I can’t say I’m very interested in the Dr. Jacylnn Moskow/Nolan Dalla debacle itself. No one can know exactly what happened in the late night mists of personal ambition and industry politics, never mind under the pressures of the all-encompassing, 24/7 sexual marketplace; leaping to conclusions is a sign of bad faith and partisanship. All the various Special Victims Units of identity groups, down to the Outraged by the Outrage over Outrage Folks (OOOF!), find cause for their resentments in this and every such situation: their transparent motivations almost shame a shameless age. So let the chips fall where they may, and let everyone tittle and twaddle on in their circular homer speculation. I wonder, when everyone is so curiously eager to smear the microscope slide with their thumb or break it with the lens, if they really ever did want to see what was there? I can only doubt.
Fortunately, what is more interesting than a few nights of near-comical indiscretions is the war of the sexes itself, because it’s always the greater story. The French have always understood this field of battle better than anyone; it convulses their literature and informs their politics – the exact opposite of our way. After all, it was they who first wrote of romantic love and the often counterintuitive rules between men and woman. It is they who first understood the breakdown of this relationship, in private and in public. Though those desperate but beautiful times in a young world are long past, their descendants’ wisdom remains: they ultimately discerned that there is no perfect reconciling between men and women. That makes sense: There is no passion without tension, no brief unity without constant conflict. The world is full of ugly things but they are what make the alternatives worth striving for. Love is not valuable because it is rare, yet it is rare because it is so valuable.
This matters, both for the growth of our game of choice, the situation of women in poker, and for flare ups like Moskow/Dalla. Poker is not separate from the rest of the world and the ever-simmering sexuality that makes us who we are. There is not a single moment in life that goes on without some desire being created, met or denied. Those who wish to spay and neuter the poker table (never mind the related social scene) are laughably if forgivably, almost cutely, moronic; I envy their Pollyanna life and the human and financial buffers that keep their brains bouncy and full of air. If you are still secreting hormones and your shape is recognizably human, someone is going to come on to you in a pleasant or unpleasant way at some point, somewhere. If you want to wish for one, you must accept the remote possibility of the other or be done with public life. As far as making one uncomfortable, there are worse things than unwanted and vulgar sexual attention. I’ve been at a table where an angry and distraught man seriously threatened his antagonists’ life, including my own; and I’ve had a woman lean over and give me a messy unwanted kiss to celebrate a pot. Which do you think is more important and disturbing? Where exactly are your priorities and who are you lying to if you are more upset by the latter than the former?
Very little will ultimately stop, to put it another way, people from doing what they are going to do in matters of attraction because it is what they are at their deepest and most self-identifying: sexual beings. There are few social legalities that can be coherently enforced in a healthy sexual society in order to make poor behavior impossible, because that will obviate the first condition. All attempted variations and evasions distort us – look into the absurdities of the current university campus climate, where a leaderless laboratory of hysteria and a carefully cultivated fear of conflict is creating dullards now and raising statist, censorious creeps to come for us later. Poker players, who deal in logic and outcomes, should know better than to fall into the claptrap, sophomoric falsity of identity and victimization politics. Unfortunately we’re not actually as smart as a group as we like to think and constantly go on about.
What will help poker – and the world – is good behavior enforced by our own consciences. Seems so simple, right? But it isn’t, because no one actually starts anything without something to gain- especially true in and for the poker world. So what is it that can be gained from a little politesse? What Expected Value can we use to motivate gamblers? It’s called self-worth or self-respect. Love of the self which creates happiness in oneself and in others. This is what keeps men from descending into ugliness and women from joining them, women from descending into ugliness and men from joining them. The equation isn’t that hard but it is definitely unpopular because it asks us to be accountable before we ask someone else to be: very unpoker and not very GTO in the two dimensional way poker players often prefer to imagine the universe. However, in a game so full of party in the front and misery in the back, it’s worth considering for a second before your next hashtag rampage.
So in a bar in Pittsburgh a bunch of ambitious, talented poker players mix together with industry mavens and the silly scions of the pokosphere. They’re deep on drink X and someone, it seems, does something ugly and unwanted; imagine that! The alleged incident (very likely to have happened in some form and if so, deserving of some reprimand and stigma) is not an act of misogyny (the people who love this word usually don’t even know what it means, yet they are the ones who use it the most often: ever and always). The “assault” of this type is an act derived from the confusion of need and contempt for oneself. Social norms disappear like a shot through the nose into the ether of deliberate disinhibition; we drink, at heart, so that the truth outs. To do the things and say the things and be the things we don’t approve of: a self-induced home remedy for hypocrisy.
It’s not always a bad thing in a world of lies and repressions, one where you can often best understand the sober by translating whatever they say into its opposite.
The whoppers, though, never stop, everywhere and here, sober or drunken: Dalla (on 2+2): “There’s nothing I find the least bit attractive about her”; Moskow (on Pokersesh): “Why would I be flirting with him? That’s revolting.”
It’s incredible: we are never, ever ceased being asked to be utterly credulous.
