Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Online Hate

Monday, August 5th, 2013

In a recent Jester’s Trek post, Ripard Teg wrote:

Let’s be blunt: a few of you out there — not many, but a few — are disgusting, sadistic grotesques lacking the most basic human qualities of empathy and compassion.

But go read the whole thing. And while you’re at it, go read the whole Penny Arcade Report post he links.

Seriously, read them both straight through. What I write next assumes you’ve read them.

I’m really glad Ripard wrote this post. Speaking as someone who has done “public” stuff–public speaking, public writing, etc.–in my professional life, I can confirm that there is something broken in how some people perceive their relationship with any sort of public figure, no matter how small or insignificant. The relationship between such a person–whether a blogger, a Space Celebrity, an actor, a columnist, a business leader, whatever–and a typical viewer/reader/listener/consumer has a creepy asymmetry that many don’t like to talk about. Partly because it benefits the public figure, and partly because talking about it weirds out the average fan.

A public figure (like yourself) may be read every day, or every week, or whatever, by someone “out in the crowd” for months. Over time, that person comes to “know” you. Well, we know that it’s only partly true; but at least in *their* mind they begin to think they know who you are as a person. But you don’t know them, do you? Sure, social media and things like forums and comment sections somewhat level that playing field compared to the way it was in past generations, but not really as much as some might hope. And so total strangers will break social boundaries with a “celebrity” because they feel they have a level of intimacy with the person that the person could not possibly feel they have back. Barack Obama and Jay Leno are in a person’s living room day after day, but the feeling that there’s a personal connection is false and one-way. Not that public figures don’t benefit from that misperception.

But it means sometimes people take liberties in their interactions. Most of the time those liberties aren’t a big deal; they’re just “weird” feeling. Sometimes they’re a little flattering, but mostly their just…odd. However, once in a while they are downright evil. People sometimes think that because they know your media persona, and are aware of the ideas that persona puts forth, that they somehow know the real you and are able to judge your worth as a person. And because they are also simultaneously distant from (and perhaps anonymous to) the celebrity, they misperceive that they can get away with “letting out the beast”. Death threats, vile wishes, bizarre promises, and hate-filled demands flow forth.

To which some will say, “Well, it’s just a minority, so brush it off.” But the problem is, the percentage doesn’t matter to a person’s sanity; just the raw number. What do I mean?

I remember when I regularly appeared before small audiences. Usually a few dozen people at a time. Whether in conferences or other venues, the crowds were small. I did okay. Usually, though, there were always one or two people who hated what I had to say. Or nit-picked it. Or were offended by how I said it. Or whatever. Over time, I got good at brushing it off. “There’s always one or two in a crowd.”

As time went on and I started working with larger audiences, I started to wonder if I was getting worse. At one point, when I was appearing before groups in the hundreds, I realized that every time I appeared, there were a dozen people who had complaints about me, no matter how well I did. Yes, the number who loved what I did ALSO went up, but praise has far less lasting effect than criticism. It FELT like I was getting worse, despite the growing crowds.

See, the percentage was the same, but the emotional drain was much bigger. And it continues to scale like that. In any crowd, any public figure can count on there being a set percentage that will NEVER be happy and that is willing to vocalize their unhappiness. But at some point, a normal human being is no longer interested in putting up with the noise. Some are stronger than others. If you have a million fans, that means you have thousands of people vocally pissed off at you every time you perform. And they all have the power to speak to you now.

One of the reasons that I keep my Eve life and my public life so carefully separated is that it is nice to be able to loosen up and not worry so much about public perception in the framework of this so-called game. But part of it is also that there are sickos who really will connect the dots and look up home addresses and send disturbing packages, and I really don’t want to multiply my base of enemies. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a big haters list these days, but it hasn’t always been like that.

At one point in my life, because of political blogging I did, I began to get all sorts of weird phone calls and emails. As I gained audience, I also gained attention from some scary people. The lone whackos were one thing. But in the political world, some of those whackos are organized, and have national governments funding them. My wife finally said she was worried because of some veiled comparisons made in public between myself and another figure who had been put to death for backing a similar position I had taken. By the foreign government that I had been critical of. I think the comparison, in a twisted way, had been meant as a compliment, it having come from a dissident in that country. But it was part of a larger pattern and it understandably freaked her out.

