Saturday, November 18, 2017

The inconceivability of different stuff


I wasn't sure I wanted to illustrate this with a cheap Princess Bride joke, but it gave me an excuse to post a picture of Wallace Shawn, which one should always take. To be clear, none of this paragraph will be on the test.

Humans are built pretty stupid, in a lot of important ways. I don't mean that to sound cynical. We are also built to be brilliant in some amazing ways that should be celebrated, and mostly are. It's simply not what I'm talking about here.

One of the key things we all do is see the world that we live in as natural. It's not entirely bad. That's the way we processed it growing up. Most of us just never quite grow out of that when we grow up. The ideas of how life is in the time, place become our definition of how things are supposed to be, and it's very, very difficult for us to move outside that conception to see possibilities that are different but equal or even better.

Whenever people start to discuss Joseph Campbell or similar theories on how stories work, I'm reminded of them. Not, mind you, that he doesn't have worthwhile ideas to discuss and explore. It is worth considering, however, that specific interpretations of the common themes of specifically religious storytelling might not be the limits to the possibilities open to us as a species to use story, our primary tool for communicating ideas.

It returned to my mind while reading Why All the Comedy Men Are So Awful by Drew Magary. It's interesting how much of what we think of culturally as comedy developed out of an accident of circumstance, or a series of them. Different sorts of people with different backgrounds running theaters in the early 20th Century, different people running radio, TV and publishing in the middle of the 20th Century, different people running comedy clubs in the '70s... everything about it becomes different, step by step.

When Chris Rock complains that he needs space to workshop his material without the attention the Internet brings now, he's referring to a specific type of comedy. The one we all grew up in and around, so we don't always notice. I suspect he doesn't notice, because he's not just been culturally surrounded by the idea of comedy, but inside the comedy world, in which the rules of that kind of humor are discussed and codified at length.

It's obvious when you start realizing how much the subversives were influenced by the previous generation. In comedy, this was the biggest disappointment, because so much of the generation of comedy prior to the one I grew up with is awful to me. (There's some in the generation preceding that I enjoy, for what that's worth.) Of course that's who they were influenced by, but it was one of my first experiences dealing with that dynamic.

There's another discussion to be had about music, as well, of course, as well as most other aspects of our lives. There's probably nothing that we don't somehow think we're doing it or it's being done the only way possible or the best way.

This is most dangerous when we discuss the economics or politics of the future, we get caught up discussing the ways of the past without any consideration that our field of discussion is limited.

In the age where Robots are taking your job and Moderation is failing our future, the failure of humanity to consider our biggest issues from perspectives that move beyond the arguments of the 20th Century and the specifics of the time and place in which they came about is going to be suicidal.

If you think any of the 20th Century political or economic systems are going to lead us into the future we're entering into, I think you're absolutely wrong.

No, I'm really not sure what that right system is going to be. That might be for the best. I suspect if I had some confidence in specific solution to our problems, I'd be even more awestruck at our collective failure to take any action toward it.

As it stands, I see people everywhere arguing the ideas that aren't good enough against the ideas that aren't good at all, and I despair.

I can only hope vainly that when the solutions are presented, they'll be obvious enough to get people behind, and that there will be enough society left to move it forward.

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