Consecutive Cat Catastrophe Clustercat

mort

So, cats.

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you may be aware that a few weeks ago we found a tiny starving kitten that had been abandoned by its mother. Given our lack of time and money, our pre-existing cat condition, and all the millions of complications cats bring with them, it would be foolish to take him in… so of course we did it.

He was just so… tiny!

Well, he’s no longer quite as tiny, but he’s cute and playful and happy and, most of all, alive. The bad news: he can’t stay with us. The good news: we found someone who’ll take him. The crazy news: delivering him will be something of an odyssey. We’ll have to drive across an entire country.

You may also remember our own cat, Cat. She came home the other day with a hole in her leg that was so deep you could see the bone. That’s just a couple of months after almost literally getting her throat torn out by another cat. She’s certainly not helping dispel the stereotype of black cats bringing bad luck.

Well, combined with the whole freelance writer thing, and moving, and games taking forever to finish… some money would be nice. So, if you happen to have some and want to throw it our way, one way you could do it would be to buy The Sea Will Claim Everything and A Postcard From Afthonia on itch.io for just $5. The itch.io version of TSWCE comes with a Steam key and Afthonia has been updated to be less rough around the edges. That update will also be applied to the Humble version later today.

If you already have the game on Steam, why not give the key to a friend who might enjoy it, or an enemy who might hate it?

We have a properly new game coming out soon, though, so if you’d rather keep your money for that, no problem. It’ll be quite cheap, though, just so you know. No pressure.

We’re also looking into putting some of our free games on Steam, with the option of buying some extras to support the developer. I like that model, but Greenlight eats a lot of time, so I don’t know when that will be ready, since I’m also working full-time on other projects.

Anyway. Cats.

Art Is Not Politics

It has become fashionable to treat art as politics. The inclusion of millionaires of a certain gender or “race” in the latest corporate entertainment product is taken to signify an improvement in the conditions of people who share superficial traits with those individuals, even as nothing changes in their wages, pensions, rights, or healthcare situation. Raging against individual works of art, or even individual artists – particularly on the internet, to audiences already familiar with an in-group terminology designed for this purpose – is taken as part of the struggle for equality, or even the struggle against fascism, even as the continuing crises of capitalism result in destruction on an unprecedented scale.

There are a lot of dangerous delusions when it comes to the entanglement of the artistic and the political. Some of these are politically dangerous; others are intellectually dangerous. Debates tend to sink into confusion or become clashes between the sanctimonious and the reactionary, between those who see politics everywhere and those who don’t want to see them anywhere.

To understand the nature of the problem, we must begin by distinguishing between politics (that is, participation in the affairs of the polis) and the political (that is, subject matter thematically relating to politics). These are not one and the same, and their conflation leads to weak art and weaker politics.

The idea that “all art is political” certainly contains some truth. There is little doubt that art frequently reflects the beliefs of the artist – though this is itself too simplistic a statement, as we will see later. It can also be truthfully said that a great deal of art expresses at least some notions about what is right and what is wrong, even if only in the most tangential of ways. However, even the most intentionally political work of art is only thematically political. A work can be Marxist or feminist or libertarian or neoliberal in the ideas it contains, in the story it tells or the characters it depicts; but to call a work of art Marxist or feminist or libertarian or neoliberal is an academic/critical assessment. A novel being Marxist is not relevant to the practice of Marxism; it is relevant to literary theory.

It is greatly tempting for artists and critics to blur this line. It is tempting to think that one can fight for a better world through one’s art or even one’s criticism, safely from one’s home, without having to go through the effort of organizing people and fighting the system in a real-world, material sense. There are archetypes that it is easy to be drawn to: the political artist who has a sexy, semi-saintly glow of being engaged while simultaneously being above it all, or the victim artist, emerging from great difficulty to express their pain and speak for their community. Even the most crudely political art can draw a strong response, and all artists desire attention. The internet has certainly contributed to the intensity of this effect: with a whole lot of people calling you a defender of all that is good in the world, and a whole lot calling you the incarnation of all that is bad, it’s easy to feel you are doing something.

But what is actually taking place is the shifting of struggles from the actually political to the politically themed. This is catastrophic for actual politics, because a perceived victory in the arts is utterly meaningless in material terms. It gives artists and critics and their hangers-on a hollow, narcissistic satisfaction, but it also turns them into tools of a system that is only too happy to distract people from ther misery. It alienates artists, even poor and oppressed artists, from the concerns of the people. The hollow victories of a self-satisfied class of artists will mean little to those who have no food or shelter.

This conflation is also catastrophic for art itself, however. Reducing art to a political tool robs it of its potential for transcendence. Art is significant precisely because it has no purpose; it exists because we want it to, humanity reaching for something beyond the basic functions of biology; it doesn’t matter whether you call it grace, or the divine, or a manifestation of the human capacity to imagine, what matters is that art at its best transcends the world we live in (even if it always begins there) and moves us in ways we cannot easily explain. If that is lost, then what we are producing is not art; it’s advertising. Turning art into a political tool – even for “political self-expression” – denies artists precisely that most important ability of reaching beyond, including beyond themselves.

