With time I’ve been developing a complex relationship with my own outrage. Those who have followed me over years might have noticed that three years ago, I had to struggle to rant at all, and then in late 2016 I started posting continuously about political issues out of [what I felt was] necessity. I got better at expressing myself, mid-outrage, but over the course of the year it drove me to depression and fatigue. (Intelligence and awareness of current events and sociopolitical affairs are — no joke — both acknowledged risk factors for major depression).

Now we’re in the middle of 2018, I’ve been trying to rally myself just to write about something, anything, but the onslaught of frightful current events hasn’t slowed, and everything still points towards a national crisis (after which an international one will follow, once we’ve finished determining everyone else is an enemy and the US goes to war.)

At this point I struggle with a resistance to blogging at all. One of the factors is the lengthy and tedious editing process (which got even worse as I started favoring longer pieces). But the other — something related to rants — is the need to post context.

That’s what happened this last week.

I should warn you, dear reader, this involves nested concepts like a Scheherazadian tale or matryoshka dolls.

Last week was very eventful. The biggest news was the immigration family separation policy. Trump decided to jail undocumented immigrants and those at our borders seeking asylum, and in doing so separated children from their parents. Parents and adults went to prisons (actual cells in actual prisons) while the children and adolescents went to ad hoc child-care detention centers. Even setting aside the trauma of separating families apart, it was all awful. Eventually Trump signed an executive order that didn’t really stop the practice so much as allow the CBP to seek alternatives first.*

Then there is the matter with the United States Supreme Court, which deployed its ideologist majority like a rail gun**

Here in California, there was a bit with the net neutrality bill (SB 822, text of bill) which was recently amended in committee by Miguel Santiago, unraveling all the end-user protections intended by the bill. Santiago has been entirely unapologetic, and Senator Scott Weiner (the author of the bill) is looking to either undo the damage or withdraw it and introduce a fresh bill. Meanwhile AT&T, emboldened by its merger with Time Warner (now WarnerMedia) is now implementing the very policy it promised it wouldn’t when net neutrality was being debated in the FCC.

There’s a few other things I haven’t yet mentioned. Districts in Florida (including Miami) are ankle-deep below sea level thanks to the rising tides. Shit’s just crazy.

And that’s the problem. Shit’s just crazy, and it’s hard enough to cope. But then I have to think about it enough to articulate it as I did above (with the footnotes). It breaks my brain.

But then, I want to be able to talk about all these things, intelligibly and soberly: After the barrage of 5/4 rulings from the US Supreme Court for instance, I wanted to know what do we do now? Friends, colleagues and Robert Reich have been suggesting the usual things: get out the vote, contact congresspersons (especially our Senators about Justice Kennedy’s imminent replacement), get involved with district-flipping efforts, and so on. These are, more or less, same things pro-Democrats (more accurately anti-Republicans) have been doing for the last twenty years while the GOP has continued to sweep and entrench and dominate. I want to be able to talk about how it’s not enough to stay our course and simply work harder. I want to be able to talk about why that hasn’t been enough. I want to be able to suggest what more we need to do. And, because our outlook is really pessimistic right now, I want to observe why we’re not going to get that more we need, not without a miraculous grassroots focused effort to reform elections and the justice system to restore rule-of-law, dismantle the two-party system (and turn it into a multi-party system or — better yet — a sortition.) Because this paradigm — the recent status quo — continues to serve the people who have power, even when it is corrosive to the public good.

But in order to do talk about any of this, I need to be able to put it in context, that is to lay out what I’m talking about. And when I do that, it rekindles my outrage (and my frustration with being helpless to affect it in any significant way). And then I lose my ability to articulate, sometimes for days at a time.

I don’t have a solution for this yet. Maybe I have to start writing my pieces out of order, and set aside time to recover from my overwhelming fury and frustration.

Because the only thing scarier than my friends disbelieving (or underestimating) the monster coming to get us, is being unable to intelligibly communicate to my friends that there’s a monster coming to get us.

* That situation regarding mass migrant detention and deportation is developing in horrifying ways:

The CBP didn’t do the Chuck E Cheese thing of stamp-coding kids to parents, (yes, kids leaving with the wrong adults is a common problem) and they have no way to connect families back together. They’re now genetic-testing kids and parents to see who matches whom.

President Trump, outraged, is now extending this policy to those who seek asylum in the United States. Current Trump / Sessions policy also limits asylum provisions only to those directly in danger from agents of state (rather than gangs, unrecognized warlords, domestic abuse or family persecution). Trump is currently also seeking to detain and deport green card holders and naturalized citizens.

ICE has been rigging their own rules to allow them to lock up pretty much anyone, not only migrants who are provisionally documented but also natural-born citizens who look foreign enough. In order to secure their deportation, detainees are locked in a room without and then asked to prove their citizenship without resources.

ICE has been performing warrantless raids on private property as well as intercepting targets for detention at courthouses (making it difficult for prosecutors to get them to testify in other cases). ICE has also been looking to Constitutionally illegal (or at least questionable) resources such as [unrestricted access to] the NSA mass surveillance programs and cell phone tracker devices to hunt down targets for detainment.

** The five conservative justices in the Supreme Court of the United States have gained their confidence (what appears to be after the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling) and have started their reign as ideologues. Recently, they:

Upheld President Trump’s travel ban that restricts travel of foreigners coming to the US from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen and North Korea.

Struck down the Reproductive FACT Act (text of the bill here) which required Crisis Pregnancy Centers (that is religion-backed anti-abortion fronts that pretend to be abortion providers only to try to harrass or otherwise coerce pregnant women into continuing their pregnancy to term) to make a PSA statement (by post or verbally) stating that this facility does not provide abortions and is not a licensed medical center (if they are not one) and that cheap or no-cost abortions are available and information about them can be had through given numbers and websites. Crisis pregnancy centers (aka Pregnancy Resource Centers) pose as healthcare and abortion providers to encourage women with unwanted pregnancies to carry to term, typically using deception, harassment and coercion to do so. (John Oliver’s deep dive on the subject via Last Week Tonight can be found here.)

Labor Unions cannot force contribution from fellow employees of unionized companies, even when they receive union benefits according to a new ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States, overturning Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. To be fair, I’m not savvy on the details of collective bargaining by labor unions, but this ruling along with Masterpiece Cakeshop (above), the Hobby Lobby ruling and the Citizens United ruling (all ruled 5-4 split along party lines) are demonstrating a trend toward denying rights of the public in favor of the rights of corporate entities.

All of these were ruled 5-4, split along party lines with the conservatives making the majority opinion. Minority opinions point out the questionable assumptions and spurious logic that lead to these conclusions, in some case saying we’re changing things because the court wants to do it.. Emotionally, the situation is further exasperated by the Senate’s refusal to confirm (or even review) Merrick Garland, which is how Neil Gorsuch got on the bench, and we’re seeing the railgun that is the originalist majority on the Supreme Court now in action. Kennedy is retiring, allowing for Trump to fill another ideologue, unchallenged, given that the GOP controls the senate. The religious right are cheering the imminent overturn of Roe v. Wade at which point abortion will be criminal in about half the United States.


