One of the questions we’ve faced since the election has been “Yeah, but what can I do?”
That’s an especially hard question for me, because what I do is pretty frivolous. No, wait: no false modesty today. What I do is just about as ridiculous and farcical as anything I can imagine, because imagining ridiculous and farcical things is exactly what I do.
What I do is almost as frivolous as sewing little tutus for Pomeranians. It’s pretty close.
So here’s where Rusty offered to help me out.
For a little robot who never speaks, the guy has a lot to say; and that’s fortunate because he’s so much smarter than I am.
In Rusty’s view we people who disagree have forgotten how to discuss the matters that divide us. There’s a lot of name-calling, a lot of impassioned pronouncements, a lot of derision of Those Other People. If we ever knew anything about having a civil, productive argument, that knowledge dried up and drifted away a long time ago. These days we just hand the torches to the villagers and get right down to burning.
So Rusty has suggested a series of memes to help to keep things civil, at least, and maybe even productive.
I think Rusty’s well suited to the task. First, he’s completely neutral. You can’t have much of a racial or cultural reaction to Rusty. And, second, he’s about the least threatening person I know. It’s hard to imagine Rusty making an argument worse.
Here’s a thing I know. It’s almost unheard-of for people to change their minds. And they will never change their minds if you do nothing but yell at them. When you challenge a person’s convictions – whatever they are – they respond as though you’ve assaulted them personally. It triggers the exact same reactions in the brain.
A better way to persuade, which ought to be the goal,
is to ask them why they think the way they do. And really listen to their answer. Talk to them about their answer. Then tell them, from your own personal experience, why you think differently. Keep it on that personal level, because what you have to do is let them see why you disagree. You need them to understand that a rational person can have valid reasons for thinking the opposite of the way they think.
If you can accomplish that, you’ve achieved conversation. Don’t stop.
Social media has helped us create bubbles in which we only communicate with people who think the way we think. People are shocked and defensive when some Other Kind of Person appears. But it’s only in talking to those Other People, and particularly in listening to them, that understanding is possible.
When neither side wants to understand, the only thing left is war.
If you use the meme above in response to a person who disagrees with you, it’s not likely to help (though it might!). But it may do some good for the people inside your own echo chamber. Remind them that preaching to the choir is a waste of their time. It’s a real weakness in activists of every kind.
Obvious, but so necessary. And this one’s also a problem with echo chambers: because in your own personal bubble you can make forceful restatements of what all your friends believe, and everybody feels good about that. About themselves.
The problem is that so many things that “everybody knows” are downright false. These empty blanket pronouncements are a prime target for people who disagree.
So there you go. Rusty’s got a meme just for unsupported statements.
Of all the lousy tactics in arguments, the straw man is one of the two I like least.
The straw man argument is lazy. You don’t dispute the things that people have said, because that would be hard. No, instead you invent the most ridiculous possible paraphrase of what you claim they really mean; then you belittle and mock that paraphrase.
You use the straw man when you have no way to deal with the real opinions of real people. That says a lot more about you than it says about the people you’re “arguing against”.
If you’re right, and they’re wrong, it’s their actual words you need to address. Arguing with imaginary people is pointless and sad.
This is an area where congressional Republicans really hold the crown. Take an idea, or a piece of legislation, or an issue that you don’t like; make up a short, dismissive name for it that your voters are certain to hate; and use that label, and no other language, to describe the issue. It’s like the straw man in that you’re fighting against a thing you’ve invented rather than the real thing.
That’s why the Affordable Care Act is referred to as Obamacare; why the alleged results of that plan were called Death Panels; and why the inheritance tax is called the Death Tax. That last one’s my favorite: those who rail against the Death Tax are unaware that inheritance taxes were proposed and signed by a Republican president, for reasons that would surprise them.
Among the rank and file short, derisive names are applied to people, as well. “Obummer” for Obama is one example. And unfortunately the folks on the other side have begun to do this, too.
It’s relatively hard to hate a real person. But it’s pretty easy to hate a label, especially when that label was designed to make you hate.
Labels are simple; real things are complicated. You don’t get anywhere by debating a label. Real disagreements are about the things the labels misrepresent.
We all delight in seeing foolish statements by foolish people when those people hold the opposite side in an argument. So we repost and retweet and spread this evidence that our opponents are idiots.
But idiots are everywhere. They’re available in any flavor. For every stupid person who disagrees with you, there will be at least one stupid person who thinks you’re right.
So pointing out the stupidity of these people is pretty meaningless, isn’t it? It’s just one of those things that makes the folks inside your echo chamber feel superior.
Yeah, that’s an attractive thought. You feel good because someone else is stupid.
It’s also pretty easy to mock the stupidity of others. It’s far more difficult to address the arguments of people who are smart.
If you’re convinced that only stupid people disagree with you, there’s a pretty good chance that you are not one of the smart ones.
As far as Rusty and I can manage, these memes don’t favor any biases, especially not my own. They’re intended to be completely neutral and suitable for users with any opinion.
Because the goal is not to score points. The goal is to elevate discourse.
So use them if you like, but I hope you’ll use them in their intended spirit: not to “win”, but to guide discussions toward a genuine conversation.
If you want to cheat, though? Use these only on the people with whom you agree. Who knows? Your side may pull ahead in the the arms race.
Back in 1979-80 I spent a winter in Greece. It was colder than you’d expect, but it was the cold of Sophocles. So not so bad.
I was there on a grant from a Canadian foundation. The idea was that I would broaden my artistic horizons and paint, which was exactly what I wanted to do, and so it was a good deal for me. I’m not sure how they felt about it.
