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The Infinity of Defining Chatfilter
March 13, 2008 9:52 AM   Subscribe

I don't know what to make of this AskMe post.

This is an interesting question, but I'm having trouble understanding whether it breaks the guidelines. On the one hand the OP does have a specific question, and he presents it in an interesting way, but he seems to know more about the subject than he could expect anyone else to. This isn't intended as a call-out, but rather a question about the status of this kind of intellectual AskMe post. I find it quite intriguing, but am hesitant to participate if it would lead to chatfilter. He also links to his own article, which is somewhat helpful, but at the same time dangerous.
posted by farishta to Etiquette/Policy at 9:52 AM (152 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

It's a pretty odd post with what seems to be a decent question at the center of it. I removed the totally sketchy seeming link to the user's own blog and I'm in a "see what happens" mode on the rest of it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:02 AM on March 13, 2008


the OP does have a specific question

I'm going to vent here rather than in the thread. (Then I'm going to work, so won't be responding)

This person has some goofy haldbaked theories and keeps coming into Ask to ask for other scholars who have written on them, using his/her own goofy made-up terminology and goofy half-baked ideas. The infinity of definition? This is BS that gives philosophy a bad name. Grrrrr. There are tons of people who write on related issues, maybe he/she can't find them because he/she insists on using idiosyncratic made-up terminology. Ugh. I'm tired of these questions, they give me a rash.

Also, my lawn needs uninterrupted sunlight, so please get off it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:04 AM on March 13, 2008 [34 favorites]


LM, I totally hear you. The question in my mod mind is whether the OP is trying to use AskMe to achieve higher Google rankings for his made-up terminology or if this is just an earnest attempt to get his head around some big thinking through his own less-big lens.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:10 AM on March 13, 2008


I just feel sad when I read those. Philosophy is a past time for the depressed.
posted by tkolar at 10:10 AM on March 13, 2008


This person has some goofy haldbaked theories and keeps coming into Ask to ask for other scholars who have written on them, using his/her own goofy made-up terminology and goofy half-baked ideas.

The infinity of definition? The asker seems limited by their framing of the topic. I wouldn't be surprised if the question got a coupla few answers that were dismissed by 0bvious for not adhering to the 'goofy made-up terminology'. But I'm pessimistic like that, so who knows?...
posted by carsonb at 10:12 AM on March 13, 2008


INFINITE.BAS

10: PRINT "GOOFY MADE-UP TERMINOLOGY AND GOOFY HALF-BAKED IDEAS"
20: GOTO 10
posted by burnmp3s at 10:13 AM on March 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


The "infinity of definition" is made-up bullshit, but I will not be going to the question to tell him thus.
posted by klangklangston at 10:14 AM on March 13, 2008


Gene Ray also makes an earnest attempt at getting his head around some big thinking in his own less-big lens.
posted by Wolfdog at 10:14 AM on March 13, 2008


It's kind of a weirdy. I don't think there's anything specifically wrong with coming to a question with a preamble about your existing thoughts/assumptions, in general, but this is a good example of where it feels (to me) more like someone is using a question to prop up an excuse to state a theory than using some background of theory to support a question.

Which is an admittedly subjective read; like Jess, I'm kind of in wait-and-see mode on this one, because (really questionable link-to-own-blog aside) I'm not sure there's anything fundamentally wrong with the question even if it seems kind of hopeless as presented.

There was a question I deleted a while back about the theory of Metal or something close to that; it was similarly kind of a "nominal question + SEVERAL PARAGRAPHS OF POSTER TELLING YOU ABOUT METAL + reiteration of nominal question + link to own blog". Ended up deleting it and trading some email with him and explaining my take -- he had been a little upset at the deletion (understandable) in part because he didn't see his question anything like I did and because he thought I was just trying to prevent discussion of the topic in general or something (not so understandable). It's a weird and hazy line some of these question/essay posts straddle; I don't think it's an area where AskMe is always likely to really help or even be a good venue.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:17 AM on March 13, 2008


Also to consider: according to his website (which he describes as 'still bringing in the hits') he is a grad student in creative writing and critical theory. It seems to me that any of the references he could gleam from the comments are going to be accessible in one of his classes, or through his professors. It's one thing to have a big, difficult-to-articulate idea and go to AskMe for help because it's your best bet, but if you're in an academic environment full of professionals?
posted by farishta at 10:20 AM on March 13, 2008


Remember, kids, if you want your rambling personal essay to stay around, make sure you finish it up with an impossible-to-answer relationship question. An impossibly vague philosophy question, that's borderline, and it doesn't do anything to feed the needs of the 10,000 hungry Mary Worths we've got poised at the ready.
posted by Wolfdog at 10:25 AM on March 13, 2008 [6 favorites]


Here's hoping you have some ideas...

Here's an idea, 0bvious: stop intellectually masturbating in AskMe.
posted by Dasein at 10:31 AM on March 13, 2008 [4 favorites]


This is the guy who traps you in the corner at cocktail parties.
posted by jamaro at 10:37 AM on March 13, 2008 [7 favorites]


Questions of the "Presenting Part 14 in My Series of Related Questions" type really bug me, whether about relationships, homeownership or shitty philosophy. Some people seem to have the attitude that AskMe is a place where they are supposed to ask a question a week, whether they actually have a question or not.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:41 AM on March 13, 2008


Wasn't this on an episode of Lost?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:42 AM on March 13, 2008


It's always painful to me to see an idiot who thinks he's a genius. Eventually life disabuses these people and they end up flipping burgers or operating on brains or some other kind of manual labor, but until then, they corner you at cocktail parties or on the telephone or in AskMe and spew forth their torrents of vapidity.

Nothing to do about it except ignore it.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:44 AM on March 13, 2008 [14 favorites]


No wonder he left Yorkshire.
posted by paduasoy at 10:44 AM on March 13, 2008


I knew he was a grad student from reading the first three sentences. Only grad students are that completely vapid and full of shit.

