Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Foreign Substance Is Introduced Into Our Precious Bodily Fluids

I think part of the misunderstanding comes from a misperception about how culture works. It’s not a direct cause-and-effect situation where everybody just mindlessly copies the behaviors they see in the media. That said, media stories do have a profound effect on us, especially when messages, myths, and images are repeated over and over again. This is the reason why I choose to step back and look at the overarching patterns of how women are represented in video games over time. Because it’s this collective repetition that can seep into our minds and shape, perpetuate, and amplify harmful or regressive perceptions of women.

To put it another way, popular culture is like the air we all breathe. It’s in everyone’s interests to make sure that air is not polluted with poisonous sexism so that we don’t all end up with hideous misogynist mutations growing out of the back of our collective heads.

When I first read this, I just marveled at the brazen bullshitting. "Oh, no, I'm not saying video games directly cause men to form hateful attitudes toward women. That would be ridiculous! Haha, no, I'm saying it happens much more subtly, as a cumulative effect over time. It's so subtle, you might not even see it, but trust me, it's there."

Ah, so a pixelated representation of misogyny is like styrofoam! Once it's released into the noospheric environment, why, it might take thousands of years to fully disintegrate! Well, as someone who came of age hearing similar empty claims over heavy metal records and slasher movies, I just rolled my eyes at how each generation seems to have a deep need for some type of moral panic. People who would find it impossible to comprehend how anyone could have ever taken stories of preschool Satanic sex rituals seriously are eating this stuff up as fast as it can be served to them. Thankfully, though, others have done the dirty work to explain in detail just how little evidence there is to support this:

The root of these claims is in social learning theory. Social learning theory, in short, dictates that we learn through observing behaviors as shown by models, internalizing them through memory and retention, and then displaying them through imitation until a desired outcome results.

This is taken even further by Craig Anderson who put forth the General Affective Aggression Model. According to Anderson, the chief proponent of GAAM, the model bases itself on social learning theory and other models. This model states that single-episode play/aggression comes from personality variables such as aggression mixed with video game play to change mood, heart rate arousal, cognitions, and result in violent behavior. The model further states that multiple episodes result from repeated violent gameplay causing single episode aggression.

In short, the more often you see violence or experience violence, the more likely you are to repeat violence as it has “seeped” into you resulting in an aggressive behavioral choice. The evidence for this model is exclusively found in research by Anderson and cohorts including Lindsey, Bushman, and others. However, research done by Chris Ferguson time and time again refutes this claim every time Anderson publishes a new article.

Paradigm change in aggression research: The time has come to retire the General Aggression Model

Violent Video Games and Aggression: Causal Relationship or Byproduct of Family Violence and Intrinsic Violence Motivation?

Evidence for publication bias in video game violence effects literature: A meta-analytic review

Twenty-Five Years of Research on Violence in Digital Games and Aggression

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly: A Meta-analytic Review of Positive and Negative Effects of Violent Video Games

Simply put, there is no strong indication that media outright causes human behavior such as aggression. There is research that media can help change a narrative, a memory, or compel someone to buy something. However, there’s no clear evidence that media in any form can cause you to do a certain thing, have a certain belief, or hold a certain opinion.

Saturday, September 06, 2014


Mama always said life is like a Rubin vase. If you focus on this part of it, you see the Ploosa Shawnje. But if you focus on the other part, you see the Ploosa La Memshows.

John Gray offers a positive review of Harari's book, though, as is frustratingly often the case with him, the book being reviewed seems to be judged primarily on its proximity and sympathy to Gray's own "godless mysticism" worldview which has featured so prominently in his writings over the past decade or so (one might say he's become quite a hedgehog about it). Perhaps he only chooses to review books which address similar themes, I don't know; it just makes me a wee bit leery when so many of his reviews seem to hinge upon whether the author has wisely echoed or foolishly disagreed with Gray's well-known thoughts about the subject. And I say this as someone who is largely in agreement with that worldview. I fear the temptation of Procrusteanism may get the better of him at times, that's all.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

When The Proles Came Out To Play, Georgie Bourgie Ran Away

From Isaiah Berlin's excellent biography of Marx:

Marx fought against the mean and cynical society of his time, which seemed to him to vulgarize and degrade every human relationship, with a hatred no less profound. But his mind was made of stronger and cruder texture; he was insensitive, self-confident, and strong-willed; the causes of his unhappiness lay outside him — they were poverty, sickness, and the triumph of the enemy. His inner life seems tranquil, uncomplicated and secure. He saw the world in simple terms of black and white; those who were not with him were against him. He knew upon whose side he was, his life was spent in fighting for it, he knew that it must ultimately win. Such crises of faith as occurred in the lives of the gentler spirits among his friends — the painful self-examination of such men as Hess or Heine — received from him no sympathy. He looked upon them as so many signs of bourgeois degeneracy which took the form of morbid attention to private emotional states, or still worse, the exploitation of social unrest for some personal or artistic end — frivolity and irresponsible self-indulgence criminal in men before whose eyes the greatest battle in human history was being fought. This uncompromising sternness toward personal feeling and almost religious insistence on a self-sacrificing discipline was inherited by his successors, and imitated by his enemies in every land. It distinguishes his true descendants among his followers and his adversaries from tolerant liberalism in every sphere.

Sentient beings in these Yoo Ess of Ay have no doubt had occasion to notice a popular tendency to describe any political position or personality to the left of Mussolini as "Marxist", a fantasy which probably owes to the absence of genuine revolutionary leftism — the specter that once haunted Europe and chilled the bones of reactionaries has become a cute and harmless Halloween decoration capable of startling only the simpler-minded children gathered around the Fox News campfire.

But during my investigations into the SJW phenomenon, for lack of a better term, I've also encountered a lot of saner people who likewise insist on categorizing today's campus crusaders as being somehow derived from Marxism, especially its cultural variety. Well, I suppose if you want to look at it that way, it all goes back to the Enlightenment and the political ideals derived from it, which inspired both a moderate and a radical trajectory. But the above excerpt demonstrates why I find this to be a generally unhelpful approach. That kind of single-minded, fanatical devotion to an abstract ideal of a transformed world strikes me as more akin, in today's world, to that of radical Islamists than members of a political sect. Upon finding themselves on the receiving end of one of the vituperative diatribes which Marx frequently aimed at allies over one or another hair-splitting point of doctrinal difference, the kind of self-styled "radicals" you find online who profess to want an overhaul of the existing social and economic order would retreat to their suburban bedrooms and spend days in bed bawling about their spoons all being in the dishwasher. They have no more revolutionary ambitions than to be appointed the priggish hall monitors of middle-class morality. Morbid attention to private emotional states? Exploitation of social unrest for personal ends? I'd say that shoe fits perfectly. Yes, these people are merely spoiled, stupid children who enjoy stamping their feet and ordering other people around. There's plenty to criticize Marx for, but I see no need to compound the insult by forcing him to acknowledge these inbred brats as members of his family tree.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Whole Ass

Jason Walsh:

When it comes to the internet, the word revolutionary has been bandied about with such profligacy that educated people now seem to have confused a technical revolution, if one with real consequences, with actual social and political revolution of the kinds seen in 1776, 1789 and 1917. Now why hasn’t anyone written anything sensible about that? Is it because we are too busy publishing screeds about polyamorous trans rights or cris de coeur about hurt feelings on the internet? The ever expanding empire of emotion long ago captured our minds; it’s only now that anyone is noticing that amped-up and, ultimately fraudulent, sentiment has also captured the remains of the press via the brave new world of social media. Emotional incontinence, whether in the form of rage or abuse, is nothing less than the esprit du temps. The internet troll and the Twitter victim are, put simply, two cheeks of the same arse.

Brilliant. Yes, too often, my web browsing experience makes me feel like Joe Bowers in the theater.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

I Disappear

Michael Finkel:

"Some people want me to be this warm and fuzzy person. All filled with friendly hermit wisdom. Just spouting off fortune-cookie lines from my hermit home."

...Anyone who reveals what he's learned, Chris told me, is not by his definition a true hermit. Chris had come around on the idea of himself as a hermit, and eventually embraced it. When I mentioned Thoreau, who spent two years at Walden, Chris dismissed him with a single word: "dilettante."

True hermits, according to Chris, do not write books, do not have friends, and do not answer questions. I asked why he didn't at least keep a journal in the woods. Chris scoffed. "I expected to die out there. Who would read my journal? You? I'd rather take it to my grave." The only reason he was talking to me now, he said, is because he was locked in jail and needed practice interacting with others.

"But you must have thought about things," I said. "About your life, about the human condition."

Chris became surprisingly introspective. "I did examine myself," he said. "Solitude did increase my perception. But here's the tricky thing—when I applied my increased perception to myself, I lost my identity. With no audience, no one to perform for, I was just there. There was no need to define myself; I became irrelevant. The moon was the minute hand, the seasons the hour hand. I didn't even have a name. I never felt lonely. To put it romantically: I was completely free."