This effect, it should be noted, is particularly destructive for those artists who are perceived to be part of a minority or otherwise oppressed, as they are strongly encouraged to turn themselves into avatars of an identity, capable of creating only things related to that one topic. (This was painfully and accurately satirized by Drew Hayden Taylor in alterNatives, where the protagonist is always being pushed to write the Great Native Canadian Novel, but really just wants to write science fiction.)

Art is vision, and visions should not be blinkered. Art is a journey, and sometimes the artist should have no idea where they are going. That’s why not even politically themed art should necessarily be tied to the author’s personal beliefs – it’s always possible to produce a work of art that makes even its creator uncomfortable, and that’s part of why art matters. It’s not just self-expression. Art has the capacity to be universal expression; artists have the potential to channel something that feels entirely alien and external to themselves.

None of that is to say that art should not engage with the political. You can’t transcend anything if you don’t know where you are; art must be deeply rooted in historical context, in the ongoing life of the human species in this strange universe we inhabit. But artists must be humble. Transcendence, no matter how minor or brief, is already a pretty significant gift. It is not wise to delude ourselves into thinking that we can use that gift to escape our responsibility as citizens and as human beings. Our artistic struggles matter to us, and we must fight them with dedication – which includes allowing inspiration to take us where it wants to, and not trying to impose our ideologies on stories that don’t support them. We must not pretend that our personal struggles are the struggles of the world, or that our triumphs help others.

The struggle for wages, for jobs, for peace and security and progress, will not be won by artists. It will be won by people organizing, fighting for labour rights, seizing control of the machinery of the state. Yes, that’s scary – a lot scarier than writing or drawing or composing a radical work of art. It scares me too. But that’s where the struggle is, and we’re part of that struggle. So let’s face the truth, no matter how painful or humbling it is.

Towards the Council

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You may have noticed an absence of updates both here and on the Lands of Dream site. The reason is simple: I’d set myself a deadline for releasing The Council of Crows (November 17th) and I was in full crunch mode trying to reach it. It has finally become apparent to me – with some help from my wife – that I simply can’t do it. It’s not a tech or design issue. I just can’t write enough words quickly enough, at least not without sacrificing everything that makes a Lands of Dream game good.

There are other reasons, too. I was getting so burned out from never having any time off that a lot of physical problems that had gone away over the last few months started coming back again. Headaches, back problems, that kind of thing. Too much sitting and staring at a computer screen. And Verena’s age-old problems with the skin on her hands are currently making it impossible for her to finish drawing the graphics. But the biggest problem is that it’s just too big and there just aren’t enough hours in the day. (What makes it especially challenging is the descriptions, because they’re not interrelated. You can’t develop a flow like you can with other types of writing. Every single mushroom forces you to restart the thought process. Sometimes you end up doing an hour of research just to come up with a new type of pun about fungal communism.)

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I know how ridiculous all of this is. Had I known it would take so long, I never would have gone for crowdfunding. I’m massively pleased with where the game is now, but the responsibility of having taken money from people and not delivered weighs heavily on me. I know I keep saying it’ll be worth the wait, but for that to happen the wait has to end at some damn point.

But we’ve done so much. We’ve made a game that feels very much like a Lands of Dream game, but isn’t a repeat of The Sea Will Claim Everything. You get to spend time in Fifth Pumpkin. You get to know Hyperborea and its people in detail. Time passes. Things change. You go on unexpected adventures. Hell, we have crafting. We have mini-games (daft ones, of course). We have the Lands of Dream version of RPG features. We have weird stuff that goes back to the older, more experimental games I used to make.

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And more importantly, the game is much more than just the little fairy tale I’d imagined making in the beginning. It’s still a fairy tale, but now it’s the proper kind, the old kind, with roots that go to deep and dark places. Speaking of roots, The Council of Crows is connected to every single previous Lands of Dream game in really important ways. You won’t need to have played all of them, not at all, but if you have, be prepared to meet a lot of old friends.

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My current plan is to release the game in February of 2017. It’s quite possible that I’ll release a smaller, older project before then, something I’ve been working on since before the Indiegogo campaign. The main point of doing so – apart from allowing me to come to The Council of Crows with fresh eyes – is to raise some money to make properly promoting The Council of Crows more feasible. We didn’t spend the money from the Indiegogo on anything other than the game, and we always expected to invest some money of our own as well, but it has taken a long time, and we don’t want to just throw the game out there without pushing it at least a little. Let me repeat, for clarity, that I’m not starting a new project or anything like that. Just finishing something old but actually quite good. It’s only a matter of days, really. Verena’s hands will hopefully heal enough in a week or two for her to be able to continue working as well. Then we’ll be working full time (but with weekends off so I don’t die, as Verena correctly insists I would if I kept up crunching like an idiot) until the game is done. It’s possible that backers will receive beta keys for the Steam release before the New Year.

