Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Limping Onwards

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  • Andre Alessi, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Question: how many of you here are Usenet veterans, and is that where you learned your culture of internet argument?

    I started on alt.religion.wicca and alt.magick* in the late 90's-it was my first introduction to talking to other people on the Internet. That's where I learned about things like Godwin's Law (in its original form) and trolling, and flame wars, and how accusing someone of having child porn on their servers was the ultimate conversational nuclear option. Thinking about it now, not much has changed.

    * - It's odd now, as an atheist, to think about how involved I was in the online culture of a religion back in the day.

    Devonport, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 864 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Darlington, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Question: how many of you here are Usenet veterans, and is that where you learned your culture of internet argument?

    Me. I don't know about argument but it's certainly where I learnt my culture of conversation. Surprisingly the main Usenet group for UK football was a home for surreal geniuses whereas the main rugby group turned into a completely dull cesspit. I just don't engage with idiots, not even for fun.

    Nelson • Since Nov 2006 • 948 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    I lurk, and make up speeches in my head which are models of persuasive argument which I never post because they're not really.

    Don't forget that posting such a speech is often a great way of finding out exactly what's wrong with it. ;)

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • HORansome, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    I'm taking Andre's gloss on "agree with one another" to mean that the reader agrees with the writer rather than "We shall have global peace and harmony!" People (not me) study Nietzsche in part because there was a body of other philosophers who agreed with his work and continued it and, in part, because other philosophers thought Nietzsche's work was overrated and had arguments to show why they thought that was the case.

    Tāmaki Makaurau • Since Sep 2008 • 441 posts Report Reply

  • richard, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Question: how many of you here are Usenet veterans, and is that where you learned your culture of internet argument?

    I wondered this too.

    Listening to A Certain Person on this thead (at times) has been like listening to OMcS or ES hold forth about climate change (or pretty much anything to do with maths) on s.c.n-z and get spanked by a bunch of people with PhDs in the physical sciences, some of whom actually worked on this stuff for a living.

    He gets regularly pwned but just doesn’t seem to realize and keeps on hopping around (just a flesh wound I guess).

    I am not expecting him to completely change his mind, but I have seen arguments on PAS that have caused me to change my thinking, sometimes by adding shading of nuance and sometimes by 180 degrees.

    But I have not seen any real suggestion that he is genuinely engaging with the topic (or the many people who have provided detailed and specific examples of how university philosophy has worked pretty much as it is billed – by providing them with critical and analytical skills they can apply in a host of different settings. Instead he simply ignores contrary evidence and tells us breezily that most of this stuff you can learn by looking at a book as your ride the bus.

    Which is why, now that I think about it, why I stopped reading Usenet.

    Not looking for New Engla… • Since Nov 2006 • 268 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa, in reply to HORansome,

    I would totally take a philosophy class that used H2G2 as its master text! Who wouldn't? Which is why it's weird to me that Danyl seems to be conflating "popular" with "unworthy of intellectual consideration", and "enjoyable" with "not productive."

    I think it's entirely defensible -- for me, to the point of actually being beyond debate -- to use "popular culture" (setting aside for the moment the question of the canon and who makes it) as a test case for a given analytical framework, or as raw material for teaching a particular skill. It's also worthy of investigation in its own right; but I would say that, wouldn't I, being a Comparative Literature major.

    On the question of popular culture as the medium for a pedagogical message: when I was lucky enough to be a graduate student at A Fairly Big-Name American University, I taught a couple of "freshman writing seminars" under the auspices of the a program that was widely admired and imitated as a model of how to teach basic rhetorical writing skills to undergraduates.

    These writing classes were:
    a) compulsory for all undergrads regardless of their major subject (in fact, you had to pass two writing seminars in order to get your degree)
    b) mostly taught by graduate students in the humanities, and
    c) often based on, or framed by, "popular" material

    I taught a seminar on detective fiction (the reading list included Conan Doyle, Sayers, Poe, Akutagawa, and Woolf), and another on notions of the future, using both canonical literature and science fiction/speculative fiction (including Gibson, Wells, Verne, Wired magazine, a book by Bill Gates, and the Communist Manifesto).