Cat: A check-in

On occasion, I’ve posted stress inventories here when I’ve been too anxious to focus. My last one was during my October of Cats in 2017. From March to June 2018 just a lot of things have been happening. I announced in March that my household is moving across town. After a long, arduous process of getting stuff sorted out (and pairing down even further), we’re moved at this point and settled in, and while I miss some of the things (exempli gratia, the coffee machine at the clubhouse), there are lots of things to appreciate being here, from local markets to better dog-walking paths.

But life goes on, and how. Since then…

Young Master Bug (aka The Boo, The Toddler, The Boy, My Grandson, et. al.) has been a permanent fixture here at home. I’ve been exploiting his interest in Transformers to bend his mind to my will establish a common interest. Also we’ve found occasional conflicts of interest that have required early inquiries into interpersonal negotiation. I’m trying to teach him that emotions are okay, but behavior needs to be curbed. At four-years-old he’s an eager pupil, but sometimes doesn’t get complicated ideas.

My computer failed (specifically, my hard drive). It took a couple of weeks to troubleshoot what happened, to replace the drive and reinstall Windows 7. I lost quite a bit of poorly backed-up data, mostly game data, such as archives of Borderlands TPS loot. (Borderlands TPS loot is easily reconstructed, but takes time.)

My household was plagued with bronchitis, which disabled folks for a week or two. Yuck.

My sweetheart’s migraines got bad enough to warrant a protracted ER visit (which crossed and compounded her bronchitis stint, above). She’s making some major lifestyle changes in order to curb them (which is, optimistically-speaking, looking effective so far).

Miss Taz is a sophomore in high school.

Ren has mixed feelings about the new walking regimen, which is longer, and involved adventures into strange places. It also involves crossing streets with traffic lights and crosswalks and scary cars. Sometimes adventures involve getting stuffed into a hip-sling for a shopping trip (and cooed at and squee’d at by passersby). Also sidewalks crawl with beetles, and larger fauna stalk him from the bushes and vert. Some days he’s eager for his nightly walk and other times he’s not. By the end, he’s eager to come home.

While all this is eventful and does distract from my blog, it’s not been enough to keep me from it entirely. I should still be posting more often than I do. At least I want to.

Part of my problem is taking on bigger projects and being overwhelmed by them. This happened when I got caught up researching the Joseon sunset (and the saga of Queen Min) the timelines of which are a bit more obtuse and less clearly established than I expected (possibly thanks to interested parties at the time meddling with the accounting of current events — historians often have the same problem with Classic Rome.) In the meantime there’s other Homefront: The Revolution topics that I’m eager to talk about.

Then Far Cry 5 happened and I wanted to talk about what it should have been, and got stalled on Faith Seed, on Bliss, the wonder drug and on how new religious movements typically draw recruits when they’re not obducting them and gassing them into submission. But then I realized that the indoctrination method of religious institutions, which often parallels treatment methods in the recovery sector is worth examination on its own.

This is a common problem of mine, what is, in software development called feature creep.

What it means is I’ll need to develop a better strategy for talking about stuff, whether I pair down large projects or I find a way to break them up into smaller ones without losing context.

Man, blogging is hard.

Eden’s Gate: Chapter Index

Wait A Minute. None Of This Is Exciting New Content!

The Eden’s Gate / Far-Cry-5-related series has become big enough that it warrants a separate page for a chapter index. And since the disclaimers are pretty much the same for each of those essays, I’ve listed them here (in their full verbose glory) as well. Enjoy!

Eden’s Gate Series Chapter Index

Eden’s Gate: Far Cry 5 and Cults: An indictment of Far Cry 5, which promised and failed to look at dangerous doomsday cults in the United States. After a consideration of what cults actually are, I set about to imagine a game that did examine dangerous new religious groups and their complex role in US history. Also, I introduce the Reformed Church of Eden’s Gate, a religious movement and commune in Hope County, Montana that is plausible in twenty-first century America.

Eden’s Gate: Just Folks: The people of the RCEG are well-meaning ordinary folk with no separatist or hostile intent at all. They are also the stakes and potentially the victims of the events in Hope County. And then there are those who serve the commune institution more than they serve the flock, and are willing to kill to do it.

Eden’s Gate: Nuclear Apocalypse: A rant about FC5’s nuclear apocalypse ending, including a rant about how lame a nuclear exchange would be as a divine apocalypse.

Eden’s Gate: The Bliss The Bliss is a drug and a flower (the basis of the drug) in Far Cry 5 introduced to Eden’s Gate by Faith Seed. In the Reformed Church of Eden’s Gate, Faith Seed’s backstory goes differently, and as such the Bliss itself is very different as well.


All these disclaimers apply to all of my Eden’s Gate posts (more or less):

There will be spoilers My discussion of Far Cry 5 is meant to serve as a critique or part of a larger analytical dialog about the game and its story. As such, I openly talk about aspects of the story, including its curious ending.

I (still) haven’t actually played Far Cry 5. Below, I get into my reasons why, but the upshot of it is I am getting all my FC5 lore from online, and as such I’ve been missing things, having never crossed them in research. (This isn’t necessarily to say I would have crossed them during a playthrough.) This also means I may invent stuff that already existed (such as Jacob’s Chosen, which I intuited before discovering them on the wiki), not to be confused with re-inventing stuff, (such as The Bliss, above) which is willfully changing things knowing what they were originally in FC5.

But now, why:

Firstly, I’m poor. I can’t typically afford games at retail. It also means I have to review games to see if I’ll get a sufficient amount of fun / joy / profundity / sublimation / anxiety-relief from a game that it is sufficiently economical. (Yes, this is what poverty does to people.)

Secondly, I am wary of the franchise. I am still fond of Far Cry 2, and play it to this day. Yet, Far Cry 3 was comparatively a major disappointment, having removed many of the game elements I loved. Ultimately the QTE knife fight with Buck drove me from frustration and tedium to quit the game. In contrast to FC2, FC3 seemed phoned-in, so I already have cause to distrust the series, yet hope that it will some day return to the glory of FC2.

Thirdly, Uplay is a tedious client that remains difficult to use, and more intent on advertising microcontent then serving me my games. And Ubisoft mandates that I run it to play Ubi games, even when I purchase them from Steam or they implement other DRM (such as Denuvo Anti-Tamper as is the case with FC5)

Fourthly, Far Cry 5 still seems to be in a state of incompletion. Patches are still being released frequently, in which content is being dramatically changed, including the availability of microtransactive elements. (I’m not clear how Ubi is handling when the skin someone buys is made unavailable.)

