Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Choosing The Worst Poster Children

bs king appended a link to Slate Star Codex in her comment in Accusations, which reminded her of my 2012 post about Fanatics, choosing the ambiguous rather than the clear-cut events to rally around. His essay is better.

Well, that's settled then.  Everyone agrees with me. 


Sam L. said...

SSCodex is quite a post. The moral I get is "stop doing that, you'll only encourage them to do more". Some people are set and locked in the pissed-off position, and fire away at the least (whatever they consider as) provocation.

james said...

Stirring up discord for fun and profit, or at least to advance your agenda.

Texan99 said...

I think I got all plaintive about this issue when Ferguson blew up, and you gave me much this same answer, but I had completely forgotten that you raised it back in 2012. The SlateStarCodex does a good job of discussing it at length, too. It's easy to forget that the sort of thing that causes a media storm is not a rationally considered strategy on anyone's part but an emergent order: the dominant characteristic being selected for here is controversy, which is eyeballs on pages. It reproduces by exaggerating the characteristic that causes it to be replicated. That's evolution in a nutshell.

In the context of grabbing the national intellectual stage, it's not something that outrages me entirely. Few of us want to spend much time setting out aphorisms with which we all already totally agree. If there weren't something controversial about a topic, why would we bother hashing it out? (I recite the Nicene Creed every week, but if I really think about it, it's as controversial today as in the 4th century. I don't recite the "water is wet" creed every Sunday.) But in the context of the wider media, the selection process goes beyond "this is interesting; let's discuss it" to "all the oxygen in the room has to be taken up by people shrieking hatred and outrage at each other." I love the image of Doctor Who fans and kitten-pic posters eternally at each other's throats like Captain Kirk and the anti-Kirk in the Tunnel Between the Universes.

The PETA campaign issue was interesting. I'm afraid my view is somewhat bloodless: I see nothing whatever wrong with an anti-meat organization offering money to people to stop eating meat. That's my view even if the organization deliberately targets people it happens to know are in serious financial difficulty, like residents of Detroit who face the disconnection of their water service if they don't start paying for it. For me, that's very much like offering jobs to people you happen to know are out of work and running out of money.

It amuses me no end to see that this offer sparked outraged demands to PETA to "just give them the money with no strings attached!" The outraged people are perfectly entitled to give the people of Detroit money to pay their water bills, so they won't be tempted by offers from PETA that are offensive on whatever rarified level. Instead, they get distracted into a shouting match in an attempt to tell someone else how better to direct his charity dollars--an activity I've long concluded is one of the most destructive forces in human society. It combines moral preening with a complete impossibility of linking effective action to an actor with the requisite resources.