On being opinionated

(Willy Wonka speaks the truth)

(Willy Wonka speaks the truth)

Having a view is overrated especially when you actually haven’t thought about an issue with much depth. I find it odd how some seemingly innocuous questions are a dividing line, or how issues which may seem arbitrary to someone without any familiarity can be the basis of heated disputes. I remember observing a conversation where someone pointed out that one Latin American country had a very good healthcare system and research funding infrastructure in medicine. However, the person who took offence happened to be from another Latin American country and the facticity of this issue was a matter of national pride.

I think the age of media has a lot to blame for this need for answers all the time. This morning I was on the BBC news website (a prelude to getting to work in the morning) and I saw a story that Prime Minister Cameron refused to disclose the names of his guests, I then saw an opinion piece by editor Nick Robinson, which I subsequently opened to read. As I went back to the previous home page for BBC News, I immediately then found a change in story that Cameron was in fact going to disclose his private guest list.

Social media, and the traditional press is oriented towards opinions, talking heads and having a point of view on an issue. What ever happened to ‘I’m need to think about this issue some more’. Perhaps it is the staple of conversations which are not going very well, when one has to ask ‘what do you think of this issue?’, which I find very often very wooden and unconvincing when I ask this question. I am however very animated about some issues and I would genuinely ask if I cared what someone thinks on an issue if they had relevantly interesting insights.

I am not interested in pre-fabricated diatribes that read like a bad undergraduate essay that didn’t actually understand the examination question. I am not interested in your opinions if they are regurgigated from somewhere more interesting or influential where you didn’t think for yourself. I also don’t care for your non expert opinion on a technical issue. Why should we be interested in the views of non experts? Why should we care about the views of celebrities?

I must concede that some famous people use their reputation to raise awareness of issues, to an uncertain degree of success at times, and this is done purposefully to show a world away from their own experience to talk about something vastly away from the cult of personality, and I’ll accept thats a pretty good use of attention when they know the weight of their moralistic perspective is undeserved. George Clooney’s activism relating to the Sudan comes into mind.

I am self conscious about having an opinion often. When I saw that Cameron story that he refused to disclose the names of his private lobbying funders, I thought that was despicable, but then the story developed and he changed his mind, and then I felt, in a manner that Spinoza eloquently observed; my sense of indignation dissipated.

I also must be aware of my own sense of righteous indignation. In a previous post Michael made on self-critique, I considered the ways in which I have my own shortcomings on having pre-prepared diatribes on issues, or how I don’t actually answer questions people ask me if I don’t have a view. I’m reminded of Adorno’s strategy in the essay ‘Resignation’ where he addresses a criticism he has laid against him that is quite important, and he responds in no way actually addressing the criticism, but critically unpacking certain assumptions about the view someone might take on social change. I’m aware that I’ve written an opinion piece on how I am tired of people being opinionated, which means I am the subject of this criticism myself.

So I’ll need to think about this some more.


On offensive language

If you are reading this blog post, and if you read the blog in general on a regular basis then thank you for your readership. I don’t think we ever thank you readers for reading us. We are aware that your activity in reading our blog is a choice, and you can choose to read something else, or do something else right now. It is this very consideration that people often consider modification of their behaviour in accord to the locus of activity or set of social presumptions that are acceptable.

On this blog we talk about a lot of things, and speaking for only myself, I endure a lot of self-censorship and modification, which is partly why I hardly post these days. I’ve been thinking about the topic of offensive language for some time, partly from my working experiences and also from the apology advanced by the UK feminist F-Word blog on the use of the words ‘idiots’ and ‘cretins’. This does make me think a little bit. On most things I read, this doesn’t rate highly in terms of offense, but on a second thought, the apology reminded me of the different kinds of fora for discussions.