    The at-first-glance frivolous material was the spoonful of sugar that enticed undergrads into my lair. By the end of the detective fiction seminar, for example, they were discussing questions of class, gender & education in texts like Bertolt Brecht's "A Worker Reads History" and Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own. And writing coherent essays about it, at the rate of one draft or finished essay per week.

    One student (a working class kid from Québec) wrote a passionate documentary script about working conditions in the university kitchens; she went on to major in Food Tech and is currently strategy manager of a corporation you'd know by name; some of you probably have a can of it on your desk right now.

    Another student -- a quiet engineer -- won that year's prize for best essay produced in an undergraduate writing seminar. He's now doing medical research in genetics & oncology at another Big-Name University.

    Are they (and their equally engaged classmates) still "using" the insights and skills gained in those compulsory writing classes? You'd have to ask them to be sure. They probably don't even remember the reading list, or my name. But I imagine that their hard work in that class has positively affected everything they've written since - every job letter, every grant application, every research report, every email to a congressman, every love letter.

    And I bet that they all still read for fun.* That, in the end, would be the point, at least as far as I'm concerned.

    *where "fun" includes "doing that cool thing we used to do in our writing seminars, viz. noticing the interesting bits and seeking out other people's take on them and then coming to our own well-supported and cogently argued, but always provisional, conclusions."

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa, in reply to James Butler,

    Also, is it redundant to add that you don’t need to have a Humanities education in order to benefit from a Humanities education? [...] If the cost of maintaining the academic critical mass necessary for these subjects to continue to be studied is some hypothetical number of students who take “easy” humanities papers “just for interest” and somehow don’t benefit from the experience, then so be it.

    Just wanted to highlight this beautifully expressed point so it didn't get lost in the mêlée. Also, in the hope that Danyl may actually address it.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa, in reply to Greg Dawson,

    You mean Oh the humanities?

    Indeed. Not sure who's playing the Hindenburg in this particular production, though.

    (Nice avatar, by the way. Are those torpedoes of truth?)

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • JLM, in reply to 3410,

    Don’t forget that posting such a speech is often a great way of finding out exactly what’s wrong with it. ;)

    Yeah, that's what scares me. : )

    Judy Martin's southern sl… • Since Apr 2007 • 240 posts Report Reply

  • Andre Alessi, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    Isn’t it a little limiting?

    Well, any definition of philosophy would be limiting, because philosophy fairly frequently involves questioning limitations of all sorts, including its own. (Crikey this is getting meta!) I was putting forward a counterpoint to Danyl’s perception that philosophy made something of a virtue of obscuritanism, which hasn’t been my experience at all.

    It’s all well and good to devote one’s time to “investigating the mysteries of the universe”, but if you can’t then phrase the results of your investigations in a way that other people can understand and agree (or disagree!) with without having access to your own private experiences, it’s hard to see the value in the exercise. That’s what I was getting at-philosophy’s value lies in its derived methods for discussing the nature of things in such a way that people can come to some kind of agreement about what we’re all talking about, and can be clear about the bits that we disagree on.

    EDIT: All of this is to say that figuring out what makes a good argument or a bad one isn't incidental to philosophy, it's central. Figuring out how we talk to other people in such a way that allows rational agreement or disagreement is a core element of philosophical study, and it's the most useful skill I feel I took from my degree (except for being able to answer the question "What's the meaning of life?" with all manner of hilarious one-liners.)

    Devonport, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 864 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    I wouldnt call myself a usenet *veteran*, but I learnt a lot from s.c.n-z and both sci-arch and alt.arch (curiously, the hyperdiffusionists made a lot of noise on the former...) I began to appreciate wit and soft-answers-turning-away-wrath as good ways to defuse some of the more lunatic hyperdiffs - because actually giving them source materials didnt work at all.

