Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Lowest Default Setting...talk about "respect" for Redshirts

John Scalzi, science fiction author, president of the Science Fiction Writers of America, film critic and frequent blogger, hefted a post out there this morning and inadvertently splashed the Manosphere.  

The post is a way to explain to the -- apparently -- thick-headed, ignorant, and entitled Straight White Males who rule the world just where their place is.  The post is entitled Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting That There Is, and begins like this:

I’ve been thinking of a way to explain to straight white men how life works for them, without invoking the dreaded word “privilege,” to which they react like vampires being fed a garlic tart at high noon. It’s not that the word “privilege” is incorrect, it’s that it’s not their word. When confronted with “privilege,” they fiddle with the word itself, and haul out the dictionaries and find every possible way to talk about the word but not any of the things the word signifies.
So, the challenge: how to get across the ideas bound up in the word “privilege,” in a way that your average straight white man will get, without freaking out about it?
 Being a white guy who likes women, here’s how I would do it:

Then Scalzi goes on to make an actually quite compelling metaphor in which being Straight, White, and Male is the lowest difficulty setting on the game The Real World . . . because, apparently, that's the only metaphorical system we stupid dudes are left with any more.  Fair enough.  Now that we're not going to college or getting married or getting jobs like we used to (back when Straight White Males were being castigated for there being  too many of us in college, in "bad" marriages where we oppress our wives, and in positions of authority in the workplace), perhaps video games are about all we have left.
He did manage to pull back on the throttle of disdain towards the end of the piece where he conceded that, yes, Straight White Males didn't have any more control over the game settings than anyone else.  But then he stopped there, and ended (a little patronizingly):

So that’s “Straight White Male” for you in The Real World (and also, in the real world): The lowest difficulty setting there is. All things being equal, and even when they are not, if the computer — or life — assigns you the “Straight White Male” difficulty setting, then brother, you’ve caught a break.

Well, maybe so.  If you look at it from one perspective.  I mean, despite his somewhat snide tone, Scalzi's point is well-taken -- but it looks at the nature of straight white male privilege without looking at its attendant deficits, and automatically posits that the "advantages" of straight white privilege always outweigh those disadvantages.  Sometimes "catching a break" is the fastest way to the bottom.  But far beyond that, it misses the reason why we dislike the term "privilege" when it is applied to us.  Here, slightly expanded, is what I replied:
It’s not that we (straight, white, male) nerds can’t understand the concept of privilege (Latin, essentially, for “private law”) and how we’re benefiting from it, I believe. It’s the fact that yes, we didn’t have any more say in the "character" we were issued by the computer than anyone else, and we get tired of other players grousing like we did. No matter how good or how bad we do, our character class/race is used as a justification for why we are, somehow, inherently at fault for our stats, and therefore should shoulder the blame of most of the rest of what is wrong in the world. I’ll cop to straight white male privilege and how I’ve exploited it as much as anyone else would in my position, but I didn’t cheat to get that stat, and having people constantly act like I did and use it as an excuse for their own deficiencies is tiresome and intellectually dishonest.  Being Straight, White, and Male doesn’t make me an inherently evil, unjust, selfish or immoral person any more than any other sociographic racial stereotype would.
Thanks to our ancestors building Western Civilization and all, we get to deal with all of the great guilt associated with being Straight White Males -- the Conquest, the Crusades, the Trail of Tears, the Holocaust, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, all of these are laid at our feet as the price of our "lowest difficulty setting", yet few of the perks associated with Straight White Male privilege make it down to the rank and file in ways that make up for the negatives in a big way.  Oh, it's nice not being stopped by the cops or shot by the cops for my race, don't get me wrong -- but when you get your pink slip at work and everyone expects you to go home and load your guns instead of filing for unemployment because you're another angry, privileged Straight White Male, well, it's a bit of a bummer.
Psychologically, that leaves you with two options: acceptance of your status, and developing some method of dealing with the guilt that being socially privileged forces upon you, like philanthropy or serial monogamy,  OR check out of the cultural matrix that imposes both the privilege and the guilt upon you. A movement known as Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW), is advocating Straight White Males abandoning those roles of ever-increasing social and financial expectation/privilege/guilt here in the West and pursue more fulfilling interests off the grid or in exotic foreign lands where you are merely one of many minority populations.  And as game strategies go, it ain't a bad one.
I mean, when you’re stuck with the lowest default setting and you have no way to correct it, why not abandon the Big Quest and indulge in little side-quests off in the hinterlands? You have just as much fun . . . and no one can call you a loser if you aren’t playing the Big Game.  The women are pretty, feminine, and don't leap to divorce except in extreme cases.  A reasonably well-educated Straight White Male can make a decent living doing all sorts of things in a third world country -- and have a lot of fun while he's there.  Why go tromping off to Mordor when you can hang out in a distant village with exotic barmaids, intriguing ales, and the potential for adventures beyond the Divorce Court and Weekend Dad modules?  You're still racking up experience points, you're just on a different server.  One where being a Straight White Male is seen as a good thing, not grounds for Reasonable Suspicion of Oppression.
Hey, it beats enduring the ‘privilege’ of socio-racial guilt — what else are we supposed to do?
And hell . . . why should we put up with that?  If we're just players, too, then we play for our own amusement and benefit, pursuing our own interests.  Here I thought we were the heirs and caretakers of a five thousand year old civilization our ancestors created . . . 

