I do stuff @GA and tweet about language, philosophy, cuisine, literature, and space.
29 stories
·
11 followers

Let’s make football a college major

1 Comment

On a fall day in 2012, right after taking a frustrating sociology exam for which he would receive a B, Cardale Jones – a student-athlete at Ohio State University – tweeted something that he would later regret: Jones saw college as football and classes as an inconvenience. At the time, and ag...

By David V Johnson

Read at Aeon

Read the whole story
AdrianMRyan
835 days ago
reply
Hell yes.
New York, New York
Share this story
Delete

Bracket

13 Comments and 22 Shares
I'm staring at the "doctor" section, and I can't help but feel like I've forgotten someone.
Read the whole story
AdrianMRyan
1143 days ago
reply
It came down to Oscar Wilde on the left bracket vs. Bill Murray and Scallops on the right bracket. I think Oscar Wilde wins, but I might have to sleep on it.
New York, New York
Share this story
Delete
11 public comments
Andi_Mohr
1147 days ago
reply
Love XKCD, but there's what... 10 women on here?
dukeofwulf
1150 days ago
reply
And it's Van Halen, narrowly over Bill Murray and Alan Rickman, who in turn narrowly bested Joey Gordon-Levitt and Louis Armstrong. Good show!
mooglemoogle
1150 days ago
reply
Oh man, took me some thinking to understand Natalie Imbruglia's placement. Good work.
Virginia
Vixy
1150 days ago
I still don't get it. Help?
mooglemoogle
1150 days ago
Hint: Natalie Imbruglia's largest (only?) hit song
TheTom
1151 days ago
reply
Bill Murray, of course.
Adelaide
joeyo
1151 days ago
reply
Doctor Octagon, for one ...
San Francisco, California
beslayed
1151 days ago
reply
I initially took this to be something like "individuals who tend to collapse into one another in my mind".
rraszews
1151 days ago
reply
"The fight raged on for a century. Many lives were claimed, but eventually, the champion stood, the rest saw their better: Mister Rogers in a blood-stained sweater" - Lemon Demon
JayM
1151 days ago
reply
The Doctor versus Scallops took a little while. Then The Doctor versus George Orwell took a couple of minutes. Then, what is important to me came out and it was all George Orwell.
Atlanta, GA
glenn
1151 days ago
reply
Pretty easy to do in your head because... Bill Murray FTW :)
Waterloo, Canada
emdot
1151 days ago
reply
I want to know who you think will win.
San Luis Obispo, CA
tcomeau
1150 days ago
Hmm. Neil Armstrong vs Sir Francis Drake in the final. I think it comes down to home-court advantage.
alt_text_bot
1151 days ago
reply
I'm staring at the "doctor" section, and I can't help but feel like I've forgotten someone.

Fundamental Forces

6 Comments and 16 Shares
"Of these four forces, there's one we don't really understand." "Is it the weak force or the strong--" "It's gravity."
Read the whole story
AdrianMRyan
1245 days ago
reply
Funniest XKCD in years.
New York, New York
Share this story
Delete
4 public comments
skorgu
1244 days ago
reply
Some good attempts at making the strong and weak forces more approachable: https://www.reddit.com/r/askscience/comments/2wjonl/xkcds_fundamental_forces_isnt_funny_its_sad_can/
jth
1245 days ago
reply
This is pretty much how I recall first learning about the weak and strong forces.
Saint Paul, MN, USA
drchuck
1245 days ago
reply
The force can have a strong influence on the weak-minded.
Long Island, NY
alt_text_bot
1245 days ago
reply
"Of these four forces, there's one we don't really understand." "Is it the weak force or the strong--" "It's gravity."

Threading the Needle: An Essay On Contemporary Choices in Media Criticism

73
1 Share

My friend and fellow critic David Brothers wrote a worthwhile piece for you to read over on comicsandcola today, and it’s worth your time if only to see just what the hell is happening right now online in terms of comic criticism and activism.  It’s a companion piece to the more condescending article that showed up on TCJ this week by Ken Parille.

Both articles orbit around what videogame nerds have decided to coin “social justice warriors”.  Sometimes abbreviated as SJW…because of course.  But basically what is being talked about is a kind of post-structuralist critical theory married to social media based calls to action.  What that means basically, is a strand of critical theory that not only believes that the reader’s reaction is more important than the author’s intent, but further more that the author is culpable for that reaction.  So to break that down even further, Batgirl comic has a transmisogynist character, therefore the author may very well be transphobic, and furthermore, the author is then called to atone for this mistake(through many thinkpieces, retweets, reblogs, shares, faves, and direct messages) through an apology and a promise to do better.

