Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Catchet and Value: A Little Competition

                I spend a lot of time reading white power blogs.

                It’s not because I agree with them, mind you. I intentionally avoid discussing my ethnicity/gender/sexuality on this blog, but let’s just say that I am not the flavor of human that white power advocates like.

                But I nonetheless love these racist blogs, how they build a rational apparatus around a definitively non-rational worldview. They take a patently discredited idea (whites are inherently biologically, morally, and intellectually superior to non-whites) and then build intricate intellectual systems around it.

                In a (very specific) way, white power ideology is the same as any other critical apparatus. The biggest issue that I have with Marxist, Freudian, or even Feminist literary criticism is that they force an external apparatus onto the text, sometimes seeing things that are only there if you subscribe to a certain worldview. They are valuable as part of your critical toolkit, but can also put an obstacle between you and the text.

Sometimes a spaceship is just a spaceship
                This also applies to the critics that I personally favor – Hegel, Jung, and Christ. They all provide me with powerful tools, but I intentionally switch between them and others in order to examine texts from multiple, conflicting angles. By engaging in multiple active dissections of the text, I get a better sense of it than when I dogmatically commit to a single system.
              This is a very simple truth that is very easy to forget: more viewpoints means a better picture. You need special cameras to make a proper 3D movie – adding 3D in Post just doesn’t look as good.
                Whatever issues I have with Feminist criticism as a single monolithic viewpoint, it is extremely valuable as an additional angle (unlike white power criticism, which I use solely for novelty purposes). As much of a Jesus fan as I am, researching the viewpoints of other religions provides a much-needed counterweight to blind dogmatism. By opening up myself to others, I am able to see a bigger picture.
                All of this becomes more powerful when it is not located solely within the self. If having multiple viewpoints within oneself is a valuable tool, opening yourself up to the viewpoints of others is even better. The bigger the conversation gets, the more unique takes we have on a given subject, and the greater the likelihood we will arrive at a complete picture.
                But there is a difference between Value and Cachet.
                I should warn you that I am going to venture into an argument that may at first seem like something from a white power blog. We have all encountered a version of this argument and danced the Reverse Discrimination Tango. As much as games criticism is in dire need of fresh, non-King of Sweden perspectives (White Male CIS Hetero Physically Abled yada yada yada), there is something distasteful about forcing the Kings of Sweden out of the conversation on the basis of their skin (and yada yada yada).
                This is where this argument diverges into two forms. In one argument, conversations are a limited resource and the mere existence of programs, blogs, or critical spaces which give a platform exclusively to non-Kings of Sweden is a bad thing. Every journal must be a pure Darwinian meritocracy, where only the strong shall survive. Any attempt to encourage the formation of new voices is tantamount to intellectual socialism. If the proverbial Black Muslim Handicapped Trans Lesbian cannot cut it in the free market of ideas, then they deserve to fail.
                This is an argument that we can more or less reject out of hand. The free market does not work without regulation – monopolies crowd out competition and put shackles around the Invisible Hand. Those with hiring power tend to hire people they relate to, people who are like themselves. If these are the ideas assigned value by the powerful, only people who share these ideas will be given a platform.
                But there is a legitimate point buried beneath the bullshit. There is a substantive difference between Value and Cachet. Cachet views alternate voices as an arbitrary quota which must be numerically fulfilled without any consciousness of how these voices improve the conversation. There are blogs and magazines that want alternate voices only for Cachet, their ability to point to a writer and say “Hey! We can’t be racist/sexist/intolerant/generally terrible human beings because we have X writer on staff!”
                It’s the “Black Friend” argument, the idea that acknowledging the existence of “The Good Ones” is incompatible with being racist. The “Black Friend” (swap out for “Hispanic Friend,” “Gay Friend,” or “Female Friend” as necessary) is not Valued for their unique contributions as an individual but given Cachet for how they prop up another’s image.
                “I can’t be homophobic, I kiss everyone when I’m drunk!”
                “I can’t be transphobic, I Liked a gender-swapped Mario cosplay on Facebook!”
                “I can’t be misogynist, I looooove them titties!"
                My magazine can’t be pushing regressive male-power fantasies, we hired a girl - who we keep on a tight leash lest she let slip some insight into the female condition (lol, menses joke) that angers our subscribers.
                The Kings of Sweden are right about one thing: Cachet is not the same as Value. As much as I support publications that decide to recruit writers outside of the white male circle jerk (lol, mental image), this has very little meaning if these voices are muzzled. Quotas are indeed not a good thing, but not because they go too far. The point of pursuing diversity is to get something that you are incapable of producing yourself, not to hear your own talking points delivered in a different accent.
                So I understand why the Kings of Sweden rage when a magazine or company hires a sub-standard writer simply because they need to round out their minority roster. I understand the meritocratic ideal of color-blind competition. But I absolutely reject the claim that institutions can function as pure meritocracies, given that humans are humans and humans are demonstrably terrible people.
                Meritocracy is a noble theory but it only works in reality if we ignore the existence of the Good Old Boy System, the network of contacts and favors that renders the idea of truly free competition ludicrous. One of the best ways to combat the Good Old Boy System without imposing arbitrary quotas is the development of alternate networks which provide similar boosts to alternate voices (although in practice, these alternate networks have less funding and leverage than the G.O.B.S.).
                More importantly, I refuse to confuse Cachet with Value. It is easy to prove that Cachet is worthless, but Cachet is simply not the same thing as Value. So I completely support the building of alternative spaces which exclude the Kings of Sweden and give alternative voices a shot at breaking into the conversation. Some may worry that this means less of the pie for those who “truly deserve it.” I say it means giving everyone an equal shot to prove that they truly deserve the pie. Even better, it forces the market to expand beyond its safety zone, meaning more pie for everyone.
                Sure, there may be an Inuit Asexual Buddhist Southpaw out there who is an objectively terrible writer. Alternative spaces have to make tough, market-driven decisions too. But alternative spaces also generally understand that Cachet is not Value. How could they not? They have to work on smaller budgets, get less access to the industry, and are even more dependent on their supporters than the G.O.B.S. could ever imagine. You think the market is a brutal place? It’s even more brutal for outsiders.
                Do you oppose hiring people for their Cachet? Fine, I agree. The question is, are you actively seeking out alternate voices for their Value? On a long enough timeline, profits for all industries approach zero – more competitors fighting for the same pie (even if they’re all Kings of Sweden) means less pie for all competitors. Even if game criticism is a profit-driven business, you cannot deny that without innovation, without intentionally reaching out for new ideas and new markets, businesses wither up and die. 
                So fuck Cachet. Show me what you Value. Prove to me that you are willing to risk short term loss in a crowded and dying market for long term gain in new, growing markets. Prove to me that the white male circle jerk is your worst-case scenario. Diversity should never be an artificially imposed policy, but a rational recognition that seeing the whole picture makes you objectively stronger.
                Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go re-read The Turner Diaries.

No comments:

Post a Comment