June 21, 2017

The Prophecy Game 2017


Back in March of 2005 I wrote a satiric post titled, "The Prophecy Game". There had been an upsurge that winter in internet sites dedicated to psychics, eschatology, and end of the world prophecies. Most of those sites are now gone and most of their predictions never came to pass. The "prophecies" I made in that post were entirely off the cuff with no research, no magic, and no serious intent. I was trying to be funny.

In 2008 America was very nearly reduced to third world status by the collapse of Lehman Brothers and dozens of smaller banks.

In 2008 Hillary Clinton did run for president, but she lost the Democratic nomination to a newcomer named "Barack Obama".

In December 2011 the U.S. military completed its withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving behind only minimal forces who were working as trainers and consultants.

In 2015, China completed construction on several military installations throughout the South China Sea, giving them a major strategic advantage if they do invade Taiwan. Even more concerning, this gives them the potential to cut off 20% of all global commerce including the vast majority of food and oil supplies headed to Japan and South Korea.

Clearly, back in spring of 2005 I was far more liberal than I am now. Most of my "prophecies" were merely wishful thinking backed by a liberal political inclination and the unconscious acceptance of liberal progressive ideologies I'd learned going to high school in California. Since Japan is something of a liberal paradise itself, the twenty years I had spent in Japan at that point had only served to confirm my liberal inclinations. It took some hard lessons and bitter defeats to become aware of the fallacies of my own liberal progressive thinking. Still, all in all, roughly 20% of my "jokes" turned out to be realistic. Although these things did not come to pass exactly as I predicted, this result is still far beyond anything I expected when I wrote the post.

Before I launch into my concerns for the near future, it is important to review some of the things that have happened recently:

In Europe there have been at least six attacks by Islamic terrorists since the beginning of the year: Timeline of Terror Attacks

Deaths caused by drug overdoses, especially heroin, have become more common than deaths by car accident, violent crime, or suicide: Drug Deaths in America Are Rising Faster than Ever

Over the past decade the American murder rate has risen sharply after nearly half a century of steady decline, but most of the violence is happening in ten cities that have been primarily under Democratic Party control since the early seventies: Rising Violence in just 10 Cities Drove up the US Murder Rate

Twenty-six U.S. States now have laws making marijuana use legal for either medical purposes, recreational purposes, or both: State Marijuana Laws in 2017

Ever since about 2010, more Americans have depended on internet streaming, cable/satellite television, or pre-recorded DVD/Blu-Ray discs for entertainment than on standard broadcast television: The State of Traditional Television

"Game of Thrones" has become one of the most popular drama series in the history of television: A City-by-City Glimpse at What Television Shows People are Watching

"League of Legends" is now the most popular PC-based online game in the world while "Clash Royale" leads in the mobile market: Live Game Rankings by Medium

When all of these come together they present an overall image of both American and global culture. In so very many ways, our entertainment defines us. We are drawn to entertainment that reinforces our own preconceptions of how the world operates. Likewise, we are also drawn to entertainment that reinforces our own preconceptions of how the world should operate. In our entertainment we seek to see the world both as it is and as we believe it should be. Therein lies both the peril and the promise of human entertainment and creativity. We choose our entertainment based on pleasure, therefore, in order to succeed the entertainers must present something that reassures us our worldview is both accurate and useful. Society shapes the art that shapes society. It is not surprising that as violent terror attacks rise we seek out entertainment which helps us understand both the nature of terrorism and the effectiveness of our response to terrorism. Even as terror attacks become routine occurrences, violent crime in some of our most densely populated cities has escalated. Violence is all around us. It is present in the daily news, in the shows we watch to relax, and in the games we play. Naturally, this has an impact on how we perceive violence and that perception influences how writers write their stories and developers design their games. Unfortunately, this cycle feeds itself. The only way to break this cycle is for millions upon millions of individuals to suddenly and simultaneously decide they are no longer willing to accept violent behavior as natural and ordinary.

The problem with shows like "Game of Thrones", "Westworld", "Breaking Bad", and "Empire", as well as games like "League of Legends" and "Clash Royale" goes far beyond the way they gradually lead us to accept violent behavior as natural and ordinary. The problem is they present violence as the best form of conflict resolution in human relationships, as something cathartic, and as individually uplifting. These forms of entertainment reward sadism and cruelty. When one king casually orders the assassination of a visiting King and his Dowager Queen Mother after sharing a meal together, or when visitors show up in a wild west theme park to declare loudly that killing or raping a robot is "the best vacation ever", those concepts resonate inside us, reinforcing the idea that violent behavior is good and useful. Violent acting out becomes a desirable form of self-expression because we begin to see it as both perfectly natural and emotionally rewarding. Games such as "League of Legends" and "Clash Royale" also reinforce these ideas by presenting entertainment as a deathmatch between two individuals where only one can win. The winner is rewarded both with ingame prizes and an emotional uplift, while the loser either resolves to try harder or suffers further damage to their collapsing sense of self. Every individual is different, of course, so no general conclusion can be drawn, but when games that reward violence are reinforced by a television show presenting violence as something good and useful, then it confirms in far too many people the idea that violence is justified when they feel overwhelmed. As a society we are now programming ourselves to think of rape, pillage, and plunder as highly rewarding individual behavior patterns. After all, doesn't everyone wish they could walk into work and shoot down that annoying robotic boss or co-worker? Wouldn't it feel good to finally end that conflict once and for all? Isn't murder the best solution for betrayal in love and work?

So here is what I see coming, and this time I am neither joking nor being satiric. I fear with every fiber of my being that 2018 (and possibly 2017) will mark the beginning of a new trend in America. There will be a sharp increase in workplace-related violence, in home invasions, in robberies that end in bloodshed, and in road rage. Everyday conflicts in convenience store check-out lines, parking lots, and government offices will become flashpoints for violence that end in death and destruction. More and more we are going to see "lone wolf" terrorists inspired by internet propaganda from ISIS and Al Qaeda driving through crowds, cutting people down with knives, or engaging in small group swarm attacks against popular night spots. Violent drug users who move from marijuana into more stimulating narcotics are going to cause mayhem in places like Atlanta, Denver, Miami, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. Anywhere the haves and havenots are in close proximity to one another there will be increasing outbreaks of violence both large and small.

Many things will be blamed for this sudden upsurge in violence. There is no doubt in my mind that the mass media will split the blame between Pres. Donald Trump and law-abiding American gunowners. Those are, after all, their two favorite scapegoats for everything that is wrong with America today. Academics and scholars will write long treatises with elaborate statistics blaming poverty, unemployment, political disenfranchisement, and social isolation brought on by heavy reliance on communication technologies rather than face-to-face communication. I am saying here, now, at the very opening days of the trend, that none of these are to blame. The real problem is we as consumers and creators have decided that sadism is fun, relaxing, and cathartic.

"These violent delights have violent ends," is not just a quote from an ancient play, it is a time-honored sacred truth confirmed by 5000 years of recorded history.