Remember this Reddit news item, wherein a bunch of people pushed their morality on someone?
At one point Mori asked “do you think the Internet should perch like an angel of conscience on your shoulder?” My response is — sure, why not? The internet is just other people…
To which I noted,
I in no way want to get comfortable with the suggestion that listening to what other people claim to think is “the right thing” on an Internet forum necessarily bears the slightest resemblance to the best course of action.
Well, now we have a real crime for Reddit to react to, and the “mainstream press” like The Atlantic are gleefully skewering it for its reaction:
The amateur investigators from the site — having served as a kind of unofficial proving ground for theories that made their way to the mainstream media, jumping on the clear photo, despite the Post story that had also spread on Reddit — were tying the FBI photos to a 22-year-old Brown student and this ABC News report about his having gone missing last month. There was pushback, even on Reddit — “Leave the missing guy alone” — but it was too late; the trolls on Reddit had fed an army of all-nighter trolls in the media.
Indeed the Internet is just other people – and this is what other people do. They are undisciplined, they jump on a quick solution to a complex social problem, and they find it easy to blame those who stick out – those not like them – because it feels right. By and large, people do not serve the truth because it is hard to serve the truth. They would much rather believe that the truth exists to serve them.
If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing. – Anatole France
For those who were not misled by the hoopla, I applaud you.
And for those of you affected by the bombing, particularly those who lost friends and loved ones, you have my deepest sympathies.
“Don’t tell me what I must do. The only things I must do are pay my taxes and die.” – Popular twist on Ben Franklin quote
It’s tax day in the USA, and when matters of money come up, the international gripe machine swivels its cyclopean head to focus on those richer than us. For the delectation of the howling masses, CNN trots out this predictable analysis of Mark Zuckerberg’s fortune, complete with the line “he’ll never have to pay taxes again.”
What? Unfair! We the people, innately born with virtue and made equal by dint of the fact that This Is America, squat in our upside-down condos and lament our fortune. You know what would really make us feel better? Improving our lives? No; that can wait – what we really want to get into is negativity about one of those who succeeded. Because nothing says ‘a better future’ like denying that it’s possible for people to make it here in the now.
Liz Crocker’s article at The Daily Beast decries Piedmont High’s Fantasy Slut League as “the newest callous form of misogyny.” The one sentence excerpted from the article and set aside in huge print reads, “The sexual braggadocio inherent in the league is more common than the media are reporting.”
All true, and all good and well. But the real news in the article comes in its last paragraph, hidden away from all but the most determined readers:
– Many students on the “fantasy slut league” list, while not necessarily approving of the name, did not mind being placed on a list of sexually desirable dates. (See this articulate and nuanced letter by a female PHS senior on why the “moral panic” response is not constructive.) This doesn’t make things okay for those who were not okay with it, but it does mean the league was far from a unilateral imposition on a populace that uniformly resented it. In short, FSL was not tyranny; it was fashion.
– Gossip, while it can be used to destroy people via perceived social value, is hardly the exclusive purview of men. Considering the FSL a gossip aggregator (as the female student urges) rather than a command-and-control center greatly alters the paradigm in which all this sex is happening. (One might argue the real problem here is the obsession with what other people think about your own life, sexual or otherwise, but that is a topic for another post.)
– Karen Owen’s “thesis” equally treated men like disposable sex objects. It, too, got a tremendous amount of attention, both negative and positive. Some argued that if this was how she discovered and explored her own sexuality, who were we to judge her for it? By and large, the media have not given similarly balanced coverage of the boys who attempted to “gamify” human sexuality in order to better make sense of it. If the spirit in which she made the document matters, then so too should the spirit in which the boys made their document, and recognition of that that is precisely why the PHS senior goes into such an explanation of the intended use of Fantasy Slut League. I would not be surprised if, from their perspective, it was a clumsy attempt to combine two things they love (gaming and sex.) While that does not make it a great thing, it also does not make it a twisted conspiracy to sexually enslave women.
