Hey everyone. Welcome to episode 2 of the No Escape podcast. This one has some rough content, so here’s a content warning: This episode features discussions about concentration camps, Donald Trump, racist slurs, sexual, physical and emotional violence, possible transphobic bullshit. There’s a transcript of the show below if you’d prefer to read rather than listen, if you’re deaf/hearing impaired, if you have an auditory processing disorder or if you want to read along while you listen.
1:30 – Kyle Kashuv/Liz Cheney’s dumb bullshit re: racial slurs, getting kicked out of Harvard, and quibbling over the usage of “concentration camps” to describe ICE’s concentration camps.
11:00 – Cyberpunk 2077 might be closer to The Witcher than we thought, and this isn’t great.
Games featured on today’s podcast:
Twitter: @noescapevg, @illicitpopsicle
Since January 25, 2017, tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people have been shunted through various Immigration and Customs Enforcement-run concentration camps. Earlier this week, President Donald Trump announced that he was commanding ICE to take further, and possibly more extreme actions, as soon as next Monday. And today, Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice-President Dick Cheney, got in a Twitter argument with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over the usage of the phrase “concentration camps” to describe what are absolutely concentration camps.
What does this have to do about video games? Nothing, at least on the surface level. But this is No Escape, the podcast that says, you know what, sometimes we gotta talk about real shit instead of the fantasy shit we want to talk about. My name is Trevor Hultner, I’m your host, and today we’re going to talk about the Discourse. Cyberpunk, dystopia, and concentration camps are our themes, and I’m going to put a general trigger warning for discussions of sexual, physical and emotional violence on this episode for folks who would rather not listen to such things.
Alright, this is episode number TWO, thank you to everyone who listened to the first episode, it was a lot even getting that out there after not podcasting at all for like seven or eight months. Today I’ve actually got a script! Which means starting with today’s episode, we’ve also got transcripts. So share this episode, even to your friends and family that are deaf or hearing-impaired. They can enjoy this too.
I say enjoy, but today’s topics aren’t really all that enjoyable, unfortunately. We’re gonna talk about some shit that’s happening right now in American politics, and it’s going to be something I’ll come back to periodically because it needs to be talked about, and I’m not going to limit this show to only talking about video games. That would actually be incredibly-off-brand.
Let’s start with a light topic, cool? Kyle Kashuv got rejected from Harvard for saying racial slurs in high school. If you’re not familiar with Kashuv, he’s basically made it his entire brand to be like “the conservative Parkland shooting survivor.” He tends to be on social media a lot with lukewarm freeze peach takes that ape other members of the alt right in content if not intensity. And as it turns out, he’s also historically a racist little shit.
The story goes, someone found some text logs of when Kashuv was 16, and part of a private chat where he and his friends would say, by Kashuv’s own admission, the most offensive shit he could say. This includes the N-word. That story has been bouncing around the internet, and this week it landed on the Dean of Admission’s desk at Harvard. They reviewed his story and subsequent apology and decided to kick him out. Now he’s a martyr for freeze peach among his buds on the right. You have fucks like Ben Shapiro saying that it’s reprehensible that Kashuv got rejected on the grounds that everyone says shit like that at that age.
Couple things. First, no, that’s not true at all, in the slightest. Second, for a bunch of supposed libertarians, these assholes really don’t value freedom of association at all. Harvard’s Dean of Admissions was perfectly within their right to withdraw Kashuv’s enrollment for his behavior. And Kashuv wasn’t owed shit – not acceptance to Harvard, not exemption from consequences for racist bullshit at any age, and not from a reality that I’d say the vast majority of kids in this country face: one where he’s not special in the slightest.
So why are we talking about him first? Because he’s a distraction, and we get distractions out of the way first and foremost.
Well, I hear you ask, if Kashuv’s deal is a distraction, what does that make Liz Cheney’s whole range of bullshit on Twitter Tuesday?
Not only is the “concentration camp discourse” not a distraction, it’s directly related to possible policy decisions the Trump administration is going to make. Let’s make a timeline, starting with a tweet from Trump.