Here's an answer: go play intellectual air hockey in class, nobody on AskMe cares about this kind of inane drivel.
posted by baphomet at 10:44 AM on March 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


The question in my mod mind is whether the OP is trying to use AskMe to achieve higher Google rankings for his made-up terminology

Why not implement nofollow on all askme links? It'll stop the SEO crowd from abusing the service and keep the nutters at geocities with multicolored bold text and starry-sky backgrounds.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:48 AM on March 13, 2008


nofollow doesn't really solve the problem of using askme-as-reputable-site as another home for terms-that-don't-rank-well.

It's the difference between

Random Theory Appearing on Geocities Page
vs.
Random Theory Appearing on Ask Metafilter

Not to suggest that 0bvious is in fact trying to game the system thus or anything, but that's why the links and their respective nofollows aren't the sole issue.

Also, 0bvious just flagged jessamyn's administrative comment in the thread as "derail", so I pretty much resign. Someone may want to tell him this thread is here, at this point.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:54 AM on March 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


That post is practically made of weed.
posted by The Straightener at 10:57 AM on March 13, 2008 [17 favorites]


Someone may want to tell him this thread is here, at this point.

I sent him a mefi mail ten or so minutes ago, and he has since posted in his own thread, so I think he knows by now.
posted by farishta at 10:58 AM on March 13, 2008


Quit derailing, Jessamyn!!!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:59 AM on March 13, 2008


Also, 0bvious just flagged jessamyn's administrative comment in the thread as "derail"

Not at all to mitigate the mindfucking frustration that must be cleaning up ask me (and I also apologize for the crap comments I've left there for you to clean up), but reading that tickled me to no end.
posted by middleclasstool at 10:59 AM on March 13, 2008


Also, 0bvious just flagged jessamyn's administrative comment in the thread as "derail"

Awesome!!!

I was going to post a comment about maybe not being so hard on him here in this thread, even if he is a crack-pot, but now, hell, now I'm rooting for him.

jessamyn frequently derails shit all over the place and it's time someone stood up to her.
posted by OmieWise at 11:00 AM on March 13, 2008


I have this guy or his spiritual twin in a couple of classes. He's smart but he smokes too much pot and he always waits in line to ask me a long convoluted nonsense question after my lecture. He never does the actual reading for the class or takes any of my reading suggestions. Now I'm scared that his final paper may infect me with his schizophrenic memetic mind-worm ideas and drive me insane or damage my IQ permanently. Dear askme: how can I be rid of Mr. Pseudo Profundity? Nonviolent solutions only, please, though I will consider faking my own death if that's the only solution.
Yours,
Exasperated Philosopher
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:00 AM on March 13, 2008 [11 favorites]


When are you guys gonna fix The Jessamyn Problem?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:03 AM on March 13, 2008


jessamyn frequently derails shit all over the place and it's time someone stood up to her.

To be fair, we tolerate the same behavior from cortex just fine.

There really is inconsistent moderation around here.
posted by tkolar at 11:09 AM on March 13, 2008


It's always painful to me to see an idiot who thinks he's a genius. Eventually life disabuses these people and they end up flipping burgers or operating on brains or some other kind of manual labor, but until then, they corner you at cocktail parties or on the telephone or in AskMe and spew forth their torrents of vapidity.

Are you kidding? Many of them end up with tenured positions.
posted by Dasein at 11:09 AM on March 13, 2008


This is an interesting question, but I'm having trouble understanding whether it breaks the guidelines.

Any question that is interesting should be within the guidelines.

If not, then lets have some examples of interesting questions that are outside the guidelines. We shouldn't let people ask or post on these subjects, but we should keep a list of them.

This list should be on a special tab, labeled: interesting questions you won't be discussing here.

Metafilter: An interesting question.
posted by ewkpates at 11:09 AM on March 13, 2008


Also: It is clear that ikkyu2 has tenure in a little hell of his/her own. All we can do is ignore the screaming.
posted by ewkpates at 11:11 AM on March 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


If not, then lets have some examples of interesting questions that are outside the guidelines.

Who wants to give me twenty bucks?
posted by mr_roboto at 11:11 AM on March 13, 2008



Any question that is interesting should be within the guidelines.


Who would win in a cat fight between Denise Richards and Ann Coulter?
posted by tkolar at 11:11 AM on March 13, 2008


Dear Exasperated Philosopher:

Mr. Pseudo Profundity is, fortunately, in a transitional state, much like the pupa that one day reveals itself to be a beautiful butterfly. Eventually he will smoke enough pot and sleep with enough impressionable girls after coasting on his Profundity that he will collapse like a souffle in a sonic boom under the weight of his own cynicism and boredom and fluffy, nutty bullshit. Heavy drinking will ensue, then depression, then he will bottom out and become a born again Christian or Scientologist. Either way, I recommend you hold on to your wallet.

I remain your &c.,
Once Tap-Danced Too Close for Comfort to Being That Guy
posted by middleclasstool at 11:11 AM on March 13, 2008 [7 favorites]


All artefacts are palimpsests with infinite layers.

Fucking Awesome.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 11:13 AM on March 13, 2008


collapse like a souffle in a sonic boom

Ooh, that's event better than "collapse like a cheap accordion". Nice one.
posted by tkolar at 11:14 AM on March 13, 2008


Fucking Awesome.

It's true, there is almost sociological value in reading a question like this one. It's fascinating to see just how self-absorbed in their own pseudo-intellectual bullshit people can become when they spend too much time in "critical theory" academic echo-chambers.
posted by Dasein at 11:17 AM on March 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


Oh, and tkolar - isn't your catfight question more appropriate for this post?
posted by Nick Verstayne at 11:17 AM on March 13, 2008


In a sense, I use the word definition as it is used to describe digital photography...

I chose not to use the word resolution because of its connotations, although once applied to the study of language, texts and meaning either word will suffice.


