Let’s Re-Claim “Woke”

It’s about respect, not about censorship

I’m going to posit a new working definition of the word Woke.

Woke: Respecting the history and life experience of historically marginalized people and treating historically marginalized people with dignity.

Hopefully that’s a pretty straightforward definition for most of you. Because if that definition stands, then the opposite is also true.

Anti-Woke: Disrespecting the history and life experience of historically marginalized people and treating historically marginalized people without dignity.

I think that second definition is more useful. Sure, you can be anti-woke. Sure, you can disrespect marginalized people – but if you are disrespecting marginalized people get the f**k out of the public square and come back when you have calmed down and can behave with dignity and respect again. This doesn’t require the government to step in. It doesn’t require arguments about the first amendment. It requires adults to step in when someone has lost their head and setting them straight. And if you refuse to show marginalized people respect and dignity? Then we all know who you are and what you are about.

But, if you aren’t able to respect or dignify marginalized people… move out of the United States. Because this country is filled with folks who have historically been marginalized, daily life is going to be rough for you. Move away. This country is the land of the free and the home of the brave. If you aren’t brave enough to show people basic respect, you aren’t brave enough to be an American. You are too fragile to be American.

This brings me to a fundamental misunderstanding of humanity in our modern social media platforms. Facebook figured out that posts that elicit anger get more interactions, keeping more people on their platform longer. They didn’t realize that the anger is people’s innate instinct to reign in people who are being assholes. So the more they boosted asshole content, the more people felt the need to reign it in. Why does this matter? Because if you are going to facilitate the public square, you need to actually facilitate it. If someone is showing up and getting everyone to yell at them, it’s time to remove them and take some time to get their head straight. Not encourage their asshole behavior. When you do that, when you let regular people see that no one is going to stop the assholes, then you give the space over to the assholes. Without regulation, bad actors do whatever they want. You have now ceded your public square to the worst of us. Whatever discussions that educate, provoke the intellect, create friendly and loving connections, and stir the soul have now taken a back seat to assholes yelling.

Facebook and Twitter (every other social media platform seems to aspire to be them) have created a public square and signed up to be the facilitators. They seem not to realize, though, that the role of the facilitator is the most important role in the public square. If people can’t trust the facilitator to facilitate fairly and to make sure the public square is a safe place to be, they will leave. Twitter, at this moment, seems to be wrapped up in thinking they have to enforce everyone’s first amendment rights. But Twitter has no obligation to let everyone speak whatever they want on their platform. In fact, the opposite is true. If they allow everyone to say whatever, then the entire place will devolve into bots and assholes yelling at each other. Twitter, if it wants to maintain it’s user base, needs to let it’s users know that they can safely be there. So far, it has failed to do so. The first amendment only applies to the US Government. Twitter is not the government.

If you actually value conversations that help people to change how they view the world, you have to ensure that they are experiencing psychological safety. What is psychological safety?

For those of you who need a url, check out this url: https://www.ccl.org/articles/leading-effectively-articles/what-is-psychological-safety-at-work/

If you are a free speech absolutist, then you aren’t going to stop people from being punished, humiliated, or shouted down for sharing their ideas. Eventually, you are going to cede your entire space to the yellers – because people who want to do other things aren’t going to hang out in your space.

So how do you reign in assholes without making them feel like they are being targeted for their deeply held beliefs? That’s a hard thing to do. It takes a combination of skills and abilities – and even the people who are good at it are continually bumping up against new challenges in that endeavor. But we have no evidence that people who write code for a living are especially skilled in that work.

Of course, all that I’m talking about unfolds over time. We’re seeing the decline of facebook because they have demonstrated their inability to facilitate effectively. Twitter claims that they are doing well… but we’ll see the reality as the months and years play out.

In the meantime, folks, let’s keep showing people dignity and respect.

D&D, Escapism and Sports Today

Is D&D any more escapist than anything else? Yet… maybe we need the escapism?

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve picked up the hobby of playing Dungeons and Dragons over the last few years. It’s quite fun, and satisfying in ways that other hobbies haven’t been… namely that anything I can imagine can happen, yet it’s still tempered by a shared reality of playing with other people and random outcomes to events.