He wrote, “Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States. They will be removed as fast as they come in. Mexico, using their strong immigration laws, is doing a very good job of stopping people long before they get to our Southern Border. Guatemala is getting ready to sign a Safe-Third Agreement. The only ones who won’t do anything are the Democrats in Congress. They must vote to get rid of the loopholes, and fix asylum! If so, Border Crisis will end quickly!”
This was at 8:20 PM Central on Monday night. Right after, Sen. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went on Instagram Live and called the ICE detention centers around the US what they are, which are concentration camps. This pissed off Ryan Saavedra, who tweeted a screengrab of Ocasio-Cortez’s stream, and this was retweeted by Liz Cheney bright and early on Tuesday morning.
Cheney said, “Please @AOC do us all a favor and spend just a few minutes learning some actual history. 6 million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust. You demean their memory and disgrace yourself with comments like this.”
As you can imagine, this set off some Discourse. The problem with this discourse, unfortunately, is that it was over whether AOC was in fact right to call the ICE concentration camps, actual concentration camps. This is the shit we spent Tuesday fighting about online. Smart people, people who should know better, got into actual hand-wringing about whether it was too extreme to call them Concentration Camps.
Chris Hayes, at 4:35 PM Central, Tuesday: “Last comment on this: ‘Concentration Camp’ is an extremely charged term and I get why many people are, in good faith, uncomfortable with its application for Godwin’s Law purposes among others. So let’s just call them ‘detention camps’ and focus on what’s happening in them.”
This shit got so wild that at one point, the person who coined Godwin’s Law, Mike Godwin, had to come up and say this: “Chris, I think they’re concentration camps. Keep in mind that one of their functions *by design* is to punish those individuals and families who are detained. So even the ‘charged’ term is appropriate.”
So why am I going through this play-by-play? This is where we’re at in the conversation. We’re fucked up so far to the right that someone like Liz Cheney can come up and say “mmmm well are they REALLY concentration camps?” And everyone goes “oh shit… you might be right… do we have this wrong?” I’ll just repeat what I said this weekend elsewhere.
You don’t have to be an anarchist to want to break immigrants out of concentration camps and sent ICE into the desert. The problem is that most of the people you would think would be totally on board with doing this, the people you would think would be right there with you ready to abolish ICE and free the immigrants and open the borders, abhor any kind of “violence.” If you break shit, that’s too much violence. If you cut the fences, that’s property violence. If you have to hit a guard who is trying to recapture some poor kid who shouldn’t be in this fucking prison except that he was born in another country, that’s way way way too much violence. The only way to abolish ICE and free the immigrants is by voting; in other words, practical inaction.
The “legal” way most of these camps will get shut down will take years. People have been calling for the shutdown of Guantanamo Bay since the beginning of the Iraq War, over 15 years ago. It’s still open and there are still way more prisoners there than there should ever have been. The “political will” has to be there. That means, at bare minimum, LIBERAL Democratic majorities in the House AND Senate and a progressive President. I have to emphasize that: Centrists will literally not vote for this because it might offend a large chunk of their base. That’s a wild fuckin expectation to have out of the next election. In other words, you’d have to have a majority of voting legislators who view releasing immigrants from these concentration camps to be less of a political minefield than not releasing them. That’s ALSO a wild fuckin expectation to have.
And that will take years. Coalition building, gridlock, political opportunism, a president who turns out to be much less progressive than advertised, and so on. And that’s assuming that we’re not getting a repeat of Trump in 2020 through 2024. That’s years where kids will grow up without families. They won’t be properly educated. They won’t get to have a normal childhood ANYWHERE – not in the country they were born, not in the United States. They’ll grow up solely knowing the fear of being packed in tents with foil blankets and no water behind the barbed wire fence of military bases and ICE installations. They will grow up with the eternal trauma of constant threats of beatings, sexual assaults, and death – if the guards don’t act on these threats.
You don’t have to be an anarchist to view this as an atrocity that needs to be addressed yesterday. But right now it sure does feel like it’s mostly anarchists and other committed activists along the anti-authoritarian line who give any amount of shit outside of the hand-wringing and “oh well I guess that’s bad, we should probably stop them before they kill.”
Mass action is needed. Who wants to put their necks out like that? We’ll be right back.
Welcome back to No Escape.
Now that we’ve talked about the heavy shit, let’s lighten the mood a little bit and hey, we’ll even talk about some video game-related shit!