So here's a new strategy for the "players" in the "party" of the Straight White Male, when confronted with these assumptions of privilege and ignorance of the weaknesses of the class in our fellow players: walk away.  Log off.  Do not engage.  If other players aren't willing to extend your character the same basic respect they'd give a passing half-troll because of your difficulty setting, then they aren't worth playing with . . . or supporting.  Walk away, go away, go your own way, and log on to a more productive server.  The players you leave behind will likely be unhappy, but . . . well, it's your freakin' account.  

And if you aren't having fun while you play, why play?


Someone pointed out to me that Scalzi's new book is called Redshirts, which I find kind of ironic.  His condescension towards Straight White Males, who seem to be the majority of those who buy his books and the related videogame products, seems a little counterintuitive under the circumstances.  He basically seems to be saying:

 "HEY!  STRAIGHT WHITE NERDS!  You've got it easy and you need to quitchyerbitchin and being assholes because even though I wouldn't have an internet to hawk my books over if it wasn't for two generations of you doing what you do, you should feel properly ashamed of who you are and what you get out of life because compared to everyone else you have had it all handed to you on a silver platter!  Adopt the proper servile role AT ONCE or risk the displeasure of the collective!"

It's not that I take issue with his analogy -- it's a fine one.  Or even his assertion, that being straight, white, and male gives some of us some inherent advantages in some situations -- I get that.  I also get that just being born in the US gives you ENORMOUS advantage towards being born in most of the rest of the world -- yet it was only toward the Straight White Males that Scalzi leveled his verbal blunderbuss.  He didn't ask for all Americans to admit that they had it easier Difficulty Level than everyone else in the world.  He focused on the easiest portion of the population to bash and get away with it: Straight White Males.  His base, in other words.  

So that begs the question: just how does John Scalzi see the bulk of his audience?  He seems insistent that SWMs aren't doing enough to admit that they have some advantages, and persistent in his assertion that they are, as a class, too limited in scope to even realize the dreadful damage that they are doing by not actively working to undermine their own self-interest -- essentially his entire post is a admonition for Straight White Males to do their utmost to selflessly reduce what little advantages that might linger from their ancestors' long, evil plot to build Western Civilization.  

But the problem with Scalzi's piece isn't his metaphor or his condescension: it's their implication.  SWMs must be properly silent and guilty for who they are, or they're assholes.  Expendable.  If you're straight, male, and white, then if you don't make a big show about how you being straight male and white gives you goodies that no one else gets but you feel just terrible about it . . . you're an asshole.  Expendable.  That's the gist.  Work for the greater good against your self-interest.  Sacrifice what you have and all your ancestors gave you in the interests of a fairness that never gets achieved and a population who only increases how much they despise you with every concession that's made.  Over 50 years of systematic attacks on "Straight White Male Privilege", and you'd think the number of calls for us to give up for the greater good would have produced more respect and less noise about how evil teh Mens were.  In the perfect Blue Pill world, Straight White Men are the lowest of the lower in the social sense.  Utterly replaceable, utterly indefensible, utterly expendable on the alter of social justice.  

