There’s a lot of pressure to keep a totally clean image, or maybe the better term for it is branding. I’ve noticed in myself a large amount of self-monitoring and a greater awareness of when someone is trying to undermine me through social conditioning they have yet to challenge. There are probably other people who could stand to be this way a little more, particularly those with high amounts of visibility and power who can shift that weight against those who don’t stand a chance. Getting better, moving towards our egalitarian utopia, requires a certain vigilance against sin while at the same time seeking it out for removal. The difference between this and heightened self-awareness is the absence of messiness, a capacity for handling human mistakes. This isn’t even at the level of forgiving or being gentle with fuck ups from the privileged, I don’t think we even allow this for ourselves. We don’t have a lot of room out here for people doing good work and being valuable assets to the community while being open that they’ve made mistakes and are currently working through them. There is a purist attitude surrounding the visibility that being heavily into social justice can grant, and this robs people of their humanity. And isn’t what we’re all fighting for, our humanity?
I find that we are unable to really work through some complex aspects of our lives in the broader social media landscape because it is a context that doesn’t allow us to be human. It’s been a personal philosophy of mine to focus my activist efforts on people and things that personally affect me, that there is some mutual benefit, trust, and growth. I feel grounded in that practice because it allows me to fuck up and learn in a place that it’s okay, where I don’t have to pretend to be perfect, and not get stuck in some sort of minority idolatry. Awareness of that space is important, so we aren’t all posturing for each other in public, cartoon characters bound for hypocrisy and downfall because the expectations placed upon us are impossible to achieve. A culture of social justice is codified enough for there to be certain key terms, frequent recapitulations of the same kinds of problems, and a tendency to create lists of action items that rarely realize themselves outside of a best-case scenario. I don’t think the future waiting for us is a society of saints, but a stronger sense of how to hold space for problems to exist and resolve that results in personal evolution instead of red letters.
I’m becoming more attracted to mess, much to my perfectionistic chagrin. I want to see not even aiming for perfect, just existing as a fact of reality and act of compassion. Deep, honest compassion isn’t something I think I’ve grasped for a long time, and, again, not even yet for others, but for myself. A reason to let myself be wrong and flawed and not useless because of it. Conversations We Have in My Head by Squinky came at a good time for me, unfolding a greatly human dynamic between two characters that allows for the righteous and the flawed to exist in the same place without overwhelming cognitive dissonance. Conversations We Have in My Head pulls a lot of how a person immersed in contemporary social justice and with a messy history of identity and practice exists in a succinct piece. Here we have two exes, Quark and Lex, moving back and forth through time to locate each other, discerning their past selves, who they are now, and what they bring from their history and what they can close the book on. Quark is mostly on the confessional and defensive side, trying to update Lex while dealing with the inconsistencies their past behavior creates with who they are now. Lex is sure, confident, and often overpowers Quark, especially when there is some past beef that is mostly unresolved. The game’s ability to admit failures while still affirming to be a good person is one that isn’t exercised very often, just drag-out honesty and answering for ourselves and, well, surviving.
Quark and Lex stand for more than a failed relationship, rather competing ideas of change and judgement. Quark is detailing to Lex important changes in their life, and the options given to Lex are those of assessment, bringing up the past to challenge the authenticity of those changes. Who the player is controlling is ambiguous, since their choices prompt Lex to interrupt Quark’s monologue, but come the end of a loop, we are reminded that Lex is a part of Quark’s imagination. If we see Lex as this inner judgement, she can stand for this tension brought on by contemporary needs of perfection. We see Quark stand up for themselves in the ways we’re trained to do, listing how we’ve had particular disadvantages that another person doesn’t, and eventually phasing Lex out of their mind, giving up on reconciling their particular situation and the obelisk of social media justice. On other playthroughs, when Lex slips out without much trouble, we see Quark left with themselves and wondering what impact their personal proclamation actually has on anything. It’s a paradox, because when the conversation gets personal, we can see some demons named and exorcised, so there is benefit to telling our personal story as part of this public narrative, but as many of us have seen, nothing really material comes from this to impact our lives, and we’ve just been walking by ourselves the entire time. Conversations We Have in My Head doesn’t provide any answers, just an awareness that in our current environment, there is an absence of reconciliation and how to reintegrate our messy selves into our just ones. That we all are really walking on our own with a constant stream of assessments of our worth, and trained to feel that is the price to being a good, just person.
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