Friday, March 6, 2015

Anita Sarkeesian, Jonathon McIntosh and the Battle for the New Modernity

I'm sure this thought has occurred to Gamergate supporters from time to time as they ponder the contributions of Anita Sarkeesian and Jonathon McIntosh -- or, more specifically, the ideology they represent -- to the unethical mush that has become video games journalism.

At times some have certainly even wondered: do these two matter at all?

For my part, the answer is yes. But the threat these two pose to reason itself -- yes, to reason itself -- looms far greater than the quality of their academic work justifies. But in order to show this to be true, first the shortcomings of their work must be laid bare.

I'm certain this is another thought that has occurred to Gamergate supporters: just what is their problem, anyway? Why are they doing this?

The answer is both simpler and more complex than you may think: their problem is with modernity.

Just what is modernity? Perhaps most simply described, modernity is the prevailing ideological construct shaping the way in which we see the world around us. It's a combination of the technological, scientific, religious, intellectual and philosophical state of the modern world. Essentially modernity is what is modern.

Under no conditions is it, or should it be, static. In their book Empire, Thomas Hardt and Anthonio Negri explain how modernity evolved through the Renaissance into the Enlightenment, and beyond:

"Modernity is not a unitary concept but rather appears in at least two modes. The first mode is the one we have already defined, a radical revolutionary process. This modernity destroys its relations with the past and declares the immanence ofthe new paradigm of the world and life. It develops knowledge and action as scientific experimentation and defines a tendency toward a democratic politics, posing humanity and desire at the center ofhistory. From the artisan to the astronomer, from the merchant to the politician, in art as in religion, the material of existence is reformed by a new life.

This new emergence, however, created a war. How could such a radical overturning not incite strong antagonism? How could this revolution not determine a counterrevolution? There was indeed a counterrevolution in the proper sense of the term: a cultural, philosophical, social, and political initiative that, since it could neither return to the past nor destroy the new forces, sought to dominate and expropriate the force of the emerging movements and dynamics. This is the second mode of modernity, constructed to wage war against the new forces and establish an overarching power to dominate them. It arose within the Renaissance revolution to divert its direction, transplant the new image of humanity to a transcendent plane, relativize the capacities of science to transform the world, and above all oppose the reappropriation of power on the part of the multitude. The second mode of modernity poses a transcendent constituted power against an immanent constituent power, order against desire. The Renaissance thus ended in war— religious, social, and civil war."

The counter-revolution prevailed and the vanquished paid the price. Copernicus was forced to recant his heretical claim -- in time proven true -- that the Earth orbits the sun, and was imprisoned regardless.

But though the conflict was over the ultimate result had yet to be decided. An Enlightenment was coming.

The cultural conflicts that marked the Renaissance had to become the Enlightenment somehow. As Negri and Hardt explain, what was needed as a mediatory measure:

"The ontological dualism of the culture of the ancien regime had to be replaced by a functional dualism, and the crisis of modernity had to be resolved by means of adequate mechanisms of mediation.

...Nature and experience are unrecognizable except through the filter of phenomena; human knowledge cannot be achieved except through the reflection of the intellect; and the ethical world is incommunicable except through the schematism of reason. What is at play is a form of mediation, or really a reflexive folding back and a sort of weak transcendence, which relativizes experience and abolishes every instance of the immediate and absolute in human life and history. Why, however, is this relativity necessary? Why cannot knowledge and will be allowed to claim themselves to be absolute? Because every movement of self-constitution of the multitude must yield to a preconstituted order, and because claiming that humans could immediately establish their freedom in being would be a subversive delirium. This is the essential core of the ideological passage in which the hegemonic concept of European modernity was constructed.

The first strategic masterpiece in this construction was accomplished by Rene Descartes. Although Descartes pretended to pursue a new humanistic project of knowledge, he really reestablished transcendent order. When he posed reason as the exclusive terrain of mediation between God and the world, he effectively reaffirmed dualism as the defining feature of experience and thought."

It was with reason acting as the arbiter between science and religion that humanity was able to move beyond the fractious revolutionary/counter-revolutionary conflict of the Renaissance, and adopt what would eventually evolve into contemporary modernity.

That was a wordy paragraph. Allow me to simplify it, if more for my sake if not for yours: ultimately however you may see the world around you, you see it that way because Rene Descartes was successfully able to advance the idea that the best way to settle debate was to think about it rationally.

Centuries later that seems so intuitive. Yet when Descartes originally posed this idea it was threatening to a great many people still.

Descartes was considered to be the definitive figure in how this conflict would be settled. His mode of mediation endured for a very long time indeed.

But with the rise of post-modernity there are those who have sought to cast off the Cartesian intellectual order, so that arguments rooted nigh-entirely in emotion can be advanced over those who prefer rational thought.

The locus of intersectional ideologies which belched Anita Sarkeesian and Jonathon McIntosh represent the tip of the metaphorical spear. They and their academic progenitors have come to see nearly everything about modernity in its current form as intolerable, and so they have done whatever they to portray its very existence as a crisis. Wherever they have found evidence of such a crisis they have exaggerated it. Where they have found no evidence of such a crisis they have fabricated it.

Where Sarkeesian's and McIntosh's generation of activists largely differs from their forebears is in their revolt against reason. To listen to the discourse of third-wave feminism is to be assaulted with a continual barrage of the importance of feelz over realz.

In other words: how they can make people feel about a particular claim is more important about whether or not that claim is actually real.

A specific example: Sarkeesian's claim that video games normalize violence against women. There's no evidence for this whatsoever. In fact, the evidence openly defies this claim, as rates of violent crime have declined precipitously across the board.

But in presenting scenes of violence against women in video games, Sarkeesian wants you to feel as though this is a bad thing, with catastrophic consequences, and be angry about it even if the evidence -- what can be confirmed as real -- contradicts and disproves this.

Another example: the harassment Sarkeesian says she's received. She wants you to feel as though this is real and be angry about it even if she's never managed to produce convincing evidence of credible threats. Indeed, the alleged threats made against Sarkeesian -- particularly prior to a scheduled speech at Utah State University -- were deemed by police to not be credible.

Feelz over realz. Listen and believe. And reason be damned.

Anita Sarkeesian and Jonathon McIntosh are by no means the sole standard bearers for this anti-Cartesian shift, but for the time being they are the ones on whom I shall focus.

Consider this but the introduction. There is a long journey ahead of us.  It's dangerous to go alone.

No comments:

Post a Comment