– Modern women typically have a high degree of control over their own sexuality (at least, modern women with the status of PHS students or Duke students – the story is different for women in a place like rural India) and attempts to paint them all as the hapless victims of male lust are arguably as divorced from reality as the idea of a male-run Fantasy Sex League itself. Insisting that a woman is a victim despite her knowing otherwise is incredibly disenfranchising.
I take issue with the way the email attempts to speak for girls just like me. I know that my name has been mentioned on the FSL page. It makes me uncomfortable, but it does not make me a “victim,” as the email labels me. I am not a victim because I know what FSL truly is. It is not a rape group, as the email, perhaps inadvertently, implies; it is a gossip page where Varsity Footballers talk about what happened last weekend and “who got with who.” I do not appreciate being labeled a “victim” by an administration that is not in possession or understanding of the facts.
All this, and reporters everywhere still took it upon themselves to speak for girls just like her.
To me, the takeaway is that the situation for women continues to improve. Fifty years ago, while gaming culture did not exist, men bragging about their sexual exploits was so common and accepted that it did not occasion comment. Five hundred years ago, men taking sexual advantage of the women associated with defeated armies was similarly common and accepted (rape was, literally, part of the spoils of war.) Now, in 2012-2013, women are able to calmly make decisions about their sexual future and intelligently use their status to their advantage. It would be unmistakably a step backwards to say the only legitimate response they can have to boys making lists is moral outrage, and it is heartening to see that the women of PHS, if one is any indication, know better.
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Noah (@hoodedu) linked me to his thoughts on morality. Thanks, Noah. Twitter is indeed a very awkward platform for nuance.
This discussion started with reference to the loss of a Neil Gaiman script for Dr. Who. Thousands of users posted on reddit to pressure the person who found it (or rather, their roommate) to “do the right thing,” and the subsequent trumpeting by some that this somehow “vindicated” the moral authority of the Internet was sickening. Let me be clear – I do think that in this case returning the item happened to be the right thing to do. But that is a happy coincidence. I in no way want to get comfortable with the suggestion that listening to what other people claim to think is “the right thing” on an Internet forum necessarily bears the slightest resemblance to the best course of action. I find equating the right thing to do and the popular thing to do to be morally dangerous. (Cf. slavery, the oppression of minority religions and minority ethnicities, violent homophobia, the cutting of the rose, etc. – all popularly accepted by society for thousands of years, but to me, morally unacceptable.)
If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing. – Anatole France
Now, with respect to the comments at Noah’s site:
Peter is right in that my statement is not about the generation of moral principles but rather in the idea that one should not ascribe a higher moral authority to the government, to the state, to the corporation, to a board of directors, or indeed to any man-made amalgamation of individual moral actors. Having numbers does not make them automatically more morally correct than an individual making a moral decision. (The critique of modern law as judicial shamanism, for instance, is a structural observation based upon how the ritual of law is constructed around making it appear more impressive, as if that spectacle makes it more morally correct.)
If we say that the state does not properly have the authority to tell you which god to worship, then I take a half-step further and posit that neither does it have the right to dictate your ideals, to tell you good or evil. Of necessity, it makes purely practical judgements like, “People are not permitted to steal things or we will lock them up,” which are to some degree useful for the functioning of society, but we should not confuse them with moral judgements.
Peter also says,
We simply try to muddle through, creating the best world we can — deploying not principles, but what Charles Taylor called “inspired adhoccery.”