Michael has a story of how a prominent philosopher of science said ‘Fuck Empiricism’ as an expression of his motivations towards a dispositional account of natural kinds. That was exceptionally funny because this individual was a very proper gentleman in every professional interaction, plus the rarity of his use of swearing and his presumed politeness served as a comical foil for this bizarre outburst of which the two words are rarely combined together. Michael has also told me an anecdote about when he gave a talk on Utopias last year and felt uneasy about referencing the film ‘Gayniggers from outer space’, which led to a discussion from the audience where they constantly repeated the word as a mention and not a use.

Some of my favourite stand up routines are about offensive language. Marc Maron has a routine about how he reserves the right for the use of the term ‘retarded’ where he instigates a point that he needs the word and knowingly distinguishes it from those with mental disabilities. Likewise, Doug Stanhope (who rates high on the Noumenal playlist right now) has a routine on how some words are too good to be banned, and its about using offensive words in an imaginative or confusing way. Of course there are comedians who don’t choose to do blue or edgy routines who are also laugh out loud funny, such as Tim Vine.

I’m a person who really enjoys stand up comedy, I enjoy politically incorrect action films and I enjoyed pre-Nutty Professor films of Eddie Murphy. One of the few joys of my life is to laugh, and I laugh at pretty offensive and reprehensible jokes. I am uncomfortable when people say ‘fuck’ at work in a casual way, when something really goes wrong at work however, I think it’s the perfect thing to say when it’s my responsibility to sort out someone else’s problem.Context of course, is everything, like knowing when it’s a good time to drink single malt Scotch.

I appreciate that there are levels of appropriateness, and social situations vary in what are acceptable forms of behaviour from a low tier comedy venue to a high tier one; or from an inclusive environment emphasising safety and welcomeness, to a leisurely and colloquial one. for me, knowing when not to swear is like knowing when its appropriate to talk about Kant: I can’t fucking do it anywhere else than here. I want to end the post by saying thank you for your continued regular or irregular readership.


Linking opinions to social stratification

College Liberal

[Michael has nothing to say this week except talk about Mass Effect 3, so I was forced to put together a piece]

In this post I want to try and address a notion. It has been presumed or hinted at in a great many conversations that I’ve had with Michael lately but also from other places. I was addressing what I think is the one great flaw in Adorno’s thought, which Michael had either ignored or is ignoring, and that is his reasearch on ‘The Authoritarian Personality’ TAP where Adorno (et. al) tried to meld psychoanalysis with his socialist social theory to construct a typology or scale of people with regard to their susceptability to authoritarian control. The history around TAP is interesting in a variety of ways, not least because of the unease that US intellectuals had with Adorno’s original socialist bent on the issue, changing ‘socialism’ with ‘democracy’ to make the research more ‘respectable’ and probably better read.

What we also find interesting is the way in which Adorno’s fundamental idea is so influential, it has been definately so in the US. That notion being: is it possible to link social identity to one’s ideological outlook? As the most vague question, many people would think so, and it has led to a bit of research since Adorno on trying to link social identity features to say, a conservative or liberal mentality, or a religious believer or an atheist outlook. Why is this issue interesting?

  1. If the question is sufficiently empirically rigid, with decent operational terms, we can draft research questions and research design to answer whether say, in the UK, there are more people in the £30+ income bracket vote Conservative (the party) than Labour. With Adorno’s own research, his terminology was very bad in that it lacked operational rigour, plus Adorno had an outright disdain for positivist things like ‘evidence’. I think this aspect of Adorno is an oversight that Michael doesn’t properly acknowledge
  2. If opinion is fundamentally linked to identity, then our rational notions of open mindedness, or the semblance of debate should be taken less seriously. Major public debates, for example seem less to me like a means of reasonable people discussing ideas and proposals where they are willing to accept their own flaws in arguments or lack of evidence, and co-operatively reach the truth (like a Socratic dialogue), but instead, involve pundit figures who will refuse to accept any part of the opposing side’s opinion, and are sounding off on the same old issues where the audience members who have already made their mind will not be convinced either way. This is essentially the a critical point made by Chris Mooney as he advances the secularism and rationalism discussion as he moves away from the 2000s ‘new’ atheist agenda.


