Is that +1 geeky or -1 geeky? November 2, 2005 9:41 PM   Subscribe

People leave comments such as "+1 funny" or "-1 section". Given that this ranking system doesn't exist on MeFi, is it a wank, showing how l33t they are, and familiar with geeky norms at other sites like /. and k5? Or is it an acceptable shorthand for "I like this" or "I think this is dumb"?
posted by wilful to Etiquette/Policy at 9:41 PM (104 comments total)

I think it's just a joke.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:43 PM on November 2, 2005


Throw a dart. Any/all of the above, depending on the poster.
posted by cortex at 9:46 PM on November 2, 2005


so it's a wank then?
posted by wilful at 9:46 PM on November 2, 2005


did you really need to post this to metatalk? I think you need to unclench.
posted by puke & cry at 9:47 PM on November 2, 2005


A+++++ WOULD READ CALLOUT AGAIN!
posted by klangklangston at 9:50 PM on November 2, 2005


(And I'm not even on /.)
posted by klangklangston at 9:50 PM on November 2, 2005


What do you mean it doesn't exist? Long time members can moder---- i've said too much
posted by keswick at 9:53 PM on November 2, 2005


-10 douchebag
posted by quonsar at 9:59 PM on November 2, 2005


The Cabal has no need for foolish ranking systems.
posted by Rothko at 10:02 PM on November 2, 2005


MetaFilter: A wank, showing how l33t you are.
posted by S.C. at 10:10 PM on November 2, 2005


Who said you could be in the cabal, Rothko?

I mean, there is no cabal!
posted by Evstar at 10:11 PM on November 2, 2005


Weird. I hadn't even noticed any of those types of comments. Are they really that prevalent? Though I will admit to seeing a good number of the type of comment that klangklangston references (not that it really matters, of course).
posted by Stauf at 10:11 PM on November 2, 2005


wanking++
posted by loquacious at 10:12 PM on November 2, 2005


+π butts
-∞ dongs
posted by darukaru at 10:13 PM on November 2, 2005


All of the above.

There is no cabal. You didn't see anything.
posted by dg at 10:15 PM on November 2, 2005


What I like about slashdot catch phrases is that people who are devoid of humour can join in with the group and do little more than repeat the phrases.

Normally these unfunny people would be ostracized by their peers but catch phrases bring dull people together.

Like programming jokes, they serve a useful purpose for people who aren't funny.

</bitch>
posted by holloway at 10:27 PM on November 2, 2005


[this is bad]
posted by justgary at 10:52 PM on November 2, 2005


What I like about slashdot catch phrases is that people who are devoid of humour can join in with the group and do little more than repeat the phrases.

Normally these unfunny people would be ostracized by their peers but catch phrases bring dull people together.

Like programming jokes, they serve a useful purpose for people who aren't funny.


That's true, and I'm totally onboard with your willingness to exclude all unfunny people from every conversation that sashays across the catwalk that is your ultra-hip and always interesting life! They never have anything to contribute, anyway! In fact, we should probably just start killing them all!

Where to begin . . . where to begin . . . *picks name out of a hat* ho-hol-holloway? Is that how you pronounce this?
posted by Ryvar at 11:00 PM on November 2, 2005


2d6+1
posted by mischief at 11:29 PM on November 2, 2005


...for three. 2d6 for save. Zero? What the fuck?

You totally failed to have sex with the darkness.
posted by loquacious at 11:33 PM on November 2, 2005


Mark me up as -1 flamebait, but jeez. Tough crowd.
I think it's just funny. It's not trying to be elite, it's just telling a common joke which is understood by a majority.

A+++++ WOULD READ CALLOUT AGAIN!
klangklangston: Thanks for nothing... My monitor is now covered in soda.
posted by seanyboy at 11:49 PM on November 2, 2005


If someone is doing it all the time, then that's one thing. Politely ask, beg, plead, snark, threaten, firebomb, take hostages, develop nuclear weapons, and when all that fails stage a MeTa intervention, I guess.

But when it's just every once in a while - and personally I don't see it all that often - then what the fuck, it's kinda funny if used properly, I guess.

I think for a lot of the brighter bulbs it's really just an ironic yay/nay, though.
posted by Ryvar at 12:13 AM on November 3, 2005


+π butts

lmbo butts hahahaha
posted by moift at 1:10 AM on November 3, 2005

That's true, and I'm totally onboard with your willingness to exclude all unfunny people from every conversation that sashays across the catwalk that is your ultra-hip and always interesting life! They never have anything to contribute, anyway! In fact, we should probably just start killing them all!

Where to begin . . . where to begin . . . *picks name out of a hat* ho-hol-holloway? Is that how you pronounce this?
W-wa-wa-wait are you being meta-meta-funny or just meta-funny by ignoring the <tag/>. Because if so I think I'm supposed to be offended!

</meta-ironic-notunoffended>


Tally-ho lads my ultra-hip life demands that I'm off to see a jazz band called The Mandelbrot Set!
posted by holloway at 2:02 AM on November 3, 2005


I for one welcome our new /. commenting overlords
/ Todd Lokken
posted by Joeforking at 2:32 AM on November 3, 2005


is it a wank,

I do not think it means what you think it means.
posted by biffa at 2:41 AM on November 3, 2005


cus addition is teh s uck
posted by Smart Dalek at 2:46 AM on November 3, 2005


I can't comment til I figure out what my THACO is.
posted by tpl1212 at 3:34 AM on November 3, 2005


holloway: "What I like about slashdot catch phrases is that people who are devoid of humour can join in with the group and do little more than repeat the phrases."

Oh, come on. Like that is unique about "Slashdot catch phrases", or even computer- or web-themed jokes in particular. All jokes, sayings, and slang become co-opted by incrementally less-cool segments until they're essentially mainstream. My mom says "Whassup", for godsakes.

The web just makes it easier for someone who doesn't entirely understand a joke/saying to repeat it. In Real Life™, that person would have a funny look on their face that would make it clear they were just parroting. It's the medium, not the joke.
posted by Plutor at 4:20 AM on November 3, 2005


metafilter: people who are devoid of humour can join in with the group and do little more than repeat the phrases

ooo feel the metairony
posted by andrew cooke at 4:30 AM on November 3, 2005


HAX!
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 4:56 AM on November 3, 2005


Meh, it's the same as jokes (in the sense of "A guy and his dog walk into their farm..."). One aspect of humor is the ability to create those jokes in the first place. A lot suck, but some are really good. Another is the ability to tell the joke well. A lot of people suck at telling jokes, but some are really good. Being really good at telling a joke doesn't mean that you're devoid of humor, just that your skill is in delivery, not creation. Now, if you're unable to either create humor or successfully deliver humor, then it's safe to say you're devoid at humor.

