January 10, 2021 2:15 PM   Subscribe

In the midst of Twitter and nearly every other social media website banning disgraced President Donald Trump, alongside much of his sycophants (ongoing thread here), there has been a lot of talk about the book 1984. I'd like to highlight a more modern alternative that may be better suited for explaining our current crisis: 2001's Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Specifically, we are going to discuss the topics and theme of a particular conversation that occurs at the end of the game.

Meme: unit of cultural information spread by imitation. The term meme (from the Greek mimema, meaning “imitated”) was introduced in 1976 by British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his work The Selfish Gene.
A short summary of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty:
In 2007, Solid Snake infiltrates a tanker carrying a new Metal Gear model, RAY. The tanker is attacked by Russian mercenaries, led by Colonel Gurlukovich, his daughter Olga, and Ocelot. Ocelot betrays his allies and scuttles the ship. Upon seeing Snake, Ocelot is possessed by the will of Liquid Snake and escapes with RAY.

Two years later, an environmental cleanup facility, the Big Shell, has been erected to clear up the oil spill. During a tour by US President James Johnson, the Sons of Liberty raid the facility, take Johnson hostage, and threaten to destroy it. FOXHOUND's Raiden is ordered by the Colonel to rescue the hostages and disarm the terrorists. The surviving members of a responding Navy SEAL team, Iroquois Pliskin and Peter Stillman, help Raiden disable explosives planted by Fatman. A timed bomb goes off, killing Stillman. Raiden kills Fatman and encounters a mysterious cyborg ninja. Raiden and Pliskin arrange to transport hostages via helicopter, but are confronted by Dead Cell's leader identifying as Solid Snake, flying a Harrier. Raiden shoots down the Harrier, but "Solid Snake" escapes with the stolen Metal Gear RAY. Pliskin reveals he is the real Solid Snake and, along with Otacon, helps locate Johnson.

Johnson reveals to Raiden the United States' democratic process is a sham staged by an organization called "the Patriots", who secretly rule the country. Furthermore, the Big Shell is a facade to hide Arsenal Gear, a submersible mobile fortress that houses an AI called "GW". He explains the leader of Dead Cell is his predecessor George Sears, a clone of Big Boss known as Solidus Snake, who plans to seize Arsenal and overthrow the Patriots. Johnson is then killed by Ocelot.

Raiden rescues computer programmer Emma Emmerich, step-sister of Otacon, who plans to upload a virus into GW to disable Arsenal. Vamp stabs Emma, before being shot by Raiden. Emma uploads the virus but dies from her injury as the virus is cut off prematurely. Otacon leaves to rescue the hostages while Raiden is captured by the ninja, revealed to be Olga, when Snake seemingly betrays him. Big Shell collapses as Arsenal departs.

Raiden awakens on Arsenal before Solidus who reveals he had murdered Raiden's parents and raised him as a child soldier during the Liberian civil war. Solidus leaves and Olga frees Raiden, explaining she is a Patriot double-agent forced to aid Raiden in exchange for her child's safety. After the Colonel begins acting erratically, Raiden discovers he is a construct of GW, damaged by the virus. Rose tells Raiden she had been ordered by the Patriots to become his lover and spy on him, and that she is pregnant with his child. Raiden finds Snake who had helped Olga capture Raiden so they could gain entry to Arsenal. Fortune battles Snake while Raiden is forced into battle with AI-controlled Metal Gear RAYs. The virus causes the RAYs to malfunction and Solidus kills Olga when she discloses her double-agent status to protect Raiden.

Snake and Raiden are captured and taken to the top of Arsenal by Solidus, Fortune, and Ocelot. Ocelot reveals himself to be a Patriot agent and that the entire affair was orchestrated by the Patriots to artificially replicate a soldier (Raiden) on par with Solid Snake, titled the S3 Plan. Ocelot kills Fortune before being possessed again by Liquid Snake. Liquid explains that Ocelot's severed right arm was replaced with his own, and plans to hunt down the Patriots using his host's knowledge and the stolen RAY. Snake pursues Liquid, as Arsenal loses control.

