Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Rhetoric 101 v. Nerdrage

Trying to play music off John's laptop...

Me: What the fuck is up with all this Le Tigre? You're not secretly some American Apparel hipster who never heard of X-Ray Specs are you?

John: Do you like to dance?

Me:
No I do not.

J: I like to dance--I like Le Tigre. If you don't like to dance, there's no reason to listen to Le Tigre.

(I briefly imagine John dancing before an appreciative crowd of deluded-but-perhaps-attractive American Apparel hipster girls who honestly have not heard of Poly Styrene and X-Ray Specs. Or are afraid of Poly Styrene and X-Ray specs.)

Me: Gotcha.

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What we just did there is we had a conversation about taste that ended.

It did not end in mystification, mutual suspicion, anger, or simply out of exhaustion. It ended with each party knowing just a little bit more than they did before.

We're really good at this--at having conversations that end--possibly because of the excruciating amount of time we spent in art school.

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People who have never been to art school often have the quaint idea that you learn how to make paintings or photos or sculptures or (even, maybe) video installations there (while drunk and deciding whether to get a nipple ring).

Not at all: what happens is you try to figure out how to paint, sculpt, draw or dress like a chicken or whatever all alone in a little room with no help at all and then drag the results across the street for a never-ending 4-6 year master class in how to have a conversation about the drawing, painting, sculpture or chicken costume that actually ends (while drunk and deciding whether to get a nipple ring).

Now: this is a narrow and mostly useless skillset--but it is the only one we all have. So we are proud of it.

You may not be able to draw, weld, stitch, take a picture, or hold down a job, but if you went to art school and can't have a conversation with an ending, you didn't do it right.

(Which, admittedly, many graduates did not since they were drunk and busy thinking about nipple piercings. But I digress...)

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Theory:

The eternalness (and non-enlightenment-producing-ness) of eternal nerd-culture debates along the lines of Mac vs. PC, 4e vs. (whatever isn't 4e), alleged realism vs. alleged playability, Old School art vs. whatever the other thing is, Star Trek vs. Star Wars, Kirk vs. Picard, Hot chick art vs. Not Hot chick art, are largely a result of the kinds of people who have them lacking one specific and vital piece of information about how conversations that don't begin with "Hello, this is Tech Support, can you please give me your computer's serial number?" actually work.

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Example:

"I would still be playing (some kind of game) if (some other kind of game) was not better. I am sure to keep the cry babies at bay I must put here the obligatory "better for me"."

--some actual guy on some actual forum

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The basic problem isn't the "crybabies" thing. Even The Internet already knows that isn't helping anybody get smarter.

The real problem here...

(And this is a common problem. This isn't just something trolls and 12 -year -olds do, it's something grown-ups do and then act all surprised when the predictable happens. It's as naive as going "What? This email isn't from an actual Nigerian prince?".

Common forms include when people seriously say:

"Gee, it's just my opinion! I'm allowed to have an opinion aren't I?"

--This one's from people trying to be all conciliatory--"Well I just add 'to me' onto the end of everything I see on the internet, saves a lot of trouble"

"I do it this way and if you don't you're a moron"

"I like this and if you don't you're having less fun than you could"

"I hate this and if you don't you're just a sheep"

"I used to like that thing, then I grew up", etc.)

...is that whoever wrote that--and all these other things--doesn't understand that it's not just that "Everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts", they also don't understand that this:

I would still be playing (some kind of game) if (some other kind of game) was not better, and

I would still be playing (some kind of game) if (some other kind of game) was not better, for me

...are parts of two different, unconnected conversations. As different as: "It's raining here in Charleston" and "Please fetch me the blowtorch, Melissa".

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"...to me" is not about courtesy. At all. Or even about nit-picky logic or grammar or what-all.

Assuming--and this is an assumption whose naivete and generosity I am aware of--you're typing for some other reason than to see words appear on the glowwy screen after you hit the wordycubes, these two statements have totally different purposes.
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When talking only to people who already agree with you:

A statement-as-fact and a statement-as-opinion come across as virtually identical, but the only point in saying them is to go ahead and say and do other things based on the idea that that's true.

Like saying...

Bards rule!

or

I like bards

...is pretty much the same if you already agree with the bard lover. But the only point in saying it would be to move on to some other thing, like: let's make a bard class for Encounter Critical!

It gets more interesting when people don't agree with you.

From the point of view of someone who does not already agree with you:

Announcing you believe a fact to be true is a way of starting a conversation about that thing.

Announcing your personal taste is a way of ending a conversation about that thing.

To people who don't agree with you:

When I go "I hate bards" (statement of personal preference) I am saying "If you like bards, keep them away from me, there's no point in trying to argue me out of it--it's fucking taste"

When I go "Bards suck" (statement of alleged objective fact) or even "I hate bards because...(and then give reasons based on alleged objective facts)" I am saying, in effect, "Tell me all the reasons you don't think bards suck."

Even if the post is kind of a joke to begin with.

