strawman


Actually, I’d like to narrow that down just slightly to something a touch more manageable.

Ian VS. a Strawman: Young People Who Abuse the Word “Random”

 
There, that’s a bit more my current speed.

The Kids Today are big fans of using the word “random” when what they mean of course is “absurd” or “silly“. In their quest for hyperbole, in fact, non-sequiters and shocking moments are not only random but “SO random. This is a bunch of goddamn garbage. You kids are garbage.

Ok, I can hear the main counter argument already. Our language is alive. It’s growing and changing, and if people — young people especially — are adopting a word, that’s the beauty of our living adaptable language at work, and I should pack up my books and my long grey beard and just Deal With It.

And you’re not wrong.

Language does grow and change, and I love that this is so, and I love that we take words, these misshapen vessels of meaning, and bend and hew them to carry new ideas from mind to mouth to mind. I’m in favor of that. Usually.

My issue, as it often is, is with with semantic weight. It’s with all the things random can mean, and already does, and a sense that this new load of meaning serves to, if only slightly, diminish a pretty incredible word. “Random” means so many lovely things, and using it to replace other perfectly good words offends me on two levels.

  • Level the First!:
    When describing what “random” means, “Mathematical Random” is what most people think they mean, but almost never do. I work with programmers, but am not one, and the distinction between being mathematically random, and feeling random is kind of astonishing. Take flipping a coin. If a coin were to be flipped six times, the pattern seeking human mind wants 3 heads and 3 tails, but that’s not really random. That is, it’s no MORE random than 6 heads, or 5 tails and 1 heads. When most people talk about random, especially as it relates to video games, or music playback, what they actually mean is “enforced standardized variety within a range of expected results”. But what’s great is that Random gets to mean both, and only people like me, straddling between engineers and the public ever has to worry about the confusion.

    In every day use, I see two common uses of “random” that are quite distinct from the above. Take the sentence “They broke up, and now she’s dating some random guy.” or “We ate lunch at some random Thai place.” Of course, they don’t mean a totally arbitrary guy out of all guys. They mean “a heretofore unknown entity (p.s. I’m being dismissive)”. What a great word! So useful!

    Another example: “Oh man, I was in Paris, and I ran into my childhood friend Ryan! So random!” And it kind of is! But what you’re really trying to say is “a complex system had an unexpected and significant outcome!” Not only can we convey all that meaning in one word, but because the meanings are actually quite different, we need very few context clues to determine which meaning of “random” the speaker intends.

  • The Other Reason:
    My second, much pettier, reason is that I write jokes as a pretty central part of my job at this point, and I write a fair number of silly, absurd, goofy jokes. These are exactly the kind of jokes that are regularly called “random“. But they’re not! Making them good is really really hard! Finding the right, thing, just askew enough, to get a laugh, takes practice, instinct, and often a lot of rewrites.
  • Look, I started writing this like 5 days ago, and then I got sick, and now I’m kind of winding down cause I’m not all fired up with old man crankies anymore. The point is, the way young people talk is stupid, and dub step is awful.

    The Stars and Bars are a symbol of Southern pride and heritage! It’s a way of honoring our ancestors, and our unique cultural identity! There’s nothing racist about being proud of your roots.

    I have a three point response:

    Fuck You
    When I see someone sporting the Battle Flag of the Confederacy,* which was never even the actual flag of the C.S.A., my reaction is split between a dumbfounded “Really?” and a seething rage. The ignorance involved in claiming there is anything dignified or honorable signified by the South during the Civil war is just astounding. The Civil War, like all wars, was fought for many reasons, but at the end of the day, one side was defending the right of human beings to own other human beings and the weight of that one stance is so great as to render all other aspects irrelevant. Your side was in favor of slavery, therefor your side was the bad guys. QED.

    The Confederate Flag is a Symbol of Racism and Failure, That’s It There’s this notion put forward that the Confederate flag isn’t necessarily a symbol of the C.S.A., but of rebellion and Southern Pride. First, no, it’s a symbol of the C.S.A. If you want to come up with a flag to symbolize the south, that’s great, but you really shouldn’t draw on the imagery of a bunch of racists who lost a war. Second, the idea that the flag is a symbol of rebellion or pride are insane. Rebellion against what? A college degree? Making more than minimum wage? Integration? If you want to be a rebel, fly an anarchist flag, not the flag or an organized government that existed just long enough to be in one war and lose. Remember that last part, the only thing the C.S.A. ever did was lose a war.

