The Democrats’ Big Problem: Convincing People to Vote

On the one hand, I’m glad that this conversation is happening more often now. On the other hand, I’m disappointed that it’s happening in all of the wrong places. On the third hand – we’re dealing with Zaphod Beeblebrox, here – isn’t it good that the discussion is happening in the first place?

I should back up. After all, you’re unaware that I just read this article in Vox about the many problems the Democrat Party is facing. The article is mainly about the stone-cold fact that unless the Democrats can get their shit together on the local level, then no matter who you elect in office, you’re going to run into the same sorts of troubles you’ve been having for the past 15 years: All of the sparks of progressivism that started up after Bush in the early 90s are starting to unravel at the local level.

Look at Facebook and, if you’re in a left-leaning group and in a left-leaning area, chances are you’ll see slews of posts about how people just need to support this issue or that issue and vote for, say, Bernie Sanders, and we’ll start seeing a resurgence of progressivism in the United States. Well, as much as I agree that people should vote for Sanders, what those sorts of posts are missing is that, at a certain point, the President can only do so much. You’ve seen this for the entire eight years of Obama’s presidency, no matter whether you’re looking at his first term or his second term: By and large, his efforts have been sabotaged or completely stymied. The ACA is a step in the right direction, but it is, at best, a mis-sized bandage on a gaping, seeping wound. While we’ve gotten same-sex marriage approved by the Supreme Court, it was a long, challenging road to get there, and we only got there with action from the Court itself, not the legislative or executive branches. Ignoring the fight that it took to get either of those ideas into reality is damaging not only to discourse but to the health of the Democrats and their supporters.

See, what you’ll see if you look at Facebook and if you fit that criteria I mentioned above, then you’ll notice an overwhelming uniformity of ideas. It’s not quite groupthink, but it’s close. You’ll see everyone saying the same thing, and expressing shock and horror at the fact that not everyone in America has the same beliefs. God forbid you have an extreme group of friends who go all reactionary and defriend people who express an opposite point of view. Once you’ve hit that point, you know that you’ve gone a full 360 degrees and wound up in the negaverse of political discourse. But it’s the tone of what these folks are going on about that I’d like to discuss. In their quest to become so ideologically pure, they’ve gone and ostracized anyone who’s more moderate than they are and, in doing so, potentially crippled the party that has the best shot of looping together everyone from Democratic Socialists to Blue Dog Democrats.

Now I know, people shouting on Facebook (or Tumblr) seems like it shouldn’t be an indicator of the health of a party – after all, a good chunk of voters probably don’t wind up spending their time doing that. A good chunk of voters are probably busy having mental breakdowns at offices and developing coping mechanisms for permanent existential funks. However, I contend with very little data points or evidence to back my claim, that those who shout the loudest get the most attention – and in the case of the folks on social media, the attention is invariably on the Presidency.

But what, exactly, is the problem with that?

Well, as the Vox article above points out, when you focus on the Presidency, you invariably don’t talk about local elections. To actually give you talking points, and to make it something I’m more familiar with, let’s look at the 2012 election in Tennessee, specifically – for the sake of simplicity – Tennessee State Senate. That document lists the total number of votes for candidates in the Tennessee state districts. First, take a look at page 3, District 6, Knox County, in which you see a total of 72,435 voters ticking a box on that ballot. I took a look at a paper[1] published by Alice E. Brading that breaks down voter activity in ballots. Ms. Brading found that, when you go down the ballot, you see a declining trend of people even finishing ballots: From over 98% in the Presidential race to just squeaking over 80% at the end of the ballot (p. 32). Doesn’t sound too bad, right? Well, look at the turnout for that election: just under 61% (p. 29) of eligible voters made it to the polls in one form or fashion in that election – and that’s a Presidential election! A big-ticket election!

Let’s next take a look at percentage of voter turnout from Davidson County, home of Nashville, the state capital. From the Tennessee election commission-provided data, you can see that Davidson County had a similar voter turnout to Knox County: 65.62%. Of 369,339 registered voters in Davidson County, that’s a total of 242,361 (approximately) voters. According to these numbers, there was a population of 648,295 as of 2012. Now, granted, population does not equal eligible voters, so I don’t have the number of eligible voters. So, we’ll just assume that only about 57% of the county’s population is eligible to vote. Now, over 65.62% isn’t, well, horrible. It’s not a ⅔ majority, but it’s not like we’re dipping into the 50s, here!