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If I go"Bards suck" and you say anything at all about why you like them. And I then go "Jesus, you guys, don't get your panties in a wad, it's just my opinion, they're like assholes, everyone should have one" that'd be like me turning on the tap and talking smack on the water when it comes out.




I mostly wrote this so I could link back to it whenever it comes up. Maybe it will help us get smarter faster.

35 comments:

  1. Not at all: what happens is you try figure out how to paint, sculpt, draw or dress like a chicken or whatever all alone in a little room with no help at all and then drag the results across the street for a never-ending 4-6 year master class in how to have a conversation about them that actually ends (while drunk and deciding whether to get a nipple ring).

    It's comforting to know I wasn't alone. Except in the literal sense.

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  2. Just been reading that thread. What a charming chap Mr Crybabies is.

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  3. i don't want to pick on that guy any more than I already did. lots of people who write and say interesting things make the same mistake.

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  4. i love saxophone in my punk rock

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  5. Random tables and monsters and maps and occasional breasts aside, this may be the single most useful (and sorely needed) thing you've posted yet.

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  6. I always try to remember what Robin D. Laws wrote in his Robin’s Laws of Good Gamemastering when engaged in discussions on the internet:

    “The tendency to confuse personal taste with objective quality is nearly universal. […] This basic principle of human perception is difficult to overcome, even when we’re intellectually aware of it.”

    And I really think It’s helped me avoid the occasional intracranial hemorrhage.

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  7. Thank you! A very true and necessary post! And it needs repeating every now and then. After all it keeps you sane while arguing with people that treat their own opinion as an actual fact.

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  8. Right on, and this line of analysis can also handle the reverse problem, where you post actual reasons why this rule or that procedure tends to kill fun, and someone says "Oh what are you talking about I had the most fun with that system so there."

    Kind of reminiscent of the time I went to see a psychology panel about scientific research into the effects of child sexual abuse and they felt the need to put a very aggrieved abuse survivor with no scientific data on the panel, "just so survivors would have a voice".

    If they'd had the guts they would also have put someone falsely accused of abuse up there, but then the intractability of personal opinions and experiences would have become as obvious as it is on Jerry Springer.

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  9. i kinda like le tigre. but not as much as x-ray spex.

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  10. Two things:

    I feel earning a Philosophy degree is very similar to earning an art degree, except... Most of us don't learn how to have conversations that end.

    I am not familiar with any of this music you speak of. Would some one be so kind as to furnish me with some kind of links that I might remedy this lack?

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  11. @drcheckmate

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4H1RHqVI58

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  12. That's an interesting observation. When learning the ropes as a union organizer they pounded into me the notion that you don't just end a conversation about "taste" difference but use it to establish a boundary around where you have common ground on the key issues. The end result is likely the same though, in either skill set you don't emphasize the 10% of meaningless difference as the focus of your conversation.

    But I wonder if it has as much to do with the broader culture--amplified in the pressure cooker of subcultural life--as it does not having these kinds of skill sets.

    Because you know, I have seen the same kind of "militant consumerism" (for lack of a better phrase) in other subculture settings I have been part of. Where what kind of movie you enjoy or what kind of clothes you wear becomes something about who you fundamentally "are".

    Your lifestyle identity hinges on justifying your product choice--and transgression against those small choices becomes something that provokes a lot of anger and anxiety.

    Half a thought, perhaps.

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  13. @ckutalik

    I think it's an important point--those "militant consumerisms" are actually really useful in terms of explaining "you;re here, I'm there, we shouldn't argue about this, it goes nowhere". http://dndwithpornstars.blogspot.com/2011/05/why-are-you-so-boring-oh.html an ensemble of taste often points to important basic "nervous system" differences.

    I mean how much of how the world works can be explained by : this person is young and needs to do this that and the other, and this one is old and needs to do this that and the other? Quite a bit.

    People have different initial conditions--they often come by their taste differences quite honestly. Pretending it's all affectation is ungenerous.

    If you like to dance, you'll need dance music. If you don't, you don't. No way around it.

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  14. Just...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLL9zcKDntM

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  15. Zak, are you familiar with Robert Anton Wilson? If not, I think you'd dig him.

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  16. Thank you for reminding me of this. I think it's most likely the only thing I really took away from two years of art school in Toronto.

    That and how to impress city-kids with my working knowledge of a bandsaw.

    For me, bards have always sucked, by I'm a sucker for the unliked underdog. So if you'll excuse me, I'm off to fail someplace else.

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  17. Fucking bards.

    Also, getting drunk and thinking about nipple piercings is good entertainment.

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  18. @Zak

    Uncle! for Christ's sakes, uncle! I'll never bring up those greasy, long haired , Jethro Tull looking motherfuckers in here ever again! I promis, scouts honor, never again, I hope not, maybe one day.Hows tomorrow sound or right now? did you read Gary's revision in Dragon no#....

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  19. Loved this article... Describes my attitude to discussion perfectly, and I have never been to art school.

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  20. I think I will add this to my list of things that should be required reading. Though I will say if the tap water didn't want me talking smack to it then it should not be so smug about it.

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  21. You need to post this to that dipshit, Brunomac's, blog. That dope should read this, learn it and know it.

