Most progressive minded people understand that we still live in an inherently sexist, racist and homophobic society, despite recent progress. However, identifying your inner Trump and running him through the subconscious wood chipper can still be an elusive undertaking.
I find computer games like Halo Reach incredibly helpful in identifying my underlying group biases, because their avatars have no real group identify. Characters like Kat-B320 (left) are not really women. In fact, they’re not even people. They’re just collections of programming instructions assigned to a female name and shape. Which makes any group bias directed at them all the more absurd.
It’s that essential truth which illuminates my own underlying social programming in the starkest possible light.
I’m fully aware of Kat-B320’s true nature. Yet, when things don’t go my way I still find myself railing at her and her fellow avatars in base, sexist terms that express a form of group bias I am wholly opposed to everywhere else in my life. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only gamer who engages in this kind of closet sexism and group bias when a controller is in their hands.
“What the fuck,” I hear myself yelling at the collection of programming instructions assigned to Kat-B320. “Get out of the way you stupid bitch.” And worse.
It’s not that I think cursing is wrong or abhor colorful phrases like “stupid bitch.” I’m neither the PC Police nor some kind of reflexive rule follower. I was also raised in the Bronx, where vocabularies are colorful at every age.
It’s just that I feel compelled to exercise some form of control over my interactions with the world around me, even when no one else is there to witness my behavior. Unlike Donald Trump, the former Reality TV star who is now the presumptive Republican candidate for president and strikes me as a pretty abusive dude.
To put it another way, I’m not interested in only being right in public, or being right retrospectively after a strategic flip-flop, I’m also interested in doing right. That means identifying the origins of my own primitive sexism.
Kat-B320 may just be a collection of programming instructions, but she deserves better.
Luckily for me, I had the somewhat novel experience of being raised by an abusive feminist amid the chaos of the Sexual Revolution in the late 60s and early 70s. Mom began using me as a helpless surrogate for her animus toward all men at the tender age of 7, after she and dad parted ways.
The anger and violence she directed at her “male chauvinist piglet” was a mix of gender bias and sheer personal dominance. When life didn’t go her way, Mom’s penchant for “taking it out” on her little guy was reminiscent of the abusive behavior usually associated with mean drunks. In short, she didn’t just spank me, she assaulted me.
My difficult childhood became a blessing in later life because it sensitized me to the suffering of others and made me quick to question society’s convenient lies, half truths and sins of omission. It also gave me a burning desire to challenge the abusive Trumps of the world. In short, it gave me the ideal personality for the committed public service journalist I became.
I can be alternately aggressive, irreverent, sarcastic, intellectual, confrontational, coarse and humorous – a combination some people find difficult to keep up with. All those qualities are displayed in this column.
The unusual mix of childhood experiences responsible for this strange brew didn’t entirely free me of sexism and the other group biases ingrained in the species, but they did inculcate me with some fairly strong resistance to them. They also gave me an acute appreciation of the degree to which inter-personal dominance – aka sadistic bullying – is often unwittingly conflated with sexism and gender roles.
In short, I try.
I try very hard not be Trumpish.
That’s relevant both in the context of my friend Leah’s recent question about why the men in her life treat her so badly, and in the puzzling rise of demagogue Donald Trump. I think they jointly expose the inherent group bias and egoism which leads some to us to target those dearest to us and to unwittingly embrace traditional gender roles and sexist slurs.
As the song goes: “you always hurt the ones you love.”
Some of us hurt them much more than others.
I’ve always wanted to know why.
My friend Leah posed that very question to her friends on Facebook yesterday, when she asked:
“Why do some men find it so difficult to be a man,” Leah asked. “Is it something in the chicken? Do I look like the mothering type? As soon as I am nice and kind to people I get treated like shit. This is a real disease lately.
“Am I missing something? Are women really just replacements for men’s mothers? All I want is a man who says what he means, does what he says he is going to do, and appreciates me. Then I don’t have to be a ballbreaker. You would think a grown human being could work this shit out.”
Leah assumes that being an asshole is abnormal. I’m not sure that’s the case.
I don’t know how the ratio breaks down for the species, but I suspect the percentage of Trumpish behavior increases along with societal levels of fear and stress
A frightened and stressed person is a more dangerous person and not just to their enemies. That may be what we’re all seeing and experiencing more of right now. In all directions.
My mom didn’t hate me. She was just frightened, angry, stressed and helpless. She needed someone to bully to make her feel like she was in control of the world around her again.
The same could be said of most of the human race right now. As a species, we’re in an acutely frightened state and have been for some time. The world has gone postal in recent years – thanks largely to the tactics of fear and hate the beneficiaries of the status quo have employed to remain in power amid the chaos of the social media revolution.
