PK: Don't ask me to explain it
September 7, 2018 6:37 AM   Subscribe

Heya, I've got a question about a political movement?/group?/cult that's started up in my organising circles. Firstly, it's difficult to find out out about it due to the vagueness with which it's adherents are operating. The main sign is the changing of their profile pictures to this or something very similar.

When queried, they're evasive about the meaning. Some even have versions of the picture with things like "don't ask me to explain" overlaid. People ask them about it and they talk a lot of academician jargon about revolution and upsetting all existing orders. "The aim is not to win the game, but overturn the table" is the example from the person I took the image from.
They're decidedly anti-imperialist and decolonial in their politics, that's the main thread that I can see across members.
The people involved are not aligned with existing factions or groups, but generally activisty across the board. Some might have identified as anarchists previously.
When asked what PK means, the only actual answer I've seen is that it stands for PK, player-killing, from the game Runescape and probably others. It's assumed this is at least partly deflection.
One of my comrades has what seems like a viable idea that it's to do with the Foucaltian theory of power-knowledge. This is promising, but still doesn't exactly make clear what they're up to.
As far as outsiders can tell, they're not holding meetings or actions of any kind, just Facebook soapboxing.

As much as I'd like to ignore it, some of the people involved are potential contacts who want to be involved in serious movements, so it'd be good to have some idea what this position is that they're staking out in the sand, so they can actually be engaged with properly.
I really wish it was as simple as asking them, but, for one more example, the most active PKer has posted "lots of leftists have been asking about PK. A lot of people want to know exactly what it is". And nothing more, despite questions.

They're leftist, in some vein. They talk about reading Marx, "Imagine not having classes and a state. Fuck. This is actually the rawest, most moving shit", but also seem to spend a lot of time criticising labour movements for... unclear crimes. It's just really hard to figure out what they actually want and what they're doing about anything

If anyone happens to have heard of this or something similar, I'd appreciate any insight. The Foucalt link makes sense with what little information is available, so if anyone is more familiar with "power-knowledge" information on that might provide some clarity as well.
posted by AnhydrousLove to Religion & Philosophy (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If they're actually telling you that PK is a reference to "player killer", then I'd be very wary. People who embrace that label in online games are usually (not always, but usually) enthusiastic trolls of the first water.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:04 AM on September 7, 2018 [10 favorites]

The figure pictured is a wireframe of Boy's surface, fwiw. The only other PK I know of are the Promise Keepers, so probably not that.
posted by scruss at 7:09 AM on September 7, 2018

That's a boy's surface, and also could be viewed as a stylized triskelion. The Triskelion is an ancient symbol that as of late has been co-opted by white supremicists. IDK if any of that info helps.
posted by Chrischris at 7:15 AM on September 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Is this one group of friends? Could they have had a fun night at a bar and decided to make this up?
posted by bbqturtle at 7:21 AM on September 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have not the faintest ghost of a night thought about what this is, however I do have a sad amount of experience with pretentious and secretive activists.

I would not want to work with this type of person. "There's a secret...or maybe I'm trolling you! Or it's a secret, also Marx is 'the rawest, most moving shit'" [lol, that sounds so self-important, crying their tears over Marx unlike the rest of us insensitive fools] - that's not the most red-flaggy activist behavior I've ever seen, but it's close. (Unless it's purely an in-joke about nothing much, of course.)

A good activist might have a reason to keep something secret. A good activist might have reason to share an idea. What a good activist doesn't have is the desire to wave a portentous image around to seem deep and connected.

Nothing good or useful is being waved around in this manner - real ideas don't need to be shrouded from the sight of the commonality, because you can hold them up in daylight and they're still meaningful. Phony nonsense needs to be spread through allusions and half-truths.

Really, seriously, seek better people. You can waste a lot of time on creepy internet people of this nature. Also, don't, like, jump them into your org or whatever is being contemplated. Let them demonstrate through actions who they are and steer clear of them until that point.
posted by Frowner at 7:23 AM on September 7, 2018 [54 favorites]

I'd be wary of this. I'd also check out the racial/gender make-up of the group. If it's all white men, it's probably (definitely) bad news. Doesn't matter how leftist they say they are.

... This is an Extremely Sophisticated political analysis, I know. But in my experience it generally holds true.
posted by coffeeand at 7:29 AM on September 7, 2018 [34 favorites]

Oh-- based on a casual Twitter search this could also mean "Post-Keynesianism."
Though my point above still applies imo.
posted by coffeeand at 7:35 AM on September 7, 2018

I agree with Frowner. This set my eyes rolling so hard.

