Welcome to Jester's Trek.
I'm your host, Jester. I've been an EVE Online player for about six years. One of my four mains is Ripard Teg, pictured at left. Sadly, I've succumbed to "bittervet" disease, but I'm wandering the New Eden landscape (and from time to time, the MMO landscape) in search of a cure.
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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Normalizing the unthinkable

Warning: geek philosophy ahead.

When I was studying Communications in college, the works of Professor Edward Herman were very, very big.  Though I've never taken one of his classes, I've had the opportunity to listen to him speak on several occasions.  At the time, he was speaking frequently on the subjects of mass media, propaganda, and the links between government and news media.  He's a somewhat controversial speaker (my favorite kind), but whether you agree with his views or not, his book Manufacturing Consent is pretty much required reading if you're at all interested in these topics.  I own a copy (it's a few feet away from me as I type this), and it would not surprise me in the slightest if I learned that Mittens does, too.

It's pretty clear that Riverini, the editor of EVE News 24, does not own a copy, and I'd like to take this opportunity to recommend that he pick one up.  ;-)  I'll get to why in just a second.  Here, take my hand.  We're going to walk into some dark places for a few paragraphs and I don't want you to get lost.

In one of Professor Herman's later books, Triumph of the Market, he delved into a related topic, which he called "normalizing the unthinkable" after the title of an article written about nuclear war at the height of the 1980s Cold War.  He defined normalizing the unthinkable as a...
process whereby ugly, degrading, murderous, and unspeakable acts become routine and are accepted as "the way things are done."
To make normalizing the unthinkable easy to understand, he illustrated it in terms of the Nazi death camps of the Holocaust.  He indicated that it became easier to normalize the unthinkable if you set up a division of labor for the steps that were required, having each group perform only one small step in the overall process.  That made it easier for the people performing each step to rationalize their own behavior.

To wit, if your job was to load the Holocaust victims into the crematoria, or search the clothing of the victims for valuables, you could rationalize to yourself that you weren't doing something monstrous because someone else was doing the killing.  The victim was already dead by the time that your step in the process came along.  Therefore, you yourself were not a bad person.

Yeah, yeah, I know.  I'm truly sorry.  I told you this stuff was controversial.  Stay with me.

Professor Herman linked the two books by talking about the media's role in what he called "mobilizing bias".  This was the act of generating content that made such human rationalizations self-sustaining.  During the Holocaust, the Nazis didn't have this problem.  If you didn't do your assigned job, then the punishment was obvious.  But in a more rational world, you have to help the general public understand and rationalize actions that might be morally questionable.  For this section, one example he talked about was "consumer ignorance of process."  For instance (edited very slightly for clarity):
Dr. Samuel Johnson avowed that we would kill a cow rather than forego eating meat, but visits to slaughterhouses have made quite a few people into vegetarians.  A cover story of Newsweek some years ago, illustrating U.S. consumption of meat by showing livestock walking into a human mouth, elicited many protests.  People don't like to be reminded that steaks are obtained from slaughtered animals; they like to imagine that they are manufactured in factories, possibly out of biomass.

Other examples talked about people whose job it is to manufacture weapons, or to perform scientific research on animals.  But what about the person whose job it is to kill the cow?  Then it comes back to more basic rationalizations, including the most basic of all: "if it wasn't me, somebody else would do it" and, of course, this is "the way things are done."

Which brings us back to Riverini and EVE.

Riverini has written an article at EN24 from a rather controversial perspective: up with botting!  He wants to create a small army of EVE players to evangelize the benefits of botting, create thousands of new botting accounts, and encourage others to do the same.  He's seeking one or more experts to help guide players through the process of setting up bots.  The end result he's looking for is to force CCP's hand to take botting seriously.

In short, the position is: if someone can make 21 billion ISK per month botting, and there is someone available willing to teach you how, why shouldn't everyone go ahead and do it?  Why should anyone bother with any other means of making ISK?  See Professor Herman's arguments above.

Riverini estimates in the article that there are currently 8000 active accounts botting in EVE Online at any given moment.  Put another way, he estimates that at any given time, between 20% and 30% of the characters logged into EVE are bots!  And don't be quick to say "Yeah, DRF hard at work!" because if that number is even close to accurate, that would mean that there are more bots on-line at any given time than the total on-line population of null-sec.  In short, a good solid majority of those bots have to be operating in high-sec, mining and running missions.

