28 January 2007

Sunday Brunch: The Wide, Wide World Of Web

When Cass Sunstein suggested that the web would dangerously narrow the arguments to which people were exposed, I scoffed. Didn't he know that we all read the lefty sites so that we could scoff at them? But now that we've set up an international collaborative of conservative bourgeois individualists, I wonder if he has a point. And yet we do discuss (ad nauseum) issues on which we disagree. The web: home of pornography and viewpoint confirmation, or scene of fertile international argumentation (and pornography)?

54 comments:

Susan's Husband said...

It's an amplifier. You get more of what you had before, not things that are really different.

Brit said...

Yes, I suppose the Post-Judd world could loosely be described as 'like-minded people', but for like-minded people we don't spend half a lot of time in ferocious disagreement.

I think people seek out the arguments they want to have, so in that sense it could narrow the issues you are exposed to. Blogging has introduced me to lots of new ideas, and has changed my mind on a few things, but mostly it has refined and honed my ability to argue positions I held anyway.

When these long-argued issues come up in real life, I find I'm now several steps ahead of the opposition, and can see clearly things which used to be muddy or difficult to convey.

Duck said...

I am more aware of what's going on in the world now than I was before the internet. It just wasn't possible to sample such a wide variety of news and opinion from such a geographically dispersed base in the past.

I agree with Brit, although I will say that some of my opinions have been modified. As he mentioned, even within our narrow debating club we break into opposing sides on many issues, and it's never the same group on either side.
* Peter and Brit were offended by the Danish cartoons, the rest weren't.
* Brit is pro gun control, the rest aren't.
* Peter and I are anti-pornography prudes, the rest are laizzes-faire sexual libertarians. (David's on the fence).
* Skipper, Brit, SH, Bret and and I are dunnoists, the rest are noists.
* Oro & SH are technology optimists, Skipper and I techno-skeptics.

So we're hardly an echo chamber.

David said...

Yes, we differ on various issues, but there is agreement on fundamental issues: we are not Benthamites, nor are any of us pure libertarians. We are all comfortable in the Burkian pool. I think that this is where Sunstein was right. The web allows people to develop a group in which there is fundamental agreement, something that just isn't possible in real life. As I once said to Peter about BrothersJudd, the great thing about the blog is that it takes seriously (and attracts people who take seriously) issues that, as far as I knew, only I ever fretted about.

On the other hand, I think that Sunstein's concern is mistaken because rational argument can only occur among people who are in fundamental agreement.

On the gripping hand (a meta-reference that I expect only one regular visitor to understand), I'm contemplating making a radical change in my real world life based upon my experiences on the web.

Mike Beversluis said...

Yet, I suspect that the white-male oriented nature of the internet affects what gets amplified.

Oroborous said...

On the gripping hand...

Without Googling: Is it from The Mote in God's Eye ?

I agree with everyone. It is an amplifier; it and has changed my mind on a few things, but mostly it has refined and honed my ability to argue positions I held anyway; I consume a much wider variety of news and opinion; rational argument can only occur among people who are in fundamental agreement about the nature of the world; and the internet is largely a white-male place, although it's maybe 40% female, and there are many female 'net stars.

Also, I too am making radical real-world decisions based upon my web experiences.

One really, really neat thing about the 'net is that when I'm exposed to a new or freshly relevant idea, I can get all of the backround info that I want, near-instantly. The only limit is the time that I have to read and explore.

Duck said...

the gripping hand

Is that the hand that grows hair?

Peter Burnet said...

Once and a while a polite leftist or gentle Esperanto advocate gives us a good debate from first principles, but mostly it's a waste of time that just descends into name-calling. It isn't just that we think alike, we also put a lot of time into this, and it pays dividends. We don't have a lot of time for the yahoo right either. Although there are occasional troughs where we seem to be running out of things to say, we always bounce back and I'll take our splitting conservative hairs over mass conversion efforts any day. That we generally don't appear to convince one another of much matters not at all. We're panning for gold here and the nuggets can take a long time (and some real life) to surface.

One exception is the lack of female voices. We all seem hopelessly dogmatic, hidebound and repetitive in any debate involving sexual morality or Muslim women, etc., although some of us seem to see that more readily than others. It's not just us, I think all men tend to be very reserved and hesitant when analysing these issues closely. We'd rather discuss soccer, Darwin and the balance of payments. In family law disputes, the affidavits recounting tales of past horrors are usually much shorter when drafted by male lawyers on behalf of husbands.