Indoctrination: reviewing last week

[This blog post is a few days out of date as the stories have lost their freshness, however that’s a testament to my own lack of time than anything else. ]

“Tell me what to think, I can’t make up my own ideas!”, On Kony 2012

As most people with a facebook account last week may have observed, the video from charity ‘Invisible Children’, ‘Kony 2012’ was spread like, well, a virus. Even the memes and picture boards referenced the awareness campaign integrating it with other memes, such as Third World Success. I thought it was an interesting blending of activism plus cynical meme humour. How much more fun would it be, then, when a story came up of bizarre behaviour on the part of Invisible Children’s CEO.

There was an interesting televisual piece by Charlie Brooker on the phenomenon (which was notably, a few days before Jason Russell’s ‘incident’. I shall link to it here:

This phenomenon was an experiment in crowd mentality. Exactly what we can learn from it time will tell. However, it does show that as a message is propagated to a large group, nuance can become lost, even polarised responses are galvanised as blunt opponents. The response of criticism to the Kony 2012 film is on a variety of fronts, such as the lack of context in contemporary Uganda in which the message is portrayed.

The mass mentality shown through the whole Kony 2012 affair is almost Adornian. I found another amusing take on the issue from Nostalgia Critic.

On Mass Effect 3 (SPOILERS AHEAD)

Moving from one indoctrination to another. Like the Kony 2012 issue, I’ve been meaning to write about the latest Mass Effect game, but as more news came my opinion completely changed and I had to revise what I was going to say. I want to firstly say: I LOVE MASS EFFECT. The series is unlike anything I’ve played, and perhaps the comparable great RPG game before it would have to be Baldurs’ Gate.

Lots of things have been said about the innovations about having a character that stays through each of the two sequels, as well as the decisions you make. The great feeling of playing the Mass Effect series is feeling that you have a part in the game, and that your reactions and responses mean something to the story. There are lots of elements concerning common science fiction tropes, such as FTL travel and humanoid races, but the story has interesting elements, some of which are tried and tested sci-fi fare, while others form a social critique or an interesting imagining of the future based on current knowledge and reasonable speculation (using quantum entanglement to send messages, anyone?).

I really liked that I could keep my relationship option from Mass Effect 2, even though my romance option (Tali) had to die. There was a weird glitch where Tali appeared later on in the game in a romance scene, even though she was dead. That was really weird. I thought it was great that my male Commander Shepherd had the oppurtunity to delve in other potential relationships, one of which with a man! The presence of a male homosexual in the story was very welcome to me, especially because it was presented in an incredibly normal and almost boring way. I suppose when the galaxy is about to be destroyed, other issues don’t really come as high in one’s priorities.
Even though many games don’t do well in terms of social diversity, as well as addressing real world issues, I considered ME3 to have touched on a few interesting human (excuse my speciesism) concerns, such as grief, post traumatic stress, the loss of a limb, genocide and even Nietzsche’s notion of the eternal return. Compared to ME2, however, there wasn’t much depth, but this is mainly because the last chapter of the series is essentially an endgame tying up loose plot ends, which to a large extent it does.

As I completed the game, my response to the whole series and what I originally intended to fanboy pour over about the game changed. There has been a large response of disappointment to the effect of saying that a game that was successful at giving a worthwhile and meaningful choice to the outcome of a story that was essentially your own outcome, had the same ending for everyone. I have to admit this is a convincing ground for disappointment. What I observe about this response is much similar to the Kony 2012 internet populism of polarising opinions.

One might say there are two proposed poles of response to the ending. One pole is so disappointed in the game that they propose that Bioware alter the ending of Mass Effect 3, they have even raised a good amount of money in an online campaign. Another pole critiques the former group, calling them out for a false sense of entitlement over a game that they do not deserve to claim as the franchise were their own intellectual property. Oddly enough, there is even a Mass Effect conspiracy theory, which I myself find convincing, that the ending of the game was part of a wider theme of the trilogy, about the Reaper race of artificial life taking over the minds of organic life and Shepherd’s ‘non-decision’ was essentially part of the Reaper’s indoctrination, making sense of several odd dream sequences and giving more prominence to the symbolism of the dead child who is present at the start of ME3.

