The “Should” Fallacy in Criticism

I wrote a piece about a common fallacy I see in criticism – particularly video game criticism. I argue that people like to talk about what a game “should” be; often, this isn’t a helpful criticism since it’s a refusal to accept what the game is.

I make my full case here at my regular haunt at GameZone.

Oprah Winfrey and misusing entertainment (and large) platforms

In my latest for Big Think, I use the whole “Oprah denies atheism” affair as a jump off point to examine her larger and damaging approach to thinking.

I don’t view all celebrity as bad. What I worry about is the uncritical or unthinking engagement so many have toward things they adore: From people to video games, nothing is sacred. That doesn’t mean we can’t be sensitive in how we criticise, of course, but neither does it mean our silence for fear of offence.

Celebrities can do good, of course. But we shouldn’t be afraid of calling them out just because their platform is larger than ours or just because they’ve, perhaps, done good in the world. As I indicate, doing good in one area doesn’t absolve you of wrong done elsewhere.

(PS: Please try refer to her as Oprah Winfrey or Winfrey. I have a small annoyance at referring to strangers by first name, who actually have a surname. [Hence, Madonna is fine and is after all her stage name])

Having children and selfishness

I wrote a piece replying to another South African writer regarding the tired assertion linking selfishness and child-free.

I’ve been trying to tease out a proper justification for why someone would claim you’re selfish for not wanting children, but it’s never really held firmly. At the very least, I can “understand” what my opponents in various discussions mean when they oppose me on, say, euthanasia or sex work; there’s something firm that they’re trying to beat me with.

But this is one of those discussions that feels like I’m grappling eels.

I thought I wasn’t harsh in my response here. After all, that would’ve been selfish (and also unhelpful to discussion).

Outrage, social media and knee-jerk responses

I have a new post up at the Guardian that you can go and fight with.

Additionally:

I quite like this piece by Laura Hudson at Wired on when the bullied becomes the bullies in the age of social media.

I think it’s a difficult discussion and, though I like the article, I’m not sure how far I agree. Probably about *sucks thumb* 90%.

As should be obvious from my Guardian piece, I am worried about the kinds of reactions we have; the sort of horrible name-calling, derision, threats, and pile-ons that can occur – even for a good cause.

After all, we don’t have licence to, for example, threaten homophobes with death. (I wouldn’t want to associate with anyone that did that, which would undermine the cause itself.)

To think we’re immune in our responses because we’re on the moral side is a dangerous precedent, I think. Just because we’re morally right in our position doesn’t make automatically morally right in whatever way we respond.

Clarity is (almost) everything

These are the kinds of responses I’ve got for making various arguments.

If you criticise those who mock, deride and laugh at beauty pageant contestants, it’s because you want to sleep with said contestants. This despite the fact that you will probably never meet these women. Obviously, you have a sick fantasy that they will see your defense, purchase a one-way ticket to your foreign country, and fly over straight into you (and your girlfriend’s/boyfriend’s) bed.

If you criticise those who target innocent women unnecessarily, you think you’re better than all women, that women need men to defend them. This despite not having made mention of women’s abilities – or lack of thereof, apparently – at all.

If you criticse arguments which aim to eradicate all guns, you are a shrill for the NRA or other powerful organisations – despite not being an American citizen and having an Arabic name.

If you criticise people’s ideas and arguments, you are attacking their person – despite never having met, despite the fact that no matter who you are, a bad argument is a bad argument. Einstein saying the world is flat doesn’t change it’s shape.

Online engagements tend to be unhelpful to proper discussion – by which I mean allowing for proper treatment of other individuals and their viewpoints.

I fail to understand this need to act as though the person you’re dealing with is a genuine monster, is really trying to undermine your life and hurt those you love. This doesn’t mean such people don’t exist, only I don’t think it’s everyone who disagrees with you. [Read more…]

The devils in the details

My friend Jacques Rousseau has done me the favour of writing (and improving) the article I was busy with (I was so writing this before him!), before I began having serious Internet problems.

South African media – and perhaps international – has managed to develop a rhetoric of speaking of Satanism as some bizarre evil thing, which tends to involve broken teenagers, murder and/or suicide. This has come as a result of numerous murders and other crimes, where the accused have muttered something about Satanism. This might be what perpetrators call it but that would be doing a disservice to Satanists, Satanism and, more importantly, reality.

Even though we [in South Africa] are ostensibly guaranteed freedom of religion by our Constitution, a minority religion like Satanism (and to a lesser extent, various Pagan religions) are almost universally a shorthand for evil – largely because what people understand by “Satanism” is exactly what Christians would want it to be. [Read more…]

If your “science” has no data, no one should believe you

The British writer Martin Robbins has a long and important battle against what he terms “data-free celebrity science”. This is “science” as touted by those who have established themselves as good scientists or thinkers – among their colleagues – and proceeded to use that goodwill to build a soapbox to spread their ideas.

[Read more…]

Caring about things I don’t want to care about

The content of my last blogpost at Big Think was on how often many of us are engaged in “debates” that shouldn’t be debates at all: gay marriage, legalized a abortion, euthanasia, and so on.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t legitimately care about these, nor that these aren’t discussions worth having, or are simple to solve. But, if more people – often opposing – were willing to critically examine WHY they are opposed to these problems – instead of reacting “from the knee” – we would either have less vitriol, less discussions or better quality ones. [Read more…]