This really pushes one of my buttons. I hate it when people unilaterally decide to use common English words in a new and different way, despite the existence of other words that already perform the desired function, because... no, I don't know why they do that, why do they do that? Hate.
posted by prefpara at 11:18 AM on March 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


The phrase "educated beyond his intelligence" springs to mind here.
posted by 1 at 11:21 AM on March 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


There are no artefacts in Philosophy. While many will maintain that there are, or that all of Philosophy is, this empty wind mainly issues from those fortune cookie ideologists who dropped out of school because their education suddenly exceed both their intellect and their discipline.
posted by ewkpates at 11:25 AM on March 13, 2008


To be fair, we tolerate the same behavior from cortex just fine.

Don't you derail my plan to set cortex and jessamyn at odds, sparking a mod war around which we can coalesce, and upon which we can place bets. My fondest wish is to see it erupt in cortex driving across country, cradled in the comfort of his diaper, posting long "analytical" and "balanced" screeds to MetaTalk from his iPhone, listening only to music downloaded of MetaMusid, all in order to confront jessamyn in the middle of main street there in Vermont. I can hear the shutters slamming throughout town, see the faint waving of the flag on the square, feel the crisp jingle of their spurs transmitted through the cool New England air...

And here you are trying to be fair.
posted by OmieWise at 11:25 AM on March 13, 2008 [7 favorites]


Yes, the way the question is phrased is annoying. Yes, the asker is a bit too full of themselves. But there is a question in there and you can either answer it or ignore it. FWIW, as far as I can tell the question is a pretty standard question about the philosophy of language, just dressed up weirdly.

Why do we need to whine in MeTa about this?
posted by ssg at 11:26 AM on March 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


On first reading, I thought this person was merely experiencing the rapture of thinking a little beyond his natural depth, and was driven to share the resulting sense of wonder, but now I'm seeing some rather unpleasant overtones of vanity and smugness.

"Who has written on the problem of definition? What critical theory has been written on the emergence of infinity?" for example, is a rhetorical question with an all too 0bvious answer, I'm afraid, and "Here's hoping you have some ideas..." is simply begging for 'but I'm not holding my breath.'

Oh well, at least his arrogance saves me from the sympathetic pangs I would otherwise feel at such pathetic self-delusion.
posted by jamjam at 11:29 AM on March 13, 2008


I hate it when people unilaterally decide to use common English words in a new and different way, despite the existence of other words that already perform the desired function, because... no, I don't know why they do that, why do they do that?

It's pretty simple really:

1) I'm having deep thoughts and I'm having trouble expressing them
2) It must be the fault of the language, not my inability to use it
3) If I redefine individual words to mean "whatever the hell I'm thinking of" then expressing whatever the hell I'm thinking of becomes really really easy.
posted by tkolar at 11:30 AM on March 13, 2008 [9 favorites]


This is the end product of the continental invasion of critical theory into American liberal arts colleges in the early 80's.
posted by Falconetti at 11:30 AM on March 13, 2008


Anal Introspection, Self Absorption and Pseudo-Intellectualism in Critical Theory Academic Echo-Chambers:

An Elapsed Time Analysis

Dasein Metafilter, MA
Nick Verstayne, BA
posted by Nick Verstayne at 11:30 AM on March 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Seems like 0bvious should be hanging out with the guys posting on AskMe who can't find girlfriends so they can snatch up some of his his dazzled 19-year-old girl leftovers at campus parties. He'd be a great wingman.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 11:31 AM on March 13, 2008


Did you see those two girls fighting outside about whether it was the definition of infinity or the infinity of definition?
posted by box at 11:34 AM on March 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


PERFECTLY CROMULENT.

[NOT AN EMBIGGENER]
posted by blue_beetle at 11:38 AM on March 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


ssg's answer is so patient and understated.

I, on the other hand, need to whine because it's fun and often cathartic.

Sorry ssg. I try to be nice but only sometimes. On the other hand, tkolar totally gets me.
posted by prefpara at 11:43 AM on March 13, 2008


Well, AskMe was clearly the wrong venue for this question, but y'all are being real assholes about it: "end up flipping burgers"? "completely vapid and full of shit"? "inane drivel"? Some of you sound like real yahoos. If you don't understand/like the question, answer another one. I think farishta has a good take on it: if you're in an academic environment full of professionals you should probably take advantage of that environment, where you're far more likely to get a sympathetic hearing. If, on the other hand, you're looking for the name of an sf book you read in 1993 or an opinion on cat declawing, AskMe is there for you.
posted by languagehat at 11:58 AM on March 13, 2008 [13 favorites]


AskMetafilter: if you're looking for the name of an sf book you read in 1993 or an opinion on cat declawing, it's there for you.
posted by farishta at 12:00 PM on March 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


argh. LH has a point. We wouldn't treat a confused soul this way if they were writing about something personal, and this is likely very personal to the guy, though it sounds strange and affected to us all. My apologies to Obvious for making fun.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:05 PM on March 13, 2008


Languagehat is committing the common fallacy of hating the player rather than the game.
posted by 1 at 12:12 PM on March 13, 2008 [6 favorites]


Yeah, as the guy who started this mess I'd like to second LH and AP and apologize for any venting that went on here. ssg handled it well, both here and in the green.
posted by farishta at 12:13 PM on March 13, 2008


"If not, then lets have some examples of interesting questions that are outside the guidelines."

What bait should I use to lure a modern negro into my bamboo pit?
posted by klangklangston at 12:16 PM on March 13, 2008 [4 favorites]


Klang, it's been well established that questions concerning the exotic natures of the darker races are totally kosher here.

Just make sure you don't "other" whitey.
posted by 1 at 12:21 PM on March 13, 2008


Why does the url for that question end in "-afraid-of-my-sog?"
posted by Wolfdog at 12:26 PM on March 13, 2008


The question in my mod mind is whether the OP is trying to use AskMe to achieve higher Google rankings for his made-up terminology or if this is just an earnest attempt to get his head around some big thinking through his own less-big lens.

