Thursday, January 25, 2018

Self-Evidence

Stipulated, I am a Canadian. However …

The second paragraph of the U.S. Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …”

It has taken two amendments to straighten out this “self-evidence,” the 14th and the 19th, but I take no issue with that here. Rather, I’d like to point out something that 99.999% of the world does when reading or hearing this, which the Gentle Reader most likely also did.

Most read this as “… all men are equal.”

The word “created” is ignored, dismissed, glossed over or otherwise discounted in arguments about the equality of individuals. Yet no sane person really believes that “all persons” are equal. The Revolutionary Soldier initiated by the Declaration certainly did not consider the British soldier to have an equal voice in the affairs of the new America. The British Soldier was being given two options, and two options only. Quit or die. Of course, the Brit was giving the revolutionists the same options, but the Brit was not kidding himself about anyone being equal.

When we decide to shoot someone, we do so from a self-styled position of superiority, where we believe we have the inalienable right to take away from someone all that they have, and whatever value they have to family and friends. This is why all arguments against war begin with someone saying, “Those people have as much right as you to their ideas, place of residence, choices, freedom to act, etcetera,” and all arguments for war answer, “No, they don’t.”

The word "created" is not an accidental adjective that flew off Jefferson's pen and was then ignored by the Declaration's 56 signers.  It's very clear what it means.  It means that what you do with your life after being created matters ... and that if you want to be treated as someone better than equal, you had better try be better than equal.  Or else, you will have to live with being less than equal.

But our re-reading of the Constitution, and all like documents, discards this condition.  "I have a right to equality because I am a human," the present-day argument goes.  "I have blood, I have flesh, I have feelings, I am therefore the equivalent to everyone ..." followed by that most important rejoiner, "... and everyone is equivalent to ME."

A number of social philosophies have gotten us here.  The whole Soviet experiment, along with Orwell's answer to it, which has stigmatized the words, "More equal than others," to the degree that anyone who dares to lift their head above the trough is trying to live in the farmer's house.  Coincidentally, all those shouting at us to keep our head in the trough clearly have their heads out of it, since they can see us well enough to rebuke our momentary curiosity about things.

The insistence on absolute equality for all, regardless of distinction, is flooding through every social discourse at the present.  In a recent interview with a long-time heroine of mine, Christie Blatchford, who used to write brilliant pieces for the Canadian Globe and Mail, when it was a good paper, Jordan Peterson made the point clear in this discussion:
Blatchford: "How is it possible that we don't recognize that ... there's that minimum on one end and then there's somebody who's sexually assaulting women, physically raping them."
Peterson: "Well some of it is, there's a concerted effort on the part of the radical postmodern left to erase the distinction between categories of critical behaviour ... the postmodernists don't like categories.  If you go way down into the structure of the current culture wars, what you see is that at the very base of it, there's two things that the postmodern neo-Marxists are, they're full-scale assaulting.  One is categorization, because they believe that the only function of categorization is power.  The other one is that there's a war on competence, because if you admit that there are hierarchical structures that are predicated on competence, then you have to grapple with the issue of competence."

Now, let's back off a little, because this isn't a political blog, this is a gaming blog ... and I am going in the direction of gaming, where I will get before this post is over.  But I am laying the groundwork for what I'm seeing everywhere, because I believe the above attack on distinction is right.  "Created equal" and then failing at life from a lack of competence is not "Always equal," something that we're told to believe but that we really don't.  And there's the trough again.  Argue against the latter and you're taking your head out of the trough and daring to think out loud, for yourself.

[I hate that this has all been assigned to labeled groups like the "neo-Marxists" or the "postmodernists."  It's a short-hand, but it unfortunately plays into the hands of the alt-right, who can take a label and make it into an oppressor themselves.  But I digress]

The subject of gaming is under siege as well by these same philosophical equivalencies.  The most commonly used argument runs thusly: "It is just one of the ways to play, it is just a different system, everything has pros and cons, such and such does not automatically produce a better game and therefore can be dismissed," and so on.  Arguments that don't specifically deconstruct or discuss the matter at hand, but rather take the approach that "I have seen an example of that sort of game, and it didn't impress me; and all of that sort of game is exactly equal, so once I have seen one, I have seen them all."

It is an easy position to take, particularly in that my comfort with my game is never compromised by ideas that I can dismiss, taking the position that my narrow perspective is sufficient to make me an expert.

Here's something that keeps coming up with RPGs that is particularly telling ~ and I have done this myself.  "I have been playing for 20, 30, 40 years, and I know what role-playing is."

Do we?  Can any of us?  Here is a game with no real universal presence at all. There are perhaps a dozen on-line games that can offer a shared media experience ... none of which are open to new participants, most of which are funded by the company, and none of which offers any in game discussion of the rules while the game is ongoing.  In other words, these are mock-presentations that have little, if any, similarity to a real game between real participants who are not playing for the sake of celebrity.

