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Month: March 2021

The Red-Blue Identity Crisis

The Red-Blue Identity Crisis

This will probably be my last political post for a while. I’ve been hashing out the Red-Blue partisan divide for many posts now since the last election cycle, and wanted to leave a final thought. With the attack on the U.S. Capitol nearly three months behind us, it feels to me like things are settling down. The partisan divide is still there, no doubt, but it seems the conflict has retreated to the shadows. I thought there might be further escalation following the January 6 riot, but now I’m not seeing it. This could just be because of my personal social media bubble, of course.

My last thought on this is that, if partisanship has hardened us to the point that the two political parties can’t possible work together, then politics truly has left the realm of policy debate and become entirely about group identity. This is not unprecedented and it could simply be part and parcel of life in a Crisis Era. So what our political conflict comes down to is a choice of identity for the United States of America. Are we a conservative, “traditional American” society, dominated by whites and Christians (the red zone)? Or are we a progressive, diverse society, accepting of all races, creeds, and orientations (the blue zone)?

Ask yourself: doesn’t this surely describe the choice faced in recent elections? What substantial policy differences have really been on the table, that are not framed in terms of these values differences?

And couldn’t other Crisis Era conflicts be described as identity crises? In the 1860s, Americans faced the choice of defining themselves as primarily agriculturalists dependent on slave labor, or as industrialist capitalists and abolitionists. In the 1770s, Americans faced the choice of defining themselves as loyalists to the King, or as patriots of an independent nation. The winners of the great conflicts of those eras determined the identity which prevailed.

So what we’re experiencing is an identity crisis, as we try to figure out as a society if we are going to let the red zone values regimes prevail, or the blue zone values regime. I see a parallel between our times and England in the Tudor era, which see-sawed between Protestant and Catholic identities under different monarchs. Bloody Mary’s reign was a Catholic interregnum between two Protestant regimes, just as Trump’s was a MAGA interlude between the progressive Presidencies of Obama and Biden.

And just as England emerged from its conflicts as a decidedly Protestant nation, I believe the United States will ultimately affirm itself as a blue zone nation. Why do you think the red zoners complain so much about the “mainstream media?” The blue zone, with its progressive identity, is the mainstream!

In the end, the Red State, already exiled from social media and the butt of joking memes, will be consigned to an “alt-” existence on the fringes of mainstream society. All that their politicians can do now is do their best to suppress the vote. But in the long run, they cannot prevail. They we will be left as troublemakers, and dissenters from the mainstream view.

Which isn’t to say that they will be entirely in the wrong or that the mainstream view will be ideal for society. That’s just the way we are headed right now, as far as I can tell. Of course, some major event could prove me wrong. But barring that, I don’t think I have much more blogging to do on this subject.

The Last of Us Watch

The Last of Us Watch

When I was young man I played computer games. A lot. That was so long ago that being a computer gamer put me in a minority, part of the maligned “nerd” subclass of Generation X. Today’s Millennial gamers are much more of a mainstream group. Nowadays, being a young man who plays video games is pretty basic.

Now, when I was a young man (so very long ago) we would sometimes get groups of guys together for a computer game. We typically would play what is called a “hot seat” game – there is one personal computer (PC), and everyone takes separate turns in the game. When it’s your turn, you sit in the chair that is in front of the PC, hence “hot seat.”

Another way to do it way back when was a LAN party, where everyone brings their PC to a common location and you play multi-player on a local network. This was done because you couldn’t play a graphics intensive game over the Internet. No one had the bandwidth; people were still using modems to get online. Going to a LAN party was a bit cumbersome since you had to cart your PC to someone else’s house and set it all up, and I never got into the practice. But some people did, and LAN parties were a feature of Gen X computer nerd culture back in the 1990s.

One thing about these Gen X approaches to group gaming is that everyone gets to play. It was unusual for someone to be willing to come hang out where everyone was gaming, but not actually play in the game.

Around this time, console gaming was starting to pick up. That particular format had actually suffered a drought following the failure of the Atari console, which had come out in the youth of early-wave Gen Xers such as myself. But then came the rise of Nintendo, which accompanied the youth of late-wave Gen Xers and the childhood of Millennials. It’s all documented in this great book called “Game Over, Press Start to Continue: How Nintendo Conquered the World.”

With console gaming, you start to see this pattern of people gathering, and some people just sitting and watching while others play. After all, there are only so many controllers. It wasn’t something I was ever hugely into, and in fact I have never owned a video game console. But I went to a few parties where the console was the center of attention.

For the Millennial generation, watching others play video games has become a common practice. In fact, it’s a whole culture; there are live streaming sites like twitch that are dedicated to it. There are YouTubers who make a living sharing streams of their games with added commentary. As in, very popular YouTubers who have become wealthy doing so.

