It deconstructs reified institutions and intuitions by applied and analytical philosophy.

Very quick, very informal comment: let’s connect the “social justice as melodrama” concept to game theory. My explication probably will be flawed, so feel free to critique it.

Interacting in mainstream society can be thought of as a game. You try to acquire different sorts of attention and status from different people. Being labelled an “abuse victim,” whether by yourself or others, is how you lose. You are thereafter marked as a perpetual poison container; people feel free to keep abusing and shunning you. Being nice, polite, successful, and seemingly “undamaged,” as well as subtly punishing people who can’t do these things, is how you win. Abusiveness thrives in this environment.

The social justice hobbyist game is a coping mechanism for the abuse victims/losers in the mainstream society game. No longer are you a loser for being abused, at least in theory. Instead, being labelled an “abuser,” whether by yourself or others, is how you lose. But being nice, polite, successful, and seemingly “undamaged,” as well as subtly punishing people who can’t do these things, is still how you win. And abusiveness still thrives in this environment. The social justice hobbyist game is still the same type as the mainstream society game; unfortunately, changing how the losers are labelled is enough to allow a lot of people to fool themselves.

The “reduce abusiveness in the universe” game is impossible to win if the universe means “literally everything,” but you can reduce certain types of abusiveness in certain domains of specification.

The answer to the question  ”Am I, have I already been, or will I be abusive or complicit in abuse?” is: yes, you have already fucked up, you are fucking up right now, and you will fuck up in the future. This is already psychologically difficult to accept, and it’s made even more difficult by the way mainstream society trains us to fear suffering, failure, and change. But it can be done. And things like Predator Alert Tool can help with that.

Okay, so the above feels a little messy to me but I accept that it’s clearly a half-baked thought, so to speak, and I have some of my own half-baked thoughts about it, so here goes. My thanks for some of these thoughts go to Meredith L. Patterson, with whom I recently spoke about this topic again.

Firstly, it’s important to understand that what I mean when I talk about “game theory” in the context of “a game theoretic approach to simulating countermeasures to rape culture” can usually be simplified to mean “estimating the likelihood that a given action will make possible future desirable actions and/or prevent future undesirable ones.” Now, there are two key points we have to understand about game theory for this statement to make sense.

  1. Inaction is also an act (or at least, that this is functionally true for as long as we perceive time as linear and unstoppable—obviously if your simulation refutes this premise then we are not really talking about the same thing anymore)
  2. Every act (including inaction) is taken by some actor; that is to say, things don’t “just happen,” they happen as a result of previous actions made by some other actor that ultimately results in another given actor (either oneself or someone else) facing a decision of what to do or not do in a given situation (or “turn” of the game).

The net effect of these premises means that, for every turn, there are three distinct elements that compose “the game.” They are:

  1. the players,
  2. the information available at each turn, and
  3. the moves available at each turn.

This matrix grows more complex the more players are added to the game. In the classic Prisoner’s Dilemma, there are two players, so there are only four total elements. (Two players, the information available, the moves available, so 2 plus 1 plus 1 equals four.) With those constraints, the “best outcome” is not hard to model.

In reality, and when applied to something as enormous and complex as rape culture, then even under unrealistically constrained conditions, the “game” is incredibly hard to model. Moreover, the game theoretic approach to the euphemistic win condition called “avoid the experience of suffering rape” is a distinctly different game than the game theoretic approach needed to model the win condition called “eradicate rape culture.” And that says nothing of the complexity inherent in applying the same model to all areas of abuse, instead of just sexual ones. Rape is endemic and a big problem, but it is actually only one big problem in the set of possible “predatory” consent violations, and it’s not even the most common one.

So that’s a ridiculously crashed crash course on Game Theory.

Now let’s talk about Predator Theory, the sociology behind the assertion that “most rapes are committed by a handful of repeat rapists, with a long (or at least longer) tail of one-time rapists accounting for the rest.” This is also the theory, supported by numerous studies, that refute the prevalence of the “stranger rape” myth.

If we accept that Predator Theory is accurate (and I have not seen any good evidence to suggest that it is not), then we can simplistically model the game theoretic approach to countering rape culture as a game whose outline reads something like:

  • In a given situation (a “turn”),
  • given available information,
  • what actions can the player take (that will affect another player),
  • that will have the most beneficial outcome.

There, again, are the basic tenets of the game theoretic approach. All the Predator Alert Tools are designed to facilitate the above process. The reason each one is slightly different is because the the information it can act on in given situations is also different.

For example, Predator Alert Tool for OkCupid treats “answering an OkCupid Match Question” as “taking an action” in such a game. When a player (an OkCupid user) answers a Match Question, they are sending a signal to other players. Sending a signal is a move. Like all other moves, this kind of move has the effect of possibly making more information and potentially other moves available to other players.