Please respect all declared intellectual property rights: It pains me to have to say this, as I have somewhat an adversarial relationship with intellectual property rights, myself, even as a content creator. (IP law has long deteriorated from its original intent to promote science and useful arts into a more protectionist role for monied IP estates. But that’s an entirely separate rant.) In the current era, the mere threat of IP litigation serves as a chilling effect for a lot of content. And some business models depend on the high cost of litigation (even when decided in the right by the courts) to extort fines from small creators.

The whole point of this exercise (all of my Eden’s Gate posts) is to say I want different content than what is being produced, but also to be explicit about it. (Simply saying this game sucks doesn’t help much toward better game design.) But in the current era, a robust legal war chest is a greater factor in determining the outcome of a case than legal standing or good faith, and a big legal warchest is an asset I do not have. In even writing these essays I put myself at risk, lest someone at Ubisoft decides to get belligerent about it.

As such I have a responsibility to give all credit where it is due: Ubisoft produced a massive game, Far Cry 5 which involved a lot of content and much of it is really rather good (even if other parts of it are cringeworthy). I respect Ubisoft’s development team put a lot of work and manpower into the creation of a big product with play-worthy elements, even if I don’t like all the design choices they made, so there is merit to Ubisoft’s ownership of intellectual assets: Far Cry 5 and the specific diegetic elements from that game are copyright 2018 and may have trademark implications. Here’s Ubisoft’s official IP boilerplate for Far Cry 5:

© 2018 Ubisoft Entertainment. All Rights Reserved. Far Cry, Ubisoft, and the Ubisoft logo are registered or unregistered trademarks of Ubisoft Entertainment in the US and/or other countries. Based on Crytek’s original Far Cry directed by Cevat Yerli.

When it comes to my work, however, (my ideas, at least) I want them to be free for use. Please use my ideas! This whole exercise is about expressing the kind of games I want to play and as such, I don’t want to inhibit someone else from using an idea by expressing it, otherwise implying they didn’t create it from whole cloth. As Ubisoft did not, in fact, make a game that examines dangerous doomsday cults in the United States as they have appeared in history (choosing, instead, to make Eden’s Gate into a much more fantastic adversarial organization), it would be neat (I opine) to see games that do so and take that risk, even even if they don’t have all the high production values of Far Cry 5. My intent here is to further the art by imagining if FC5 were such a game that did.

And this intent (technically) allows me to engage FC5 material based on the fair use exception which allows for academic and analytical works that refer to other works. However, since I’ve chosen an affirmative approach (not doing this sucked! but doing this other thing would have been so much better!) this pushes my academic endeavor into the gray zone of fanfiction, which is a litigable offense depending on how much of a dick how concerned about secondary content stealing demand from their games Ubisoft’s legal department wants to be. I doubt I put Ubisoft at risk, but they might disagree.

I’ve talked before about how George Lucas was very much less of a dick than Disney has become with the Star Wars IP. Similarly Nintendo has set the high standard for dickishness regarding IP, attacking Let’s Players when they don’t play games right. Ubisoft appears to welcome LPs and discussion online, enough that I’ve been able to research the game thoroughly. So the folks at Ubi may not be entirely adverse to (constructive, I intend) criticism from the private sector.

At the same time, we live in an era of powerful people with fragile egos.

On the other hand, Ubi might ruin my life but vastly increase my scant following. I don’t know how I feel about that exchange.

Returning to my point, respect Ubisoft’s intellectual property. Use mine freely. If you quote me directly, attribute. If you use my ideas in your fiction, kudos. If you need more than a writer’s promise not to sue, let me know and I’ll attach some kind of Copyleft or Creative Commons license to all parts of my work that don’t belong to Ubisoft. For now they’re protected only by my word and this disclosure, (and my aforementioned paltry legal warchest).

Eden’s Gate: Nuclear Apocalypse

Chapter III

This is a multi-part series. You can find your way around the whole thing at the Chapter Index.

Disclaimers: I’ve also listed all the disclaimers in full at the Chapter Index

In (very) brief, they are:

Lots of Far Cry 5 spoilers.
I didn’t actually play the game.
Far Cry 5 is © 2018 by Ubisoft Entertainment SA. Please respect Ubisoft’s declared intellectual property rights.
If you want to use my ideas, take them, use them and welcome. Make great content.

Every Motive Escalate, Automotive Incinerate

This one is ranty.

At the end of Far Cry 5, the world ends.

More specifically FC5 ends with a nuclear strike. Several detonations rain down on Hope County and Joseph The Father Seed (who is curiously still alive at this point) proclaims it is the apocalypse, as per the futurist interpretation of Revelation. A Sheriff’s Utility Van that wouldn’t be able to start after a nuclear EMP does so anyway, and if at any time during the following wild ride the player shoots Seed to limit liabilities, the van spontaneously explodes without explanation, killing the Deputy.* Assuming Seed is unmolested, after a brief drive through fire and devastation, eventually everyone the Deputy tried to save is dead and Seed remains alive.

At which point Seed makes the Deputy his bitch. Roll credits.

Players online have been discussing what it all means, speculating the nuclear explosions could all be a hallucinogenic dream, or Seed’s few remaining followers were waiting for Joseph’s signal to detonate stolen bombs. There’s little information to go on, but occasional news from the radio broadcasts (heard through-out the game from vehicle radios) report of negotiation breakdowns between the US and the DPRK. So Montana may just be on the receiving end of a nuclear attack from North Korea.

A nuclear exchange between the US and North Korea is unlikely in real life, and wouldn’t go down the way it’s imagined in the FC5 endgame, but I’ll get to that.

Leonard Bernstein, Leonid Brezhnev, Lenny Bruce and Lester Bangs

I’m going to take a moment for a sub-rant (a rant within a rant): It distresses me that in this era, some people — in this case, players and developers of Far Cry 5 who have admitted as much — believe nuclear exchange is a plausible mechanism for divine apocalypse.

No. That would be the stupidest possible divine apocalypse ever. Literally stupid. A compound chain of many human beings in adversarial positions acting senselessly, contrary to their own interests.

Large asteroids steer towards the Earth only as a matter of chance. By the grace of God they hit us or don’t. So far we’ve been really lucky that space is big, that asteroids are comparatively small, and it’s really easy to miss the Earth. Sometimes small ones have hit us and killed a lot of stuff, just not everything. A big one could reset the evolutionary clock to microbes, or before.

Global pandemics are an ongoing risk held only in check by a robust network of disease control laboratories that work every single day to stay ahead of the germs. Infectious microbes keep mutating making prior treatments obsolete, yet commonly retaining all the stuff that allows them to flourish. Again, one divine supergerm that proves too robust for us to crack, and we’re fucked.

And there’s nothing for supervolcanos either. Ordinary volcanoes are a power so awesome we’ve regarded them as gods themselves, and fed them no small number of sacrifices so that they’d just take it easy. Supervolcanoes are inconceivable, except we’ve seen the damage and extinction they’ve wrought in the geological timeline. If the Yellowstone caldera blows (for example), it’s like Pompei for the planet. Wiping out civilizations by volcanic eruption is a classic God move. A Supervolcano would be entirely in character. Right in Montana, no less.

