Conspiracies, Cabals, and Other Legitimate Associations

I am not going to weigh in on the big uproar going on right now in the public conversation concerning gaming. It’s one of those subjects that seems so hopelessly telescopic on all sides that I do my best to ignore it.

However, a friend brought this aspect of it to my attention. Leaving out the particulars of what everyone is fighting about, here’s how it was presented to me:

  • There’s an email list that a lot of prominent gaming journalists are on.
  • They’ve been talking about the latest controversy on that list.
  • What’s more, they’ve been coordinating a response and narrative to present to the public.
  • This is evil.

OK, maybe “evil” isn’t the adjective that was used, but it certainly seemed to be the implication. There’s something unsavory and wrong going on here, where journalists get together to figure out the party line like accomplices to a crime preparing for separate police interrogations.

The question I asked my friend was: what is the difference between this and journalists in a particular city getting together at a particular bar on a regular basis? Wouldn’t you expect people within such a community to want to seek out fellow practitioners? And once together, wouldn’t you expect them to talk about whatever the big story is, and to discuss their values?

It’s a short step from such conversations to becoming an association. Such associations push people towards holding similar values; total homogenizing isn’t necessarily destiny but some degree of convergence becomes highly likely. Such convergence and shared values then makes it more likely that the people involved will want to act in concert when they feel something morally important is on the line.

When I hear people call such associations “cabals” or conspiracies, I want to ask—what does legitimate persuasion look like to you, if not this? Does it always have to be conducted completely out in public, never in private conversation? Does it always have to be lone individuals, never groups? Does the funding for any marketing effort always have to come out of the pocket of such lone individuals, never from others who share their values but may not be as persuasive?

If offer no answers for these questions. I myself am increasingly uncertain of where the line is between rent-seeking and healthy political participation, between legitimate moral community and dangerous moral monoculture.

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