It’s thrilling when you start to get an audience. But there is an inevitable percentage of any crowd that is dangerous and vile, and you can’t build an audience without also building a growing base of enemies. Most of those enemies lack the means and the courage to act on their threats. But it is only a matter of time before the numbers game catches up with you.

So “just brush it off” only works as a short term, small-ball strategy. But the big-leagues approach of private detectives, lawyers, and “private security” is a bit beyond the typical game blogger, dev, or spaceship celebrity. So when yet another public figure of Eve says, “Screw you all, I’m out,” I get it.

One final thought, and one I know many will disagree with vehemently and instinctively: human beings are basically awful. Yes, we are capable of rising. Yes, every single human has the ability to be loving and kind and caring and helpful in amazing, moving ways. But most of the time, the main reason most humans behave reasonably well is that we are all conditioned to stay within certain boundaries through fear of punishment, either by loss of life, property, or reputation. And that’s a good system. It gives us all breathing room to learn to be selfless, if you think about it.

But create a situation where people start to believe that they are beyond punishment, and greed and selfishness will surface where before there was quiet civility. Saying vile things to someone online makes people feel good, because it makes them feel powerful. They are getting away with letting out hate that is normally constrained by society.

I’m an optimistic person, overall. I believe in the potential of the human race. But I have no illusion when it comes to our darker nature. I’ve seen up close too much evil from sources too common and vanilla. People can rise above themselves. But many don’t.


Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

We like to say that “Internet Spaceships are serious business.” Our game is full of painful losses, vindictive attacks, brutal wars, and assholes whose tunnel vision leads them to do awful and pointless things. But Eve Online doesn’t hold a candle to Real Life.

In protest of a movie–a movie–a bunch of brainwashed semi-literate armed retards who bring shame to Allah attacked and set fire to the U.S. consolate in Benghazi, Libya. American staff had been relocated to a secondary building, so at first they were not in immediate danger. Then members of the Libyan security detail assigned to protect them decided instead to tip off the little-minded hate-filled mob about their targets actual location.

In Eve, it’s called Awoxing. But in Eve, no one actually dies.

Four real people died. They were the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, two U.S. Marines, and Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith. To those who know the world of Eve, however, Sean Smith is also known as Vile Rat, the extremely successful spy and later Goon diplomat.

I never got to personally know Sean. But I followed his exploits as closely as I could. His work for the GIA is legendary. A large part of what initially motivated me to finally open an Eve account were stories of his and a handful of others accomplishments in the infamous Eve “metagame”. I admired him as a player, even as I worked against him in the game.

His murder fills me with anger. The fanatics who shot him probably never even saw the film they were protesting.

There is something in human nature that wants to destroy anything that is not itself. It takes on many forms. Greed. Selfishness. Hate. And it is the nature of the human mind that what we desire is more powerful than what we think. Our will can completely dominate our intellect. And so we rationalize. When we are in competition with someone, there is always the danger that our will, given free reign, will manipulate our intellect into coming up with justifications for awful, disproportionate behavior. Let’s post the real address of that guy in the game and get people to send death threats. It’s okay to cut power to his house in the real world because his titan is a threat to all that is good in New Eden. I can say anything about anyone no matter how false, disgusting or hateful, because they are The Enemy.

Folks, this is a GAME. When you experience real hate for someone becuase of what they say or do or represent in a digital game of let’s pretend, then you are broken. Log off. Unsubscribe. Get the hell out of my game. You are not mature enough for this playground.

Yes, I know there is a discrete degree of difference between actually shooting someone dead in Libya and merely desiring someone’s death in your heart. But while civil law is all about the effects of human decisions, moral law deals largely with their intent. And my personal moral failing is that when I see murderous hatred, whether acted on or merely given voice to, I, too, hate. I am disgusted. I struggle to not write you off as non-human.