For any one of these, and countless others, one could blame it on God’s divine plans to reboot the world because we suck, or because it’s a good thing to reinstall the operating system once in a while.

But a nuclear exchange isn’t a divine apocalypse. That’s entirely on us. That’s not just someone doing a stupid thing, but many many someones doing a long chain of specific stupid things in order to set off a nuclear strike and retaliation. The stupid would have to pervade the administrations and military commands of several antagonistic countries. The human species would really have to work at it to start a nuclear war, and these days — with some rare exceptions — everyone is sure that we really don’t want one of those. Ever. No matter how much we hate the other guys.

As of 2015 we’ve had seventy years without a nuclear war. The human race appears to be rather adept at circumventing this kind of stupid. It helps that nuclear weapons require a fine-tuned chain of events to detonate properly, and it takes a determined country to develop them (and develop effective delivery systems). Still, the Soviet Union and NATO were on decidedly unfriendly terms. There were some alleged close calls and delicate negotiations between the US and USSR but despite doubt and public panic the Cold War’s years were spent a great many steps away from nuclear exchange. Both nations were committed not to initiate a first strike. Eventually the Soviet Union’s Politburo decided against retaliation for sake of the species.

The only scenario we could imagine, ironically, was a religious fanatic looking to kickstart doomsday so that Jesus could return and collect the souls languishing in Hell. Reagan wanted to be that guy, but he just didn’t have the heart to first strike. It was too shitty a thing to do. As such nuclear madmen only get into power in fiction. And in that same fiction, when Presidents authorize first strikes, we still have to ponder why a national security advisor might fail to shank the President first for the good of the entire world. (I’m very sorry I had to do that, Mr. President.)

The cold war is over, and a nuclear exchange would still be stupidity.

Kissinger’s Realpolitik was a confrontation of the reality that in negotiations between nuclear powers, ideological principles might have to be set aside in order to preserve peace. India’s and Pakistan’s enmity for each other has been fanatic and pertinacious. And they’ve both had nuclear weapons pointed at each other for about forty years now, often in the hands of extremists. Yet to this day, thankfully, not a one has been launched in hostility. I can only speculate on how they managed not to blow each other to nuclear kingdom come, but forty years is a solid record for cool heads.

Granted, the chances of nuclear war remain nonzero. And if Trump gets too kooky, hopefully Mattis will be there, steak-knife in hand. Our peerless President seems eager to drop one. But it’s still on us, not on a divine need to flush the system.

The Ladder Starts To Clatter With Fear Of Height, Down, Height

I speculate the attractiveness of a nuclear apocalypse for divine purposes is for the same reason we favor recounting the Titanic disaster despite the countless other times people have died by the hundreds at sea as a vessel sank from under them. The Titanic sank over about two hours, which is about the right amount of time for watching drama unfold. Nuclear holocaust fits into a similar time window. Maybe our doomsday predictors want doomsday to fit into a two-hour movie.

I say this because the apocalypse we’re actually watching unfold has yet to be associated with the second advent. And yes, alleged prophets continue to promise the second coming is imminent. Granted, the looming disasters from climate change feel distant and less certain from twenty-plus years away, and they may only be cataclysmic and disastrous, affecting a large fraction of our population, rather than bringing humanity right to extinction. And yet, with each day as we continue to do very little to mitigate its effects, the threat grows worse and more certain. And it may become an extinction-level crisis yet. I digress.

To be fair there’s also commonly an ideological barrier. Most Christian denominations are allied with climate change denialist political groups, and doomsday cults don’t work when you’re predicting the end of the world somewhere between twenty and eighty years from now. Doomsday cultists want EOTWAWKI this month.

But the doomsday cult story is not an eschatological story. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: The leaders and followers of doomsday cults have had to repeatedly confront what happens when the apocalypse is disappointingly tame, and everyone is still around and still expected to continue doing their arduous commune chores. It usually leads to a lot of pissed off followers, which is about when matters within the cult get exciting. Books have been written on this stuff, and it will be the basis of what happens when I get back to the Reformed Church of Eden’s Gate when Joseph Seed’s prediction for doomsday fails, and large numbers of the RCEG Commune’s 3000-ish followers start having doubts and getting restless. Because restless doubting followers is also a part of the American Doomsday Cult story.

Obviously, I should also discuss doomsday stories, and how a Far Cry-like open-world shooter might do one justice. Well done apocalypses can be very satisfying.

Wire In a Fire, Represent The Seven Games and a Government For Hire and a Combat Site

So what happened at the end of Far Cry 5? (View it here. It’s the middle one.) Let’s assume it’s not a druggy halucination and let’s assume Eden’s Gate did not acquire its own nukes found left in the corner of a decommissioned silo. (Though crazier things have been known to happen.)

If we supposed for a moment there was a nuclear exchange with North Korea, and we assumed that North Korea’s nuclear capabilities were at the high end of realistic estimates, it means the DPRK might have a handful of Taepodong-3 ICBMs (heh… dong. That may never get old.) This is the launch vehicle that could actually reach the contiguous United States. If we assumed they had a dozen of them and guidance systems to hit a city-sized target, they’d prioritize according to a retalitory strike, that is, they’d air-burst nukes over population targets, none of which would be in Montana, even if they had a dozen launch vehicles and payloads.

More likely, North Korea had a handful of payloads and launch vehicles, but without guidance systems, and had readied them to deter a US shock and awe campaign set on regime change. The US at behest of the hawks in the administration called the bluff, and the DPRK launched their ready ICBMs without guidance, hoping to get lucky enough to hit the continent of North America, and in proof that the cosmos-according-to-game-developers has a sense of humor some of them (perhaps all of them) dropped on Hope, Montana, providing for Joseph Seed a rather localized apocalypse.

This means there’s hope for the Deputy yet, that FEMA may come to their rescue, and in due time Seed’s rap sheet and FBI person-of-interest statuses may arise, and they may separate the two. Dunno if they’ll ever deprogram the Deputy from all the magic drugs and behavior conditioning and whatever Joseph does to mindfuck people though. For the Deputy, it may mean life in a psych ward. Only you can make this world seem bright

* Whenever Joseph Seed is in custody in FC5 (typically at the beginning or end of the game), the Deputy can, when piloting a vehicle, turn around and shoot him. But doing so causes the vehicle to spontaneously explode, resulting in a game over. Since Half-Life 2 (if not earlier) it’s been an acceptable convention to define certain people as mission-critical personnel and present a non-standard game over, which would have been somewhat appropriate considering that shooting a man in custody has moral ramifications. But the car spontaneously exploding suggests that a supernatural power is intervening in the most petty way possible. Note this is the only ending in which Joseph Seed can actually be killed (even though he can — and will — be shot multiple times during his boss fight and still emerge unscathed one cutscene later.) Seed says multiple times God won’t let you take me and in this case — where God is the Far Cry 5 development team, he’s absolutely right.

