Thursday, March 14, 2013

Medicine

We're all very familiar with Anthony's sort of argument. Accuse, question, obfuscate, make no definite statement. This is the pattern of "trolls" on the Internet.

It is an age-old tactic which depends upon two very important suppositions. If you are a troll, assume:

1) That the person you are speaking to will feel guilty whenever he or she is accused of behaving in a manner which is not seen as "normal."

2) That the person you are speaking to will want, more than anything, to avoid conflict.

You can upset almost anyone in this manner. Most people are not ready to be accused of not being nice, and most people, in an effort to find consensus, will agree that "being nice" is important.

However. In an intellectual argument, being nice is not important. What is important is supportable propositions. The measure of a supportable proposition is in how well it can be used in a practical situation and remain verifiable.

Intangibles, such as deliberations on who is respecting who and who is being nice, etcetera, are means to obfuscate verifiable argument. I have no experience with the proposition, "Be nice, get more viewers,"; or even, "Be nice, retain the number of viewers you have." I look around the web, I see nice people, and I'm not moved to read their stuff. Why? Because I don't find it verifiably true. Or because I find it dull and uninteresting.  I don't see how the politeness of their presentation improves their material any.

Meanwhile, I am very familiar with the same politeness we all experience every day.  The girl at the coffee shop wishes us a nice day.  The fellow at the security desk smiles and says good morning as I pass by.  The desk clerks at the hotel give us wide smiles and offer to help with our luggage.  We learn to recognize these things as "masks."  We know perfectly well that these masks conceal their true thought processes.  We in turn retain our masks, thanking the clerks and servers and so on in our turn, perfectly aware that this is socially expected.  We do it because it makes life easier, it greases the wheels, it helps to get one's coffee or to have one's bags carried.  Still, it's all very insincere.  We automatically, as a culture, identify politeness with insincerity.

We do not really see our efforts to be polite to everyone as noteworthy.  In fact, we equate it with cowardice.  We'd like to tell the server at the restaurant that the chicken is shit, and that we're not paying for it, but it is easier to say that it's fine.  We understand that we are being cowardly.  We do not like this about ourselves, but we've been trained culturally to see any other reaction as unacceptable.  Others might think we're crazy.

So where we see someone who is clearly not polite, we react in two ways.  The first is to expect the continued rule of social expectation.  We fear the person may be crazy.  We shy away, often awkwardly and sometimes fearfully.

There is, however, another reaction, one I'm familiar with because I've been living this way for so long.  People wonder why this person is not being polite.  They're acting like they're crazy, but the words they are using actually make a lot of sense.  In fact, they're saying the sort of things I would say, if I had ... well ... the nerve.

We begin to recognize that this person is not being polite because this person is being sincere.

Making the conscious choice to ignore social expectation can be seen as brave.  It says, that person does not need to be obsequiously polite, because that person is fearless.  That person is ready to take chances.   That person MEANS what he or she says.

There will always be trolls, on or off line, who will try to manipulate you with arguments of proper behavior.  They will extol the virtues of concerning yourself with what other people think.  They will couch their rhetoric in careful, habitual questions, intended to make you stop and wonder, "Am I being a good person?"  The default position will almost always be that you want to be good.  And you will want to convince them that you are.  This is where a troll's power lies.

I am a terrible person.  I tore down Tobiah Panshin's work without the least bit of consideration for the effort or the time he put into it.  I deliberately mocked him.  I mocked his efforts.  There wasn't the least bit of empathy in anything I wrote.

If I had approached the matter from the viewpoint of, "I don't want anyone to be hurt," I could have praised Panshin's book and Panshin wouldn't have been subjected to all that abuse.  But I would have had to lie.  And you, the gentle reader, wouldn't have had any reason to read that post or this blog.  I had to approach the work in the way that I did.  All written work, of any kind, regardless of who produces it, must be measured against everything that has ever been written.  I'm not going to say something is good until it is actually good, in respect to the very best book on the subject, regardless of the social consequences or the personal suffering of any human being, anywhere.  That's because work - good work - is more important than feelings.

When people talk about the importance of feelings, they are speaking of the importance of insincerity, social comfort.  They are arguing that the worst thing in the world is someone being hurt.