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  22. How do you know what a person's intent is when they put "to me"? Your outline above comes off as a little arrogant "to me".

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  23. @mundi king

    My point is not at all in any way under any circumstances in any place or in any time about what a person's intent is.

    This is not about what THEY mean, my point is what the consequences of them saying or not saying the words "to me" are....

    The consequences that come from -other- people interpreting those words.

    Like: I may be a buddhist and tattoo a swastika on my forehead because I'm a buddhist--I don't know nor do I claim to know (that would be arrogant, but it's not what I'm doing).

    I'm just saying that that swastika WILL result in a certain kind of reaction in mixed company and you shouldn't act surprised if it does.

    Does that make sense, Mundi King?

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  24. i liked reading this post. in fact, i read it two or three times. but you never address the issue of people saying things like

    if you like __commercial-product__ you must be __adolescent-insult-of-choice__

    which turns my ears grey

    easily avoided by avoiding all sentences that feature the word 'you' as a subject. Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics has a passage where he says something like 'the high-minded man will not waste time talking about other people'

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  25. @chronophobia

    unfortunately anyone who does that is not correctable, they are just trying to piss people off and they know it.

    This post is about addressing something people don't know they're doing

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  26. "Announcing you believe a fact to be true is a way of starting a conversation about that thing.
    Announcing your personal taste is a way of ending a conversation about that thing."
    Houston, we have a problem. I play by the opposite rules.

    - when I go "halflings suck" I am saying "[I, anonimous, think that] halflings suck".

    Or more precisely "[I, anonimous, think that] halflings suck [and don't want you to question anonimous]". Because anonimous wanna move on to some other thing. Or anonimous is a jerk. Or whatever.

    - when I go "I dislike halflings because {reasons}" or ever "I dislike halflings" I am saying "I [anonimous] dislike halflings because {reasons} [and you are welcome to agree] [or disagree] [or say nothing] [and you are welcome to provide reasons of your own] [or not]".

    An obvious corollary is (oh, my!) that I'm interpreting your entire blog at the wrong. Somebody shoot me dead.

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    Replies
    1. WARNING: the author of the previous post has been diagnosed a PDD-NOS.
      "NOS" my ass - I have a full-fledged Asperger's Syndrome!

      Delete
    2. "Or more precisely "[I, anonimous, think that] halflings suck [and don't want you to question anonimous]". Because anonimous wanna move on to some other thing. Or anonimous is a jerk. Or whatever."

      Well then you are going to accidentally start fights for the rest of your life and these will be earned because the literal interpretation of your words is on the other person's side.

      You are claiming as fact what is not fact. So you're asking for it.

      Delete
    3. I've gone through a mindslide. My former opinions are not longer supported. Must rectify my post. Sorry for any inconveniences.

      "Announcing you believe a fact to be true is a way of starting a conversation about that thing.
      Announcing your personal taste is a way of ending a conversation about that thing."

      Houston, we have a problem. I play by the opposite rules.

      - when I go "halflings suck" I am saying
      "I [anonimous] dislike halflings and you [the reader] should dislike them, too."

      - when I go "I dislike halflings because {reasons}" or ever "I dislike halflings" I am saying "I [anonimous] dislike halflings and you [the reader] are welcome to disagree."

      - when you go "bards suck" I am reading "I [Zak] dislike bards and you [the reader] should dislike them, too."

      - when you go "I hate bards" I am reading "I [Zak] totally dislike bards and you [the reader] are welcome to disagree."

      An obvious corollary is (oh, my!) that I'm interpreting your entire blog at the wrong. Somebody shoot me dead.

      Delete
    4. "you are going to accidentally start fights for the rest of your life and these will be earned"

      That's not a big deal, since I usually keep my opinions for myself. What concerns me is that I've been misreading this blog from one end to the other. So, I must restart it again, which is annoying.

      "the literal interpretation of your words is on the other person's side. You are claiming as fact what is not fact."

      Within your blog you make the rules, but I'm pretty sure that -in the outside world- "X suck" doesn't express an objective fact, but a subjective opinion.

      - "X suck" is a way to show contempt for X (halflings, bards or whatever). It can't be neither true nor false.

      - "X suck to (somebody)" is stating an objective fact, i.e. the fact that (somebody) dislikes X. It can be true "D&D sucked to Pat Pulling" or false "D&D sucked to Gary Gigax".

      Delete
    5. "Within your blog you make the rules, but I'm pretty sure that -in the outside world- "X suck" doesn't express an objective fact, but a subjective opinion."

      Totally incorrect because it is by nature ambiguous:

      "This book sucks" alone can _always_ mean "I didn't subjectively like it" or it can mean "this book is riddled with typos and the pages are int he wrong order"

      "I didn't like this book" is more precise.

      Delete
    6. Yes, I was wrong. I didn't notice that the S-word has two layers of meaning which overlap.

      First layer expresses contempt for something, second layer denotes that something is flawed.

      Curses on my shitty e-nglish :( and thank you for calling my attention upon it.

      Delete