Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Men Among the Ruins: The Death of Normativity, Otaku, and Male Power Groups - Part Two

Part One

Dead Knights, Dull Armor – Discredited Normativity and Male Rage

This is the second reason I brought up otaku at the start of this article: thanks to the works of Hiroki Azuma, most research on otaku in Japan has focused on a very Hegelian (via Kojeve) theory of the death of normativity in Japanese society.

In a nutshell: the evolution of the otaku subculture neatly demonstrates a parallel development in post-war Japanese society as a whole, namely, the move from pre-modern normativity to modern industrial rationalist normativity to postmodern ‘database’ animalist non-normativity. While I have my gripes with Azuma (not the least of which is his portrayal of modernity as normative), I cannot help but draw parallels between the death of social normativity in post-modern Japan and the broken social contract which motivates MRAs.
I won’t spend too much time explaining database animalism in this section. The critical point for the moment is isolating the reason why the rhetoric of entitlement resonates so powerfully with male-power groups. It is not enough to simply say that they are wrong, not when the message travels from host to host so easily. And in a sense, they are right. The social contract has been violated, it has been rewritten – not by devious women, but by the conditions of modern society. Much like the study of cults and racist organizations, the point of interest is not the ideology in itself, but rather how it can motivate rational beings.

Hegel’s Three Stages of History

I just did a summary on Hegel’s three stages of history in this post, and he hasn’t written anything new on the subject since then. Let’s move on.

The White Knights: “Nice Guys” vs. Hegel

I would place the “nice guys” into the transitional period between the pre-modern and modern periods because of the sense of betrayal they feel at not being rewarded for following what they see as the social contract. Indeed, on the internet, individuals of this type are often referred to as “white knights,” acting out a misplaced sense of chivalry on forums and in online games. While these individuals may not belong to the late pre-modern/early modern period in other facets of their life and worldview, in the area of sexual politics, they are either relics of an earlier age or intentionally affecting as such.
The White Knight in his natural environment
Certainly, the internet posts and forum rants of this type express a longing for gentler times, unaware (through genuine ignorance or intentional ignorance) of how rose-tinted their glasses are. The image of the white knight swooping in to the rescue is appropriate, for “nice guys” seem to model their relationships less on reality than on fairy tales. They exhibit a version what Azuma refers to as “fictional realism,” applying the normativities of fiction (white knights and princesses, gentlemen and ladies) to reality. They are not interested in returning to the realities of pre-feminist gender relations, but to an idealized fictional version which rewards moral virtue with romantic satisfaction.
When this fails to materialize, “nice guys” feel betrayed. They have done everything right, and yet other men (who are less virtuous) are rewarded with the princess. They are gallant knights, and yet women choose the cur. There is no reward to virtue, no “fairy-tale ending,” no proper output to the proper input. Hence the common lament that “women love jerks.”

“Style,” one of the most popular PUA gurus, comments on this very same phenomena. He tells a story about a friend who courted a woman for years, while attempting to live up to the ideal of the gentleman. He bought her flowers, asked her father for permission to marry her, took her to the best restaurants, refused to have sex before marriage, etc. – only to walk in on her in bed with a “jerk.”

This story may very well be apocryphal, but it gets the point across. The social contract which “nice guys” are operating under simply does not exist. Or rather, if it does exist, it exists only on the side of the “nice guys” who profess it, not those whom they expect to receive a reward from.

As silly as this may seem, consider it from the nice guys' position. They see this gallant normativity as a form of self-sacrificial love, as a willingness to expose themselves to the ridicule of a crass and unromantic world for the sake of another person. There is a truly pre-modern element to this, an understanding that they are operating according to a higher truth than that of our crass modern world.

After all, this is how the movie plays out, is it not? Particularly the part about clinging to belief in “true love” in a world that have given up on it. The hero is called out of the emotionally dead modern world to a higher mission, overcoming obstacles and facing opposition. He is rejected, mocked, and taken advantage of, but in the end love overcomes all opposition. The crass, the craven and lowly “jerks” are given their just desserts and the hero is paired with the perfect other.

This Monomyth-esque blueprint is fine for story-telling, but when we make it a blueprint for our lives, disaster follows. Women are not the prize at the end of a story, but active moral agents. For all of the nobility and self-sacrifice of heroes in stories, when we try to force someone else (female or male) into becoming our prize, we are not the hero but rather the evil sorcerer trying to trap the princess in our tower. Self-sacrifice does not count as noble if it is sacrifice for ourselves.

But take a moment to shed a tear for the noble “nice guy,” who strives so hard to give women what he thinks they want – no matter how little they want it.