For me personally, I have always enjoyed reading post-structuralist critical theory, even when I was a young idiot, I have always had a curiosity for viewpoints that are outside of myself, and I have always enjoyed discussions of art as a vehicle to get a greater understanding of those perspectives.  And indeed, as a queer transwoman, I have at times used art as a vehicle to share my experience.  It’s like…through this movie we both dig, I can make you see the world for a second through my viewpoint, and maybe that humanizes queer transwomen for you just a little bit?

But where I start to fall away is when we go from simply identifying the flawed expression of our identities in art, to deciding that the art is dangerous, or that the artist is a rotten villain, or that because of this flawed expression that my criticism needs to exist as a call to action to “do better”.  And on the flip side of that, I also don’t get down with people who are incapable of accepting that these expressions may be flawed in some way–or when we say flawed–what we mean is in-analogous.  So Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs is a flawed transmisogynist character, who functionally through the text of the film, presents trans-issues in a horrifyingly dehumanized way that is not accurate–and not that it needs to be, but it can be useful to write the article that explains to people who have never met a transperson before, that certain embellishments have occurred for the purposes of the work as a whole, and we can discuss how those function within the work as a whole.  So I mean, the character is inarguably flawed in his presentation of transgender face.  But for some people, they are so invested in the work as a whole, that any identification of this ilk, makes them shutdown, because hey, Silence of the Lambs is perfect–so therefore they try and “actually” you to death.

This denial of post-structuralist readings out of hand because of some need for pristine perfect works of art, which because we like them, must not have anything ever wrong with them, or ever be used to express ways in which the world hurts or is painful.  This is something that David gets at really well in his article when he talks about how people completely shut down when something is called racist.  If you say something is racist in a work, then it’s assumed that you are also calling the artist a racist, and “fans” racist–when really you’re just talking about a specific element within the work as a whole.  A work can contain racist elements and not be racist as a whole, or it may be racist as a whole, but maybe the artist is racist, maybe they aren’t–maybe people who like it are racist, maybe they aren’t–the only thing though that is really being talked about though is this particular element in the work and how it affects a particular read experience.  That can’t be treated as the end to a conversation.  It should be a PART of a healthy critical discussion of art in which all perspectives are valid and can help us through art learn more about ourselves and the community around us.  I mean this is one of the things art is principally for!  Art doesn’t exist for you to just go be a fan of it.  It exists to reflect back to you the projection of yourself funneled through a controlled artifice.  Art allows you to understand yourself and your place in the world better, and experience awe at the elasticity of the human experience you enjoy.  It is a magic of lines and sequences that allow you to attain an altered state of being, and evolve your experience.

Enter the third wheel of this crazy trycycle.  Zak Smith wrote an excellent essay about the worst critic in the history of the world.  In it, he explores critic Max Nordau, who is something of a cautionary tale for this current incarnation of activist post-structuralist theory.  While Nordau himself, never directly tried to censor work, his histrionics about the potential danger of corrupting work of the time, which he believed to exist as a threat to social norms–did directly influence the destruction of art, and murder of artists.

This begins to get at how I feel about my own criticism, and some of my concerns with this popular strain of critical activism.  Because on the one hand, while I strongly identify with using to identify flawed expressions of personal identity–I also strongly reject the idea that upon identifying these expressions, that the next course of action is to call for a particular action against the art or artist.