We’re simultaneously being frightened out of our minds by a mainstream news media which is starved for revenue and increasingly resorting to Yellow Journalism in a desperate bid for survival. More online hits translates into more advertising revenue in the news industry, which is why stories are being stripped of proper context to make them more sensational and profitable, and why every storm is now being presented to viewers as “the storm of the century.”
Faux News, MSNBC and their ilk are peddling fear behind apocalyptic stories about everything from antibiotic resistant bacteria, to terrorism, to Zika, to the End of Days, to Ebola, to zombies, to street crime, to job loss, to “The Other.”
The NeoCons and NeoLibs pushing America’s global empire have tranformed The Other from the “Krauts” and “Japs” of World War II and the brutish Russians of the Cold War into the wild-eyed Arab of today. This crazy man who looks, talks and dresses differently than us and apparently doesn’t want the love of a good woman, a cold beer on a hot day, and a safe place to raise his family. Instead, he wants to chop off Judeo-Christian heads and display them from a minaret in Fallujah.
His doppelganger n the West is the kind of unhinged Anglo warrior habitually portrayed by actor Mel Gibson, whose sole purpose in life is to eviscerate the Muslim faithful and hang his Christmas decorations from their entrails. Preferably, along the freshly painted white picket fence surrounding his charming bungalow style cottage. You know, the one with the big cross burning in the front yard?
This xenophobic climate has been pushed even further into overdrive the past 18 months by the ruthless politicians vying for the presidency. The standard programming for every major candidate but Bernie Sanders seems to be a willingness to say and do anything – however unprincipled, hateful, untrue and outrageous.
The result of all this fear mongering is a rising global police state whose subjects are more docile in public and more inappropriate at home, as the group biases programmed into us percolate to the top. I suspect we all squeeze the symbolic controller a little tighter inside our homes and families when we feel like we have less control outside of them.
That may be the answer Leah is looking for. However, it doesn’t answer my question.
I’m still searching for the origin of the unwelcome outbursts that accompany my video game play. Cause I understand the ruthless politics of fear and still struggle to defuse them in myself.
I have a hunch I’m talking to Kat-B320 in much the same way my mother spoke to me when she still loomed over me physically.
Like Kat-B320, I never stopped forgiving. I also never stopped loving my crazy Mom, which is some classic victim shit.
Know who else is routinely forgiven by their supporters?
Try thinking about that for a minute.
I guess you have to be a victim of abuse to see this painful political reality for what it is.
How abused are we as a society right now that we think we have to put up with his bullshit?
This sea change in the way American wage-earners feel about themselves is the product of decades of abuse at the hands of this nation’s self-appointed political and business aristocracy. They’ve taken away our job security, moved our factories to China and Mexico, and hijacked our representative democracy since 1980.
The American Dream has been so diluted that we now think it’s OK for monied interests to kick people when they’re down via excessive credit card overdraft fees, excessive late fees, payday lending, for-profit colleges, bank foreclosure fraud and the like.
Those cheap tarts were asking for it, right?
In the context of that brutish financial behavior, the Trumps of the world don’t look half bad. Do they?
Like many people on this orb, I love video games and have been smitten with them since Pong was released in 1972.
Not all video games. Just a treasured handful of the very best, which I play again and again like reruns of beloved films.
In my opinion, Halo Reach – which was released in 2010 – is the best game ever made. One of my favorite things about it is the crew of computer-controlled allies who fight by the gamer’s side. Their assigned personalities are reflected in their respective strengths and weaknesses as well as the smartass quips they make from time to time.
The deeper you progress into the game the stranger the remarks become, and the more obvious the quirks. The classic game’s alternate universe is incredibly engaging, so much so that the line between fantasy and reality can begin to blur.
My preferred ally is the loyal and supportive Kat-B320.
Kat is the second-in-command of our six member futuristic special forces team of “Spartans.”
The human player in Halo Reach is referred to as “Six” by the rest of the team. That’s me. I’m Six (above left) in this fictional world. Aren’t I dreamy?
Kat sports a bionic arm as a result of one of her combat injuries and occasionally makes cryptic comments along the lines of “it’s the arm isn’t it.”
This telling remark reflects another piece of human programming, which is that we must be physically attractive to have worth. And, as any social anthropologist will tell you, our species is biologically programmed to equate beauty with the physical symmetry associated with genetic health.
Physical symmetry is the reason our society perceives the collections of biological programming we know as “Brad Pitt” and “Jennifer Aniston” to be beautiful. It’s also why the programming called “Marty Feldman” (right), who played Igor in the film “Young Frankenstein,” is not.