Oh, wait. Oh. Oh. 46% turnout in Davidson County, 2010. Do you remember that midterm election? That was one of the first major instances of the Tea Party surging to the front as a force in the Republican force. It was also an election that skewed heavily Republican. Knox County’s election turnout in 2010 was better, with 54%, but at that point, it’s like saying “Well, I didn’t burn down the whole building – just most of it.” So what can we draw from these numbers – surface-level as they may be? Well, considering the outcomes of local elections, while voters tended toward Democratic candidates for President in 2012, they went Republican in local elections in 2012 and 2010. But let’s go a bit more in detail here and consider the group I mentioned at the start of it: Those in Generation Y, or the Millennial Generation. According to Pew Research, at a national level, voter rates for voters aged 18 – 24 was abysmally low. Over a 24-year period (from 1988 to 2012), it did not reach 50%, whereas you crack the 75% mark for voters above 65 years old.

Now, consider who the Democrats are typically popular with: Younger voters tend to lean more liberal. That’s especially true with more left-wing candidates like Sanders. If the trend of young voters continues, then you’re going to see more of the same as always: A lot of passionate young voters who lean left doing everything they can to talk up their Presidential candidate, but more than half of them not showing up to the polls on Election Day. Or, if they do show up, not doing so again for midterm elections. That last bit is what is murdering the Democrats, and what not many people seem to talk about when they discuss what’s happening in elections – at least on a macro level.

That is, and I think, the biggest thing the Democrats have to focus on: They have to work on getting their local level politics at the forefront of their rhetoric. They have to mobilize worthwhile candidates – as the Vox article mentions, it sometimes seems like the Democrats think globally and act globally, but on a local level, which doesn’t work. Let’s take the Democratic debate, for example. You have Sanders and Clinton as the forerunners, and then a few other guys who are running as Democrats, which baffles people in states that aren’t as left as California or Oregon. It may be that Webb was a liberal in his state, because – I don’t know – he shook a Muslim’s hand once. What the left forgets is that the word “Party” implies people of a wide political spectrum getting together to compromise and provide a holistic view of a political ideology. It is not, and should not be, a single party with a single ideology. That way lies danger and – as many commentators remark – the ability of the Republicans to be flexible is a strong point the Democrats don’t have, but desperately, desperately need.

Remember: Democracy does not work based on what most people think. It works based on what most voters think.

[1] Brading, Alice E., “The Choice Is Yours: A Study of the East Tennessee Voter’s Decision Process” (2013). University of Tennessee Honors Thesis Projects

Aaron Yells at Clouds: Narrative Ownership in Games

Perhaps it’s because I grew up playing video games in the era of consoles, where you had no choice in anything, and didn’t play a game where you had a choice in anything until after grad school, but there’s been something happening in comment sections of games journalism sites lately that’s really bothered me. (No, not the whole Gamergate thing. That’s not even worth flippantly talking about.) The issue I’m talking about is that there seem to be a very vocal group of gamers who demand that developers be constantly open with their development processes, that they—the gamers—have full choice within games, and, before the games are made, have a voice in what the game is and what it becomes. Now, it also may be the fact that, primarily, when I think of narrative, the thing that pops into my head is the novel or short story. In that, it would be patently absurd for readers to make the same kinds of demands. (Granted, that doesn’t seem to stop some rabid fanbases like the A Song of Ice and Fire crowd from doing just that.) Why? Because novels and short stories are, ostensibly, one-way media. Setting aside the idea that you should be interacting with text, we’re left with the notion that games are the only true interactive art form. Thus, goes the thinking, shouldn’t gamers have more of a say in things?

It probably won’t surprise you to see that, no. I don’t think that’s the case at all.