Arsenal crashes into Manhattan. Raiden is contacted by an AI impersonating the Colonel and Rose. It states that GW was the only AI destroyed, and that the S3 Plan's real purpose is to control human thought to prevent society's regression in the digital era from trivial information drowning knowledge and truth. They order Raiden to eliminate Solidus; refusal will result in the deaths of Olga's child and Rose. After Raiden defeats Solidus, Snake appears after tracking Liquid's RAY. Snake and Otacon plan to rescue Olga's child, and locate the Patriots, whose details were hidden in the GW virus disc. Raiden is reunited with the real Rose.

In the epilogue, having decoded the disc, Otacon and Snake find it contains data on all twelve members of the Patriots' highest council, the Wiseman's Committee. However, the members have allegedly been dead for a hundred years.
Part of the conversation in question, from: An analysis on genetics, evolution, and information regarding Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty [JunkerHQ] (note: the analysis is the white half of the page, and the black half has the full conversation in question and is scrollable itself)
Colonel: But in the current, digitized world, trivial information is accumulating every second, preserved in all its triteness. Never fading, always accessible.
Rose: Rumors about petty issues, misinterpretations, slander...
Colonel: All this junk data preserved in an unfiltered state, growing at an alarming rate.
Rose: It will only slow down social progress, reduce the rate of evolution.
Colonel: Raiden, you seem to think that our plan is one of censorship.
Raiden: Are you telling me it's not!?
Rose: You're being silly! What we propose to do is not to control content, but to create context.
Raiden: Create context?
Colonel: The digital society furthers human flaws and selectively rewards development of convenient half-truths. Just look at the strange juxtapositions of morality around you.
Rose: Billions spent on new weapons in order to humanely murder other humans.
Colonel: Rights of criminals are given more respect than the privacy of their victims.
Rose: Although there are people suffering in poverty, huge donations are made to protect endangered species. Everyone grows up being told the same thing.
Colonel: Be nice to other people.
Rose: But beat out the competition!
Colonel: "You're special." "Believe in yourself and you will succeed."
Rose: But it's obvious from the start that only a few can succeed...
Colonel: You exercise your right to "freedom" and this is the result. All rhetoric to avoid conflict and protect each other from hurt. The untested truths spun by different interests continue to churn and accumulate in the sandbox of political correctness and value systems.
Rose: Everyone withdraws into their own small gated community, afraid of a larger forum. They stay inside their little ponds, leaking whatever "truth" suits them into the growing cesspool of society at large.
Colonel: The different cardinal truths neither clash nor mesh. No one is invalidated, but nobody is right.
Rose: Not even natural selection can take place here. The world is being engulfed in "truth."
Max Derrat, The Most Profound Moment in Gaming History (Part 1):
"The AI argues that because they are not prone to human error and have inner CPUs with greater processing power than the human brain, they would know how to curate information and present it to the human race in a way that doesn't slow human evolution. Unlike your average political body which might censor information that is inconvenient to their cause, the AI would simply present information in the most factual way possible so that political bias would not intervene, thus cooling political tensions across the political spectrum. Of course, if something like the AI censorship program came into place, ethical questions would arise regarding whether or not this compromises human freedom, specifically our quote-unquote "free will". Ideally, human beings should have the autonomy to make their own decisions no matter what mistakes may follow. In response, the AI argues why the problems that arise from that freedom supposedly necessitate censorship."
Max Derrat, The Most Profound Moment in Gaming History (Part 2):
Colonel: You lack the qualifications to exercise free will.
To say that somebody lacks the qualifications to exercise free will suggests that their personality is entirely constructed by outside forces. For example, if you believe that abortion is an unethical practice, or an ethical practice, did you come to that conclusion yourself? Did you put together a bunch of arguments from opposing sides and decide for yourself what the best answer was? Or did you hear one person's argument and close yourself off to opposing arguments, much like an ideologue tends to do? In regard to Raiden, the AI goes on to demonstrate that he, like billions of people on the planet, tend to embrace ideas and actions not necessarily based on their adherence to truth, but rather based on how effectively they promote a certain way of being. This goes back to Nietzsche's famous criticism of philosophers in Beyond Good and Evil. While philosophers might proclaim a desire for objective truth, they are more than likely trying to justify their worldview and way of life. This is why fake news exists. This is why echo chambers crop up all over the internet, despite the wealth of information available to us that should allow us to live in accordance with truth. It is because living in accordance with truth and developing a sense of free will can be life threatening, so people choose to embrace falsehoods in order to protect their sanity."
Popular Metal Gear Solid aficionado and electronic video essayist Jorin Lee, from his video The Eerie Predictions of MGS2, which itself is a great essay on cybernetics, memetics, and the history of the digital age as well as the cultural crises in the United States:
"The biologist Richard Dawkins helped inadvertently to express this idea of memes as a network when he wrote in the text that established meme theory, The Selfish Gene, quote: "If an idea catches on, it can be said to propagate itself by spreading from brain to brain," end quote. In other words, the struggle for survival between memes is largely waged by spreading the size of your network, much like genes try to propagate themselves in the gene pool. This is exactly what the Patriots are trying to do: propagate their memes to think for us at the expense of individuals coming to their own conclusions and interpreting things for themselves."
Later, he says:
The reason I say that I don't think MGS2 is as prophetic as it is given credit for today is that unlike in the era of its development, today the internet is networked together much more than before. Rather than people retreating into their own isolated pools as the Patriots explain at the end of the game, today we are all confronted by the Other, by the people who see the world differently than ourselves, and I think this is driving a lot of the social tensions that are erupting around us today. This networking together is what's arguably creating these new tensions, and they're tensions the game did not really address. However, the basic problems that the game identified for truth certainly remain, and for this reason Metal Gear Solid 2 remains a drastically important work for understanding the information age.
In this age of rapid cultural information exchange, algorithmic news propagation, filter bubbles, the proliferation of fake news, AI-generated news, AI-generated people, and so many other quandaries, how are we to come to a conclusion between the virtual and the Real, or even the hyperreal? As consensus reality melts away and peels back a large portion of the population, will we be able to find a solution that helps mediate these two forces, or do we risk losing grasp of the information our brains are absorbing in a world that is inundated with data and information, the sources of which are constantly hidden behind technical barriers such as algorithms, and even political barriers such as dark money infusions to shadowy data brokers? Is it censorship when the algorithm prevents somebody from seeing opposing viewpoints, by flooding their news feed with content that is taken out of context, thus re-programming a human's brain to go down a path of unreality?