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso, in reply to Andre Alessi,

    It’s all well and good to devote one’s time to “investigating the mysteries of the universe”, but if you can’t then phrase the results of your investigations in a way that other people can understand and agree (or disagree!) with without having access to your own private experiences, it’s hard to see the value in the exercise.

    I wonder if we're conceding too much of the argument there. Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, the later Foucault are difficult because the problems of knowledge and meaning that they seek to tease out are enormously complex and by their very nature hard to put into words. I don't think every philosopher should be expected to be intelligible to the layperson, much as the discipline as a whole need to be able to communicate with the broader society.

    Suggesting that what philosophy teaches is the ability to talk about things (or to tell a good argument from a bad one) would also imply that it doesn't have a content outside of discourse itself and its meta-analysis, whereas I think that some of its insights are just as valuable as those of the hard sciences.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    (By the same token, people who ritually complain that Foucault is hard seem to be fine with the fact that Richard Feynman is hard, for reasons that frankly escape me.)

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • recordari,

    Adding one to the list of Public Intellectuals, my stage 3 PolSci lecturer Joe Atkinson. It kind of relates to Gio's comment above, because if you weren't comfortable with words of multiple syllables, and a bit of meta-analysis, then you clearly got lost looking for the 'oh, is this the humanities?' department. He's written some interesting pieces on teh media too.

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • James Butler, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    By the same token, people who ritually complain that Foucault is hard seem to be fine with the fact that Richard Feynman is hard, for reasons that frankly escape me.

    I wonder if it comes down the old discovery vs. invention conundrum (I'm sure it has a name, at least wrt. Mathematics, but I forget what). People will readily accept that the Universe is immensely complicated, but seem to balk at the suggestion that people are also complicated. See also: Objectivism.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 856 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Peter Darlington,

    Surprisingly the main Usenet group for UK football was a home for surreal geniuses whereas the main rugby group turned into a completely dull cesspit.

    Indeed. That happened about the time of the 1995 RWC. A group uf us departed and set up our own little list, which continues to this day.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22756 posts Report Reply

  • richard, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    By the same token, people who ritually complain that Foucault is hard seem to be fine with the fact that Richard Feynman is hard, for reasons that frankly escape me.

    In fairness to Feynman, he is appreciated within the field for his ability to make things easier than they were before. This is true of his “Feynman Lectures” (which I will occasionally pull off my shelf as I prepare a lecture of my own) and also his science – “Feynman diagrams” are a stunningly useful computational tool. There is story that Schwinger’s students (a contemporary of Feynman’s, who shared the Nobel with him, but did not achieve the same rock-star status), who were required to use Schwinger’s approach, would furtively check their results by doing the same calculation with Feynman diagrams at home. Don’t know if it is true, but it COULD be true.

    Foucault on the other hand, is often suspected (perhaps unfairly) of making things harder than they were before.

    For my money, Terry Pratchett’s series on The Watch covers some of the same ground as Discipline and Punish, and I can read those on the bus :-)

    Not looking for New Engla… • Since Nov 2006 • 268 posts Report Reply

  • richard, in reply to James Butler,

    I wonder if it comes down the old discovery vs. invention conundrum (I’m sure it has a name, at least wrt. Mathematics, but I forget what).

    Platonism v. empiricism. I read it on the bus. [Not!]

    Not looking for New Engla… • Since Nov 2006 • 268 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark, in reply to Danyl Mclauchlan,

    It's a very busy day today. Writing/catching up on assessments. Meeting a new team member and explaining sociocultural theories of teaching to them, and having a discourse about what constitutes learning. (Oh, look, another example of someone with a liberal arts degree using it in an unexpectedly productive way in a career which if we follow Danyl's argument, should never have happened).