As a mid-life Gen Xer, my computer gaming has shifted over to games that simulate board games, rather than the more active and real-time type video games. I honestly was never heavily into first person shooter or arcade-style games; I prefer strategy games instead.

But what I have done is watched my Millennial stepsons play video games. Specifically, this really cool post-apocalyptic game called The Last of Us. They sit us old folks down around the TV, and then play the game on a Sony PlayStation 4 while we spectate. It works really well with this particlar title because the game is story-driven, with programming that railroads the player throught a plot (in contrast to “open world” games where you can just wander about and do whatever).

The visual design of the game is stunning, even though you can sometimes spot a video glitch which briefly interrupts the cinematic experience. These glitches don’t really matter because the setting is so artfully rendered, with contrasting visual landscapes of urban ruin and beautiful overgrown nature. The sound design is brilliant as well, with music that builds the tension as the characters get into dangerous situations.

It is a combat game, so there is graphic violence, as well as grotesque horror elements. But it’s in the context of a very well-written and poignant story, featuring complex characters and difficult moral dilemmas. Our sons see it as its own genre of cinemtic story-telling, even better than film or television. I can see why they do, and as computer graphics improve the genre could become even more immersive and emotionally intense.

As they play the game while we oldsters watch, our sons are essentially taking on a directing role. They have already played the game through before, so they know all the places to go in game, as well as actions to take, so that we get the complete story as efficiently as possible. They also take us on little “side quests” to see the less important but still interesting stuff. Since it is a game, there is some amount of collecting resources and spending them to upgrade the characters’ capabilities. This video game trope, while “unrealistic” in a sense, does not in any way detract from the story telling or aesthetics of the experience.

Watching the game all the way through took us many, many hours. We watched both the original game and Part II. It was the same as binge-watching multiple seasons of a good streaming TV series. Would it have been as much fun in TV format? I guess we may find out, as rumor has HBO is making a TV show based on the game.

I’d like to thank the boys for sharing this experience with us. It really is a new way of experiencing cinematic story telling. It shows how far the video game medium has evolved since the days I sat in my parents’ basement playing Tunnels of Doom on a TI-499/A (I’m not even kidding). For the new generation, it’s become much more immersive, and grown into a communal experience, and a part of everyday life.

More on “Cancel Culture” as Consensus Building

More on “Cancel Culture” as Consensus Building

I’ve already brought up on this blog the idea that “cancel culture” is simply this era’s approach to building a social values consensus. I’ve tied it into Strauss-Howe generational theory, which describes a social cycle spanning four generations. In that cycle there is an era called an “Awakening,” which is a period when values are challenged and the social mood encourages moral transgression. Those who violate social norms are celebrated as visionaries. The last time we had such an era was during the “Consciousness Revolution” that started in the 1960s.

But we’re now at the other end of the cycle, in the “Crisis” era. Values are not being challenged but rather implanted, to guide the establishment of a new order. Those who violate the new social norms are condemned for backward thinking. That is what is happening to the prominent people who find themselves getting “cancelled” when they express views or engage in behaviors which go against the grain of the new values consensus. They can complain about “political correctness” all that they want, they are nonetheless going to run into the simple fact that violating social norms, at least in this social era, means being shunned by society.

Which is exactly the point made in this excellent opinion piece by Dr. Lora Burnett. She starts with an example from a movie, and then connects the movie scene with how appointees of the recent administration were treated in public. She then segues into her argument, that “there is no such thing as ‘cancel culture’ — there is only culture.” Meaning that this phenomenon of “cancelling” is simply the enforcement of cultural norms.

I couldn’t agree with her more. And I think that the problem that those who decry cancel culture have is that they are not happy with the new cultural norms that are forming. Which is their right, and it’s understandable to be concerned that the enforcement of norms can go too far. Is there a danger of a new McCarthy Era arising, where all dissent is suppressed? I think so, and that would take us to a new social era.

Although, truly, most targets of cancel culture don’t have their lives ruined, assuming they haven’t committed any crime. They simply face the scrutiny of the public when in the public space, which is to be expected. The video below from the channel “The Take” goes into all the angles of the phenomenon.

This video brings up the “letter on open debate” which was published in Harper’s magazine and signed by numerous authors and opinion makers. In it, the authors condemn “a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity.” Again, it’s understandable that, as purveyors of ideas, this would concern them. But they’re missing the zeitgeist.

In the social cycle, we’re turning away from openness and debate and towards resolution and conformity. It’s needed to address the vast political and economic problems that our society has failed to address over the past several decades. Older generations find this disconcerting after a long, free-wheeling period of everyone thinking for themselves. But to get any traction on achieving real world change, we need agreement. So younger generations are likely to say, “get with the program or shut the hell up.”