I'm not a tremendously funny guy, but I've learned enough about the internet to realize that the humor I do have doesn't come across at all in print, so I don't even bother unless it's face-to-face.
posted by Bugbread at 5:03 AM on November 3, 2005


stone portman poured hot grits down my pants.
posted by quonsar at 5:12 AM on November 3, 2005


natalie portman poured hot NOOOOOOOOOO! down my prequels
posted by NinjaPirate at 5:33 AM on November 3, 2005


I feel a little bad for someone who has to be told when a wank is occurring.
posted by clevershark at 5:38 AM on November 3, 2005


lol NinjaPirate
posted by rocketman at 5:39 AM on November 3, 2005


I figured it was a reference to ranking system in use on Plastic.
posted by alumshubby at 5:57 AM on November 3, 2005


First Post!
posted by allen.spaulding at 6:09 AM on November 3, 2005


My monitor is now covered in soda.
posted by seanyboy at 11:49 PM PST on November 2


Soda? Ooop north? Don't they still call it 'pop' up there?
posted by dash_slot- at 7:57 AM on November 3, 2005


A+++++ WOULD READ CALLOUT AGAIN!

Funniest. Comment. EVAR!!11!
I'm going to be chuckling about this all day.
posted by GuyZero at 7:58 AM on November 3, 2005


Careful with those tags, Eugene...
posted by dash_slot- at 8:01 AM on November 3, 2005


I havn't even seen people doing this here, at least not for a long time.
posted by delmoi at 8:11 AM on November 3, 2005


seanyboy: I too am disappointed at your apparent submission to the cultural imperialists.
posted by biffa at 8:35 AM on November 3, 2005


Speaking as a Slashdot refugee, it's stupid and I will mod-bomb any goon I see doing it.

*grump*

/also annoyed by slashes.
//especially slashy slashies
posted by Mr T at 8:45 AM on November 3, 2005


I think it is very amusing that wilful, who undoubtedly uses slang vocabulary when chatting with friends face-to-face, is upset that chatty internet users might use slang as well.

+1 slang: it extends the language.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:33 AM on November 3, 2005


embrace and extend, am i rite
posted by keswick at 10:14 AM on November 3, 2005


GuyZero, it was funnier here.
posted by Kwantsar at 10:21 AM on November 3, 2005


and here!
posted by quonsar at 10:42 AM on November 3, 2005


...and here.
posted by klangklangston at 11:01 AM on November 3, 2005


I think the above are all excellent proof that Mefites want nothing more than to show how l33t they are by showing off their knowledge of arcane tech sites like ebay.
posted by Bugbread at 11:48 AM on November 3, 2005

Oh, come on. Like that is unique about "Slashdot catch phrases", or even computer- or web-themed jokes in particular. All jokes, sayings, and slang become co-opted by incrementally less-cool segments until they're essentially mainstream. My mom says "Whassup", for godsakes.
Podcasting this into the blogosphere on mp3 copyright for fellow blogizens using folksonomy tagging not hierarchical categories and creative commons attribution not digital rights management rootkit developers developers developers imagine the integration if google bought iClock.org
posted by holloway at 12:47 PM on November 3, 2005


it's kinda funny if used properly, I guess.

There's no such thing as "kinda" funny. Something is either funny or it's not. A good guide is whether or not you laughed. If you didn't laugh, but you detect that someone was trying to make a joke, it wasn't funny. It wasn't kinda funny, either. It was a (failed) attempt to make a joke.

I wish someone would explain this to sitcom writers and whoever writes those newspaper headlines with the bad puns.
posted by grumblebee at 1:12 PM on November 3, 2005


grumblebee : "Something is either funny or it's not. A good guide is whether or not you laughed."

What if you chuckle? You smile? You give a little "sniff" of amusement?
posted by Bugbread at 1:17 PM on November 3, 2005


I can't read other people's minds, so maybe you smile/chuckle for different reasons than I do. When I do it, it's a social reflex. It's because I recognize that someone is trying to be funny. Like an idiot, I sometimes smile/chuckle when no one else is around. But that doesn't mean I find the joke actually funny. I'm just recognizing an attempt.

I also might smile/chuckle when I'm trying to suppress a laugh, i.e. at a funeral.
posted by grumblebee at 1:37 PM on November 3, 2005


There's no such thing as "kinda" funny. Something is either funny or it's not.

With all due respect, I think you may view the world as WAY more black and white than many people do. "Kinda funny" is a phrase that has real meaning to me, as something that falls along the humor continuum. Don't you think some jokes are funnier than others?
posted by jessamyn at 1:39 PM on November 3, 2005


There is no try. Funny or funny not.
posted by yhbc at 2:02 PM on November 3, 2005


jessamyn, maybe you're right, but -- even with my world view -- I do find certain jokes funnier than others. But there's a threshold beneath which they aren't funny. beneath this threshold, I can recognize that someone is trying to be funny, but I don't actually find what they're saying funny. Over the threshold, there are levels and nuances of funniness.

I've made my share of bad jokes, and I've been told that these jokes are "kinda funny" by nice people. These people usually have warm smiles on their faces. I suspect they're communicating their warm feelings for me rather than the fact that they actually think my jokes are funny.

And this may lead to some social utility for lame jokes. They are non-threatening and they convey the meta-message that the jokester is TRYING to amuse. And we can acknowledge that they are TRYING to amuse by dubbing them "kinda funny."

I once had a really interesting experience at a bad play. It was supposedly a comedy, but the jokes were all tired sit-com level. I couldn't even fake a laugh. But this guy next to me was doing it. Whenever a joke occurred, he let out a loud "HA-HA-HA!" Now, when I laugh -- I mean REALLY laugh -- there's kind of a fade-out of the laugh at the end. My laugh turns into a giggle and then to a smile. I can't just turn it off suddenly. But each time this guy "laughed," it was HA-HA-Ha-OFF! Maybe I was misreading him, but I doubt he was honestly amused. I suspect he was doing the polite thing in a social situation that called for laughter.

This is, of course, a dirty test tube. If you laugh at your friend's lame jokes, the warm social interaction may give you a great feeling, similar to the great feeling you might get from a genuinely funny joke. And the fact that a good friend is telling a lame joke may (once warm feelings get all mixed up in your brain with your funny-bone) tip the joke over into being funny. I guess the acid test is when a joke is told by a stranger. Even this may not work for all people. Some people are SO social that they get a warm fuzzy from ANYONE'S attempt to tell a joke.

If I am atypical, it is probably because I separate the joke from the social interaction. That's pretty common with me in other fields, i.e. I've never been able to understand the sexiness of the musician as having an impact on the music. Even great lyrics don't make me like music. Lyrics can add a huge amount to the musical experience and they can be great by themselves. But I've never understood people who like a song purely because the lyrics "speak to them." There's still the MUSIC, which is either good or bad to you.
posted by grumblebee at 2:07 PM on November 3, 2005


jessamyn, I realize these mental things are really hard to describe in words, but I wonder if you could try. Let's take the social dynamics completely out of the equations (the muddy it too much). Say you found a joke book on the street. You opened it up and read three jokes. You felt that...

One was not funny.

One was kinda funny.

One was very funny.

What is the difference in the way they make you feel?

(I'm not trying to prove a point. I'm willing to concede that your mind may operate very differently than my mind. I'd love to understand where you're coming from a little better.)
posted by grumblebee at 2:11 PM on November 3, 2005


jessamyn can speak for herself, but I react very differently to those three situations.

