Friday, November 20, 2015

A philosophical point

Texts can be organized in two ways. The first way gradually builds up to a conclusion, each step leading to the next in a logical progression. As an argument is made, the text points back to it and says “thus”. The next argument is then made, and the text points back to it and says “thus”.

This is a way of pointing at the logic of things. The text works if and only if it is internally coherent, and the appointed arguments follow from each other. If a, then b, then c. Tendency is discouraged.

The second way is what we might call externally coherent. It points first to this thing, then to that thing, then to a third thing, and then to some sort of conclusion or imperative. The difference being that these things can be anything, without apparent connections to each other. The argument is not made by the things themselves, but in the order and way of their presentation.

This might seem counterintuitive, but an example should clear up any confusion: look at the nice weather outside (point one), remember that time we went on a picnic and had a wonderful time (point two), you always bury yourself in words this time of year and need to be cheered up (point three), let's go picnic (argument/imperative).

As philosophers are wont to point out, most actual arguments found in the world follow the second path. Whilst pointing this out, they usually make sure to also point out that the philosophical way of explicating each step of the way is better than to wantonly go on picnics. You never know what you might get yourself into otherwise, and then you're none the wiser.

Thing is. There's an economy to human communication, and humans can only summon so much mental effort before they deem something incomprehensible. No matter how logical the progression. This makes it imperative to know the most expedient route from point a to point b, and how to mobilize someone's imagination into a shared understanding of this route. That is to say, what to point at in order to mobilize the inherent understanding already present in those reading.

A blunt example would be someone shouting FIRE in a crowded building. Whilst the inherent premise of the danger of a fire spreading in a crowded space remains unstated, it is nevertheless effective in mobilizing the knowledge of such dangers. It moves about, rhizomatically enthymemic.

The proper lesson here is to listen carefully to those talking about fire safety procedures.

As a writer, what you want to take away from this is that most things do not need to be explained in order to be understood. You can safely assume that they know that the sky is blue, and that you can point to it in order to ground what you are saying. You can also safely assume that they know the general correlation of water and wetness, and that the specifics doesn't matter when you point out that it's a rainy day. You know, they know, and this mutual understanding is a firm basis for future communication. It is up to your text to act on it.

Let the philosophers play their word games. They know too well that the things we understand need to be explained, rather than the other way around. -

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Rant on privilege bubbles

Privilege is not having to deal with shit.

This is a radical and comprehensive way of defining it. Radical in that it goes to the root of the matter, and comprehensive in that it can be applied across the board. No matter how privileged you are, there's always someone else who doesn't have to deal with the shit you have to deal with, and thus they are more privileged than you. In the grand scheme of things, there's always a bigger fish.

Thing is. The human condition is dealing with shit. Both literally and figuratively. There's always uncomfortable things to be done, and the more you are called upon to deal with it, the less privileged you are.

Which makes sense intuitively. Some people never catch a break, and always have to deal. They have to constantly struggle to fulfill even the most basic of life demands, and when they try to go home after a hard day of Maslowing they remember that they do not have a home, and have to deal with being outside all night. Or seek fleeting refuge in warm places where they are not welcome, but that are sometimes less guarded than usual.

Some temporary heat is better than no heat at all, given enough cold.

In reverse, some people have dealt so little with it that it literally never crosses their mind that they might have to. Or that others have to on a daily basis. It is so completely removed from their minds that they, for all intents and purposes, live in another world. Not having to deal with it is the same thing as not knowing about it, as knowledge is gained from the experience of dealing. No experience, no knowledge.

Approaching privilege from this angle, the notion of a privilege bubble is completely understandable. That is to say, privileged lives are so shielded from the experience of having to deal with certain aspects of human suffering that they are free to devote themselves to arcane and frivolous things. All that energy that otherwise would have been spent on avoiding cold and hunger are channeled into concept interior decoration, and suddenly it makes sense to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on creating the perfect kitchen/living room experience. Inside the bubble, priorities are free to roam in the darnedest directions.

Which is not to say that those inside the bubble do not have to deal. But they have to deal with different things. The bursting of the housing bubble and the rampant foreclosures following it is a brutal example of this; the rampant tendency of working oneself to death in order to afford said kitchen/living room experience is another. Which doesn't lessen the effect of living inside the bubble - it only points to the fact that there are those who do not have to deal with those things.

Which, to be sure, makes the male experience privileged by default, no matter how poor it might be. No matter how dire and hungry the straits, it's a plus to not have to deal with being constantly sexually harassed on top of everything else. And if you do not understand what this means, then that is an imperative to checking your privilege bubble - no experience, no knowledge, and so forth.

The universal human condition is to worry about things, and taking measures to alleviate this worry. Being in a privilege bubble does not change this - it only changes what you worry about. Some worry about starving to death, and take measures to find food, so be it if it happens to be out of a trashcan. Others worry about not being seen as a worthy member of their social group, and invest millions in a yacht just to be one of the crowd. The impulse is the same, but the measures taken to deal with it differ brutally. And the means available to do so.

Do not mistake this rant as a plea for sympathy for the privileged. There are plenty of privileged people who know so little about those without that they literally wish they'd just die and disappear - for real, and not just in their lived experience. This needs to be called out and acted upon. Understanding is not automagically the same as sympathy, though, and understanding privilege bubbles is the first step towards dismantling them in a way that actually works.

Or towards getting out of them, as the case might be. -