I lead with the “nice guy” because MRAs and PUAs pick up from where the “nice guy” drops off. Both PUAs and MRAs recruit aggressively from the pool of disaffected self-proclaimed “nice guys.” This is how most of them started out; trying to scrape together meaning for their lives once the dream collapsed. Once the Monomyth fails, alternate normativities arise to take its place.
Social Animals: PUAs vs. Hegel

Moving on to PUAs, I would position them firmly within Hegel’s modern period, somewhere between the “moral valet” and Azuma’s “alienated normativity.” Much like the moral valet, they have seen the inherent silliness of the “nice guy” normative system and reject it. And just like that cynic, they paradoxically find moral superiority in rejecting a morality based on nothing more than human prejudice. It is the last moral stand of those without morals, a refusal to accept a system of morality that has no true basis.

However, PUAs are not pure moral valets, for they do operate according to a normative understanding of the world. Their ideology is not built around mere nihilism, but rather on a system of techniques for bringing order to that most “other” of the others: women. They construct elaborate timelines from initial meeting to sex, with detailed phases, shifts, checks, balances, and so on which purport to offer a fail-proof method not just for seduction, but for controlling female mind. This, more than sex, is the draw of PUA systems. Any person with a will and a weapon can physically force another person into sex. The desired goal is not forced sex, but to control a woman’s perceptions.

For example, one common PUA technique is “value-building.” Value-building consists of presenting oneself as an object worthy of a woman’s attention without overt bragging. It consists of little things – intentionally ignoring a conversation partner, “reluctantly” telling interesting life stories, and a thousand other little methods of establishing social dominance. They key is not forcing a woman into sex, but manipulating the social atmosphere so that you appear as a person worth knowing. By explaining tricks and tips of this nature, PUA guides claim to unravel the mysteries of the female mind.

Style’s mentor “Mystery” begins The Mystery Method with a rather telling introduction which situates his perspective on “The Game.” In his mind, PUAs are nothing less than the next step of evolution. Whereas the Darwinian goal of sex is to produce offspring, the advent of contraception and sexual liberation has changed the nature of success. PUAs are clever social animals, intent not on reproduction but satisfaction, running circles around the clumsy dinosaurs that still operate under the obsolete model of marriage and childbirth.
This model may be pure drivel, but Mystery sets it at the beginning of what is perhaps the most influential PUA guide ever written in order to provide context. While neophyte PUAs make be initially attracted to the idea of limitless sex, they are hooked by the idea of unraveling the mysteries of the Other, and then indoctrinated into a new normative system which provides meaning to life.

It cannot be emphasized enough that the PUA movement’s main driving force is not sexual conquest, but rather a total life system for bringing order and meaning to the lives of disaffected men. It is a structure which provides meaning, order, and even a sense of enlightenment; a sense that one has surpassed their previous, limited self. As Style later said, “The point was women; the result was men.”

As I said, it is best to position PUA ideology as a product of the modern period. It is not seen as part of an eternal order of the heavens (as in Antigone), but as one of many normative systems which atomized individuals can freely choose between. PUAs may consider their system the best and most true, but it is not an eternal, unchangeable dogma. Mystery presents it as a part of evolutionary theory, a step in a system of change. It is, however, difficult to say whether this new normativity is genuinely held by its practitioners (and is thus a hybrid modern-pre-modern ‘transitional’ normativity) or is held in a detached, ironic fashion (and is thus an ‘alienated’ normativity). I suppose it all comes down to the individual practitioner. All that can be said for sure is that it is not a truly sittlichkeit normativity.
Social Justice Warriors: MRAs vs. Hegel

It is no coincidence that the MRA movement has also arisen in the modern world. A pre-modern individual would not be able to conceive of rebelling against the existing order, but a modern individual can attack it as unfair human innovation which can (and should) be changed. While there have been what we might term “proto-MRAs” in the past, fighting against first-and-second-wave feminism, they largely took the role of protectors of what they considered to be the natural order. It was natural for the man to be the head of the household, it was natural for the man to work and the woman to raise the children. These were not seen as the most convenient order, but as the only possible moral order.
Conversely, MRAs do not generally position themselves as upholders of a lost moral order, but as subversives, as rebels fighting against a woman-made social order which is unfair to men. In an attempt to sound reasonable and impartial, many will even admit that the previous patriarchal society was unfair to women (although the more vitriolic consider women to be worth less than animals). The rhetoric is not that we must restore the natural order, but that we must restore the rights of men to a changing, mutable order.

Many MRAs do not consider themselves to be enemies of women, just enemies of those evil, scheming women who wish to dictate the behavior of men. The tired term “Femi-Nazis” is tossed around and the lunatic fringe of feminism is claimed to be normative. Gynocratic conspiracies are seen lurking behind the most mundane issues. Around dyed hair, beware indeed.
Oh, I get it!