1) I don't laugh or even crack a smile, and if it's unfunny enough (like some New Yorker cartoons) I thrust the thing from me with a displeased expression.

2) I smile wrily, possibly emitting a chuckle or snort; this is a common reaction to New Yorker cartoons.

3) I laugh, with a heartiness corresponding to the degree of funniness. This is an extremely rare reaction to New Yorker cartoons but a frequent one when reading MetaTalk threads.

In other words, for me funniness is a continuum; it's true that things can be not funny at all, just as food can be not hot at all, but that doesn't mean either funniness or heat is either on or off.
posted by languagehat at 2:51 PM on November 3, 2005


2) I smile wrily, possibly emitting a chuckle or snort; this is a common reaction to New Yorker cartoons.

Is this an involuntary reaction?
posted by grumblebee at 2:53 PM on November 3, 2005


grumblebee : "I can't read other people's minds, so maybe you smile/chuckle for different reasons than I do. When I do it, it's a social reflex."

Ok, looks like we're just wired differently. I chuckle silently (the sniffchuckle) at things that are a little funny, chuckle audibly when it's more funny, laugh out loud when it's even more funny, laugh really hard when it's even more funny, and then at some point starts the crying, gasping, or (when I was a little kid), desire to pee.

That aside, I totally see what you're saying, and I agree that a lot of people chuckle for social reasons, affection to the joke teller, etc. (I laugh at my dad's jokes, because I think they're funny, but I realize that if he weren't my dad, I wouldn't find them funny, even if I had the same knowledge and experience background, so I must be finding them funny because they're my dad's jokes). But I don't think that supports your statement that there is no "kinda funny". It seems like you're interpreting all "kinda funny" comments as being due to social reasons, affection, and the like. I don't think that's the case. Some "kinda funny" jokes are "kinda funny" because of social reasons, but some are "kinda funny" because they're funny, but not really funny, or piss yourself funny.

Like the "all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares" thing.
posted by Bugbread at 2:54 PM on November 3, 2005


grumblebee : "Is this an involuntary reaction?"

That wasn't directed at me, but I'll assume you're polling opinions here, not asking specifically languagehat. For me, it's an involuntary reaction. But I don't think it's ever been directed at a New Yorker cartoon.
posted by Bugbread at 2:56 PM on November 3, 2005


Yup, involuntary. Otherwise I wouldn't bother doing it when there was nobody else around.

bugbread, do you mean that you rarely find New Yorker cartoons funny at all, or that you find them uniformly hilarious?
posted by languagehat at 3:17 PM on November 3, 2005


The more I read, the more I suspect that we're just arguing the definition of "kinda funny." I've agreed that there are levels of funny-ness. So I could call the lowest level "kinda funny." I wouldn't call it that. I would just call it "funny," but that's just a matter of what I call it vs. what you call it.

We seem to also all agree that there are certain joke-attempts that are not funny at all.

And I THINK we all agree that there are social pressures/incentives to laugh/smile at things that might not be funny in a non-socal setting.

Right?

Getting this back on track, I will say that I get zero pleasure out the the MeFi injokes. In fact, they irritate me. I don't care for the AskMe posts that start with GrumpyCatFilter or HardDriveFailureFilter. I don't care for the pancake references. I don't care for the Simpson's quotes ("I for one..."). I've heard a few other people here object to these "kinda funny" jokes (does ANYONE find them deeply funny), but I think we are in the minority. My guess is that most people either enjoy them or don't care about them one way or the other.

I DO understand the idea of community members bonding through injokes. I've done that myself. I guess it comes down to the fact that I don't consider myself part of a MeFi community. (Maybe I would if I went to meetups). I have great affection and admiration for many people here individually. And I value this site greatly for information (and sometimes for entertainment), but I don't think of it as a group of which I am a member. Those of you who do must have a qualitatively different experience from me.
posted by grumblebee at 3:32 PM on November 3, 2005


Funny is in the bone of the beholder. Some think I am a laff riot, some think of me as an annoying unfunny bastard; some call me the space cowboy, some call me the gangster of love.

It's all very much relative.

But injokes, grumblebee, despite their name, are not, after their inception and initial use, intended to be funny. Their function is solely one of tribal bonding, of signals and quiet monkey hoots that the injoke-deployer wants to be part of the tribe.

If people find an injoke funny the 38295th time it is used, they're either climbing into the lofty heights of metairony, or they just don't get some fundamentals of human social interaction (particularly on the internet).

Thus endeth the lesson. Let us pray.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:41 PM on November 3, 2005


I DO understand the idea of community members bonding through injokes.

Whoops. Not enough coffee.

Never mind...[/emily litella]
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:42 PM on November 3, 2005


What I like about slashdot catch phrases is that people who are devoid of humour can join in with the group and do little more than repeat the phrases.

In Soviet Union, our new unoriginal humorless overlords welcome you.




...+1.
posted by spiderwire at 3:45 PM on November 3, 2005


languagehat : "bugbread, do you mean that you rarely find New Yorker cartoons funny at all, or that you find them uniformly hilarious?"

To be fair, I rarely read them. However, on the occassions that I've read them, I don't find them funny. True to what grumblebee is saying, I find them trying to be funny, but they fail to actually amuse me.

Grumblebee, I think we're generally in agreement. If there's any disagreement, it may be that I find the "Metafilter: XXXX" style jokes occassionally funny. Think of it like knock-knock jokes: the vast majority are dreck, but the knock-knock part isn't the joke, it's just the structure of the joke, the set-up, if you will. There are occassionally funny knock-knock jokes, despite how much of it is bad. In the same way, there are occassionally funny "Metafilter: XXXX" jokes, despite how many of them are bad. Which leads to:

stavrosthewonderchicken : "Their function is solely one of tribal bonding, of signals and quiet monkey hoots that the injoke-deployer wants to be part of the tribe."

I wouldn't use the word "solely" here. "Primarily", maybe. "Almost always", definitely. But sometimes an in-joke is just a new joke framework, like starting a joke with "knock knock", or "A, B, and C are in a D". If the joke is just the phrase, with no modification, then the likelihood of being just for tribal bonding is higher. If the joke involves modifications, then it might be for tribal bonding, it might be just the use of a newer and less universal joke framework, and it may be a mix of both.
posted by Bugbread at 3:58 PM on November 3, 2005


There are occasionally funny knock-knock jokes

I'm all ears!

(I'm not teasing. I really WOULD like to hear a funny knock-knock joke. I've never had that experience.)
posted by grumblebee at 4:03 PM on November 3, 2005


It's not going to strike you as funny in a text medium, so I'll describe the set up and execution, and maybe you can try it on a friend. You go up to your friend and say, "I've got a good knock-knock joke. Say 'Knock-knock'." They say "Knock-knock". You say "Who's there?" And they suddenly realize they're fucked, not having a joke ready, not having noticed that they were the ones tricked into providing the setup.