I am almost certain that this is the case. I've had to clean up after 0bvious on Wikipedia as well, where he links his dumb ass blog entries from tenuously related pages. He's in grad school, he is undoubtedly familiar with the Intro Philosophy reading suggestions that are thrown into each of his threads, and I think the fact that he seems unwilling to respond to any of this speculation is evidence that he's just here to feebly jerk off to his own moronic gibberish.

I don't think we should let the next one stand.
posted by youarenothere at 12:26 PM on March 13, 2008


Who would win in a cat fight between Denise Richards and Ann Coulter?

The cat!
posted by ericb at 12:29 PM on March 13, 2008


Why does the url for that question end in "-afraid-of-my-sog?"

The title of the question was misspelled originally; we fixed it, but the canonical url is fixed at post time and doesn't change even with a title edit.

Also, sogs are goddam dangerous.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:29 PM on March 13, 2008


Why are modern white people so afraid of the infinity of definitional platitudes contained within the single discursive structure of the word we call 'Dog?' Is dog the reverse of God not just in language, but in post-Nietzschean metaphysics? Will the categorization of the canine and its other form the dual-threshold of the new metaphysical ellipse?

Seriously, though, the question is to stay?
posted by farishta at 12:30 PM on March 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


DTMFA.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:33 PM on March 13, 2008


To be fair, cat declawing is a palimpsest with infinite layers.
posted by Drastic at 12:39 PM on March 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


Wolfdog: Remember, kids, if you want your rambling personal essay to stay around, make sure you finish it up with an impossible-to-answer relationship question.
I also swear I saw an impossible-to-answer relationshipfilter question get disappeared from very early this morning. Which is a direction I applaud--I'd much rather see more self-baffling grad students getting tangled up in their own jargon like a kitten in a ball of yarn then yet another undergrad all tangled up in their inability to actually talk to people they're interested in and hoping that someone can email them some telepathy.

Not, you know, lots more, but some would be okay.
posted by Drastic at 12:43 PM on March 13, 2008


There is almost certainly a passage somewhere in one of Hegel's works that will satisfy this guy, but I don't know where it is.
posted by creasy boy at 12:47 PM on March 13, 2008


At least the people who post relationship-filter AskMes have actual problems. The point of the guidelines is to keep AskMe as a place where people can come to get help from other people. The thing that bothers me about questions like this one is that this guy probably isn't looking for any help, he just wants to have a lot of people read about his ideas.

I'd much rather see more self-baffling grad students getting tangled up in their own jargon like a kitten in a ball of yarn then yet another undergrad all tangled up in their inability to actually talk to people they're interested in and hoping that someone can email them some telepathy.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:49 PM on March 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


Please read the previous comment upside-down for proper chronology.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:50 PM on March 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


I had the goddamnedest experience last night. I was gazing into the sog, and suddenly I realized that the motherfucker was gazing right back into me.
posted by COBRA! at 12:53 PM on March 13, 2008


I feel the same way, burnmp3s, especially in light of youarenothere's comment. The thing is, there have been enough really good answers, I think, to justify keeping the post up. What do the mods think is the solution? 'Not let the next one stand,' as was previously suggested?
posted by farishta at 12:56 PM on March 13, 2008


farishta: Do you feel that there was anything wrong with the way that the question was handled this time? I agree that if the OP persists in linking to his blog, something should be done, but unless that happens again, it seems that everything is both hunky and dory, except that some people don't seem to like the OP. Those people can skip further questions from him.
posted by ssg at 1:13 PM on March 13, 2008


languagehat: Well, AskMe was clearly the wrong venue for this question, but y'all are being real assholes about it... Some of you sound like real yahoos.

... I would love to see what happens if that question gets posted on Yahoo Answers.
posted by Pronoiac at 1:18 PM on March 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Have you noticed that the link from his site labeled "popular posts" is actually a link to his own del.icio.us page where he has linked practically every post on his own site? Why would one need to delicious everything? Is the idea just to keep it all in one place, or is it to try to get some market/mind share? Some of both?

I took an honest stab at answering what I took to be his question, mostly be throwing resources at it and saying "go read stuff." I've done the same in the past. But he doesn't seem to benefit from it. I think he's a bit too enamored of his own big fuzzy view of things to risk reducing it down to something understandable and meaningful. It all smacks of being in grad school too long.
posted by wheat at 1:18 PM on March 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


ssg- perhaps I am just too invested in this one and prone to anxiousness. Reading youarenothere's comment I became worried, in light of his not responding on the grey, about him just pumping the green with phrases for later google hits. A silly thought, in retrospect. Then when he responded in his post about his motives I felt like a bit of an ass. I'm willing to let it all drop and apologize for dragging a dead horse through the mud.

I will say this, though: the responses here teach me, and will hopefully teach 0bvious two important lessons: 1) that intellectual questions should be carefully phrased and 2) that despite ego battles mefites like ssg and wheat will come through with something coherent and helpful.

With that, I'm unplugging my internet connection and getting back to work.
posted by farishta at 1:21 PM on March 13, 2008


when I first looked at the thread, I heard something soft in the distance. It was a sound that I can only describe as a thousand wasted doctoral candidates suddenly pricking their ears and saying to themselves "Oh God, please say no one's mentioned Foucault, yet. I better post a comment right away."
posted by shmegegge at 1:22 PM on March 13, 2008 [6 favorites]


Is inanity a capital offense? Do we get to burn OP Obvious?
posted by Cranberry at 1:49 PM on March 13, 2008


shmegegge mentioned Foucault! Oh crap now I mentioned Foucault. OH! I did it again!

The poster's main problem is his yepnode is misxuchis over the Vizousmetron.
posted by tkchrist at 2:00 PM on March 13, 2008


Wow.

I've created a sort of anti-cult hell bent on outdoing the inanity they perceive me as having.

I will phrase my questions more carefully in future. Please don't burn me, I hurt like a real boy.
posted by 0bvious at 2:04 PM on March 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


The Infinity of Definition by Captain Obvious
eponysterical!
posted by proj08 at 2:08 PM on March 13, 2008


I've created a sort of anti-cult hell bent on outdoing the inanity they perceive me as having.