Redshirts, in other words.  John Scalzi seems to be saying that if you don't take a fist full of Blue Pills every morning and begin your day by obsequiously kissing the world's collective ass, then you're just a redshirt.  The dude who beams down (usually a Straight White Male named Johnson or Conway, or Peters or something very White -- Ensign Zuniga usually makes it to the end of the episode) who ends up getting eaten by the monster or killed by Klingons or blown up by the reactor explosion or is otherwise . . . expendable.  

And Redshirts don't get any respect.  They barely get a name.  They're there to look strong and tough and then die gallantly so the rest of the multiethnic pangendered landing party can escape.  

There's a message there.


  1. Good response. BTW his last name is Scalzi, not Galzi, for what it's worth.

  2. The biggest problem I have with the idea of white privilege is the fact that I'm assumed to be a recipient of it. One of my mother's ancestors (Italian) was lynched in a historic incident in New Orleans in 1891. One of my father's ancestors (Irish) helped build the canals in New Orleans. Irish were used for that labor because it was far too dangerous to risk losing a valuable slave. He committed suicide in 1957, throwing himself into the canal he had helped to build. My more immediate forbears were farmers and policemen. So where is this privilege that I'm supposed to have inherited?

    1. typo... he committed suicide in 1857, not 1957.

    2. This is something I pointed out on his blog as well--my family was Jewish in Russia, moved to the US around 1910, and moved to the South in the next generation. Victims of pogroms in Russia, penniless immigrant minorities in the US...we became successful in my grandparents' generation, with my grandfather succeeding as a dentist despite the time period's quotas to keep Jews out of college. Chinese- and Japanese-Americans are still discriminated against in college applications. These groups overcame their awful treatment somehow without whining about privilege...

    3. I'm the second generation of my family born in the U.S. My family never owned slaves (at least that we know of...) and my great grandfather dies of black lung in his mid-40's because of working in the coal mines of Western PA.

      I can't deny that perhaps my gender/race combination has given me a certain perspective on life that is different from other people, but I truly don't feel like I've somehow been given a great gift because I'm white and male. My family certainly didn't benefit from "white privilege" in the way many people describe it. In fact, many of my grandfather's brothers and sisters were treated like slaves by the companies they worked for (minus the physical torture like whipping of course)forced to work in dangerous conditions for very little pay.

      In terms of MY perceived benefits, I can't see it. I have literally seen guys passed over for jobs because there weren't enough women in the department. I've seen layoffs where all things being equal, the white guys got kicked out first because the company needed to keep the minorities on staff. When applying for a job, I have to compete against people that often have a leg up because of some quota the company has to fill.

      Where exactly is my white privilege?

    4. Finns were once considered possible mongoloids, in any case probably not quite white enough at a time when that really mattered. There was still something of a struggle to get the unquestioned 'white' status in the early years of 20th century. Poor guys, they got to enjoy the unblemished version of white privilege only for a few decades, and now they are supposed to feel ashamed of it.

  3. I'm still waiting for my priveledge to kick in. When I was trying to get into my line of work in 1992, I was met with a "blacks only need apply" ad. I was told to get the job as a white male, I had to work for the agency for free in reserve status, had to have a college degree (wasn't required for the job at the time and I worked to pay for it, no loans or "grants"), and had to be in the top 10 of my academy class. I did all of these and (including valedictorian of my academy class) and got the job. Over the 20 years I've been here, I've been passed over for positions that were given to females and blacks numerous times. I just redoubled my efforts, worked that much harder, and now have the top job in my rank. I'm not sure where my privilege is, but I sure hope it hurry's up. All this hard work is wearing me out...busted my ass for everything I have....

  4. //There's a message there

    And the message is this

  5. I will admit to reading and enjoying John Scalzi's books. Upon reflecting on the main characters in all of his books, I believe that each and every one of them was Straight, White and Male (except for one spin-off book where the main character was the daughter of a Straight White Male). I remember that in his "Old Man's War" series there were some not so straight characters, but they were green and military. A little buggery in the Army goes a long way toward plot development.

  6. No redshirts available in this neighborhood...

    Any multiethnic pangendered landing party looking to confront the locals should land somewhere else.

  7. Came here from Scalzi's blog. I read through the thread there, but after a while, only for the back-and-forths involving Ian. Too many of the commenters were tiresome, in one of a limited number of ways.