By the way, I’ve been advised several times now to start a Patreon. I’d love to – God knows we could use some extra funds – and such a system would probably be much better for supporting the Lands of Dream as a whole. But I feel that I can’t take any kind of crowdfunding money until we’ve delivered the game people backed, even if it does have a different name. After that’s done, I’d love to find a way to keep the Lands of Dream going with your help – more stories, text games, podcasts, all kinds of stuff. But first we have to finish this story.

Thank you for your saint-like level of patience with the mysterious and annoying process of game development.

Serious Sam VR: The Last Hope

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So, hey, Serious Sam VR is out! Verena and I worked on this, so here are some thoughts about writing such a game.

This is the kind of project where you’ll sometimes hear people say “Why do you need writers for this?” And yeah, sure, it doesn’t have a huge storyline or anything. But you’ll notice that it does have narrative elements. It has an overall situation – you’re on a ship, you’re selecting missions – and it has scenarios, broken down into four levels per planet. And it has Sam himself, a highly distinct character who reacts to all this in a specific way (apart from blowing stuff up, I mean; Sam isn’t Sam without one-liners).

In other words, what game writers can provide is context and flavour. SSVR is not a philosophically or narratively ambitious game, and it doesn’t need to be. But those few elements we had to work with – like the level descriptions, or the overall concept of the game – do actually influence the experience, even if the player doesn’t pay much attention to them. Most players only actively notice this when those bits are badly written (or translated), breaking immersion, but they’re always there. They’re not the main attraction in any way, nor should they be. They’re just spices in a big soup. But if you spice your soup with ground-down turds instead of coriander, somebody’s probably going to notice.

From a writing perspective, this was a challenging but enjoyable exercise. When you have so little to work with, and the basic gameplay remains the same, you have to work really hard not to repeat yourself. Why is Sam on this planet? Why is he all alone? Where is he going this time? How can we create variety using only level names, descriptions, and a handful of lines voiced by John J. Dick? It’s like writing a kind of micro-fiction.

We came up with the main concept of a training simulation based on Sam’s experiences, which situates the story within the surprisingly elaborate Serious Sam canon, while also having the advantage of allowing some future narrative flexibility – Sam’s versions of what happened aren’t necessarily 100% accurate, if you know what I mean. You’ll see a bit more of that in future updates. We then presented Croteam with a bunch of different possible ways of introducing all this, all of them based on the very simple means we were given to communicate it, and Croteam went with what they thought most appropriate.

The individual mini-stories were built around the existing environments and boss battles, with some general input from Croteam as to what they wanted to establish in terms of world-building. We tried to draw some connections to the existing Sam universe (in the Earth scenario) and extend that universe in the direction Croteam wanted (in the Pladeon scenario), while keeping all the missions firmly in the spirit of Sam. After all, no matter where you put him, Sam is Sam. Pladeon was particularly fun to write, though.

And then there are the one-liners, of which there can never really be enough. Here some of them also serve narrative purposes, to transition you from one scenario to the next, or reward you for finishing a fight. This is where I’m particularly glad Verena is working on this project, because she’s really good at writing these totally hyper-macho lines for Sam. When we were in Croatia to work out the final script for Serious Sam 4, that really made a huge difference. My first draft had a lot of big ideas, most of which made it to the final draft and which I think will make SS4 a better game, but Verena was just fantastic at getting the tone right. Where I’d gone off in weird directions, she brought it down to Earth, adding more dry military humour and some pretty brilliant one-liners. (The criterion for whether it worked was pretty simple – when we came up with stuff in the room, did it make everyone laugh? Did we all think it was cool? It was a fantastic way to work, even though we put in long, exhausting hours and had to get our butts replaced with cybernetic implants at the end.)

What I’m happiest about so far is simply that people seem to be having a blast with the game. It’s very old-school, in a way, not trying to innovate, but trying to be really good at what it is. We had nothing to do with that, of course, but Croteam is family at this point, and it’s always great to see them doing well. And what I’m second happiest about is the feedback from people saying that the game feels like Sam. That’s the most important thing for us as writers on such a classic franchise, even if our contribution in this case was super tiny. I hope that when Serious Sam 4 comes out you’ll find that what we wrote made it better, not by changing its essence, but by embracing it.

We Are Not A Virus

In recent decades, there has been a growing tendency in the politics and philosophy of ecology that can only be described as anti-humanist. While this doesn’t constitute a coherent movement as such, there are several ideological assertions that crop up repeatedly across the entire spectrum of anti-humanist thought.

The anti-humanist argument tends to include the following ideas in one shape or another:

  • Humans are uniquely destructive.
  • The impact of human civilization on the environment is “unnatural.”
  • Humans (both as a species and as individuals) bear a moral responsibility (or guilt) for their environmental impact.
  • Any view that sees humans as exceptional due to their intelligence is hubristic.