At least you set the bar pretty high.
posted by baphomet at 2:14 PM on March 13, 2008


seriously though, doesn't everyone have vague philosophical musings like his? Sorry for making fun- it is funny though.
posted by proj08 at 2:16 PM on March 13, 2008


Philosophy is a past time for the depressed.
It's my only consolation.
posted by Abiezer at 2:21 PM on March 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


It allows me to respond to theory from a creative position

From what I read, you rather use creativity as a excuse for your lack of theorical knowledge

apart from that this is so entertaining!
posted by ddaavviidd at 2:23 PM on March 13, 2008


0bvious: Though I've been sort-of defending your question here, the way you wrote it and your follow ups makes me twitch a little. Judging by the thread here, I'm far from the only one. If you could keep it simple and keep the focus on the ideas that you'd like to learn more about, rather than your own ideas, I think things might go a little better next time. You might want to try less to provoke a response and more to explain yourself clearly so that others can answer your question. A lot of people on AskMe really like to answer other people's questions, so you don't need to worry about provoking responses (I know that you didn't mean to use provoke in that sense, but I think your choice of words is telling). Also, when you ask questions about theory like this, it is useful to tell us what you have read or studied so that we can better understand the background to your question.
posted by ssg at 2:24 PM on March 13, 2008


but y'all are being real assholes about it: "end up flipping burgers"?

Well, in fairness ikkyu2 is a doctor. They go to school for a long time for the ability to think less of mere mortals.
posted by Dennis Murphy at 2:28 PM on March 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


And, yes, MetaTalk is often inane (and also mean-spirited). We accept the inanity here, but we don't appreciate it too much in AskMe. Different forums, different standards.
posted by ssg at 2:29 PM on March 13, 2008


... I would love to see what happens if that question gets posted on Yahoo Answers.

There's exactly one way to find out.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:30 PM on March 13, 2008 [14 favorites]


I work for a publisher that publishes a bit of philosophy and in a discussion of what sort of Web services that scholarly community might need in the future, the only thing we could come up with was a spell-checker/referee plug-in for neologisms. "It looks like you're making up words, need some help?"

One of our editors swore never to work on a philosophical monograph again after working with an author who insisted on muddling his manuscript with the incessant use of the terms "the thingness of things" and "things and their thingness."

Once we rejected a manuscipt titled Better Never to Have Been. The editorial assistant who sent the rejection letter unsuccessfully begged the editor to let her write, "We found your argument compelling enough to immediately put it into practice."
posted by Toekneesan at 2:37 PM on March 13, 2008 [15 favorites]


Now that Foucualt is on the table...but seriously, I think he was the guy to mention a few decades ago.

Anyway, I'm not so sure this guy is a grad student in critical theory as much as perhaps he is a creative writing student who has an interest in it. But really, these are the perfectly normal kinds of questions that students who are brand-spanking new to difficult discourses ask. It's the hard task of the educator to figure out what they mean (this one is pretty easy) and try to guide them towards more apropos sources and language to explore their big ideas. The problem is that this typically feels like a limiting experience for a long time because you quickly learn how little you actually articulate vs. what you think you know. The charitable response would be a smile, or if you have to say anything, say "Maybe you should explore these ideas by taking a language philosophy or a critical theory course."
posted by mrmojoflying at 2:42 PM on March 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't know what to make of this AskMe post.

Why I could make a hat, or a brooch, a pterodactyl. . .
posted by Dave Faris at 2:45 PM on March 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Languagehat, ssg and others in the be-fair brigade:
Admirable, but I still say "harumph". (ssg has the best comment in there, though.)

To those who are bashing grad students -- it frankly shocks me that this person is in grad school. IME, grad school is a time for getting all the BS handwaving remorselessly beaten out of you. This person's speculations read to me as pure undergrad "I've read one or two books and I have a confused big idea that I think nobody's had before". For better or for worse, that's what graduate education is meant to kill, as you realize that there is a literature on every topic under the sun and you need to do the hard work of mastering what smart people have said about the topic before you will get listened to. [Maybe grad school doesn't work this way in critical theory. I don't know. But in most philosophy programs in the US that's how it works.]

I've been watching this person's posting history since they began and -- in my opinion -- there's a strong tendency to express things in the way most opposed to clarity. This smacks of "clarity would rob my brilliant idea of its ineffable insight", and that gives me a rash.

Because of my specialty, I get fucking emails from random dudes who have their own Amazing Theories of the Cosmos, and how Light is really Movement but because of the laws of Thermodynamics, the Energy of Human and Animal Souls is displaced by Time!!! But the scientific establishment doesn't want you to Know!!! Boogeda-boogeda! Look at my website! And this series of questions feels like the same thing but without the science layer.

Example:
To truly understand the Morning and the Evening star, in all its glorious philosophical history, we need to acknowledge:

1. The morning star is the evening star
2. People used to believe that they were different
3. Why people believed this

Without all three levels of definition (and a whole heap more) we have moved nowhere. All definition therefore is accumulative, and exponential.


The first part, fair enough. To understand how those terms came to be used to refer to Venus, we need to know some history. But the conclusion is totally unsupported by this observation, and it's not even clear what the conclusion means. Present-day meanings depend partly on past meanings? If we learn about past meanings it gives us a richer appreciation of present meanings? There are patterns in the way meanings change over time, and if we study various cases of meaning-change we can say things about what these patterns might be? Any of these, fair enough, but just inventing/repurposing words without clarification isn't scholarship and it doesn't serve to move our understanding forward. Maybe this comes from reading various theorists and not understanding their jargon, and coming to believe that it's part of the job of a theorist to generate uninterpretable jargon terms.