I don't agree.  I think insincerity is worse.  I think praise of immateriality is worse.  I feel that verifiable facts and ideas are what matters, because those are things that will do more than smooth humanity's feathers as it buys a cup of coffee.  They are things that will invent a better method for getting coffee altogether.

We can't get better on sugar pills.  We've got to take our medicine, and quit griping about it.

UPDATE:

I wrote this post, then I moved onto the next Ted Talk in the list I'm working through, and watched this. Couldn't embed it



There's no one word in the entire piece about "being nice" to anyone.  It's all practicalities.  And note the final quote.  It is the definitive rule of blogging, of arguing, of believing in anything ...

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you ... then you win."

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

15 comments:

Lukas said...

You cannot improve or fix that which you do not realize is insufficient or broken.

James C. said...

Alexis, while I'm a big fan and defender of yours, at times you irk even me. That said, I wouldn't presume to dictate how you should behave or speak. Nor do I think would I want you any other way, irksomeness and all.

I wish those out there tilting at the windmill of polite discourse felt as passionately about quality discourse.

Yes, yes, yes... anybody with a brain and especially the author here understands that you don't have to be rude to have something important to say. Being rude sure attracts a lot of attention, though, and it does have the added benefit of cutting through a lot of bullshit.

A positive bias and a negative bias are still each biases, no? Dismiss them both, Anthony, and be the champion for quality discourse that you're purporting yourself to be below. Put another way, shit or get off the pot, man.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Yeah, I know I irk you James. And Maximillian too. And others. I'm aware of it. Sometimes I look at something I've written and think, "That's going too far. That's the one they're going to villify me for. Watch. The ride is going to be over."

I have to believe my saving grace is that anyone who has known me for any length of time knows that I can and will be "nice." It took me three hours to write that post about Tobiah's book. That's time I'm not being paid for. Tobiah will never get as detailed a critique again. I'll sweat to make the maps in my world a little prettier, a little more believable for my players, because I want their experience to be deeper or more enjoyable. If you're in trouble, I'll help. If any of you lived close enough to me, I'd come and help you move, and buy the pizza afterwards. I honestly want every reader, Anthony and Brad included, to be happy. They don't seem that happy. I'm happy. I wish they could understand how honesty breeds happiness.

I don't like being told to be nice. But I am, in fact, quite honestly sincere in everything I do and everything I say. It isn't an act. It isn't hubris. It's me.

I think that's why you tolerate me, James. Not because you think its an act, but because Douglas Adams would have said, I'm mostly harmless.

James C. said...

I don't tolerate you, I tolerate your behavior. I cherish and admire your honesty, your bravery, your brains and your heart. Just as I hope you tolerate and appreciate things about me because the good far outweighs the bad.

I believe all that stuff about you moving friends and buying pizza, it's very consistent with the Alexis I've gotten to know reading you all these years.

(Page 120 and counting, by the way. If i were less busy... if I could go and hide away for a bit to just read in quiet I could have really tore through this one.)

Alexis Smolensk said...

Thanks James. I would like people to understand that it is a very good book. I had to tighten up the layout a bit ... shortened it from 408 pages to 361. That means, you're either at the end of chapter 3, or you're at the end of chapter 4. If Chapter 4 .. hoo, boy! Now you're beginning to see what kind of book it is.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Oh, and I can't think of anything I have to "tolerate." You baffle me at times (you didn't kill the giant sheep?), but you never irk me.

James C. said...

Yes, without saying too much and ruining anybody else's sense of discovery I'm finding out what kind of book it is. Which is, for me, a sort of rock and roller's Martin Dressler... though you and Milhauser are very different sorts of writers.

Anthony Simeone said...

“Accuse, question, obfuscate, make no definite statement. This is the pattern of ‘trolls’ on the Internet.”

So no one is allowed to question or dissent from your opinion? Why even bother to talk to other people, for fear that they might disagree? And sorry, but I thought my statements were pretty clear. Actually, I was asking questions to start a discussion with you your beliefs about “substance.” And if I was a troll, I’d be calling you names and other low blows. Which I haven’t been doing.