    No. I do think (a) it’s okay to insult people when they insult me and (b) this happens more often on the internet, because people aren’t communicating face to face.

    No excuse.

    FWIW, PAS is a much “safer” place for women to post than Kiwiblog, and obviously that counts for something pretty significant in my book.

    Yes. I don't bother with Kiwiblog, and quite frankly, what I read yesterday at Redbaiter's site frightened me tremendously.

    But seriously, as recently as 3 months ago the people here seemed largely cool, and entirely scary. Then I met a bunch of you and you seem entirely cool, and not really that scary at all.

    Which brings me back to my original point.

    I figured in the end that half the problem was the internet in the way, that if I was going to reengage with PAS, I would have to meet the people, to display good faith by my actual presence, and to discuss personal matters that I had never even raised before, in order to contextualize myself for people. It was a valuable experience, and I kicked myself for not having done it years earlier, for having maintained deliberate aloofness out of mostly erroneous opinions on the purity of my rational discourse.

    I suspect Danyl, and others, could learn alot from you, Ben. I admire you for your effective critical reflection. In terms of what you talked about later on in the thread, I don't do robust argument except if I'm face to face. And the older I get, the less I can be bothered anyway. If a thread intimidates me, I just don't engage, or I put my own relational personal thing on it.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I started on the Internet in Usenet after using Compuserve forums and bulletin boards

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2930 posts Report Reply

  • Andre Alessi, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    I don’t think every philosopher should be expected to be intelligible to the layperson, much as the discipline as a whole need to be able to communicate with the broader society.

    I agree, and the parallel you draw between “difficult philosophy” vs “difficult science” is a good one as far as it goes. But one thing that philosophy has traditionally suffered from is that “poorly expressed” philosophy is often assumed to be “difficult” until proven otherwise. Philosophy is a discussion, and it’s equally possible for a simple idea to be expressed poorly as it is for a difficult idea to be expressed as clearly as possible.

    Aristotle and Heidegger, for example, are interesting philosophers but terrible writers, so frequently people who approach their work tend to struggle mightily until they find a summary or a helpful commentator who can help them make sense of things. (Which isn’t to say that every idea Aristole or Heidegger had was straightforward or simple, just that their writing style doesn’t help.)

    Suggesting that what philosophy teaches is the ability to talk about things (or to tell a good argument from a bad one) would also imply that it doesn’t have a content outside of discourse itself and its meta-analysis, whereas I think that some of its insights are just as valuable as those of the hard sciences.

    You’re right, and I didn’t mean to imply that that is all philosophy is. I spent a great deal of my time thinking and talking about Very Cool Stuff like brains in vats and time travel, and I do see the inherent value in investigating these issues and others like them. I just think that the distinguishing factor between philosophy-as-a-discipline* and rambling conversations at the pub about invisible aliens and the meaning of life is the structure that is applied to these discussions, a structure that comes from collaboration and agreement with other people. Otherwise you wander in to Ayn Rand and “That’s just like, your opinion, man” territory.

    * – I almost wrote philosophy- qua -philosophy. Old habits die hard!

    Devonport, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 864 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso, in reply to richard,

    Foucault on the other hand, is often suspected (perhaps unfairly) of making things harder than they were before.

    Einstein certainly made things a great deal harder than they were before. That's hardly an argument against!

    (Indeed, he's said to have said once that "things should be as simple as possible - but not simpler." Not a bad maxim to live by.)

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • richard, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    Einstein certainly made things a great deal harder than they were before. That’s hardly an argument against!

    Depends on your perspective, I guess. The photoelectric effect and the perihelion precession of Mercury were much easier to understand after Einstein got through with them :-)

    Not looking for New Engla… • Since Nov 2006 • 268 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark,

    Oh, look. It's a pissing contest. Puhlease.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso, in reply to richard,

    The photoelectric effect and the perihelion precession of Mercury were much easier to understand after Einstein got through with them :-)

    Fair enough, yes.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

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