I mentioned racist groups earlier, and MRAs resemble nothing so much as white-pride activists (as distinct from white-power activists). White-pride activists do not (publicly) claim that the white race is superior or that whites are destined to dominate and control all other races. They claim they only want the same dignity that other races are afforded; after all, if we can talk about “Black pride” or “Asian pride,” why not “White pride?”

MRAs and white-pride activists both see themselves as correctives against civil rights movements gone too far. In their minds, the civil rights push for equality has reversed itself, and a once-dominant group has become persecuted on the basis of their gender or skin color. By recognizing (begrudgingly, but still) the legitimacy of previous civil-rights movements, they seek to establish the legitimacy of their own complaints. More importantly, by not positioning themselves as “haters” and mimicking the language of egalitarianism, they feel justified in attacking their perceived enemies. After all, they don’t hate women, just those women. They don’t hate minorities, just those minorities.

In a bizarre twist on Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream, these groups claim to judge their enemies, not on the color of their skin or gender, but on the content of their character. Of course, the “content of their character” is here defined as “whether or not they agree with our ideology.” By claiming they are fighting for equality, they are able to position anyone who opposes them as enemies of equality. Simply denying the validity of the group’s more bizarre claims or even defending a target of their abuse is seen as ample proof that an individual is the enemy of true egalitarianism.

Turning back to MRAs exclusively, it is not unusual to see MRAs lambasting their opponents for not upholding the values of feminism. For example, they may engage in “slut shaming,” claiming that a woman has slept their way to the top, and thus provides a poor example for other women. Alternately, they may attack anyone seeking increased representation for women in media where they are traditionally underrepresented (or represented as giggling nymphs). By treating calls for equal representation as calls for extraordinary representation, they position themselves as resisting “inequality.” This of course echoes white-pride resistance to affirmative action policies or teaching non-European-male history in classrooms as “unequal” representation.

For MRAs, the “real” issue is not whether or not women are underrepresented in, say, video games. Even if they are underrepresented, any corrective action or public statement in support of better representation is seen as a demand for extraordinary representation. In their minds, “Women should be better represented in video games” and “Your main character must be a independent womyn or we will use our female sorcery to cut off your dick while you sleep” are equivalent statements.

MRAs are without a doubt cynical, in that they view normativity as a battleground which is up for grabs. However, it is difficult to portray them as fully alienated, in that they still operate according to an overarching normativity and still display moral outrage. This outrage, this bubbling anger over the disparity between the real world and ideal world positions MRAs at the middle of the modern era, not at its end.

Next Time: History’s Unmarked Grave – Divergent Responses to the End of Normativity

Friday, November 21, 2014

[BoRT Nov. 2014] Lebensraum and Ichsraum: Self-Portrait in Civilization 4

Nov. 2014 Blogs of the Round Table           

 “What is happiness? The feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome.”
            -Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power

            -Flavor text for the Superconductors technology, Civilization 4

            Confession: I am not what you’d call a homemaker.

            My apartment only has two pieces of furniture that I actually own – a bed and bookshelves. The walls are completely bare unless you count white paint. I take the time to throw my clothing in the closet, but everything else I own is in cardboard boxes strewn across the floor. I sit on couch cushions because I can’t be bothered to buy a couch. Form does not follow function in my living environments, functions follow functions.

            I have a sizable collection of coffee-table books, but no coffee tables.

            This lack of concern for living environments is reflected in how I play games. When Skyrim’s Hearthfire expansion came out, I had more fun collecting wood and stone to build houses than decorating/living in the house. My Sims houses are storage containers for skill-improving items and showers. For me, houses are places where you put stuff you don’t want to carry around, not an end to themselves.

            This does not mean, however, that I do not carve out spaces for my own.

By posting this image,
I have doomed myself
To a 30-hour marathon
                Enter Civilization 4, the 2005 game that has consumed more of my waking hours than any other form of media. If you’ve never played a Civilization game, I cannot recommend it. If you don’t like strategy games, it will be a waste of your time and money. If you do like strategy games, it will steal the bulk of your free time for the rest of your natural life.

                I was briefly able to escape the lure of Civ 4 for a glorious year or two by uninstalling it and destroying the game disc. Then a well-meaning friend bought me a Steam copy. Le sigh. Now I can never truly escape it.

                But in a sense, I do not want to escape this game. It’s like an old sweater or a beloved pair of jeans. The moment I hear the music of the opening video, I am already enthralled. When I select the “New Game” option, my mind is whirling with the possibilities, all of the possible permutations of options, maps, nations, and leaders. Even before the game starts, I have my moves planned out a hundred steps in advance. I know each modifier, just where to put the slider on the scales to create the exact experience I am craving.