    No, Seriously, Fuck You. There’s this growing notion that these days the people who REALLY have it hard are lower-middle class white folk from the south, and that they must join together under a banner in order to protect their heritage. Sorry guys. If, as a people, you have failed to keep your schools funded, your teenage daughters un-pregnant, and your parents from becoming alcoholics, and you’ve proven unable to reverse the trend, then yes, you’re going to die out. Ignorance, insularity, hostility toward change and The Other, these aren’t traits of a culture who’s loss is to be mourned. It’s not a tragedy, it’s progress.

    *NOT the Stars and Bars, which is a different shitty flag the south used. They had like nine different shitty flags in the five years they even existed because the C.S.A. was fucking stupid.

    Universal Health Care would be a disaster! It would be too expensive, there’s no way a country could pay for that and keep a healthy economy! Giving people things for free just makes them lazy! What if I have to wait longer in line and… you know what? I can’t fucking do this.

    Fuck it. I can’t pretend this debate is a debate anymore. There is not now, nor has there ever been a meaningful counter argument. We can afford it, we can make it good, we have a responsibility to do so. Debating the anti-health care contingent with facts, figures and logic is like marshaling an army to defend your base, only to realize your opponent is just one in a jeep making explosion sounds with his mouth. The only things keeping people from embracing a universal health care system are fear and greed. Fuck those people.

    I’m going to go ahead and get all anthropology* on you. Health Care, such as we are capable of, has always, historically, been free and available to all people to the best of our abilities. Sure, maybe the best health care available was trephining someone, but it was there. In the 20th century, medical care has followed the same arc as a great many social services (law and judiciary, wealth distribution, education) and becomes a role of the church and religious structures, then moves into the public sphere, eventually coming under the control of the state. At least, it has in pretty much every country other than the US.

    Homo Sapiens take care of each other. It’s how we’ve survived; it’s what we DO. If, as a human being, you are told you have the option to make sure no one has to die of a treatable disease and you don’t go for it, you’re a piece of shit. If you’re told we can totally eliminate the number one cause of bankruptcy (which is really bad for the economy), by not taking every last dollar a sick person’s family has, and you aren’t on board, you’re a piece of shit. There’s no debate to this. If you’re worried you have to wait for care, the answer isn’t about overall levels of health care, and making as many people as healthy as possible, the answer is you’re a piece of shit. If you think it’s socialism, it’s not important that health care is a service, not a means of production, and thus doesn’t really relate to socialism, it’s important that you know you’re a piece of shit. If you don’t think people should get freebies, it’s not that you’ve lived such a sheltered and blessed life that you’ve never developed the empathy to understand and relate to people in trouble, it’s just that you’re a piece of shit.

    I don’t have enough energy left to waste it giving real answers to people are motivated by greed and fear. Stand up straight, join the human race, do the right thing by helping your fellow man, or fuck yourself. Those are the options. If you can honestly say that keeping a profit motivated system is, in any meaningful way, better than a system motivated by a desire to make people healthy, there is something wrong with you. You’re sick. You might want to look into moving to one of the many, many countries where you can get some help with that.

    *Marvin Harris being the source on most of this.

    One of the goals of the homosexual agenda is to indoctrinate children in the nation’s public schools by convincing kids that homosexuality is a normal and healthy lifestyle. Because schools fail to warn children of the dangers of homosexuality, and because it is taught that homosexuality is not only “normal” but “healthy” as well, homosexuality starts to seem like a good choice to young school children.

    The National Cultural Values Survey reveals a striking correlation between greater exposure to television and lenient moral views. Heavy television viewers (four hours or more per evening) are less committed to virtues like honesty and charity, and more permissive about sex, abortion and homosexuality.

    The homosexual movement has been militantly demanding not just the homosexuals’ right to do whatever they wish to do behind closed doors, but, more importantly, that society fully accept their lifestyle as both healthy and normal.*

    Of all the insane anti-gay arguments, I think my favorite is Not In Front of the Kids, and it’s sibling argument If You Don’t Talk About It, Maybe It Will Go Away. These were both well represented in the Thatcher/1984 Era UK with Section 28. The central idea, as far as I am able to pierce through, is that being gay is SO AWESOME, that if we even mention it as a possibility around people, kids especially, they’ll probably switch.

