Sam Harris, #Gamergate, and the explosion of white, male, illiberal rage
Photo courtesy of National Nuclear Security Administration/Wikimedia
The #GamerGate fiasco and the fallout from the Ben Affleck/Sam Harris Islam showdown on RealTime with Bill Maher starkly illustrate the closing of the white male mind, even within territory that once seemed inhospitable to such conservative, retrograde beliefs.
Gamers, with their passionate and early adoptions of new technologies, and atheists, with their rejection of religion and dogma, have somewhat progressive reputations. But both #GamerGate and the relentless demonization of Islam these past few weeks have been led by angry men feeling that cultural floodgates have been opened that justify attacks upon the “other” without any nuance, thoughtfulness, or compassion.
Most #GamerGate folks are quick to assert that they aren’t the ones making death threats against women and that the real issue is “integrity” in gaming journalism (a claim based on a thoroughly-debunked illusion of impropriety). What’s amazing here is not necessarily the active perpetuators of #GamerGate harassment, it’s the broader gaming community’s apparent disinterest in fighting those threats and ensuring they do not occur again.
Game developer Zoe Quinn’s boyfriend, who got #GamerGate going with this bizarre, embarrassing, and sad post about their breakup says he still would do it all again even with the death threats. Among those who support his line of thinking actively or tacitly, there’s no pause to reflect on the experience of women who have been terrorized online or curiosity about the female experience in the gaming industry. Just the same relentless and narrow expression of anger and self-righteousness that tends to surface when members of an oppressive group are put on blast for their behavior or beliefs.
The followers of Sam Harris (I use the word “follower” very intentionally) insist that he is speaking brave and unassailable truths about Islam that many of us know are true but are afraid to say out loud. They view their critics as lame, politically-correct types who don’t have the guts to cite a few ambiguous polls, grab a random sampling of Koran quotes and make sweeping, inaccurate, and nasty generalizations about 1.6 billion people and their faith. Like the #GamerGate folks, they have precious little interest in the lived experience let alone perspective of this massive population.
Harris’ followers act like they’re outsiders speaking truth to power, but very few of them realize how much public policy is rooted in their worldview. We do engage in mass surveillance of Muslims, we do attempt to escape hard foreign policy challenges with glib generalizations about the “Muslim world,” and a lot of bombs are still hitting Muslim targets.
#GamerGate vigilantes and Sam Harris disciples are not interested in the lived experiences of the women they attack online or the Muslims with whom they have never interacted. So if #GamerGate is the “new culture war,” the New Atheists anti-Islam crusade is a more Youtube-friendly version of the same hawkish fear-mongering that has been embedded in international foreign policy since long before September 11. In both cases, very angry, mostly white men are lashing out against the “others” du jour, who happen to largely be women and people of color. Apparently, adopting new technologies and embracing rationalism can’t keep a lot people from adopting some very old and irrational habits.