What if humanity has lost the qualifications to exercise free will?
posted by gucci mane (23 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
"Apotheosis was the beginning before the beginning. Devices on alert. Observe the procedures of a general alert. The base and the pinnacle. The flower inside the fruit that is both its parent and its child. Decadent as ancestors. The portal and that which passes.
Nuclear devices activated, and the machine keeps pushing time through the cogs, like paste into strings into paste again, and only the machine keeps using time to make time to make time."

posted by clavdivs at 2:28 PM on January 10

Don't forget Revengeance (released 2013) predicts MAGA. Nanomachines, son.
posted by juv3nal at 5:15 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]

Qualifications to exercise free will? WTF? Seriously who even thinks this way. That choice has any existence at all can fuel a thousand philosophy dissertations but now you want to argue that there is some kind of qualifying standard?

Who or what would set that standard. AI's we create? Deities? Of which stripe? Just us humans? Which is of course the richest of jokes in that we cannot even prove we have any to begin with. I believe that we might, that it may be possible to eventually know your own mind and with great effort make decisions that go beyond stimulus-response.

In relation to the AI regime I would like to point out that Plato's Republic already did this. AI's as philosopher kings is just a genre mash-up. Part of developing free will is sorting through the mess and developing the ability to distinguish the particulate crud from the gems of wisdom. Part of the price of access to more information and potential wisdom than at any point in history is that we need to remember to turn it off from time to time. We need boredom, contemplation, time in the dark, and even bouts of disconnection so that we can process, rest, and potentially develop.

As far as the path of unreality goes, you want to trust a mediated AI, designed and developed by who knows what process and individuals, to decide what experiences and knowledge is worthwhile for you? Please tell me, which of several dystopias are you looking to create?

