A while back I saw a tweet — one of those things that had been re-tweeted a bazillion times, usually labeled (with the usual wont to hyperbole) as “absolutely brilliant.” It said (something like):

If there’s one thing I learned from video games, it’s that when I run into enemies I’m heading in the right direction.

I’ve brooding over this a while and wondering if a silly tweet is worth a blog post. Obviously I decided, at long last, that it is. I don’t know why this is worth blogging about except that it’s been echoing in my brain for a month and it’s time to put it to rest.

I just wonder how many people really believe this. Do you… even… have… enemies? I mean, sure, you have opponents (especially politically) but you have enemies? Do you live in a war zone? Are you a drug lord?

I have no enemies. I am not sure I have ever been lucky enough to have such a thing. Even the kids who bullied me in seventh grade were more, liked, adversaries. I can’t even use the word without feeling like some scheming super-villain.

Even if you do have enemies — and congratulations on that, don’t take them for granted — how do you know that means you’re on the right path? Maybe you’re affirming the consequence or whatever the logical expression is. If A then B, therefore if B then A. BUZZ. Wrong answer. You find enemies mostly on the wrong paths, actually.

I think about the many times I’ve encountered resistance in my life. Sometimes I was right — like inciting people in my college newspaper to question authority, oppose the Gulf War, and warm up to gay rights. But sometimes I was wrong, like when I was redressed by a creative writing professor for publishing an official literary society magazine that was exclusively white, mostly male, and full of the kind of pieces that would turn off any women or people of color who might get involved. I left that meeting feeling like she was my enemy.

I sort of see that line of thinking as the product of shame, a nascent adult barely emergent from an unhappy childhood, finding some validation and identity in something, and quickly being whack-a-moled by someone with power over me. She, the professor, saw it as a bunch of stuck-up white guys running amok with the literary society and student funds. She was right. She was not my enemy; she was older and wiser. My encountering-of-enemies wasn’t evidence I was on the right path, it was evidence I was emotionally vulnerable and unprepared to think about my responsibility as president of the literary society and editor of its magazine.

Meeting resistance isn’t categorically proof of anything, and if I’d staked my moral certainty on the mere fact that people disagreed with me — and further, decided they were my enemies, and not merely people with a different set of values, different experiences, different priorities — I would have been doomed to follow a very-wrong path to its bitter end.

The presence of enemies — seeing our opponents as enemies — is at best neutral information about the rightness of our paths.

2 thoughts on “Enemies

  1. Good post, Kurtis. I wonder if, by their nature, video games could be influencing young people to think more in terms of “us” and “them” and be more relaxed with using the term “enemies” to define others. The board games we played growing up didn’t have enemies; we had competitors. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. With video games, however, it’s play until you win, which generally means killing off all the enemies. Just a thought.

  2. I thought about that too, Katie — and originally had a paragraph about a certain trend in gaming I won’t name because I don’t want the trolls to find this blog — but I know plenty of gamers (even first person shoot ’em ups, etc.) who don’t act that way. I am inclined to say that for people of a certain anti-social temperament a certain type of game exacerbate things.

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