Mark726 Discusses: Political Realities in an Online World

Hey everyone. It’s Mark726 again. This time I PROMISE it’s not for another long-winded review of EVE Lore (though I’m continuing to update tidbits here and there if you’re interested). No, I’m here for a much different reason: to talk about the recent dramas with The Mittani and the CSM. I won’t rehash events, and I certainly won’t prognosticate on the wisdom (or lack thereof) of CCP’s decisions and actions. More than enough ink has been spilt on that particular topic, and I am positive that the storm is only just beginning (I’d stay out of Jita the next few days if you know what’s good for you).

No, I’m writing this from a bit more abstract perspective: that of an admittedly amateur political scientist/observer. Ever since this uproar started, I have been repeatedly struck by how closely the contours of this scandal (and at this point, regardless of your feelings on the subject, I don’t think anyone could claim that this is anything but a scandal) follow the general contours of a modern political scandal, at least in the United States. The timing, the public relations, the behind the scenes urgings, the public urgings, the seemingly no-win scenarios… If you swapped out the names of the related players from some of the more journalistic blog posts out there, and substituted appropriate names only, there is no reason that you wouldn’t see exactly this kind of response, in exactly this kind of turnaround time for any major scandal.

Most specifically, I’m reminded of two US political scandals of the past few years: U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner’s resignation over some rather raunchy texts and pictures, as well as Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment by the Illinois legislature following a dramatic arrest and indictment by federal prosecutors. Without boring non-political or non-American readers out there, suffice it to say that the outlines of those scandals would seem eerily familiar. A sudden revelation that sweeps both the local populace and national media outlets. Startled reactions from those immediately affected. Calls for calm from some quarters as well calls for blood from others. Backroom negotiations, urgings, and discussions well out of the sight of the public. Reactions, underreactions, overreactions, and just about everything in between.

The Weiner scandal differed from the Blagojevich scandal notably because Weiner chose to resign from office rather than subject himself to embarrassing ethics proceedings, while Rod Blagojevich (my as-always too egotistical former governor) decided to attempt to withstand the public humiliation to cling to power. Here, TheMittani attempted to resign the chairmanship while still keeping his seat (something others have tried in RL political scandals, with somewhat mixed results), but CCP quickly nixed that idea (though I suspect there were either some mixed signals or lack of communications entirely from CCP, else it’s hard to explain the odd timing between TheMittani’s resignation and CCP’s announcement of his ban/removal from CSM 7). But in each of these situations, you see exactly the same maneuverings from the affected politician, the public, and other elected officials who alternatively want to defend him, destroy him, or merely save their own behinds. It’s truly remarkable what a game of internet spaceships has evolved into.

As I glance over the blooming threadnaught of CCP’s announcement, I’m struck by something else as well: the halting, hesitant starts to a debate over the meaning of democracy (CCP has, of course, already published its own views on the democracy and EVE back when the CSM was first formed; it’d be interesting to know if their positions have changed in recent years, but that’s somewhat beyond the scope of this blog). Oh, it’s mostly used to support a poster’s own opinions over what CCP should or should not have done (I wouldn’t expect anything less from most EVE players), but it’s interesting to watch the development of at least some of the posters trying to craft a democratically-centered theory on what CSM is supposed to stand for, and the duties CCP owes the playerbase in this situation (whether CCP actually owes us anything is another matter entirely). But look at some of these references to voting players vs. active accounts. What democracy means in the face of low voter turnout. Whether a vote for one players means active disapproval of someone else. Democratic means to ensure smooth succession in times of crisis. When voters should be given a second chance when new information comes to light (and, for that matter, what it means for people who would still vote to elect someone even when that negative information comes to light). How to ensure that people who voted for someone booted from office can still maintain representation. Trust in elected bodies to deal with crises about those elected bodies. The ethics of public officials vs. private citizens. We’ve even see some attempts to analyze the benefits of a representative system vs. a direct democracy. My beloved #tweetfleet has not stayed out of the discussions either. I’ve seen some people engage in that most beloved of legal pastimes: parsing words and phrases in governing documents that are vaguer than anyone would have liked in this kind of situation. Yes, compared to modern political theory much of the discussion (though certainly not all) is simplistic and self-serving, swaddled in veiled insults and other quintessentially EVE language. But it’s there, and I don’t think you’d be seeing this kind of talk in many (if any) other games.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know the CSM isn’t really a governmental body, nor do I expect it to be one. There are any number of significant differences between a player-oriented advisory council and a democratically-elected governmental body. This is, after all, only a game and I wouldn’t expect in-depth insights or analyses of these kinds of problems. But neither would I expect to see these problems discussed in a game setting at all. The things I’ve mentioned above are issues inherent to a democracy, and theorists and philosophers have been arguing them for centuries now. These are issues that democratic polities in times past and present have had to confront time and again to ensure stable, functioning governments that can survive in times of crisis. The variety of ways you see governments and constitutions around the globe deal with these very real problems demonstrate that there is no general consensus to many, if not all of these issues. To see them tackled about a group of players in a game is nothing short of incredible to me, and makes me wish that I had taken the Ph.D. path just to write my thesis about this.

Don’t tell me that EVE isn’t real, and not always in the ways that you might think.

- Mark726 of EVE Travel

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