thoughts

Changing your mind

Human beings are stubborn creatures. We don’t enjoy the prospect of relinquishing our power in any way. When we decide something, we often dig in our heels and form an opinion that will weather any attempt to change it. In some cases this is harmless, even necessary. We fuse experience with taste and form opinions on all kinds of subjects from an early age. We have favourite colours, characters from books, race car drivers: we discern, and deduce that one thing is more favourable to us than another. There is nothing wrong with that.

Sometimes we decide things that have ramifications beyond ourselves. Sometimes people, through no fault of their own are driven to hold an opinion on something that is rooted in their mindset, their culture, traditions and values inherited from their family and society. However, when these ideas are in conflict with social norms, they are deemed unacceptable and politically incorrect.

For instance, our society is beginning to change values in regards to gender identity and sexuality. Not long ago in Ireland, 1993 to be exact, it was illegal to be a homosexual. Now, we are voting to legalise gay marriage, a step that twenty years ago would have seemed inconceivable. It is a testament to our ability as a culture to collectively change our mind.

Some people find it very hard to change their minds. The idea of recanting on previously held ideals that have served them well throughout the decades is like giving up. They believe that gay people are unnatural. They will often claim benevolence toward members of the LGBT community, and in some way maybe they do tolerate things that are an affront to their own personal beliefs. They fight to maintain the status quo, which they do not want to change for reasons that are usually rather personal.

The people of Scotland were asked recently if they wanted to change their minds about their relationship with the United Kingdom. As a group they decided not to change their minds just yet, although the referendum in itself was an indication of how much their minds have changed over the decades. The idea of an independent Scotland was radical up until relatively recently. Over time, with slow attrition, people have changed their minds. Following the vote, the UK General election saw English people vehemently refusing to change their minds, but saw Scottish people changing their minds about who they wanted to represent them in the House of Commons.

People are changing their minds about drugs. More than ever before, people are recognising that drug addiction is an illness and that that the issue is a social and medical, but not criminal. This view would regard drug addicts as people who should be in treatment instead of a jail cell. The United States has changed its mind about how it approaches psychedelic and entheogenic drugs, allowing research on the positive therapeutic effects, rather than discounting these because of their history of abuse. The United Nations have convened to discuss drug policy in New York and were petitioned by various NGOs and businesses to revise current law and policy.

Beyond the call for a change in how we deal with drug addicts, the Federal Government of the U.S. has had to deal with individual states changing their minds about one drug in particular. In the United States, 23 states have legalised Marijuana in one form or another, and 4 have legalised for recreational use, with more to follow suit next year. The District of Columbia has also legalised for recreational use, sending a very clear message to the White House. Over the next few years it will be interesting to see if minds are changed at the highest level, or if there will be a federal backlash against this divergence from the status quo. The people in the 1930’s who enacted most of the “reefer madness” laws, were changing their minds also. At the time, they probably thought they were being progressive.

It’s easy to dismiss other folks, especially when their idea of reality conflicts with ours, it can make them seem almost non-human, caricatures of people. So, the next time that you come across a person whose views on an issue you deem mind-numbingly anachronistic, belly-achingly backward or soul-crushingly ill informed, remember, they’re humans like you, they just haven’t changed their mind.

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thoughts

Tristesse

I am sitting, writing at my desk, joined to countless others who are also writing, all over the world. If we are so inclined, we may even write something offensive, rude, ignorant, maybe even deplorable. Would we expect criticism? Yes, absolutely, we’re writers and thinkers, so we would welcome it. We might argue our side, debate with you our opinions, correct your glaring omissions and false assumptions.

Would we expect to die?

The most disgusting reaction to the Charlie Hebdo murders is a proliferation of victim blaming. Write something that offends, the maxim states, and you deserve to be attacked. It seems that we have actually descended into barbarism as a society. Is it now more important to make sure we don’t offend extremist terrorists and in doing so completely capitulate? Why are we so utterly broken as a society that we allow ourselves to bow to the demands of these people?

I don’t need to waffle about freedom of speech here. Violence is abhorrent, end of. If you murder someone for writing, you are repugnant. If you’re burning a mosque you equally inspire the sum of my disgust. When we (the royal we that is, not you and I, we’re just complicit in all of this) blow things up around the world, it’s equally horrific. Yet somehow, despite all the nasty people doing nasty things they do, some believe that offending with words is a bigger deal. In their minds, if you write something offensive, you get what you deserve.

