A Game of You

Neil Gaiman, “A Game of You” (1993)

As Neil Gaiman says about this fifth collection of Sandman comics, “it’s most people’s least favorite volume, and I love it all the more for that.” I feel the same way about what I write, particularly on social media like Twitter.

We’ve reached a new height (depth, really) of what I call “mirror engagement” on social media. If you don’t see yourself in the Missionary you follow, you get mad. How dare you not reflect my views!

I’ve used this Terry Pratchett quote before, but after the past week on Twitter I’ve gotta use it again.

A European says, “I can’t understand this, what’s wrong with me?”

An American says, “I can’t understand this, what’s wrong with you?”

This quintessential American construct of discourse is in overdrive since the Kavanaugh hearings. I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me. It’s the perfectly natural outcome of what I wrote about in Schrödinger’s Senate Hearing, where people who could share the same political or social space before the hearings are no longer able to do so because they are now in mutually exclusive worlds. Either the cat is dead to you or the cat is alive to you. There’s no third state of the world where the cat might be alive or it might be dead.

But what I find so frustrating and so tiresome is the inability of large swaths of the social media world to accept that someone might see the world differently from them. That the reaction to “I disagree with you” is not “well, okay” but “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?”

I think it’s because of the meaning of social media for most people. I think we all tend to follow people, particularly well-followed posters (the Missionaries of this shadow world, of which I suppose I am one), not because it’s a “conversation” or for “an interesting point of view”, but for a specific entertainment purpose. It’s either a mirror engagement (yes! a semi-famous person looks like me!) or a rage engagement (them’s fighting words, you imbecile!), and never the twain shall meet.

Even the rage engagement is not real rage. It’s a faux rage. No one writes a snarky reply to @realdonaldtrump because they’re really engaging with The Donald. No, they’re posting to their mirror engagement crew, who they know is also in a rage engagement with @realdonaldtrump. It’s not even virtue signaling. It’s pure entertainment. It’s a simulation where they can “engage” with the President of the United States in the company of their supportive mirror engagement crew. Plus dopamine!

What brings out the real emotion and the real confusion is when a mirror engagement goes awry. It’s also confusing when a rage engagement goes against type and agrees with you on something, but the reaction isn’t upsettedness … it’s boredom. The emotion when a mirror engagement goes against type is much more pronounced, much more urgent. It’s a betrayal.

Not a big betrayal. Not a personal betrayal. Not (usually) a permanent betrayal. It’s not even a Heel Turn, to use the pro wrestling phrase, when a Baby Face (a good guy) flips the script and becomes a Heel (a bad guy) in some shocking plot twist.

No, it’s more like when your favorite sitcom has a “very special episode” where they deal with some social issue du jour in a “serious” fashion that of course you find cringe-worthy. That’s not what you want from Three’s Company!

Interestingly (or interestingly to me, anyway) are the words that disappointed mirror engagers use to respond to a Missionary message that expresses an opinion that goes against perceived type. Almost without exception, they will respond with some variation of “YOU’VE LOST CREDIBILITY!” Now this has nothing to do with credibility. Missionaries are just as believable if they think chocolate ice cream is the best ice cream as if they think strawberry ice cream is the best ice cream. It’s not credibility that’s lost to the mirror-engaging strawberry ice cream-loving followers, it’s consistency. What’s lost is the feel-good entertainment they’ve come to expect and were counting on.

So they throw their shoe at the TV set. Go back to our regularly scheduled entertainment!

If they get really mad they change the channel. They unfollow you. Don’t know what happened to that guy! He lost all his credibility with me when he said what he said!

The underlying issue here is that social media is a game, but it’s a different game for different players. For the Missionary, the game is the ego boost and dopamine hit of getting more followers, of becoming more popular. It’s a ratings game. For the civilian, the game is the ego boost and dopamine hit of engaging on a kinda sorta equal footing with the popular kids, either in a rage engagement or a mirror engagement. For both, it’s a slow-twitch massively multiplayer video game, like Fortnite for geriatrics.

For very few, it’s a “connection” or a “conversation” with other human beings as ends in themselves.

But sometimes that happens. A connection. A conversation with a like-minded truthseeker, someone you’d have never met IRL. And that’s like the best thing! My god, I have so few friends IRL. Some amazing, true, lifetime, in-the-foxhole friends, for sure. But not many IRL friends. Through Epsilon Theory, though? They are legion. One of the best parts of my life.

That’s the real disappointment and frustration for me when these “decoherence events” like the Kavanaugh hearings get foisted on us by the Democrats and the Republicans, and everyone loses their goddamn minds if you don’t fall into line with your mirror-engaging community.

There are no friends to be made right now, no connections or conversations to be had on social media. It’s a war out there right now, and by war I mean game. We Missionaries are playing our ratings game, and the civilians are playing their rage and mirror engagement games. It’s all games all the time. Everyone is being highly entertained.

Bread and circuses, my friends, bread and circuses.

Time to take this conversation offline. Or at least off social media.

Announcement on Thursday. Stay tuned.

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