For a more than mature man to become inebriated to the point of not knowing what is socially acceptable, for everyone around to abet him, possibly, unwittingly or not, including even the owner of those gravity creating orbs herself, and then for her and her boyfriend not to confront or even level the offender (I bet that round, still boyish face, unlike Bogart’s, probably is embarrassable and slaps pretty well, both times), but instead flee, followed by all sides squabbling over what amount of money is equal to everyone’s “reputation,” is a sad panel in the triptych portrait of the sort of people who have less respect for themselves than they should and probably don’t even know it.
Edmond Burke wrote of an age where behavior, too, was at a low point in that same France which had once celebrated and coherently adjudicated relations between the sexes. How confused he was at the disrespect toward the future queen, “how I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone.”
Today, there are not only no swords to leap – being in an age where we are concerned with emasculating ourselves of our constitutional right to self-protection, along with every other tyrannical feel-good fad, there are no standards to inspire. Does anyone even know what a Standard is, and the connection between their literal and figurative form? Or why they are important?
Instead, we want ever-changing rules (meaning they are not rules) and the “community” (always a word which precedes a pillaging) and its peculiar litigation to save us, because we have no interior guide, no profound self-respect, only the noise of what the loudest voices tell us is important and what their fellow Twits confirm with slogans and memes and GIFS and polls. We’re the dumbest generation yet because we want others to enforce our individuality, our deep, sexual selves, for us. (To be fair, and in a far more profound way than the current mania for being wronged, we are all victims of our times because our social norms themselves often compromise and hurt us.)
When we put ourselves in ugly situations, ugliness ensues because there is ugliness within all of us. When we burn down all the Standards of behavior, plunging our flags and our faces into the fire of what’s hot, in order to allow ourselves everything and still not be judged, anything is possible. The moral outcome of our social behaviors, in fact, more trivially mirrors a far greater dispute, one which was actually settled long ago: “Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.” Yes, that is the story of a far deeper issue that has been exasperatingly resuscitated of late, but it is also the story of social mores and the postscript to every poker scandal, from Howard and Chris back to Russ and Absolute up to the One Blind folder and now Surprise Motorboat Guy and so on unto the combinatorical poker scandal void.
Has it occurred to you to ask why you’re secretly uncomfortable with the idea of finding Mr. Ferguson in the Rio and punching him, why some “brave” clip of a nasally voice swearing at him doesn’t really seem that great or brave, after all? Much wisdom in finding the answer to this tickle of the true conscience.
Dr. Moskow’s charge of anti-Semitism on the PNIA set is conversely both less important and more serious. One measure of a healthy society is the amount of free expression it allows; morons must be allowed their opinions lest stupidity become the law when dissent is quashed. It’s easy to become a casual anti-Semite, after all: jealousy of one of the most, if not the most, talented group of people with an outlandish per capita contribution to the human story, is a natural act of frustration and self-hatred. (The potential benefit of being the heterogeneous element when embraced properly is a lesson for women in poker and all minorities everywhere and in everything.)
This cuts both ways, though: excessively identifying yourself with a group is foolish; when you face God or your conscience (a redundancy), you will not be asked to which team you belonged and what their record was. However, as Hitchens pointed out, the level of anti-Semitism in a society is also a measurement of a society’s health and a sign of potentially bad things to come. These paradoxical gauges must therefore be watched carefully for moments of terrible correlative readings.
Our challenge in poker, as anyone acquainted with the subject knows, is historically really not anti-Semitism, but it is very often a significant problem that we have so few knights and queens, that is to say, far fewer exemplars of behavior, than most social groupings. For better and worse this state of affairs seems built into our game. Usually, it works out for us rather well! We love the down low of competitive gambling, the simple, real, intestinal life it allows us to luxuriate in, as pigs do in mud- communal mud. Amusingly, poker attracts all sorts of smart, otherwise clean living people who actually need a little mud on their hands, people who push and pull the game from dark to light and back again, wanting it all and telling us how we should be. (This is one reason tournament poker, so manageable and arcane and litigious and artificial, in a gelded age is so popular: Poker’s Safe Space.) But this confusion about what we are doing and why we play poker also makes it hard for many of us to agree on any sort of compass when the shit hits the fan and the mud doesn’t feel good and cooling any more. Then we scream about getting dirty and it all makes no sense to anyone sane.
If we in the poker world want better things for the game (this isn’t actually certain), it will come from our individual selves, because we are a loose gathering of individuals far more than other “communities.” Greater comfort and room for women, and even more important, protecting the health and growth of what is already working, will come from reaching down and finding accountability and the limitations of our desires and the true meaning of freedom both for me and for thee. What betterment will never come from, even if briefly satisfying, is from wailing and hypocrisy and the shitstorm justice of the internet jury, who never, ever reach a satisfactory verdict.
In the end there is only example, the raising and maintenance of a personal banner, one very different from some giant portrait of the latest douchebag in sunglasses who just won the equity lottery. One which stands beside us, invisibly, whenever we sit down at the table (the easiest part, in fact), but also one which we carry into every other field of battle: love, family, politics, war- or even just to the corner joint for a wrap and those nose shots you’ve been desperately craving.
Up the hatch, Ladies and Gents! What could go wrong?