I think most people will react to something that offends them in a rational way. They may ensure never to see it again. They might protest, or challenge the offending item. They might use their thoughts and hearts to produce something that overwhelms the source of offence. An irrational way to react would be to murder the person who created the thing that offends you. That’s it, rationality. We don’t have any left.

To the creators at Charlie Hebdo, and to anyone else who has died, rest in peace and thank you. You are all martyrs. Martyrs to the madness that consumes our world. It doesn’t outweigh the sadness of knowing that your martyrdom is in vain.

I am sitting, writing at my desk, joined to countless others who are also writing, all over the world. We have tears in our eyes.

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thoughts

GamerGate: how intelligent gamers are being hoodwinked

2014 is a confusing year to be a gamer. Suddenly the gaming culture is called into question where before it was relegated to a level that did not deem it worthy of criticism. As the spotlight falls on the industry, gamers are pushing back against the criticism and pointing out the hypocrisies they see in games journalism. GamerGate has turned into one of the most divisive moments in gaming history.

Let’s address something right out of the gate (bad pun), doxxing and threatening people is wrong. Something really disturbing about human nature has emerged from all the volleys shot over the last few months. People get really sarcastic, angry and hateful and start threatening and abusing other people. We have had little logical open debate, it’s either black or white. Everyone is so quick to point out how incredibly stupid the other person is, to ignore their words in favour of pushing their own agenda. Here’s some examples:

Anti-Gamergate Person: “Hey, here’s an idea, let’s not attack female game developers because they are female. Being female is a good thing, which is lucky because they didn’t have much of a choice in the matter…”

Pro-Gamergate Person: “It’s about accountability in games journalism! “(And if they are of the particularly eloquent variety: “F*** you! You stupid s****, go f*** yourself, i hope you choke on a f**** **** and then **** all over your stupid *****.”)

or

Pro-Gamergate Person: “I am for accountability in games journalism, I don’t like the clearly biased views I see in media. I am in a minority and I self-identify as a gamer. ”

Anti-Gamergate Person: “You’re shifting the goalposts, you are an idiot, you are evil (insert profanities as above if the person similarly can’t be bothered to pick up a dictionary).

This is not how debate works in the real world. The clamouring, raging voices are a sign of the times and, for me at least, are the death knell to the idea of digital democracy.

Now onto the meat of the matter…

Zoe Quinn’s boyfriend uploaded a pathetic revenge video about his ex. I’ve been through some insane relationships and yet I’ve never felt the need to go all “loose change” on my former lover. It’s over, move the hell on and get over it. If it was really so bad be glad that you got out when you did, but for christ’s sake don’t go posting it all over the internet like a teenager looking for attention. The first occurrence of the GamerGate hashtag came to us courtesy of Adam Baldwin, the guy from Firefly. My favourite character in Firefly.

God damn it.

Of course he has to use his fame to promote a video that makes the revenge video look relatively sane. As soon as he used it to humiliate Quinn, gamergate became a thing to reject. If gamergate is so concerned with accountability and corruption in games journalism, why did originate in puerile garbage? Because the entire point was to harass a woman.

Make no mistake about it, that was the first use of the hashtag, anything after that point is cynical rhetoric, and if you are sucked into it you are falling victim of people who have way more time than you to sit around being hateful. It’s truly horrible stuff; feigning outrage and injustice in this situation is the most delectable irony for the puny little humans who masterminded the entire debacle on 4chan. They must be very pleased with themselves.

From the other point of view…

There are a lot of folks who are getting sucked into the pro-gamergate argument because they are legitimately interested in changing the definition of a “typical gamer”. It’s not surprising that if you put out a whole bunch of articles telling people “gaming is dead”, and that all gamers are “neck beards” and the like, those who identify as gamers are going to get angry. Sam Biddle, a writer for Gawker came under fire for trolling gamergaters (I shudder to use this collective pronoun) by tweeting:

“Ultimately #GamerGate is reaffirming what we’ve known to be true for decades: nerds should be constantly shamed and degraded into submission”

Clear satire and fun-poking, but ammunition for the trolls to launch a counter offensive declaring Sam Biddle (and by extension anyone who works in journalism/has hair/drinks water) a bully.