I would restate Peter’s “ad hoc” statements thus: there exists a moral axis and a pragmatic axis, and as moral agents we are perpetually brokering an uneasy peace between the two. To be perfectly moral would require infinite resources, or at least the ability to act as if there were infinite resources – a disregard for the pragmatic side of things. To be perfectly pragmatic would require infinite moral flexibility, or effectively an outright lack of morality. (This level of abstraction, incidentally, derives from the “postmodern” half of my explanation of my stance as “postmodernist-existentialist.” Peter notes correctly that I differ from Sartre in at least one significant place despite calling my reasoning existentialist. I believe even Sartre used meta-level principles for moral reasoning in No Exit, but that is a discussion for another time.) I submit that to not perfectly cleave to abstract principles is a different order of things from never attempting to stick to principles in the first place. That, I believe, is where the real danger of doing what is most comfortable rather than what is moral lies. Call it a throwback to my days in science: that which is never measured is never properly observed, and that which is not observed, we cannot really make clear statements about. How can you monitor your own moral progress without having some kind of measure?
In the end I suspect my differences with Noah might be theological more than descriptive: is there such a thing as morality, independent of social feedback and pragmatic goals? I say yes, as long as we believe and set it apart; law, for instance, is not morality. Noah, if I read him correctly above, says no. If you don’t allow that morality exists as a separate conceptual thing, then perhaps the distinctions I am drawing become meaningless.
I believe they have meaning, though.
Vuc linked this, and I read it and felt compelled to comment:
It doesn’t matter how you get into things; it matters that you get into things. Let me clarify: you got into anime, which then got you into blogging, which opened the doors to the whole community on the Internet. Any number of things could happen from then on. Business and job opportunities, philosophical revelations, really anything might appear before you. Now you might say “that’s the power of networking,” or some such, but it could equally be said that that’s the power of anime.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.”
If you never take the first step, you don’t take the journey.
Digibro talks about how anime is his whole world. We don’t need to be quite so grand or dramatic – I’ll be conservative and say that anime is a part of your world. Because of anime you will be able to meet and relate to people, and because of that you’ll be able to learn new things, which will then open doors into other things, other places, other mindsets. Anime is the key here, but when we talk of people in general it doesn’t have to be anime. I’m sure there are people who opened lots of doors by being able to talk about sports, or fashion, or NASCAR racing. It truly doesn’t matter, except that it does to you, because anime is what was compelling enough for you to take that first step out into the world.
Take the step. Be excited and passionate about something. Anime is just fine.
Consider, if you will, the following scenario: a group of clerics and theology experts in Pakistan, having pooled their expertise and their money, launch a political campaign to change local laws to something more aligned with Sharia law – in Washington, DC.
What kind of objections does that conjure up? Did the words “sovereignty,” “interference,” or “imposing your beliefs on other people” appear in your head?
Consider another scenario: a group of gender experts in London, England, having pooled their expertise and their money, launch a political campaign to change local laws to something more aligned with their feminist vision – in Tokyo, Japan.
What kind of objections does that conjure up?
Did you find the former example objectionable because it was a horrible throwback to the brutish ways of the past, and the latter eminently reasonable because it was done in the name of progress and helping people? Or did you maybe find the first example unthinkable, because in each transaction the West should dominate, and not the other way around? Congratulations; you are a cultural imperialist.
The concept of cultural imperialism most clearly dates back to Rudyard Kipling’s The White Man’s Burden, a poem in which he called upon Westerners to expand their influence, asserting that “superior” Western morals and culture had to be imposed upon “savages” around the world for their own good. While noting the ethical ambiguity involved in imposing on other cultures by force of arms, Kipling’s argument was that this was ultimately in their favor. The men and women of Kipling’s time were largely convinced that what they did really was a good thing for the peoples that were subjugated – for their civilization, and for their souls.
Take up the White Man’s burden–
The savage wars of peace–
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.
Fast forward 100 years. We aren’t sure that we believe in saving peoples’ souls anymore, and certainly not by force majeure – but the certainty, the absolute confidence we have that the West’s moral and ethical system should be imparted to all non-Western countries, still burns. Last time it was Christianity – ah, but this time is different, right? This time it’s liberal ideas on minimum wages, on workers’ rights, on gender equality. Surely that’s universal, because we firmly believe it should be. Who could possibly object to that?