Apart from our religious debates, the biggest eye-opener for me is the different approaches scientific/technical guys like SH, Bret, Oro, Skipper etc. use than us liberal arts types to analyse the exact same issues. At times, I'm a little charmed and even patronizing about it, but it has made me realize I do exactly the same thing. Maybe David is the only one who will get this, but I can't compare Judaism and Christianity without using common law and equity as metaphors in my head.

Brit said...

David and Oro:

So come on, what are these radical real-life tranformations?

You're not going to try out for LA Galaxy are you?

David said...

Brit: It's a fair cop; teasing was unfair. I'll have to make a decision in the next 60 days and, if I decide to radically change my life, I'll let you all know then.

Peter: Part of our insularity is the natural result of being in a 3-4 year conversation. We've been over some ground so often that we've developed our own terms of art. New evolutionists coming into the conversation always accuse us (you and me) of being young Earth creationists, and at this point I just have no interest in replowing that field.

I agree with you entirely that we could use more women around the place.

David said...

There is, however, no subject than which I would rather discuss soccer.

Oroborous said...

If you want to have more women, you need to post more about childrearing and weight loss.

No joke.

Also, read and comment on women's blogs, leaving a link to your own.

Like David, if I actually commit to doing what I'm contemplating I'll advertise it.

What I really should have said is that some of the ideas and concepts that I've been exposed to over the past four years of reading/posting have radically changed my outlook about what is possible for me to do, and what I should be doing.

For instance, I'm now convinced that long-term investments in the energy sector will pay off for decades to come, whereas before I was still carelessly operating in the "oil glut" mentality that I'd picked up in the 80s.

One thing that I really like about my experiences online is that, when constructing an argument or attempting to refute someone else's, I've been forced to do a LOT of reading and research, which has made me much more knowledgeable in my areas of interest, and also in a few cases has shown me that I was in error.

Peter Burnet said...

That's very true, Oro. I've described my years at Brosjudd before as a free Ph.d and now with the Alliance I'm into post-doctoral work.

Duck said...

Oro
Speaking of changing your perceptions on the oil situation, you still haven't sent me your address so as to collect on the oil bet.

Hey Skipper said...

Mind not over Matter

I first got into this in search of principled, intellectual disagreement.

So I disagree with SH in terms of getting the same, only more so.

Instead, I have been exposed to a far broader range of issues, much more deeply, than would have been remotely possible pre-Web. Further, that exposure is unhindered by the kinds of filters inevitably in place when publishing is expensive and time consuming.

As Brit mentioned, one of the greatest benefits is being several, or more, steps of the opposition, for which I am eternally grateful to Orrin.

This exposure has changed my opinion on several things, particularly constitutional law and economics.

Peter noted the different approaches people take. This is particularly obvious when compared to the typical comments on a left wing site, such as Pharyngula. For a more, um, emphatic example, Mr. Wood comes to mind.

All accusations of bias granted, they are universally incapable of analytical, internally coherent and historically informed argument. It is clear to me why Hollywood, for instance, is almost universally on the left: their approach is entirely, right-brained as it is, emotional.

Still granting those accusations, at the meta-level, I believe it is impossible to be both rigorously analytical, and uncomfortable in the Burkian pool. Just as I don't believe it is possible to both analytical, and on the left.

Mike is right about the near universal white-male presence in the sub-set of the blogosphere characterized by the post-Judd alliance.

Last summer I was in LA for awhile. While there I visited a long time woman friend of mine. She brought up blogging. Thinking this could broaden the spectrum of opinion, never mind the onslaught of ad dollars, I pointed her to TDD.

Boy did I ever mistake my audience (which any reflection on the intractability of human nature would have immediately made obvious). She said it made her head hurt, and pointed me to Crazy Aunt Purl.

Which leads to what is likely my only contribution, beyond vicious agreement, to this topic.

The Web has appeared so quickly that the underlying culture provides a pretty good control with respect to several assertions that have been made about culture.

Women blog alright. But, to NOW's profound regret, provided they are capable of reflection, women, in general, will never be interested in the things men blog about.

And vice-versa, so long as we are confining the discussion to straight men.

Further, it provides a real test to the assertion that pornography is harmful, as opposed to being merely diversionary. If it was indeed harmful, the recent easy and cheap availability should have left a whole slew of graphic knock-on effects.

There are, save women engaged in reaction formation, none. So, while on some Platonic level, pornography may be sinful, it is apparently a sin without material consequences, hysteria to the contrary notwithstanding.

Peter:

In family law disputes, the affidavits recounting tales of past horrors are usually much shorter when drafted by male lawyers on behalf of husbands.