In its most extreme forms – which are far more common that one would hope, particularly on the Left – this takes on the shape of “humans are a virus” and “the world would be better off without humans.”

Before I continue, I’d like to make perfectly clear that I take the scientific reality of anthropogenic climate change as a given. I’m not interested in questioning whether human civilization is having an impact on the environment of Earth; but I am interested in the historical, scientific and ethical context of this impact. Moreover, I think there is an unassailable case to be made for the idea that humanity is exceptional, precisely because only human beings are capable of making an ethical assessment of their environmental impact.

But let us begin with historical context. In fact, let us go back to the beginning of life on our planet: the origin of oxygen.

When we discuss anthropogenic climate change, we’re discussing changes in the chemical composition of the environments of the Earth (such as the atmosphere and the oceans) due to the activity of a species, and the impact of that activity on other species. We’re talking about terraforming. But terraforming the Earth is hardly a uniquely human activity.

One of the characteristics we associate most closely with the life-rich environment of modern Earth is its oxygen-rich atmosphere. But when life first developed on this planet, there was no free oxygen on Earth at all. That changed with the Great Oxygenation Event, approximately 2.3 billion years ago.

Oceanic cyanobacteria, having developed into multicellular forms more than 2.3 billion years ago (approximately 200 million years before the GOE), became the first microbes to produce oxygen by photosynthesis. Before the GOE, any free oxygen they produced was chemically captured by dissolved iron or organic matter. The GOE was the point when these oxygen sinks became saturated and could not capture all of the oxygen that was produced by cyanobacterial photosynthesis. After the GOE, the excess free oxygen started to accumulate in the atmosphere.

The increased production of oxygen set Earth’s original atmosphere off balance. Free oxygen is toxic to obligate anaerobic organisms, and the rising concentrations may have wiped out most of the Earth’s anaerobic inhabitants at the time. Cyanobacteria were therefore responsible for one of the most significant extinction events in Earth’s history.

(Wikipedia)

In other words: long before any humans evolved on this planet, cyanobacteria radically terraformed the Earth (triggering an ice age) and simultaneously caused an “ecocide” that utterly dwarfs the extinctions caused by human activity. This – although other examples of organisms spreading suddenly or developing features destructive to others are plentiful – by itself demolishes the first argument, of humanity’s unique destructiveness. In fact humanity is merely one of many species to outcompete others on a large scale, altering its environment and causing extinctions. This is not moral judgement; it is merely historical fact.

It is worth investigating the moral question, however. Given their actions, do we:

  • hold cyanobacteria morally responsible for their impact?
  • consider cyanobacteria to be “unnatural” because of this outsized impact?

The commonly-given answer to both of these questions appears to be “no.” Why?

In the case of the first question, the answer would appear to be that cyanobacteria are simply not moral agents. Lacking intelligence, they cannot have or be asked to have a code of ethics; they are incapable of morality or immorality. However, if cyanobacteria are held to be blameless, and humans are not, then there must be some significant difference in the moral nature of human beings and cyanobacteria. In fact, if we extend this to other species that have caused terraforming or extinction, and of all these find only humans to be morally responsible, then clearly human beings must somehow be extraordinary.

As for the second question, we must ask ourselves: what is unnatural? Is this term actually philosophically useful? The case of the Great Oxygenation Event illustrates the problem: if the impact of humans and cyanobacteria is in some way comparable, why is one natural, and the other unnatural? It cannot be their destructiveness, as they have that in common. It cannot be their changing of the environment, as they also have that in common. Are human beings not animals? Why would they exist outside of nature – in fact, how would it even be possible to exist outside of nature? Neither the building of colonies, nor the production of tools, nor the changing of the environment to fit one’s needs, nor an accidental impact on the environment, nor indeed the destruction of other species are unique to human beings. Either cyanobacteria are unnatural, or human beings are natural, or the term is useless.

Speaking of nature, where does the idea originate that the extinction of species is immoral? Anti-humanists will frequently deride human beings as not only a pest, a virus, a plague, but also as criminals; as murderers. But if we observe the history that preceded us – if we, that is, take a non-human-centric view of planetary history – then it becomes abundantly obvious that extinction is the order of the day. More species are extinct than live today, yet no other species are seen as particularly morally bankrupt for their participation in the continual holocaust that is the process of evolution.

Just as importantly, extinction events occur without any interference from living beings at all. In anti-humanist writing, reference is frequently made to humans upsetting a natural “balance.” 66 million years ago, the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event wiped out 75% of all species on Earth. Before that, 252 million years ago, the Permian-Triassic extinction event wiped out a stunning 90-96% of all species. (The latter may have partially involved microorganisms known as methanogens.)

How do we assess the morality of such events? If we assert the existence of some kind of natural order, or even the existence of some sort of controlling force (“Mother Nature”), then we must come to the conclusion that mass extinction and terraforming are, in fact, part of the plan. If we attempt to derive a code of ethics from pre-human natural history, that code cannot classify the actions of modern-day human beings as crimes. If such a force as “Mother Nature” truly existed, human beings would be perfectly in keeping with her previous methodology.

