Monday, September 22, 2014

Everyday People

Razib Khan:

Not to be racist, but what really bothers me is the amen chorus of white liberals who deconstruct and denounce all manner of cultural production for its lack of “diversity”, but who live lives as populated by white people as the protagonist of Boyhood. As it happens I have a lot of white friends, and sometimes on Facebook you see wedding photos. Most of my friends are liberal, though not all, and one thing that is salient is that these wedding parties and attendees are mighty white. Even in California, where half the population is non-Hispanic white, good white liberals seem to be inviting only white people to their seminal life events.

Diversity for thee, but not for me; what a strangely recurring theme. Anyway, from my own perspective, I can't help but be struck by what a, well, professional-class problem this is, that of the poor fishbelly who has all the right beliefs and attitudes, but nonetheless, due to barriers of education and employment, finds hizzorherself deprived of the recommended daily allowance of exposure to the exotic Other.

I mean, I hear Spanish being spoken most every day. At one job, I work in an environment where openly gay dudes, lesbians, blacks, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, white rednecks, conservatives, liberals, single moms, young dudebros and senior citizens all mix and mingle with no one caring one way or the other. In a former job as a satellite technician, my three best friends in the crew were an Iraqi refugee, a good ol' boy from Kentucky who had served as a sniper in Iraq, and a Juggalo. Your typical online social justice progressive wouldn't be able to conceive of such a situation without demanding some sensitivity seminars, workshops and permission slips in triplicate before anyone would be allowed to talk openly to anyone else, but in these environments, there's work to be done, so everyone just gets the fuck on with it, no drama.

I'm not trying to romanticize the uncorrupted character of working-class, manual labor types or anything. I'm just saying that the kind of diversity being fetishized by Razib's pale friends is actually pretty easy to find, especially if you want to quit your office jobs and go slumming among the high-school-graduate-and-GED crowd, and in practice, it's just as mundane as anything else in life. The humor is rough-and-tumble and most definitely offensive to the perpetually-offended, but people are just people, as uninspiring as that sounds.

We're Dissin' Them!

Katie Rife:

Despite consistently negative media attention on the topic (and negative reaction to that negative media attention), apparently two-thirds of Americans still believe that the name “Washington Redskins” isn’t disrespectful toward Native Americans. This stance, most fervently defended by people who own warehouses full of “Washington Redskins” T-shirts, comes under fire in the season 18 premiere of South Park.

There's a couple things I love about this. One, the dismay over the Myrrhkin people's refusal (for once) to be swayed by news coverage like the good, docile little automatons we'd like them to be, at least when it's convenient for our purposes, and two, the fact that, confronted by the resounding failure of enlightened progressives to make an impression on society's collective consciousness about this issue, the entirely predictable reaction is to sneer about society's collective intelligence and character, or the lack thereof, to be more precise. Maybe a little less time circle-jerking with the other A.V. Clubbers over which song you hate this week and a little more time spent trying to patiently convince people who don't already agree with you might tip the balance more in your favor, champ. I know, I know, that just might entail having to go talk to people who actually listen to Nickelback unironically, people who watch network comedies instead of gritty HBO series, or people who still go to brick-and-mortar stores to buy CDs like animals or something, but nobody said it would be easy. Or maybe being Correct On The Internet is all the consolation prize you need.

As for this tempestuous teacup itself, I happened to be talking about it with Arthur via email a couple weeks ago, so I'll just reprise that here:

You know, I of course have no problem with the idea that society may have evolved to a point where blunt references to people's skin or race just become too distasteful for use as sports mascots. But to be frank, I don't give a noisy wet shit about the hand-wringing self-regard of middle-class white progressives, and you can't help but notice that what this is really about is the ability of said progressives to enjoy their Sunday entertainment without a guilty conscience (at least until they start to feel more guilty about subsidizing an industry in which young men with few other career prospects enter their mid-thirties with crippling injuries and brains resembling tenderized meat). I feel it's safe to say that none of them are sparing much of a thought, let alone a lifted finger, for actual, living American Indians, some of whose lives on reservations more closely resemble life in sub-Saharan Africa than the Yoo Ess of Ay. They get terribly exercised about an abstract symbol, though, one that tarnishes their enjoyment with an allusion to bigotry. What matters most to them is sanitizing an aspect of their lives as opposed to bettering someone else's, allowing them to pride themselves on their personal distance from any unclean thoughts or words. Of course, I don't insist that anyone is obligated by some divine calling to devote their time and energy to charity work or activism, but I can't stand the sanctimony of people who act like these superficial crusades are morally significant. 

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

And Then I Will Profess Unto Them, “I Never Knew You; Depart From Me”

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.