Perhaps the point was to imply God doesn’t care if his prophet is Psycho-murder Jesus, and when God’s plans interfere with your civilization’s sense of law and order and protecting its members, well, it just sucks to be you.

In that case Gravity Bone did it way better.

Eden’s Gate: Just Folks

Chapter II

This is a multi-part series. You can find your way around the whole thing at the Chapter Index.

Disclaimers: I’ve also listed all the disclaimers in full at the Chapter Index

In (very) brief, they are:

Lots of Far Cry 5 spoilers.
I didn’t actually play the game.
Far Cry 5 is © 2018 by Ubisoft Entertainment SA. Please respect Ubisoft’s declared intellectual property rights.
If you want to use my ideas, take them, use them and welcome. Make great content.

There Ain’t No Grave Can Hold My Body Down

Last time, I talked about Far Cry 5, an open-world shooter that takes place in (fictional) Hope County, Montana, in which a doomsday cult has constructed an intentional community. Except it’s not an actual religious movement, but a band of supervillains with mind-control powers (magic druggy gas, Clockwork Orange style magic conditioning, and what looks like just a vaguely explained legion of fanatically loyal henchmen).

The pre-release hype for Far Cry 5 promised implicitly (if not explicitly) a robust contemplation of Montana life and cult phenomena (not to be confused with occult phenomena). So when the release turned out to say very little (and even went out of its way to be conspicuously neutral) it raised a lot of outrage from the paying, playing public.

And yet it also raises the question: What would a game look like that did provoke thoughts, pose questions and examine what dangerous religious groups are about, and how the United States responds to them? I’ve since endeavored to answer that question.

I started to imagine the specifics of such a game: It would take place in (fictional) Hope County, Montana, and allow for exploration of a lot of Montana-authentic terrain and engagement in Montana-authentic activities. In Far Cry 5 Hope is also home to Eden’s Gate, but in our version it’s the commune and headquarters of the Reformed Church of Eden’s Gate (or RCEG), who’s bought up about 8000 acres in Hope County, and has about 3000 RCEG parishioners living at the commune full time, and yes, it even has its own radio station.

If These Wings Don’t Fail Me, I Will Meet You Anywhere

With a population of that size, RCEG is pretty darned big for a growing new religious movement.

The RCEG is a national movement is bigger and scarier than the Church of Scientology in the late 20th century. Conservative estimates suggest another 10,000 RCEG members are scattered throughout the states with a (comparatively) tiny number abroad. About a year before the game begins, Joseph The Father Seed moved to the Hope County commune. At that time it became the declared address of the RCEG headquarters.

RCEG coverts seem less like scary cultists and more like kooky cultists. You may know someone who knows someone who is RCEG. Maybe a famous person or two is associated with RCEG. Another famous person or two has a relative at the Hope commune and is freaked out that she’s being brainwashed into a doomsday zombie. The celebrity actually said doomsday zombie.

RCEG members are commonly talked about as Seedies. Some wonder if Seeders is less perjorative. It’s controversial. On the Tonight Show Joseph and his flock are the butt of doomsday jokes, and politicians making radical statements are associated with Seedies for easy laughs.

Curiously some RCEG members interviewed by newsmedia call themselves Seedies and take the term in stride. They seem well adjusted, if slightly too chipper. Disappointingly, such interviewees do not trigger easily and start cursing Hellfire when contradicted. They don’t confess to giant secret orgies or celestial marriages and they don’t talk in tongues. In fact the only odd thing about the RCEG is that they’re certain that the world will end soon. Real soon. This month.

I See a Band Of Angels and They’re Coming After Me

The demographic numbers above include everyone. The elderly. Children. The disabled and infirm. It includes those unable to pick up a rifle. It includes those unwilling to pick up a rifle. It includes those who are so purely pacifist they won’t take up arms even to defend themselves. (It’s a piety thing.) It includes everyone from the fanatically devout, to the ones who are there for the sing-alongs and country cooking to the ones who are quietly looking for a way out before they lose their goddamn minds.

So, if the shit goes down, who is the player fighting against? Not all three-thousand are going to whip out guns. Less than half of them will, in fact. It breaks down like this:

The commune maintains a security contingent of about 400 trained volunteers who can attack and set up ambushes and otherwise present the bulk of trouble, should negotiations fail. In the game when the player is creeping around where he shouldn’t be, these are the ones who respond. When one of the Seed siblings is arrested, these are the ones that will be there to make a stand should he or she decide to resist.

To be fair, however, most of the RCEG security contingent are interested in keeping peace in the commune. They’d rather deescalate an incident, especially if the threat of an ATF siege looms over them like the Sword of Damocles. As such, the commune has a crime rate typical to the state of Montana. Incidents happen, and the security manages most of it.

When county law enforcement attempts to intervene, victims are pressured to refuse to press charges so it can be handled within the commune. Joseph Seed holds or appoints a court of arbitration that usually results in religious penance (known for being painful, arduous or life-threatening regarding violent incidents.) In all cases to date (as of the beginning of the game) no one has attempted to appeal to the Justice System of Montana. (Lawyers and social workers investigating RCEG have argued its followers may not be given the option).

When outsiders talking about the RCEG commune say They even have the fucking cops, it’s the security contingent they’re talking about.

In a pinch, the RCEG can muster an additional force of about 800 unorganized militia (Are short-supplied and will only defend their own home terrain.) After that, in the case of a seige or showdown, they have to resort to old, infirm and children. And they will.

Within the security contingent are the Chosen,* agents trained personally and in secret by Jacob Seed in order to manage special situations that threaten the RCEG. These are the black-ops forces of RCEG, so secret that even Joseph doesn’t know about them. The Chosen are conditioned to be willing to kill innocents or sacrifice themselves for the greater good of the RCEG. They believe their own souls are prepared for Heaven, thus can act without questioning their orders, no matter how heinous or criminal. These men and women have little fear for their lives. And they are the agents who will assassinate a congressman or attack a town with bio-terror weapons if that is what is needed. About thirty to fifty members of the Chosen are trained and ready to carry out Jacob’s will on a word.**

I Know It Was God’s People; I Seen ’em Doin Right

This breakdown of the RCEG population belies how the situation at RCEG is going to be delicate and how the player will be challenged. There are more lives at stake than the player’s own.

Most members of the RCEG are well-meaning Americans, interested in a peaceful, spiritually grounded life of toil and productivity in service of God, family and community, until the imminent end of the world. But Montana and Federal law enforcement are looking for cause to intervene just because organized groups are scary when they sequester themselves too much. Sooner or later our investigators are going to find something.

And when that happens Law Enforcement’s going to want the parish to willingly pick up its toys and go home. And to the RCEG followers, the commune is their home. Both RCEG leadership and law enforcement will interpret the ultimatum / refusal to cooperate as an us-versus-them conflict. Each will see the other side as a monolithic, unreasonable and unsympathetic enemy.