    Both the premise and the execution of Scalzi's post were excellent, IMO. As with most such things, the attraction would be to use the post as a springboard. "OK, I see where the original essay is saying something important and true... what other insights come from this? What are the limits of the premise? What are its implications, and do any of them turn out to be strange, or even false?"

    800 comments, and by and large, that didn't happen. Instead,

    1. Yeah, lets talk about those SWMs and their privilege, er, lowest difficulty setting.

    2. I'm an SWM, but a very contrite one, here are my bona fides.

    3. Well, I'm a SWM, but have suffered so -- that makes me one of the special snowflakes.

    It ends up being pretty tiresome.

    It would do Scalzi and his fanboys and fangirls a lot of good to read and understand the humor of Christian Lander's blog "Stuff White People Like". Because "SWPL" is the sort of utopia that arises when SWMs take Scalzi's critique to heart. Fun for all? Sure. Do ever-increasing levels of SWPL behavior and the SWPL mindset lead to a better world? Er, I'm not so certain about that.

    To be a really powerful insight, Scalzi's SWM analogy requires the blank-slate view of human nature and human diversity. That's not hard to achieve, in that the educational-industrial complex wholly endorses that perspective. Well over a decade of indoctrination by the time you get your liberal-arts degree. Unfortunately, it has the same bug as Lysenkoism did: turns out that it isn't true. Among educated people who handle the relevant data and think deeply about the technical issues, blank-slatism has already unraveled. But the broader society hasn't gotten the memo. If the guardians of politically correct thought have their way, we never will.

    Here's the crux: wet streets don't cause rain. Correlation isn't, necessarily, causation.

    Much that could be said, but few are interested in having that conversation.

    1. The thing to remember about Scalzi is that he's fundamentally a lazy egoist -- but a very intelligent, well-educated one. When it comes to writing comedy or mass-market opinion pieces, this works in his favor as the articles tend to be reasonably engaging, quick reads.

      But, his political opinion pieces suffer for it. He knows enough rhetorical tricks to sideline most valid objections to his occasionally facile arguments, and he only publishes where he can completely control the argument -- via selective engagement and banhammer. Posting anything other than a fanboy's gushing is really a waste of time, as he's only engaging his audience for self-gratification, not debate.

      (I say this while also occasionally posting in those threads. I'm not proud.)

    2. @ gerrymander --

      From "Gucci Little Piggy," here is yet another account of the consequence of society's permissiveness in letting straight white male privilege run amok.

      Things would be so much better if SWMs would just take instruction from their moral superiors.

    3. Arguing against Scalzi's almost completely moronic post is like arguing against voodoo raising the dead.

      If he's the head of the SFWA it's a sure sign why SF has fallen into itself, a caricature of itself. Reworking old themes or becoming pedantic civil war reenactors but where the south wins and with a Hugo-winning author of Star Wars tie-ins wishing more SF literature was influenced by Star Wars ain't exactly a new Golden Age is it?

  8. Brilliant? Please. Glenn Reynolds should cease linking him.

  9. I remember reading the blurb on "Old Man's War" and thought it was a dumb idea. Never read any of his stuff based on that.

    After reading that essay, I can see I was right to avoid him.

    1. Regardless of his political leaning (way to the left), "Agent to the Stars" and "Android's Dream" are as funny a science fiction as I have read.

    2. "Old Man's War" is a decent mash-up of Joe Haldeman's "Forever War" and mid-period Heinlein. It's a far cry from this, and most of his other blog entries.

  10. Got this off a comment from you at Scalzi's place.

    “The moment you bend your will to another person, you do so willingly, not because you’re made to. In the end, it’s your decision.”

    Please read "Kindred" by Octavia Butler. You seem to have a lack of imagination. Hopefully the book will help.

    1. @ Anon 10:48pm --

      I've read, enjoyed, and reflected upon "Kindred." And I have a different perspective from yours; closer to Ian's. It's conceivably remotely possible that his, and my, dissent from Scalzi's stance doesn't signal a lack of imagination.

      Go figure.

  11. It was painful to read of your friend and realize how far down that road I was too before I walked away.

  12. Just as a point of interest, while we *COULD* be redshirts, there is nothing keeping us from being Kirk either! It seems to me that by taking the Red Pill, we learn that we don't have to play in their Blue Pill world. They may not like that we don't follow their rules, but the rules we follow work -- and they work well.

