Opinions, Debate and Courting Controversy

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This post has been gestating for a while. I guess I’ve held fire on writing it because I’ve gotten somewhat tired of pissing in the wind. Because that is what speaking out on certain subjects frequently feels like these days. There is a sense of tedious inevitability that any post on sexism, racism or any form of marginalisation will eventually lead to a torrent of vile, ill-informed and just plain dumb comments. It put’s me in mind of that quote from Platoon “Hell is the impossibility of reason”. Often you’ll find precious little reason on the internet.

Two things have occurred recently that prompted me to write this post. One is the ongoing decline of both the Official and Unofficial LOTRO forums. The other was two recent blog posts by J3W3L and Doone Woodtac in which they encouraged fellow writers to express their opinions and not shy away from controversy. The two LOTRO forums have become so polarised that they now mirror each other in their own militancy and now seem to be different sides of the same coin. As for the two blog posts I referenced, although measured, well conceived and fair, the comments on at least one soon got derailed. Both of these events are far from unique. Yet they go me thinking why does it have to always be this way and is there anything that can be done?

Well I believe there is. However, don’t go looking for a miracle cure in this post. What I am suggesting is fairly basic and certainly requires lots of time. In a nutshell, keep writing and debating. Don’t throw in the towel. I know it’s very tempting sometimes, hence my pissing in the wind reference. Yet if we do, then the only information that remains out there is misinformation. Therefore we should not shy away from speaking out on difficult matters. Furthermore we can also do a lot to minimise the resulting shit storm that more than likely will arise. Here are few thoughts on the matter.

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Research and a well constructed argument:

Debating is a skill. There is also a process to discussing and arguing a point, the same way as mathematics and grammar have rules. Unfortunately most folk don’t consider either of these points and are happy to jump in feet first. It’s a shame more schools do not teach critical thinking as it is an invaluable skill that can be brought to bear on so many aspects of life. However, it is prudent to consider that logic and objectivity cannot always be imposed upon a debate. Emotions do play a part and cannot necessarily be set aside. Especially if you have first hand experience of the very matter being debated.

I believe Tobold asked the question “There cannot be any meaningful discussion of any subject if you start out by declaring only one side of the argument as valid”. That is perhaps true of some subjects, especially if you are debating a matter that hinges on subjectivity and personal taste. However in a debate regarding a subject such as racism, I cannot logically see any argument to validate a discriminatory stance. Some questions may well be open and shut cases but not all.

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Life is not simple:

If you are intending to hold forth on a particular subject, it never does any harm to remember that most problems are what they are because of their complexity. Which is a bummer because contemporary society really doesn’t like or “do” complex. Listen to any radio phone-in, read any internet forum or just glance through a newspaper and you’ll find many of the most difficult and contentious problems the world currently faces, distilled in to some rather glib and factually questionable sound-bites. Furthermore the public lap these up because they’re easy to remember and trot out. It’s far more easier to spout some superficial bullshit you gleaned from the pages of the Daily Mail, rather than spend time researching a subject and actually having to think.

Bear this in mind when you tackle a big issue. Question whether you are in a position to make a substantive point. For example, there’s a major debate in the UK at present as to whether the country should remain in the EU. It is an incredibly complex issue and at present I do not consider myself sufficiently informed as to have a opinion either way. I need to seek guidance from those who know what wider implications are, such as economists, business groups and associated experts on the matter. Politicians would not feature highly on the list, nor would those who base their entire stance on upon what they read in the tabloids.

Therefore ensure that when you write about complex issues you don’t make the mistake of inferring that it’s a binary situation and is all very easy to fix. Unless of course it is.

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Change takes time:

The previous point dovetails nicely in to this one. Progress is a long and often arduous path. Entrenched social attitudes and ideologies do not change over night. Often it is a generational thing. For example, my parents were born in the 30′s and both have specific views on social status, race, religion, politics, patriotism and that other old favourite drugs. A quarter of the world was part of the British Empire during their most formative years and this era definitely shaped their world view. They have made some changes over the years but on some matters their beliefs hold strong. No amount of arguing will ever change that. However, such views are not so endemic with my own or my sons generation. Simply put, some of the more unsavoury views from my parents generation will die with them. Change doesn’t always come by winning “hearts and minds”.

However, as with complexity, many people these days can’t be doing with “long waits”. Thus we live in a time where knee-jerk reactions and crass, ill-conceived quick fixes abound. Why should gaming be any different from politics? All I can really say to the ardent campaigner or blogger with a strong social conscience, is it helps to cultivate some patience. Actually a lot.

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Be measured and fair:

If for example, you as a gamer want to lobby the games industry with regard to the depiction of women in games, there is a requirement for you to engage with those who are either a part of the problem or who seem to be indifferent to it. It’s all about winning the middle ground and generating a head of steam. This process needs to be handled with subtlety and tact. Although passion is inspiring and anger can be power (or so The Clash said), step too far over the line and perceived militancy (whether it is real or not) will work against you. it scares people and it may even drive those you need on-board to the other “side”. So pick your battles, be firm, measured and civil.

