Category Archives: Media

Positivism, History, and Optimism: NPR’s 13.7 on the Endurance of Scientific Knowledge

“Religious repression and wars pass, but scientific knowledge remains.”

So goes theoretical physicist Marcelo Gleiser’s argument in a recent opinion piece on NPR’s 13.7 Cosmos & Culture blog. To which I thought:

Not necessarily.

Knowledge can be suppressed, corrupted, or simply lost. In one of the latter (lesser?) books of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, a character describes the problem of chronicling millennia of human history. In short, you can’t preserve everything. Choices are always made. Topics fall out of vogue. Those in power can produce countering knowledge, or bury unfavorable information. Even the most meticulous archivists, following the most stringent of professional standards, are guided by prevailing cultural assumptions about what is worth saving.

Later in the blog post, Gleiser writes:

“Kepler witnessed the state collapsing around him, and felt helpless. He couldn’t pick up a sword to fight, for he was a hero of ideas and not of bloody battles. Instead, he looked up. And so did Galileo. And what they saw, and their diligence in pursuing the truth, changed the world forever.”

How can one make such an eternal claim? For someone who lauds the scientific method and the “objective” power of observation so heartily, this is quite the leap of faith.

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Filed under Contemporary, Historical, Media, Power

“Rigged” Elections & Mutually Exclusive Realities

a quick take

Part of the problem with not associating with people who disagree with us is that we’re all under the impression that we’re right all the time, and that the other side is delusional.

The assertion that the election won’t be rigged* will only ring true for those who support the winning side. Those supporting the losing side will look around, see only those who voted similarly, and have further “evidence” that the election results do not reflect the reality they see around them.

Sigh. Guess we’ll have to start talking to people who make us uncomfortable…

*It’s worth noting that the person delivering this message–the President–is someone those crying foul of a potentially-rigged election won’t believe under any circumstances. They deny him the authority to speak their truth.

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Evangelical Morality: now with more time travel

The Duke is back, kids. Our long national nightmare is over. At long last, we can stop waiting and once again bask in the calm judgmentalism that will never lead us astray.

John Wayne values billboard

To whom are you speaking, sir?

Who, exactly, is the intended audience here? Clearly not females. Women can quit and not endure the disappointment of Random Cowboy at the Bus Stop. But if I identified as male, I would resent the implication that I should be interpellated with this passive-aggressive bullshit. Who are you calling “son,” old man? Why are you assuming I’m a quitter? Who are you to judge me? You don’t know my life! Maybe I should quit whatever it is I was just doing. What business is it of yours? Why should I care what you think, Vaguely Cowboy-ish White Man?

I know, I know. It’s not really John Wayne who is giving the troubled male youth of America a stern talking-to. A committee of people are putting words in his mouth and using his image to indoctrinate said youth into blissful, suburban 1950’s submission.

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Filed under Contemporary, Media, Nostalgia

Your bumper-sticker is yelling at my bumper sticker

After stumbling across what is I’m sure a small fraction of the vile, often shockingly incoherent trollspeak on twitter, I began to wonder if twitter itself as a platform was partially to blame.

Actually, what made me think of this was a bumper sticker on an SUV that had small words I couldn’t read fast enough framing a middle line of bold, larger font that screamed “CHILD DEATH” at me before it drove off. And that is what made me think of twitter and its trolls. Of all discourse that is a series of “blah blah blah INCENDIARY REMARK blah blah blah.” I still have no idea what that particular bumper sticker was trying to get at, expect my attention and possibly my (out)rage.

I see fewer and fewer bumper stickers. Maybe they don’t stick on the new-fangled metal they’re using to build cars these days. Maybe aesthetic tastes have shifted where I live where car adornment & self-expression is concerned. Or perhaps we have moved this type of discourse to other media…like twitter. It’s a leap, but I’m willing to go there, tenuous lines drawn taut across the metaphoric platforms, keeping me suspended between—never mind. [insert segue here]

Does twitter, by virtue of its strict limits on the space allowed to express oneself, somehow encourage this? At the very least, it facilitates sound-bytes of thoughts, conversation, and argumentation (if it can be called that). At least twitter, unlike bumper stickers, allows for immediate rebuttal. Although so do bumper stickers if you park your car long enough and the person you’ve pissed off has paper and pen handy. Or a bat.

My point is that twitter trollspeak, like some terse bumper stickers, is shaped by a medium that places a premium on efficiency of message. Logic is nice and all, but if you can make it fit, by all means dispense with it. And if you have strong feelings about something, perhaps you’re more likely to boil down those strong feelings into what is most likely to elicit a reaction: incendiary remarks.