From studies on Predator Theory, we know that Predators (and when I capitalize “Predators” I am always doing so to specifically refer to Predator Theory’s definition of the word in its context) use a variety of tactics to ensure that information about one of their sexual encounters does not reach people with whom they want to target in the future. This behavior has a name: “information siloing.” When information is not available to someone, they can not factor that information into the choices they make about which move is more beneficial (“safer”) for them.

This is why I frame this project by saying, “Predator Alert Tool helps users make more informed choices about what actions they feel they need to take to remain safe while using the service.”

It is important to pause here for a moment and remember that information siloing is not a tactic unique to Predators. Keeping information about our intimate relationships walled off from other people is actually something that many people do for many different reasons, some reasons that I would argue are healthy and others that I would argue are not. unquietpirate wrote a fantastic essay called “Monogamous Cultural Norms Contribute to Protecting Abusers” that describes this better than I could, and I suggest you read it if you have not yet done so. The upshot is that “information siloing” is a behavior, not a sin. Like many other behaviors, the impact it has may be “good” or “bad” depending on numerous other relevant pieces of information that you may or may not have access to at a given time.

Now, Predator Alert Tool for OkCupid highlights the signals players send when they answer OkCupid’s Match Questions to other players in order to de-silo as much information as possible, thereby hoping to expand the set of possible moves a given player (user of PAT-OKC) is aware of and enabling them to analyze the given situation (the decision tree of their “turn”) with the information they received through the tool. This is a fundamentally different approach than the one OkCupid’s “Match Percentage” interface provides, and this is no coincidence.

The “Match Percentage” interface is designed to account for “the best possible outcome” for OkCupid itself, not the best outcome for the OkCupid user. This makes sense when you realize that OkCupid is a company, and they have their own incentives and have defined the win conditions of this complex game very differently than their users (we) have. When asked about this on On The Media, Christian Rudder, OkCupid’s CEO, didn’t even try downplaying this fact.

In other words: OkCupid is a player, and they know this, but they don’t want you to know it, because if you did recognize that fact, then you would also recognize OkCupid’s actions as being moves that are perpetually and by definition in direct competition with your own desired outcomes.

We see this again and again with respect to anti-abuse efforts, most recently on Twitter:

I’ll repeat this again because it’s so important: Anti-abuse Twitter tools must treat Twitter itself as hostile or they. Will. Not. Work.

This is also why I repeatedly describe Predator Alert Tool as a project unfit for a business model: its implementations and goals are antithetical to the addition of a new player in the game. Predator Alert Tool itself is not an actor, it does not act. Business models are formalized declarations of intent to join the game as an actor. Predator Alert Tool has no business model. That’s intentional.

Note also that I very purposefully described PAT-OKC as enabling users “to analyze the given situation…with the information they received *through* the tool,” above.

Okay, now, finally, we can analyze the “social justice hobbyist’s” often hostile reaction to Predator Alert Tool in the same framework. This is where “Social Justice as Melodrama” comes into the equation.

I think you, thebrightobvious, are blisteringly accurate when you say, “The social justice hobbyist game is a coping mechanism for the abuse victims/losers in the mainstream society game.” In point of fact, the narrative social justice warriors near-universally employ is a microcosm of the overarching political rhetoric, not an exception to it. Their mental model of “the game” looks much more like Social Hierarchy Chutes and Ladders, and their interpretation of the win conditions is simplistically mistranslated as “climb the ladders to get to the top, the top is where it’s safe, be careful of the chutes along the way.”

So if you are someone who’s playing Social Hierarchy Chutes and Ladders, and something like Predator Alert Tool comes along that makes no bones about indiscriminately offering other people information about the moves you’ve made (by answering the “Choking” question, for example) then it is very rational to treat Predator Alert Tool as a threat to your ability to climb the social ladder.

This is why I use “social climber” as a pejorative and also why the core definition of rolequeerness includes “refus[ing] to accept cultural capital as a consolation prize for victimization.” Playing a game of Social Hierarchy Chutes and Ladders is also definitionally abusive for exactly the reason idlnmclean outlined earlier:

[In classic games, like Tic-Tac-Toe, Prisoner’s Dilemma, or Chutes and Ladders, e]ither wins and loses come in strict binary relationships or no one wins. However, in that rolequeer games are fundamentally about what classic games you do not play, reluctantly play, or defiantly play, the strategies and games which the rolequeers play implicitly are necessarily non-zero sum allowing many winners to one loser, many losers to one winner, many losers to many winners, many winners to no losers, no winners to many losers, and non-binary games of non-winners and non-losers.

If history is any guide, we have amounted more than enough evidence to strongly suggest that the zero-sum approach to such complex games, that is, the binary relationship of winners and losers, reliably serves to replicate the same game dynamics in different forms across the incarnations of society. If we are to ever be successful in changing the game, rather than merely the details of its various incarnations, then we must consider new approaches not to the rules themselves, but to how those rules can be broken.