Change the World

Fighting Evil Is Subversive Now

I went to see Wicked this weekend. Though I love Oz with the purity of a preadolescent, somehow I managed to go into the theater with only the loosest idea of what the show is about: something-something friendship, something-something misunderstood, something-something other side of the story.

It was much, much more than I was expecting, and dear reader, you yourself risk spoilers by continuing to read this post.

At the intermission, I remarked to one of my theater companions that the first act ended where I assumed the whole show did, with Elphaba and Glinda separated by a gulf of ideology and ambition that seemed forever uncrossable. And yet there was the second act to come.

The piece I was missing was the part where you have to decide whether to collaborate with Nazis because it’s advantageous and easy, or if you should sacrifice reputation and opportunity in order to do the right thing. Where you can stand up for the vulnerable or avert your eyes and let it happen since it’s not happening to you. How you have to keep making that same choice again and again and again.

Topical, isn’t it?

That means Wicked has joined such previously uncontroversial pieces of media as The Sound of Music, Wolfenstein 3D, and The Force Awakens in becoming something altogether different from what it might have been in the other timeline, the one where the election turned out the other way. I’ve always heard that the audience for a story brings as much to the table as the writer does, and now, finally, finally, I understand that.

Three years ago, suggesting that you were fighting tooth and claw for equality, justice, and compassion was at best twee and a little over the top. Like saying you were in favor of friendship. Of course you were. Who in the world is against justice and compassion? But now, so quickly I would never have believe it possible, we’ve plunged into an era when saying that all people are equal is subversive. It’s an act of resistance. 

Then again, some people think the Declaration of Independence is subversive now, too. Maybe we’re onto something. Keep fighting, friends.


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The Lie Every Social Network Tells

Let’s talk a little more about the problem of disentangling yourself from the possibly-democracy-destroying social networks that currently dominate public discourse.

Now that we’ve moved full-blast into a gig economy, one of the most frightening prospects of leaving social media is losing the network that keeps you afloat. Artists rely on their social graphs to spread the word when they have new work out, or when they need a new project. Exposure doesn’t pay the bills, to be sure, but a total lack of exposure means you’re definitely not selling any books (or games, or commissions, or...) Obcurity is the biggest problem early and even mid-career creators have to solve, because it doesn’t matter what heartbreaking works of genius you produce if nobody ever looks at them.

So sure, I could delete my Twitter account in a principled stand for what I believe in. But I’d be losing access to (as of this writing) 6,757 hypothetically human followers who have opted in to what I have to say. Gosh, that’s a lot of potential book sales to give up, isn’t it?

And yet.

Here’s the lie every social network is telling you: It’s your friend or follower counts. Your number of impressions and views. Your numbers of likes, faves, RTs, hearts.

We live in a world that wants to quantify everything, a kind of numeromancy meant to give us the feeling that we know and can control the future. Your resting heart rate and the amount of cholesterol in your bloodstream become the entrails we read to know if we will die soon. Calories consumed and burned become a scale of virtue, weighing our moral worth. Likes are a way to scry the hearts of others, to know how much they love you.

Did I say yet that this is a lie? Because it’s a lie.

This is a problem advertisers have grappled with for decades. There is no way to measure the hearts of humankind, so we measure what we can and pretend it’s the same thing. We have a whole arcane set of practices arisen solely from trying to derive truths about what we can’t measure from the things we can: conversion rates, A/B testing, sentiment analysis.

These numbers we can see and know feel like money in the bank. But the dirty truth is that I can’t count on all 6,757 of those people to buy a book. To the contrary, I can count on the fact that they won’t — and if I sell that many of anything, most of those people won’t know a hoot about where to find me online.

On Twitter, I can’t even count on all of my followers to even see my promotional efforts, no matter how hard I dance. Honestly, I can’t count on all of them to even be human beings, or to still be active on Twitter anymore if they are. So the loss of value to me in leaving is far less than 6,757 book sales, multiplied by however many books over however many years Twitter is the place to be.

How much less? Who can say?

This is an even more complicated problem when it’s not a career issue, but a personal one. It is nonetheless the same problem. You can have five hundred friends on Facebook but nobody to call to feed your pets because you have to make an emergency trip out of town. You can have five thousand Twitter followers and nobody who checks up on you at the right moment because they know you’ve been having a tough time these days, and they just want to see if you’re okay.

It’s possible that the 51 people who have subscribed to get my blog posts in email (and perhaps also the couple-hundred who read me in RSS)  are all the people on Twitter I could count on in the first place, as audience members, or as colleagues, or as friends.

We have a lot of ways to say this same thing. The map is not the territory. Quantity isn’t quality. And you know the alleged Mark Twain quote, that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics.   

Numbers can be real, and yet not true. Let’s not fool ourselves. And let’s not allow ourselves to be fooled. 


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Hope

Looking around at my friends and my communities, I see a lot of grief right now, and a lot of fear. Some of us are pragmatically planning for the worst and putting things in order. But some of us are catastrophizing—borrowing trouble we don't need from a future that is, may I remind you, still unknown and unknowable.

There may be trouble, true. A lot of bad things could happen. But don't assume that they will. Despair is the enemy right now. 