For my entire life, well before I starting playing D&D, I have heard people describe it as “escapist” entertainment. Much more prevalently than other activities. Dictionary.com defines escapist as: “avoiding reality through entertainment or fantasy, or enabling people to do so”

Needless to say, I’ve mostly found the term “escapist” to be a tad derisive. As in, these people can’t handle life so they have to escape away from it occasionally. Though, honestly, who doesn’t need to escape from reality a little bit these days?

As someone who has played competitive sports for a good portion of my life, done my fair share of manual labor, made creative projects…. I don’t find D&D any more escapist than any other activity that forces you to focus on what’s in front of you to play it. Basketball, for instance, is engrossing enough that you can’t really think about your mortgage or your kids while you are playing it. Yet I don’t hear people describing basketball as escapist. Making art, when one is in the midst of it, is certainly all-engrossing enough to “escape” from daily concerns. Yet I don’t hear people calling that escapist. The list goes on.

The funny thing is, coming back to basketball (or professional sports in general), is that I think our culture is longing for more escape – and looking and failing to find it in professional sports. I follow Tim Kawakami for sports news – he’s by far the sharpest reporter that covers professional sports in the SF Bay Area – and he deals with this all the time in the course of reporting what is happening with bay area teams and their machinations behind the scenes. Here’s a sample of what goes on on his twitter feed:

The context here is that Kevon Looney is the starting center for the Golden State Warriors (the basketball team) and Steve Kerr is the head coach. He’s taken them to 5 championship series, winning three of them. He is probably the most respected coach in basketball right now, and is already considered one of the best to ever do it. He has always had the Warriors play this style of offense, and like any type of offense it doesn’t always work. But it works a lot, especially with the players they have. But this random guy feels the need to yell about firing Steve Kerr.

It would be one thing if this was a one-off – but it is not, by any means. Tim Kawakami’s feed is filled with people yelling about what their favorite team should do, or yelling at Tim himself for pointing out the clearly sub-optimal things that their favorite teams are doing. I just found the most recent interaction, but his feed is filled with them. Raiders fans seem to hold him in special contempt – because for years the Raiders have been a dumpster fire and he’s had the temerity to point it out repeatedly. The truth is that everyone who runs large organizations is prone to making mistakes, Tim points out the mistakes that the people running professional sports teams in the SF Bay Area make – and takes a lot of heat for it.

The thing with D&D is that it is a shared imaginary world. If something doesn’t go the way you want it, it’s either because the dice didn’t cooperate or because your idea of the world didn’t line up with the rest of the people you are playing with. It can still be upsetting, but there are people to talk to when you are upset. You can ask your “Dungeon Master” or “Game Master” why it went a certain way. You can make your argument for why you thought it should have gone a different way. They might change their mind when they hear your argument, they might not.

In professional sports, the fantasy is that your team is going to win the championship this year. Or, if that isn’t realistic, that they are on the right rebuilding trajectory to contend soon. But you can’t argue with the results of a game. You can’t argue with your team’s record at the end of the season. When folks’ fantasy about their team is punctured by reality, all they have is their raw feelings about losing. Somewhere they mixed up their fantasy and a game that produces results that exist outside of their minds.

And when someone, like Tim Kawakami, comes along and says “you know that bad team, that you love? I talk to their people, and they are going to keep being bad” that punctures the fantasy too. So what do people do? They yell on twitter, for one. That’s what I see. I’ve felt that too. I definitely have not felt great at times when my teams have lost.

But also, the further removed I am from games the more the results have seemed to matter to me. I was lucky enough to go to a lot of Santa Cruz Warriors games this year (they are the development team for the Golden State Warriors), and seeing them play in person, seeing their strengths and weaknesses, seeing them develop… gave me perspective. When they lost in the first round of the playoffs, I wasn’t upset. They had flaws as a team, and they played a team that exploited those flaws well. Watching on tv, or trying to follow a game on twitter (which is much worse), heightens for me the feelings after a win or a loss and even during a game. I guess for me it’s easier to get wrapped up in the fantasy and to lose track of the realities when I’m only getting bits and pieces.

Ir’s okay if your team sucks. It’s okay if they are mediocre. It’s okay if they are good, but not great. It’s okay if they make mistakes. It’s okay if the coach makes mistakes. It’s okay if the refs make mistakes.

And maybe, just maybe, if you need your team to win…. give D&D a try. With D&D, your fantasy is never going to be punctured by a missed three point shot.

…… unless you want it to be.