I’m upset so I’m rambling. Those people shouldn’t be dead. Vile Rat should still be in the game. The people who committed this atrocity did it over a piece of media. And perhaps I’m anticipating a stereotypical tone-deaf response from some anti-goons. Frankly, I’m hesitant to log on today. But maybe you all will surprise me. Maybe, for once, we can forget reds and blues, and just acknowledge that Vile Rat played the game well, and that his death is an ugly, evil thing, without justification.

Here’s news coverage:

And’s official statement:

Official statement from Oldma, Dibrle, and Intrepid Crossing:

Other coverage mentioning Vile Rat:

UPDATE: Thank you, thank you, Eve community, for exceeding my fearful expectations. The sincere-mourning vs. stupid-troll ratio looks very healthy. Glad we can come together on this.


Zen PvP, or How to Learn to Love Risk

Friday, April 13th, 2012

Let’s talk about risk aversion. First, go read Azual Skoll’s interesting thoughts in The Altruist: Risk.

Here’s the core issue from that post:

Most eve PVPers are naturally quite risk averse, myself included. Nobody likes to lose, and when we’re offered the choice between taking a risk and making a relatively small change which would eliminate that risk, it’s only natural that most people choose the latter. …We rationalise it as common sense – why would we risk losing when we could win? Fighting fair is, after all, not what eve is about.

However in my experience, some of the best fights come when we put ourselves in a high risk situation and come out ahead. By avoiding fights where there is a risk of losing, are we in fact cheating ourselves out of our own enjoyment?

I love this. This is something I’ve thought a lot about since I first started playing this game and consuming its player-made lore. Which shouldn’t surprise anyone who read my “Ten Keys to Breaking into Your Killboard’s Top 10″. As a reminder, here was key number four:

4) Die. A Lot.

My attitude is that every ship I dock up is an unexpected gift. When you undock a ship, count it as lost but on loan. Make losing ships a goal. In addition to regularly being in the top twenty or so killers, I am also a regular member of the top losers club. But I mostly lose rifters on solo roams, so my ISK ratio is nearly always between 90 and 95%. Go find the stats portion of your alliance or corp’s killboard now. If you have serious PvPers in your group, you will likely see some folks in the top ten losers group who are also top ten killers. Kills cost losses. Learning costs losses. Rewards follow risks. Want to get good? Go lose some ships. In bonsai (Japanese art of training trees into miniature works of art) they say you have not begun to know what you are doing until you have killed 100 trees. And Malcolm Gladwell says in Outliers that it takes about ten thousand hours of doing something to become an expert at it. Start your ten-thousand-hour journey to PvP mastery by buying cheap PvP ships ten at time and get going. You have a lot of ships to lose.

So here’s my from-the-mouth-of-noobs wisdom for you today: risk is arbitrarily determined by your attitude, so you can become more powerful by an act of sheer will.

What do I mean? Just decide to not care. This is Zen PvP. Let go of your desire to not lose your ship, and you will increase your power over your opponents. This is especially true on the fleet/corp/alliance level, but also works on the individual level.

Some say market economics are essentially driven by two emotions: greed and fear. Ruthlessly purge yourself of these emotions and you can have an advantage over those who are still driven by them. Arbitrarily decide that you want to lose your ship, rather than preserve it. Set a goal for number of hulls lost this month and do your best to hit it. Embrace death with laughter.

There are two parts to this. First, you have to defeat your animal instinct to not want to die. You are, after all, immortal. Who cares if you “die”? You know this intellectually, but you have root level responses built into the “lizard brain” that sits at the heart of your nervous system, and it fights this notion. Yes, even in a game.

It’s more than just a fear of death thing. Through extension, it’s also all about fear of shame, fear of defeat, fear of loss of face, and a desire to be high in the pecking order. The ape that gets bested by the other ape has a lower chance of mating and reproducing, so your animal instincts don’t want to “lose”, no matter what the activity.

Let go of that.

The second part is more complex, because it operates at a slightly higher part of your mind. Your rational mind says, “Yeah, I’m immortal, but my ISK isn’t infinite.” In Eve, everyone says, death has consequences.

