One of my defining moments of understanding humanity came from, of all places, a Youtube comment I saw around five years ago.
I don’t remember the comment’s full context. Two YouTube users were bickering about something. At some point, one of them got frustrated and accused the other of just being an angry thirteen-year-old. The other responded with words I’ll never forget: “Joke’s on you, I’m actually 23!”
It’s easy to laugh the story off as nothing more than a dumb person on the internet, but let’s overanalyze for a moment and think about what’s actually going on in this exchange. You have someone accused of being so immature that they could honestly be a child in disguise. In response, they choose to prove they are not a child. They provide no response to the accusation of immaturity - instead just this idea that, because they are an adult, their actions are mature by definition. The way they see it, they are mature because they are an adult, and maturity is defined by what they do.
You could argue that the 23-year-old-YouTuber does have some basis here for his claims. With a drivers’ license photo or credit card, he can prove he is “mature” by certain definitions of the word. However, what happens when you take this “maturity is defined by the actions of adults” mindset and instead apply it to actual causes?
Well, Kazerad writes an essay about it.
No True Scotsman
Imagine, for a moment, that it’s the 1940s. There is a Nazi soldier - let’s call him Stëve (the nonstandard character makes the name German).
Stëve is a completely inept soldier. He has no idea how to use weapons, repair machines, or follow orders, and his bumbling actions have led to hundreds of other Nazi soldiers becoming incapacitated or even killed. By all accounts, Stëve has done more damage to Nazi Germany than any single Allied soldier has.
Is it fair to call Stëve a “Nazi”?
On one hand, Nazism is the cause he professes. He wears the uniform, he has “Professional Nazi” on his resume, and he says his Heil Hitlers every night before going to bed. As far as self-identity goes, Stëve is Nazi as hell.
On the other hand, Stëve is wrecking their shit. Even if he sees himself as a Nazi, his actions match that of an Allied saboteur. If it suddenly came out that Stëve was an undercover American agent (real name: Steve), he would be hailed as one of the greatest saboteurs of all time. And if we took every soldier in World War 2 and sorted them by the cause they most helped, Stëve would be an Allied soldier. Does his personal intent really change that?
I’m using Nazis and Allied soldiers as an example because they are black and white. We can think of Stëve in terms of “good” and “bad” - is he bad for identifying as a Nazi, or good for hindering the Nazis? Real life is much more ambiguous, but the same question applies - do we judge people by what they profess to support, or by the effects they have?
I’m still following the “GamerGate” thing pretty closely, since it aligns well with my interest in social manipulation. One of the big issues that has been coming up on the 4chan side of things is this idea of “False Flagging” - someone who wants to harm a cause posing as a member and making bad decisions. Every time a post pops up encouraging people to harass Zoe Quinn, people quickly reply with “False flag! Do not listen!”. They continually reiterate this idea that GamerGate is about corruption in gaming journalism, not about attacking Zoe Quinn. They claim anyone who suggests otherwise is not a part of GamerGate.
Yet, on the other side of things you see the exact opposite rhetoric being pushed. You have people saying that GamerGate is actually just a bunch of male gamers trying to keep women out of gaming, and that the minority groups speaking out in its defense under the Twitter tag #NotYourShield are just being manipulated into helping. The argument pivots on this idea that the cause’s stated goals don’t matter, and it should instead be judged by its constituents. Maturity is whatever the 23-year-old does, in other words.
If my opinion isn’t crystal clear by now, I strongly agree with 4chan here. I think causes need to be defined independently of their members. I view Stëve as an Allied soldier, I think a 23-year-old can be immature, and it’s why I’m so quick to say things like Zoe Quinn is not a feminist regardless of what she advertises. I believe people are defined by what they do, not what they claim to support. Claims are meaningless without proof.
It’s also understandable to me that 4chan would be a major proponent of this position. As I’ve written before, 4chan as a culture stands against this idea of “wearing identity”. For example, you are a gay rights advocate for as long as you are actively doing something that pushes gay rights, and you cease to be a gay rights advocate as soon as you stop. Your participation does not give you a permanent badge that lasts beyond your current action, and the way you self-identity doesn’t matter. You are yourself, and causes are something abstract that you aid, not something you belong to.
What you’re seeing right now in GamerGate are these two ideas clashing. On one side, you have people saying “GamerGate is good because its stated goals are good”, and on the other side you have people saying “GamerGate is bad because its supporters are bad”. It’s raising the question of whether GamerGate is a group of people that can be judged by its members or, like feminism, a cause that anyone can join and which should be judged by its stated ideals. It’s neat watching that pan out.
Obviously, though, I hope the “defined by its stated ideals” side wins. If they can hold their own here, it will be a huge strike against the sabotage of social causes as a whole. It could be the catalyst that makes people look at other causes and start saying things like “so… what does the support of social justice entail?”, and turning the labels into something defined by a person’s actions, not their beliefs. It could be the route by which we see ideas like the “harassing social justice warrior” die off, those people instead just being viewed as “a harasser”. And that’s exciting to me, because fuck douchebags ramming valid causes into the ground by self-identifying as part of them.
My reasons for supporting GamerGate keep changing. Originally, it was just because Zoe Quinn led an attack against a feminist organization and wasn’t owning up to it. Then, it was because gaming news sites defending her started attacking Gamers as a group. Now, it’s mostly because GamerGate is trying to stand against harmfully manipulative rhetoric, and it’s exciting to see that happen. Whether they win or lose this conflict, the lessons learned are going to screw over a lot of bad people in the future. I’d encourage you all to keep an eye on it.