Left to the natural course of events, a whole lot of innocents are going to die.

The player’s challenge is not simply to survive. The RCEG is destined either for a poorly planned raid that will turn messy and end in flames or a community rapture in the form of mass suicide on the (alleged) day of the apocalypse.

The RCEG is about to become the greatest bloodbath in US history, unless the player determines how to stop it.

It’s not going to be easy.

* (Update, 2018-05-29) Unsurprisingly, Far Cry 5 also has Chosen, selected and trained by Jacob. I was not aware of them as of this article’s posting. (It’s a hazard of not actually having played the game). The FC5 version are imagined as commando elites than as the RCEG version, which are plainclothes covert agents. The former better serves as a lieutenant mook within the combat gameplay, whereas the latter serves better to drive the plot, to incite conflict as needed. There’s probably room for both, in which case, I’d call the red-clad commandos something like guardians or templars.

** In recent decades, Christian terrorism in the United States have fallen under hate crimes (blacks, Muslims and gays are common targets) and attacks against abortion providers and women’s health providers. As RCEG’s focus is about recruitment and preparing for the reckoning, they don’t shoot up abortion clinics, which is a good thing, given that such acts of violence would serve as justification by the FBI to get warrants signed and dangerous gangs and sects declared.

Eden’s Gate: Far Cry 5 and Cults

Chapter I

This is a multi-part series. You can find your way around the whole thing at the Chapter Index.

Disclaimers: I’ve also listed all the disclaimers in full at the Chapter Index

In (very) brief, they are:

Lots of Far Cry 5 spoilers.
I didn’t actually play the game.
Far Cry 5 is © 2018 by Ubisoft Entertainment SA. Please respect Ubisoft’s declared intellectual property rights.
If you want to use my ideas, take them, use them and welcome. Make great content.

This Post is Huge: Yeah. 2800 words and counting. Really it’s three related parts that feel too dependent on each other to publish separately: Part One acknowledges Far Cry 5 was supposed to look at cults, separatism and divisionism in American society, but didn’t. Part Two, which is divided into two smaller bits, begins the process of imagining what it would look like if we made a game that did examine cults, etc. Part Three addresses the term cult which is loaded and ambiguous and not useful for examining either religious or follower-explotative organizations. So yeah, there’s a lot of material here and there will be more still in future posts. There are a lot of ideas here. Enjoy!

Traveling Through This World Of Woe

So what happened with Far Cry 5?

Far Cry 5 takes place in the fictional county of Hope, Montana, and is about surviving in a zone controlled by a violent doomsday cult. In 2016, well before Far Cry 5 was released, Ubisoft’s hype machine took full advantage of the rising divisiveness between liberals and conservatives, between urban Americans and rural Americans, and between the religiously devout and the irreligious. This tension only progressed in 2017 as the Trump era was fully realized. Then in 2018 Far Cry 5 was finally seen by the public. And regarding social division in the US, regarding the phenomenon of doomsday cults, FC5 said… nothing.

Far Cry 5 was released in early 2018, and didn’t address any of these things at all. To the contrary, as Chris Franklin, observes Ubisoft endeavored to assure FC5 said as little as possible, and ended up implying more than it intended.

Eden’s Gate, the fictional cult in FC5 follows a Christian faith. The New Testament is quoted often by the Eden’s Gate leaders, especially The Revelation with obvious millennialist interpretation. And yet, Jesus isn’t mentioned even once, not in sermons and not in the gospel music. And it’s conspicuous.*

Brainwashing is done using a fictional mind-control drug rather than the more common recruitment and organization methods used by cults, including camaraderie, peer-pressure, appealing to desperation, isolation and indoctrination.

And then, nuclear Armageddon (nuclear holocaust over Montana, at very least) occurs in one of the possible endings, which begs that conversations should be had, and yet FC5 fails to contribute to that conversation at all. Moreover, this is the only ending possible if the Deputy (the player) confronts Joseph Seed and Eden’s Gate. Alternative endings are had by choosing to walk away, leaving seed’s brainwashed, drug-addled victims to languish and suffer under him without hope for rescue or justice. To me, it presents an unsatisfying, depressing, unresolved dilemma.

To be fair, it may just be that the sheer cost of FC5 in capital was too much to behold without company pressure to adhere to risk-adverse best company practices. (Granted, the Catch-22 between getting nuked and letting evil prevail — in this case evil refers to the oppression, murder and abuse of followers and victims of Eden’s Gate — is clearly outside any syllabus of best practices.) It’s likely Ubisoft’s development team felt they couldn’t afford to offend anyone (and lose that market) and hence endeavored to create as politically bland a product as possible. The thing is, as Disney’s showed us many times, by trying too hard, it’s easy to end up making unintentional statements (case in point, Chicks dig the sweet ride, the implicit moral of Aladdin). Mr. Franklin observes FC5 endorses being a rural prepper (not to be confused with a preppy) and implies this is a better alternative than being a doomsday cultist. Better still is to not fully embrace prepping, but to instead make friends with preppers, and perhaps being prepperesque without fully committing.

There’s also a certain gross hypocrisy, given western media is willing to explore, play with and risk blasphemy of non-Judeo-Christian faiths. Even the predecessor to FC5, Far Cry 4 offended Buddhist groups with its box art in which the antagonist, Pagan Min (no relation to Burmese king in the Konbaung dynasty) sits irreverently on a sacred Buddha statue using it as a makeshift throne. The grievances of those groups were, as is typical, disregarded entirely. Games (and western media in general) explore religious themes casually and with frequency, with Judeo-Christianity being a major exception. Considering the prominence of Judeo-Christianity in western culture, it warrants scrutiny and critique in media, including within games. And still Far Cry 5’s premise presented that opportunity to its developers, and they steered entirely clear. (The Binding of Isaac serves as a notable counterexample that openly explored Christian and biblical themes. Despite its success on PC, The Binding of Isaac wound up getting banned from iTunes) One can infer from this game companies are afraid of reprisal by religious extremists. FC5‘s avoidance of mentioning Jesus at all certainly suggests that Ubisoft harbors such fears. If Ubi doesn’t worry about violent retaliation, then litigation, political censure or loss of sales from boycotts by offended parties. It’s an example of chilling effects silencing speech.

But FC5’s worst implication, I would argue, comes from portraying Eden’s Gate as something closer to comic-book a mind-control themed supervillain gang than a real world religious institution. There’s a mastermind overlord and his trusted lieutenants, each of whom feature a uniquely-themed superhuman power with which to control his or her followers. (Jacob uses military themed brainwashing techniques; Faith drugs her victims; and John just has an inexplicably endless army of abduction teams and will kidnap and hold loved ones hostage — is that a superpower?**). This implies real-world doomsday cults in the US are not a worthy topic for consideration, hence Ubisoft felt theirs needed to be turned into cartoon caricatures.

