The other day someone used the word "sheeple" in response to a blog post. The original post was about someone who had used an unconventional bit of formatting in their book, and the reply was ... well, the fact that the word "sheeple" was involved should tell you something about where they were coming from and what their view was. (Out of politeness to everyone involved, I won't link the post and response; I've tried to be as accurate as possible in my rendition of what was going on.)
Many years ago, I used to know someone who used the word "sheeple" a great deal, and that person's use of it was almost inevitably fulsome and elitist. The not-so-unspoken insinuation was: All those people out there are mindless stumbling herds of morons, present company excepted of course. The more I learned about this person, the more I realized he had no right to such unearned contempt for "the masses", especially when he hadn't done a thing in his life to elevate himself above them ... except grouse about how his genius had gone unrecognized by the sheeple.
As I put it to a friend the other day, the only person you should worry about or angst over feeling superior to is the guy you were yesterday.
It's possible to be exhausted and happy at the same time, but I think I've discovered new prolongations of each this time around. I got back from OSCON way early this morning — my flight lapsed over into the a.m., but after catching some sleep on the plane and a nap after arriving home I think my clock is about back to normal. I found it funny that Louis Suarez-Potts doesn't believe in jet lag, or so he told me at the con - maybe he's just found a way to cope with it that's so seamless it gets dialed down to near-invisibility?
I didn't manage to visit Powell's — but I did visit the "satellite" stores at PDX, and between that and the Barnes & Noble at the mall directly behind the hotel (shame on me, I know), I came away with a good deal of material that kept me awake on the plane:
I think I got more responses — and more good ones — about yesterday's post than I've received about nearly anything I've posted lately. I went back and took another look at it, and realized a lot of what I was talking about were not things that were inherent in the quote itself but things which I brought to it on my own, and that was a bad thing to do.
First, to me, the idea that there's just "stuff you like" and "stuff you don't like" is self-limiting, because once you consciously embrace that as a way to define your tastes, a whole galaxy of other possibilities get knocked out of the box. It sounds like an argument from ignorance, and that's why I felt like the mounted attack on it seemed on target.
But that doesn't excuse all the other things that were wrong with the attack: its mean-spiritedness, for one — and now that I look at it again, the way the responder uses the premise to put words in the other person's mouth, which pretty much invalidates the whole enterprise. It may well be true that "There's just music you like and music you don't like" is a prelude to warding off any objective criticism, as was claimed, but the original posted didn't actually do that — that was something the other guy pre-emptively accused him of. (Assuming that such a thing wasn't snipped out due to my own ham-handedness with preserving the quote.)
I don't like the idea of not subjecting one's own tastes to a little analysis, but it's not much good if you come to that conclusion by steamrolling and logic-chopping, is it?
Not long ago I was a member of a mailing list that talked about avant-garde music, and one of the posts to the list made it into my clippings file. I stupidly deleted the original message, so I am not sure who is on either side of the conversation. But with an exchange like this it scarcely matters. (Original spelling and punctuation preserved.)
as i've said many times, there is no good music or bad music - just music you like or music you don't like
that opinion is banal, false and mistaken at the same time.
you are probably right that 'good' and 'bad' won't take you very far critically. to that extent it seems a banal observation.
then you conclude that there is 'just music you like or music you don't like', which seems patently false. there is just as obviously music that is more or less complex, music that has strict tempo and music that doesn't, tonal and atonal music, etc., etc., and many more critical categories that can be applied that tell you alot about music.
finally, i think it is mistaken, in the sense of being an opinion that should be opposed. it sounds liberal but it is arrogant: it pretends to be democratic (admitting that everyone has their own opinion), but it is self-serving because it implies that no one can criticise *your* taste.
i am not trolling - i just don't think that such banalities should pass without comment
This could apply to a critical appraisal of just about anything, when you get down to it. As it stands, it's one of the better arguments I've heard for being willing to examine and refine your own tastes without falling back on know-nothing arguments like "I don't know what 'good' art/literature/music is, but I know what I like."
Plenty of people use this formula to justify what they like. I know I used to do it, but after a while I realized something: If you don't do any actual thinking about what you like and don't like, if you shun trying to make deeper connections, in a way you're damaging your future ability to determine what you're going to like and not like. The problem with saying "I don't know what's 'good', but I know what I like" is that it's an argument in favor of your own continued ignorance about your tastes. And that means, as I see it, enduring a lot more crap than you have to.