“It is an age-old tactic which depends upon two very important suppositions. If you are a troll, assume:
1) That the person you are speaking to will feel guilty whenever he or she is accused of behaving in a manner which is not seen as ‘normal.’
2) That the person you are speaking to will want, more than anything, to avoid conflict.”

I’m not attacking your behavior. I’m just curious as to what you hope to accomplish by being stand-offish most of the time, and what it does for you. I am curious about human behavior, and why some people seem to gravitate to a single demeanor, such as it seems you do.

And no, I don’t want you to avoid conflict. But can’t it be discussion, rather than conflict? Do you see talking to someone else as conflict, all the time?

“You can upset almost anyone in this manner. Most people are not ready to be accused of not being nice, and most people, in an effort to find consensus, will agree that ‘being nice’ is important.”

There is a difference, a clear one, between being “nice” and being civil. Nice is often about sickeningly sweet sappiness. Civility is giving someone a bit of benefit of the doubt to engage in discussion.

“However. In an intellectual argument, being nice is not important. What is important is supportable propositions.”
Agreed. Totally. So what’s the issue?

“The measure of a supportable proposition is in how well it can be used in a practical situation and remain verifiable.”

So it’s up to you to “verify” the suitability of every statement a person makes? That seems to make for a very narrow opportunity for anyone to talk to you, if you filter their words through your tough “straining” process. So, are most people worthless with regard to your time?

“Intangibles, such as deliberations on who is respecting who and who is being nice, etcetera, are means to obfuscate verifiable argument. I have no experience with the proposition, ‘Be nice, get more viewers,’; or even, ‘Be nice, retain the number of viewers you have.’ I look around the web, I see nice people, and I'm not moved to read their stuff. Why? Because I don't find it verifiably true. Or because I find it dull and uninteresting. I don't see how the politeness of their presentation improves their material any.”

But see, Alexis, there doesn’t need to be “deliberations” when two people talk about the rules of politeness, nice-ness, or whatever. How about just going with a default of assuming people, in general, don’t want to fuck you over? How about, it’s ok to default to people being mostly ok to talk to? You’re way overthinking this.

And no, I never said politeness improves material, writing, communication, whatever. It can merely facilitate it with a neutral ground. Respect, hatred, suspicion, whatever can be earned LATER, after discussions begin. But why come into a conversation, all the time, expecting other people to be idiots? What a life, to live that way…it’s just not for me, but hey, if it keeps you going, God bless.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Jeez, can you believe this guy?

The more light you shine on him, the less he sees. I'm tempted to take a magic marker and highlight all the times he misrepresents me, changes my words, makes a conclusion about what I believe or accuses me of something I haven't said ... but then, the whole comment would be yellow.

James C. said...

As my youngest son once sagely advised, "Don't feed the pigeons, daddy."

Arduin said...

The Taoist has published the above comment, and it's important to note why.

This is not for the satisfaction of it's author. Nor the satisfaction of the readers, since we had no part in its creation and it is not directed towards us.

It is, instead, a lovely example of how an individual can continually "not get it", how one can continue to, as they say, "troll" endlessly.

For those who aren't at all interested in this thread, a TL;DR

Anthony: Why do you act like a dick?
Alexis: Because dickishness got the point across.
Anthony: Why not stop being a dick?
Alexis: Because that wouldn't get the point across.

And this continues ad infinitum.

For this particular piece, note the opening paragraphs, in which, immediately after attacking Alexis' behaviors, Anthony claims he does not mean to attack Alexis' behaviors.

This is, naturally, playing directly into what was just written: I.E. the goal of the troll is to put the trolled on the defensive through indefinite statements and general obfuscation.

Note the very next sentence, which proclaims not to want to avoid conflict, and immediately suggests avoiding conflict.

One cannot be entirely certain if this is deliberate, or merely if the author in question is a bit excited to be making a stand, and so has forgotten how things like opposites work. Understandable.

Note also, when Alexis is quoted as niceness being unimportant in intellectual discussion, and that supportable positions are, Anthony agrees, despite immediately prior suggesting the opposite.