For one, I do not agree that the art and the artist are a singular face.  I believe that a work of art exists between both the artist and the audience–and is it’s own third thing through which these two roads never actually meet.  Even if you think you totally get a piece of art, and even if your reading of the art is 100 percent with what an artist says in an interview–it does not mean that either your reading, or the artist reading of the work is completely accurate.  An artist can create things that are beyond their knowledge and beyond their understanding.  There are things we do just as people, that we don’t have any cognizance of, but another person may see, and it may be an insightful thing for them.  And because I don’t believe the art and the artist are linked, I can accept the fact that great art often times comes from terribly flawed people.  There is a modern notion that if you produce great art, because the art is great, you must be somehow special and deserving of our adulation and attention.  The artist-celebrity, the artist-priest–this notion that the artist because of their skills at expressing the ineffable, they are some kind of superhuman who we must uphold as some kind of paragon.  It’s complete and utter bullshit.  And we see it play out everyday now that everyone is connected, and there are no more secrets.  Artists say and do some fucked up shit sometimes–just like you do.  You know why?  Because they’re just dumb flawed humans.  But that doesn’t meant they can produce something which allows you to approach the sublime.  So maybe an artist IS a great person.  But horrible art comes from great people, and vice versa.  In fact, currently a huge problem in comics are all the free passes “fans” are handing out for mediocre work based simply on the notion that the artist in question is an advocate for their cause.  So someone like Brian Wood can build a career as this feminist champion in comics, while kicking mediocre boring ass books, and harassing women at cons.  So because you view the artist as saint, not only can he get away with skullduggery, he also can start kicking subpar shit, but because your relationship is with the artist, not the art–you don’t care until it’s too late, and then you’re like outraged, because dude turns out ot be just like every other dumbass dude.

Secondly, I do not believe that art has societal power.  I believe art creates the sacred.  What I mean by that is that, for each individual that experience a piece of art, a space exists that only that person expereinces, that can be profound and moving, based upon what they have projected out as their perception, and how that filters back to them with this thing called art.  But that experience is not something you can translate to another person.  Two people can see the same piece of art, but the experience they have is never wholely translatable to the other.  You take that shit to your grave.  I know this because as a critic, I spend tons and tons of words trying to explain the power of my experience–but in the end, all I can convey is just that…the power of my experience.  But even if you think you experience something similar–it is still different.

So what that means is that art can be extremely powerful to the individual, but because it is not translatable to society as a whole, it’s power is isolated to each individual that perceives the work.

It’s popular to say that art is this super powerful thing.  This notion that a great work of art can crack the world in half.  It is a moronic idea, and I say that as an artist, who absolutely believes in the creation of the sublime experience.  But if art was so powerful–then why couldn’t Godard stop Vietnam?  Why couldn’t Ralph Ellison end racism?  Was their art not powerful enough?  And if their art isn’t powerful enough–how can a bullshit issue of batman be that powerful?

The reason we say that art is powerful is because for US, for our individual experience, art IS profound.  It’s like touching the divine.  But we can’t extrapolate it.  And whatever we do pull out from the art to throw to others, is fundamentally not the art itself–but our reading of the art. And that point the art is immaterial.  You’re just writing an essay adovocating for something–and maybe it will be heard, maybe it won’t–it’s letter to the editor writing.

The danger is that in the power of your howl, you might actually wake a dragon up.  You see when you run around saying how art is dangerous, and how artists need to be responsible–the problem is that at some point, someone might actually take you seriously.  Because the logical societal response to dangers to said society is to exercise societal power against said danger, until it is minimized.  As Zak pointed out in his essay, quoting from Isiah Berlin:

“”…some, and by no means the least distinguished, tend to say that state control has its positive aspects as well. While it hems in creative artists to an extent unparalleled even in Russian history, it does, a distinguished children’s writer said to me, give the artist the feeling that the state and the community in general are, at any rate, greatly interested in his work, that the artist is regarded as an important person whose behavior matters a very great deal, that his development on the right lines is a crucial responsibility both of himself and of his ideological directors, and that this is, despite all the terror and slavery and humiliation, a far greater stimulus to him than the relative neglect of his brother artists in bourgeois countries.

A society where art is considered powerful is not a safe one for art to be created in.  And indeed it’s not even a great environment for good art to be produced.  Seen any of those Kim Jong Il movies?  Yeaaaah.

Which was what Zak was getting at with Nordau, that his criticism was irresponsible because it created an environment where art was dangerous, where artists had moral responsibilities to project in their work–and eventually powers came along and used his writing as the guide posts to some real fuckboy shit.  And I mean comics should know better.  Frederic Wertham set back American comics for who knows how fucking long, with his social advocacy about the dangers of art.  A medium dominated by dumbass superheroes is your reward.

And obviously, this brings us up to Charlie Hebod.  A group of violent fuckheads came along, said art was dangerous, art was powerful, that art was worthy of answering with violence if it was offensive enough–and then 12 people died because of it.  And I guess this week has been a frustrating walk between two sides.  One side, where they rightfully identify racist imagery, but wrongly attach a danger and power to these works of art, which calls for some kind of vague responsibility, of the type that Nordau asked for.  And then an other side, which flatly rejects that the images contain racist imagery at all.