So as I alluded in the last episode, I think there are some problems, putting it lightly, with Cyberpunk 2077. The developer, CD Projekt Red, is most famous for the Witcher series of games, and this is one of their first games to tackle more modern themes. Well, the more they say about the game, the more it’s clear that they’re out of their depth – and the story they’re writing isn’t really all that cyberpunk.
Adam Badowski, credited as the Director on Cyberpunk 2077, is quoted as saying last year regarding nudity in the game: “Nudity is important for us because of one reason… this is cyberpunk, so people augment their body. So the body is no longer sacrum; it’s profanum. Because people modify everything, they are losing their connection to the body, to the meat. And that’s why we need to use the nudity in many situations.”
He’s further quoted in this Polygon piece, “You see that there are bodies in the tub, and you need to take care of this woman. But at the same time she is augmented. She is not clean. Maybe she is augmented too much. Maybe the humanity level is pretty low in her, so it’s an interesting topic. It’s one of the key themes in cyberpunk. The very first scenes in the original Ghost in the Shell anime show exactly the same aspect. Because where is sacrum and where is profanum in a world when you can simply modify yourself to such limits that it makes you a different kind of person? It’s one of the most important themes in cyberpunk, as a genre.”
This is a wild quote. Sci-fi author Ryan Boyd’s response to this is great: “one of the biggest fucking theses of cyberpunk is that technology is an extension of the human body and it’s inevitable that it should come home to roost, and that what counts as The Body is open to interpretation.”
So, a wide majority of cyberpunk deals with themes of transhumanism. At its bare minimum, transhumanism describes technological augmentation of humans or humanity at large, and its most extensive aspects deal with the singularity and humanity’s absorption into a larger machine construct or paradigm. Even if we look at a simple deconstruction of the genre, rather than disgust at augmented bodies what we find is often themes of anti-capitalism and anti-authoritarianism. It’s the company using technology for unethical or horrific ends that’s the problem, not the technology itself.
We already live in this world, so it’s hard to see how Cyberpunk 2077 is going to innovate the genre even a little bit. I’m a cyborg. You’re a cyborg. Anyone listening to or reading this is one as well. We have virtual reality and augmented reality, 3D printing, outsized corporate influences in our lives, and devices that do everything except physically plug into us that tell us everything we want to know about the world, and take information about us for their own opaque purposes. Put simply, if William Gibson or Neal Stephenson had time-traveled to this day in history and simply written down everything they saw about our world, audiences in 1982 would have been absolutely fucking baffled.
So what happens when luddites try to write a cyberpunk story? We get developers insisting they have an ART REASON to put nudity in the game, weird references to the sacred and the profane, inappropriate references to trans people, and so-called “gender nihilism.”
That’s been one of the major pieces of pushback on folks commenting on the dumbfuckery coming from CD Projekt Red, by the way: the concept that trans people are “icky” because they’re trying to “change too much of themselves.”
You know what would be a dope cyberpunk story? One about folks trying to get free by using open sourced or stolen technology not simply to get by but to unlock other paywalled or walled-garden aspects of the technologies we use/are maybe ruled by. Instead of having to pay $600 a pill for certain medicines, you just 3D print it using a formula you stole from the big pharmaceutical company. Instead of being forced to buy agricorp grain or soy or other foods, you just grow that shit yourself by using something akin to CRISPR to edit the kill switch out of that food’s genetic code. Instead of relying on iOS or Android, you build your own goddamn phone out of junked/“recycled” parts and passing on the blueprints to your friends with an open source mobile operating system that uses something like Signal as its main messenger. And these aren’t even especially radical ideas! Cyberpunk is great because of its position as resistance not against technology, but against those who would use technology to keep class stratifications in place or to suppress dissent. That’s the kind of cyberpunk I’d like to see.
And so, with that, it’s time to end this episode of the show. We talked about a lot today, and it was kind of a bummer, but don’t worry – we’ll be back next week with more video games and more politics you can’t escape from. With that, thank you for listening to No Escape. You can find us on Twitter, Facebook and Patreon at noescapevg, links in the description. You can also follow me on Twitter at illicitpopsicle. Until next time, this has been No Escape, and you’re free to go. Bye.