In my last post, I proposed that the Grey Tribe is an American culture distinct from the Red and Blue tribes most commonly discussed.
Greys are a libertarian-minded tribe of live-and-let-livers. They tend to dwell online, often adopting shifting pseudonyms and communicating with each other on forums and anonymous imageboards. Amongst the Grey Tribe one would expect to see higher levels of internet savvy, fondness for tech gadgetry, and disillusionment with traditional politics. They support privacy and anonymity, and oppose the NSA surveillance regime. Edward Snowden is a Grey Tribe hero. They revere open source, strongly support an open internet, and it is by no means exaggeration to describe them as free speech fundamentalists.
Greys tend to have nomadic tech industry jobs. Many are freelancers or entrepreneurs. They engage online and don’t congregate geographically as thickly as the other tribes do, except for their noticeable clusters in San Francisco and other technology hubs. They speak in nerd/geek/gamer lingo and signal membership to each other with Internet cultural tropes and catchphrases. All three of the tribes have found a home on the internet but the Grey Tribe is born of the net and has never existed outside of it.
The Grey Tribe is beginning to find its voice and assert its identity as something separate from the Blue Tribe most of its members still probably consider themselves part of. We’re witnessing its birth pangs in the recent Internet cultural strife, and I expect this is only the beginning.
The Internet Mobilizes Tribal Voices
The Internet has made possible a kind of activism that doesn’t rely on community organizers or shady bankrolling billionaires. It’s a truly grassroots form of activism where leaders are emergent and wield authority only so long as the participants agree to obey. Technology both enables and molds these movements. These organizations are completely uncoordinated and genuinely independent of top level guidance. They begin as expressions of anger but once formed can turn in unpredictable directions due to their disorganized emergent nature.
Nothing like these movements could ever develop before the age of social media, which enables the way they develop virally and function without infrastructure or direction. Social media and it’s peer-to-peer nature break the traditional monopolies and enable connections between those with strong shared interests. Diffuse minorities can congregate online and magnify their voice in ways that weren’t even dreamed of prior to the birth of the net. These kinds of movements are a brand new social technology and they are rapidly evolving.
The Red, Blue, and Grey tribes have now each launched a grassroots Internet-enabled rebellion in the direction of a Schelling point that drew their rage, but their targets varied greatly as did the outcomes. The three movements were similar bottom-up expressions of inchoate rage, but they targeted different parts of the establishment and used very different tactics.
Three Internet Insurgencies
The Red Tribe revolt took place first. In 2009 the Tea Party movement emerged onto the national scene as a grassroots expression of dissatisfaction with high taxes and big government. It acted via politics, supporting and running anti-establishment candidates for office in mostly Republican primaries. While it has made not inconsequential gains and has successfully pulled the Republican party in a more libertarian direction, its focus has mostly petered out and been co-opted by Republican establishment figures. As a movement the Tea Party is a shell of itself. It used the Internet to mobilize but fought its foe on the hostile ground of politics, which is sort of like launching a land war in Asia.
In 2011 a Blue Tribe revolt took place. Occupy Wall Street was a left-driven movement against social and economic inequality. It focused its rage mostly against the Wall Street banks that had benefited from the 2008 financial crash. It lasted only a few months and its hazily communicated goals were unrealized. The physical occupations were disbanded by police and the movement mostly dissipated. Today it exists mostly overseas, notably represented by the current Hong Kong protests that have been dubbed ‘Occupy Admiralty’ by some. Occupy failed because it could not coalesce behind goals that were accomplishable via means that it possessed. The voices were too diffuse, and its focus on physical gatherings was outlast-able.
In 2014 it became the Grey Tribe’s turn to launch a rebellion. GamerGate is an expression of rage by Grey Tribe libertarians, nerds, misfits, and techies against Blue Tribe encroachment onto their gaming hobby and against their expression. This is no overnight phenomenon, gamer rage against so-called “social justice warriors” has been simmering for years.
Anti-Sarkeesian gamer produced video from 2013
Ten years ago the gaming community faced Red Tribe censorship threats from Jack Thompson‘s group aimed at violence in games, and faced them down. Now the threats of censorship are similar but come from the Blue Tribe concerns about sexism rather than Red Tribe pleading against violence. What complicates matters is that this time the gaming journalists are on the side of the forces of censorship rather than on the side of gamers.
The dispute might have just continued simmering, but the gaming media outlets absolutely refused to discuss legitimate questions of their ethics, engaged in an active effort to quash the issue by naked force, then colluded en masse to declare gamers “dead”. Even 4chan itself banned discussion of the issue in an unprecedented turn of events. It’s a misconception that GamerGate is about the Zoe Quinn story, while it certainly began with that story is was not until the enforced censorship, mass declaration that “Gamers Are Dead” and the exposure of the GameJournoPros mailing list that GamerGate truly launched its rebellion in earnest and it became a full fledged tribal rebellion.
The Grey Rebellion
The Grey Tribe rebellion continues apace. History seems to be against them, given the outcome of the Blue and Red rebellions, but I believe there are significant differences in the Grey rebellion that may yet see it achieve some of the change it seeks.
Right now the GamerGate rebellion has brought its focus onto one of the companies it sees attacking it, and is using the weapon of consumer boycott to deal significant damage. Max Read of Gawker whined that GamerGate has cost Gawker thousands in revenue already and could potentially cost millions.
The Red rebellion focused its ire on government, and the Blue rebellion went after the banking establishment. Those foes were more than capable to withstand, absorb, and eventually co-opt the movements against them. The Grey rebellion however, is aimed at Blue Tribe journalism enterprises that support themselves via advertisers who seek Grey dollars. These enterprises are absolutely vulnerable to a Grey attack on their sources of funding, as the wounded yelps from Gawker’s direction may indicate.
I expect the Blue journalists to fight back via Blue media opprobrium, they have been fighting that way and it’s not working but I would expect them to double down on that tactic because they misjudge their opponents.
Their projection convinces them that their opponents fear social ostracization, as any Blue Tribe member would. They fail to understand that most members of the Grey Tribe have long become used to social ostracization, they seek approval only from their friends in the Grey Tribe and the wider society’s opinion is immaterial to them. Gamers specifically have long been targets for mainstream bullies and are pre-inoculated against this tactic.
Will the Grey Tribe succeed at doing significant damage to their Blue journalistic enemies? It certainly seems possible. I expect an outpouring of vitriol from the mainstream media will only embolden them. Gamer are used to facing greater challenges as they progress in a game, so to expect them to discourage easily is a significant underestimation. The GamerGate tactic of applying economic pressure to its targets via advertisers can succeed if it continues, and it will as long as the media keeps foolishly adding fuel to the GamerGate fire with threats of censorship.
UPDATE: Now go read this related and highly relevant post “Moving Beyond Hit-And-Run Warfare: How #GamerGate Can Actually Win”