Backing up, though, there are a few things that prompted this. The first being the comment section on a Polygon article inspired by our second thing, this post on Ask a Game Dev. As a summary, a game developer talked about developers’ practices of being tight-lipped on details about anticipated games, and what the gaming public’s reaction usually means for them. Third, posts and comment threads like this on the SWTOR subreddit. We’re getting super nerdy here, so a little description might be worthwhile: Bioware, maker of the game Star Wars: The Old Republic, are releasing a new expansion that, they say, will drastically change the way the game is played. Beyond that, and some hints about changes to the way your companions will be handled, the way in-game professions will be handled, and a few other things, they’ve not been forthcoming with information. The subreddit has been reacting exactly like you’d think they would: Stopping just short of calling BioWare fascists. The fourth is the Mass Effect 3 ending debacle which probably prompted BioWare to not share many details on things in the future. There are tons of thinkpieces about that floating around online, so feel free to do your research on that. I’d rather not revisit it in this space.

The running theme in all of this has been that the vocal gaming public has shouted for more knowledge of games that they want to play. They say, in a commonly-held idea, that they pay a lot for games, and so they should be entitled to more say than, for example, someone who goes to see a movie. (In my mind, this is an example of some pretty faulty logic. A movie is $12 and a game is $60 because of a lot of reasons, scale among them. Paying more money for media does not mean you get more say, otherwise Comcast would have millions of shareholders.)

Growing up when I did, and playing the games that I did, this strikes me as utterly insane. If developers want to bring the public into the creative process, then that’s fine, but they must have a much higher regard for the public than I do. I’ve tried to think of what Blizzard’s games would be like if the fans had any say in it, and all I can think of now is that World of Warcraft would oscillate wildly between the easiest thing in the world, and something you have to turn into a job where you put in doctor hours.

But at the heart of it all, I think there’s a simple misunderstanding: When people talk about “investing” in a game, they’re misunderstanding the metaphor. You are not investing money in a game. You are investing money in the chance to be entertained. You are paying for a product, and when you pay for a product, you get whatever the product is. Sure, you can change the way future products are made, but you have to open a sane dialog with the manufacturer, or boycott, or any number of post-purchase actions.

Investing in something, on the other hand, is very different. You give an organization a large amount of money beforehand with the expectation that a) you will see a return on that money and b) you may have the chance to steer the company—usually in the form of being involved in shareholders’ meetings or, if you have enough money, at the start of the company. I’m making an assumption here, but something tells me that gamers are not bankrolling BioWare or EA in order to fund wide releases.

The counter to all of this is Kickstarter, or Indiegogo, or a new thing called Fig. Fig seems to be a combination of Steam and Kickstarter, but with a little less communication between creator and backer. I don’t know what to think about that, mainly because the linked Polygon article is so gushing in tone that I come away deeply skeptical. However, the article does point out something important that should keep at bay the hordes of gamers shouting about gamer agency:

“The reason why they were coming in and providing that money was because they trusted so much the creative control brought by the developer. We love getting our community involved in these games, but it’s community-informed. I don’t think you want a community-designed game.”

A community-designed game, I think would be a deeply post-modern thing. A chimera so hideous that none would be able to look upon it without their faces melting a la Raiders of the Lost Ark, and that’s not just me being elitist. When you have an entire community designing something, it becomes a game of telephone, or one of those writing exercises where people write a sentence or a paragraph and pass it along. Occasionally, you might get a good plot, but by and large, it’s going to be absurdism without the art.

Who, then, owns the games? Well, the artist. The same answer as you find in novels or films. It’s their narrative, and while they may be willing to ask for input, they get the final say. Why? Because they’re doing the work in creating something. Compromises may be made along the way, and the finished product may be vastly different than what comes out at the end, but when it’s all said and done, it’s the artist who created the world and they get to say where it’s going to go from here.

The best example of this in non-games, I think, is Star Wars. Here’s a series that started off with three movies that were wildly different from their original inception, then expanded upon with three prequels that people over the age of 8 hated. The movies may completely ignore the language of film, storytelling, and any number of other, important things, but George Lucas stood by his creation, and you have to respect him for that.

So, what? What am I saying to people who are frustrated that they’re not receiving information about things at a steady enough pace for them to feel okay with the future of a game franchise?

