Does success make it impossible to speak truth to power?By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/08/25 10:00
Yesterday's post brought some more thought to mind: Does becoming a "success" -- however you might define that -- make it all the more difficult, if not outright impossible, to speak truth to power? Or, for that matter, speak the truth at all?
Why we accept the existence of crass psychological manipulation as part of the unspoken cost of modern living.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/08/22 10:00
One of the key tricks of propaganda -- PR, advertising, or whatever -- is to make the audience think whatever it is you're pushing was their idea all along. Don't just give the people what they want; give them what they think they want. The less they notice they are being manipulated, the better. And if they do notice it, just convince them you didn't so much give them any thoughts as you did awaken them.
Sometimes the best argument is the one you walk away from.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/08/21 10:00
Someone in my feed managed to post the single most offensive thing I've seen said about Ferguson et al. since the whole mess started. No, I won't repeat it. ("Whitesplaining" is the best term I can come up with to describe it.) My response to this has been to leave them the heck alone. Forever.
No, I'm not inclined to confront the person in question about this, in big part because I have never been very good at, nor particularly inclined to be good at, rubbing people's noses in their politics. I don't think it changes anyone's mind, for one, and two, it only makes me all the more despondent of the already crummy human condition. Wastes time, annoys the pig.
Breeding monsters, and all that.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/08/20 12:00
It is not only the sleep of reason that can engender monsters, as Goya wrote in one of his etchings. Lucid, vigilant reason, when it flows freely, is just as capable of formulating impeccable theories on the inequality of human races; justifying slavery; proving the inferiority of women, the black, or the yellow, the innate evil of the Jew; legitimizing the extermination of the heretic; and supporting conquest, colonialism, and war between nations or classes.
I went back to the previously linked essay and encountered this very good graf in it as well, although I see it now more in the light of the essay's questionable conclusions -- it's part of a general build-up towards saying "Aw, reason 'n science, they ain't all that and a bag of chips, are they?" or something analogous to it.
What's alarming about statements like this is how they sit cheek-by-jowl with other statements about how an illiterate populace is all the easier to oppress. Yes, and I would argue that so is a populace that is generally ignorant of critical thinking and science as a discipline (as opposed to just a pile of facts, a slew of discoveries, or a bunch of technical innovations that resulted from the above). Doesn't matter if it's a government or a corporation that's holding the leashes; you're still clamped into one of 'em.
I know full well by now how reason alone isn't a defense against tyranny or oppression. The Jews of Łódź did not need to mount a counter-argument against the Nazis to justify resistance to them. If anything, reason works as a way to lay out an argument for those who are on the fence, rather than to change the minds of those who already have one made up.
But none of this makes reasoning a worthless or ineffectual pursuit. You might as well complain a mountain bike is not a very good rowboat.
Why does it always come down to having to choose between science and art, between Shakespeare or the bomb?By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/08/20 10:00
... since there is no way of eradicating man’s destructive drive—which is the price he pays for the faculty of invention—we should try to direct it toward books instead of gadgets. Literature can mitigate this drive without much risk. ... Unlike the scientific civilization that has made us more fragile than our ancestors were before they learned to fight the tiger, under a literary civilization more impractical, passive, and dreamy men would be born. But at least these men would be less dangerous to their fellows than we have grown to be since we voted for the gadgets and against the book.
A good essay, but with some dunderheaded conclusions.
To understand doesn't mean we have to forgive. See: comic book movies, et al.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/08/14 10:00
I don’t [get defensive when reviewing comic book movies] because I’m afraid of getting death threats from easily irritated comic book fans (which hasn’t happened to me, and thanks). I do it because as someone who got a lot out of comics growing up, and still has a healthy respect for the graphic form, I find comic book movies kind of frustrating, and am bent out of shape by having my frustration chalked up to a lack of understanding of the form.
That last bit is something I run into a great deal with fans. Many of them assume that knowing about something intimately and thoroughly will automatically equate to excusing or justifying its weaknesses, shortcomings, excesses, and indulgences.
"As long as people are reading something..."By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/08/13 10:00
Been traveling, and will be hitting the road again soon. But first, a meditation on the idea that it doesn't matter what people read, as long as they read something:
... much supposedly literary fiction also repeats weary formulas, while some novels marketed as genre fiction move toward the exploratory by denying readers the sameness the format led them to expect. And of course many literary writers have made hay “subverting” genre forms. However, if the “I-don’t-mind-people-reading-Twilight-because-it could-lead-to-higher-things” platitude continues to be trotted out, it is because despite all the blurring that has occurred over recent years, we still have no trouble recognizing the difference between the repetitive formula offering easy pleasure and the more strenuous attempt to engage with the world in new ways.
I'd argue that we have trouble recognizing it when the two cross over or learn from each others' best attributes, but that this happens rarely enough it's no surprise it's missed. An author like Georges Simenon was excellent at providing what seemed like mere entertainment, while at the same time delving into things typically left to "serious" fiction; authors of his caliber don't come around much anymore, if at all.
Science fiction, rebooted.