[Ok, enough. As I said, gives me a rash, get off my lawn, etc. Obvious, I'm sure you're thinking hard and in good faith, and I wish you good luck in pursuing these ideas of yours. I've made a few recommendations in your thread about places to look.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:49 PM on March 13, 2008 [16 favorites]


There's exactly one way to find out.
posted by cortex at 5:30 PM on March 13


You have your answer, sir. There it lies, stinking, in the place you made for it. Go to it, and ask no more.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:50 PM on March 13, 2008


shocks me that this person is in grad school
This probably sounds much more harsh than I meant. I don't at all mean that you sound dumb or unqualified, Obvious -- that's not it at all. I just mean that grad students I know are usually fearful of spinning big vague theories, because they've had that beaten out of them. So it's the "big speculation" aspect that makes the question sound non-gradschoolish to me.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:54 PM on March 13, 2008


There's exactly one way to find out.

Ah... isn't there a copyright issue here?

LobsterMitten, the kind of pseudo-communication used in this AskMe makes me think of this cartoon, which you may also enjoy.
posted by Tehanu at 3:07 PM on March 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


LobsterMitten - I get to deal with this kind of writing from first year students in general education courses...which is where my charitable responses have been crafted. Charity in person usually softens the blow of getting a C- or D on what the student feels is the paper that should shift the foundation of Western thought. At least with novice students their reasoning *is* usually in good faith - they have been taught somewhere that being "intellectual" means using this sort of latinate obfuscation. It is an excellent way of protecting your ideas from challenge (they can mean anything). More importantly, I think they are a step in the process of coming to intellectual study. Not for everyone, but I see it enough to believe it comes from somewhere.

But as far as how they do things in critical theory, this kind of reasoning (and writing) is an absolute non-starter. Of course, the jargonistic post-modern discourse that finds a lot of sway in critical theory might seem equally obfuscating to those who prefer things to be clearly laid out. YMMV.
posted by mrmojoflying at 3:13 PM on March 13, 2008


See here's my problem, I don't know everything.

There, I said it.

I'm a fisherman with a juicy maggot on my line and all I want is to catch some tasty fish for my dinner. AskMefi usually gives me tasty fish, my method of approaching AskMefi usually works a treat, 1 out of every 3 answers has something tasty in it I haven't tried before. With those odds who wouldn't keep fishing?

Metafilter has a sacred place in my internet bookmarks. Clever people come and hang out here. There's a whole world of ideas out there, and tasting all of them is impossible. Why not stretch out that fishing line occasionally and hope you get a bite? I'll just have to pay more attention to the kind of maggots I use in future.

I have definitely learnt something from this, mainly not to use AskMefi as a vagueness filter. Thanks for clarifying this (wow, what a chatter).

I also, finally found an answer to my question, over at Yahoo. See Mudpuppie's answer...
posted by 0bvious at 3:16 PM on March 13, 2008


LobsterMitten: Critical theory can be interesting and fun, but, in my experience, their standards for rigour are much lower than in philosophy (where they are already pretty low). I think you hit the nail on the head there.

Also, I was saddened to learn that your username doesn't have anything to do with those mitten/glove hybrids that divide your fingers into sets of two.
posted by ssg at 3:16 PM on March 13, 2008


And since we are qualifying our statements here, I don't mean to cast aspersions on the field of critical theory. My point is simply that critical theory is a little further to the art side on the art-science continuum than philosophy.
posted by ssg at 3:21 PM on March 13, 2008


Pony request (urgent): I need a way to favorite Pastabagel's Yahoo answers.
posted by ourobouros at 3:22 PM on March 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ah... isn't there a copyright issue here?

If 0bvious wants it taken down, I'll happily comply, but few things give me greater joy in this world than testing the performance of Y!A against basically any other Q&A method on the internet.

I have definitely learnt something from this, mainly not to use AskMefi as a vagueness filter.

Hugs!
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:28 PM on March 13, 2008


Tehanu: I do indeed enjoy that cartoon - thank you.

mrmojoflying: I too get it in pretty much all my classes, and it drives me up a tree. I'm marking exams right now, trying to be patient and careful in my comments, and am probably in an extra-crabby mood as a result.

ssg: you seem to know about 20th c analytic philosophy of language, but you think philosophy's standards of rigor are low? I find that strange. And about the mittens - it started from imagining knitting a mitten for a lobster; some kind soul later sent me a picture of a handmade red lobster-claw-shaped mitten.

Obvious: cheers, enjoy.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:40 PM on March 13, 2008


and damn you, mudpuppie!
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:42 PM on March 13, 2008


note: Everyone needs a hug. No more talking about the silly dog question.
posted by roll truck roll at 3:52 PM on March 13, 2008


you seem to know about 20th c analytic philosophy of language, but you think philosophy's standards of rigor are low?

On a scale with math, physics, chemistry, etc. on it, philosophy doesn't seem very rigorous. For the most part, I think that's a result of the subject matter rather than a failing of philosophy.

Claiming that all (or most) prior philosophy was insufficiently rigorous has been a fairly popular philosophical move for centuries (Carnap and the Vienna crew are the obvious example in this case), so I'm not sure how I've surprised you.

So you aren't familiar with lobster mittens for people?
posted by ssg at 4:03 PM on March 13, 2008


hugs all round
posted by 0bvious at 4:10 PM on March 13, 2008


As a critique: It's odd that for someone interested in the power of language, the language in the question was so badly used as to actually get in the way of communication. If you live in a universe of language, being articulate seems like a really good idea. Using terms in an ambiguous / inconsistent way makes your philosophy teachers sad, then angry.

Also: <3 Cortex & those answers.
posted by Pronoiac at 4:20 PM on March 13, 2008


few things give me greater joy in this world than testing the performance of Y!A against basically any other Q&A method on the internet.

It's a worthy quest, but you're confounding your experiment with MeFi linkage. It's fun to watch, though. And that's really the important part. Those are truly awesome answers over there.
posted by Tehanu at 4:23 PM on March 13, 2008


"I'm a fisherman with a juicy maggot on my line and all I want is to catch some tasty fish for my dinner."

ask.juicymaggot.com is next door.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 4:33 PM on March 13, 2008


It's a worthy quest, but you're confounding your experiment with MeFi linkage.