That was nice. But still, I pressed on, there must have been some grand insight revealed to him in the wild.

He returned to silence. Whether he was thinking or fuming or both, I couldn't tell. Though he did arrive at an answer. I felt like some great mystic was about to reveal the Meaning of Life.

"Get enough sleep."

"You're not a real hermit!" "You're not a real hermit!" Fellows, fellows! Surely there's enough room in the most sparsely-populated brotherhood in existence for us all to abide each other's idiosyncrasies without resorting to competition or excommunication! That way lies {shudder} social status!

Excellent article, at any rate. Give it a read.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

An Older, Colder Voice

John Pistelli:

Because his plays express no sense of a nearly divine vocation, of a mission to save humanity by transmitting ethical truths, Shakespeare cannot be the equal of Dante or Milton or Goethe, of the Greek dramatists or the Russian novelists, all of whom wrote to commune with the divine and to bring light to the world. What had in the Romantic tradition long been seen as Shakespeare’s unique strength — what Keats famously called his “Negative Capability,” his capacity for “being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason” — on this view becomes a liability, a social irresponsibility, a feckless acceptance of humanity’s doomed and ignorant lot without any attempt to improve it. Shakespeare can be seen as the paradigm of the apolitical artist, the dissolute aesthete reviled not only by the religious conservatives of all faiths but also by those who nurse radical political hopes, such as the anarcho-pacifist Tolstoy, the Soviet sympathizer Wittgenstein, and even the socialist-feminist Lynn Stuart Parramore. From this perspective, we find Shakespeare at the origin of that dangerously aloof aestheticism for which Roberto Bolaño’s By Night in Chile has given us the most memorable picture in contemporary letters: the literary soirée above the torture chamber.

…Hamlet’s — and Shakespeare’s — charismatically demonic knowledge of the void at the heart of reality, the death that is the essence of life, catches something very real in our experience (or mine, anyway), a basic metaphysical uncertainty that should disturb all of us, a faithlessness and despair that no doubt has the poisonous potential to ruin the plans of our reformers and revolutionaries, of our dispensers of Christian charity and our disseminators of socialist-feminist politics, but a grim knowledge that nevertheless murmurs constantly beneath the busy clamor of everyday life and that seeks passionate expression in the face of all protest. Maybe Shakespeare sucks because — and to the extent that — life sucks. It doesn’t and shouldn’t please us if we want to believe in a better world, and it may not cheer the fans of NPR, but Shakespeare’s visionary perception that precisely nothing is at stake in each of our lives will probably continue to worry us as long as there are playgoers and readers to experience it.

It's fascinating, this divide between those who feel artistic genius is timeless, above and beyond mere political reproach, and those who would place it in service to society's contemporary mores. Even more fascinating is the way in which both types could be contained in the singular figure of Beethoven, who, despite having done more than anyone to free "the artist" from the bonds of church, state and aristocratic patronage, and despite almost singlehandedly creating the template of the Romantic artist, tormented by earthly misfortune but convinced of his posthumous importance, storming the empyrean gates to steal a bit of transcendence from God himself, nonetheless was quite the moralist when it came to the social function of art. As Harvey Sachs wrote:

To Beethoven, the word "philosophy" could probably have been defined as ethical guidance; when he said that music was a higher calling than philosophy, he meant that it was potentially more important as a moral force. Artists, he believed, must strive to contribute to humanity's well-being — must help mankind to find the right path. This is why he condemned Mozart's opera Don Giovanni on moral grounds, despite his admiration for the opera's music, and why the Viennese triumph of Rossini's operas, which, by Beethoven's lights, lacked moral fiber, greatly upset him, as did the local public's adoration of vocal and instrumental virtuosity for its own sake.

Most of those who share his hectoring tendencies can't be redeemed by anything like his talent, unfortunately. As for me, I am one of those who believe that there is an amoral, trickster-like quality to great art that keeps it forever one step ahead of the socially responsible types who seek to yoke and domesticate it in service to this or that cause. That's probably inseparable from the fact that I'm also one who believes in the cyclical nature of human existence, as opposed to those who imagine some sort of teleological dialectic at work in history, carrying us through progressive stages of development toward some moral/cultural apogee. Wisdom and transcendence, to me, are more like mountain peaks than broad plateaus — briefly attainable, but not fit for settling and building upon. King Lear and the Ode to Joy do not represent a state which humanity as a whole will one day achieve collectively; they are the awe-inspiring peaks from which we must inevitably descend to return to the chores and tribulations of daily living.