Alexis suggests supportable positions are those that are verifiable, Anthony challenges the merit of verification in discussion.

Listen, we can go on, but why must we? It is, in short, stupid. Obviously so.

Anthony I'm quite sure you mean well, and are merely not a very good presenter of ideas in a concise way that does not contradict itself ad nauseum.

This, you must understand, is giving a hell of a benefit of the doubt at this juncture.

More to the point, despite the lovely tableau of internet drama it creates, it is starting to get in the way of the posts I enjoy, namely the ones with bits in them about the game.

I like the fire here. For the very reasons you sometimes dislike, sometimes support because of unclear presentation of ideas, I like it.

The fact that most people will not dare comment here is a prize to be treasured, because it means those who do will, nominally, have put a measure of thought into it.

Anthony, you do not like how the Taoist writes. So be it. You are, however, still reading, which furthers the exact point that Alexis is making: it doesn't matter how mad you get, if the material is good enough, you stay reading.

Substance over Style. Always.

That is how Alexis operates, has made no bones about operating, and will operate in perpetuity.

We can either accept this, and understand that style is needless here, entering discussion on the terms thus set, or we can play dickabout and argue over how we should all mind our p's and q's.

I will accept being offended if it means I can become enlightened. If others cannot, so be it.

Alexis Smolensk said...

That's okay, Arduin. I've deleted two of his last three comments. We will get back to substantive posts forthwith.

YagamiFire said...

Anthony,

I am a reader on the blog. I will make the judgement about what I do or do not wish to read. I need you, nor anyone else attempting to "sanitize" what I enjoy any more than I need a Puritan running in to censor-bar the pornography I might want to look at.

I enjoy the way things are written here.

You speak about people being insulted...but Alexis typically reserves his ire for CONCEPTS. If you become exceptionally butt-hurt that someone is tearing down something you hold dear then that is solely on you.

I, as a reader, can separate myself from my ideas & notions. If Alexis comes on here and writes about something I have held as a self-evident truth...if he rips into it and runs it through the mud then pisses all over it...guess what I will do? Guess what I HAVE DONE? I will not get a half pound of sand in my vagina then proceed to cry about it because Alexis was such a meaney. Instead, I will look at what the man said about what he ripped down and I will weigh that against what I thought was correct. In other words, I will read the argument and then either concede or debate it...and in doing so, address the facts instead of the person.

Time and time again, I've seen people attack Alexis for how he writes but so few ever try and come up with even a half-way intelligent argument against WHAT he is writing. Probably because they can't. And that is what REALLY pisses them off.

I have posted on here and chatted with Alexis, sometimes at length...and I do that because I find value in it. Because I am willing to be challenged without taking emotional offense. Because I do not need a bobble-headed moron telling me my ideas and input are awesome if they actually deserve to be challenged.

The irony of all of this is that Alexis is only condemning of people when they prove themselves to be dipshits. And those people deserve it.

I mean hell...here's a perfect example...

"But why come into a conversation, all the time, expecting other people to be idiots?"

How about this, Anthony? Why come into a conversation all the time and ACT like an idiot?

Maybe if people would stop meeting expectations those expectations would change. There's a reason the comments 'round here are moderated and the site is better for it.

TL:DR version - Address the topics and the content of the posts or realize you're wasting your own time. You'd do just as well to yell at Carlin (RIP) to be "less funny" when he's trying to get a point across in his stand-up.

Keith S said...

As I understood James' comments, I second the opinion that nice and/or civil need not be insincere.

As we are on Alexis' blog, it is certainly his right to verify statements according to his own criteria. Personally, I find such thinking tends to place too great a limit on ideas presented by others.

I may opine, for example, that black is a dark color. If Alexis chooses, he may dismiss my statement and instead offer his internally verified information about the color black.

I have no problem with that. However, it is problematic when Alexis chooses to call my statement wrong, or ill-conceived because (apparently) it does not coincide with his own, internally verified truths.

I enjoy the ideas presented by this blog and commenters here. The heads or tails, black or white logic I could do without.

Ungoliant said...

Great post. I totally agree with you.
This make me think of JP Sartre's The Flies (a philosophical french play about remorse and morals). A very interesting book.