My response to this very high number would normally be "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."  But of course, such a claim would be difficult or impossible to prove.  So Riverini wants to go in the exact opposite direction... make his estimate a self-fulfilling prophecy by directly encouraging people to get out there and bot!  If Riverini wants to sell this, then he's going to have to learn about mobilizing bias, and the simplest means to do so is likely going to be some combination of "You like ISK, don't you?" and "Everyone else is doing it."

All in all, it's a remarkable position...

...and falls directly into the textbook definition of normalizing the unthinkable.  It'll be interesting to see if it goes anywhere.


  1. I can't help but wonder what the end result of, say, 50% of the EVE population botting would be.

    Inflation undoubtedly, but I can't help but feel like that wouldn't be the end of it.

  2. I find strange how you totally missed two references I made to the "domestication of vile acts", specially since my title, the Banality of Evil is a direct allusion to the Adolf Heichman report which goes deep into this issue, which is referenced by Hermann.

    I do know a lot about Mobilization of Bias, after all I handle politics in the country i live in, and I have always had a clear agenda, total eradication of botting within EVE.

    Bots are degrading the game even on MetaGaming levels, the game is corrupted beyond limits, and we will within the bounds of the EULA, try to do our part.

  3. Interesting. That entirely assumes Riverini actually wants to convince CCP instead of simply calling them out with how easily this could be an epidemic.

  4. @Riverini: who said I missed the references? I definitely got the references. I also specifically pointed out that your end goal here is to force CCP to take botting seriously.

    That said, though, you're also directly encouraging people to directly violate the EULA in the process of this endeavor...

  5. You seem to forget that not all actions require the comliance of a certain percentage of a populace.

    Who cares is you are drafting a message that is well recieved by 30% of a population sample, when all you need is 30 and you have a near infinite sample size.

    Any message sent to any sample large enough is bound to resonate with some number even if it's 1.

    The sample size is the variable in these cases making the requirement of a special, targeted message suited for mass consuption an over engineered solution.

    EN24 is a great example of a variable sample size. And the Bot army is a great example of a desired outcome that is more driven by a fixed number of participants than by a percentage of a player base.

    Tl;DR - I don't think the message can be screwed up enough to deter achieving the desired outcome.

  6. Riverini is dumb and you shouldn't give him the attention he so desperately craves. There are members of his alliance (and all the alliances he's blue to) botting in Delve and the surrounding lowsec right now. You'd think if he was serious about eradicating botting he'd convince his alliance to stop before moving on to the general populace. Also whelpcats.

  7. This entire strategy to eliminate botting by making everyone do it sounds like the comic book movie "Watchmen" where super heroes wanted to stop cold war by killing millions of people and blaming it on someone from outside in order to unite the warring nations. In short, it is a mad solution to a very common problem.

    The main issue with this entire agenda is not that massive botting can ruin the game economy and result in game corruption. The problem here is that obvious botting exists already and CCP is not doing much to prevent it, so why do you think if more players started to use botting it would change anything? The game is corrupted already and I would not be surprised if CCP is making tons of money because of that as well.

  8. So essentially you are suggesting, Jester, that if 100k extra players bot tomorrow, initially as a protest many of them will discover they rather like the passive isk and change from regular players to cheats.

    Whereas Riverini believes that people will remain conscious of the immorality of their actions and will revert after CCP cleans the botting up to legitimates playstyles.

    I think there's a lot of evidence from other games to suggest that cheating can become normalised. In the early 90s it was considered cheating to look up a solution to a game puzzle instead of figuring it out. Many people simply gave up on a game like Eye of the Beholder if they hit a problem they couldn't get past. That attitude is now almost entirely gone, I can't remember encountering anyone recently who feels they shouldn't look information up.

    There are many other examples of cheating becoming normalised including the widespread acceptance of obviously duped gear in the Diablo 2 trading game.

  9. Interesting way of looking at it!

  10. Ultimately that isk on the botting accounts has to end up on your main accounts for you to enjoy the benefits of it.
    I wonder how many people will loose their main account by not laundering the money properly...

    This will also stand to make anyone trading(or currently stockpiling) plex alot of money as bots = inflation to plex price.


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