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Semiformalishmaybe

Ordering of Foundations

I just spent a good half an hour talking with someone in an MMO I sometimes play, about his bad interaction with some game staff. We had a good discussion (the following account is fictionalised enough that it should protect the privacy of the people involved):

On the forums for that game, a game staffmember was grumbling at how some people in the community never seem to be satisfied, and unfortunately then made some statements using Aspie as a synonym for generally being overpedantic. The person I just spoke with (whom I'll label my friend, for purposes of conversation, although they're more someone I occasionally bump into in-game and we've never had a long conversation before) write to express their unhappiness, and the staffmember exploded and went on to say some more stupid things, and on later occasion banned my friend from some game functions.

In this case (and unlike the Dickwolves controversy on Penny Arcade), I think the staff member was over the line from the start; not way over the line (I still really and truly believe a thick skin is a virtue and people should be able to make jokes; language controls are something to be used very sparingly in the pursuit of justice), but enough that I probably would've written too. My friend's message to the staffperson was pretty shrill though, and the staffperson is someone known for occasionally flying off the handle. In the conversation with my friend, we talked a bit about this; my friend mentioned that one of the things that most bothered him about the subsequent dialogue is that the staffmember mentioned some of the staffmember's friends who found the joke funny. I guess I didn't find that bothersome as an argument; the "Cult of Sensitivity and Privilege" is something to be generally resisted, and some of us who suffer various ailments are willing to do that alongside whatever our social justice concerns are (as nuanced as it can be to deal with both; sometimes we march right into the middle of a debate and call multiple sides wrong/shrill/a bit off, and get to enjoy fire from everybody). I've been doing some doodles of a personification of this cult and comics that explore the thing from many angles, with one character having superpowers coming from "being offended by a radioactive joke" (about Chernobyl?), but the plot really isn't coming together to make it worth drawing so far.

I guess it's easy for people to feel defensive, from whatever perspective they approach these things.

It reminds me of a bit of soul-searching I did recently; a few blog entries ago I linked to a post on a "disabled feminist blog" about the word "lame"; they really don't like that the geek community uses it in the way we do. My initial inclination was "too bad", and my conclusion actually *is* "too bad", but I think it is a bit more complicated than I first thought, and while I am comfortable where I ended up on the matter, I can see where some disabled people are coming from on this issue. The thing that bothered me is the parallel to my opposite reaction to my mother's use of the term "gay" to mean bad; I grumble at her a bit when she says this (and I think she may have actually stopped), but how can I justify those grumbles when I reject the grumblings of some disabled communities over the term "lame"?

I actually do have an answer to this; it's the beginnings of a framework on language acceptability and meaning, and it does incorporate my general resistance to language controls with a recognition that some language is undesirable, some is irredeemable, and what is actually meant (or presumably meant) by it. Or at least, I'm beginning to have an answer. However, it's a framework under construction as a philosophical entity, and just like any piece of abstract theory, I am wary of demanding others adhere to it too precisely (being all-elbows is not desirable). I do like that it fits reasonably with my metaphilosophy though and carves out a space distinct both from the respectorates (thanks to Salman Rushdie for the term) and the regressives.

The other thing I'm working with while I do this is the ordering of theory and intuitions. There's one perspective that reflective equilibrium works this way; that it's natural to bounce back-and-forth between intuitions and theories born of them until one reaches comfort, but there's also a desire not to make my theories too centric around what I initially believe (or does this even make sense?); some kind of wariness of oversampling plus an idea that my theories should challenge me? Anyhow, this remains an active metaphilosophical concern.

Anyhow, the conversation with my friend went well. I'm still bothered to see that kind of language from the staffmember, and will keep an eye out for it in the future. Fortunately, he's just one guy, and so if I consider him enough off to be shunned, I don't expect to leave the MMO (like I did Penny Arcade, not over the dickwolves comic itself which was fine, but over the stupid shit the authors said in the ensuing discussion).

It's a bit weird because a few days before in this same MMO I also was part of a heated discussion where some dude was making normative, horrible claims about women; that if they show their breasts to someone it's necessarily an invitation to fondle/have sex/etc, and that it's rude of the woman not to do so. Ugh. The rest of us raised a shitstorm at him and he said he was just kidding and ran off.

In any community there will always be some people that consider practically all speech fine, there will be those that think that anyone being offended is always a sign that the speaker is in the wrong, and there will be a spectrum of perspectives between, with either some kind of an attempt at reasonably coherent/consistent frameworks (like I try to make) or people going by the gut (or whatever traditions they were raised in). Struggling to make norms/traditions in that light, particularly when things come down to judgement calls and people bring different philosophies to the table, is tough. Even as traditions and laws have a complex relationship, I sometimes am amazed that humans manage to have functional societies at all. Perhaps all the early societies had a lot more coercion, common upbringings, and consensus; while I don't really mind that some people believe I'm going to hell when I die and I am not shy about telling them that if their gods are central in their lives they're devoting themselves to a delusion, I wonder if these kinds of differences would be sustainable in small-village/tribal times where social interactions were tighter/more intimate. The distance we have from each other in modern society, and our ability to choose our company, may make dealing with strong social disapproval (or lack of respect for each others' foundations) between groups a lot easier. While I'm committed to the mental independence necessary for philosophical virtue, I can kinda understand where the respectorates are coming from, in this light; a desire to recreate a universally acceptable society would place the (IMO philosophically unacceptably burdensome and likely incoherent) mutual respect of each others' identity foundations as a very high priority.

Comments

"The other thing I'm working with while I do this is the ordering of theory and intuitions. There's one perspective that reflective equilibrium works this way; that it's natural to bounce back-and-forth between intuitions and theories born of them until one reaches comfort, but there's also a desire not to make my theories too centric around what I initially believe (or does this even make sense?); some kind of wariness of oversampling plus an idea that my theories should challenge me? Anyhow, this remains an active metaphilosophical concern."

You're right to be concerned about that.

If you're ready to be skeptical of arguments based on the comfort or convenience of others (e.g. with hearing certain kinds of language), you should be similarly skeptical of bracing your positions with arguments about your own inconvenience in having to change an existing schema. I'd call that the "inertia of established positions". Defending a framework by citing that it has been established as a framework, albeit through a lot of deliberate thought, is problematic. Whatever justified the framework in the first place should be the basis of its defense, not your comfort with the steady reign it has held, and not the duration of time it has held without collapse (for maybe it's not been adequately challenged).

This is a big part of why I don't buy what you said about philosophy being inherently lonely. Peer review and outside influence are essential for checking blind spots.
By lonely, I mean that it easily produces distance from many forms of mass culture, and philosophy is an acquired taste with widely branching specialties meaning that it's easy to wander so far off the beaten path into esoteria that one might feel like the only, say, Jewish person on earth rather than someone in a culture that's adapted to one's perspectives that produces plenty of people who are like-minded enough to see eye-to-eye on the basics. The path of philosophy is a call to reinvent oneself in ways that knock down the deeper bridges between one and one's culture, leaving mostly the lesser bridges of ties with other abstract philosophiers and the very very open-minded but not antistructural.