But what if we do, in fact, assert that the destruction of other species is not desirable? What if we express the concept that life, in its beauty and diversity, is valuable? As we have seen above, it is impossible to attribute such ethical concepts to Nature. There has never been a balance for humans to disrupt; the history of life is the history of constant disruption, extinction, destruction. Therefore we must acknowledge that the love of Life – not of individual life, but of the concept itself – is a wholly human trait. What distinguishes us from other species is not our destructiveness (which is very common) or our tendency to terraform (also very common), but our utterly unique ability to question and evaluate our impact on the biosphere.

It is important to acknowledge that human beings do occupy a different moral position than cyanobacteria. But that does not make humans transgressors against some imagined natural order. Humans are not setting out to cause destruction; we are, like so many species before us, setting out to live, to thrive. Like the cyanobacteria before us, we are very successful at it, and that’s having side effects. But what’s truly remarkable, what’s truly unique, is that we human beings can use our capacity to reason to observe material processes and seize control of them in order to change outcomes. We may not be unique if our ability to destroy, but we are unique in our ability to care.

The anti-humanist meme that “humanity is a virus” has little to offer us. Those who ahistorically and unscientifically suggest that humanity is a unique threat to the biosphere are perpetuating the same old myth of Original Sin that has so long been used to stifle the ingeniousness of Homo sapiens by those who profit from scarcity and fear.

There is a much better metaphor for what human intelligence could truly mean for this planet.

For billions of years, this planet has been ravaged by extinction events. From bolide impacts to supervolcanos to, yes, the effect of particularly successful species, the biosphere has been violently assaulted. Life on this little rock is under constant threat – by threats far worse than human beings. If you truly value Life, and are not merely lost in a haze of misanthropy, then you cannot simply shrug off these threats. If you truly value Life, then you must recognize that humanity’s capacity for reason does not represent a threat, but a possibility.

The dinosaurs didn’t have a space programme. Bacteria cannot tell what their chemical processes are doing to the atmosphere. No other species even has the concept of “protecting the environment.”

Humanity’s unique capacity for moral judgement on an abstract level, our equally unique productive capabilities, our insights into the origins of natural phenomena – all these signify that for the very first time in the history of the planet, there exists a species that can express belief in the value of Life and take meaningful action to protect Life.

We are not a virus.

We’re an immune system.

Human Nature

We can’t create a better economic system.

We can’t beat cancer.

We can’t achieve interstellar travel.

We can’t overthrow the Czar.

We can’t beat the plague.

We can’t create machines that fly.

We can’t overthrow the kings.

We can’t prevent the infants from dying.

We can’t cross the oceans.

We can’t work together with the other tribes.

We can’t grow those berries ourselves.

We can’t cross the swamps.

We can’t build better shelter.

We can’t build better tools.

We can’t heal ourselves when the spirits make us sick.

We can’t understand why the gods send lightning.

We can’t control fire.

This wheel thing is a bad idea.

 

It’s human nature, you see.

Humans are naturally selfish and individualistic, so nothing changes.

It’s human nature, you see.

Humans are naturally obedient and collectivistic, so nothing changes.

It’s human nature, you see.

Humans have a divinely-appointed place in the universe, so nothing changes.

It’s human nature, you see.

Human nature has always been exactly like this.

We’re all wolves.

We’re all sheep.

We’re all whatever is most convenient.

 

The only thing that really never changes is the people telling us that story.

So far.

Voting, Democracy, and the People

Whenever another election nears, the world fills up with paeans to the power of voting and doom-filled laments about people failing to do their democratic duty. Whenever someone suggests that people should actively avoid voting, no matter how they arrived at this conclusion, they are immediately hit by an immense amount of outrage, usually expressed through various adages about apathy and “getting the governments you deserve.”

When it comes to voting, it would seem, everyone believes that democracy is sacred. (Less so, one might observe, when it comes to basic rights like privacy.)

But democracy is a lot more than voting. In fact, the name itself doesn’t directly say anything about voting; it refers to the power of the people (the demos). Abraham Lincoln most famously described the nature of democracy as “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” That is, a government not only controlled by the people and made up of the people, but also acting in service of the people.

It’s hard to argue that such a thing currently exists, or is represented by the current system of elections. In most cases, people are asked to choose between representatives of a financial elite whose interests are exactly opposed to those of the people. Frequently these candidates even form part of a political dynasty, being the second or third of fifth person by that name to rule the country. Choosing which quasi-aristocrat gets to be king is not democracy; it’s monarchy disguised as reality television.

On a fundamental structural level, the voting process is itself geared towards producing the desired results, as various complex, bizarre laws (from what is necessary for a party to be put on ballots to how votes are actually counted) give major advantages to the bigger, established parties. The details vary from country to country, but it’s rarely a clean, straightforward process.

