Sunday, October 06, 2013

Hard cases make bad law

There's a saying, "hard cases make bad law", which means that an extreme example is not the best thing to react to - it is better to consider moderate examples, because the consideration will cover so many more instances.

On the internet, the hard cases make angered click bait. There is an infinity of issues that don't have a mathematical, provable solution. The big ones include abortion, whether welfare is a moral hazard or a necessary safeguard for the temporarily inconvenienced, and whether quantitative easing will lead to a recovery or to hyperinflation.

Apart from these major arguments (and the perennial evolution vs. creation, which is obviously well settled and totally over, but is refought on a daily basis), there are a million minor arguments with no right answer. On boing boing yesterday, for instance, a post on Miley Cyrus' response to an open letter from Sinead O'Connor dived into circularity within a few comments. At issue, such fundamental concepts as defining saying "Don't be a prostitute" as slut-shaming and individual viewpoints as data points, such as whether Miley Cyrus is being cynically exploited by others for money, or whether she is expressing her young and apparently thrush-tongued sexuality. Now we are 163 comments in and there's no sign of agreement.

For what it's worth, my own opinion is that Miley Cyrus is an operative of the media, and wiggling her arse and sticking her tongue out are not protected speech, because they are not either "an expression of her sexuality" (which is, according to the posters on the boing boing thread, inviolate, at least to feminists) or an artistic expression (which has freedom under the Constitution), they are advertisements for a product, which are regulated as commerce and also subject to the usual common decency rules. (And the "if you don't like it, don't watch it" rule, which applies to me, but less so to minors, who are not considered capable of making some decisions.) As such, asking her to consider not being a prostitute is not "slut-shaming" - and since when was a slut a prostitute anyway? - it's the modern equivalent of appeal to the hippy concept of "not selling out", man.  Although authenticity is a loose and slippery concept, the opposite, the antonym, is generally "doing something for the money" and it appears that O'Connor is asking Cyrus to stop selling out.

I'm a big reader of comments. I sometimes reply in comments, too, and then wonder why. Obviously no one will ever read it, with the possible, but not guaranteed, exception of the person I'm replying to, and after years of comment-reading experience I know that minds are rarely ever changed. Blogs/Papers that carry them use them as either free-content providers or as a source of repeat eyeballs for advertising.  More serious outlets like  Popular Science are against them because fighting in the comments section leads to polarization; which is to say, the angrier and more abusive the comments get, the more people's minds stay made up, and the less learning and understanding takes place.

Comments sections are where thoughts go to die. I read them because occasionally a couple of self-aware people have an exchange, but that's becoming more and more rare. YouTube is considering requiring real names on comments. Might make a difference. Doesn't on Facebook.

And I think I read them because I grew up on Usenet, where all posts were technically comments. One gigantic world-spanning mega-thread of comments, most of which were actually relevant in those far-off pre-astroturfing days.  Obviously, part of me wants to get back to the Golden Age when everyone who wrote into a thread about load carrying capacities of German WWII planes was an expert, not someone who wanted to remark that it was Obama's fault, or that Ron Paul was the solution or that they made $36 an hour following this one weird trick.

As the monument of these arguments, carved and modeled into consensus reality, Wikipedia is the Old Usenet set in stone. It's offspring are the toxic whims of the perpetually peeved.

No comments:


Blog Widget by LinkWithin
I sometimes mention a product on this blog, and I give a URL to Amazon or similar sites. Just to reassure you, I don't get paid to advertise anything here and I don't get any money from your clicks. Everything I say here is because I feel like saying it.