The Jimbo Problem
In one episode of the cartoon South Park, Chef declares that the town flag is racist, and should be replaced.
Uncle Jimbo disagrees that it should be taken down, and makes arguments about the importance of history. However, at this point the KKK arrive behind Jimbo and start shouting in support. From that point on he has lost the argument - once the KKK agree with you, nobody can hear what you have to say.
I don’t want to talk about this to highlight the general importance of optics, but to look at this specific problem of detrimental support. It comes up so often, I regularly think to myself ’that’s another Jimbo problem'.
Jimbo attempts to clear his name by infiltrating the KKK. He enters among them with a plan to stop their support, but soon after, Chef spots him in a klan hood. He protests that he meant well, but Chef just drives away. Clearly, no association with the Klan, however well-meant, could have done him any favours.
Most importantly, the South Park flag could not be more racist. Jimbo can’t see this, because he has a clever argument - far more clever than the knee-jerk racism of the KKK, and he just wishes everyone could see it. In reality, the argument boils down to ’this is history’, but simply because nobody acknowledges his point, he feels like nobody understands it.
Sam Harris has received some of the worst of the Jimbo problem. To summarize his history:
Sam: Christianity has problems.
Sam: It’s very silly.
Crowd: Yea, Christian beliefs are ridiculous.
Sam: Also Islam, many problems.
The fans continue their support, but what Sam didn’t see coming was the wave of distasteful support he would receive. All of a sudden, he gained a massive following from people only interested in the problems with Islam, rather than the milder generic atheists who had bought his books.
This movement brought such disgust that even writing it down makes me aware of the cringe-feelings various people had. But I can’t resist, because it shows quintessential repeat-Jimbo problems, or perhaps iterated Jimbo-problems.
The movement started somewhere around Jeff Someone (I can’t recall his full name) who reviewed computer games professionally. When he published that an up-and-coming game sucked, his manager told him to rewrite the review, because if that review looked bad, the company would no longer receive advanced copies of those games. While computer games seem inconsequential, they can cost sixty quid, and can take up twenty hours before one really knows if the game was worth the money. I get the outrage, and this could have made a great jumping-off point for people irritated at bad incentives in businesses.
Famously this took a turn for the worse as a couple in the indie game-industry had love-life issues. The community, hooked on the drama, and this soon derailed the entire saga.
Excellent core points remained on the table, as the noise of people shouting about women in gaming grew louder. The Twitter hashtag going around clearly focussed on that one indie developer, so people attempting to save the movement switched to ‘#GamerGate’, to bring the focus back onto corruption and lies in the game-review industry. This didn’t work, and the movement remains synonymous with harassment campaigns.
Similar examples have plagued alternative media sites. It begins with the best intentions - one person feels annoyed that Youtube owns 95% of the videos on the internet, and therefore 99% of the users. Various Youtubers who were banned or suspended without due cause rush to support an independent platform, where the admins are real people. Then once the platform works, droves of people banned from Youtube for claiming the Jews did 9/11 stampede onto the ‘free speech’ platform. Anyone arriving finds a nasty taste in their eyes, and quickly leaves.
Mention any problems with the apartheid in Israel/ Palestine, and you quickly become aware that criticising the only Jewish state sounds exactly like something a bigot would do.
Louis Rossman has doubled-down with Odyssey, saying people should normalize distasteful video platforms by adding better content, and putting up with the distasteful content in the interim. Time will tell if good content can drown out the bad.
Gamergate seems to require no solution. Once the movement lost focus, it essentially died already, but nothing stops anyone refocussing on computer game reviews, and the bad incentives in the industry.
Sam Harris tried to fix his problem by calling out his new ‘fans’, and telling them they’re not welcome. I don’t know how effective this was, but it feels like the best possible defence, given that most people couldn’t think of a better solution.