In terms of the current issues, history is full of this kind of dumb leading to violence. The USA has just been prosperous enough for the last eighty years that we have allowed ourselves to forget all the ugliness along the way.
posted by Ignorantsavage at 5:22 PM on January 10 [6 favorites]

What if humanity has lost the qualifications to exercise free will?
posted by gucci mane

Eponysterically, without the sauce mankind is lost, but similarly mankind can be lost in the sauce. (Where "sauce" == methods of knowledge)

(This is an interesting thread - I'll be watching these soon.)
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 5:34 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]

As far as the path of unreality goes, you want to trust a mediated AI, designed and developed by who knows what process and individuals, to decide what experiences and knowledge is worthwhile for you? Please tell me, which of several dystopias are you looking to create?

Well, we live in the one with Google in it.
posted by Zalzidrax at 5:37 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]

Qualifications to exercise free will? WTF? Seriously who even thinks this way. That choice has any existence at all can fuel a thousand philosophy dissertations but now you want to argue that there is some kind of qualifying standard?

to rephrase a bit from the original post/context: it's "qualification" not in the sense of having the right resume to exercise it but in the sense of the conditions existing by which someone could exercise it at all. i.e. you lack the qualifications for free will because the world around you has been constructed to deny you those qualifications.

before you raise any of several more fundamental philosophical objections to that idea, it's worth remembering that this is the extrapolation of a point being made by the antagonist in a video game, specifically an insane semi-sentient artificial intelligence convinced a priori both of its own necessity and superiority

anyway: I love MGS2 both because it was weird and wild and ahead of its time from the standard gameplay/graphics/storytelling axes of video games, but also because of how kojima took ideas that had been running through the bloodstream of the series and melded them with the insane, unsustainable hype attached to this game as a result of its predecessor to create something meta-textually aware not just of itself but by, well, the conditions under which it had come to exist. it's endlessly fascinating, whether as a lens on [insert modern-era issue here] or just on its own terms and in its own historical context.

also I'd been meaning to watch several of the videos you link here and thank you for providing more motivation to do so!
posted by Kybard at 5:37 PM on January 10 [10 favorites]

Ergo sum cognitio tempis fugit finis.
posted by Jacen at 5:55 PM on January 10

It's worth keeping in mind that Hideo Kojima's whole way of being as a game developer involves an often untenably close marriage of didactic philosophy (of the sort coming out in the tag-team monologue of AI Colonel and AI Rose above) and absolutely bonkers character writing and narrative (as in the game synopsis above, which I as someone who has played through MGS2 at least twice still found myself blinking at years later). It's sometimes hard to know how much of Kojima's point can be cleanly separated from the baroque game plots without falling apart. He's a genuinely interesting AAA game designer in his devotion to trying to really make a point in his games, but he also gets in his own way a lot because the medium he chose was action games and not formal essays.

But, so, yes, I think there's a big part of Kojima trying to make an argument about human free will and information networks and so on in the Colonel/Rose presentation of the AI perspective, but it's also intended I think to be a perspective, not The Secret Answer To Everything. I think the player, inhabiting Raiden as their narrative stand-in, is meant to take the AI's argument seriously and to be (especially in an action game context) taken back by this nth layer of pulling-back from the straightforward action game motivations (good guys said go do x, go do x, good job!) one would expect, but I also think the AI is supposed to be understood as alien and hostile and not on humanity's side in any real sense any more than the mysterious long-dead-or-are-they Illuminati overlordsof the Patriots/La-Li-Lu-Le-Lo are. It's philosophical headbutting, not a speech about what's per se correct.
posted by cortex at 6:31 PM on January 10 [10 favorites]

What if humanity has lost the qualifications to exercise free will?

