Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Corporate objection to curbing violent video games isn't about the First Amendment

It's just a game
by Richard Mellor
Afscme local 444, retired

Marx once pointed out that the state, or government as most of us refer to it, is simply the “executive” of the capitalist class as a whole, just as a Union’s executive board is the leadership body of a local or a federation of unions.
In a democracy like ours (a capitalist democracy) they have reluctantly conceded to workers the right to vote, some of us before others of course in order to keep us divided, and men before women as the ruling class is overwhelmingly men.  

What it means in practice is that workers get to decide every four years or so which of the 1%’s candidates or parties will govern society.  But winning the right to vote means we have influence over their political decisions, we can win further concessions from them.  It is a never-ending struggle not only to keep what we have won but also to make further gains, and most legislation that serves us came about by codifying what had already been won through mass action in the streets.  What we cannot do is vote capitalism out of existence, but we do engage in political struggle, and at times through parties of our own as opposed to being a pressure group in one of theirs. Like the struggles on the job, we learn and draw certain conclusions about society through this activity.

The amount of propaganda aimed at undermining and discrediting workers’ organizations is massive.  Billions of dollars are spent complaining about “big labor” and the power of unions.  Billions more is spent by the entertainment industry and the media promoting capitalism and the market, and the view of history that explains Warren Buffet, Andrew Carnegie, Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, made their billions though plain old hard work and individual effort which is nonsense. Films about organized labor invariably involve gangster or Mafia involvement and mindless workers following along.

I have been planning to write something about these organizations that the average person has no knowledge of.  What I mean by this is their equivalent of Unions or associations that campaign to protect their interests.  There is the Chamber of Commerce of course, one of the largest capitalist gangs and the fact that we live in a capitalist society is enough but the tentacles are far reaching. 

They have thousands of organizations that oversee various industries and defend the interest of various sections of the capitalist class on a day-to-day basis; restaurant associations, financial associations, agricultural groups, the National Association of Manufacturers or the Bank of International Settlements to name a few. They wage a daily struggle against any political efforts from unions, citizens groups, consumer groups and others to protect or advance the interests of the working public.

One of them is the Entertainment Software Association, a group that represents 34 corporations (Rupert Murdoch and Fox, belong to the ESA and the Wall Street Journal calls them “members” as a corporation is a person under US law) including Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo has been waging a very successful campaign to defeat efforts by consumer groups to pass legislative proposals to study the effects of violent video games on young people and whether or not they can influence human behavior.

The ESA has been successful in Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey and Oklahoma as laws either, “died or are locked in legislative committees”, the Wall Street Journal reports.  In 2011, the US Supreme Court, a body composed of faithful representatives of the 1%, struck down a California bill banning these games on First Amendment grounds. 

Michael Gallagher, the CEO of the ESA is proud of defending free speech and the industry considers the issue of video games influencing young people settled. There is no established link between the violent videogame industry and young people or anyone else being influenced to commit violence the industry argues.  This is the same argument the tobacco industry made for half a century.

In the wake of the Newtown massacre where a gunman killed 20 children and 7 adults, Obama ordered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study whether violent videogames played a role in gun violence-----a study, mind you.  The CDC reported back that more research was needed on the issue, "In more than 50 years of research, no study has focused on firearm violence as a specific outcome of violence in the media," the report said.  That’s about the end of it as the CDC ran out of funding.

Michael Rich, the director of the Center on Media and Child Health at
Children's Hospital Boston, who is a campaigner for legislation that would study this issue, doesn’t buy the First Amendment argument, "They are actually arguing for keeping people in the dark" about possible links between videogames and violence.” he tells the Journal.

But it’s more than that.  The US military has been involved in designing such games as they are useful in training the young men and women who might be flying their planes or sitting in front of computer screens operating drones that wipe out innocent people.  It is a way of disconnecting oneself from the violence, you’re only “playing a game”.

The industry is very lucrative one.  In 2011, global video game sales grew faster than movies and are expected to hit $82 billion annually by 2017 up from $65.5 billion this year according to the Journal.

The US Senate passed a bill earlier this year directing the National Academy of Sciences to study the effect of violent video games on “aggression-prone” children. But the ESA is gearing up for that battle, with its army of lobbyists ready to bribe the politicians. It has spent $3.9 million at the state and federal level this year bribing politicians to block legislation that might curtail profits.

There is no doubt that video games are not responsible for all the violence in society, or as industry for our “social ills” as Gallagher puts it. Capitalism is a violent system and especially here in the US where it is the most powerful.  But there is no doubt in this writer’s mind that these games and their extreme violence, games that allow young children to participate in an interactive way, don’t have an affect on young people.  I certainly don't need a study to draw that conclusion.  This is not about free speech it’s about profits. 

Bill Gates has a foundation run by him, his wife and another coupon clipper Warren Buffet. It is a leader in what they call, philanthrocapitalism and the Gates’ and Buffet donate money to help educate the underprivileged, or what they deem is important as far as education goes. The Gates’ foundation has invested some $250 million in grants in education services and talks of the crisis in the black community with regard to reading skills etc.  Meanwhile, they are spending money bribing politicians to prevent any legislation that curbs the violent videogame industry which reaches millions more children and has a far greater impact than their paltry $250 million as it is a very interactive medium.  Their philanthropy is about tax evasion, self-gratification and a place in capitalist history; they are the masters of deception and hypocrisy.

US corporations do not spend billions of dollars a year on advertising convincing us to buy things we don't need if it doesn’t work.  Corporations convince women they’re ugly, men they’re impotent, children they must have this or that toy. They spend billions convincing people they are worthless if they don’t buy their products and people fight each other to get to them as we saw on Black Friday.

I am not one to support the state banning things.  But we don’t allow children to buy tobacco.  It is not legal for 15 year olds to act in porno movies. While video games alone cannot make a healthy person go out and slaughter 20 children, the huge presence of them in children’s and young adults lives along with the violent mass media which numbs us to the reality of violence is socially destructive and undoubtedly influences people in a negative way, including adults.

The production of this garbage is also a waste of social resources. The huge amounts of money spent in this industry producing a socially useless product and defending it from a concerned public is incredible.  The human capital, the expertise and labor power necessary is also a terrible waste of resources.

Someone asked me how a socialist society would determine whether or not we allocate resources for such production or whether or not we would forbid it.  My answer to that is that it would be put to the working class to decide.

In a society in which each community, each region, each industry and workplace had committees of workers from all aspects of life discuss the issue; those of us involved in production, others in consumption, lay people and scientists, discussing what we produce, how and when, and whether society’s resources should be allocated to the production of such products, we would arrive at a different place.  In other words, without coercion, I believe a democratic decision would be made not to put the resources we have available to us in to producing these games.

That the CEO of the Entertainment Software Association defends the right to produce the crap they do under the banner of the First Amendment, the right to free speech, shows how strong the objection to these games is among ordinary people.  Just like the wars they’re involved with abroad, they have to lie to us and create external enemies and tell us it’s about defending our freedoms rather than defending the profits of the 1%.

The pretend violence on the video screen and the real violence on our streets and around the world would, end with a genuine socialist democracy, if those of us who actually work and create society's wealth could participate in the governing of society and managing of the economy; if our vote and voice actually meant something.

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