To the degree that any democratic process exists, it is strongly distorted by the power of capital. With most of the world’s wealth owned by a minuscule fraction of the population, in a system that has profit as its core mechanism, the financial elite can push forward the candidates of its preference through mass media, tours, and direct corruption. When parties do exist that attempt to represent the interests of the people, their voices will simply not be heard, or campaigns of misinformation will portray them as dangerous or ridiculous. (Who can forget the media’s obsession with what sort of shirts Yanis Varoufakis wore?) Meanwhile, in times of crisis, when it appears that the regular political entities are not extreme enough in punishing opposition to the system, the financial elites will begin to strongly promote fascist entities, giving them airtime and slowly legitimizing their views.

Even when popular discontent is strong enough to push the establishment parties out of power, popular sovereignty is near to nonexistent. Vast swathes of policy are not determined by elected officials, but by unaccountable transnational organizations, corporate courts, trade agreements, and so on. In the EU, for example, it would be technically illegal for a government to implement any policies that fall outside of neoliberal capitalism. That is to say, not only would a change in economic system be forbidden, even if people vote for it, but even a different track within the same system (such as the various social-democratic paradigms Europe once espoused) are out of the question. The choice is only between various flavours of the same thing.

When an attempt is made to question such antidemocratic systems, the response is a mix of contempt and brutality. Voters are openly told by governing bureaucrats that they made “the wrong choice” and either blackmailed (as in the case of Greece) or just made to vote again (as in Ireland), all the while being terrorized by mass media predictions of doom should the vote not go as desired.

To describe such a process as “democracy” in any but the most superficial of senses is absurd, as is the notion that refusing to participate in this charade somehow constitutes a rejection of one’s rights as a citizen. If none of the things above were true, if there was actually such a thing as popular sovereignty, then perhaps the usual lament of “if only people voted!” would be accurate. Given the circumstances, it is not.

However, questioning the value of voting in the current system is not identical to abandoning democracy. If we keep to Lincoln’s definition of democracy – government of the people, by the people, for the people – then democracy can be fought for in entirely different ways. The people still run the entire machinery of industry. Everything real that is produced by our society is produced through the work of ordinary people. Financial elites, living off exploiting the labour of others, are by definition not indispensable. But without working people, nothing runs. That gives the people an incredible amount of untapped power, which can be harnessed not through voting, but through organization. The power of labour is the heart of democracy, and through it – through claiming power, not begging for it – the system can be changed so that it does truly become democratic.

Precisely because elites fear this power, society is regularly bombarded with a variety of misanthropic narratives. We are told repeatedly that people are stupid, that they cannot be trusted, that we should fear “the mob”. This notion, that democracy must urgently be regulated to safeguard it from ordinary people, has been repeated so often that it’s become something of a truism. In a world constantly on the brink of war, in the midst of an unending economic catastrophe and the biggest refugee crises in decades, we’re warned of the danger posed by the very people who have the least control over anything – or even better, we are told they are at fault, because they got the governments they deserve. It’s an incredible trick, to shift the blame from those wielding power to those suffering the consequences, but this profound misanthropy has been so tightly embraced, particularly in the largely middle-class world of academia and the arts, that it is rarely questioned.

(It’s not a coincidence that today’s art asks such “provocative” questions as “What if we must give up all of our principles to succeed against these horrifying but utterly fictional enemies?” and “What if everyone is secretly awful?” – these narratives are part and parcel of the decay of genuine democracy. Identity politics, with its focus on depicting oppression as something experienced by small, isolated groups of people and demonizing the broad masses of those who do not fit into these categories as the true oppressors serves to further alienate people from each other rather than realize their common democratic power. It is important to mention these two aspects, because the opposition to democracy does not come only from open reactionaries and fascists, but just as frequently from the liberal wing of capitalism.)

The current trend seems to be for political power to be transferred away from what we recognize as the classic capitalist State and towards largely opaque entities that are completely unaccountable. If voting was only a minor part of democracy before, it is increasingly not a part at all. So while it is possible that in some cases, voting will play a part in the struggle for a people’s government, genuine democracy will by definition never be given from above. It can only claimed by the actual demos.

Quick News Update Without Witty Title

What’s happening? A lot is happening!