Like I say, it's a performance piece. Doesn't look good on paper, but it's pretty damn good in person. Tip: Don't tell it to someone who actually knows and loves knock-knock jokes, because they may be able to roll with it on the fly, and that just really really sucks.
posted by Bugbread at 4:12 PM on November 3, 2005


Hmmm. I can see how that could be funny, but I think you're cheating. That's not really a knock-knock joke. It's some other kind of joke (a prank?) that uses the knock-knock joke as a prop. I want to hear an actually knock-knock joke that's funny!
posted by grumblebee at 4:18 PM on November 3, 2005


Well, bugbread, maybe I'd soften it to 'almost entirely', keeping in mind that I was talking about that 'after the initial inception' time frame.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:18 PM on November 3, 2005


grumblebee : "I want to hear an actually knock-knock joke that's funny!"

Ah. Well, ok, that may not actually exist.

Stavros: Ok, we're probably in agreement there.
posted by Bugbread at 4:25 PM on November 3, 2005


You want to see some unfunny comics, 'Pepper... and Salt' in the Wall Street Journal is consistently unfunny. They make the New Yorker seem hilarious by comparison.
posted by Mr T at 4:28 PM on November 3, 2005


Oh that Garfield!
posted by holloway at 4:51 PM on November 3, 2005


+3 pancakes
posted by Jon-o at 8:27 PM on November 3, 2005


*sits down to computer. upon boot, firefox immediately loads with mefi as its start page.*

what ho? this post is garbage!

*types*

minus..... threeeee..... stuuuupiiiiiid.

*stops typing*

there! now they will know that I am tech savvy enough for slashdot, THE BLOG OF SUPERMEN! surely they will be impressed! I had better check my email for the inevitable shower of adoration from my fans who will inevitably want to beg me to help them be hip and technically proficient! But I will not share the secrets of the l33t, nay I shall shun them as the unclean heathens they are!

*sips mountain dew from straw. pats belly. chuckles.*

ah ha! a crappy and pointless callout!

*types*

ayyyyy pllluuuus pluuuus pluuuussss! woouuuld reeead callooouuut agaaaaiiin.

*stops typing*

ha HA! I am witty, and the mefites shall adore me! But ho! what if they think I'm serious! no doubt one of these cretins might believe that I, who am cultured and subtle enough to make an ebay reference, might do so in earnest! Behold: THE POWER OF PREVIEW!

*typing*

brraaaacket slaaaash saaaarcaaaaasmmmm braaaacket. tally ho!

*post*
posted by shmegegge at 9:06 PM on November 3, 2005


"If I am atypical..."

You're atypical because most people aren't as egocentrically subjective as you are. You can't conceive of someone laughing differently than you do. So they must be faking it and you think less of them. Everyone doesn't experience the world exactly as you do, they don't experience themselves exactly as you experience yourself, all of their non-voluntary physical actions are not identical to yours. Furthermore, you're assuming some sort of Platonic ideal of "funny" and assuming that the human reaction of "laughter" very specifically and very accurately measures it. Both of those assertions are extremely contestable.

I continue to be amazed and annoyed at how common the assertion "that isn't funny" is obviously intended to be objective and not subjective and yet clearly the product of the person's own subjective experience. But you take that egocentricism to the next level—not only are you an absolutist about comedy, but you impose your own physical reponses on everyone else as the defining standard by which "funny" is measured.

We know that a loud laugh three times followed by immediate silence isn't "authentic". What other laughs are inauthentic and indicate a need to be socially accepted? I want to get this straight. A low chuckle? Is there a time limit on that? And of course a very extreme laugh is probably inauthentic, assuming you're not laughing with equal gusto.

It just now occured to me that perhaps my claims of "sadness" have been in error. Do you cry when you're sad? Or frown? I mean, I've thought I've felt sad, but I can't really be sure if I really was sad until I know how my experience compares to your experience.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:19 PM on November 3, 2005


I can't imagine anyone is laughing at "+1 Would Read Again."

Because, y'know, it isn't a joke. It's just a thumbs-up. It's like saying break a leg! to a co-worker as they head off on a servive call — it's not like he's actually going on-stage; and here, it's not like your actually on Slashdot.

It's just a phrase that has been co-opted into popular online communication.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:36 PM on November 3, 2005


Hey, grumblebee, why the long face?
posted by taz at 10:41 PM on November 3, 2005


Ethereal Bligh, I am STUNNED by your post. I'm very sorry if I offended you (or anyone else). I certainly didn't intend to.

grumblebee: I can't read other people's minds, so maybe you smile/chuckle for different reasons than I do.

grumblebee: jessamyn, maybe you're right.

I also admitted (and you quoted me admitting) that I might be atypical. Doesn't that mean that in my view, I CAN "conceive of someone laughing differently than" me?

I ASKED if people's reactions were involuntary. I asked because I don't have involuntary reactions like that. I also ASKED jessamyn to explain her reaction to three different types of jokes. Why on Earth would I waste my time asking people about their reactions if I thought everyone responded the way I did? I thought the whole point of this site was learning from other people.

At some point, I realized and admitted that I was just confused over people's use of the TERM "kinda funny." I STILL maintain that things are either funny or they aren't -- but that there are levels of funniness. I suspect (and I've used the word SUSPECT) in my earlier posts that everyone has a threshold below which things aren't funny. If they didn't, EVERYTHING would be funny, right? My confusion was simply that I would never call the least funny of the funny things "kinda funny." To me, there's funny, more funny, even more funny, etc. Below that there's not funny. But this is just a word game.

EB, you have accused me of assuming that I know what's going on in other people's minds. You didn't know this, but that's the WORST thing you could have accused me of (for personal reasons). It hurt deeply, which is why I'm responding at length.

In all fairness, I can see how my FIRST post could be read that way (though I softened my stance later). But also in all fairness, you have treated me in the way you accuse me of treating others. You have made (incorrect) claim after claim of what's been going on in my head. Your whole post is pretty much an excavation into my psychology. Of course, I can never prove your wrong about my make-up, but I beg you to provide me with the same benefit-of-the-doubt that I provided everyone else in this thread. When jessamyn said she was different from me, I didn't say, "no you're not." I believe her. So I hope you'll believe me when I swear that I don't "think less of" ANYONE here! If I did, I would consider myself a bad person -- unworthy to post anything.
posted by grumblebee at 6:25 AM on November 4, 2005


I continue to be amazed and annoyed at how common the assertion "that isn't funny" is obviously intended to be objective and not subjective and yet clearly the product of the person's own subjective experience.

It's not just about teh funny. People do this in all sorts of contexts; one that always gets my goat is people claiming that "Starbucks coffee sucks" and people who claim to enjoy it either 1) are corporate shills or 2) have no taste. You don't like it? Fine, I have no problem with that. I do. To each his own. Why can't you accept it as a matter of personal taste? Why must your taste = objective reality?

Of course, this probably all goes back to infantile egoism and the rejection of anything that is not the Self. But I tend to lose interest in such psychohistory pretty fast.

You were a tad harsh on grumblebee, who had retracted the stuff that sounded omniscient long before you weighed in with the billyclub.
posted by languagehat at 7:14 AM on November 4, 2005


I also ASKED jessamyn to explain her reaction to three different types of jokes.