For a moment I want to reiterate what I’ve opined before regarding games that address real world issues. Most games, and almost all AAA games don’t, choosing instead to create fictional threats to confront. It’s better for the industry and for the art that games boldly endeavor to examine real world matters, including the violent hot-zones featured in Far Cry (e.g. failed African states, human trafficking in the south Pacific, civil war in the far east or violent cults in the rural US). Even if games poorly represent such situations, it continues the conversation. In contrast by avoiding real-world problems and choosing instead only to portray fantastic conflicts adds nothing at all. A poorly-considered argument will, at very least, invite better-considered ones.

So what does better look like?

I’m Only Going Over Jordan

There’s already been plenty of discussion online regarding FC5, much of it critical. and for those interested in whether or not the game is playable and worth suffering its problems for its fun bits, I invite you to seek it other critiques of the game and decide for yourself at what price point it is worth obtaining and playing.

Because it’s the same franchise as Far Cry 2 (about which I’ve raved to excess ) I want new Far Crys to be good and I want to love them. (And I want prevalent fire physics back! And I want plentiful, plausible first-aid animations and region-accurate weather! And game effects like malaria and deteriorating guns!) But I’m getting distracted by re-opened wounds, and it does no more good to (further) beat the dead horse of how FC5 is okay, but not awesome, not terrible yet still disappointing.

So instead, it’s better to imagine something closer to what we wanted. Let’s consider what feasibly could have been with a bit more research and creative latitude. FC5 is what it is. It’s not going to change now. But by imagining what is missing, we can inform games of the future. We’ve seen this happen before.

It’s a long journey. Let’s get started.

Golden Fields Lie Just Before Me

Suppose I was able to produce a game with the same design and premise of FC5. It’s an open-world first-person game with shooting, exploration, survival, collectable-hunting and so on. I have set the game in Montana and got my level designers to take a trip to Montana and get it right.

It will include all the activities I can find that Montanans like: hunting, fishing, boating, plane flying, beer drinking, pasty-eating, Burger Diving, ice-climbing, horse-riding, skiing, driving too fast, geyser-watching, rodeo-scoring, axe-throwing and testicle festivalizing. Anything that seems to fit well into Big Sky Country.

Suppose, then, I want to make the primary antagonist the armed violent fanatical division of a doomsday cult commune. I want my doomsday cult to feel authentic to the American Doomsday-Cult Experience. I want the problems with my fictional doomsday cult to reflect the problems faced by historical doomsday cults in the US and by people, civilians and responders, who have engaged them. I want to address real problems of religious communes. And while I’m at it, I want to provide a glimpse of the lifestyle, social dynamics and politics of Montana, so that Montananas feel I’ve done them right. And in all of this, I want to come up with interesting, satisfying stories.

What would that look like?

Dark Clouds Will Gather ’round Me

In order to address cult phenomena fairly, I’ll need to clarify what I’m talking about. The word cult itself is problematic. And regardless of whether we’re talking about new religious movements, unorthodox political activism fronts or even peculiar countercultures, once US society brands a group as a cult, its members commonly end up alienated and marginalized, sometimes even violently purged. Our society doesn’t like scary new social trends.

In the mid-20th century, cults referred to any new religious movement (now, aptly called new religious movements or NRMs) Christianity has about 40,000 distinct denominations, but this does not include non-denominational churches who have defined their own creed or statement-of-faith, most of which would still qualify as NRMs. (Religions have to get pretty old before they’re not new.)

During the 20th century, new movements were automatically distrusted to be dangerous merely for meddling around with scriptural interpretation beyond what God intended (as according to other, slightly-more-orthodox faiths). This is partly because differing religious faiths were more antagonistic than they are today. (In contrast, since the new century, Christian churches are less threatened by their fellow schisms than they are new atheists, Islam — perceived as a monolithic front — and opposition groups to common Christian-right political fronts: Abortion-access advocates, gay-rights activists, feminists and so on.) In the 1970s, it was common belief that all churches outside the one true one were instruments of Satan. This presumption extended, of course, to any new religious movement that failed to even adhere to an established orthodoxy.

NRMs also faced the anti-cult movement which automatically regarded them as fraudulent scams that brainwash victims before exploiting them for money or labor. Since many institutions did exactly that, whether regarded as a cult or otherwise, anti-cult movements kinda had a point. Or would if they hunted indoctrination and exploitation wherever it was found.

More recently, sociology professor Janja Lalich discusses cults in her TED talk. For purposes of her talk, she redefines cult as an organization with an authoritarian, pyramidal heirarchy that recruits via manipulation (generally targeting people suffering from loss or trauma and offering them easy answers and a place to feel better), that pressures followers to divest themselves of their lives outside the organization, and ultimately seizes total control of each individual and how they live. By this definition of cult (Lalich freely admits) many established institutions qualify, The Roman Catholic Church, The Southern Baptist Convention, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The Church of Scientology. Major Islamic foundations, including the Taliban, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and the Ahmadiyya Caliphate fit Lalich’s definitions of cult. Also religious dictatorships such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran would also qualify. Lalich also believes cults need not be religious in nature, and that nations, commercial enterprises and organizations can be cults as well.

But this means for sake of describing Eden’s Gate, cult is not a good word to use, even if it qualifies under Professor Lalich’s definition. Granted it’s used a lot, and I’ll still refer to it when outsiders refer to Eden’s Gate as one. But for our purposes Eden’s Gate is an NRM. It’s still dangerous, apocalyptic, and has violent contingents and is going to be a problem for Hope County. A rose by any other name and all that.

I’m Only Going Over Home

So what the heck is this situation that has beleaguered Hope County?

Well, as I mentioned above, Eden’s Gate is more something of a supervillain band, with a brigade of fanatically loyal henchmen thanks to it’s leadership’s repertoire of mind control techniques. So let’s not do that.

Instead, let’s occupy Hope County with the Reformed Church of Eden’s Gate. (Properly, it’s the Reformed Baptist Church of the Jesus Christ Advent of Eden’s Gate). The RCEG is a new religious movement that that has gained a considerable following and a handful of rich patrons, and is moving into the intentional community phase of expansion. As such it has secured about 8000 acres in Hope County, Montana. Currently over three thousand parishioners live on the commune, and as such it features a security contingent of about five hundred volunteers.

With these figures, the RCEG is a major social movement, and will be one of the hallmarks of its era. All of Montana including the Governor is flipping its shit over how crazy and popular this new movement is (and they do call it a cult.) It’s likely the President of the United States has commented on occasion about Eden’s Gate, and in committees in both houses, bills have at least been considered regarding this Eden’s Gate thing in Montana.

Developments at Eden’s Gate occasionally make national news.

Meanwhile the Eden’s Gate Commune has among its population about twenty to thirty undercover agents and informants reporting to the FBI, the ATFE, local law enforcement and news agencies. And no, they don’t all know about each other.