And meanwhile between all of this 12 people are dead, because as powerful as art supposedly is, fuckboys with guns will always be more powerful.  And meanwhile, I still don’t know a fucking thing about any of the artists that died, or what the magazine was for them.  It’s really been quite the week for criticism to show it’s impotence in the face of true adversity.  Anyway.  I want to eat some buffalo wings now.


Read the whole story
AdrianMRyan
1276 days ago
reply
New York, New York
Share this story
Delete

The Dark Knight of Faith

2 Comments



Towards what teleological end? Delivering stone cold one-liners of course.
Read the whole story
AdrianMRyan
1296 days ago
reply
I like this _way_ more than the Nolan Batman films.
New York, New York
Share this story
Delete
1 public comment
tante
1296 days ago
reply
The dark knight of faith
Oldenburg/Germany

Striving, Surviving, Suffering and Slacking

1 Share

The more I learn about the life stories of others, the more I tend to view mere survival as an accomplishment in the median case. This is an odd view of humanity, but an accurate one for the vast majority. We are misled about the actual difficulty of basic survival because societies are built around highlighting and celebrating the two ways you can react to easy conditions: striving and slacking. Striving leads to accomplishment, which we celebrate by according high status to the accomplished.  Entitlement leads to visibly enjoyed leisure, which we celebrate in a different way, by sanctifying it into a utopian view of the “good life” a given society offers. Societies advertise both by way of marketing themselves. What is generally swept under the civilizational carpet into invisibility are two other behaviors that are responses to hard conditions: surviving and suffering. These four kinds of behavior form a convenient 2×2 on which you can plot your life in a useful way.

lifeTrajectory

The x-axis should be self-explanatory: it takes subjective hardship as a serious thing, but not as an absolute thing. Smarter and dumber on the y-axis refer to intelligence in the sense of capacity for pure Darwinian survival — a Hunger Games definition rather than IQ.  Note that being further north does not make you smarter. It means you’re getting smarter faster. These definitions make the entire diagram subjective.

Striving is getting smarter in good conditions. Surviving is getting smarter in bad conditions. Suffering is getting dumber in bad conditions — a progressive failure to continue existing. Slacking is getting dumber in good conditions.  Try drawing your life on this 2×2. Note that equal intervals of time will not map to equal lengths on the path. The trajectory tracks your story of adaptation, not your story of aging. When it comes to adaptation, as Lenin remarked, there are decades where nothing happens and weeks where decades happen.

My trajectory, in narrative terms, breaks down like so: growing up (74-92), college (93-97), MS (97-99), year-off from PhD (2000-2001),   paycheck world (2004 – 2011), free-agent world (2011-present).  Feel free to read what you will into my lifeline.

Here are some notes to help you get oriented. I didn’t put all this into the diagram since that would create way too much clutter, but you can try creating the full kitchen-sink version yourself as homework if you like.

Getting Oriented

  1. Striving and suffering are relatively stable equilibrium conditions, while surviving and slacking are unstable.
  2. If you keep surviving for long enough, you will inevitably be drawn into the striving quadrant. If you keep slacking long enough, you will inevitably be drawn into the suffering quadrant.
  3. The x-axis is the internal watershed: the dividing line between those in growing and declining mental states.
  4. The y-axis is the societal watershed: the dividing line between celebrated, theatrical elements of a society and the dark underbelly elements
  5. The NW-SE line of symmetry between the two equilibrium quadrants separates net contributors and net drains-on-others in terms of pure systemic survivability.
  6. The SW-NE line represents the path of greatest thriving for a society (a turnpike in an economic sense). Reversing that arrow gives you the path of fastest collapse for a society.
  7. If you’re getting dumber sufficiently fast, you are your own worst enemy and no external events can pull you out of your spiral of hopelessness and despair.  This is the zone of zemblanity sufficiently far south
  8. If you’re getting smarter sufficiently fast, you will accumulate survival resources that make you increasingly immune to the vicissitudes of fate.  This is the zone of serendipity sufficiently far north.
  9. Close to the x-axis,  you aren’t making your own good or bad luck, but external jolts can knock you from one equilibrium to another with high probability. Other people and random life events can snap you from growth to decline mental states easily. Far from this band, you are increasingly master of your own fate, for good or bad.
  10. If we all drew trajectories like I have, you’d get a spaghetti ball of 7 billion trajectories that would tell you whether global society is overall collapsing or thriving.