Oh hey, I was asleep. For me the three sorts of jokes you mentioned about [not funny, kinda funny, funny] fall along some sort of line. Unfunny does nothing, kinda funny makes me smile, funny makes me laugh out loud. I'm one of those dorks who believes that laughter is good for you, best medicine, etc and the more funny something is, the more I enjoy or appreciate it, the better I feel. So, instead of it being an on or off light switch, it's like one of those dimmer switches. I've been listening to a lot of Mitch Hedberg which often makes me laugh my ass off. Some of his stuff is only kinda funny, so I only laugh a little.

I think for me at least some of enjoying humor is that you like the joke, but you also appreciate the earnestness of the person who is trying to make you laugh. Humor is partly a cooperative endeavor, or can be. That's why knock-knock jokes [to me] told by little kids make me laugh like hell. This is also why kids will then tell you the same joke fifteen times in a row, because they don't quite get what the funny part is and they like making you laugh. This is also [to me] why racist or otherwise tasteless jokes can really fail. Not only is the joke not funny to the person hearing it, but the person telling it is trying to make it funny, or thinks it's funny, which makes it fail extra badly.

I think we see that here at MeFi where people have jokes that are hilariously funny to some group of users [not racist stuff as much as the recent spate of A+++++ WOULD REDA AGINAS !!!!! jokes. I think they're funny but you'd have to use eBay to even get them] and others are sort of like 1) "huh?" and 2) "why are you filling the post with this?" and hopefully not 3) "you are such an asshole for posting that unfunny thing" which leads to 4) "fuck you asshat" and on and on and on. What was this callout about again?
posted by jessamyn at 7:30 AM on November 4, 2005


I think for me at least some of enjoying humor is that you like the joke, but you also appreciate the earnestness of the person who is trying to make you laugh. Humor is partly a cooperative endeavor, or can be. That's why knock-knock jokes [to me] told by little kids make me laugh like hell.

This is what I meant by a social dynamic. I suspect that (and PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE note that I'm generalizing here -- and also theorizing. I DON'T think this applies to everybody) women and men tend to be different this way. Both genders are social, but women tend to see things through social lenses more profoundly than men. So whereas I can totally relate to everything you've said, jessamyn, there's also a cold/hard dynamic for me in which a joke is either funny or it's not, and this has nothing to do with the joke teller, his age, etc. Even in a social situation, I'm might interpret an interaction as "how cute: that kid just told a bad joke!" In other words, I would separate the warm feeling of the cute kid from the joke itself.

For some people (my guess: more women are like this than men -- but not ALL women), there's probably no separation between jokes and a social act. In other words, there are probably some people who wouldn't enjoy an anonymous joke book at all. For them, a joke would only be funny if it was part of a social act. Or am I wrong about this? (Some people enjoy going to movies by themselves -- just to see the movie. Others will only go see movies with a group of people or at least with another person.)

People do this in all sorts of contexts; one that always gets my goat is people claiming that "Starbucks coffee sucks" and people who claim to enjoy it either 1) are corporate shills or 2) have no taste.

I agree that this is offensive. I'm not offended by the claim that Starbucks is bad. I'm offended by the mind-reading that comes after that claim ("people who claim to enjoy it...")

But I've come to realize that some (many?) people are offended by even the first part -- just the claim that Starbucks is bad. Which reminds me of a really funny (to me) passage in David Mamet's play "American Buffalo" which goes like this:

Don: He was cheating, you couldn't say anything?

Teach: Don. Don, I see you're put out, you find the guy is a cheat.

Don: According to you.

Teach: According to me, yes. I am the person it's usually according to when I'm talking. Have you noticed this?


I think that last part ("According to you/According to me, yes") is a common human argument. Some people feel that when they make a strong assertion, it's obvious that they're expression an opinion. To SAY "according to me" would be redundant and insulting to the listener's intelligence. I pretty much feel this way. Others feel like omitting "according to me" shows a lack of humility.

I remember the odd experience of reading "You Just Don't Understand" by Deborah Tannen. I was impressed by her theories about the difference between male and female communication styles, but I was bored to the point of anger by her CONSTANT insertions of disclaimers like "I'm not talking about all women" and "some men don't talk this way." I kept wondering why she didn't state this ONCE at the beginning of the book and then be done with it. ("When I write about women and men, I'm talking about general trends. There are, of course, exceptions...") In fact, I could have lived without even this, because it would have been obvious to me that "men" and "women" meant "most men" and "most women."

But Tannen is smarter than me. She realized that without the constant disclaimers, people would be writing her endless angry letters.

But when I read "Starbucks sucks" or "Star Wars is a terrible movie," I assume "according to me" because what else COULD the speaker mean? How could there POSSIBLY be a coffee that was cosmically bad or a movie that was bad in the way that 2+2=4?
posted by grumblebee at 8:01 AM on November 4, 2005


But when I read "Starbucks sucks" or "Star Wars is a terrible movie," I assume "according to me" because what else COULD the speaker mean? How could there POSSIBLY be a coffee that was cosmically bad or a movie that was bad in the way that 2+2=4?

I agree, but a lot of people seem to seriously believe that the things they personally believe are in fact "cosmically bad." And then they have the nerve to mock religious folks.
posted by languagehat at 8:18 AM on November 4, 2005


Er, that should be the things they personally believe are bad are in fact "cosmically bad." Christ, that's the second comment in an hour I've had to correct for comprehensibility.
posted by languagehat at 8:19 AM on November 4, 2005


I hadn't really thought about this before (thanks languagehat), but my assumption is that pretty much everything is subjective. I'm not religious, so I don't believe anything is writ in stone by a deity. And I certainly don't believe any qualitative judgments can be laws. So to me, any statement like "Starbucks sucks" MUST mean "I think Starbucks sucks." One should leave off the "I think" in the same way that one should leave off the "New York"s in "I got on the subway and travelled from Manhattan, New York to Brooklyn, New York and then to Staten Island, New York."

But I suppose other people DO believe in cosmic levels of quality. To them, Julia Roberts IS beautiful (I disagree), Starbucks IS bad (I agree) and Star Wars IS a great movie (I disagree).

If they start from a default viewpoint of "some things just ARE good or bad" and I start from the viewpoint of "it's all somebody's opinion" then statements like "Starbucks sucks" are bound to cause disharmony.
posted by grumblebee at 8:45 AM on November 4, 2005


"I agree, but a lot of people seem to seriously believe that the things they personally believe are bad are in fact 'cosmically bad.'"

My quarrel is not so much with those people. Yes, I do find it (mostly) absurd to think that something is cosmically "beautiful" or "ugly", but it they're honest about that judgment, I can live with it. If that type of person makes value judgments about other people in relation to or as a consequence of judgments those folks make, I can live with that, too. Let's call an example of this kind of person Ms. G.

There's another kind of person who makes the same sorts of statements—beautiful, ugly, good, bad...whatever—but claim that there's an "according to me" implied and that no value judgments are being made. We'll call that kind of person Mr. R.