Things are about to get so exciting!

* Jesus is mentioned in the opening scene (watch it here). Sheriff Whitehorse exclaims Jesus! in the opening scene as the police helicopter passes by the the Father’s Statue. I haven’t checked to see if Jesus! is ever used as an expletive in secondary dialog. Jesus! is a common expletive in 2010s-era games that do not feature doomsday cults in Montana, so it might be used in FC5 as well to convey alarm and distress.

Regarding the Father Statue, it’s kinda amazing. Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro is thirty meters tall and took nine years to build. The Father Statue’s height is not listed anywhere. Visually, I’m guessing it’s 60-70 meters tall. (Comparatively the Statue of Liberty is 90 meters), and likely it was built in one third of the time, thanks to some amazing feats of engineering and construction. It probably cost the church around $6 million, so it was a pretty major expense.

** According to materials available online, John augments his baptismals with an unknown blue chemical (not to be confused with Faith’s white gas), but it’s not actually mentioned (that I know of) in the game proper.

For comparison, Jonestown was 3800 acres. The YFZ Ranch was 1700 acres. Big Muddy, the Oregon property where the Rajneeshpuram was settled was 64,229 acres, but the city itself only took a small fraction. Trementina Base is two squares of 400 acres each. Mount Carmel Center is 941 acres. So the Eden’s Gate community project is pretty darned huge, the Deathklok of cult communes. Plenty enough to provide housing, farms, private schooling, it’s own police department, a radio station and one superfluously huge statue. Fortunately for Eden’s Gate, there’s plenty of hydroelectric power in Montana, so they don’t have to worry about setting up a nuclear reactor, but they will have to set up sewage treatment centers and their own internet.

White Privilege

I don’t like the term white privilege now that I have an understanding of what it means. When I first heard it, it made me think of affluent white people in fancy country clubs, sipping martinis and playing tennis or golf. I lived much of my childhood on a street of townhouses adjacent to such a club, but my parents weren’t of the strata that could afford going there. In walking home from school, its golf courses were an obstacle I was expected to circumvent, but instead I would cautiously and stealthily traverse. I got good at watching for golfers, and crossing between swings. Most such golfers were kind about my trespasses, but some weren’t.* Since then, I realized, paraphrasing Groucho Marx, posh country clubs are exactly the kind of clubs that wouldn’t have me as a member, and I wouldn’t join if they did.

And then, I never really experienced white privilege in the workforce. Yes, I was tall, handsome, male and Scandinavian pale — the ideal clerical employee by all appearances, fit to work my way into managerial ranks — But I was also awkward, antisocial and specialized in IT before clerical offices commonly had IT devices. It was an age when typewriters were the norm, and WordStar was state of the art, before LANs and Windows servers became commonplace. I also didn’t react well when employers pulled shady shit that was abusive to their employees, which they did at a remarkably high rate, and that was what eventually made me unemployable.

Years later, though, when writing at cafes was the Bohemian Thing To Do, I was always able to sit down at a cafe and not order anything and not be bothered by up to an hour without getting nagged.** I’ve also been allowed to use the bathroom facilities of such places before ordering. And this poses extreme contrast to what happened at the Starbucks at Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia on April 12, 2018, that not only showed inhospitality to Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson (refusing to let them use bathrooms before a purchase) but the clerks called 9-1-1 to report them for trespassing only three minutes after they entered the place. (According to the Late Show, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson arrived at 4:35. 9-1-1 was called at 4:37). Nelson and Robinson were arrested, handcuffed and detained for eight hours. The district attorney decided not to press any charges.

Does that present an example of white privilege? Because that is not privilege at all. That’s a basic right. Nelson and Robinson did not stink of feces or lack of hygiene. They weren’t brandishing weapons. They weren’t shouting at imaginary colleagues. They weren’t playing Gangsta Rap at loud volume. Nelson and Robinson did not do anything untoward, and yet they had the police called on them, and were detained on a dubious charge for eight hours. That’s not absence of a privilege. That’s an absence of basic human decency. It’s a failure of civilization to preserve equal rights and equal consideration for all.

The shops at Rittenhouse Square, it turns out, have a history of being less-than-welcoming to nonwhites. In one case a man was searched while leaving a bookstore, and a book he owned was challenged. He was detained until the shop owners confirmed none of their stock was missing. In another case, a long-term Apple Store employee revealed the Rittenhouse Square outlet had a policy to closely monitor black walk-in guests (but not white walk-in guests) and to kick out black teens (but not white teens). Black women have reported harassment by security at couture resellers.

White Privilege in Pennsylvania, 2018 — basic decency not extended to non-whites — means being treated as human and not as vermin.

As I think about it, this smacks of a lot of other experiences I’ve had regarding disappointment in my society. White Privilege is like discovering my smartphone was made by slave labor in a Foxconn plant in China or that the US has ongoing programs to massacre villages as part of its national security policy. I don’t want White Privilege, and I don’t want to patronize institutions or establishments that privilege whites but not nonwhites.

But at the same time White Privilege is not getting murdered randomly by police because they confused my phone for a handgun in the dark. I’m torn in that I don’t want to get gunned down by the police, but also that my pale skin is what keeps the police from gunning me down.

Can’t they not gun me down because I’m a human being, an American and am regarded as having a right to live?

* This was La Cañada Flintridge in the seventies and eighties. In its 2010 census it reported 68% Caucasian, but in the 70s and 80s, persons of color were pretty rare. My elementary school had maybe two or three dark-skinned kids. The community’s whiteness meant lines of division were between churches and social strata. Membership the country club was one of those delineating indicators.

I’ve realized no amount of homogeneity and conformity in a society will ever allow it to get large without tensions between groups. Racial, cultural and religious divides are simply the most convenient ones to draw when looking for someone else to blame for society woes. Large societies will always feel like pluralities, and those societies that learn to suppress or tolerate that feeling are the ones that will dominate.

** It is considered gauche to not patronize an establishment once you’ve decided to hang out there, but it’s also equally gauche for the hosts to be pushy about it, and my colleagues and I would avoid places that did. Typically I’d come in, settle down and then buy something within fifteen minutes, even if it’s just a coffee or small snack. I might wait longer if I came in during a rush and there was a line. Some places would get pushy, and would set and enforce concrete rules (e.g. No hanging out for more than one hour or No using the restroom until you buy something) These kinds of measures typically resulted from consistent teen or college-student visitors (who were broke and noisy). But these sorts of rules would spoil the ambience of casual hospitality, and make the place unfit for bohemian society.

San Francisco cafes commonly featured a pluralist range of customers, so an incident like the one at the Rittenhouse Square Starbucks would not occur due to race…or religion, or sexuality, or association with a counterculture. San Francisco society is very tolerant of weirdos, which is one of the reasons I was attracted to living there. Also, there were a lot of cafes and we bohemians could be really choosy, favoring one cafe over another as a meeting place based on trivialities like snack selection or where power outlets were placed.