My Dear Americans

 

Americans, this isn’t something that happened to you: it’s something you did to us.

Dear Americans,

I understand that you are angry. Some of you are angry because Donald Trump will soon be the President of the United States of America, while the rest are angry due to the fact that some of you are angry that Donald Trump will soon be the President of the United States of America. It’s a bad situation, but hopefully y’all will learn to get along in this new Trumpian world.

I myself, like many people over in Europe, were shocked and wary of the success of Mr Trump over there in the US of A, and possibly what his victory could mean for the world. I was initially shocked, then depressed, then finally set into a mode of extreme depression over the past two months since his victory was announced. Anger was not something I had experienced as part of this process, until very recently. And it wasn’t even a result of anything Mr Trump said or did, Americans, it was because of you.

While last week was a week of many classic news stories for the ages, the thing that got me unduly angry was not the stories of Mr Trumps association with Russia, it was about the early movements of the US Senate to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or to use its Sith name: Obamacare) which had provided health insurance to tens of millions of previously uninsured Americans. The story was covered in international news publications, and was given a lot of attention on Facebook and Twitter through shares and commentary by Americans and non-Americans alike. This, for some reason that I didn’t initially understand, made me irrationally angry. It took me a day or two of angry contemplation to come up with the source of my anger here, and eventually it came down to a simple question, Americans: why the fuck should we care?

Let me set my stall out at the front here: there is no reason in the world why anyone outside the United States of America should care what happens to healthcare (or any other domestic policy issue) as a result of the Trump administration. Donald Trump campaigned on a platform that criticised Obamacare and he told everyone he would dismantle it upon his election victory. Millions of Americans voted for him because of this. Now there are posts on social media calling the repeal of Obamacare as a massive humanitarian crisis. I’m sorry, but there’s a lot of bad stuff happening in this world, and America electing a guy who told them what he would do to their health system – and then implementing it – is not one of them. Whether you voted for Mr. Trump or not, this is the democratic wish of your fellow countrymen and women, Americans. Let’s not treat it as if it’s a great tragedy that suddenly occurred. He told you all what he would do, then the election took place, he won, and now he will do the things he said he would do.

I know, I know: Hillary Clinton actually won the popular vote and is the rightful president. Except she isn’t, because it is an absolute fact that Donald Trump won that election, despite receiving fewer votes. And you all are probably angry about this electoral college stuff again, and will be for a few more months until you forget it again until your candidate loses an election in the future. If you’re unhappy with the Electoral College, Americans, you should do something about it. Don’t just wait until it’s relevant to your sudden partisan cause: do something about it next year, or the year after, or the year after that. You are the only ones who can. Can you guess what I’m mad about yet?

Americans, and especially those of you who didn’t vote for Trump, it may seem that you have found a lot of solidarity when conversing with people in Europe and around the world about our uneasiness with regards to the incoming president, but you are disregarding one thing that I don’t think is even clear to many people here in Europe. Americans, you all got to vote in that election. We didn’t. You were part of a process and political system that elected Donald Trump to the most powerful job in the world. A lot of you are complaining online and ranting in real life right now, but let me make one thing very clear to every US citizen: this isn’t something that happened to you. This is something that you did to us.

So your civil society and your judicial system will fall into ruin, America, and this is fine because you had an election on it, and you elected someone. So your healthcare will be privatised, so what? Too many of your citizens believe the propaganda that health insurance is communism by any other name, and they voted accordingly. So Trump will have the power to name highly conservative Supreme Court justices: so what? Americans, I don’t know if you noticed, but your country is and always has been highly conservative.

Outside the US, we shouldn’t care about any of this, because from a democratic point of view, you got exactly what you ordered. What you should actually turn around and think about, Americans, is the effect of your country’s decision on us, the rest of the world. Unlike you, we did not get a vote in that election, and yet we all will probably feel the consequence at some point. Whether it be through Mr Trump’s apparent inability to grasp the high art of international diplomacy, or his explicit inability to grasp the simple foundations of macroeconomics, it is fair to say that he will cause the impoverishment, suffering, and deaths of countless people outside of your country. None of these people had a say in your election, Americans, but you did.

Of course, it is not your fault that you were born a citizen of a country that has such an eminent position in the world, where voting outcomes such as last November could and have such a profound effect on the state of the world and conceivably alter the course of world history. But perhaps it is not too much to ask that a country in such a position, if it is going to provide a vote for every single of its citizens, could at least provide a decent level of education to each and all of these citizens, in the hope that when choosing a leader they can tell the difference between a responsible human being and a reality TV star. Americans, the scope of your country’s arrogance in aiming to lead the world, while neglecting its own education system and at the same time giving every one of its citizens a vote in your leadership is absolutely breath-taking, and is something that (hopefully) will be regarded in the future as akin to the hubris of the late-era Roman Empire. Should we help you out? Should the rest of the world send money to the USA to help fund your education system to ensure millions of your people aren’t fooled into thinking a billionaire cares about their jobs?