We don’t question it; we don’t stop to think about it. If we should happen to examine our own motives, we suggest that our motives appear, to us, blameless and pure, and soldier on. We judge other cultures by our own standards, assuming we have the right to meddle with them if they displease us or fail by our own abstractions. It’s obvious to us that we’re doing a good thing, just as it was obvious to the men and women of Kipling’s time that they were helping even as they stamped out centuries-old languages and traditions.
Any objection to this, or suggestion that perhaps the West is in no place to be doing this, given its history of exploitation, is met with an indignant, “Think of the women! The children! The workers with no unions! The starving people!” Anything dubious must be forgiven, in the name of helping unfortunates. Any pretext at all, to maintain the privilege the West has of meddling with the “lesser” cultures.
Take up the White Man’s burden–
Ye dare not stoop to less–
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloke your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your gods and you.
Over a hundred years, and we still haven’t really learned from The White Man’s Burden.
Some months ago, I brushed off a certain blogger’s argument that it doesn’t matter what religions say, we should prioritize peoples’ lives above all. Now that things have perhaps cooled a bit, let me explain why I said this means that he fundamentally does not respect others’ beliefs.
First, while the statement that human life is important hardly seems objectionable, it completely denies the legitimacy of all competing priority sets. If we agree that “human life = #1” is a universal truth, then we also reject all systems that do not hold this as their first priority, whether they fall to the right or to the left (Chivalry and Deep Earth philosophy are both out.) This is, you will note, supposed to be about ways to judge competing priority sets. I am reminded of the story of the Guiness company man who at a beer convention asserted that if no one else would drink “real beer” (i.e. Guiness), he wouldn’t either. If only his own company’s beer is acceptable to him, is this man qualified to be a fair judge of beer? And likewise, if only a man’s own values are acceptable to him, is he able to fairly treat disparate values systems?
Most dangerously, this is, in essence, his own beliefs, postulated as a set of “meta rules” that all other rules must follow to even be considered. Isn’t that convenient? It’s not a coincidence at all, and he doesn’t see how that could reasonably inconvenience anyone, because he doesn’t accept any belief that doesn’t conform to it as a reasonable one! This is an end run around the idea that we can fairly compare belief systems on the whole and choose one that seems good to us; rather than that, any morality must be highly similar to his morality to even warrant consideration! Put like that, this rule is obviously rigged and must therefore be rejected.
As to religion in particular, deciding to believe in God or not may be a choice. I allow that. What I don’t agree with is the assertion that every facet of one’s personal belief system is therefore a choice, and the implication that one can easily choose again or choose otherwise, piecemeal. Consider that if you believe in the findings of geology, and you believe in radiocarbon dating, and so forth . . . all sorts of other things come from that, by implication. This is how Science works, and this is also how the human brain works (not a coincidence, as the former is a product of the latter.) Now, it may be that you believe in a benevolent and omnipotent creator, and you believe he would want to give humans some hint as to how to run their lives, and so you believe in the Bible, and so you open the door to all sorts of other things you don’t necessarily want to believe in (witchcraft, floods and plagues, abiogenesis, and so on.) But if you accept step one of the logical link, the others seem to follow.
As this kind of fundamentalist – how do you reconcile that? What would you think it would be OK of others to ask of you? Because it seems to me there is a very valuable and rare intellectual honesty in refusing to take your philosophy or theology a la carte. I don’t think we should demand that people bend and break to what is popular. We should encourage them to have quirky, disparate beliefs, even if sometimes that means we wind up supporting the rights of what the left would surely call moral throwbacks.
I suppose, going back to the person bound by implication, you could take drugs to deliberately make yourself a deranged and illogical person, so that you would not be bound by logical implication, and therefore be able to accept part of your religion but avoid other parts, but that is hardly something I would ask another person to do, and most especially not in the name of society or law. I suppose you could deny a portion of your beliefs. I suppose you could try to let yourself be converted away from your religion so you could rejoin “normal” society and reap the benefits – but there we are in the business of favoring one worldview over another, are we not? (And for mercenary reasons!)