How does the collection of biological programming inside of me, which is the product of generations of natural selection, differ from Kat’s computer programming?
It doesn’t in many ways. My programming as a human being is simply much more voluminous.
That’s why I have such an interest in identifying it.
Kat-B320 is gutsy, fearless, courageous, has a sexy Russian accent, and possesses an athletic and shapely ass. The team’s only female also drives very badly and is fiercely loyal to me. She expresses this loyalty by stating “I’m with you Six” as we embark upon a new challenge.
On the one occasion in the campaign when we’re briefly alone in a quiet elevator my supportive sidekick provocatively asks “what do you need Six” or “what’s your status Six” immediately after the program records my gaze on her. At which point my own programming reflexively emits a guttural groan back home.
However, for reasons that I don’t fully understand I’m not always fair to Kat-B320.
When I’m all alone in the living-room concentrating intensely on the game my own programmed sexism sometimes percolates to the top. The unfiltered me sounds like a distant echo of Trump on the campaign trail. Many psychologists believe he’s suffering from textbook narcissistic personality disorder
In my own defense, if there’s a proper time to behave like a narcissist it’s when you’re playing a video game alone in the privacy of your own home.
As I’ve mastered the Halo Reach game, I’ve become increasingly impatient with the actions of my computer-controlled allies and even abusive at times. I never had a harsh word for Kat-B320 when I was learning the game and completely dependent on her support, but now that I’m Mister Bigtime I treat my smoking hot sidekick and her fellow AIs with considerably less regard.
Particularly when they step in front of me as I’m firing at an enemy or try to ride shotgun in the all-terrain-vehicles called Warthogs without a bazooka. We must deploy that powerful weapon to prevail in a timely manner at the highest difficulty setting.
Kat’s affinity for the seat beside me in the three-person Warthog makes that impossible and creates needless delays. They’re particularly frustrating because the game applies a time multiplier to your score.
My Trumpish behavior is most pronounced when I’m booting Kat out of the passenger seat beside me, which she assumes is her due. I must also boot another AI character from the Warthog’s crew-served machine-gun mount to get them all properly aligned.
Those actions use up critical seconds I can ill afford to squander.
“What the fuck,” I hear myself saying to the collection of programming instructions assigned to Kat-B320. “Get out of the passenger seat you stupid bitch.”
Where the slur “stupid bitch” comes from I do not know. I’m just glad my mom’s no longer around to hear it. Cause there would be hell to pay.
I mean we’re talking about a computer character with an implied gender here. Not a person – as the collection of biological programming known as basketball great Allen Iverson might say if he were part of my Halo Reach universe.
“What are we talking about here – an avatar? Not a person. No, not a person. Not a person. An avatar. We’re talking about an avatar. Not a person. No. An avatar.”
I’m fully aware of that distinction, which is what makes my unconscious bias so interesting to me and so disturbing.
Where does it come from?
I’m not sure.
However, if Kat was a Jewish character I’d be pretty perturbed if someone yelled “what the fuck Epstein, get out of the passenger seat you stupid Jew.”
Kat is not the only Spartan who tries to ride shotgun in the Warthog with a measly assault rifle. She’s also not the only one who gets reflexively chewed out by Six for mulish behavior.
However, Kat is the only collection of programming instructions who is reflexively subjected to an involuntary group slur by a proud and unapologetic liberal who knows better.
That’s clearly an expression of my inherent sexism, extracted from my subconscious in its purest form. But by what?
Fortunately, Six doesn’t go all Trump on the black characters in Halo Reach. Which would be incredibly unnerving to me as someone who grew up in majority minority communities, attended college in Harlem, supports the message of The Black Lives Matter movement.
That said, I do hear myself referring to the muscle-bound Spartan named Jorge-052 (left) as “you stupid fuck” from time to time. Particularly when his enormous body obstructs my line of fire.
There’s also a strong possibility that Jorge-052 is on Planet Reach illegally, given his heavy Aussie accent.
He’s a favored ally of mine, too. Just like Kat.
Which means Jorge-052 deserves better than “you fat fuck – get your enormous ass out of the friggin way.”
He isn’t really even fat. Just big as a house.
Like Kat, Jorge-052 also isn’t real. He’s a collection of computer programming instructions attached to an avatar, with neither personal plumbing nor physical form. Might as well be a Ken Doll in that respect.
So why do I treat those closest to me so badly in this alternate universe where I can be anyone I want?
Hell if I know. Could be I’m just an asshole who doesn’t know it. If that’s true, I’ve got Trump beat because I just became self aware. Big-time.