Another thing to be considered is the use of knowledge. Some gamers (and bloggers) are not as smart as others. Some folk are smart but driven by their emotions. It can therefore be easy sometimes for the intelligent or knowledgeable party to run rings around the other. Be careful in how you “wear” your intelligence. There’s being clever and then there’s wanting to be seen as being clever. Crushing a person publicly through Vulcan like logic does not necessarily mean that they will immediately recant their views and embrace yours. Quite the opposite. You may have made matters worse. Just watch them dig their heels in.

You can be smart and make your point without being condescending or smug. However,that can be a difficult path to tread. Like it or loathe it, dealing with people in these situations requires a degree of diplomacy.

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I sure we can all think of other points to add to the list. There’s also a element of finding an approach that is right for you. Then of course there is always the option to simply not blog about some aspects of gaming or to stray in to certain areas of debate. Whether you run a website, visit forums or partake of Twitter, you are not obliged to tackle the big issues. I am merely suggesting that if you feel the need to do so, then you should not be deterred by the facts that it is hard to engage with some groups and that progress and effecting change takes time and work.

As I get older I do find that my passions have tempered over time. I do not find the need to go on that many demonstrations, nor to hold an “absolute” opinion on everything under the sun. I do tend to focus on more immediate issues that effect myself and my family (like the closure of my local A&E)  rather than wider international matters. But even in my most sceptical of moments, I cannot truly advocate a total withdrawal of interaction on social issues. Because that means handing the floor over to the idiot brigade and therein lies madness. Plus if we all did that then blogging would be a lot less interesting.

6 thoughts on “Opinions, Debate and Courting Controversy

  1. Kazren says:

    Roger, you are so eloquent, it’s always a pleasure to read posts like the one you wrote above. I don’t even know what the forums are going on about. If I post something reflecting anything like an opinion there, it seems there’s someone that has to slap it down, and someone else to misunderstand, and another person who sympathizes. I try not to post there unless I need a problem solved. It’s not worth the aggravation. You are totally on the point about critical thinking:more than half the world doesn’t focus and hasn’t the tools to think critically, even though it can be taught. Why isn’t it taught in more schools? Why do most people have to wait for college to take classes in deductive logic or critical thinking? That is a mystery.

  2. Roger Edwards says:

    It’s a shame really because I no longer see forums as a opportunity for social interaction but simply as a resource.

    I’d like to see schools introduce critical thinking or at least some sort of structured approach to “problem solving” at a much earlier age.

  3. Triski says:

    I think “agree to disagree” is an option that few people consider as well. Too often I see people refusing the let differences of opinion exist, and feel that if they just keep pounding away with their own view, the other person will “see the light” or “finally understand” or “get it”.

  4. Roger Edwards says:

    “Agree to disagree” is an anathema to many people these days. Any questioning of an opinion is seen as a personal attack, irrespective of whether it is or not.

    Thus all arguments must be refuted, crushed under foot and dispensed with. If that can’t be done then try rubbishing the person who made them.

    It’s a political tactic and certainly not a logical or academic one.

  5. Triski says:

    A quote from movie reviewer Roger Ebert:

    “There’s a human tendency to resent anyone who disagrees with our pleasures. The less mature interpret that as a personal attack on themselves. They’re looking for support and vindication.”

    In these cases, people feel so threatened by disagreement that they consider themselves to be defending their very existence.

  6. I’ve always believed in defending oneself, which can lead to situations that are, frankly, tense and easily ignited into explosions when prodded with the intent of arson. In my short time I’ve taken some strong positions and come off as less-than charitable in return.

    But like many others, I’ve learned to pick my battles. I approach every conversation with the firm belief that we all have good reasons to think and believe the way we do. One’s context and experience can make what you see as a disaster appear to be redemptive and constructive to another. I know that the moment I encounter zero-sum, position-based veiled-ethics I begin to disengage because there’s nothing to be gained other than anger and resentment.

    I’m most interested in why we end up in the places we inhabit and how we got there, with the implicit importance laying within a process of exploring further through discourse. I’m ravenous for strong dissent, because it opens my own mind and creates far more mature and well-rounded opinions than do echo chambers and agreement (which is also nice, but in an often less constructive way). I desire to explore the issue or topic, not to gain some faceless support for a rigid concept of subjective “morality”.

    I won’t even get into the political and socio-cultural “conversations” occurring (and, it’s worth remembering, have always happened with little core difference– we’re just in a position to see them in far, far greater quantity), because many of those discourses are so jumped and tribal that it’s impossible for there to be any exchange at all. There’s so much confirmation bias it calls into question some basic assumptions about the capability of human beings for objectivity in even small doses.

    And in the end, that’s what matters most: exchange and exploration. All the talk in the world is just bunk unless you create something new. Be it a new idea or a fresh perspective, when we dig in and refuse to peek out through the mailslot we dig a little deeper the death of our curiosity and personal growth.

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