    While they whine at us, we just keep doing what we need to do to be in charge of our lives. What they say really makes little difference because we have our act together, we define who we are, and when it comes down to it, we learn what it takes to get what we want. If the Blue Pill world doesn't like the fact that we are in control of ourselves, that we are effective and capable so that we get what we want, big deal.

    We may not control the social media, but we control ourselves, and that is enough.

  13. Scalzi is basically a lazy egoist as someone above said. He's also someone who does "interesting spins" on other people's work and expects praise for it.

    But really, the only real thing he's good at is at selling himself, and he seems really good at that. Which is ironic considering his attitude towards his SWM readers. Maybe he's just so sure of his continued success he thinks he can just piss off anyone he wants.

  14. Confession: I like Scalzi's books. They qualify as "entertainment", and I ask no more from them. There is (lamentably) a finite amount of Heinlein available.

    For those in search of a more politically incorrect
    alternative, might I suggest the works of Sarah Hoyt? She blogs at http://accordingtohoyt.com/ , as well as PJMedia and other sites, and writes a darned good schtick in multiple genres (21 major label published novels in 110 years - nearly PhilDickian output!)

    I'm not sure that Scalzi's remake of "Little Fuzzy" with the protagonist as a (disbarred, disgraced, unethical)lawyer will work to his benefit, though.

  15. Obviously, that should be ten years, not the Methuselan one hundred and ten. Hell, even i could match that output.

  16. One thing I don't recall seeing (not that it wasn't, just that I don't remember it) was the need for the metaphor/posting. Along with everything else written on the subject:

    If it's so obvious, why is it necessary to keep talking about it? Why does this need to be constantly harped on if it isn't some sort of sales job or the grown-up version of sour grapes because someone didn't win? "Aw, it's not fair! He cheated! I tripped on my shoelaces! The sun was in my eyes!" ad nauseum.

  17. I would rather take the viewpoint of 'PBMI' poor bloody mobile infantry from Heinlein's Starship troopers books than Red shirts.

    Some look at Heinlein's starship troopers as a totalitarian dystopia, I look at them as a bright Utopia. Universal Suffrage is an experiment that has failed... allow anyone to vote that has earned that right. Privelege has no part of the option, only your willingness to serve and take personal responsibility matter.

  18. I got along fine in the world before I read Old Man's War. Then I bought it, read it, enjoyed it, found it entertaining, as I did the next couple Scalzi books I bought.

    And I'll get along fine without buying any more Scalzi books. So that's what I'll do.

  19. What's really tiresome is seeing so many here rush to display their wounds, to shout, "Hey, I'm a victim, too!" Or, "My great-grand-daddy was an Irish drunk and killed himself, so see, I'm not privileged!" And this blog is supposed to represent the enlightened manosphere?

    Instead of playing by his rules, we should laugh at and ridicule them for the absurdities they are.

    Why should we allow others to make us feel guilty about what our ancestors did or did not do?

    What ever happened to judging every person for their own actions, not the actions of their fathers or their distant forebears?

    Whatever advantages (or disadvantages) we are born with, we cannot control. "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."

    Anyway, whenever someone insists on bringing up "white male privilege," I bring up the extraordinarily long list of white male accomplishments. (Check out Charles Murray's "Human Accomplishment" if you're unaware of them.) If you want to play that game, we can play THAT game. If white men have any privilege at all, it is because of all that they have achieved. And every generation has to do it all over again.

    It's like a wealthy family. If the spoiled son squanders the fortune left to him, then he's S.O.L., and so are his kids.

    But I for one don't even like to play that game.

    One should never apologize for anything one is not responsible for. Once you start down that road, then you've lost your self-respect, you've lost your autonomy, you've lost effective control over your life.

  20. My problem with Scalzi's argument is that the argument is either trivial or wrong. If you're talking about the entire world, the signal to noise ratio is too high to make a meaningful judgement on race (where would you rather live, Japan or Russia?) as there are too many uncontrollable factors outside gender/race.