This blogger I had the discussion with takes people first, because – and this is very important – to him, it is axiomatic that people exist. People, not God, are therefore the start of his values. But the fundamentalist takes God as the axiomatic part and considers people as having the purpose of living according to some sort of divine plan, or on divine sufferance. If we accept the former, we get, as a logical consequence, that rules are not as important as people. But if we take the latter as our starting point, then we get that people are not as important as God, which results in an unclear result when we try to decide whether people are more important than God’s rules, or in practical terms, our interpretation of such (in Christianity, Jesus seems to resolve this by suggesting that the entire point of the rules is to help people – but this is specific to one interpretation and hardly accepted by all professed Christians, let alone all religious believers.)
If you believe in freedom of opinion, it behooves you to accept that people believe different things and have different priorities. It is not a solution to be dismissive of people simply because they have different beliefs (that you may or may not be able to understand.) Treating the religious like they have some kind of brain disease, a la Richard Dawkins in his angrier days, is only going to create rifts in society and ultimately trample on human rights when one side “wins” the argument. That fails to be useful.
(For the record, since this comes as an offshoot of the ‘Bad Person’ posts – I in no way think this makes the blogger a bad person. It does mean that he, like the vast majority of the population, religious or otherwise, has internalized his belief system to the point where he can’t accept the validity of a system that is fundamentally at odds with it. He can be perfectly moral, but – like the Guiness enthusiast above – I would be very wary of his pronouncements on moral systems that differ from his own.)
To me, the important question in all this is: does a man with a wildly unpopular belief, even a dangerous belief, have the same right to cling to his belief (and act accordingly) as a man with a popular belief? If our answer is anything but a resounding Yes, then we have merely formulated a new tyranny: a tyranny of the reasonable.
American liberal media bastion The Atlantic has inadvertently just done its part to make aniblogging respectable.
Make no mistake: for all that it is nominally about music and pop culture, this is aniblogging. It’s a dissection of an entertainment video clip from Asia and its cultural context. It includes all sorts of cues and references for newcomers, who might not understand the cultural undercurrents in the film’s native country. It considers the work in the context of a larger body of work, which the casual reader is equally unaware of. It even cautions the reader about the difficulty in translating nuances, and the unacceptability of the English word “hollow” for the precise emotion that the video’s creator wished to convey.
Now, The Atlantic is not a friend to anime blogging, nor to Asian cultures in general. Witness the condescension (or perhaps cultural imperialism) inherent in this article about Japan:
So far, dating Gomez hasn’t hurt Bieber’s sales. His latest album, Believe, recorded the biggest debut sales week so far in 2012. But AKB48’s newest album, 1830m, released this week, sold in its first day a career-best of more than 625,000 copies. Until Japanese pop acts built on the illusion of youthful innocence start slipping commercially, the country’s music industry won’t be in a rush to mature their stars. Hideaki Anno, the director of the famous Japanese cartoon Neon Genesis Evangelion, once told The Atlantic that Japan is “a country of children.” That’s a bit broad, but it’s hard to dispute that Japan is a country that wants its entertainment to be innocent.
Gee, how dare the Japanese do things differently from the US? Allowing idols to date in America works just fine for them in America! Why would the Japanese not follow suit? Clearly, rather than it being a case of legitimate, respectable cultural differences, the Japanese as a people just aren’t grown up enough to hang with us excellent Americans. The arrogance in that is appalling, which caused gendomike to comment:
I love the way that Hideaki Anno gets quoted at the end to twist the knife. Wrote about that article long ago too. http://t.co/CLfB0RCk
With an attitude like that, any help they give to the appreciation of foreign cultures in America is accidental. That said, however, the publication of this Gangnam Style article by The Atlantic – and its wide acceptance as journalism – should cause anibloggers to sit up and take note.