I mean this literally. One of the tools of GamerGate, of the Sad Puppies, and of the white supremacist alt-right is fear and despair. Their goal is to make targets feel isolated and alone, to hurt them until they no longer have the will to fight (or even the will to live.)

Hope for the future is more than just a feel-good placebo. Hope is an act of resistance. Hope is your weapon. And if you're finding it heavy to lift right now, let me remind you of these facts:

  • Over 60 million Americans cast a vote for Hillary Clinton in this election cycle—never forget, she won the popular vote. Don't listen to pundits calling this a major victory that rebukes everything Democrats have ever stood for. It was a squeaker, only lost by the electoral college. There is no mandate.
  • The Voting Rights Act went missing this year and it hit us hard. That means untold numbers of votes weren't cast at all—largely for Clinton. We are not the minority. We are not the minority.
  • All of those millions aren't just shedding a tear and moving on, either. Hundreds of thousands of people have been protesting in the streets in an inspiring expression of their First Amendment right to assembly.
  • There's more. As of this writing, 4.4 million people have signed a Change.org petition asking the Electoral College to intervene and make a different choice. Even if it comes to nothing, again, that's a lot of people, and a lot of determination.
  • Donations are pouring into Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and other groups planning to make a stand. We're literally putting our money where our mouths are.
  • The phone lines for US senators and representatives are getting so busy that some callers can't get through, and are even finding full voice mail boxes.
  • And it's already working. Today alone, our action inspired Congress members to strongly condemn the choice of white supremacist Steve Bannon for a job in the White House. Politicians are vowing to fight tooth and nail to protect their contituents.
  • If you're worried about fascism rolling over America while we look the other way? This isn't what that looks like. What we're seeing is action, not disbelieving resignation. And there's no reason to believe it's going to stop—not unless we let the alt-right tell us how to feel and what to believe.
  • Oh, and about that. If you don't think many of the upsetting extremist opinions you're reading are coming from comment factories in Russia? Whoooo boy do I have news for you.

Remember this, my friends. There is still goodness and kindness in the world. Hug your family, your friends, your pets. Smile at a stranger as you pass. Give a few dollars to a homeless person. Remember that love and kindness is what you're fighting to keep, and it's not gone. 

We're going to keep it that way.


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They Were Both...

This fucking election. This darkest timeline. I'm getting ready to fight, but some of us are still trying to pin blame — or to be blunt, to squirm away from having any blame placed upon them.

To that end, I'm seeing a sentiment around on the social medias that both sides were equally bad; that a vote for Trump was a vote for racism, sure. But a vote for Hillary was a vote for drone warfare, and the TPP, and for war in Syria and Russia. What did it matter anyway? They were equally bad, right?

But no, it turns out there is a difference between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. It's the difference between not moving forward as fast as you'd prefer and actively moving backward. In the last decade or so, these beautiful things happened: my gay friends were able to marry one another and start families for the first time. My trans friends started to feel comfortable transitioning openly in public. My friends with a severely disabled child were able to get care for her. My friends who are writers were for the first time able to afford health insurance.  

All of the Federal protections that allowed this blossoming of life and hope are going to be gone in the next year.

I have at least half a dozen close friends with chronic disabilities who are straight-up terrified they might actually and literally die in this next four years due to lack of health coverage. I have trans and gay friends, disabled friends, friends of color, who are terrified of being beaten in the streets by white supremacists. I'm terrified about my own temple and children being targeted by home-grown white supremacists.

That's the difference, and this is what we've lost. I could and would have protested against some of Hillary Clinton's policy. But you can't protest drone warfare or trade deals or pipelines, you can't advocate for single payer, you can't move the ball forward if you're fucking dead.


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Imzy: Off to a Good Start

Kace Alexander posted a couple of really amazing Medium pieces recently about how toxic Twitter has become and why that's never going to change, and the new contender on the horizon to become the next big social media thing: Imzy. Kace is very, very smart, and you should go read those pieces now. I won't be repeating that stuff here.

My personal experience of Twitter isn't actually bad on a day to day basis, but I am keenly aware of some harsh realities. I'm a woman. I work in games. I hold extremely left-wing politics. I've had a few scuffles with MRA-types that blow over fast, but the sword of Damocles hangs over me, just waiting for the right moment to fall. The better my career goes, the worse Twitter will be for me. 

I really need to start fostering other spaces that give me the same benefits in having a public-facing persona, the ability to connect with new people, and access to water coolers for talking shop and letting off steam that encompass entire industries.

So! Imzy. I have a community on Imzy already, and I'm happy to hand out invites—just give me a holler. I don't have the hang of Imzy yet, but it took me a long time to get the hang of Twitter, too. And the lesson I've learned from that is: I need a critical mass of other people there to make it more than just an extra chore.

Right now I'm using my community as a personal space to repost stuff from this blog and from Instagram. In turn, one of the reasons I woke up this blog is to start moving some thoughts off of Twitter. But I'm sure that usage is going to evolve over time, as Imzy's culture grows more established and best practices emerge.

Maybe join my critical mass on Imzy? And help carve out a kinder, safer space on the internet, where moderation exists and abuse isn't tolerated? It may work and it may not, but I feel like the right thing to do here is give it a vigorous and honest try.

 


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