Wednesday, May 09, 2018

The Competition

When the boys were little we would play car games on trips to keep them from melting down.  One was "Which side of the car has more Christmas lights?" on the way back from Scituate, Wolfeboro, or Sudbury Thanksgiving night. Ben was four years younger, and would rapidly descend into cheating, claiming he saw Christmas lights through the forest into the next neighborhoods. Even when there were no nest neighborhoods.  This escalated rapidly, until both boys were making ridiculous claims of briefly-sighted bulbs.

There was a game show in which contestants bid lower and lower for how many notes it would take them to identify a song. "I can name that song in six notes." "Five." "Four." "Take it."

More delicate and refined instruments can detect not only a percentage of poison in your water, but parts-per-million, or parts-per-billion.  Everyone agrees that's an improvement.  Yet what if the instruments gave false positives, and gave them often?  Not such an advantage then, is it?  We have all met posers who pretend to detect or discern what the rest of you jabroneys miss. They have refined palates, and can detect nuances of toast.

So we all get the concept. I'm superior because I can detect what ordinary people can't.

When you set up a social reward system for detecting heresy, what is going to happen?  You are going to get a competition of people detecting heresy at finer and finer degrees.

You will get false positives, unless there is some sort of cost for that.  You will getting increasing numbers of false positives, justified with subtler but stranger arguments.

This is what is happening with racism, sexism, homophobia, colonialism.  "You can detect racism in college mascots? Well I can detect sexism at fifty meters in the artwork in the library, so there." Students engage in this in order to show off to their professors (or more likely, the administrators) that I'm getting it!  I'm breaking the code! I'm understanding the language of the cognoscenti! It is especially sweet to lord it over other students. The current fascination with being more woke or less woke is just this game in slang. What is actually just a hair-trigger approach to everyone else's behavior, rife with false positives, is treated as moral refinement.


Jonathan said...


RichardJohnson said...

What is sad about this heresy detection is that those detecting heresy- a.k.a. racism/bigotry/phobia/prejudice what have you- are completely unaware that the same applies to them. No one is free from in-group/out-group classifying, along with dislike of the out-group. It comes with being human.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

And it can get turned on them from within, when that is the next step in the competition.

Mark said...

Interesting to see reference to an old haunt of mine in your post. I can see Sudbury from here, in my fading memory. It was 50 years ago.
Good point re: taking everyone's inventory except one's own. So tiresome, yet somehow hard-wired.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

My parents lived in Sudbury from 1971 to maybe 1986 or so, off Landham Rd. Both my younger brothers went to Lincoln-Sudbury. I had a college girlfriend who was class of '72 at LSRHS as well. I could have added in Westford, but that was on the way from Goffstown to Sudbury, not a separate trip usually.