Oh, I know. It was worth it for a one off, but I expect most of my Y!A querying will be done by my good friend Query Biggles.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:48 PM on March 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's odd that for someone interested in the power of language, the language in the question was so badly used as to actually get in the way of communication.

Actually, I find this to be the case with a great deal of academic writing, whether it's about language or not.
posted by languagehat at 5:03 PM on March 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


If you can't use simple, clear language to express your ideas, your ideas need to be thought out a bit more before you articulate them.

That said, I do admit that language is a poor tool when we get into the nitty gritty of philosophizin'. That's one of the big reasons I ran not walked away from formal study of it after a couple of years at the rock face as a complement to my math major, way back in my university days. Clarity and simplicity is to be praised†, at least when we're trying to seek or share information rather than just entertain and amuse.

† I know, I know, I ought to try harder to practice what I preach.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:10 PM on March 13, 2008



On a scale with math, physics, chemistry, etc. on it, philosophy doesn't seem very rigorous. For the most part, I think that's a result of the subject matter rather than a failing of philosophy.

Claiming that all (or most) prior philosophy was insufficiently rigorous has been a fairly popular philosophical move for centuries (Carnap and the Vienna crew are the obvious example in this case), so I'm not sure how I've surprised you.


To be fair, as Nietzsche loved to point out, "rigor" is not an unproblematically good thing for philosophy.
posted by nasreddin at 5:41 PM on March 13, 2008


ssg: yeah, but 20th c analytic philosophy holds rigor up as the virtue above all others, sometimes to a cartoonish extent, and that's the tradition a lot of the philosophy of language stuff comes out of.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:47 PM on March 13, 2008


And gack, those lobster mittens are freaky. Not really lobsterclaw-shaped, either. Yeeks. This is more my speed.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:50 PM on March 13, 2008


There are also lobster mittens aimed at bicyclists.
posted by box at 6:20 PM on March 13, 2008


I'd complain that mudpuppie rockrolled me, but I still don't understand why that's something to complain about. I love that song!
posted by OmieWise at 6:21 PM on March 13, 2008


Noone has asked the important question yet; what color fedora does 0bvious wear?
posted by Justinian at 7:33 PM on March 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Fuck, I wasn't talking about the original poster of the AskMe question. I had no idea what he was talking about but I didn't mean to suggest he was an idiot.

I was talking about this neurosurgeon I grew up with - jamaro's comment about the guy who traps you in the corner at cocktail parties reminded me of him.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:33 PM on March 13, 2008


Oh fine, ikkyu2, throw me under the bus. Just for that, I'm going to corner you at the next sf meetup and yammer on endlessly about my cats.
posted by jamaro at 7:56 PM on March 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


0bvious, you are handling this hubbub with class and good humor. I raise my glass to you!
posted by brain_drain at 7:57 PM on March 13, 2008


ikkyu2, that is so going to be my new trope:

I really like the imagery re: applying later-state labels to entry-state description,
e.g. this numerical relativist I grew up with...
this dean of colleges I grew up with....
posted by johnjoe at 8:30 PM on March 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh hai guyz whatcha doi... OH HOLY SWEET BURNING MOTHER OF FUCK LOOK AT THE FUCKING SIZE OF THAT PLATE OF FUCKING BEANS SO HUUUUUUUUUUUUUGE OH MY GOD UH OH GRAVITY INCREASING CAN'T ESCAPE OW OW OW BLACK HOLE NEUTRON STAR OW STRETCHING OH SHIT
HELP MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE *POP*
posted by loquacious at 8:37 PM on March 13, 2008


Also,

MetaTalk: schizophrenic memetic mind-worm.
posted by loquacious at 8:39 PM on March 13, 2008


I have this guy or his spiritual twin in a couple of classes. He's smart but he smokes too much pot and he always waits in line to ask me a long convoluted nonsense question after my lecture. He never does the actual reading for the class or takes any of my reading suggestions. Now I'm scared that his final paper may infect me with his schizophrenic memetic mind-worm ideas and drive me insane or damage my IQ permanently. Dear askme: how can I be rid of Mr. Pseudo Profundity? Nonviolent solutions only, please, though I will consider faking my own death if that's the only solution.
Yours,
Exasperated Philosopher


Exasperated Philosopher anotherpanacea: The best way to disentangle your misunderestimated student's meandering thoughts is to improve your focus with Adderall.

IANAD but this is best combined with a fuckton of meth, and finished off with a few big bong hits of the strongest weed you can procure. His theories should make perfect sense to you then.

Hope this helps.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:21 PM on March 13, 2008


The contrarian:

Great askMe post. The central question is "who gets to conceptualize whom?" Which is the basic issue of intellectualism.
posted by telstar at 9:35 PM on March 13, 2008


IMHO, Obvious is fishing for theoretical approaches to philosophical questions that interest him - most likely, as essay or thesis topics - but pre-empting any theoretical pigeonholing by deliberately using bizarre made-up plain english terminology, just to see what different kinds of approaches people come up with.

If so, I think that's quite enterprising.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:42 PM on March 13, 2008


spitballing. BS-ing. Asking "big big questions". Speaking poetically and confusingly. It's great to step outside and do this over a smoke after a lecture, or on the porch at a midsummer party. It's not such a great use of AskMe.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:56 PM on March 13, 2008


(crab crab crab.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:58 PM on March 13, 2008


LobsterMitten wrote...
(crab crab crab.)

Is this a shellfish thing?
posted by tkolar at 11:09 PM on March 13, 2008


oh, clam up, tkolar. the world is lobstermitten's oyster, so you're gonna need more mussel if you wanna make such shrimpy little snarks.

now, if you'll excuse me, i'm off to watch some pr0n.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:17 PM on March 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


I like it when philosophers use the Internet for discussion.