Some additional notes.

Cluelessness 

Entitlement is the complacency that accompanies survival as a standard of success under conditions where survival is easy. Because survival has always been, and still is, hard for most of humanity, our expectations of life are calibrated at survival equals success. Being capable of belief in that equation without regard to actual conditions is the kind of fortunate innocent stupidity I usually label cluelessness.

You’ve won the nature-nurture lottery: you were born in great conditions, and are too dumb to react with the existential restlessness that accompanies recognition of your own luck and fuels serious striving. It usually manifests as slacking in the guise of theatrical striving that accomplishes nothing: make-work and bullshit jobs. These are people who would typically be offended if you offered to cash them out of their jobs with exactly the same salary. They prefer the false dignity of make-work to the true leisure of slacking.

These are the Biblical lilies of the field, who toil not, nor do they spin (though they often think they do).

Except I think actual biologists would argue that lilies work very hard sucking up nutrients and turning sunlight into battery power. Keynes’ conception of a leisure society (which he imagined being populated by precisely such lilies) would be a society of the makeworking clueless, not a society of the virtuous like he imagined. I do not think such a society would be stable. Pure cluelessness undermines itself. It would either collapse or thrive (see points 5 and 6).

When you put the clueless into tough survival conditions, they end up sufferingSuffering is the process of painful, progressive failure-to-continue-surviving. What people call a spiral of hopelessness and despair.

Striver Justice

Strivers who enjoy easy survival conditions, but recognize that they are enjoying an exceptional environment, tend to recalibrate the meaning of success. Usually in terms of accomplishment.

Roughly speaking, you are accomplished if whatever you do with your life turns out to have been at least as demanding as mere survival was to your most unfortunate contemporary “mere survivor”. Doing less seems, to the morally sensitive, to be a case of free-riding. To those who don’t navigate by collectivist morality, the condition of doing less than you can seems like a wasted, acting-dead life.

In a slightly moronic form, this can turn into hairshirt sensibilities of self-denial. How can I party while there are people going hungry? This is guilt-driven striving. To the extent that investing in leisure increases the overall effectiveness of the striving, partying-while-people-are-going-hungry is the smart thing to do. Partying to the point where you cross the x-axis is of course the classic start of the spiral of self-destruction.

Strivers often lack an explicit sense of justice and fairness because they are too alive to the nature of Darwinian reality to believe in it. But they often do possess a distinct sense of striver justice: an internal standard that tells them whether or not they are making the most of the luck they have.

Striver justice seems like a weak idea to me.

A more natural understanding is that if you don’t try to maximize your own potential, you are inviting the debilitating, getting-dumber trajectory from slacking to suffering upon yourself. This seems as good a one-life, atheist definition of karma as any.

A brain that is not getting smarter in a survival sense will necessarily get dumber and struggle to survive. Or to put it another way, your environment will get harsher until it hits your survivability threshold.   survivability.   A fool and his karmic luck are soon parted. Conditions degrade to maximally stress the survival intelligence available.

Deciding to Live

Humans are survival machines. It is surprisingly hard to give in entirely to despair and hopelessness. Something always tends to sneak through. Going by the assumed fragility of the human psyche in many popular theories of psychology, you’d expect a vastly higher rate of suicide than we actually see. Not even only trustafarians dumped into adversity after decades of ease are that fragile.

Crossing over from suffering to survival is the moment people call deciding to take charge of your own life. You’re balanced on a knife edge between a spiral of zemblanity and a spiral of serendipity. Deciding to live is exactly the same thing as deciding that getting as smart about survival and adaptation as your genes allow is a good thing.

What triggers this decision is often a non sequitur accidental learning that has no relevance to your life, like spotting a piece of corn in the depths of depression. What this sort of thing does is draw you out of your own head and make you alive to the fact that you are not an ethereal soul-being trapped on earth and waiting to return to heaven. You are a meat-bag survival machine in a material world that you are part of and depend on every second, but which does not depend on your continued existence.

Read the whole story
AdrianMRyan
1309 days ago
reply
New York, New York
Share this story
Delete
Next Page of Stories