"The same thing we do every night, Monty.
Try to take over the world!"
                The basic concept of Civilization is simple: you are put in charge of a group of nomadic humans who are ready to settle down and start a family civilization. You will guide these people, or rather, this people-group, from learning how to hunt and fish all the way to space ships and Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. Along the way you will come into contact and conflict with other civilizations. As each civilization’s borders spread, land and resources that can be peacefully exploited run out and war becomes inevitable.

               Even without the material issues of land and resources, Civilization 4 also raises tensions between civilizations that have different government civics and religions. And of course, some leaders are simply more war-like. Though there are many different ways to win the game (technology, culture, diplomacy, conquest, and highest score), the easiest and fastest way to win is to exterminate or subjugate your rivals. At the end of the game there will only be one civilization which truly stands “the test of time.”

                As I play a game of Civilization 4, my nation, my people become a reflection of my personality. I make choices which impact the virtual lives of my subjects – I choose which buildings to build, which technology to prioritize, what type of government we will have, which religion we will follow, and where to expand our borders. Changes in government are called “revolutions,” but whether my civilization is a slave-holding fascist theocracy or a liberal democratic ecotopia depends on one person’s whim. Governments can be overthrown but the Leader, the central governing consciousness, cannot. I am the incarnate spirit of a nation, of a people.

                I tend to build civilizations with strong culture and technology, not because I am dedicated to peaceful victory, but because being strong in these areas makes it easier to wage war. With strong technologies, I can exploit resources faster and build more terrible machines of death. With strong culture, I can easily hold on to the gains of war and push back the borders of my neighbors. And by owning the Holy City of the largest religion, my civilization generates enough income to fund my reckless expansion.

                I do not engage in diplomacy to find common ground or to ease tensions, but to orchestrate elaborate alliances against my rivals. I goad my enemies into attacking me first, making them the aggressor and myself as a hapless victim who is forced to subjugate their cities. I bribe my allies into joining these wars at strategic points, splitting my enemy’s forces and forcing them to fight on two fronts. My civilization, the representation of my will in this world, topples enemy after enemy, swelling from a single city into entire hemispheres.

                As a pacifist, this is all extremely disturbing. I used to play the game in line with my personal moral values, but turning the other cheek is not a valid strategy in Civilization 4. My allies declared war on me along with my enemies and laid my token defenses to waste. I tried engaging only in Just Wars of defense and showing mercy at the soonest opportunity, but this left my people weakened without adding any new territories. I tried trusting my allies, and they used this as an opening for betrayal.

                I have spent more time in Civilization 4 than any other fictional space, but it can only ever be home to my worst instincts. The instinct to control, the instinct to destroy, the instinct to make my ego-consciousness spread over the earth and crush all opposing voices. I wonder if my civilization truly represents any “people” as it spreads from Asia into Africa, from Europe to the New World, as it crushes a half dozen unique cultures and absorbs them into my spreading mass.

                In the end-game statistics, I see that my people were not the happiest, healthiest, or best fed – just the ones with the most cunning and ruthless leader. I neglected my own people in order to crush other nations that were more capable of caring for their own. My people have been subjected to millennia-long war efforts in order to expand my Self.

                Oh, it is true that I would have been attacked even if I did not engage in war. Some other leader would have marched across my people’s land, burned their crops, ravaged their cities, and subjugated them to some other regime. But the result would be the same. A third leader would look upon my people’s conqueror with envy and another war would begin. Allies would betray allies, and the wars would continue until a master dominated all. There is no passive resistance in Civilization 4, only the self-eating snake.

                As the game progresses, I start to become bored. There is no longer any question of if or how I will win, only when. I have already toppled any rival who presented a credible threat. All that remains is the bullying of progressive weaker nations, until I am crushing feudal societies with tanks and attack helicopters. In a particularly well-played game, I will be building an interplanetary space ship and nuking defenseless cities, not because I must, but to stave off boredom. And yet the game rewards me for this senseless slaughter of innocents by raising my score. I have more totally dominated my rivals. I have more completely imposed my will on the world.

                The longer I have played Civilization 4, the more adept I have become at using both the sword and the plowshare to dominate my rivals. My power grows and grows, but there is little resistance left to overcome. I feel a strange sense of pity for my computer-generated rivals. I tweak the settings, shuffle the maps, install mod packs, and set arbitrary goals for myself to keep the game interesting. But I must face the truth eventually – I have grown to fill every nook and cranny of this home. Every modification to the scenario simply expands my power over the total set.

                It’s that Old Hegelian Rag, the Tragedy of the Master. The more power I have over my rivals, the less I see them as human, the less meaning I find in their overthrow and defeat. There is no glory in defeating a slave, in nuking a feudal city, in running a knight under the treads of my tanks. I am the boot on the face of humanity, but it gives me no joy.