No duh. Women remember everything, men nothing. My daughter meticulously notes every emotional nuance, every slight (whether actual, intended, or not). My son just cruises along, combining obtuseness with a velcro like memory for the intricacies of Runescape, and not a neuron for what his buddies think of him.

Time to put an end to this rambling mess and go partake of the hotel's breakfast buffet.

Peter Burnet said...

Time to put an end to this rambling mess and go partake of the hotel's breakfast buffet.

Remembering always that we will have to face the dinner after.

Duck said...

Skipper,

That Crazy Aunt Purl makes my head hurt! It's like minutiae for as far as the eye can see - in vivid detail!

Hey Skipper said...

Duck:

I think the Web provides the best means available to investigate the female terra incognita.

There lie monsters.


Peter:

As a dunnoist, I can only say: Maybe.

But if one pigs out sufficiently at the breakfast buffet -- encouraged by a determination to get anything like one's money's worth -- at least the lunch after is cannot possibly be an issue, even for a knowist.

Peter Burnet said...

Skipper:

That wasn't the "knowism" I was talking about. I was referring to one far better grounded in first order evidence.

Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

Please explain.

Hey Skipper said...

David:

BTW, I must congratulate you for attaining my holy grail two weeks running: generating substantial discussion without dropping the R-bomb.

Brit said...

We don't know how many women read these kinds of blogs. We can only say that very few comment in them.

That's because our comments sections are designed for argument and conflict.

Men like argument and conflict - and are comfortable about separating ferocious intellectual disagreement from any kind of personal attack. We like arguing with people we like. Women who feel that way are rare: they tend to be personally hurt when you attack their argument.

When female conversation touches on any kind of divisive issue, they try to do everything they can to agree, even to absurd lengths. "Yes, I can quite see your point that black is white but of course black is green as well, isn't it?"

In direct contrast, men will do everything they can to find something to disagree about on every issue, often to equally absurd lengths in the other direction.

Hey Skipper said...

Brit:

Sometimes absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

It is hard to argue your point about women -- they do go to great lengths to avoid conflict, because they are so prone to taking things personall. Every woman I have ever known asserts that women are a pain to work with.

I don't know that men go to absurd lengths the other direction, but men are far less inclined to take disagreement personally.

Unless you disagree with me, in which case you are a right b*st*rd.

Peter Burnet said...

Ah yes, the lament of the Post-Judd Alliance.

Brit said...

Peter:

Quality. I'd forgotten how good some of that stuff is - and about Rex Harrison's ability to blag his way through an entire musical without actually singing a note.

Skipper:

Your turn of phrase sums up the male approach nicely:

It is hard to argue with [insert viewpoint here]...but I'm going to have a damn good go at it!

Brit said...

Rex Harrison: Godfather of Rap.

Duck said...

Peter! Step away from the YouTube! Argument by limerick was fine, but argument by musical cannot be tolerated!

Peter Burnet said...

Duck:

I blame Brit for that. But then, I always do.

erp said...

Women aren't amorphous masses of protoplasm who share petty concerns, are "difficult to work with" and "take things personal."

So then what are we? That's a bit harder to answer. I'll think on it and get back to you. One thing I do know, men are exactly like little boys, only a bit taller.

Brit said...

Women aren't amorphous masses of protoplasm who share petty concerns, are "difficult to work with" and "take things personal."

Gee, I don't know, erp. That's a heck of a claim and will take some serious arguing.

Peter Burnet said...

Stand by, erp. I can feel it in my bones. Somebody is about to give you what he believes to be the ultimate compliment--that you are just like one of the boys.

erp said...

Question: Why is it a great compliment for a woman to be told she's "one of the boys" and a horrible insult for a man to be told he's one of the girls?

brit, arguing aka reasoned discourse is my favorite sport, so take your best shot.

Duck said...

What's so bad about protoplasm?

Oroborous said...

Why is it a great compliment for a woman to be told she's "one of the boys"...

Because men still control almost everything in the top tiers of society, politics, business; even food & fashion.

Being "one of the boys" means that said female has cracked the glass ceiling.

But I suspect that that dynamic is going to fade away, and in sixty years, it'll be about as relevant to people then as "23 skidoo" is to us today.

Hey Skipper said...

erp:

With regard to "hard to work with," (and, especially, for), I am only relating what, without exception, women I have known have told me.

As for "taking things personally" the source would be largely the same, plus the experience I have had raising my daughter (I never had sisters), nearly 14, who, near as I can tell, is very typical. She, as I suspect is true for most women, perceives much more of what is going on around her than boys do. What's more, she is much more attuned, and dependent upon, relationships, than I was at that age, or my 12-yr old son is. I suspect that is true for most women; at least my wife assures me it is.