  • I’m working on a project I can’t tell you about yet.
  • I’m working on another project I can’t tell you about yet.
  • The last bit of The Council of Crows finally clicked into place for me – a pretty amazing bit of story that’s going to make this game a significant part of the overall tapestry in a way I hadn’t quite anticipated. It’s a lot of additional work, but it’s necessary, and I finally feel like I know the full story. I’ll be announcing a release date soon, I hope. We’re getting there!
  • Verena and I are still working on Serious Sam 4, although it’s a quiet phase at the moment, as other stuff gets taken care of.
  • The Talos Principle 2 was announced. Tom and I are co-writing it, of course. But that’s still a ways in the future, actually. Yes, it’s happening, but the main priority is SS4 at the moment.
  • On a more personal note, some of you probably know I’ve been dealing with an increasing sense of depression. We’re making some changes to our living situation to change that. That’s taking a lot of time and effort (and money), but I think it’s incredibly necessary.
  • I feel like this is an important year for me. I’m working on a lot of stuff that I’m very excited about. My mind is constantly full of ideas – for games, books, movies, everything. But at the same time, I urgently need a change of scenery. If that gives me the boost of energy that I need, I’m going to have a metric ton of output in the next twelve months or so.
  • Verena and I have both worked really hard to get to this point, so I really hope this is all going to go well. We have so many cool projects at the moment – some together, some solo, but all of them really exciting. I want to stop wasting time and start telling all these stories! Especialy since there are even more stories waiting to take their place. I can feel the wordy little bastards creeping around in the shadows.

An Authentic Opinion

AUTHENTIC

In online debates, the idea will frequently show up that people who don’t belong to a particular (ethnic, sexual, cultural) group are not only ethically wrong to express an opinion on that group’s political situation, but are in fact incapable of doing so accurately due to being somehow essentially different from people belonging to that group. To put it in different terms, people belonging to these groups – i.e. people who are not white Americans – are fundamentally Other.

Well, since that means I’m fundamentally Other, let me share a tiny bit of my exotic wisdom with you strangers.

In this mysterious Oriental land called Ελλάδα, oppressed for four centuries by the Ottoman Empire, ravaged by world wars, scarred by foreign-backed dictatorships and plunged into ruin by austerity, a truly peculiar phenomenon persists. Yes, in this land populated by the descendants of many peoples, speaking an ancient common tongue, we, the people of the mountains, the islands, the cities, the children of refugees from Asia Minor and Πόντος, we who fought a terrible civil war within living memory… are not all the same.

Yes, dear reader! Astonishing as it may sound, there are vast political divides between us! Though we are all alike to you, in our huts and temples we clash with each other over how to proceed, like barbarians! More than that, such conflicts have a long history, and there are many different movements, some of which even – gasp! – look to countries beyond our own for solidarity. Some of us even embrace ideas developed by… believe it or not… Germans! Even a German Jew!

(Well, we did have one of the biggest and most significant Jewish cities in this world for several centuries, but let’s not confuse you too much.)

So, you see, beyond the cryptic veils of Otherness lie oceans of unfamiliarity! And with that in mind, prepare yourself for the greatest of revelations, a unique insight into the psyche of the Other. When you engage in your surely enlightened defense of our cultural Otherness, bravely guarding our πνευματική ιδιοκτησία, perhaps – in your neverending liberal kindness – consider the following.

Let’s say you are asking two people for their opinion on the great tragedy of modern Hellas. One of them is called Κυριάκος Μητσοτάκης. The other is called David Harvey. One is very Greek, yes? He’ll make a big deal of his Greekness, too, if you ask him. His identity really matters to him. He can sing Greek songs! He might even be able to recite some Greek poetry or something. The other guy is very, very English. The English oppressed the Greeks, right? Slaughtered the Greek resistance after WWII and put Nazi collaborators in power. So the second guy must be really wrong, and it’s really awful of him to express an opinion about a people he cannot understand.

Or what about Φώφη Γεννηματά versus Rosa Luxemburg? The latter is dead, but still, such a German name. And what did the Germans do to the Greeks? Wholesale slaughter. Forced loans. Wiping out the great Jewish city mentioned above. And then, a few decades later, enforced austerity, economic ruin, a total undermining of democracy. The Germans must be the enemies of the Greeks! Surely a German woman could never have a clearer, more useful opinion than a true authentic Greek like Ms. Gennimata!

But as I suggested, we strange Greek tribes with our foreign gods and our restaurants and our μπουγάτσες and our men who shout “opa!” for no reason, are not all the same. And the people who appear authentic to you, the people who care the most about ethnicity and identity, are the worst scumbags in the land. Wait, that didn’t sound exotic enough. They are the worst μαλακισμένα φασιστοσκουλήκια του κερατά in the land.

The people who come closest to your conception of authenticity, identity, appropriation, and so on – the heroic soldiers of Golden Dawn – are actual fascists. You are supporting fascists. Fascists are bad in our country, master. We no like them.

And the others, the evil Eurocentric socialists? Those are the people who are on our side. Those are the people whose analyses are actually accurate, whose ideas do describe our situation, and who are part of our fight. In fact, it’s not our fight, it’s just one big fight and we’re all in it together, because we’re humanists and internationalists. Αλήθεια! It’s not that those people are the rare foreigners who get the Greek stamp of approval. It’s that they’re not foreigners. They’re comrades.

At least according to me, and I must be right, because I’m authentic. So give up your segregationist ideas and join the revolution, or I’ll be offended.

Error and Sin

It is not because angels are holier than men or devils that makes them angels, but because they do not expect holiness from one another, but from God alone.