The problem is that Ms. G and Mr. R behave exactly the same with the sole exception being Mr. R's claim of the implied "according to me" and the related claim of making no value judgments about other people.

If someone says, "I think that photos of childen being disemboweled are the funniest things ever!", both Ms. G and Mr. R will react the same. They'll both perhaps take a step back from the person; they'll both instantly make value judgments about that person's character.

If someone says, "I think that the Backstreet Boys are the best rock band ever!", both Ms. G and Mr. R will react the same. They'll both perhaps take a step back from the person; they'll both instantly make value judgments about that person's character.

But Mr. R. will deny making a value judgment, and Mr. R. will claim, in defense of the accusation that they are certainly acting as if they're making a value judgment, "But I cannot be doing so because these are matters of subjectivity!"

It's the Mr. R's that I can't stand.

I'm not claiming that you're a Mr. R, grumblebee. There's hints of it in what you've wrote, but it's not that which got me riled up. As you know from our private email exchange on this. No, I have in mind a bunch of people I've known who practically make this a way of life for themselves: to stand in judgment of everyone else's characters while hiding behind the defensive wall of the claim that they cannot possibly be doing so. (With the hint that if you don't undertstand that, then there's something wrong with you!l)
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:53 AM on November 4, 2005


Yes, that's distasteful behavior. It's dishonest and condescending. Yuck.

There is a third person, though -- named Mr. Q. Q hears someone say "I think that the Backstreet Boys are the best rock band ever!" and thinks, "Wow! That person sure has different tastes from me" and yearns to know more about that person and what could lead them to being so different. (In the rare cases when someone is willing to get in a conversation like this with me, I sometimes come out the other end actually appreciating why they like what they like, and sometimes I wind up liking it too. I will admit that this hasn't happened with the Backstreet Boys. They suck. According to me.)

I grew up in an over-educated, intellectual household. So my tastes tend towards classic literature (i.e. Shakespeare) and classical music. I firmly believe that this is an accident of my upbringing. I'm not better than (or worse than) people who prefer Star Trek novels and Pink Floyd. (I AM worse than people who like both Shakespeare and Star Trek. In my view, it's better to like more than to like less -- I wish I could be like that.) And I though my tasted are what they are, I would challenge ANYONE who claims that Shakespeare is cosmically better than Star Trek. Bullshit. Saying "it's better" can only mean "I like it better."

I do resent the fact that I must constantly qualify my tastes, or I come off as a snob. People who like Star Trek DON'T have to constantly qualify their tastes (unless all their friends are rabid Trekies). I know, I know: life is unfair. It just gets tiring to have to continually apologize for liking what one likes and to have to continually walk on eggshells for fear of making someone else bristle.

And there's NO amount of explaining and qualifying one can do to appease some people. I'm sure there are people who read this and assume that I'm slyly trying to brag about my highbrow tastes. This gets back to the notion that some people interpret everything via a social lens. There's no way I could just prefer some things to other things. And there's no way I could talk about my preferences without making a value judgement about other people who don't share my preferences. Maybe this is true, but it's also very sad. It's sad when there's no way to express something simple.

I DO understand how, for many people, tasted are necessarily linked to their social lives. But I was an only child. I had few friends for most of my childhood and went through several years with no friends at all. So many of my tastes were developed in complete isolation. My parents didn't push anything on me (nor did they seem to take much interest in what I liked or disliked), but they left stuff lying around. This was how I became exposed to jokes, music, books, etc. I found stuff, took it to my room, consumes it, and didn't discuss it with anyone (I didn't have anyone to discuss it with). Years later, I discovered the joy of sharing tastes with others. But perhaps my childhood experience explains how I can neatly separate the work itself from its social context.
posted by grumblebee at 11:25 AM on November 4, 2005


"Saying 'it's better' can only mean 'I like it better.'"

I disagree. I'm not an absolutist, but I disagree nonetheless.

I can't really describe or defend my point-of-view on this general matter here. It's not the place and it would take too many words. I know, because I wrote something and then didn't post it.

But I'll state my position three different ways with no explanation, and perhaps that will be enough.

The first thing is how I describe my position on relativism/absolutism. For the most part, as a practical matter I'm a weak absolutist. On the rigorous, intellectual level, I'm a strong relativist. Most absolutists are practically strong; and most relativists are theoretically weak. So I'm quite different than most.

The second thing is my philosophical maxim: for a given purpose, there are appropiate and inappropriate levels of description.

The third is that I have a Great Books education and I love Shakespeare...but I also like Star Trek and Harry Potter and popular novels. This is because, in my own not hugely articulate words, I let things be what they are. I don't compare Shakespeare to Grisham and I don't compare Taco Bell to good New Mexican food.

All three things are different ways of saying the same thing.

It doesn't really bother me that the distinction between objectivity and subjectivity is a difficult and messy problem. It doesn't bother me that most of us can feel comfortable making an objective judgment about the Backstreet Boys in comparison to other musicians but are explicitly subjective in other musical judgments. This is how we are. It's interesting how we are.

What I don't like is dishonesty, malice, and hurtful selfishness.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:47 AM on November 4, 2005

"The second thing is my philosophical maxim: for a given purpose, there are appropiate and inappropriate levels of description."
roffelmayonaise
posted by holloway at 2:43 PM on November 4, 2005


It's interesting how we are

Exactly. This is my basic attitude toward humanity (except when they insist on playing the Backstreet Boys in my ear).

Great discussion, gb and EB! If only MetaTalk were like this more often...
posted by languagehat at 2:50 PM on November 4, 2005


Thanks languagehat. I should add that EB and I have taken this discussion offline, and we've discovered that -- though we started at odds with each other -- we have a lot in common (cue "After School Special" music). EB is a really icool guy, and I'm glad we got into this "fight." I wound up getting to know an interesting person much better.
posted by grumblebee at 3:44 PM on November 4, 2005


"roffelmayonaise"

Well, it seems banal, but it's not.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 5:40 PM on November 4, 2005


What grumblebee said.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:45 PM on November 4, 2005


Well, not to rejoin the party late, but I'm rejoining the party late, with just a few thoughts.

Languagehat: Regarding the role of the infantile egoism, etc., I would also posit that these problems of description come up because we have words like "funny", "good", "bad", and the like, which imply "unfunny", "bad", "good", and the like. That is, an adjective describes a thing, so using an adjective makes one's statement describe the thing, not one's feelings about it, which are actually the issue. If, instead of these words, we were stuck using phrases ("I heard a makes-me-laugh joke yesterday"), the problem would be much smaller. Of course, language would probably just evolve over time to obscure the roots of the phrase, "I heard a good mehmilaff joke yesterday"). Point is, it's also an aspect of the use of adjectives themselves that lead to this problem.

Grumblebee: I'm only guessing that Languagehat's annoyance on the Starbuck's issue is similar to my own, but: The phrase "Starbucks sucks" doesn't annoy me, because I've been alive long enough to interpret that, as you say, to have the understood "in my opinion". What annoys me (much like languagehat is saying, and hence my suspicion that we're thinking the same about the issue) is when someone then goes on to make a statement which indicates that, in their own mind, there wasn't an understood "in my opinion".