                This, perhaps, is the sad lot of the immortal master. When the game announces “The End of History,” the world is filed with the sacred silence that my self has wrought. I can choose to keep playing the game out into a speculative eternity, but there are no more worlds to conquer, no descendants to pass the fruits of my conquest on to, just a solitary blue planet to rule over forever and ever, Amen.

                Or, I can start a new game.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Men Among the Ruins: The Death of Normativity, Otaku, and Male Power Groups - Introduction & Part One

[Let's set a new land speed record for shark-jumping.]


In this series, I will compare Japanese otaku with another subculture that at first glance may seem worlds apart: Western Men’s Rights Activists (MRA). I will also discuss two related male power groups, generic “nice guys” and Pick-Up Artists (PUA), due to the fact that all three groups seem to stem from the same stream of male dissatisfaction with modern life.[1]

Note that all of these groups are highly decentralized and have no formal requirements for claiming their respective titles other than self-identification. As such, I will treat them less as formal groups and more as trends.

There are two motivations for this project. First is my ongoing efforts to expand on the critical apparatus of Hiroki Azuma into non-Japanese contexts. Second, there has been a recent rash of debate on misogyny in Western geek culture (particularly the video game industry).

While I will focus more on MRAs in general than geek culture in particular, given that the video game controversy is being portrayed as a clash between pro-feminist “Social Justice Warriors” and pro-masculine “Men’s Rights Activists,” the applicability should be clear.

While my main goal is to get to the normative root of the issue, I think that there is no better demonstration of this issue than the ongoing “Gamergate” controversy. While Western geek culture is generally seen as transgressive and anti-establishment, Gamergate has revealed a strong undercurrent of rightism. This has provide a prime example of the fact that “anti-establishment” and “leftist” are by no means synonyms. 

My goal is not to demonize the right or Western geek culture as regressive or discriminatory. It is to build a critical apparatus for understanding where this trend is coming from without succumbing to the Middle Ground fallacy (i.e., everyone is equally wrong). The goal is to understand, not to excuse or accuse.

There are two points of similarity and one point of divergence with otaku that I would like to explore: Non-Traditional Marginalization, Discredited Normativity, and Divergent Responses to Alienation.

Non-Traditional Marginalization

So, I did my graduate thesis on otaku studies. This should tell you two things: I clearly had nothing better to do with my time and money, and I'm used to critically interpreting social groups that have been non-traditionally marginalized.

What do I mean by non-traditional marginalization? Otaku do not represent an oppressed social class on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexuality, or even financial status. Otaku are one of the few social subcategories with relative financial stability in post-bubble Japan.
Despite the stereotype of the hikikomori shut away from society in their parent’s house, Japanese otaku earn more on average than their non-otaku peers and are no more likely to be “parasite singles” than their peers. While anything approaching a true demographic study of “otaku-ness” would be difficult, our average out-of-the-closet otaku would be a male, politically conservative, heterosexual, relatively financially stable member of the predominant racial group of Japanese society.

If we are to speak about discrimination against otaku, we are not talking about social class but social status; a group discriminated against because of their chosen consumption patterns, not because of an oppressive social structure.

MRAs and Japanese otaku share the distinction of being a non-traditionally marginalized group whose members become marginalized by voluntary association. While it would take the stretchiest of stretches to claim that Western heterosexual males represent a discriminated-against group (though this is in fact the claim MRAs make), identifying oneself as an MRA carries a level of stigma which lies somewhere in the neighborhood of declaring oneself a hipster, otaku, or Nazi.

While we may safely dismiss many of the claims made by MRAs, there is still a legitimate point of interest in the existence of MRAs. To describe oneself as an MRA drives a wedge between oneself and society. Why would a person chose to do this?
Just as otaku are often assumed to be psycho-sexual deviants or Peter Pans who refuse to graduate into legitimate adulthood, there is a tendency to assume that MRAs are MRAs simply and only because they are spoiled, entitled misogynists jealous of the attention paid to minority issues. After all, being a western male CIS gender heterosexual is about as far from being an oppressed group that you can get without also being a multi-billionaire (and we might as well throw in being a white Protestant aristocrat – so basically, the King of Sweden).

Of all of the labels that get thrown at MRAs and related male power groups, I think the term that most legitimately applies is “entitled.” Whether we look at the rantings of MRAs, self-proclaimed “nice guys,” or PUA guides, a base-line theme emerges: I am entitled to something I am not getting.
This is most easily seen in your garden variety “nice guy rant.” “My behavior (niceness) entitles me to an expected reward (romantic fulfillment), but society (/women/liberals/the gynocratic conspiracy) has failed to fulfill its end of the bargain. The problem is not on my end (I am nice); therefore, the problem must lie somewhere else.” MRAs and PUAs come in to explain the failure of the social contract. In the case of MRAs, the problem lies with feminists, political correctness in general, or simply with those deceitful Delilahs, women.

