Friday, November 14, 2014

Things I Thought I Figured Out, I Have to Learn Again

Brian comments on the previous post:

Now, in attacking the illiberalness of the SJWs, one cannot forget that the far more numerous, far more powerful right wing equivalents are even nuttier-arguably far more insane. For every "video games are sexist" there are ten "Obama and his transgendered wife are plotting to take over the United States for ISIS and impost Shariah Law by 2020!"

So...we have to maintain perspective. Because the insane right elects Congresscritters!

(I started to respond there, but I soon realized I was going to exceed the comment box character limit, and since I can't be bothered to post that often these days, I decided to go ahead and turn this into a post of its own.)

True, lunacy is a bipartisan phenomenon, though I question whether there is any meaningful way to quantify which side is "worse" or more numerous. That's a value judgment which might only reflect your own filter bubble. Certainly, there's no shortage of people on either side who deserve criticism. But a Fairness Doctrine-style approach ("I just wrote a post criticizing SJWs, so now I need to write one criticizing theocrats") has its own downside, namely a vapid centrism that values equidistance over substance. Powerless outsiders, of which I am one, can afford to speak the truth as they see it without having to worry about where it will land on someone else's multi-dimensional political chessboard. More on that in a moment.

I don't think anyone would argue against the need to maintain perspective. The argument would hinge on whether a certain perspective was relevant or not. The fact that Republicans took control of the Senate has nothing to do with the question of whether SJWs are illiberal morons who deserve to be pelted with garbage and rotten fruit until they run home crying like the overgrown toddlers they are. Calling SJWs overgrown toddlers does not directly lead to more people abandoning the Democrats and voting Republican. A perspective which insists on understanding SJWs in relation to Christian Dominionists may be like trying to derive the square root of green. The framework is all wrong.

Here's a basic truth: humans make sense of the world through narratives, not facts. Now, I don't mean that facts are completely irrelevant and we're all totally irrational. I mean that the number of facts pertaining to any given situation is, practically speaking, limitless. This is a banal truism. However, we tend to overlook it because evolution has equipped our brains with efficient pattern-seeking software that allows us to quickly and effortlessly recognize the facts which are relevant for our immediate purposes while filtering out and forgetting the rest of the irrelevant data, which never even rises to the level of our conscious attention. We could not function otherwise. We would spend so much time collecting data to make the simplest of decisions that the time to act would pass and the situation would change before we ever finished. We have no choice but to make imperfect decisions based on incomplete information. Thus, we already have an intuitive sense of what it is we're looking for when we first start to pay attention to an issue. We notice which facts are relevant to us and connect them together. That process of connecting relevant facts is what we call a narrative, and the template for forming one is far more fundamental to the way our minds work than any objective striving after truth for its own sake.

Narratives are generally very useful (or, as a bumper sticker I saw once put it, "Stereotypes are a real time-saver"). You aren't likely to go drastically wrong by sticking to one, as long as you remain flexible enough to modify it as needed. The perennial human problem, though, is that we tend to prune new facts to fit our preferred narrative, rather than the other way around. Eventually, this catches up to us, and we have to choose between the pain of looking like a complete fool by being stubbornly wrong, or the pain of having to let go of a useful framework and start making sense of the world in a different way. Judging by the evidence, a lot of people seem to find it easier to accept looking foolish.

The moral of the story in the previous post was about the inevitable failure of narratives, and how we react in the event. If you have long been favorably inclined to liberal/left perspectives on sociopolitical issues, only to be rudely shocked out of your complacency by the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of today's SJWs, how do you respond? Do you hurry to construct a new narrative that rationalizes their excesses by comparison to someone "worse"? Or do you take the opportunity to cultivate an attitude of tentative humility, a determination to think things through slowly and deliberately, a refusal to be bullied or rushed into jumping to conclusions?

It's fine to say, "These SJWs are largely a bunch of dumb postgrads with no real power. Most of them will probably settle down and outgrow their intersectionalist bullshit as they pursue careers and families. If you're concerned about political issues at all, you should be far more concerned over how elected officials and their financial backers believe and behave." That is a perfectly sensible and valid perspective to hold. However, it is not the only valid perspective, and not every issue can be coded in utilitarian terms of right vs. left politics. In the zero-sum environment of the voting booth, yes, you have no meaningful alternative to choosing the Democrat or the Republican. In the twitosphere, though, you are not being forced to choose between Anita Sarkeesian or Elliot Rodger, and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is a lying demagogue. For example, if you approach Gamergate with a framework like, "Okay, who are the right-wingers and left-wingers here?", you're going to miss so many important nuances. Not every issue is a tributary feeding into the sea-level discourse of whether this ultimately benefits the left or the right. Personally, I'm not terribly invested in the fate of the political left. I agree with those who say that it is largely moribund, and I have no idea how to reinvigorate it. I only feel (provisionally) certain of the fact that no fruit worth keeping is going to grow from the roots and soil that comprise SJW-style politics, and thus I feel no obligation to tamp down my disgust for them. If the left can't ultimately offer up anything better than them, it deserves its impotence and irrelevance.

Finally, different contexts allow for different emphases. If I were politically powerful and influential, then yes, it would be important to consider all the "optics" of how my words would be taken. But I am an absolute nobody writing on a blog that no one reads. I write for no reason but my own entertainment and satisfaction. I'm solely interested in making sense of the world, not declaring my allegiance to an agenda. I can't imagine anything sadder than having that complete freedom, only to voluntarily don the chains of other people's expectations. What consequences should I be concerned about? I don't care if someone gets the wrong impression about me as a person because they can't tell what my politics are by a quick glance here. In fact, I would resent any implication that I owe it to some hypothetical reader to spell out exactly what I stand for and why. Fuck you, hypothetical reader, you lazy bastard. Do the reading and thinking to figure it out yourself. Or don't. Makes no difference to me. Bum-bum-bum-ba-bum-bum, I feel free...