Acceptable: "Starbucks sucks. Their coffee tastes like shit."
Annoying: "Starbucks sucks. Their coffee tastes like shit. People just drink it because it's cool."

In the annoying example, it's clear that the guy thinks that Starbucks really, objectively sucks, and that therefore other people must not be drinking it because they like the taste.

EB: I am a really hardcore Mr. R, then. I am a really really strong moral relativist, who is also very opposed to the skullfucking of schoolchildren, the murder of protesters, the raping of nuns, etc. etc. I know that skullfucking schoolchildren isn't really "bad", in some absolute sense. It's just a trait of human nature, guided by successful evolutionary strategy, that leads me to think that eye-sockets of living people are not proper places to put ones penis. And I also realize that there's nothing "better" about successful evolutionary strategies than unsuccessful ones, and nothing "better" about traits which survive than traits which don't. But just try to skullfuck an elementary school kid in front of me. I may be weak, but I'm betting that the adrenaline and anger boost from seeing you try would be enough that I could physically punch your head off of your neck. The same for a whole bevy of activities. Yet in the end, I'm making value judgements, while simultaneously saying that it's all subjective.

The way I've analyzed myself, in this, is that my opinions about subjectivity and objectivity were formed long after my base personality. I'm guessing high school for the subjective/objective thing, and probably before elementary school or during elementary school for the "murder is bad, torture is bad" part. The second part of my development didn't really affect the first part. So my gut instinct is revulsion at acts I see as immoral, even though I believe that morality is baseless. And since everything is, at heart, subjective and meaningless, there is no reason that I should deny my gut instincts purely on the basis of subjectivity. To me, it's like saying that "You shouldn't ride on the rainbow colored dragon that's trying to pick you up while you're tripping on DMT. Instead, you should fight the dragon and cling to the nearby branches of dirty-underwear-trees and try to glue your tongue to the sandpaper floor." They're both illusory, so saying I should ignore one illusory choice because it's illusory is just saying I should choose the illusory alternative instead, and pretend that it isn't. Making a value judgement about something I feel really strongly about, based on something I know to be subjective, is no different than not making a value judgement about the same, but one results in possible feelings of happiness and satisfaction, and the other would probably result in feelings of sadness, guilt, and the like. So I'm very Mr. R.
posted by Bugbread at 6:55 PM on November 4, 2005


Annoying: "Starbucks sucks. Their coffee tastes like shit. People just drink it because it's cool."

I totally agree. This is also annoying because "Starbucks sucks. Their coffee tastes like shit." makes sense -- the speaker is the only one who can judge whether or not he likes Starbucks and whether or not he likes the taste of their coffee. But he can't judge why other people drink there. He just can't. Unless he has psychic powers. And unless he's a moron, he knows that he can't. So he's either stupid or dishonest.

It's really simple:

1. Value judgements are subjective, but they are also 100% yours and undeniable.
2. You have no window into other people's minds.

I don't want to piss anyone off here, but there are a bunch of you who seem to be saying, "I've been burned so often by people who make assumptions about my mindset that I'M going to start making my own mindset assumptions (i.e. that when people say Starbucks sucks, they are really being snobbish." I beg you not to fall into that trap. Be better than those other people. Take the high road. Otherwise, they win.
posted by grumblebee at 7:44 PM on November 4, 2005


Bugbread, you can't be Mr. R because of your three paragraphs on Starbucks. The point of Mr. Rs is that they get the emotional satisfaction about making absolute claims and being judgmental, but then hide behind subjectivity if a) someone disagree with their assessment; or b) someone is offended. I don't see you doing that.

As for the deeper issue of objectivity, you're just saying you're a strong relativist at the most abstract and intellecutally rigorous level, but there are a whole bunch of ways in the practical world that you behave and feel like an absolutist. That describes me, too, except that I have a couple more levels in there where absolutism and relativism alternate.

The difference between you and Mr. R is that your intellectual awareness of your belief in ultimate relativism acts as a moderator on your practical beliefs and behaviors. You don't really want to behave as an absolutist. When you are self-righteous, there's a voice in your head reminding you of your relativism and is keeping you honest. Mr. R, on the other hand, loves the experience of feeling self-righteous. They love the feelings that absolutism and judgmentalism allow. And they use relativism as a shield behind which they can defend themselves while still behaving in a judgmental, absolutist fashion. I don't think they know it's a shield. Instead, I think thay they believe and feel that relativism implies and endorses these behaviors. How? They've equated relativism with solipsism. They are determinist about it. For example, "Everyone must have opinions and beliefs, likes and dislikes, and biases. So when I said 'I think you're a bad person' that was just my opinion and is no more important than anyone else's. That you're offended is your problem, not mine." See? They have their cake and eat it, too.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:34 PM on November 4, 2005


I have no problem at all experiencing a work of art, disliking the experience, and yet evaluating the work as "good". For other people, that's nonsense. Their personal likes and dislikes determine their aesthetics.

The phrase that holloway made fun of really does mean something. I think it's the prime human intellectual mistake to attempt to be God. That is to say, we want to know everything at once and see how it all works together. We yearn for omniscience. I don't think this is possible. In fact, I don't think this is possible even for God, but that's another discussion. Both of you (in different ways and to different degrees—I'm generalizing) assert your relativism, this quality you believe is an essential truth of the universe, as if you believe that everything in the universe should be seen through its lens. And I don't think that's correct. I don't evaluate whether or not I believe the Sun will rise tomorrow on the basis of my relativism. There are many different levels of descriptions for anything or any process in the universe; none of them have priority over the others in all cases; and most importantly, you can't connect all the levels together as a means of finding Truth. For a given purpose, there is an appropriate level of description of a thing or a process, and many inappropriate levels of description.

I see that we act as if we are able to make absolutist judgments about things—in fact, there's a great many things about which it's not possible for us to be relativistic as a practical matter. So, in that context, absolutism is "true". I act as if it's true. And I'm very sensitive about when either our purpose changes, or when we have drifted to a different level of description. On the one hand, I think that my statement "Shakespeare's plays are very good" is objectively true and has meaning when I say it. But I also think that my statement "Shakespeare's plays are very good" is a meaningless statement. In one context, if you say that sentence, I'll nod my head in complete agreement. In a different context, I'll say, "I don't know what that statement means. I don't think that is a meaningful statement." Only if you're attempting omniscience need you worry whether or not an assertion appropriate at one level of description contradicts another assertion that is appropriate for another level of description of the same thing. And you might wonder that a way to reconcile this is to assert that in fact it isn't the same thing, it's two different things. But it necessarily is the same thing and is necessarily two different things. Deciding that depends upon the context created by your purpose.

An extreme and crude example of not keeping levels of description distinct from one another is the problem of consciousness. Neurologists are hoping to find it in a neural sctructure in the brain. AI folks are trying to find it as an algorithm. But what if there's no there, there? When we're at the level of neurons, I don't know what the word "consciousness" means. I do know that it doesn't and can't mean, at the neural context, what it means in everyday language, or even in much philosophy.