If you are a gamer and you have represented gamer gate online, it’s OK. You probably didn’t know about the background, believed the hype and jumped on board. Everyone does that at some stage and you won’t be judged for it. Go ahead and hop off right now though. Corruption in games journalism is a thing, and it’s most definitely something you should actively fight against. #GamerGate is not the way to do it. Breaking through gamer stereotypes is a noble pursuit. #NotYourShield is not the way to do it. No matter what anyone tells you, the first occurrence of the tweet is all you need to know. Nothing born out of ridiculing a woman leads to any good.

The people at the fore of gamergate think that social justice is not something you should fight for. Smugness and cynicism doesn’t make them right. By the same token snobbery doesn’t make anti-gamergate right. If we want to change the industry we need to be inclusive. It is very easy to dismiss someones views as insolent and ignorant when we are not walking in their shoes. I don’t think the majority of gamers are misogynistic, gamers come in many flavours. The scoffing loathsome folks behind gamergate have been able to use the generalisation of gamers made by journalists recently to their advantage. Not all gamers are white male and cisgender. We cannot win the battle against the deplorable sides of the industry without enlisting these people. We certainly cannot win if we imitate Sam Biddle and feed the troll.

The frustrating side of this is that the contingent that are suckering in recruits to the gamergate cause come across as exactly the stereotypical gamer. Unwilling to accept women into the industry, hateful, violent, simultaneously intelligent and moronic, young white and male (that’s not to say that there aren’t female trolls out there getting their rocks off at ruining a woman’s life because they also deem her a slut). Perhaps they’re so cynical, they don’t even buy their own message. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that they merely enjoyed the chaos they have created and, by continuing to feed the trolls, we do nothing but extend that chaos.

Lets stop responding to anyone who doesn’t want to engage in an adult debate. Lets agree that there are people on both sides who just want what’s best for their favourite past time. Lets get critical; that doesn’t mean we don’t get any more Grand Theft Auto, it just means that we actually think about how ALL humans are represented in games. Being critical of something doesn’t preclude enjoying it. What’s more, by thinking about how some females are being represented (i.e. as hollow characters and MacGuffins) we can actually improve games. We might evolve past the various narratives that relegate women to these roles, and build more complex and realistic games.

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thoughts

Why Do We Kill Each Other? Murder — the eternal common ground.

Bit of a random one here, a nice interlude maybe. I’ve posted this on medium.com, you can check out the links on my twitter @paddywords but something i’ve been dwelling on for a while…

Violent death has long been a part of human civilisation. The vast chasm of time makes it hard to understand how our ancestors lived. The details of their culture, beliefs, pasttimes — all of this is either rare or non existent. However, we can say with certainty that our common ground, that which is unchanging since time immemorial, is death, and the killing of others.

The first recorded murder is a murky fact to sieve out of the soup of history. Some would say that Cain and Able are the original perp and victim. The story was written as far back as 1500 B.C., so it could be the first documented murder. By the same token,there is no real hard evidence of the murder occuring, we have no dental records, there’s no mummified remains.

We do have a preserved corpse of Ötzi the Iceman, who suffered a blow to the head from a blunt object prior to his death. The motives behind the murder do not survive through time, but the evidence is clear. Perhaps Ötzi was just minding his own business, going about his day to day life. He might have been out hunting, trying to find some sustenance for a family when he was set upon by someone, or a group. Whatever fate had in store for him that day, 5000 years later Ötzi is a fascinating glimpse into a world that shared a certain brutality with our own.

Similarly the Bog Men of Jutland have been found with slit throats, evidence of ritual sacrifice, murder, or realistically both. Egyptian pharaohs have fallen victim to murder, and we have the mummified remains to prove it. Who knows why Ramses III was murdered, in our own time we have conspiratorial murders that remain unsolved, therefore solving those of the ancient past are nigh on impossible. We know the Maya were no strangers to the concept of homicide, and if there was a political gain to be had, all the better! This may be the first example of murder being used as censorship.

Which leads me in a roundabout way to the point of my article. Why do we kill each other? What is the value in causing the death of others?Why are we drawn to the violence, the murder? We send large groups of men and women to fight, and kill other men and women who oppose our views. We murder politicians who try to change, gangsters who try to rat, lovers who break our hearts. Some people, sociopaths, are able to murder for no reason at all. Why?

“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent”

  • Mahatma Gandhi

When you delve into the psychological and sociological reasons behind murder things get tricky.

Primal

There are primal reasons to murder. We observe fighting in monkeys and other, less human looking, animals. Normally this kind of violence stems from a desire to maintain control, an instinctual need to dominate territory. This is how most animals survive.