Eve is, essentially, a game of consequences. What you do matters. The fights big alliances get into have long-term consequences on the map. Becuase this game is not sharded, we are all participating in the writing of a single (albeit complex), permanent history. The Goons beat Bob. That happened. Not just to a few people on a single server. It happened to our universe. We all know about it, and future players will too. Even the smallest industrialist is contributing in a meaningful way to the overall economy, warfare and history of New Eden with every unit of ammunition that rolls off their manufacturing line. Every ship that is lost comes from the aggregate economic efforts of numerous players. And on a personal level, when you go boom, the personal cost of that loss is calculable in terms of minutes and hours of ratting, mining, trading, salvaging, scamming and grinding, or else in terms of real world currency converted to PLEX. Loss is meaningful, and that makes the game enjoyable. If losses don’t mean anything, then neither do victories. It’s why I don’t play any other MMO.

So how do you let go of that?

Well, here’s the thing: your brain is (probably) wired to overestimate the cost of risky behavior. I say probably, because there is a minority of the human race that seems predisposed to more risky behavior. Daredevils, Darwin Award candidates, fools. Also, entrepreneurs, pioneers, trailblazers, and doers of great things.

I say this as an ADD-riddled successful entrepreneur. And by “successful” I mean that those of my crazy ideas that worked were so profitable that they overwhelmingly made up for all of the hairbrained things I thought of that crashed and burned, or that never even got off the launchpad.

The secret to understanding your built-in risk assessment instincts, if you are not already one of those crazy people that is attracted to risk, is to realize that just one, single successful risk-taking action can wipe clean the cost of a long string of failures.

The great Eve PvP stories are the ones that early on involve someone deciding to do something that we all know is stupid. They attack an “obvious” bait ship. They take on a much more powerful ship in their smaller ship. And then they do amazing things.

But the thing is, these stories are not the norm. Most of the time, the people who have these stories to tell also have many, many more stories which start the same, but end in a more expected manner. The ship was a bait ship and its friends jumped through the gate and slaughtered them. Or they got further confirmation that, yes, their smaller ship generally doesn’t do better against the enemy’s larger ship. They welp their fleet.

But if you keep on taking against-the-odds PvP risks, you eventually hit the lottery. Only the odds are much better than an actual lottery. Because the other pilots out there do dumb things all the time. You are not playing against perfectly rational actors with perfect knowledge. There is a ton of assymetry in this game. And you can lose a dozen assault frigs doing stupid things and in the end come out with one badass kill that you will be describing to friends for a year or more.

Also, you are accelerating your learning curve. World Chess Champion Bobby Fisher famously said, “The only thing you learn from playing weakies is how to beat weakies.” In Eve, the main thing you learn by taking on easy fights is how to win easy fights. Play up. Take risks. And every time you lose some ISK (but not pride, because you’ve let go of that illusion, right?) in a fight gone wrong, you have the opportunity to learn and get better. And faster than the person you fought. It’s assymetrical. You are learning more from the transaction than they are. If it helps, think of it as spending isk to increase your real-world skill, which will save you isk in the long run.

Finally, you have to take fun into account. It’s why you play, right? So that fun has economic value. Let me put it this way: how much isk would you pay to have an amazing story to brag about? Or what would you pay for the thrill of taking down a low-odds big-ticket target? Put a number on it. Now subtract that from the isk you are risking losing and call it the price of fun.

At the alliance level, this can become way more powerful. Any corp or alliance that decides to use a different value system than the rest of the groups in the game will have an advantage. Goons did this. Early on they eschewed the all-mighty kill ratio as a valid measure of worth, and it made their noob-piloted hero rifters into a powerful weapon. Because they didn’t care about something that their enemies did, they could gleefully toss it away to achieve more meaningful strategic objectives.

Anyone can do this. It’s just a decision. Most people have a default value system that is drawn from the people and culture around them. But you can just decide to consciously reject it. High kill ratios. ISK efficiency targets. Avoiding LOLfits. Holding sov. Just pick something that everyone just knows is important, and give it the finger. It will make you powerful because you are magically changing the risk side of the risk/reward ratio.

So decide to take risks. Laugh at convention. Test common knowledge. Dare to be something more than average. Rewrite the wisdom of the day. And have fun doing it. In Eve, and in life.