If the conspiracy theory is to be believed, Bioware has not only anticipated angry responses, but have also cemented a legacy of duping its own gaming consumer audience through a very, very dark ending for a story that millions love and enjoy. If the conspiracy theory is true, then I can say that the ending was not disappointing.

I think there is a general lesson to be learned from these two events of the week: Don’t rely on your first response to any issue, take a pause and think less about your knee jerk reaction, and take a more calm, collected response. In the age of populism and reactionary politics, we could do with a little bit more stoicism. I could also do with knowing if the indoctrination conspiracy theory is true!!1


Self acceptance and self critique as ethical precepts

Since about January of this year, I have had an embarrassing worry. I am worried that, at the age of 25, I may be losing some of my hair. I’m embarrassed about this because it feels like such a personal thing, also, it’s a very vain thing. I am a man with thick medium length hair and it has been the envy of many women and men. There’s a high attraction to the cult of personality, not just with political leaders but with ourselves. In that way, image seems to matter so much these days. My other worry is also that January is around the half way point between my two birthdays, so I’m 25.5, I’m no longer ‘early 20s’ or ‘late early 20s’ or ‘early mid 20s’. I’m getting older and life brings associated changes with that.

I think perhaps the main worry about the symbolic loss of hair is a journey of acceptance. Accepting myself, and accepting a sense of place in my place in the world. In fairness, there’s a lot of unstable stuff around in the world to make me feel like I don’t have a place, but my hair is the one thing that I can (or I thought I could) control. Perhaps even more generally, one should find some form of acceptance of their mortality and that they will ultimately die. Many philosophers from the past and even the present seem to accept this. As a man of a quarter century, I don’t really have a comprehension of this, but I’m trying.

Be yourself and be happy

I think self awareness is an important ethical precept. Lately I’ve come across this notion in perhaps unexpected places. I was watching a television show earlier today featuring Boy George and Milo Yiannopoulos who identifies as a ‘Gay Catholic’ (I must say I’m impressed at which ever producer found an openly gay catholic, I didn’t personally realise they existed!). The discussion was concerning a recent public discussion on the legitimacy of a proposed legalisation of gay marriage, which is argued by Yiannopoulos as a popularity defusing device for the unpopular economic and social poverty bomb that is exploding around Europe. One point that Mr. George made to Mr. Yiannopoulos was that whether or not homosexuality is a choice, it is key to one’s happiness to accept themselves. It’s true of sexuality as well as a great many other things, that self acceptance is key as some kind of contingent condition to wellbeing.

Self acceptance and self-critique

Linking my baldness worries, with what I saw on TV to what I’ve lately been reading on feminism, I’ve found that feminists often poise the importance of self-awareness and the prejudices that women themselves have in contributing to patriarchy. Self-acceptance may also have a critical dimension, in challenging the prejudices you have about other people that you reflect in yourself, in my case that seems to be some kind of Larry David fixation on the hair on a man’s head. Self-critique in relation to self awareness makes one of aware of social prejudices. bell hooks, in ‘Feminism is for Everybody’ pointed out for instance how the greatest patriarch she came across was her own mother. I also find it interesting how in cliche period novels of the 19thC, older women often seem to be the propagators of patriarchy. Self awareness, following the Adornian, makes one aware of how much of the culture industry we imbibe and accept. Although there is an extent to which we cannot escape the power of consumer capitalism, there are ways in which our choices, whether that’s to purchase a steak at the supermarket, or getting a coffee at lunch, has social and economic ramifications to the wider structure of society.

Sometimes being self aware also makes us realise our flaws, and in this way provides a forum for self critique or improvement, but even so, there does seem to be an onus on reflection with the self as a prism as an important part of reasoning our place in the world, and the wellbeing (or lack of) that comes from it.