarianism in 2015,” Bloomberg Politics, Feb. 17), provides a cringe-inducing example of this. He quotes Rebecca, an Appalachian State University student:
Last night we’re at a party and there’s a guy in a $3,000 suit talking about how oppression is him being taxed on his condo. Well, I have a scar on my head from where a couple of rednecks hit me with a bottle, yelling “queer” at me as they sped by on a truck. I started to argue, and he started telling me go get a job. I had enough of that, and I just got up and left. He said after me: “I hope we get a Republican president so he gets rid of all these social welfare programs.”
No doubt he hopes for a Republican president who can provide more corporate welfare programs for white guys in $3,000 suits instead.

That aside, I find the guy especially annoying based on my own recent experiences. Twice in the same day I had to block clueless white libertarian dudebros on Twitter for replying to my retweets of black people discussing actual chattel slavery, hijacking the conversation uninvited to make comparisons to taxation. Seriously. I mean the people I retweeted were talking about actual forced labor in the fields, with corporal punishment, rape, and families broken up on the auction block, and libertarians felt compelled to jump in with comments like “Hey, I feel ya every April 15, bro!” Two unrelated people, in the same day. And I blocked them because, even after I asked them to stop several times and told them how tone-deaf and counter-productive it was, they insisted on continuing to ‘splain why it was OK.

And please note, I write this as someone who considers taxation a form of surplus labor extraction. It’s one of a wide spectrum of techniques for surplus labor extraction by the privileged classes that control the state, alongside feudal dues, monopoly returns like land rent, profit and usury, oligopoly markups on goods sold by industrial cartels, price gouging by state-licensed professionals — and, yes, actual chattel slavery. Chattel slavery is by far the most severe and exploitative means, among many, of extracting surplus labor by force. Some people find it rhetorically useful to compare all the different forms to slavery by way of analogy; and in some cases it may actually be a useful analogy. But when you’re talking to a person whose ancestors experienced actual, non-metaphoric slavery, it’s not useful; it’s incredibly insensitive and offensive. While we’re at it, comparisons to the Holocaust or to rape are also something you’d better think twice about if you’re getting the bright idea of making them. And if you insist on continuing to dig, and arguing with the descendants of actual slaves about why the slavery comparison is perfectly legitimate, you really just need to SHUT UP.

But my immediate reason for writing this article is another event at ISFLC, and the response to it. Three SFL members, including Mackenzie Holst, Aaron Baca and C4SS comrade Cory Massimino, composed an open letter to Ron Paul taking him to task for his ties to the paleoconservative and paleolibertarian movements, and his tolerance for their racism, sexism and homophobia. Holst read the letter aloud during Paul’s Q&A period. Here are some especially noteworthy passages:
We believe many of the people you have aligned yourself with and continue to align yourself with are libertarians only in name and their true ideology is one more akin to a bigoted and authoritarian paleo-conservatism…. 
“Millennial” or “Second-wave” libertarianism is not going away and there seems to be irreconcilable differences between these new libertarians and the old guard, which includes figures such as Lew Rockwell, Hans Herman-Hoppe, Walter Block, Gary North, and yourself. In this letter, we would like to highlight the downright absurdity promoted by this obsolete style of thinking, as delineated in the racist, homophobic, and sexist undertones present in these thinkers’ writings…. 
At the Mises Circle, Lew Rockwell, founder and chairman of the Mises Institute, compared the life of people under modern nation states to literal chattel slavery. We admit the state is a gang of thieves writ large. But this analogy is downright offensive to people have suffered actual chattel slavery as well as people who have relatively great living standards under modern states. Libertarians can expose the evils of statism without resorting to bad metaphors with blatantly obvious racist undertones. 
Hans Herman-Hoppe, distinguished fellow of the Mises Institute, wrote just last year that, “it is societies dominated by white heterosexual males, and in particular by the most successful among them, which have produced and accumulated the greatest amount of capital goods and achieved the highest average living standards.” Hoppe has also advocated violence against homosexuals and other people who live lifestyles he doesn’t approve of, “There can be no tolerance toward those habitually promoting lifestyles incompatible with this goal. They — the advocates of alternative, non-family-centered lifestyles such as, for instance, individual hedonism, parasitism, nature-environment worship, homosexuality, or communism — will have to be physically removed from society, too, if one is to maintain a libertarian order.”… 
Walter Block, senior fellow at the Mises Institute, has argued, “Feminists and gays aren’t libertarians.” Also on the topic of homosexuals, Block has written, “If a seventeen year old is an adult, and voluntarily wants to have sex with an adult homosexual man, I may not like it. I may be revolted by it.” If that wasn’t clear enough, Block has made his bigoted views explicit, “I am a cultural conservative. This means that I abhor homosexuality, bestiality, and sadomasochism, as well as pimping, prostituting, drugging, and other such degenerate behavior.” In addition, he has put forth the idea that “lower black IQs” could explain productivity differences between blacks and whites. Again, the arguments speak for themselves.
Gary North, an associated scholar at the Mises Institute, is an outspoken Christian Reconstructionist and supporter of biblical theocracy. North advocates capital punishment by means of stoning for women who lie about their virginity, blasphemers, nonbelievers, children who curse their parents, male homosexuals, and other people who commit acts deemed capital offense in the Old Testament. These views are certainly not representative of the libertarianism we’ve come to know and love.
Stop and think about this for a minute: These are people who actually call themselves libertarians — advocates of human liberty — and who presumably want to spread these ideas in society at large and attract new adherents to them. Hoppe’s prerequisite for a “libertarian society,” if you want to call it that, is for the minority of rich property-owning paterfamiliases who have appropriated all the land in a society to round up all the people with beliefs or lifestyles they disagree with, and forcibly evict them. North would add stoning to the list of sanctions. “We can only have a totally free society after I’ve expelled all the people who do things I disapprove of!”