So The Best Girlfriend In The World Except For That One Thing and I settled into a little house, which everybody called a villa, in a village called Pallini outside of Athens. Pallini had been there for a long time; in Roman times it was the site of a marble quarry, and there were odd bits of marble sculptures all over our house’s long, narrow, steeply sloping yard. An old marble cornice was our doorstop.
We’d been warned to keep the yard’s gate locked “or the Gypsies will get in” so of course we never locked the gate, but the Gypsies never showed up. I’ve always wondered where they were.
We made this house our base of operations. We’d explore Athens, and we’d take off for short trips to Delphi and the North, but we’d always have the villa when we were done. And it was a nice place. We’d spend an afternoon visiting the son of the local vineyard, or we’d take off into the hills outside the village, or we’d mock the village goats, who were asking for it.
I’m pretty sure those trees up above were Pallini trees. So you can see it was a nice place to wander in.
There came a day when The Best Girlfriend In The World Except For That One Thing and I headed up the road out of the village and into the hills, and we went in a direction we’d never taken before. I don’t know why. But there are a lot of directions, when you think about it, and for whatever reason we’d just never used this one. It led us through a little valley.
There was a farm on one side of the valley, and somewhere on that farm there was a dog. We never saw it. We heard it, though: it was barking. The dog would bark, and a moment later the echo of its bark would bounce back from the other side of the valley. So the dog would bark again.
And the The Best Girlfriend In The World Except For That One Thing and I just stood there and listened for awhile. Bark; pause; echo; bark; pause; echo. Again and again.
We were witnesses to the ultimate straw man argument, in the ultimate echo chamber. Because that dog just couldn’t let Echo Dog have the last word. In a way I can’t quite explain, this was one of the most profound moments of my life. I had the sense that the Universe was explaining a mystery to us. And I think I was right.
A few hours later, The Best Girlfriend In The World Except For That One Thing and I came back through the valley. The dog was still barking. And although I know that this dog lost his argument with Echo Dog many years ago, I hope that his descendants have taken up the feud and are still out there barking, refusing to let Echo Dog have the last word even though – inevitably – he will.
Because that’s what we do.
Yesterday’s post of pen and ink drawings I did for The Runestaff proved to be so popular over on Facebook that I figured I should follow up with more.
As I explained before, though, most of the drawings were auctioned off in fundraisers for the newsletter. I could only find about three or four more originals that I liked well enough to share. So instead I picked through the back issues and chose ten of the covers, which I’ve scanned right off the newsletters themselves.
That means that today’s quality isn’t as high. These covers are over thirty years old, and they were just photocopies even when they were young. But all the same, here they are.
I had plenty to say yesterday about my memories of The Runestaff. I doubt I have much to add here. So today, it’s mostly the pictures. As before there are so many of them that I’ve placed most under the “More” link below.
I guess I’ve only done a couple of retrospectives here at my blog. I have a kind of sheepish attitude about my oldest work, as you may have seen, in spite of that very early work being more visible than a lot of what I did afterwards. But today I’ve put together some slightly later work from the 1980’s. This is stuff that I remember with less embarrassment.
From 1981 through 1985, I first helped edit, and then edited, The Runestaff. This was a newsletter for the Barbarian Freehold Alliance, a large household within the Society for Creative Anachronism.
Freeholders were less interested in re-enacting the feudal system and more interested in cultures from the early Middle Ages. And… in parties: even when we were out of favor with the local feudals they still always came to our revels. Which were epic, as I recall. And we fought, of course, though not necessarily under the banners of the kingdoms where we lived. Sometimes we fought for the highest bidder, even when the bidding was in cookies.
Anyway, from its first issue through its thirty-fourth I drew most of the illustrations and covers for the little magazine, and I also wrote quite a bit of its content. While I don’t still have the originals for all of those drawings (most were auctioned off to support the newsletter and, well, me) I do still have some of them. I’ve gone through my stacks and scanned a selection of those drawings here.
Because there are so many images I’ve put most of them after the jump. So jump!
Sometimes I feel a little guilty about my mad scientists of Retropolis. That’s because I don’t normally think that our scientists are mad. Not, you know, muahahahaha, you cannot escape my Dessicating Diffracto-Ray mad.
But I have to say that any time the death rays and the giant robots and the curiously effective molecular destabilizers begin to get me down, I remind myself that there are avenues of research in our own Earth that are, to put it plainly, absolutely and positively demented. No. That’s not plain enough. What I mean is: bug-loving, glands to the wall crazy. Which is nearly plain enough.
For example, let’s look at robotics.
Recent advances in robotics include building robots that are fueled by meat. Wow, that’s nuts, right? So they did it again. With corpses.
But fueling robots with meat is pretty harmless, so long as robots can’t detect meat. So let’s make sure they can. In fact, let’s teach them to flense and debone meat. That’s better!
So now that the robots know how to prepare and eat meat, let’s ask them what they think of us, shall we? According to the robots, we are bacon. Mmmmm. Bacon.
But we shouldn’t worry, should we? At least they can’t escape. Oh, no, wait.
Okay. That is a little distressing. Shall we recap, then? We have built robots that are fueled by meat; we have taught them to recognize meat; they now know how to butcher meat; and we’ve made sure that they can get out of their paddocks and onto the streets.
What shall we do next? I know! Let’s build ANGRY robots!
That’s the kind of meditation I go through when I feel badly about the scientists of Retropolis. By the time I reach the end I don’t feel badly about them at all. Because I’m running down the street with a can opener in my hand and screaming that I am not bacon.
Oh, sure, the neighbors stare. But wait till they see what’s coming up behind me.