And how many "games" can a person really say they've played in, say, 40 years.  If you've DM'd all that time, most of those "games" are just one game, yours.  Which is fully capable of deluding any of us into thinking we have all the answers, because by gum, we've been doing this so damn long.  Most of the rest of these "games" that we've played were fleeting moments, a session or two ... and anyone with a lot of sessions under their belt got them at Conventions, where the DM was collared, with hands tied, by a presentation-agenda that did not allow much latitude.  And what were these sessions anyway, in terms of hours?  Three?  Four?  No one, anywhere, can hope to understand a gamemaster's world or style in a time like that.

So when we pretend we are "experienced" in gaming, we mean, "more than a noob."  But this is not the same as a player in the NFL who has been playing football with and against strangers for hours since they entered their first league at six, amid a shared experience where every professional game and tens of thousands of amateur games are recorded, dissected and replayed over and over, providing twenty and thirty thousand hours of experience to every participant.

Our "experience" at role-playing is not equivalent.  It can't be.  And we should realize this.  There is so much out there that we will never see, so many good DMs and Players that we will never meet, no matter how many games we play and no matter how many Conventions we attend.

So we can't just say, "I've seen that style of play and it doesn't work for me."  We've got to explain exactly why.  Without the generalized, personalized, supposed opinions based on experience.  If it is random die rolls that are the problem, we've got to say why they don't work, in detail, with examples, conceding that there may be ways of rolling dice in a game that we just haven't considered.  Because it isn't universal, this dice rolling thing.  Not by a damn sight.

And if I take umbrage with something like Alignment, say, then I'm equally under the gun.  I can't argue, "I tried it and it didn't work, so I don't use it."  That is an argument from ignorance.  That is me saying, I, personally, with my phenomenal brain [so conceived] couldn't make it work, therefore it doesn't.  Horseshit.  That is me arguing that because I'm equal with everyone else who likes alignment, my opinion is just as valid as theirs.  And people who like alignment would be right to disregard any argument of mine that ran that way.

If I'm going to go after alignment, I need a better argument.  I need a universal position, one that argues from evidence: as in, according to psychology, we have no evidence to show that human beings ever behave according to one set of dictates.  Or, according to psychology, it is quite clear that every human being, given the right circumstances, is capable of being both the best of the species and the worst of the species.  This argument doesn't argue my opinion or my experience; it argues the millions of lives spent contributing to a body of knowledge that is indisputable by any single person's opinion and experience.  It is a body of knowledge that disregards opinion.

And those of us who are better than equal human beings are those able to recognize this, because it represents our movement forward from jungle law and imbecility, while those who resist this recognition are less than equal because they can't fucking tell the difference.

This insistent, ludicrous clinging to a false equivalency of opinion, as I say, has the social discourse by the throat.  And the way out of it is to recognize the equivalency when we hear it and call it out for what it is: a desperate grasp at having merit where no merit has been earned.

We are not equal.  We are created equal.  And then some of us fail.


Some who have failed can and are ready to fix this.  And some aren't.  They want the world remade to suit them.  But here's the key to that.

That we are created equal, but do not remain equal, is self-evident. That is, we have no control over it.  Whatever laws we pass, whatever philosophies we engineer, whatever bullshit we tell ourselves at night to help us sleep, in every social system that ever is, the better than equal people will find their way to the top and the less than equal people will find their way to the bottom.  The only winning strategy is not to be less than equal.

6 comments:

JB said...

Gosh, this is a great post. Well written though a little tougher than the average fare one finds in blogs (and, no, I'm not saying "tough" with regard to subject matter. It's high-brow in a good way).

Here's my question: for those of us who happen to be (for whatever reason) "more equal than others" in a particular field or endeavor...for example, gaming...what, if any, is our RESPONSIBILITY to those who pursue the same field or endeavor, but who don't meet our same level of competency?

I know that in past blog posts, you've written (and here I'm paraphrasing) they can fuck off for all you care. But do you still feel that way? You keep attempting to educate folks in this regard, and I ASSUME you aren't being masochistic. Do YOU feel a responsibility to share your competency? Or is it simply a delight in your own ego? Or is it something else?

Just curious. It's something I'm considering myself lately (with regard to myself, I mean).

Thanks.

William Murrill said...

Alexis, I'm going to lift my head up with this comment and accept all the risks that entails because while I follow what you mean in regards to the game, I frankly don't think alt-righters like Peterson are at the "are equal" or "created equal" part of the discussion yet despite demanding the same privileges. Hell, I'd go further and say that they've got a lot in common with the kind of people who run abusive games and apologise for their abuses online (or the abuses of other games if we're going to keep this metaphor running) on the grounds of abusiveness being "relative" or "subjective." These are the types who hope to not critically look at the state of the hobby, how they wallow in the current state of the hobby, and how that reflects on them.

Alexis Smolensk said...

William,

It is clear that you don't listen to the content on line about Peterson, or Peterson's own words, since you feel the need to add the adjectival "alt-righters" in your argument. That adjective is fallacious. The alt-right claims him, true, but he has steadfastly denied being a part of the alt-right. In this environment, the shittiest people co-opt whatever they can to define the justice of their position, and this is such an example.