However, if there are one or two of them that are asking you to help them get involved with a group you’re a member of, and you like them otherwise, you can try to have a “level with me” conversation. Something like “hey, before I can bring you to a meeting, I need to know what’s going on with this image you shared. Seriously, what’s the deal?”
posted by lunasol at 7:36 AM on September 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Just to quickly say, caution and apathy are the main two things we're approaching these people with. While I think it's highly unlikely they're white supremacists, even aside from whatever their theory is it's pretty apparent from their behaviour that they're not promising contacts. People with suspect politics who are still trying are one thing, as far as I'm aware these people do nothing apart from messing around on Facebook.
Still, a mixture of plain old curiosity and desire to know what arguments might be raised leads me to want to know more.

Unfortunately, it's not all white men. As far as I can tell, it's a lot of PoC, of varying gender, and I'm hesitant about just ignoring them completely because people who were interested in actual organising seem to be getting drawn in, and if there's any good reasons why it'd be good to know. It does seem likely that it's mostly a mixture of grandstanding and trolling, but the one thing they all seem concrete on are anti-colonialism, Indigenous sovereignty and the like.
The most charitable view I've seen is that they're all young people (closer to fresh-out-of-highschool than post-grad) who're rightfully angry and want more aggressive politics. Thus the "player-killing" angle.

Also, it's hard to get numbers, but there seems to be at least a couple of dozen, a few too many for a cohesive prank, I'd tend to think.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 7:37 AM on September 7, 2018

Don’t know about anything else, but the “overturn the table” shit sounds like accelerationism, which is like crypto-fascism for naive leftists.
posted by rodlymight at 7:51 AM on September 7, 2018 [13 favorites]

Are these people all reasonably local to you?
posted by Sequence at 7:58 AM on September 7, 2018

Honestly this looks like some kind of dumb shit from r/surrealmemes and these people sound like real taints.

If any of them want to participate seriously in something you're organizing for serious purposes, either they tell you what it is or they don't get to participate seems like a reasonable threshold for me.

I don't see any reason to be particularly afraid of them, but if they want to have their secret society bullshit whatevers you are free to draw a hard line and not involve yourself or your projects with their petulant crap.
posted by phunniemee at 8:41 AM on September 7, 2018 [7 favorites]

Are you sure it's a political group and not just some MLM garbage, where once you ask what the deal is enough times they'll invite you to buy some books/buy tickets to a meeting/purchase a pallet of toothpaste? Though I suppose that politics and MLM not mutually exclusive.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 8:58 AM on September 7, 2018 [6 favorites]

They're all local, Sydneysiders as far as I know. I think at least one's NZ citizen but living here.
Also, NSAID, you really threw me there for a moment.. I thought you were saying they were Marxist-Leninist-Maoists, the alternative MLM meaning.
I want to be clear that these are largely people who have rejected association with any existing political group. I don't think many of them would work with anyone else on campus or in Sydney. Nonetheless, I'd like to know what they're thinking, especially because I assume this PK stuff will fade and they might come around looking for something real. They're young and they care, that's clear, and when those on the periphery realise they're in a dead-end, they'll either disengage completely or come around to other groups. Secrecy is not the way of anyone I work with, and as lunasol says, if they come to things, ii t won't be tolerated for long. It's that conversation I want to be prepared for though.
I've been staying away from properly engaging them because I don't understand them, but I feel that's rarely a great long-term solution. When it started, that was easy, but they're not going away as quickly as expected. Facebook is not how I talk to new people, it's a logistical tool for those who are already keen.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 9:26 AM on September 7, 2018

To be more charitable (and TBH as long as these people aren't white upper middle class grad students I feel a lot more charitable), can you just get to know a couple of them as individuals without talking about the PK stuff? Maybe ask them to coffee to talk about your project and get a sense of them that way? In my experience, people who have a problematic dedication to a secretive and dubious project tend to have sort of a vibe, whereas people who have a political project and are Very Online about it don't. Problematic Dedication people aren't good at free ranging political conversation and tend to seem secretive*; people who are merely discreet or Online will either talk about whatever or simply tell you that they're part of a closed group.