They don’t favor liberty because it promotes the widest possible flourishing and self-actualization of human beings. They favor it because it gives local patriarchs and lords of manors a free hand to dominate those under their thumbs, without a nasty state stepping in to interfere. For them, “libertarianism” — a term they pollute every time they utter it with their tongues — is simply a way of constructing the world of Margaret Atwood’s TheHandmaid’s Tale by contractual means. And Block, who shares beliefs with Men’s Rights Advocate creepos and “Race Realists,” is apparently ready to pack up his bags and leave libertarianism for the neo-reactionary movement at a moment’s notice.

And this leaves out other prominent “libertarians” outside Paul’s personal circle, like Stefan Molyneux — a one-man travelling side-show of awfulness.

Beyond the immediate booing in the audience, the reading of the letter sparked a backlash in the larger libertarian movement.

And the backlash extended beyond denunciations by major figures in the libertarian movement. Cory Massimino experienced considerable harassment online, but Holst took a disproportionate amount of harassment, to the point of shutting her Twitter account down. As is usual when a woman falls afoul of wannabe Dale Gribbles, they immediately took to trolling her on social media. Maybe they were GamerGaters who wandered into the wrong convention by mistake and thought she was Anita Sarkeesian.

I’m not just drawing the GamerGate parallel for rhetorical purposes. I really see a lot of parallels, in terms of demographics and attitude towards the outside world, between GamerGaters and the people most outraged by the letter to Ron Paul (especially those trolling Holst in packs). GamerGaters like to think of themselves as victims, and the gaming subculture as their final retreat from a hostile world of Alpha males and “hypergamous” (that is only marrying socially and financially superior men) women. Feminism is just the final insult in a rigged game to make sure Beta males like them never win. So when feminist cultural critics like Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian point to sexist or misogynistic tropes in video games, or note that the market includes people besides white male desktop players, a large segment of gamers see it as the contamination of their all-boys treehouse by girl cooties. “Muh vidya games! SJWs done roont muh precious vidya games!”

A certain kind of libertarian, disproportionately represented in the mainstream of the movement, takes a similar view of women, queers and people of color who invade their stronghold and try to put social justice concerns on the table. These people are used to seeing libertarianism as the final refuge for rational white middle-class males like themselves, where they can hide in the catacombs and read “Isaiah’s Job” to each other while the outside world goes mad under the onslaught of statist racial minorities and welfare moms demanding handouts from the government. And here a girl has the nerve to show up in the clubhouse and suggest that issues like racism, sexism and homophobia (or anything else besides Bitcoin, vaping, Uber and the capital gains tax) should be taken seriously by libertarians.

In both cases, the reaction is one of outrage — taking the form of trolling, abuse, insults and threats — at the affront to their sense of entitlement.

A libertarian movement with this demographic as its core base is doomed to extinction. The reason is that these people, for the most part, aren’t interested in winning hearts and minds among the general public. They’re not interested in recognizing the concerns of poor and working people, women, LGBT people or people of color as legitimate, and showing ways that an ideology of human freedom can address those concerns in a meaningful way. They’re interested in being superior, in being the last tiny remnant of rational people who’ve not bowed their knees to the collectivist Baal.

They’re interested in convincing themselves that, contrary to common sense perceptions, white guys in $3,000 suits, investment bankers and venture capitalists are the state’s true victims, and the enormously powerful constituency of black welfare mothers are its main beneficiaries.

Frankly, I’m sick of libertarian outreach being sabotaged by the need to apologize for people like this. I’m sick of trying to challenge the perception of libertarianism as the movement of entitled 20-something middle-class white males who think “big business is the last oppressed minority,” and the world is going to hell in a hand-basket because of women and racial minorities — and then going to Mises.org, Lew Rockwell, Cato and Reason and seeing a bottomless cesspool of people saying that very thing.

The version of libertarianism preached by these people is dying, because it’s the ideology of a dying (and rightfully so) demographic. Whether we let them take the entire movement down with them, or whether we make ourselves relevant to a larger world of people outside a tiny privileged group, is up to us. I close with a quote from Leigh Alexander (“‘Gamers’ don’t have to be your audience. ‘Gamers’ are over,” Gamasutra, August 28, 2014):
These obtuse shitslingers, these wailing hyper-consumers, these childish internet-arguers — they are not my audience. They don’t have to be yours. There is no ‘side’ to be on, there is no ‘debate’ to be had. 
There is what’s past and there is what’s now. There is the role you choose to play in what’s ahead.


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