– William Blake

One of the major issues any social group has to figure out how to deal with is disagreement. Disagreement is inevitable, a natural result of human intelligence and diversity. But what happens when someone has a different opinion about something you are truly passionate about, an issue that defines your worldview? How do you treat this person now?

How do you classify this discrepancy?

You could classify it as a sin. That is, you could see it as a moral failing, a sign that there is something reprehensible about the other person’s innate characteristics. A sin is an individual matter, to be solved on an individual basis, usually through a public display of repentance. The alternative is usually some form of shunning, as no-one wants to surround themselves with people who are fundamentally bad.

You could also classify it as an error. That is, you could see it as an intellectual failing, a sign that the person has failed to correctly connect the dots, or has not been exposed to the correct information. This is not a moral matter, and very frequently it is not even an individual matter, but the result of systemic problems. The solution comes through logical argumentation and exposure to information. If that leads nowhere, the person may be deemed incapable of currently changing their mind, but that does not necessarily mean shunning, since no moral judgement has been made.

The difference between these approaches is particularly relevant when dealing with individuals with whom we share common goals or interests. Let’s take libertarians as an example. I’m a socialist. What is my goal, as a socialist? A society in which all human beings are truly free and capable of reaching their fullest potential. What is a libertarian’s goal? A society in which all human beings are truly free and capable of reaching their fullest potential. What do I think would happen if we all embraced libertarian politics? I think we’d end up living in a nightmarish dictatorship of capital where none of us would be free and human potential would be utterly wasted. But, crucially, that’s not what the libertarian is actually aiming at. I believe the libertarian analysis of economics and the libertarian understanding of power are utterly wrong; but I don’t think they’re evil. A libertarian can still be my friend. I can believe a libertarian is a good person, or at least that their being a libertarian has little bearing on their quality of character.

The same can go for a feminist. I believe in the liberation of all people from oppressive social roles. In fact, I believe in the abolition of all group-based social roles. I am a socialist because I believe in a better individualism. That means that the liberation of women (and gay people and trans people and so on) is an utterly essential part of creating a socialist society. However, unlike many feminists (though not all), I do not believe this can be accomplished through identity politics or similar means, but can only happen through a universalist movement aimed at abolishing the class structure of society. But neither of us wants women to be oppressed.

To some degree, when people are honest about their beliefs, this can and must be extended further. For cultural and historical reasons that go back hundreds if not thousands of years, people frequently hold positions that are profoundly erroneous, yet not intended to do harm. In many societies, for example, both men and women commonly hold sexist views – that is, they believe in restrictive gender roles. But sexism does not necessarily equal misogyny. Tradition is a powerful influence, and the idea that “this is what society is like, this is what’s normal, this is what people should do” is difficult to shake. When parents, for example, attempt to impose culturally-based restrictions on their children, they are frequently acting on the belief that this course of action will result in a happier outcome. It’s important to be clear that this is frequently tragically wrong and the cause of much misery in the world, but at the same time that does not mean it should be equated with the actions of deranged antisocial individuals who act out of hatred and resentment.

That is not to say that there are not those whose views are truly repugnant, or whose clear hypocrisy is not worth engaging with. But a systemic rather than personal view at least allows us to understand that such individuals are also not necessarily evil; their errors may simply be so fundamental and so strongly reinforced by society that it would take a radical change in the structure of said society for such individuals to ever change, or for similar people to turn out differently some day. That makes some people our enemies, but it is not against their personal morality that we struggle, but against the conditions that turned them into who they are.

Of course, the usefulness of all this depends entirely on your winning condition. What are you trying to accomplish? Are you trying to change the world? Do you believe it’s possible to win? Or are you trying to achieve a personal sense of moral purity in a world that cannot get better?

To understand disagreement in terms of error is to allow for the possibility of learning, for the possibility of change. Not just for others, but for yourself – the same mechanics apply to everyone, and that in turn leads to evolution, to an improvement and convergence of ideas that makes cooperation possible. The logic of sin, however, leads to loneliness. It may achieve a feeling of superiority, enhanced occasionally by confession, but the only change it leads to is personal. Constant moral judgement tears apart the bonds between human beings, who are after all not only fallible, but incredibly varied in their ideas of what is right and what is wrong.

In the end, from the point of view of the system, it hardly matters what flavour of sin you’re after. It doesn’t make a difference whether you’re hunting witches or bourgeois infiltrators, TERFs or the enemies of gaming. What matters is that you’re hunting individuals, living on outrage, never seeing the bigger picture. “All sin tends to be addictive,” W.H. Auden remarked, “and the terminal point of addiction is what is called damnation.” But there’s a reason Jesus admonished people not to judge, lest they be judged themselves. Those who constantly look for sin in others are themselves damned.

Strangely, then, it is in the systemic view, the impersonal view, that we can find a kind of grace. Empathy is more likely when we stop thinking in moral terms. Forgiveness is easier when we think historically. And justice may be more achievable if we worry less about criminals.

If there is to be any hope, we have to stop looking for sinners and start looking for solutions.