Most folks aren't critics and don't want to become critics. For them, it's completely beside the point. They don't want to analyze what they like, they want to enjoy it — and the analysis, for them, ruins the enjoyment by turning the whole thing into a boring homework exercise. They're not worried that their justification is a circular argument — I like what I know, and I know what I like — because none of this requires logic to work.
The flipside of this, though, is that if they're in the company of people who analyze what they like as a way to deepen their enjoyment of it and find perspectives on it that they might not have found on their own, it isn't a homework assignment; it's fun.
There’s no question in my mind that Dark Horse is doing the right thing by remastering and reissuing their back catalog of Masamune Shirow titles: Orion, Dominion, Ghost in the Shell. There’s also no question in my mind that Shirow’s books are a wildly uneven lot, and that’s why Dark Horse’s recent reissue of Shirow’s Black Magic is only of value to those who want every single one of his titles in a row on their shelf.
Magic is probably the earliest of Shirow’s works to be released in English, and its primordiality shows in every respect — artwork, storytelling, conceptualization, humor, the whole tamale. If nothing else it’s interesting because it shows how even in his earliest stages as a creator, Shirow suffered from the same limitations that also inhibited his later and more polished works. He spun out nigh-incomprehensible plots that seemed to be used more for atmosphere than actual storytelling; he created characters who were little more than mouthpieces of one variety or another; and he never met a whacked-out theory he didn’t like.
The July 2008 edition of Dean Sluyter's Questions column provides two answers to the old standby "How can I get enlightened?" The first answer has one graf I particularly liked:
The Eightfold Path is not a program of accumulating merit (or merit badges) so that someday the Big Buddha in the Sky will open the gates of nirvana to you. Yes, some of the old texts can make it sound that way, but today sophisticated Buddhists generally give that language a more inward and immediate application. ... [I]t's pretty hard for most people to get their minds quiet and clear enough to recognize [that nirvana is right here in the ordinary world of samsara] if they're busy killing or stealing or coveting their neighbors' wives. Virtue is its own reward. ... [I]t helps release your consciousness from complicated patterns of aggression and consequences so that it's free to recognize its own inherent heavenliness. [Emphasis mine.]
We've all heard that one before: "virtue is its own reward." So much so, I suspect, that it's been drained of meaning and has no more real weight than a PSA about seatbelts. But reading that article helped click it into place, and allowed me to put into words a good deal of what has been floating around in my head on the subject for ages.
Most of us are probably familiar with the gamut of arguments about altruism — whether or not there is such a thing as a truly selfless act, etc. My take is that there probably isn't, but it doesn't matter — that there is a threshold of selflessness for a given act that once crossed makes it effectively selfless as far as others are concerned. A friend of mine once put it this way: "Yes, it is selfish of me to do good things for other people, because I enjoy watching them smile and be happy. That is very selfish of me!"
The more you do the right thing, the easier it becomes to cross that threshold without making yourself feel uncomfortable, because over time you lean more towards your desires and everyone else's being in sync. There will always be some level of conflict between what you want and what everyone else wants. You can't get rid of them entirely, but you can lean towards harmonizing them as much as possible. Even if that form of harmony consists of avoiding something entirely, it's better than inspiring further conflict with it.
The other part of how virtue winds up being its own reward is hinted at in the above excerpt. By doing the right thing, you're forced less and less to extricate yourself from the aftermath of having done the wrong thing. I'm reminded of people I used to know who would dream up huge, elaborate and quite physically and mentally tiring plans to defraud other people so they wouldn't have to work a straight job — and yet somehow never realized that it would probably be less work overall just to get and hold down a straight job. (Although, obviously, a lot less exciting — but again, their idea of "exciting" just sounds like unending hassle to me.)
This has implications on both the outside and the inside. When you're not making trouble for yourself outwardly, it's easier to learn how to not make trouble for yourself inwardly. I'm again reminded of people I knew who would encounter something negative in their daily lives, and then compulsively reinforce the badness by venting about it with others: "Look! This bad thing happened! Doesn't it suck? Don't you feel bad for me? Come on, let's commiserate about this terrible thing. — No! I don't want to hear about the fact that you had fun today. Nobody else deserves to have fun when I'm suffering like this." It's hard for me to see this serving any other function than to convince yourself that you're going to be miserable no matter what.
Virtue is its own reward because it makes the inside of your head a much more livable place. And at the end of the day, when your eyes are closed and your head's hitting the pillow, where else is there left to go?