Partially, I’m saying that these people should calm the hell down. We live in a time where, if you binge-watched an entire season of a scripted show a day, you would not be able to watch all of the new television shows in a year. And that’s just scripted TV! That’s not counting reality TV, talk shows, sports, or the news! Not to mention movies! Books! Magazines! Other games! We, in fact, live in a rough approximation of the world built in Huxley’s Brave New World, except for the fact that our government is not nearly as benign as theirs. My point being: If you want to do something other than rend your hair and grind your teeth in anticipation of not having a flawless gaming experience, you have other options. You have so many other options. You have, I think, too many other options, to the point where, if we, as a society, were smart, we’d say, “No. That is enough, thank you. I do not need any more; I’m just fine as it is.”

But we’re not. So we’ll keep making media, and in the case of games, you’ll continue to see baffling statistics like this: From May 12 to June 12, people who played Witcher 3 just on PC logged 1,770 years‘ worth of playtime. What that means is if you made that a real life block of time, and placed it chronologically in the continuum of human history, a very unfortunate strawman Witcher 3 would have started when a Roman Emperor named Philip (yeah, good luck finding people who knew about him without looking up the year 245 on Wikipedia) did… well, Imperial stuff, would have continued through the fall of Rome, onward through Charlemagne, the Inquisition, the Reformation, the colonization of the New World, the Enlightenment, the Napoleonic Wars, both World Wars, the Cold War, the Iraq wars, and then, stepping outside for a Doritos and Mountain Dew break, would have been sunburned immediately, as his skin would have become translucent and Gollum-like.

My point to gamers is this: You have other options. Calm down. If you’re dead set on playing games, then find something else until more information is released. Shouting about not being respected just makes people who aren’t you respect you less. You would, rather, probably be better off if you went and read a book.

I Announce My Candidacy for Presidency of the United States of America

It’s about that time, friends. The 24-hour news networks are visibly salivating, Iowa and New Hampshire are laying down sandbags and preparing safe spaces for politicians and their entourages, and the Internet is getting to be even more unbearable and vitriolic than it usually is. That’s right: Election season is upon us once more, and, though we may not be prepared for it, we have no say in the matter. Like a great tidal wave of feces and bodily fluids, we’re forced to endure another year and a half of talking points that shift endlessly like the sands, attempting to catch and ride the zeitgeist and fervor for whatever minor issue the public thinks they want to hear people in suits shout about.

And, as with every other election season, I hereby announce my candidacy for President of the United States of America under the Iron Fist Party. Though we have not won office yet, we, like Trump, will not give up. For we know more than anyone else that it is our policies and our zeal that will lead this country to glory. Not the fleeting, transient glory promised by the Republicans or the Democrats, but a strong, thousand-year reign that shall stand unchallenged until the inevitable heat-death of the universe.

Now, we don’t expect the good folks of the United States to take our word for the fact that we’ll bring the country to glory unheard of. No, Americans are a strong, stiff-necked people who demand proof – or, barring that, shouting that’s loud enough to cow them into submission and allow the strong to break their stiff necks. Not that the Iron Fist Party would ever dream of doing such a thing. No, we love and value peace more than anything else in this wide world, and do not plan to rule by coercion. That is the method of the weak, and the Iron Fist Party is the Party of the Strong.

The Iron Fist Party is strong. Stronger than any party seen on the face of the Earth, or imagined by the most opium-addled mind born out of the angst and pre-World War climate of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Where many political institutions have, in the past, attempted to attain Godhood for their chiefs of state, or complete and utter rule of their committees, the Iron Fist Party shall successfully maintain such a state, secured by a fully indoctrinated armed forces and the love of a cowed populace.

What we hope to accomplish is simple: Complete and utter hegemony of the governmental functionings of the United States. We will overhaul the Constitution so much that no one will quite be able to recognize it. The President shall be the Premier, the Prime Minister, the Commander-In-Chief, and The Supreme Dictator – and, within ten years of being elected, shall be known as The Godhead Whom All Revere and Love.

But, you ask, what will we do with that power? Well, as the Iron Fist is not yet in power, you are in your rights to ask such a question. What’s more, we shall answer: First off, and with no hesitation, there shall be the complete outlawing of the ability to make a profit in the United States. Yes, anyone who establishes a business shall turn over all profits to the State, which shall redistribute the profits as it sees fit, with no oversight. Any company found to attempt to flee overseas in order to escape this initiative shall be brought under the control of the State, and its executives executed publicly as a reminder that the State is all-powerful. However, it should be noted that the Iron Fist Party is in favor of a free market. You, as a citizen, have the right to establish whatever business you see fit, just as long as that business turns its profits over to the State. Once the Iron Fist Party is in power, rest assured, there will be no restrictions on what sort of business may operate in the borders of the United States – unless, that is, your business name annoys the Head of the Party, or uses “disruptive” in its company biography. If that is the case, you will be sent to a work camp.