"Petty concerns" cuts both ways. I don't think I'm going out on too much of a limb in suggesting that Crazy Aunt Purl's audience consists almost entirely of team estrogen.

But you will find just as many analogous counterparts in the realm of, say, blogs dedicated to a specific computer (Mac sites, particularly), car, or woodworking, just to name a few.

Different, but exactly the same.

Why is it a great compliment for a woman to be told she's "one of the boys" and a horrible insult for a man to be told he's one of the girls?

Great question, albeit not one with anything like a pleasant answer.

I suspect most men, as a widespread component of male human nature, have a streak of misogyny. One of the worst insults one man can deliver to another is to accuse him of being in some way feminine.

I have heard women insult men the same way.

So it seems, for reasons we can only guess at, that men evincing feminine aspects elicits negative reactions from both men and women.

I do know this, that a whole lot of men would be a lot happier if they could view women as people first, and women second.

It is worth considering that women, in a whole range of respects, have much greater freedom of action than men. Consider clothes for starters. Never mind the range of colors that men (straight) can't possibly wear; women can wear men's clothes without anyone batting an eye. The inverse is absolutely not the case.

In fact, the only way to accurately define men's clothing is that range of women's clothing which men are allowed to wear.

Peter Burnet said...

I do know this, that a whole lot of men would be a lot happier if they could view women as people first, and women second.

But darn, those women just keep making it so hard to do, right Skipper?

Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

Where did you get that idea?

Peter Burnet said...

Oh sorry, Skipper. For a moment there I thought you were talking about the disabled.

Hey Skipper said...

Peter, you have stopped making sense.

erp said...

skipper, what you say makes sense as far as it goes, but let me just say this, society, read men, has declared that those disciplines which may come easiest to men like mathematics, the Red Sox and Sir Charles have the most intrinsic value and are routinely glorified and things that may come easier to women like language and empathy are seen to have little value and are routinely disparaged. In fact, there are only two reasons why there are so few women up there on Team Brain -- we're either (a.) too dumb or (b.) way too dumb.

Never have I seen a critique which says that while being able to comprehend abstract ideas might have some useful applications, it's really no different than other party tricks like balancing a beer bottle on one's head . . . and while men are patting each other on the back in a mutual admiration society, women are managing things. As the immortal Ginger Rodgers said, I did everything Fred did, except I did it backwards and in high heels, but he still got all the glory.

If women are hard to get along with in workplace, perhaps it's because they're trying too hard to be like men.

Duck said...

I've had mixed results with women in the workplace. Mostly they've been very agreeable and productive work relationships. I do have to say, however, that my worst boss was a woman.

erp, I think that you are partially right to say that many women in the workplace are trying to emulate men, but I'm not sure that is all of the explanation. I think that men take more easily to hierarchical relationships. That might sound counterintuitive - after all, aren't men known for being rebellious and independent? But getting along in an environment where there is an unequal distrubution of power and authority without loss of personal dignity, or "face", requires an ability to supress feelings which I think men are much better at then women. I think when some women are in positions of authority they find it harder to deal with the emotional masks that underlings put on to distance themselves from their superiors. Maybe they take that distance as dislike or betrayal, I don't know, but it can take the form of a level of anger that I haven't witnessed from male managers.

Hey Skipper said...

erp:

... this, society, read men, has declared that those disciplines which may come easiest to men like mathematics, the Red Sox and Sir Charles have the most intrinsic value ...

Uhhh, who is Sir Charles?

All true, but the first two words do not belong. The things of which you speak, or their analogues, exist in all known societies. Consequently, we should look to human nature, not a particular cultural instantiation of it, for the answer.

There is a concrete example of such a common mode phenomena (by which I mean that to the degree a behavior pattern is independent of culture, it is unaffected by culture). In a small, little known book of some 25 years ago entitled "Women's Place in Language," the linguist Karla Labov started off showing how the very structure of English uniquely worked to oppress women.

She is right, English accords women an inferior place in the language.

However, her hypothesis is completely dependent upon a counterexample, which she realized, and for which she diligently searched.

Sadly for her hypothesis, she discovered there isn't one. Every known language oppresses women. That is a common mode factoring culture out of the equation, meaning language structure betrays an underlying reality that may well be as inescapable as it is painful to contemplate.

there are only two reasons why there are so few women up there on Team Brain -- we're either (a.) too dumb or (b.) way too dumb.

While it is true that there are many more men at the IQ extremes (both high and low), you left out several other reasons: inclination, children and testosterone.