PUAs have a (surprisingly) more nuanced approach: for PUAs, the problem does in fact lie in the “nice guy’s” understanding of the social contract. In PUA ideology, nice guys (or AFCs, “Average Frustrated Chumps”) are living in a fantasy world. Women do not “owe” sex or romance to nice guys, but rather to those who have manipulative social skills – those who give women what they “really” want. Until nice guys discard their obsolete social contract and change into PUAs, they will remain unworthy of the attention of women.

Now, I hope no one will to take the above to mean that I support PUA ideology. What I want to point out is that they are simply replacing one social contract with another, one way to “deserve” sex with another. Sex is still seen as the inevitable output of the proper inputs, of the proper application of a skill set, instead of a mutual activity in which women are equal participants.

MRAs represent the opposite end of the spectrum. Simply put, the motivating fear is not that women have become equals (or, God forbid, were equals the entire time), but rather that women have become dominant. MRAs position men on the passive side of relationships, as objects and not as agents. Men are outputs, not inputs, who are pinned and struggling under the power of women.

Despite the threats of murder and rape breathed by the more extreme MRAs, the ultimate goal of your average frustrated MRA is not the domination of women, but to avoid becoming women themselves – objects, outputs, means instead of ends. This is why MRAs can un-ironically claim they are fighting for equal rights. In their minds, this is exactly what they are fighting for.

This then is the situation as I understand it:

Perceived Social Contract
Perceived Problem
“Nice Guy”
Nice men receive romance
Women do not uphold the social contract
Cunning men receive sex
AFCs do not understand the social contract
Women control men
The social contract is unfair to men

This is why I have emphasized the concept of “entitlement.” In all three cases, there is an assumption that a normative social structure dictates interactions between men and women. In two cases (Nice Guys and MRAs), women are perceived as the source of the problem, breaching normativity/the social contract or enforcing an unfair social contract. In one case (PUAs), the majority of men (AFCs) have failed to uphold their end of the social contract and have only themselves to blame. But in all cases, men are in some way entitled to women.

Naturally, when speaking about phenomena as diverse and decentralized as male power groups, we will have to deal in generalizations. Your mileage with this rubric may vary when dealing with the writings or the mindset of a particular individual, but I feel comfortable enough with it as an overall snapshot to push forward to the next point: where did the “nice guy” social contract come from, and why is it such a powerful motivator of male behavior in contemporary society?
[For the record, I consider myself slightly to the right of Hitler. That socialist ninny.]

[1]I will be using the terms “pre-modern,” “modern,” and “post-modern” in line with their original Hegelian sense of “pre-enlightenment non-alienation,” “post-enlightenment alienation,” and “post-enlightenment non-alienation.”  These definitions differ from the common historiographical and social science definitions, which style our contemporary world as “post-modern." Not that there's anything wrong with that usage of the terms, they just have different definitions in Hegel.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Who Frames Roger Rabbit? - Cartoon Characters as Recognized Individuals (Part Eight/Conclusion)

Part Seven

[Alright folks, that's enough video games for now. Less Jung, more Hegel!]

This brings us to the second definition of Mickey Mouse, that is, Mickey Mouse as an artificial self-consciousness. As a fictional character defined by his artificial network of social relations and personal affective elements such as cheerfulness, Mickey Mouse does not just have the appearance of outer life, but of inner.

This self consciousness does not, of course, have any grounding in physical reality. The ink and paper drawings and binary code, the physical material of which depictions of Mickey Mouse are composed, do not have the capability of independent thought. The imitation of internal life is created by the artists and voice actors who recreate the logic of Mickey Mouse's network of affective elements into individual depictions.

But this form of artificial self consciousness has tangible effects on true self consciousnesses. Consumers are able to form a functional mutual recognition with this virtual self consciousness. This affective bond is portrayed as mutual, as if Mickey Mouse were an actual self consciousness capable of forming recognitive bonds not just with other cartoon characters, but with living human beings. As the Mickey Mouse Club March claims:

“Who's the leader of the club
That's made for you and me?
...Come along and sing a song
And join the jamboree”
At risk of stating the obvious, this song portrays Mickey Mouse as an active agent, capable of fulfilling a leadership role in a community which includes the viewer among its members. Just as cartoon characters sometimes “break the fourth wall” to address the audience directly, the audience is encouraged to enter the fictional network of mutual recognition which Mickey Mouse “leads.”

