Sunday, August 2, 2020

Actions and opposing reactions (What I learned ca. 2016)

What I learned ca. 2016 is a lot of my opinions, like so many others, are not fixed or static, they are reactive or oppositional. This sounds like a flaw. For most it is a flaw. For those who understand this one simple trick, it can be a feature.

At a root level I cannot trust anyone who says they’re aware they have biases. Political commentator Ben Shapiro is one of these people. Sam Harris believes he’s aware of his biases and has hence conquered them. If you’re aware of a bias however, and yet you make no attempt to change your opinion or instead establish a non-opinion on a subject, you are arguing in bad faith. Unfortunately nuance doesn’t sell as well, but claiming bias will not absolve you.

Reactionary takes are a key attribute in bad faith arguments. So many times political parties exhibit behavior that enters into the territory of a role reversal. Liberals were proud hedonists arguing hard for the free expression of art as little as 20 years ago, now they are near Victorian in their policing of people’s mildest sexual behaviors, and conservatives are carrying the torch in favor of free speech. The reason for this, and it exists on both sides, glibly put, is they are not real people, as much as they are people who’s characteristics are defined by the actions of others, what they disagree with, and what they are not.

There may be a good excuse. 2016 was a peculiar year for Americans, and an illuminating one for anyone willing to look beyond the narrative. Many were surprised by a reality TV star being elected president. There were a key indications then to a more informed observer for his viability. There was no signage, support, or enthusiasm for the Democratic nominee. The fact an entertainer was polling or even nominated. The echo chambers and bubbles keeping cities detached from more rural areas. The telling signs of a political shift in Europe and Brexit specifically.

And in the aftermath of November 9th, comedians became politicians and politicians became comedians, both unintentionally and both incompetently. What I learned as someone who had written much satire and absurd comedy was, around that time, comedy became uninteresting. Certainly it wasn’t good from Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah, all these comedians turned political hacks. But even the people who were actually funny didn’t have much to say. You cannot satirize a society that satirizes itself. There were too many bumbling headlines of governmental irony and failure to consume. You could just read a headline from reality that sounded like it was written by The Onion but were the genuine actions of a political system ran by a celebrity reality entertainer, those dumb enough to get behind him, and the endless whines of his opposition. All the opposition needed to do to beat the Republican administration was to state their alarm, and then continue reporting objectively, even if what they saw as a clown show occasionally got something right. This turned out to be too much of a task for persons posing as journalists. Instead, they cried wolf every time someone that they didn’t like even misspoke, which is the real world equivalent of the person online who points out typos. Comedians blamed Trump for behaving in the very way their ideas and culture enabled, and pundits overplayed their hand of a having a half-inch of moral high ground.

What I learned is what much of what is comedy is predicated on subversion. Comedy became uninteresting when reality becomes more scary, but especially as that simultaneously approaches the absurd. I doubt there were any good routines when the guards weren’t looking at Auschwitz. And amid this insanity and incompetence of leadership and equal incompetence of journalism, to paraphrase Roger Ebert, someone being funny is never as funny as someone being serious and failing.

In 2015-16, & the timeline and events leading up, led to a switching of interests and saw the podcast of this website rendered largely defunct. It learned me an important lesson on reactionary behavior and how we behave in society’s context. Society is very sick when what’s funny isn’t funny anymore, when people doing group therapy sessions are called comedians (I won’t name Hannah Gatsby or Chris Gethard), when even the best comedians can’t seem to remove themselves from social and political commentary, and when comedians can’t make a joke with good faith from an audience who will separate the subject of a joke from the target of a joke.

Everyone relatively funny knows political correctness kills comedy, as comedy is the only artform capable of amplifying and thriving on failure, but also the most difficult to craft to perfection with its razor thin margin of error on the tightrope of irony. It kills comedy because so much of comedy is merely thinking out loud, and the failures and perverse incentives of the reptilian brain that come with it. Places like Twitter and Reddit are cesspools of taking the least generous interpretation of an opinion or a joke because, unfortunately, in writing you lose the comedic cues that comes with inflection. And if you write /sarcasm at the end of every joke, you’re not doing comedy well enough and cushioning the blow. Further muddling things is the inclusion of a social reward system for virtue or only its signaling with no checks and balances.

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Newton

What I learned is how deeply everything is context-dependent. If a system is running perfectly you’ll be bored and want to shake it up. If subversion is mainstream, the then subversive will become square. If the social current of society and its functions are innately and unintentionally hilarious, comedy is for the unimaginative. And this even may to some degree explain the seeming cognitive dissonance of hack reactionary political opinions and positioning. In the absence of any other inputs, the prime motivator for human action will be boredom. In people who view the world in binary terms, in the absence of a target for their tribal rage, or a competitor in which to contrast their own beliefs, they are no longer able to define themselves and have no self-identity.

So simplistic is the black and white thinking of some, they cannot function not only without creating an enemy, but without creating their own personality traits in tit-for-tat exchange with those persons. These people are human paper who in the absence of enemies will create enemies where none exists, failing to see the enemy in themselves. They are made human and only the illusory sense, exhibiting self-righteous anger receiving a high from slaying their made-up villains not much different from Star Wars Kid. The more sophisticated will understand this societal sway, and push back without a reform of an opinion, and exhibit a reactionary change only to the extent new attitudes inform theirs.

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