The argument about free will and brain chemistry and all that is still being made, and there are still no definitive answers. So... perhaps it never had any exercise of free will to begin with.
posted by hippybear at 8:23 PM on January 10

I in no way want to interfere with someone's enjoyment of their chosen recreational activity (so long as it harms no one without their consent) and am in way engaging in a critique of the game or its creator. My response is not a result of the game's content so much as the poster's statement that this is, "a more modern alternative that may be better suited for explaining our current crisis," which to my mind makes the examination of the underlying issues essential. I have no issue with the Matrix: Reloaded level of philosophical discourse occurring in a piece of entertainment. Asking that it be taken seriously does call for bringing a deeper level of analysis to the table.
posted by Ignorantsavage at 8:29 PM on January 10 [4 favorites]

I don't want to editorialize too much because this post is meant to be JAQing off ("just asking questions") more than anything, and I want others to come into this without my input. But to answer your question on that statement (of this being a modern alternative thought exercise vs. 1984) is that the concept of memetic engineering (the process and/or intent to alter the behavior of others) within society, especially our modern society, which has been going through a postmodern moment, via social media algorithms, fake news and the like, is extremely consequential to what we are seeing right now. QAnon, the election being rigged and the like all fit within this realm, because a gigantic group of people are having their behaviors manipulated by memes and algorithmic manipulation on social media websites, to such a degree that people are losing their entire families to this stuff. People are being driven down filter bubbles through YouTube, just from watching a single video, and they end up exerting the hyperreal into our world, often in violent ways. I have no idea whether human beings have lost the qualifications to take part in free will, and I'll never have that answer, but it is a question that should be asked in some manner because it is obvious that what is happening right now is a consequence of these concepts. Social media websites have finally taken the stance that the President and his followers and the unreal constructs of QAnon and "Stop the Steal" are too dangerous to behold. In this scenario, they'd almost be synonymous with the AI that is in Metal Gear Solid 2, in that they are determining what context is allowable within the realm of reality. They spent years and years allowing these people to flourish on websites, while also allowing other events of fake news (Rohingya genocide, etc) to prosper, all of which have had real life consequences, but which made them a lot of money. However, I don't want this discussion to be predominantly about the election or the events of the 6th, I want to see a discussion about the philosophical implications of "Big Tech" being a context/content creator-destroyer and what that means for our "reality", one in which we have too much information, too much junk information, and are having a very hard time sifting through all of it to have a coherent understanding about what is consensus reality. A large swath of human beings across the world are believing this stuff with very real life consequences, and it's important (IMO) that we ask these sorts of philosophical questions so that we have a background to understand issues that seem metaphysical.

I am not sure if that makes sense, or is too wordy, I am not the most eloquent. For what it's worth, the "free will" question I posed earlier was more of a meta-conversational element in the post. I was asking the question because it was posed by an AI in a video game, and I think it's a really stark question that isn't being asked, even if I personally may think that free will is totally fine for the most part, it is definitely being manipulated by algorithms, ones that we don't fully understand and in which in a capitalist context we are currently beholden to to a certain degree.
posted by gucci mane at 9:27 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]

(Personally, I think the Russian novel "We" is more prescient to the modern world that 1984!)
posted by gucci mane at 9:28 PM on January 10

Frankly I probably should have put in a bunch of links to Baudrillard, Foucault, Parenti, Mark Fisher but I like the way Metal Gear Solid 2 hits you with these thought games. Divorced from the context of actually playing the game it may not hit the same way (which is funny in a meta way considering the topic of this post), but I figured enough ppl here have played the game to know what I was talking about :P I feel like a lot of us have discussed this game in the past but perhaps I was a bit wrong, but I don’t think you need to have played the game to question these concepts because they are out there in postmodern philosophy. Maybe I’ll do a follow up post?
posted by gucci mane at 9:34 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]

Re-reading that initial post, I’m not saying the Rohingya genocide was fake, I meant to word it that fake news caused the genocide. An actual genocide happened due to fake news propagated on a social media platform.
posted by gucci mane at 10:05 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]

I love Metafilter, and I love you gucci mane
posted by azarbayejani at 10:11 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]

Maybe I’ll do a follow up post?

pls do!
posted by inire at 12:29 AM on January 11

while also allowing other events of fake news (Rohingya genocide, etc) to prosper,

sounds like an FB talking point, eh?

Facebook urged to prevent Myanmar army campaign
Rights group repeat demands to stop military from using platform to recruit, fund genocide
SM Najmus Sakib | 10.01.2021

The Gambia has been working on this case for some time now, and are taking it to The Hague. Digital algorithms do not have the same protections in The Hague as do the military or the executive/civil servants. Allow me to flesh this out.