Even if we try to dismiss this as a crass marketing strategy intended to encourage economic consumption of Mickey Mouse products, the fact remains that it worked quite effectively. The same network of affective elements that allows consumers to recognize Mickey from film to film also allows them to recognize him as part of their own environment. This can only be achieved by presenting Mickey as a legitimate actor with an internal life capable of forming mutual recognitive bonds. Mickey Mouse is presented as a legitimate dancer in the Bacchanalian jamboree.

Last, I would like to discuss Mickey Mouse as an object of self-consciousness. As referenced at the beginning of this section, Geist truly begins with the transformation “of the object of consciousness into an object of self-consciousness.” Our experience with Mickey Mouse is itself a form of content, an object of consciousness which arises from our self-consciousness.

What appears at first as an “Other,” the artificial self-consciousness known as Mickey Mouse, becomes revealed as part of the Self. The affective elements, whose “determinateness seems at first to be due entirely to the fact that it is related to an other, and its movement seems imposed on it by an alien power; but having its otherness within itself, and being self-moving, is just what is involved in the simplicity of thinking itself; for this simple thinking is the self-moving and self-differentiating thought. It is its own inwardness, it is the pure Notion” (55).

This content, as a "function of self-consciousness,“shows that its determinateness is not received from something else, nor externally attached to it, but that it determines itself, and ranges itself as a moment having its own place in the whole” (53). The content which is Mickey Mouse is not the physical ink and paper or the affective elements (i.e. the object which presents itself to consciousness), but rather what Mickey Mouse is to self-consciousness.

The content which is “Mickey Mouse” is “the process in which Spirit becomes what it is in itself,” the motion of an object of consciousness which is transformed by self-consciousness into an object of self-consciousness. As an object of consciousness, Mickey Mouse is affective elements and ink and paper, but as content, Mickey Mouse is a function of human self-consciousness.

The ability of the human mind to experience and recognize Mickey Mouse is not dependent on the otherness of Mickey Mouse. It is not “imposed on it by an alien power,” but is self-generated. This perhaps explains why sequential art evolved in terms of the Three Stages. The production of sequential art was limited, not by the alien power of the medium, but by the internal self-limitations of the artists and the conditions of self-consciousness in the times they lived.

Perhaps this is why it is so easy to take the existence of cartoon characters for granted while ignoring the ramifications of their existence. The existence of Mickey Mouse feels natural, so simple that a child can understand it without explanation.

And yet what is natural about a round-eared sentient mouse that transverses time periods, societies, and social roles as easily as we change our clothing? What is natural about a being that transcends space and time, acknowledges his own existence as a fictional character and yet forms recognitive bonds with living human beings?

Quite simply, it feels natural because Mickey could only exist on the basis of mutual recognitive determinateness, i.e. the boundary conditions of our current self-consciousness. And it is because he could only exist under these conditions that no one feels the need to object to Mickey Mouse in the same way they object to Altruism or Justice. Justice was possible under the boundary conditions of the First Stage, and so moral valets can always object to it on the basis that the First Stage was found wanting.

Mickey Mouse was not possible under the boundary conditions of the First Stage. Lack of an actual physical existence as part of the architecture of the universe is one of the preconditions of his existence, not a proof that he does not exist. If he had a physical, biological existence, he could not fulfill the functions of a Third Stage cartoon character – it would be a detriment to his ability to fulfill contradictory roles in space and time.

So if Mickey Mouse could only exist under the conditions of the Third Stage, he is a “living” example that Third Stage mutual recognitive determinateness can actually work. By recognizing the ontology of cartoon characters, we have taken a critical step forward in understanding just what post-enlightenment sittlichkeit looks like in the real world and how other concepts may be established by mutually recognitive communal normativity.

Conclusion: The Measure of a Mouse

What is a cartoon character? In this series, I have argued that cartoon characters such as Mickey Mouse exist in four forms:

-As objects of consciousness composed of affective elements
-As individual manifestations of a network of affective elements (i.e. pen and ink drawings)
-As artificial self-consciousness with which living beings can form mutually recognitive bonds
-As a function of human self-consciousness, determined by the boundary conditions of that very same self-consciousness and not by the “alien other”

Perhaps more than anything else, cartoon characters are a part of the Bacchanalian Jamboree, dancers in the revel of truth that drop in and out as they become useful, much as any other concept. As such, they deserve our attention as legitimate objects of study as much as any other of their “more respectable” fellow dancers. Though Hegel does not discuss cartoon characters in Phenomenology of Spirit, their evolution provides an case study for his Three Stages of History and as an indicator of the future development of the Third Stage.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

BoRT Followup/Response to "Masks Upon Masks"

Previous: [Oct. 2014] The Mask of Sanity

Readers (and I say that now that there are people who have read this blog instead of just me and the spam bots), I am feeling a bit overwhelmed.