+That's not the same as not talking about your personal life/feelings or being a private person; the free-ranging conversation part refers to politics, not All The Things.
posted by Frowner at 9:31 AM on September 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

"Imagine not having classes and a state. Fuck. This is actually the rawest, most moving shit"

+1 to phunniemee. It's not a sinister secret society, it's shitposting. This sounded like a bunch of dumb kids making surreal marxist memes even before you clarified that they were all very young-- my guess was going to be "underage tankies" but it sounds like they're a few years older. If they're still in the developmental stage where the hilarity of grownups not understanding memes is more of a priority than getting people they want to organize with to trust them, they aren't ready to do any kind of serious activism. Find another group of young people to engage with; these kids aren't it.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 9:38 AM on September 7, 2018 [21 favorites]

As much as I'd like to ignore it, some of the people involved are potential contacts who want to be involved in serious movements

I would not do this. I've heard and witnessed so many horror stories from leftist friends who've given kids in this mental/maturity space the benefit of the doubt, and they end up being giant problems-- think having to wade through riot cops to bodily de-arrest kids who insisted on showing up to protests or actions and then acted up and got grabbed, who turned out to be legal minors, who then went on tankie facebook crusades decrying the comrades who saved them from police as "cowards" and "liberals" for not being as engaged in shitty tankie facebook rhetoric as they wanted them to be. That's just on the "annoying" end of the spectrum, not "actively dangerous." Kids with that mindset are not potential activists at that stage, they're a liability.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 9:51 AM on September 7, 2018 [21 favorites]

Real organizers eventually organize things in real life - they show up at public meetings and organize others to show up, they organize protests, they organize letter writing parties, they organize canvasses to get-out-the-vote, they organize creative earned media events, etc.

Real organizers empower others, develop the leadership capacity of others, center other voices at the heart of a discussion, listen to the whole community, respect the inherent wisdom and experience of people who live the issues they are trying to address.

If these people aren't doing any of that, then they aren't organizers, and are probably not that effective.

Listen to them? sure. Hear them out? sure. Treat them respectfully? of course. Expend much, if any effort, working with them? Probably not worth it.
posted by brookeb at 10:05 AM on September 7, 2018 [11 favorites]

Have you actually met these people? How do you know they’re actually in Sydney? (Particularly the originators, if you can figure out who they are; are they really local young people?)
posted by nat at 4:26 AM on September 8, 2018

I'm going to mark this as resolved, because I've finally been able to dig up a little more information as the expected disintegration happened and a couple of ex-PKers have come around to other groups.

It turns out that the power-knowledge theory was excessively charitable, and the only meaning every given is that of player-killing, although I do think that's also a backronym.

Also, many of you have been proved right about the nature of the people involved, most of them have turned out to be shitty in various ways. Including a couple of the ringleaders defending the perpetrator of a sexual assault. A few have turned out to be tankies. The rest are either not really interested in getting involved properly in anything, just in it for the shitposting, or are the ones who've come around to other orgs.

So, as expected, and as warned. Thanks for the advice and help. I was hoping that at least they some theory behind them but it's really nothing as far as anyone, including ex-involved people, can tell. Mainly just a couple of people who wanted to sound all intellectual and revolutionary and got a few newbies to tag along for a while on rhetoric that sounded intersectional and new.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 10:58 AM on November 15, 2018 [5 favorites]

What a curious read this thread was. In the world I wish existed, I was hoping this symbol was some kind of a secret sign for folks who get together and devise ways to troll the trolls and fuck up the youtube algorithms on behalf of forces of good, instead of evil, to find one another (if anyone wants to do that or knows folks actually doing that, memail me?). In the world that actually exists, apparently it's not so different than predicted here. Rats. But .. not surprising.

I recently had to have someone 15 or so years younger than me explain what "aesthetic vapor" meant. I had been intrigued, as I once stumbled into a discord server of folks very interested in this "aesthetic vapor" business ... when my acquaintance explained it I was disappointed and kind of .. surprised ? Bc .. not much there there. My fellow xennial at this gathering (where I inquired about said aesthetic vapor) laughed at me for my discord adventures (I'm not a gamer, just a very curious person who had landed on discord for the language exchange servers), but I think my discord forays are interesting (and at times very demoralizing and worrying) anthropology adventures/spy missions. I wish more people over 25 understood (or were even aware of) the virtual landscapes many of our younger fellow citizens are inhabiting.
posted by elgee at 8:25 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]

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