I hope you’ll forgive me if I talk a bit about current events. I used to live in and around Baltimore, so seeing places I know and used to hang out at in the news is somewhat poignant. No pictures today, there is little I want to do less than look for context-appropriate images for this post.
I really, really wish Baltimore had been a surprise. I think the only uncertain thing is the specific location. The messaging has been around for, at the very least, about a year, since Ferguson, and it’s painfully apparent that lessons have not been learned. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and evaluating my feelings on the series of situations, and honestly my takeaway is that they’re complicated. This isn’t a shock to me– it’s a whole bunch of people and people are complicated.
What bothers me is that the conversations that are bubbling up are following the same trends as before. They make an attempt to simplify the situation into a word, a phrase, a tweet, or a one-liner, paired with a single, still image if possible. We have evolved a communications culture that values pithy lines and simple, straightforward messages delivered precisely and at high speed, and in that we struggle with issues that aren’t so easily boiled down.
I’m also put in mind of this article, which I thought was excellent. In essence, it points out that we conflate “happy” with “good”, such that if something makes us happy, it must follow that that thing is good, and if something makes us unhappy, it must not be good.
Games put this in stark relief, even the most cursory look at games forums will make that apparent, but games have no monopoly on the concept. People like to think of *themselves* as good, and therefore if they’re happy, things must be good, because if things weren’t good, then they wouldn’t be happy. If someone else is unhappy, they must be doing something incorrectly. This filters down to every level. I’ve heard myself wondering what I’m doing wrong so as not to be happy, and becoming uncertain about my own life choices — my own “goodness” — as a result. When I’m happy, and someone points out that things are wrong, my immediate instinct is to rationalize them– I’m happy, so things must be okay, somehow. My mind will flail at any thread to find that rationalization. Similarly, if I’m not happy, but my situation is objectively “good”, I find myself trying to rationalize to myself why I should be happy. Happy = good, and it’s really deeply ingrained.
We see both things in Baltimore. The quick, not-whole-picture snippets that make for one-liners and tweets and one-word descriptions of feelings reduce the situation into rationalizable chunks. I’ve seen a lot of people post the same pictures, latching onto one image or another as support for their viewpoint. Others try to take a middle ground between the two. The reality is that there is a lot going on, and that there are human beings involved at every point. Human beings are incredibly complicated; there’s not some line of Good People and Evil People, or even Mostly Good or Mostly Evil. We like to think of ourselves as good, but we all do or contribute to terrible things… but the terrible things we do don’t wipe away the good we do, either.
Further complicating things is that we all have different worldviews– often not just a little bit, either. I think of couples where one person likes, say, nachos and the other doesn’t, and the delicate struggles and occasional arguments that arise from just that one little difference in worldview. At the point at which one person looks at a thing and fears for their life, and another person does not, that gap is immense, but importantly, those two vastly different worldviews are no less valid. It’s cliché at this point (but no less true) to say that everyone involved is a human being, but more importantly, I think, is understanding that different people see the world in often extremely different ways, with sometimes no overlap.
We understand that at some level when we think about people far away from us– “it’s so different there, of course they’d see the world differently”, but it’s a lot harder when they’re walking the same streets and going into the same stores and living apparently very similar lives to ours. I’ve been trying to clearly understand my own worldview, understand how and why I think and feel things the way I do, and try not to take it all for granted. I think that if I can manage to grok my own perspective and recognize it as my own personal one and not the default, I’ll be better equipped to understand other people’s, including ones that are totally different from mine.
Maybe once I can do that I can get closer to figuring out how we can collectively stop clashes like Ferguson, or Baltimore, or Gamergate.