    I mean, wouldn’t you?

    Stickman and Carl illustrate the central gap in this theory.

    Oh, right, no, you wouldn’t because either you’re already gay, or you’re not. Knowing the popular terminology for homosexuality has no influence on whether or not a person is attracted to a person of the same gender. There’s a reason it was long referred to as The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name.

    Acceptance of a non-heterosexual norm is entirely possible. Look at Sparta. However, the current media portrayals and overwhelming societal standard is heterosexuality. This has yet to stop young people from identifying as gay. Doesn’t it make more sense to give them an image of homosexuality as healthy and comfortable? If a person is going to be gay, they’re going to be gay, the least the media can do is make the process of accepting themselves and coming out less soul-rendingly painful.

    *All Strawman text taken from Conservapedia. This is what these people really believe.

    I realize there are people (Tara) who are really bored by this topic. There are others (Ian [not me, this guy I know]) who find it really interesting. So if you find it boring, skip to the last paragraph for something else entirely.

    KillAllTheWhiteMan is a blog. You don’t call it a blog out of some misguided sense of superiority. You hate blogs.

    Starting at the end, no, I don’t hate blogs. Anecdotal evidence support this would include the fact that I read some websites which self identify as blogs, but I honestly think that’s kind of irrelevant. Deep down, the issue is I have no idea what the word means anymore.

    Merriam Webster defines a blog as “a Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer ; also : the contents of such a site.” Of course, this differs rather strongly from the original meaning, of weblog. A weblog is (was?) a site consisting entirely of links, quotes and commentary. There are still artifacts of this behavior, like Tumblr, a site designed for creating a blog in the classic sense. Of course, this original meaning didn’t last long. It was only March of 2000 when Adam Mathes created Webloglog, a site designed specifically to blog (in the classic links and commentary sense) other blogs. The site is actually interesting, if only as a record of the move (very early in its history) of blogs away from a focus on the sharing of outside content, and toward the sharing of one’s own personal life.

    It was probably 2003 before I noticed another shift. Someone referred to a long, rambling (but well written) personal post on a forum I frequented as a “blog”. I was thrown at the time, but the usage has become fairly standard. MySpace, rather that listing a number of posts in a person’s blog, lists the number of blogs. Of course, we still had classic blogs, and personal journal blogs, so at this point, it would appear that one can create a blog that links to blogs full of blogs.

    Then corporate blogs show up. As far as I can tell to this day, these are news pages written in a more casual style. They aren’t personal journals, they rarely contain links or commentary, they’re just business updates in jeans and a witty t-shirt. The only things that link them to blogs at this point are the format, and a casual authorial voice.

    It’s gotten to the point where my friend Brandon often finds his site, insert credit, referred to as a blog, and as far as I can tell, it’s solely because the front page is a collection of recent posts, listed in reverse chronological order, with older posts moving to the archives. So is blog just a formating style now?

    I guess the issue I draw with that is that none of the other meanings is entirely gone. If someone says they have a blog, it is generally assumed that the content will be casual and mostly personal. There is also, let’s be honest, a general assumption of low quality. I don’t know if anyone believes all blogs are poorly written self absorbed bullshit, but I know a lot of people who take the stance of guilty until proved innocent.

    I suppose that this makes me a bad person to determine whether or not KillAllTheWhiteMan is a blog. I’m keenly aware of the fact that I don’t really know what a blog IS. Still, I get the sense that this isn’t one. I don’t link to things, ever. I’ve always wanted KillAllTheWhiteMan to work as a stand alone effort, and that’s part of my effort. I don’t talk about the current events of my life. Mark Twain’s autobiography has some great things to say about the importance of distance when it comes to figuring out which parts of your life are actually interesting. I copy edit. It’s my goal to actually produce things that are worth reading, rather than just a therapeutic dump.

    I want to be clear that I don’t hate any of these things. I actually really appreciate when friends maintain a blog that allows me insight into parts of their lives and minds I might not otherwise have access, but it’s not what I’m interested in doing personally. Any sense of antipathy toward blogs probably runs parallel to my feelings toward MySpace. I feel that there’s a ghettoization of personal expression on the internet. It’s cut off and not taken seriously, and this really worries me. The idea that an extremely functional format can be blanket categorized and defined as “just blogs” really bothers me.