Speaking of work camps, the Iron Fist Party knows that the best way for a nation to lead the world is to have an employed populace. Thus, any citizen who, after searching six months for a job, cannot find a job, will be placed in a work camp to be guaranteed a living wage and living for the benefit of the State. At these work camps, citizens will be able to enjoy all the conveniences of a modern life, including State-approved television,[1] State-approved novels,[2] and State-approved music.[3] Internet access will be limited to the Hamster Dance page and Leek Spin. Citizens will be able to leave the work camp once they have attained a set level of benefit to the State, at which point they will undergo a thorough check-up and, if healthy enough, may be eligible to remain in the work camps for as long as they desire.

The Iron Fist Party, like many groups in the nation, is very concerned about the growing influence of consumerism in the world. We view this shift from culture to consumption as the greatest of all ills that savage capitalism has brought upon the world, and, as such, will force boutique stores, malls, and all other stores deemed “decadent” by the Committee to Obliterate Capitalism to be shuttered and their executives sent to work camps. Any citizen whose buying habits are deemed excessive shall be sent to reeducation camps where they will see the glory of a life of asceticism. Their progress shall be monitored by State observers who, when satisfied with the progress of the citizens, shall be in charge of assigning the citizen to a rehabilitation center where, in stages, they shall learn to glorify the State.

On equal rights for all: The Iron Fist Party is of the belief that all citizens are equal. Thus, the Party shall establish guidelines for monitoring the speech of all citizens in all public or private areas. If a citizen is found to be using language that does not conform to these guidelines, they shall be sent to a work camp, no matter their sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, or other identifier. As above, there shall be stages of rehabilitation into society, determined at the camps by State-approved psychologists.

On sports and entertainment: The Iron Fist Party joins many Americans in enjoying sports. To ensure cultural solidarity, the Party has decreed that, once in power, the only legal sport shall be baseball. The current commissioner shall be sent to a work camp. Anyone found playing a sport other than baseball shall be sent to a remote, isolated work camp and will not be able to rejoin society. Entertainment shall be restricted to the forms mentioned above, and, on holidays, the public shall be able to listen to Beethoven. At most other times, the public shall listen to Xenakis’s “Metastasis” as a reminder the the world is a dissonant chamber where no comfort may be found. Any individual found to be listening to anything other than Xenakis or Beethoven (on holidays), shall be publicly executed.

On language: As with the free market, the State shall not stand in the way of individuals speaking whatever language they like. However: All business, governmental work, and public discussion shall take place in either English or Yiddish. Anyone found to be speaking in languages other than those two languages shall be sent to a reeducation camp for betterment of the self and the State. This is for the eternal betterment of the Iron Fist Party, the citizenry of the United States of America and, ultimately, the world. For though some of you may be reading this and think that you do not want to be under the heel of such an organization, we of the Iron Fist Party know that you, in fact, want that.

How do we know that?

Because, like ants, you scramble your entire lives, looking for peace in the things that you buy, or the places that you go – anywhere but where you are at that very moment. You look for peace by trying to find it in the beck and call of a religion of a God who is so alien to you that you know nothing of Him, but, because of the wiring in your brain, you delude yourself into thinking that you do. Or, conversely, because you have reasoned yourself into a corner, thinking that since you are an intelligent person, and have not been conned by the fraudsters, why should you be conned by the priests? So you’ve marched out into the Internet and looked for reassurance, and, having found it, willfully accept nihilism. We of the Iron Fist know that you are just looking for belonging. And we shall give you that belonging. All you must do is kneel.

And that is why, in November 2016, when you vote in the election, you’ll look at the ballot in front of you, at the names of the people who say that they know what it is that you want from life, and you’ll think to yourself that there must be an alternative.

Friends, we are that alternative.

The Iron Fist Party: Kneel.

[1] The Golden Girls and The Bob Newhard Show

[2] Thus Spake Zarathustra and The Stranger

[3] Xenakis