What’s really odd is that the GOP presidential front-runner seems to talk to people in the real world in much the same way I address my favored avatars, albeit with far greater regularity and far less introspection.
The man who would be king took a similar tone with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie earlier this month – one of his closest allies and loyal supporters. Trumpalot was criticizing Nabisco for offshoring U.S. jobs during a speech being covered by the global news media when he began publicly humiliating his rotund ally for no reason whatsoever. As if Christie was an unfeeling avatar on Halo Reach.
“I’m not eating Oreos anymore — but neither is Chris,” Trump said, turning to Christie. “You’re not eating Oreos anymore. No more Oreos. For either of us, Chris. Don’t feel bad.”
Kind of funny huh? But for the fact that Christie has struggled with his weight all his life and the remarks were made on the largest possible public stage.
My own involuntary outbursts occur in a far more private setting. However, the sexist comments directed at Kat trouble me anyway. Simply because she’s just trying to help.
And, much like Leah and Christie, she deserves better.
I don’t want to be like Trump in either the fake world of computer gaming or the real world. Which is why I can’t help wondering if my involuntary sexism while playing Halo is an echo of something deeper.
Is it a possible answer to Leah’s heartfelt question?
Something we can all learn from?
Could it be that there’s something inherent to the sex act itself, which fosters gender-based dominance?
Cause let’s face it, one of us is usually being penetrated during consentual sex and the other is doing the impaling. Albeit, by request.
Could it be that the obvious imbalance between innies and outies spawns some kind of dominant behavior? Even in those of us who seek to identify traditional gender roles and correct for windage.
Then again, given my poor treatment of Jorge, it could be that I just treat those I care about badly in the alternate world of Halo Reach.
WTF? Why do I do that?
I dunno, but I do know that identifying a problem is the first step to fixing it.
So, I’m on my way. Unlike The Donald.
How about you?
This kind of soul searching is often the difference between good people and the Trumps of the world. Good people worry about being biased toward others – even when such bias is confined to the privacy of our own homes.
Meanwhile, the Trumps cruise along abusing one and all in the public square and think the rest of us view their boorish behavior as colorful and entertaining. Why?
Because that’s what the people on their payroll tell them to keep the gravy train running. That’s why it sometimes seems as if Trump views the rest of the human race in real life in much the same way as the well paid human props he publicly fired on “The Apprentice” Reality TV Show. We’re his punching bag in mch the same way I was once my mother’s punching bag.
Hardly the kind of personality we want in our nation’s highest office.
The line between entertainment and politics has clearly blurred for this silver spoon mofo, who was born into a sheltered world of money and servants that bares no resemblance to reality for most of the rest of us. He thinks he’s fighting when he ‘s running his mouth. And Trump isn’t kidding around when he compares his teen-age years at the New York Military Academy for badly behaved rich kids to the real military.
People are props in his world, and it revolves around him just like a computer game. That’s why he’s constantly trying to push the envelope on what he can get away with in his treatment of others, which is where the buzz comes from for abusive personalities.
I just wish someone would find a way to modify Halo Reach to include avatars for Trump, Christie and Hillary Rodham Clinton so I could ride herd on them.
I can already visualize the initial exchange in my head. It begins with Trump and Christie jostling me and Kat-B320 for our seats in the Warthog.
“That’s my ass buddy,” Christie says to Kat-B320 as he tries to squeeze in next to her.
“You’re in my personal space,” she replies, looking to me for support. “In fact, you’re in everyone’s personal space.”
Six is all over it.
“Hey, Ivana Trumpalot,” I say. “How ’bout you and the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man get the the hell of the way already? And yo, why don’t you do everybody a favor and throw a bell on that ridiculous toupee while you’re at it -‘fore somebody mistakes you for Wendy Williams.”
Trump pivots toward me and raises his hands – palms forward.
“Easy cowboy,” says the entitled silver spoon mofo. “It’s not my fault. It’s fuggin Chris. That Jersey boy is as big as a whale and twice as wide. Is there some way we can slide that minigun back to make a little more room for him?”
“We, or me,” I say, cocking a skeptical eyebrow.
“Well, you of course,” Trump says with a dismissive chuckle. “I don’t do manual labor.”
Just then, HRC comes flying up in a second Warthog, with the words “Wall Street First” crudely spray-painted along the side. JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimond is riding shotgun and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) is manning the minigun.
Their all-terrain vehicle fishtails to a halt, spraying dust and pebbles on the rest of us.
“We heard someone was handing out political donations up here,” HRC shouts over the engine. “We didn’t want to miss out.”
Trump turns on me, his face twisted in rage.
“How come she gets her own car?”