    If you limit the debate to, say, the US, the argument is easily buried under the weight of evidence (unless Scalzi is using some bizarre definition of 'easiest'). I would assume a reasonable proxy for 'easiest' would be some combination of median income, life expectancy, and college attendance rate (skeptics, please suggest other objective proxies for determining 'easiest'). All three of the proxies show that asian-Americans have it 'easier' than whites, and both life expectancy and college attendance come out in favor of females.

  21. I'm one of those white guys that looks like his success came from his Dad, but didn't. He had the appearance of success but was always on the run from his creditors. When he could have paid for my schooling, he didn't. He put it into failed business ventures. When I went into business for myself he injected himself into some of the activity, giving the impression that he was somehow in on the beginnings of my success. Just before he retired, he made a big score, so it looked like he had managed well his whole life(what a joke), but he managed to blow all that and now he's on medicaid in a nursing home. And my wife and I are taking care of his affairs and trying to pick up the pieces. And this Scalzi dude wants to say I've been cruising. FUCK HIM!

  22. I'm a regular manosphere lurker, but I hadn't heard of your blog before, and I came here from your comments on Scalzi's article. Thanks for taking the fight to hostile territory and making the case for our side in a polite, reasonable manner. If even one guy chanting along with the crowd starts quietly rethinking his position, you'll have done a good deed.

    "White privilege" types realize that if they can get their opponent upset enough to say something that really is racist, it relieves them of the responsibility to take his arguments seriously -- that's why they paper over the holes in their ideas with so much sarcasm, condescension and affected rage. So you deserve some respect for keeping a cool head and dodging that trap.

    The wisest comment on that article, I think, was the one pointing out that for all Scalzi's breast-beating declarations of loyalty, the mob will always be only a single misinterpreted incident away from turning on him. He was a target of Two Minutes Hate before and has apparently learned his "never question their narrative" lesson.

  23. Think of Scalzi's writing as the apex fallacy revisited.

  24. Geeez. What a bunch of whiners.
    From the time we SWM’s are born we are groomed and trained in the ways of our guild.
    Be honest.
    Be fair.
    Treat everyone with respect.
    Work hard.
    Take blame when it is yours.
    Don’t complain.
    Don’t watch your feet, look where you are going.
    Don’t Feel, Think.
    Execute the plan.
    Give others their due.
    And on it goes.
    Anyone can join the fun and train right along with us. But if you do you don’t get to stop in the middle and start complaining about why you are doing the work while everyone else is watching. We SWMs work and get things done. “Oh!” you say, you get everything handed to you. Everything is stacked in your favor. BullPuckey!
    I don’t look at your color, gender, clothes, or your wallet. If you say you’re going to do something, then DO IT! If you need help, ask for it but don’t expect someone to do the rest of the job for you. I watch you work. If it looks like you’re trying then I’ll help, if not, Ta Ta. When SWMs stop working you get places like Detroit, Zimbabwe, California and most of the Middle East. I have had to out work and out perform someone else to get what I have now. That is our Privilege, work!

  25. It isn't logical that all SWMs have an escalator to the top. Bubba from the trailer park doesn't get a scholarship to college, doesn't get a job by being "minimally qualified" for it. Those affirmative action Priviliges to to women and minorities.

    There may be a historical justification for it in The Deep South, but in Minnesota we never had Jim Crow laws and the last slave who set foot here was Dred Scott, our freeing of whom touched off the Civil War, 50 years before any of my ancestors came to this country. So why am I passed over in favor of a recent Somali refugee? What did he do to deserve Privilege and I punishment?

    Not logical, John. Undermines the whole argument.

  26. I always wondered how Cortes took down the Aztec Empire with only 2,000 Spaniards. Powerful, powerful stuff privilege. Gets you to the moon and "gives" you fractal geometry.

    I like to think of Scalzi's article as an analogue to a Heinleinesque time paradox: the more correct Scalzi is, the stupider he is, since no meritocracy was involved in his "thinking."

  27. I came to a different conclusion: It's a collection of racist stereotypes, but because it's aimed at whitey, it's "commentary"

  28. Scalzi is brilliant for writing his crap and making money off of it. Everyone buying the book is an idiot.

  29. I realize this is a long dead thread, but ever since I stumbled upon Scalzi's blog post when I saw it linked on CH, I decided I would no longer buy anymore of his books. I already bought 2 (Or was it 3?), then I found the books a few weeks ago and threw them away.