Earlier this week, I submitted a post for Critical Distance's October Blogs of the Round Table feature. Critical Distance is a great site for keeping up with games journalism/criticism, and I have a lot of respect for what they do, but I submitted my post mostly as a lark. October's BoRT had a fun topic ("Masks"), so I wrote a response for fun, purely for kicks. Please, understand when I say that I had purely the worst of intentions. I certainly never expected for anyone to really read it, let alone write this excellent response piece by Mark Filipowich.

Mr. Filipowich has put me in an awkward position of having people actually read something I wrote. Prior to his response piece, most of this blog's visitors were most likely confused ESLs looking for pictures of Mickey Mouse. Alas, now I am confronted by humans who intentionally visited the blog.

Incidentally, according to the traffic statistics, if you are reading this blog, there is a 30% chance that you are in Canada. Or possibly masking your IP address to appear Canadian. Or possibly using Google Canada instead of your own national Google for some reason.

Ok, that's enough about Canada. Let's talk about Persona 3.

By way of disclaimer, I haven't finished Persona 3. I started it, but there was an incident and my copy was stolen at a point just far enough in to make restarting it too painful. However, as Mark points out in his article (Masks Upon Masks: Layers of Identity in Persona 3), its Player Character (who I will also refer to as "William Scully") does not seem nearly as psychotic as Yu Narukami.

Now, Mark claims that the "empty state" of Scully is celebrated in Persona 3, and I would agree. However, it is also celebrated in Persona 4 to perhaps an even greater degree (once again, I haven't finished 3 and I've played through 4, like, three times). Narukami's ability to be without an inner self is presented in the context of being a "chosen one," a nigh-messianic figure of redemption.

Even if Scully is also a messianic figure, there are two main reasons why I think Mark is right to situate his (or her is FeS) as an example of positive growth and healthy social flexibility rather than a psychotic shell without an inner self.

First is the method by which the two main characters summon their Personas. Scully summons using the "Evolver," a gun-shaped device which literally "blows his brains out" in the form of a Persona. This clearly situates his Personas as being truly rooted in his inner self. He may develop new Personas and powers through his interactions with others, but they truly become a part of his inner self. He can use them as masks, but they are masks born through internalization.

Narukami summons his Personas via Tarot cards, which makes them relatively distant. Granted, all of the other characters also use Tarot cards, but their Personas are clearly situated in the context of a humanizing personal trauma and growth. Lacking this personal trauma and growth and receiving his powers purely from external factors makes Narukami seem more divorced from his inner self than Scully.

This leads us to the second point: Scully has a clearly defined personal trauma (dead parents) which is integral to the game's story and to which he responds in a very human fashion. He starts out as a moody longer, but learns to open up to others as the game goes on. Interacting with others is recognative - it causes both parties to open up and grow. Narukami's affable blandness takes on an almost sinister tone in contrast.

Scully's lack of a strong identity is both rooted in the character's personal history and give him the ability to truly grow. His lack of self opens him up to others - as Mark says, "that emptiness is used as a way to connect to others, not to deceive them."

If I had to take a guess on why Atlus decided to write Narukami the way they did (a dangerous proposition at best), I would guess that they were shooting to build on the success of Scully. "If a mostly-empty character is good, a completely-empty character will be better." If players can use Scully to carve out a new identity, a character who is even more of a blank state will allow them to identify even better with the main character.

Maybe Atlus was right - Persona 4 is making money hand over fist, to the point where it has allowed Atlus to revive the cast of Persona 3 for an anime and a mash-up game with Persona 4. I certainly enjoyed the crap out of 4. The subtle vibe of unease with its main character did not become a full-fledged creepiness until I saw the anime version - saw what it looked like for a human to treat other humans in this way from a third-person perspective. After all, my Narukami did have an internal emotional consistency - even when the game punished me for it (*cough* hospital scene *cough*).

Persona 5 comes out next year. Its teaser trailer promises a theme of chains and a classic game trailer cryptic phrase: "You are a slave. Want emancipation?" It's way to early to speculate what direction Atlus is going with this, but it will be interesting to see if its main character (who I am preemptively naming "Bojangles Morimoto") will be emotionally centered or adrift. Will Atlus take a new direction for Bojangles or just more of the same? Is it even possible to create a character more empty and mask-like than Narukami without having the narrative break down? What slavery is Atlus challenging us to liberate ourselves from - the chains imposed on us by recognizing others, or the slavery which binds us to an emotionally sterile self?

It's too early to speculate, but whatever direction Atlus takes, I for one will be rooting for Bojangles Morimoto.


Next: [Nov. 2014] Lebensraum and Ichsraum