It keeps them out of the cafes
posted by mattoxic at 11:43 PM on March 13, 2008


Since we already sort of have a complaining-about-philosophers-not-getting-respect thread going here, I'd like to add that I was really annoyed with all of the unnecessary "the humanities are so much easier than the sciences" going on in this thread.

Also, while we're on the topic of taking philosophy seriously, I thought I'd drop a link to the best philosophy MeTa ever
posted by chndrcks at 12:43 AM on March 14, 2008


We've had debates before about whether there's an anti-philosophy bent on Metafilter. Remember this thread? Ontic was worried that the mods were a little too trigger-happy in deleting philosophically-oriented questions, and it degraded pretty quickly into davy taking on the whole discipline. Good times. LobsterMitten's position hasn't changed much.

Haven't seen ontic in a while. Hope he'll be back. Kwine's pretty much incommunicado as well.
posted by painquale at 1:01 AM on March 14, 2008


I like it when philosophers use the Internet for discussion.

It keeps them out of the cafes


I agree. Dining philosophers cause problems.
posted by philomathoholic at 1:33 AM on March 14, 2008


IMHO, Obvious is fishing for theoretical approaches to philosophical questions that interest him - most likely, as essay or thesis topics - but pre-empting any theoretical pigeonholing by deliberately using bizarre made-up plain english terminology, just to see what different kinds of approaches people come up with.

If so, I think that's quite enterprising.


What is philosophy but the re-defining of words? Without Bakhtin's 'Speech Genres' or Marx's 'Economies' 10,000 linguistic madmen would be out of jobs right about now.

That said, I will be more careful with my words next time. I decided on, wrote up and edited that question in a matter of minutes. Philosophers don't roll with that, especially clever wordy ones that hang out in the internet's fore-most definition centre.

Much hugs to all of you. I'm off to browse the dictionary.
posted by 0bvious at 2:25 AM on March 14, 2008


Marx's 'Economies'

Not to spoil the namedropping, but what text are you referring to, exactly?

What is philosophy but the re-defining of words?

Asking probing and incisive questions about the nature of ourselves as human beings, our identities, our relationships to the outside world and each other? Is this some kind of trick question?
posted by nasreddin at 3:35 AM on March 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Blergh

I'm bored, it's my birthday. Time to stop digging my hole.

Have a good day all
posted by 0bvious at 4:08 AM on March 14, 2008


nasreddin: here, "re-defining" means "asking of probing and incisive questions about the nature" and "words" is shorthand for "ourselves as human beings, our identities, our relationships to the outside world and each other".

you see, asking questions re-defines us; and what are we, our identities & relationships etc are nothing but mere words.

quite simple really, once you learn the terminology.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:28 AM on March 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


it's my birthday.

Me too! Also, Albert Einstein and Billy Crystal.

What I said in the last thread trumps what I said here. Philosophy is partly an exercise in coming to communicable terms with phenomena; the arguments and proofs come after. We should be supportive when someone is fumbling their way towards those communicable terms.

What I worry about in your case, Obvious, is that you're headed in the opposite direction: fumbling towards obscurity. One of the things that troubles me (and others in this thread) about that obfuscation is that it feels antisocial and megalomaniacal, a kind of enclosure of language that ignores its commonness. It's partly about civility, but there's another reason: jargon is the enemy of common sense. Fewer people know enough about what you're talking about to set you straight. That's why totalitarian regimes generally use coded or euphemistic language to execute their most troublesome policies, and why academics sometimes seem very unwise: too often, we manage to forget what it is we're talking about.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:20 AM on March 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


The fact would seem to be, if in my situation one may speak of facts, not only that I shall have to speak of things of which I cannot speak, but also, which is even more interesting, but also that I, which is if possible even more interesting, that I shall have to, I forget, no matter. And at the same time I am obliged to speak. I shall never be silent. Never.

~Samuel Beckett; The Unnameable
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:29 AM on March 14, 2008


Bakhtin's 'Speech Genres' or Marx's 'Economies'

Be a little more careful with your theory dropping also and all will be well.
posted by mrmojoflying at 7:10 AM on March 14, 2008


All artefacts are palimpsests with infinite layers.

I can't tell you the number of times I've screamed this out during sex.
posted by quin at 7:28 AM on March 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


First off, I missed the hugs. So, hugs all 'round.

Secondly, I'm not sure that I find intentional vagueness, if it is that, enterprising. There is, I think, an implicit assumption that questions on AskMe are asked in good faith. And part of that good faith is not wasting people's time trying to figure out what you're really asking, in as much as that is possible. To be fair, some things are big and vague, until you turn them over and hack away at them enough to make them less so. And some things remain fairly vague even after that.

If a person doesn't know the terminology and simply can't help but ask a question in a vague way, then there's little that can be done. But if a person can write clearly and chooses not to, that's simply disingenuous. And that's not cool.
posted by wheat at 7:47 AM on March 14, 2008


I wasn't expecting it when I came in here, but somehow this has turned into my favorite callout ever.
posted by penduluum at 8:15 AM on March 14, 2008


From an earlier 0bvious AskMe:
I am currently undertaking an MA in Creative Writing and Critical Theory in London

You wuz robbed.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:32 PM on March 14, 2008


A LITTLE HELP DOWN HERE PLEASE? OH GOD THE CRUSHING MAKE IT STOP!
posted by loquacious at 12:51 PM on March 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


Happy Pi Day, everyone!
posted by Pronoiac at 1:10 PM on March 14, 2008


Pi Day?

Oh, 3/14.

Stupid Imperial measures.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:48 PM on March 14, 2008


Ubu: Would celebrating on 22/7 be more to your liking?
posted by Pronoiac at 4:38 PM on March 14, 2008


I do anyway - it's my birthday!

(yes, i *am* special)
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:34 PM on March 14, 2008


I will phrase my questions more carefully in future

FWIW I think people are reacting as much to the pompousness as the vagueness. You've heard this story before, right?
posted by tomcooke at 10:53 AM on March 15, 2008


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