I reiterate, it is not your fault that your votes and opinions matter so much. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to care. Americans, you are told over and over again that your country is the greatest country in the world. While many of you liberal Americans may laugh ironically at this slogan, you were grew up hearing it on rotation, and there is no way that it is not embedded deep with your psyche. The reason that your politicians get away with using this rhetoric is because, officially, America has never done anything wrong. America was not the country that allowed centuries of industrialised slavery, America was the place that freed the slaves in the noblest war in history. America was not the country that committed the single greatest atrocity in human history by dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, America was the power that defeated the mighty empire of Japan. America was not the country that terrorised the second and third world for much of the late 20th century, America was the country that defeated communism and saved the free world. Perhaps if you admitted to your mistakes a bit more, your fellow countrymen and women would have a more nuanced view of the effect of their vote.

Americans, if you are still reading, I guess what I am trying to say is that while you may be angry about the political situation in your country, you are also responsible. And taking responsibility is not something that Americans excel at. You are privileged to be in a position where, in the form of US presidential elections, you can vote for a major world actor, and while in your voting decisions you do take in a lot of consideration for domestic issues such as healthcare and the US economy, you completely disregard the effect of your decision on the rest of the world. Even those of you reading this who mailed in your vote, your decision was based on domestic issues rather than the effect of the election on the outside world. You take no responsibility whatsoever for how your domestic politics effects the rest of the world, to the extent that you neglect to educate a vast number of your citizens, who are eligible to vote. As well as this, you fail to recognise any failure whatsoever by your country in the past, leading to a large proportion of your people thinking that the USA is the greatest country that has ever existed. And Americans, this rejection of Donald Trump’s presidency is just another example of your complete lack of responsibility in realising the power of your vote. You didn’t vote for him, but he is your president.

And ever since that fateful day in early November, you have been sharing your opinion online incessantly about how he is the worst thing to happen to your country and how he will destroy us all. Well, Americans, at least you had a choice in all of this. And now when it is all done, you are sitting back making sarcastic comments about how stupid your new president is. Trust us, we get it, he is stupid, we believe you. It’s probably time now to do a bit more than share jokes about him with your liberal friends. Even if President Trump accomplishes nothing in his 4 (probably 8 since your education standards sure ain’t gonna get better in Trumps America) years of power, your system has ensured that all of us around the world have to listen to him for the entire period of his presidency. The very least you could do is not make us all listen to you whine about it too.

Yours,

The Rest of the World*

*(as interpreted  by Cian)

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On Extistentialism and Grand Theft Auto V

If you have no idea what GTA V is, skip to the end for a brief overview

Five minutes into the final (completely optional) triathlon mission in Grand Theft Auto V, everything started to make sense. I had been making my character swim across the biggest lake in the state, repeatedly pressing the X button on my control pad in order to make sure he kept up with the rest of his fellow triathlon competitors. I was only halfway across the lake, and there was still the cycling and running events to come. And all you do in all of those events is tap X and point in the direction you want to go.  It suddenly became clear what was really happening: I was being trolled, by the game designers. What they were saying to me was that if I wanted to completely finish this game, I had to be shown how sad and pathetic I was by completing this horrible ordeal. The game had indeed become an obsession for me, and I needed to complete it in order to get my life back. So I held on, and accepted my fate. The longer it went on, the more determined I was to win, for I never wanted to have to do it again. Neither my X button nor my onset of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in my thumb could have taken that. Just over 25 minutes later, I narrowly overtook a competitor to take first prize. But at what cost? It didn’t matter, once it confirmed I had completed that part of the game, I went straight to doing the next thing on the list I needed for 100% completion. The game designers knew this, and that’s why they trolled me.

The GTA series gets a lot of news coverage due to its supposed effect on the degradation of society. You can steal cars, rob convenience stores, pick up prostitutes, and kill innocent people in countless ways. If you want. All that bad stuff is optional, you don’t have to do any of it. This is what the game designers would argue when such moral criticism arises, while also pointing to the fact that the universe they have created is an obvious satire of the world we live in. The first point isn’t convincing: if they didn’t want you to kill innocent people, they wouldn’t have made them so easy to run over with a car (complete with that squishy sound). The second point is very true: it is an epic satire. the game, based in the quasi-Los Angeles city of Los Santos, we use a social network called Life Invader while the budget smartphone is not a Droid, but a Drone.  Wherever you go in the game, there are people taking photos on smartphones and playing on iPads. You help the CIA rescue a rendition victim from the FBI, only to help torture him in the next mission. There is a gun shop called Ammu-Nation every few blocks, that allows serial mass-murderers like you buy guns 24 hours a day. When the police arrest you, they take your ammo, but not your guns. Because this may be a fictional city in America, but it is still America.

