Sunday, 10 August 2014

Tim gets schooled by Kenneth Hite

This is a study in bad faith.

Three days ago I saw a post by truly excellent game designer and author Kenneth Hite comparing the author T.E.D. Klein to the author Arthur Machen. I know a small bit about the author Arthur Machen, having read a few stories and attended a lecture on him once. Kenneth Hite knows a lot about the author Arthur Machen, being a gentleman scholar with an Alexandrian library and excellent credentials as a student of occult and literary history, and especially those areas where the two intersect; Machen, as a kind of ecstatic-weird author, is one such intersection.

A thought process occurred in me that, in retrospect, can be seen to be more than a little fuckwitted. It went so:

1. Kenneth Hite is one of your favourite podcasters, and a darn spiffy RPG author to boot.
2. You know a small bit about the author Arthur Machen, whom Kenneth Hite has just mentioned.
3. You do not like the author Arthur Machen.
4. You should insult the author Arthur Machen in a tweet to Kenneth Hite. This will cause him to engage with you.

Let's look at the bad faith in that statement. While I dislike Arthur Machen's writing (on the basis of those of his works that I have read), that distaste is not anywhere close to that expressed in the tweet. It's more of an active dismissal, the kind of emotion you would reserve to a relative you know you need to interact with but share no common ground. By presenting myself as a strong antagonist in order to make a snappy tweet that caught Kenneth Hite's attention, I added needlessly to the aggression levels on the internet. The internet is aggressive enough! Each Youtube comment and Tumblr firestorm causes the beating heart of the unborn rage God to stir that little faster, stirring in its distributed body of server-farms and drawing ever closer to hellish parturition.

Next, I could not have had any intention to argue the point that Arthur Machen was a pseudo fascist because I had absolutely no evidence. If it existed, it would be easy to provide: when Machen lived in the late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century there were several fascist parties in Britain. Membership was far from the taboo it is today. There would be a record. There is not, as far as a quick Google and Wikipedia search can reveal, a record. Perhaps I could have said, rather than pseudo fascist, "bore." That's a nice, one-syllable word. Or, "misery-guts." That about sums up the extent of my dislike for his works. "Author I find tiresome."

I have defamed the dead. While I doubt any member of the Machen estate would be upset by my odious, baseless slur of their forebear, I should have been mindful. Not just for the risk of vengeful ghosts, but because the internet is already haunted by baseless and vitriolic attacks. Some of them constitute harassment, others have a chilling effect on discourse. More generally they may misdirect the casual reader.

Fortunately, Kenneth Hite gave me an internet backhand that knocked some sense into me.
Boom! Fortunately, Kenneth Hite is a gentleman as well as a badass, and recommended that the place I should look to educate myself was a biography of Machen written by a Blake or Chesterton scholar, if such a thing exists. Why this navel gazing post? Partly, I'm proud of the phrase "much like finding a leather daddy scene in The Prelude." If the British Romantic movement had been heavily into leather fetish the whole tenor of that era would have been very different. But I suppose I'm very interested in how I should be wrong on the internet. Much discourse on the internet is "wrong", as in factually incorrect, or true opinion (but not an expression of knowledge.) When you recognise you have contributed to that wrongness, what should you do? Be right in the future is obviously part of the correct response, and own the wrongfulness in your past. But when wrongfulness is part of the ephemera of the internet, here and then lost, how to capture that gossamer mistake and remember it, correct it, strike it down with the furious vengeance it deserves? Next week I'll write something silly about a board game called Cave Evil.