In turn, you've co-opted the term as well, to underscore your own prejudices about the man, rather than simply using HIS NAME, like a well-mannered, respectful, rational human being does. We have had various disagreements these recent weeks, but I haven't felt the need to call you "fuckwit William Murrill" or "dumbfuck William Murrill." I think you and I both realize that "alt-rightest" anything is more offensive than calling someone either fuckwit or dumbfuck, so let's just admit that your argument after this decision to write this way is spectacularly tainted.

Now, as to privileges. Peterson earned a B.A. degree in political science in 1982 and a degree in psychology in 1984, both from the University of Alberta, and his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from McGill University in 1991. He remained at McGill as a post-doctoral fellow for two years before moving to Massachusetts, where he worked as an assistant and an associate professor in the psychology department at Harvard University. In 1998, he moved to the University of Toronto as a full professor.

This is 36 years of working in the field of psychology and other studies. What exactly have you done in the last 36 years that you feel makes you a better judge that the people who reviewed his work, worked with him, came to his support in this recent time and have decided to give him more respect than you have?

I think your whole argument is one of false equivalency, based on a gut feeling, without merit, tainted with prejudice, suggestive of a certain bitterness and a callous regard for a human being who has earned his right to be respected, if not from you, then from the hundreds and hundreds of patients he has treated, the students he has taught and the others that he has risked his reputation and his 36-year career to speak out on behalf of.

William, I don't think there's a place for you here.

Alexis Smolensk said...

JB,

Sorry, I got distracted.

To answer your question. Yes, I admit that sometimes, it has been "Fuck off for all I care." Examples like Mr. Murrill have led me down that path many a time. But our RESPONSIBILITY as human beings is to lend help to OTHER human beings, whomever that happens to be. Even Mr. Murrill, plainly, could use some help. So I interrupt my thoughts to you and spend four, likely pointless, paragraphs attempting to educate him.

I've been prepping for the podcast by watching and listening to Simon Sinek, whom I linked last week. When talking about connecting to people, he is a source for inspiration. I'm going to quote him now,

"To become a Navy SEAL, they have to go through something called BUDS, which is a multi-month selection process which destroys their bodies; and the vast majority of people will drop out and never become SEALS ~ because it is so aggressive. A former SEAL was asked, 'What kind of person makes it through BUDS?' And the SEAL responded, 'I can't tell you the kind of people that make it through, but I can tell you the kind of people that don't make it through.'

"He said the preening leaders, who like to delegate everything ~ none of those guys make it through. He said the star college athletes, who've never really been tested to the core of their being, none of those guys make it through. He said the guys who show up with bulging muscles, covered in tattoos, who want to show everybody how tough they are, none of those guys make it through. He said some of the guys who become SEALS are skinny and scrawny. He said some of the guys who become SEALS, you will actually see them shivering out of fear. He said but there's one thing they all have in common. He said when they're emotionally exhausted, when they're physically exhausted, when they have absolutely nothing left to give, every single one of them is able to dig down deep inside of themselves to find the energy to help the guy next to them. Those are the guys that become SEALS."

Alexis Smolensk said...

JB, to continue:

There are a lot of people like us, writing about games and D&D, giving advice, acting as experts, pushing their agenda or their hate, pushing their entitlement ... but the guys online who have been doing this for eight, ten years, even guys I don't like, they're in this for the other fellow. They're not in it for themselves. They take the time to answer the comments, to give moments of themselves to help fix someone else's problem, to contribute to the community at large and to even put their own belief system on hold if that's what it took to make the unseeable guy on the other end of the chat window feel a little better.

I have readers and defenders and patreon supporters not because of what I do here on the blog, or the wiki, but because of what I say on emails, and what I say when someone like Mr. Murrill decides he's going to change his mind and not feel so incomprehensibly challenged by a professional psychologist talking about something that he is an EXPERT at. Those guys don't do that publicly. They do it in private; and if I can help them, if it isn't just a troll, if it someone who WANTS to learn, damn right I'll teach them.

And yes, that's my responsibility. Not just with regards to D&D and role-playing, but with regards to anything. You need help out of that ditch? And I'm right here, where I can reach you. Okay. Take my hand ...

But if you sit in that ditch, and show me your bulging muscles, and tell me what to do or think, or talk about your glory days, then I'll just keep walking. Because I'm just one person and there are only so many days I have to pull people out of ditches. I can't be wasting my time with people who won't try.

So, there's the bitterness, and the fuck you, and the apparent lack of empathy on my part. And I have no empathy for those who won't work, won't dig in, won't admit fault, won't try. I don't have the time; there are all these other people over here, and they need me too.

William Murrill said...

Hi Alexis,

I went into more detail about it in email since it escaped the boundaries of the blog, but I still want to have it on the record that the comment I made up there was ad-hominem garbage. Sorry for posting it, and you can disregard it.