No amount of ability is going to overcome languid inclination. Where an activity collides with women's empathetic nature -- say, electrical engineering -- than no amount of equal opportunity will produce equal outcome. There is little in the engineering and science disciplines that rings most women's bells.

Children, even in a modern society, impose tradeoffs. Among them, most relevant here is the emotional cost nature heaps almost exclusively upon women. It is effectively impossible for mothers to compete with men in any career. Men do not have to, and their wives sure as heck don't want them to, take time out of a career for children. In contrast, many women willingly choose to do so, and reluctantly, if at all, return to the workplace after a break that can stretch into years.

Perhaps most importantly, though, it testosterone. The effects it has upon the competitive urge are practically beyond comprehension for Team Estrogen. Yes women can be men's intellectual equals, but the absence of testosterone poisoning is something like spotting 50 horsepower and two seconds when the flag drops.

If women are hard to get along with in workplace, perhaps it's because they're trying too hard to be like men.

Not from what I have heard. Women find women hard to get along with in the workplace. Nearly every woman I know who has brought the subject up vastly prefers working with, and for, men.

I suspect that has much to do with the role relationships play, central for women, far more peripheral for men.

Also, it may well have to do with how women are competitive, for what, and why. Mother Nature by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy covers this territory brilliantly. If you are interested, and would rather not further burden your bookshelves, I can send you my copy.

David said...

erp: My impression is that culture is the product of a consensus between men and women. This is more or less confirmed by the ease with which the culture changed to accommodate feminism as compared to the trouble involved in changing to accommodate the civil rights movement.

erp said...

Sorry, you guys still don't get it. It's much more basic than your replies indicate even though I don't have any problems with what you're all saying.

Those women who can't get along with their female bosses may have spent their whole lives from infancy in flirtatious relationships with all the males in their lives and just don't know how to behave when their feminine wiles don't work and they're an equal among equals . . . and how many can say they really liked any of their bosses, male or female?

Of course the English language like all the others put women in a inferior position. Who wrote those dictionaries anyway?

My contention is that the feminine activities, proclivities. etc. have been assigned little value and masculine given top billing. Men decide what's what and women who object or are even good at masculine stuff, like math or managing, are looked upon with derision and labeled "tough cookies."

I really do know what I'm talking about because I was one of those female freaks with an aptitude for mathematics and I was quickly made aware that although it appeared that I could hold my own, it was obviously just some sort aberration and not to be trusted.

Sir Charles? My sarcastic way of referring to Mr. Darwin and yes I know he wasn't knighted.

Duck said...

I guessed Charles Barkley.

Sorry, you guys still don't get it.

Well, obviously. Men will never get it when the subject is women.

However, your response is one that would only be respectable coming from a woman. If a man gave that as the reason, he would be raked over the PC coals.

Brit said...

Poor old Charlie D. He's getting the feminist treatment now.

Oroborous said...

I guessed Charles Barkley.

Me too. Is that because we're men ?

Duck said...

I don't remember who started it, maybe Bob Costas, but someone gave him the nickname Sir Charles.

Hey Skipper said...

My contention is that the feminine activities, proclivities. etc. have been assigned little value and masculine given top billing.

Which is seemingly true everywhere, at all times.

erp said...

See that's why it's a man's world. Sir Charles a basketball player! Who wudda thunk it?

Duck said...

Speaking of difficult women bosses, I present for your consideration this sad saga from the Twilight Zone.

Oroborous said...

I don't think it had to do with the fact that Regan was female, it had to do with her enormous success, ambition, and overreach.

It was the same with Sandy Weill and Citigroup.

Susan's Husband said...

-- Men decide what's what and women who object or are even good at masculine stuff, like math or managing, are looked upon with derision and labeled "tough cookies." --

Ah, see there's a key. It's not so much that only women get this treatment, but that the typical response differs between men and women. Men are much more likely to take "F— you, I'll show you who's tough!" attitude, probably due to testosterone poisoning.

For instance, when I was a younger, I received much of exactly that sort of derision because of my proclivities. My response wasn't to accept the judgement of others, but to adjust my ego so that I could define what I liked as superior and everyone else on the planet (if necessary) as inferior lackwits incapable of appreciating my greatness. Their derision marked them as stupid, not me. If it made me unpopular, why would I want such morons as friends anyway?

As Richard Feynman asked, "why do you care what other people think?".

erp said...

SH - I didn't have those kind of people as friends, I had them as teachers and bosses, but nevertheless I still didn't take their opinions to heart. I spent my life hitting against the stone wall.

When the feminists came around to ask that I join their marches for equality, my answer was, why would I want to be equal, when I've been superior all my life?

Men? Good for heavy lifting.