Materialistic

In nature animals will fight and kill for resources, so too will a human. This becomes even more complex when you weigh in the human mind and it’s ability to rationalise and comprehend. An animal normally fights for resources because it has none. As humans we kill for resources even when we have an abundant supply, we call this greed. The pursuit of materialism is one of the dominant motives for any murder, and it is also one of the dominant ethos’ of the day. The greed family that kill off granny for her insurance policy are not far from the lions that kill their weakest member for more space at the watering hole.The burglar that shoots the homeowner is a startled bear, growling snarling, and finally gnashing.

Jealousy

This goes beyond just wanting someones materials and banging them over the head. Murder by jealousy involves a deep hatred that has built up in the person, for whatever reason. The killer may hate the victim for their job, their bank balance, their house. It might be a so called crime of passion, where a jilted lover takes a life in spite.

Revenge

“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Revenge is a dominant motive for murder. The deep intensity of hatred that develops when someone seeks vengeance knows no bounds. In the not-so-distant past, revenge was an instituted part of society. Men “demanded satisfaction” of those who they felt had insulted their honour. It didn’t always work out in their favour.

Ideological

Crimes of hate, murders used to further a certain dogma or ideology. Homicide is a powerful tool when it comes to shaping the world we live in. From Kennedy and Lincoln to Saddam and Bin Laden. We murder political figures to further our own ends, keeping them alive would be too much of a threat to the status quo.

Cult

With the 25th anniversary of the Jonestown massacre passing recently, the world was reminded of the power of the cult. A leader who is able to convince his followers that he is speaking the word of god directly, and that they should end their own lives — it’s a cliché at this point. Much of this cliché stems from the Jonestown massacre. Unfortunately, beliefs of all kinds are used as a reason to murder, like the mother who killed her own child by stuffing the bible into it’s mouth. Within this category there is significant crossover with…

Psychological

There exist a class of people in the world who do not feel emotion. To sociopaths murder is nothing. The (non-sociopathic) mentally ill may kill in a frenzy of emotion. However, mental illness should not be equated with a drive to murder, as the stigma around mental illness and murder are easily disproven by looking at the statistics. When you compare the incidences of violence in mentally ill populations with the mentally stable, the differences are negligible.

That’s my attempt at grouping the reasons we kill into overarching classes, but even then it involves generalisation and abstraction. To me, the saddest thing about all of this is that, despite all the technological revolutions, changes in public perception, waves of different ideologies and viewpoints. Despite all of this, we are driven to kill each other. While standards of living rise, food becomes abundant and all of the other worries of man disappear, we still have the intrinsic focus on causing death to our fellow human. The driving force behind so much of what we do in the world is death, or activities that cause death to others — from waging war for oil to sending kids in Congo down a mine for coltan. If Asimov is correct when he asserts “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent”, then the history of man is a sad inept folly, a terrible disgrace.

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My Inspirations, Spider Man and Hamlet

I’ve been writing since I was a little boy. I took to writing a little better than speaking, the opposite of the gift of the gab so notorious among Irish people. When speaking I didn’t have time to organise my thoughts, I wasn’t the quick fire type as child, but in my stories I could create heroes in my image who always had the last laugh, and the quick witted one liner. This approach to writing a protagonist came from two places, William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Spider-Man. I was a nerdy kid, ok?

Spider-Man and Hamlet are both masters of wit, both muster the right words at the right time to put down their enemies. The main difference between the two heroes? How they feel about their uncle. In Spider-Man, uncle Ben is the reason that Peter embraces his role as a crime fighter rather than a freak show. In Hamlet, the prince hates his uncle, and plots revenge for the murder of his father. Pretty different.

I’ve recently made a commitment to myself to return to writing in my spare time, I’m not sure how much of this can manifest itself on blogs and twitter. I want to write comics, because it’s the medium that changed my life as a kid and still blows me away today. With authors like Neil Gaiman understanding how powerful an art form the graphic novel is, comics are gaining more respect for their writing than ever before.

Rightly so, Comics were much maligned as low brow for so long, by people who didn’t understand the talents of comic writers like Alan Moore or Grant Morrison. Much as the people of the renaissance could not, from their culturally myopic viewpoint, understand the historical importance of Shakespeare’s plays.I’ll keep you posted on my progress, have you ever wanted to write a comic?

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