An Oppressive White Fog

Image by Epic Images from Pixabay

I’m convinced it’s impossible for any white person, especially older white people, and most especially old white males like myself, to grasp the impact of racism on its targets. Some things have to be experienced to be understood.

Part of the larger problem is our knee-jerk thought, “But I’m not racist,” however true it may seem. Feeling victimized by the accusation brings our own discomfort to the fore, ahead of actual suffering by others. That instinct is in itself passively racist. We may feel like kind people, but our ignorance and inaction keep the machine running, to our benefit.

Fair warning, fellow whites, acknowledging this opens the door to much more discomfort. No matter what action we may take, our motives are suspect. As Jeremiah 17:9 puts it, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” How much are we motivated by guilt? Salving that guilt is selfishness. What solutions to the problem can we devise? Again a self-centered viewpoint.

So if whites can’t actually grasp the suffering, and we can’t come up with solutions, what can we do?

Shut up. Accept the blame. Accept the anger and frustration caused by our years of ignorance and inaction. Take our wounded pride out of the equation. Listen. Be vulnerable and accepting. Ask only “How can I help?” And then do it.

Don’t expect credit for it. Don’t accept praise for being a decent human being. Don’t get irritated if we’re still criticized about even our best efforts. It isn’t about our feelings. It’s life and death for others.

That’s all I know so far. I’m still learning. But I do have a hope: Supporting the Black Lives Matter movement may break the logjam of not just racism but of every sort of bigotry. Opening our eyes to one sort of oppression brings others into view.

An Hypothesis Concerning Bigotry

Godley Statue toppled

Evidence indicates that the earliest human societies were hunter/gatherer, with men the hunters and warriors, and women the gatherers and nurturers.

That division of identities has remained pretty much universally throughout history.

Women’s activism over the past 200 years or so has eroded that relationship, leaving males in general to feel threatened at the loss of their own identity. If women can do man’s work, what use is there for males?

Parallel to this is a perception of some races as more advanced than others. In a nutshell, European nations married technological advances to a rapacious nature and briefly conquered the world.

Racial activism over the past 200 years has eroded that relationship, leaving whites in general to feel threatened at the loss of their own identity. If subjugated peoples are allowed to achieve equality with whites, what value is there for whiteness?

Parallel to these is a perception that wealthy people are intrinsically better than poor people. Wealth has been assumed the main measure of success, quality, and capability. That some poorer people rise to this level is taken as proof of concept for intrinsic superiority. There are those meant to rule and those meant to be ruled.

The rise of an educated Middle Class and educated poor threatens that relationship, leaving wealthy people to feel uneasy. If everyone becomes equal, what use is there for rulers?

Put these three together and you have a picture of white males in general, but particularly rich white males, threatened with loss of their identity.  (Along with people suffering the Stockholm Syndrome of inferiority—such as Evangelical white women supporting the notion that Eve was created to serve Adam.) In essence, rich white males have no identity beyond their wealth; even charitable giving is simply reaffirmation of their wealthy value. Fear breeds anger, which breeds abuse and oppression.

The trouble for males, especially white ones, and most especially rich white ones, is that oppression leads to rejection of identity roles by the subjugated. Since the 1990’s in particular, American White Males have fucked themselves by hoarding more and more. As the American Dream becomes increasingly unobtainable, new generations are opting out of identifying themselves by their work, their household roles, and even their genders. They are discovering an identity of true individuality.

Vincent Cerf, Tim Berners-Lee, and the open-source movement have provided a means for the oppressed to disengage from an oppressive society. The heretofore dimly perceived tectonic shift of the Information Age is becoming clearer, and it spells a toppling of more than a few statues. Those icons are merely metaphoric, as evidenced by things like the crumbling Republican party.

For decades, I’ve watched men retire, go home to fish and visit relatives, and die within a few years from lack of purpose. I’ve seen marriage after marriage collapse after children leave home and the work of managing a family disappears. The people I’ve seen survive those transitions have invariably possessed an individual personality beyond those roles, often through hobbies.

The lesson is pretty clear: Accept society’s definition of your role and you’re going to die when it’s taken away; define yourself as something other than that and you’ll survive with joy.

The young don’t really care what we think of them, and the future is theirs. If the rest of us hope to survive, we need to follow their example.