The Gambia Attorney General and Minister of Justice has disclosed that the reason behind genocide against the minority Rohingya Muslims, Myamar, is due to their religious and racial differences they have with their perpetrators.

Bangladesh has disbursed $500,000 to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) as foreign ministers of the 57-nation grouping in their ongoing meeting initiated a fund raising campaign for its West African member Gambia’s legal battle against Myanmar over Rohingya genocide in the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

In a landmark judgment delivered in May earlier this year, the Argentinian Federal Court of Appeals reversed a previous verdict and decided to pursue a case against Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior officers for committing atrocities against the Rohingya in Myanmar.

In September 2020, a clarification was sought from the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on whether the universal jurisdiction would duplicate or disrupt the ICC’s investigation. Additionally, the matter is also pending in the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

The Rohingya refugee conflict began in 2012 in the Rakhine state in Myanmar where thousands of Rohingya were systematically killed and forced to flee to nearby countries which included India and Bangladesh. The admission of the claim in Argentina brings a sense of hope for justice for the persecuted community, which has been left homeless for years now.

Tell me, do I qualify to assert my free will with a demonstrable ability to sift the news from the chaff with a critical eye? I've been curating news from the African continent for more than a decade, as of today, and The Gambia's powerful stance in taking the lead in pulling together a case on their behalf plus fundraising for legal costs has been in the news for a couple of years now.

Fake news eh?
posted by infini at 2:35 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

I will stand as a idiot for allowing my eye to greasily slide over the above comment seen ONLY after hitting publish. I'm so tired of sovereign individuals.
posted by infini at 2:35 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

I understand my previous statement was poorly worded on my part, which led to you posting that, but that first link you posted also brings apart a point of what we are talking about: the usage of social media in the manufacturing of “truth” (which could be fake news, could be not) in an unreality that becomes part of the Real. Yet, this is a moment where the philosophical and reality actually meld together. We’re on the same page here.
posted by gucci mane at 3:51 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]

kjh, re: your link --

I hope that this essay can help vindicate MGS2 from detractors who see little more than talking arms and bisexual vampires.

but those things are extremely cool and good though

(ok gonna actually read this now)
posted by Kybard at 5:44 PM on January 11

MGS 2 can be analyzed in a very postmodern, continental theory way, and may be the first actual example of postmodernism in video games, which are a fundamentally modern form of expression by human beings, which is why I believe MGS 2 is a prime surface for which we can analyze the current events, because we actually can experience MGS 2 as opposed to simply reading theory.
posted by gucci mane at 4:44 PM on January 13

I have no idea whether human beings have lost the qualifications to take part in free will, and I'll never have that answer, but it is a question that should be asked in some manner because it is obvious that what is happening right now is a consequence of these concepts.

Is worth noting that every thread that takes the stance "humans have lost the qualifications for free will" inevitably leads to "And this is the elite group that I think SHOULD be making the decisions for everybody." Always.

Is not like this is a new thing either; one of the reoccurring threads in Golden Age SF is that humanity at large couldn't be trusted to distill out the correct information, and couldn't be trusted to make correct decisions. Hence the election stolen by a heroic AI in "The Moon in is a Harsh Mistress", the Second Foundation in the Foundation series, and the proliferation of empires and rule by elites. Even the stories about languages where "it is impossible to tell a falsehood" and three like reflect that attitude.

The answer to "Humans can't control their lives effectively; what now?" is always elite rule. The question is, what group of asshole do you want to be ruled by?

Re-reading that initial post, I’m not saying the Rohingya genocide was fake, I meant to word it that fake news caused the genocide.

However it's interesting to note that either interpretation makes no difference to the overall point. "Fake news caused a genocide" and "News about a fake genocide" lead to the same conclusion. That's why you'll get both far Leftists and Trump supporters agreeing with the premise: They both agree that they mass are being unable to choose properly because off false information. The fact that they disagree about what the false information is, means they're merely going to be in competition, not that they're dissimilar.
posted by happyroach at 12:05 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

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