Serious Stuff: Why Vox Day and Amanda Marcotte Are In My Reading List.
First, a word of warning. If either or both of the names in the title of this entry are unknown to you, I honestly believe that you will remain happier and more fulfilled if you keep it that way, stop reading now, and just consign both of them to your “People who make terrible arguments on the Internet and to whom I will give no more of my attention.” file. If you really want to know more, go ahead and keep reading.
The ability to cherry-pick emotive data points from a large sample size is epistemological poison. It’s something that can happen to you without you even realizing that you’re doing it, and it’s something that you may not have control over even when you realize that it’s happening.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say that you, like many people, leapt gleefully upon that South Park episode to give you an excuse to bully people (because it’s funny!), and started compiling a list of crimes that red-haired people committed, especially depraved crimes (because they’re not an official discriminated-against group, it’s all OK!). Let’s say that you kept putting these incidents out there. Will there be a lot of them? Well, yes. There are a lot of red-haired people, some of them statistically will be criminals, and some of those criminals will commit particularly heinous crimes. Now, let’s say that you happen to control the horizontal and the vertical of the particular fora on which you’re compiling this list, and you shut down any attempt from outsiders to post actual criminal statistics, or even just put up their own counter-list. Well, you can do that.
But the Internet is wide, and server space is cheap. (Case in point; I’m writing here gratis, courtesy of WordPress.) It’s more than likely that people who object to your characterization will start their own lists. But because this group will most likely be people who really hate the characterization of red-haired people as soulless predators rather than people who hate your well-poisoning, it’s very likely that they’ll start their own roll of crimes committed against gingers, by heinous criminals of other hair colors.
And then what happens? Both sides are being fed a continuous, supported-by-example stream pushing the narrative that a particular group of people are very definitely victims or very definitely predators. And even if you know intellectually the crime stats, it’s very easy to let your associations and impressions drive your unconscious behavior.
So, why do I read these two chuckleheads? Well, what I get out of it is two completely confident, two completely disjoint worldviews, each supported with a bevy of citations and examples. Because the world is complicated. Because the world is full of social justice going too far and social justice going not far enough, of examples of systemic discrimination and systemic equality, of false rape accusations ruining lives and true rape accusations going ignored and prosecuted. And because the world is thus, me having strong emotive reactions to topics in which people are trying really hard to influence me emotively is worse than useless. What reading these two back-to-back is meant to do is to instill a kind of narrative race condition, so that when I hear new information on a controversial topic, multiple contradictory data sets start throwing up narratives at the same time, so I can’t just fall into “Oh, it’s one of those people, we all know about those people.” that so plagues the internet. And these two are kind enough to give me a continual stream of curated events.
But why these two? Because they are both profoundly lazy. Because both Vox Day and Amanda Marcotte write for their subgroups and their subgroups only, and because the conclusions they tend to draw from their documented incidents tends to range from the intellectually bankrupt to the profoundly offensive. So, I don’t feel like I’m at risk of picking up any of their toxic memes, because both of them go out of their way to remind me what a terrible person I am for not being one of their groups every third paragraph or so.
Does it work? Well, I feel like it does. I’ll get back to you when I can design an experiment to control for unjustified epistemic certainty.