Tattered Flag

Whatever the outcome of this election, it says something about our nation that I’d hoped was not true.

I’d hoped the wreckage of this year would break the spell of belief in one man over all experts. I’d hoped the cult of personality was a small but loud minority. That the election is this close tells me our country is actually as divided and stupid as it appears.

Think about it: On the eve of America’s most important vote, the “Leader of the Free World” makes a Tweet that Twitter and Facebook have to flag as “False.” Fake Tweet. This is a defining event.

Regardless of the election outcome, I think the “Grand Experiment” is on its knees. Will it stand again? Who knows. Maybe its two-party backbone just can’t bear the weight. I don’t think we have the luxury of time. My last hope for humankind rests with the European Union.

In any case, this year has permanently changed some of my relationships, for good or ill. Some friends and family I’ve lost faith in and respect or time for. While some acquaintances have stepped forward with unexpected friendship and support. I hope the reverse is true. That some now recognize me as a clear enemy of their values and beliefs. And that some find in me an unexpected ally.

Black lives matter. Science matters. Faith matters. Abortion matters. Women’s rights matter. Change matters.

Love matters. Not the wishy-washy let’s all get along kind. The firm kind. The “I don’t hate you but won’t put up with your shit” to oppressors, and “I’ve got your back, now how can I help” to the oppressed.

I don’t know all the answers. But there’s an evident path. And clear roadblocks. Fuck complacency and ignorant resistance. Let’s go.

Confessions of a TFT Addict

The Fantasy Trip Legacy Edition

(Plans change. This post was originally slated as the introduction to a book of The Fantasy Trip essays, now found in issues of Hexagram. Watch for my TFT fencing article in Hexagram #6!)

My game design career started with selling a four-paragraph review to Steve Jackson Games’ Space Gamer magazine. Why Space Gamer instead of TSR’s Dragon? Because I was a Steve Jackson junkie.

In 1981, my game group had dumped AD&D in favor of The Fantasy Trip, at my own instigation. I wanted characters who, no matter how experienced, had good reason to fear wolves in a pack and goblins in a gang, and TFT supplied that. Along with skills instead of classes, and tactics instead of abstract one-minute combat turns. TFT provided a reason to use miniatures for more than just pretty. All that in literally 150 pages instead of literally 472.

I GMed The Fantasy Trip for years to the exclusion of all other RPGs. Our group played TFT long after Metagaming (its publisher) went out of business and TFT went out of print. I scoured hobby stores for supplementary material, photocopied and ringbound every magazine article I could find, bought Gamelords’ The Forest Lords of Dyhad and Warrior-Lords of Darok, and prayed for the two remaining books of that setting to be published. Prayed for anything new to be released.

No exaggeration, I still wake from the occasional nightmare that I’m traveling, stumble across some hobby store in Texas, find an unknown TFT-related title in a bargain bin, and don’t have the cash on me to pay for it.

So when I landed a full-time game design job in my hometown, at Game Designers Workshop (publishers of Traveller), I asked for a special dispensation to launch a non-GDW fanzine, The Fantasy Forum, in my free time.

As I recall, GDW let me run a little ad in their house organ, Challenge magazine, and even let me print out the ’zine on the office copier. And of course I submitted an ad to Space Gamer. Other addicted fans subscribed to this little quarterly. Content submissions soon exceeded the bulk-rate page count. To fit Howard Trump’s solo adventures, I had to print them in 6-point type with 1/8th-inch margins. (In retrospect, I could have published those separately and printed monthly.)

Gen Con 20 in 1987 was my first big convention, and as a brand-new industry pro, I approached Steve Jackson to shake his hand and goob over The Fantasy Trip. When I asked about the prospects of a new printing now that Metagaming was defunct, and Steve told me how much cash Howard Thompson wanted for the title, I gasped, and something inside me died a little bit.

So you can easily imagine my delight when Steve regained the rights in 2017 and launched a Kickstarter shortly thereafter to print a new, deluxe edition. That boxed set now stands in a place of honor on the very top shelf of my RPG collection, right next to the big ringbinder (“liberated” from The Armory) that holds my cherished collection of original TFT material.

And you can imagine my pleasure to be writing this introduction to a collection of essaygs honoring The Fantasy Trip.

Thank you, Steve, for the years of wonderful memories, playing The Fantasy Trip with my friends.