The main thing about GTA, as hinted at previously, is that you don’t actually have to do anything the game designers tell you to do: you can do whatever you want. From around the third mission, you can say goodbye to the story and indulge your nihilism as much as you want. Kill people, pick up prostitutes, kill her afterwards to regain the money you just paid for the service. Eventually the police will come after you, and you won’t always evade them. You will end up in hospital or jail, which are very expensive. You will end up robbing people just to fund your next hospital visit, drifting from petty crime to petty crime, each funding the next. A pitiful existence, no doubt, and it is similar to what would happen if you chose this path in real life. The only way to make real money is to get a real job, ie the actual game story. Completing missions and eventually robbing banks will get you millions. Only through structured work effort and careful planning can one climb the rungs of society and escape petty criminality in the GTA world. And again, this only brings the player to a certain level: completing all missions brings a basic payout of $20m. This is not even enough to afford the deed to the biggest cinema in Los Santos, should you wish to purchase it. Crime only brings you so far, which leads us to the in-game stock market, where the real money is made. Using money gained through crime to fund a stock portfolio is the only way to get to the pinnacle of success in GTA V, which is possibly the greatest piece of satire in the entire game. There are two paths: one leads to jail or hospital, and the other leads to Wall Street. I’m pretty sure this is the life lesson taught to more than one of the games writers by their parents.

In the game, you control three different characters and can change between the three of them at will. Franklin is a black car thief in his early 20’s, struggling to balance his ambition with his roots in LA gang culture. Michael is in his mid-40s, a retired bank robber living a life of luxury with his wife and two teenagers. Trevor is a white-trash, deranged psychopath who knew Michael many years before. In the main story, each has a character arc and are used to tell different parts of the story, and interconnect at various times. This is useful as a literary device to tell a grand story, however the three characters are really there to appeal to a different type of player. Franklin is there for the teenagers/kids who play the game, Michael is there for older gamers like me who accept that they are too old for this stuff, while Trevor is the id, a personification of successive Daily Mail hate campaigns and is there for all those “nihilists” who shouldn’t be playing GTA at all.

So as in a TV show with many characters, every player will have a favourite and want to spend more time with him. Obviously mine is Michael, the retiree who is currently going through a midlife crisis. He seeks self-actualisation, so he does yoga, he sees a therapist, he attempts to join a Scientology-esque cult (but becomes pissed off and kills everyone when they ask for too much money).  His wife leaves him at the end of Act 1 of the storyline, and the rest is about him picking up the pieces of his settled life, while killing people and robbing banks in the process. In all of this, the player is in control of Michael, attempting to get him through this midlife crisis of his, adrift in the sea of chaos that is the GTA universe of prostitutes and car theft. Of course, he gets his family back in the course of the narrative, but the self-actualisation process continues unabated.

In a movie about midlife crisis, it would end with him either dead, or looking out into the distance. In the game, you can conceivably play on with Michael in the GTA universe for as long as electricity and the PS3 system allows and you will still hear him question his current standing forever while robbing convenience stores and killing people, possibly with constantly updated dialogue via the internet. But of course, this is the game designers trolling me again, for they are really talking to me, about the virtues of being a 30 year old man seeking self-actualisation in the form of nihilistic video games where laws can be broken and civilised society is an abstraction. Video games are changing: GTA V entertains, it engages, it even has some emotive moments. However with people of my generation and above, there will always be this nagging doubt about how something is just not quite right about spending time indulging in this type of entertainment, unironically. GTA V is a parody of modern life, but it also satirises and parodies those who actually appreciate it, which is not something many TV shows, movies or even books could ever hope to accomplish. Based on this, games could yet be more than just mere nihilism.

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If you don’t know what GTA is:

Everyone reading this has at some point played a video game. What differentiates the GTA series from others is that rather than pushing players towards completing a detailed story, the game developers create an entire world for players to explore, and it is the players choice whether he or she completes the prepared storyline or just goes around exploring what is possible in this dense world. What is interesting, and controversial about this world however is that it is not some faraway planet or fictional past civilisation: the series bases its world on modern life, and in the case of GTA V the setting is Los Santos, which is Los Angeles by any other name. In Los Santos, the player steals cars, kills people, picks up prostitutes, robs convenience stores and then tries to escape the police attention gleaned from performing these acts. This isn’t easy, the police are smart and forceful, and often the player can end up getting killed (requiring an expensive trip to the hospital) or getting arrested.