When I was younger and coming into my own (extreme) opinions, before the tempering influence of college and then the real world, I proudly displayed a bumper sticker that read “If you’re against abortion, get a vasectomy.”

The fact that I put that out to the world makes me cringe now. Happily, it wasn’t there long. I removed it along with the bumper that bore it after a minor fender-bender, having come to my senses about such irksome, trite forms of “discourse.” An inflammatory bumper sticker was no way to get my message across, much less change anyone’s mind or influence public policy. Even more happily, by that time I had matured slightly in my politics and realized this phrase mis-represented my views, and moreover, assumed only people with penises were anti-choice. How’s that for gender and sex bias? (I hadn’t yet learned that the ERA was defeated largely due to a woman’s efforts.) Ah, ignorant youth…so loud and unproductive.

And that is how twitter trollspeak feels to me much of the time. Illogical, loud, unwilling to listen, and narrow-minded. Not to mention cruel and dangerous. Twitter as a genre and technological medium facilitates this type of “argumentation,” this type of expression. It allows for snippets of anonymous drivel and immediate responses and carpet bombings of bumper-sticker-level rhetoric. All without any windows to smash in retaliation. All we can throw at each other are words–and the threats they often carry.

I choose to believe we are smarter and more mature than this, or at least are capable of becoming so. It’s curious, this posited transference from bumper stickers to virtual reality. Media are not to blame–people and culture are. Bumper stickers and twitter and the rest are simply conduits, influencing the form messages may take, but not the messages themselves.

We make the messages. We can do better. Many people ARE doing better, but the trolls and their bumper sticker trollspeak remains an incessant cancer within public discourse.

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Filed under Contemporary, Media, Technology

Tone Deaf in the Twitterverse

Greetings from the quasi-technophobe who recently jumped back into the Twitterverse with both feet. Mostly, it’s been great. Great to be on Twitter as myself rather than a representative for an organization. Great to be finding links to articles I would have otherwise never come across. Great to be at least cogniscent of the many conversations surrounding recent (and ongoing) police brutality and the protests that have resulted.

There are many issues and realities and social movements to care about and engage with, and Twitter has been a useful tool to keep abreast on what’s out there, right here right now. But it is not the best for providing context to the 140 character conversations.

Not only context, but tone. Tone is difficult to read in a #hashtag, never mind 140 characters, unless you take the time to read all that has come before.

Sifting and scrolling through the history to find the beginning of a #hashtag is time-consuming work…work that often leads me to give it up in favor of other, more productive work [read: day job. or doing the dishes].

Showing solidarity when relatively tone-deaf and unable to unlock the mysterious secrets to tuning in is difficult. Google helps, but Twitter is immediate–in the time it takes to Google, the surge of collective mediated action might have passed, and the window of opportunity to participate is closed.

That’s not to say that #hashtags don’t resurface. Of course they do. It’s simply a momentary frustration, not knowing how to interact with the conversation, which faction you’re really a part of…it’s a problem of interpellation. When you can’t read the signs, how can you be interpellated, even if you’re looking for them?

An example – the Gamer Gate controversy. Today I came across two different #hashtags: #GamerGate and #StopGamerGate2014. After reading a few threads and questioning whether the people I follow were mistakes or right on, I found myself unable to figure out where either #hashtag positioned itself within the controversy.

Full disclosure: I am emphatically on the side of women, minorities, and others who are routinely marginalized & excluded by the dominant Gaming community. 

My problem is I’m not sure which #hashtag to use on Twitter to symbolize this particular brand of solidarity. I certainly don’t want to accidentally support the misogynists by using the “wrong” #hashtag.

Now, #GamerGate seems to be a neutral shorthand referring to the controversy as a whole, but the addition of #StopGamerGate2014 seems to position itself against #GamerGate, indicating that there are two sides here and that #GamerGate is on one of them. BUT WHICH ONE AARRRHHGGGH???

I was at a loss trying to figure it out within the Twitterverse. I had to get all space-time parallel internet and reach into the Googleverse to grasp a modicum of understanding on the distinction. Smart this did not make me feel. Naive and unequal to the technology at hand, yes, but smart? Nope.

I’m adrift & tonedeaf in the Twitterverse at times, and desperate for the Rosetta Stone that will make sense of the noise, cacophony of irony, and unlock the contextual secrets of all these important conversations.

But hey, it’s only been a few days. Check back in a week or so and I may have become acclimated to the language, solved this little conundrum, and finally started tweeting with confident abandon on the side of What I Believe In.

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Filed under Contemporary, Media, Technology