    Plus, the aesthetics of the word blog are horrifying. It’s just ugly.

    BONUS UNRELATED PARAGRAPH
    Another good way to make a normal argument into a really horrible argument is to accuse the other person of having some sort of mood or personality disorder, like Asperger’s or Borderline Personality Disorder. Then, when they get mad at you go “see, this is your BPD.” Devalue everything they say, and try to switch to where you’re comforting them. Offer to get them help. You will probably not be friends anymore, but if that’s the goal, GO FOR IT!

    Is Barack Obama Black?

    The answer is Yes, No, There’s No Such Thing as Black. This is the problem with being a pluralist.

    Yes:
    Well, he’s certainly black enough for the media. You’ll notice how rare it is that anyone discusses his heritage on his mother’s side, that being boring European standard issue. It’s pretty simple, you look at the guy, and he looks black, and that, for better or for worse, is what being black is. It means people are already worrying about things like assassination. There are people, disturbingly many of them, who will refuse to vote for him BECAUSE of the melanin in his skin, and the country his father was born in. The man is black.

    No:
    Barack Obama is not a Black man. Being a Black man in America means something. It means something about where you grew up, where you went to school, and what your parents, and your parents’ parents were able to do for a living. It means something about the images you saw on TV that represented, or failed to represent, your life. Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, and did some of his growing up in Indonesia with his step-dad because apparently Ann Dunham has jungle fever. He does not, and cannot represent the Black American.

    There’s No Such Thing as Black:
    The point of all this is, of course, that “Black” isn’t one thing. How Black is Obama? Is he Half Black because of his heritage? Is he All Black because of his looks and the One-Drop Rule? Is he Not Black Enough because he didn’t grow up in the same lifestyle as the average Black American? “Black” by itself means so many different, often contradictory things that it doesn’t mean anything. Does a person’s heritage give you a head start in making some guesses about their history and culture? Sure. So does knowing that they grew up in a mountainous region. So does knowing if they’ve ever been a member of a country club. So does reading their bumper stickers. The terrifying thing is the degree to which we tend to allow information like this limit our views rather than expand them. A person’s heritage, region, culture and political views should serve to deepen the picture, not to define it in totality.

    Ian VS. A Strawman is a new feature where-in I pose myself a question or argument that I disagree with, then, because the question is a simplistic and narrow interpretation of an position, I win. I’ll be great

    People are stupid because The Bible is dumb and believing in God is absurd. The book is full of contradictions and obvious falsehoods, and it makes people ignorant. Faith is choosing to believe something you know is wrong.

    WRONG Strawman. “Choosing to believe something you know is wrong.” is insanity, not faith. People who believe The Bible (or any holy book for that matter) word for word are either crazy, or willfully uninformed of the contents. Faith, on the other hand, is a very fine thing. Faith is choosing to believe in something that cannot be known. That means cannot be known EITHER WAY. It’s not insane, it’s a core component of hope, which is both noble, and a core component of human survival.

    Also, Religion does not make people ignorant, it exists because people ARE ignorant. We don’t understand things, so we create structures that explain them. But it’s more than that. Consider that every culture in the world has a religion of some kind. That’s not a fluke, it’s an innate coping mechanism for human beings. Religion creates unity among a people, giving common ground that allows them to work together, and as anyone who pays attention has noticed, people can’t accomplish much of anything unless they work in groups. More-over, religions up until a few thousand years ago all incorporated sacrificial feasts, usually focusing on taking care of that ever present protein quest all of mankind appears stuck on.

    Of course, most of those functions have been lost, leaving us with a sort of vestigial form of religion, one which often seems to do more harm than good. Where does this leave us? I’m personally of the opinion that ritual and faith are hardwired enough into the human brain that we need some outlet, but we certainly don’t need the Sky Daddy present in most modern religions.

    Bonus Rant: Dear Christians Who Think God Wants Them to Have a Bunch of Money,

    No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

    -Jesus (as reported in Mathew 6:24 AND Luke 16:13. It’s in the book TWICE guys. It’s not tricky.)