The “Game Theory” Genre of Political Twitter Threads Needs to Die, Now.

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The “Game Theory” Genre of Political Twitter Threads Needs to Die, Now.

If you’ve spent time on Twitter in the past year and have an ounce of discernment, you (hopefully) already to know to avoid the likes of Eric Garland, Seth Abramson, Louise Mensch, and all the other bizarre conspiracy theorists who seem to have made a career out of hundred-tweet long threads outlining how Depeche Mode’s under-appreciated 1982 sophomore album A Broken Frame proves that Trump is a Russian spy, or whatever. If you haven’t learned this lesson, please read this helpful feature by Jacob Weindling from last March.

It’s useful to know who to avoid, but today I want to go a step further and encourage you to just dodge political theory Twitter threads in general. Stay away from the entire genre, because it has become so inane, so vapid, and so insufferable as to be completely useless. This may be a harsh sentiment—there have been some good Twitter threads—but on the political side, the situation has deteriorated into near-parody.

What inspired this strong opinion? Glad you asked. Let me regale you with a Twitter thread I’m calling “Chess Headache.” It’s like “stress headache,” but with “chess” instead of “stress,” and despite how awful that pun is, it’s not nearly as awful as the thread itself. Here’s how it starts:

The first sign that you’re about to take a long ride on the BS express is when someone says something like, “lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about (x).” I don’t know what it is about this formulation that signals the imminent arrival of total hogwash, since it sounds so innocent on its face, but for some reason it’s the chosen phrasing of those who dump vats of intellectual snake oil on your doorstep.

In this case, you can already to tell the path this is going to take:

1. Go in-depth about some phenomenon that seems unrelated to politics.

2. Have the EPIPHANY MOMENT that ties the two together.

3. Arrive at the conclusion.

Here’s an example in paragraph form that’s far shorter than anything you’ll see on Twitter:

“Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about salmon. Many people know that they swim upstream, but what you may not know is that there’s a good reason for it—they have to swim upstream from the ocean to get to the gravel beds where they can reproduce. Is it dangerous? Yes, there are bears. But it’s the best method, as shown by evolution, so the risk is worth the reward. That got me thinking about Democrats. Sometimes it seems like they fight themselves by running head-first into traps set by their own bears (Republicans). And yet, consider this: Sometimes, to accomplish a goal, you need to charge ahead blindly and leave strategic concerns behind. Therefore, Democrats are good. I call this the Upstream Theory.”

If that sounds stupid, please know that I’m barely exaggerating.

Now, I don’t want to spoil the outcome of the actual thread above, but I do want to make one thing clear—the only positive takeaway from these threads is what you might learn about the original topic. Like, I knew going into “Chess Headache” that the political conclusion this thread artist drew would be insipid beyond all reason, but I was hoping there might be something cool about chess in the thick of the tedium.

In this case? Not really. The entire thread takes 40 tweets, and the 21 chess-centric ones are basically this:

Yeah, no kidding.

There’s some briefly interesting stuff about a windmill attack, when one player keeps putting another player in check and decimates their other pieces along the way, but anyone with even a child’s understanding of chess has seen that play out before. I learned nothing, and therefore this thread has entered the rarefied echelon marked “totally useless.”

And then, after that disappointment, we arrive at step two: The political tie-in.

So this is where we’re going, huh? The Democrats are total cowards, and the Republicans have them dancing to their tune even though their policies should be detested by the overwhelming majority of Americans?


We all know that! And we all know that Democrats would stand a much better chance of winning if they stopped running tepid centrists and started boldly advocating for progressive policy! This is the easiest conclusion possible to draw from the last election! The only people who don’t understand it are the weird Hillary cultists who still tend the flame of her failed candidacy. We did not need a whole thing to explain this.

Here’s the upshot of thread, as laid out in tweet no. 40, the last of the bunch:

Well then, problem solved.

This conclusion is not wrong, but it is the most boring, stale piece of political wisdom one human being could possibly dispense in January 2018, and the fact that it took 40 tweets to vomit out, complete with a truly awful chess metaphor, makes me want to roll into a working furnace.

The thread is really bad, but you know what’s worse? That real live human beings are somehow praising it. Where are our standards? I’ve come to realize that Twitter threads like this function as a way to disguise text that would be thoroughly mocked if it were in thinkpiece essay form. It builds anticipation, lures you in with unrelated material, and creates a sense of drama as you navigate from one tweet to the next. It can fool you into being riveted despite the fact that it’s just pseudo-intellectual BS piled on top of pseudo-intellectual BS.

Let’s do an experiment—let’s write this out in text form, as you might see it on a blog, and see how it reads:

When politics is compared to chess, as it always has been, it used to annoy me. The unoriginality of the comparison. The laziness of it. Find a better metaphor, the writer in me would say. Yet, lately…I find myself drawn to the game to explain our political situation. Chess is a deceptive game but not in the way you’d think. It’s widely considered a “smart person’s game”, but it’s not. It’s fairly easy to learn, and with only a little practice, you can become better than 99% of folks who know how to play. But there’s a catch…see, starting out, you’ll get better at chess over time, but there comes a point when you hit a ceiling. Maybe you’ll overcome it with more practice, but there are more ceilings. And to reach the top .005% or whatever of skilled players requires dedication and guts.

Okay, that’s just three tweets, but I can’t do this anymore. Have you ever heard the phrase “a minute to learn, a lifetime to master”? It applies to almost every game in the world beyond, like, tic-tac-toe, and is a far superior and more succinct way to describe what the author is talking about above. But—THERE’S A CATCH—you wouldn’t be able to fool readers into thinking you were making a deep observation if you resorted to brevity. No, you have to weave your web in epic narrative form so that your audience will lean back and go, “oh, wow!”

But—ANOTHER CATCH—they will only do that if they’re stupid.

Let me conclude by saying I’m all for people like Charlotte Clymer making the important point that advocating for bold progressive policy is the only path to victory against Republicans, who do indeed seem to have the Dems chasing their tails. What I’m not for is the self-promotional practice of making this point in long, meandering, asinine Twitter threads that don’t come close to passing academic muster. It’s an ugly kind of personal capitalism, where the author cares more about monetizing political rage and amplifying an individual brand than about the issue in question. And that’s not a healthy way to practice democracy.

Kill the political Twitter thread, and kill it yesterday. We already have a grandstanding moron in our highest office, and we don’t need his left-wing equivalents corrupting the opposition.

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