There's an enormous number of mathematics and science examples where we held onto a word, which we believed mapped perfectly to a concept, as we moved into stranger and stranger realms. At some point, claiming that the two usages point to the same thing, or even point to seperate parts of a whole, becomes absurd. And yet, both meanings of the word are completely coherent in their seperate contexts and we can trace our path between them.

So I find arguments involving absolutism vs. relativism to be very tiring and exasperating, because from my point of view, both parties hold a naive view of the universe, both parties are trying to assert the primacy of their paradigm in some ultimate sense. To me, what we should do is decide on a shared context in which what we're discussing has maximal meaning for our purposes. If we're trying to pick the best cherry pie recipe to use in our restaurant, it's just plain silly to include the context that is the inherent subjectivity of sensory experience. If we're trying to understand what consciousness is, then we'd better consider long and hard the inherent subjectivity of sensory experience.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:35 PM on November 4, 2005


I got a little lost in your post, EB, but it's possible we're in agreement. Here are my thoughts re: relativism (keep in mind that I'm a strong atheist -- this may have some impact on my views):

We can only receive data via our senses.
Our senses may be imperfect (we can't know, because we can only sense our senses).
Therefore all judgements about an external world (if it even exists) are necessarily subjective and possibly wrong.

Now, I'm sure this is yawn-worthy to you. Most of us though that through in high school or earlier, but I needed to say it because, banal or not, it is my core belief. But there's a second part to my belief system, which you brought up:

there's a great many things about which it's not possible for us to be relativistic as a practical matter. So, in that context, absolutism is "true". I act as if it's true.

I agree, and I think this is inescapable. If you don't pretend absolutism exists, you can't get anything done. Each moment, you'd say, "Can I step on the sidewalk? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe if I do, I'll fall through it and land on a bed of nails." It's impossible to life like that, so we don't.

But via my first set of premises, absolutism is an illusion. So to me it's very simple: aabsolutism is a useful and necessary illusion. I think we live by many such illusions -- another is Free Will. Where is it writ that humans should only believe the truth? Where is it writ that the truth is more useful than fantasy?

As for making absolute judgements about Shakespeare, I can only see three approximations: (1) My subjective experience of him is stable: I will always like Shakespeare. Basically, this means I know myself and my relationship to Shakespeare. This being true, I can make an "absolute" statement about whether or not I will enjoy "King Lear" if I sit down and read it. (2) A group of us -- maybe an influential group (i.e. critics and academics) and set up an arbitrary set of standards and evaluate Shakespeare via those standards. If he meets them, he can agree to call him "good." (3) We can study human response to art and learn, on a neurological & biological level what affects people. If Shakespeare has the "good art" affect on people, we can call him "good."

All of these are useful but imperfect. Even the last (most "scientific") one fails because there are very few traits that apply equally to all humans. There will always be some exception with a weird brain. So we have to start qualifying and saying things like "for most people" or "for many people" -- which no longer sounds so absolute.

But, again, going by practicality, a theatre director would to well to ACT as if such science is absolute. Presumably his goal is to reach as many people as possible. He knows he can't reach all people.

All of this is needless chatter in a way, because I said what I needed to say in at the top of this post. My three methods of claiming Shakespeare is "good" ALL fail because they are all filtered through our sense (i.e. we must only READ an MRI scanner or LISTEN to professors) -- so, once again, everything is subjective and objectivity is a useful illusion.

My way of dealing with this is to, in general, accept the illusion because I have to. I am pretty comfortable accepting it as a TOOL but keeping the fact that it's an illusion somewhere in the back of my mind. That way, I am flexible. If someone shows me that my senses are invalid, it won't totally blow my mind. I'm aware of that possibility.
posted by grumblebee at 5:20 AM on November 5, 2005


It looks like I fall on the weak end of relativism, then, because my relativism is only related to value judgements. When it comes to things like the sun rising, I don't consider our description of it to be relativistic just because it's filtered through our senses. Instead, I consider it a probably right, but possibly flawed, statement. Like "1 + 1 = 2". It's probably right. It has an extremely high likelihood of being true. However, if it turned out that it were wrong, I wouldn't say that it was due to relativism, but due to making an incorrect absolutist statement.

Instead, my relativism is all about "good", "bad", and the like. Morality, tastes, bias, and the like. "It's a good thing that the sun rises, because it provides the energy for photosynthesis." "Yes, but why is photosynthesis being considered 'good'?" That kind of thing. So while I'm extremely relativistic when it comes to morality (even weak moral issues like the goodness of photosynthesis), I'm not when it comes to descriptions of actual events.
posted by Bugbread at 8:14 AM on November 5, 2005


bugbread, how do you know that non-value facts are "probably right, but possibly flawed"? Is it an article of faith? I don't see how it can be anything else, but I'm willing to be swayed.

You can poll 1000 people about whether or not they saw the sun rise. You can use instruments to measure heat and photons, but ALL of this input will come to you through your senses, which may be lying to you. You can't trust them. Or you can -- but only via faith. ("Faith" is a loaded word. You can also say, "I trust them because I have a strong feeling they are right" or "I trust them because it's useful for me to do so.")

I'm don't see how you can assign a probability to the chance that your senses are accurate, since you can't escape your senses and see them from the outside. A person can't internally tell how much he weighs. He needs an external instrument -- i.e. a scale. (Oops: he can only view the scale with his eyes! He can never really know how much he weighs, if the scale exists, or if the concept of "weight" really maps to anything in the real world -- or if there IS a real world!)

What you need to do is to study the senses of 1000 people and see how often they are accurate, measured against some fixed criteria (i.e. the sun just rose -- how many people just sensed that it did?). You could then get a probability for whether or not your senses were accurate.

But you can only conduct such a test via your own senses, which may be lying to you.... So you STILL have no grounds to judge probability.

Let me state that I'm not trying to goad you. I too assume my sense are correct, but I do this (a) because it's useful, and (b) via faith. I try to take as little on faith as possible, but I have to take SOME things on faith. You can't do Euclidean geometry without assuming the existence of point, lines and planes. There's no proof within the geometry that they exist -- and they might not exist -- but if you want to play the geometry game, you have to assume that they do.

So I assume my senses are correct, but I always know I may be wrong.
posted by grumblebee at 11:17 AM on November 5, 2005


Just a note, because I should be doing something else...

Usually I try to distinguish between forms of relativism. People usually talk about cultural and moral relativism, but when someone says "there is no such thing as truth", they are saying something beyond that. That form, I call "philosophical relativism". Philosophy has been grappling with this since forever. I suppose you could say that, in the west, it's Platonists versus empiricists versus relativists. Note that "relativism" is not, as far as I'm concerned, related in any way to special or general relativity—this is why I am careful to always use the form "realtivism". It is true that the rise of relativistic thinking in popular culture almost certainly is related to the popular awareness of relativity, and you can make some loose analogies, but the comparison bothers me because in the popular imagination relativity means something close to philosophical relativism, which just isn't the case.

Cultural relativism has strong ties with, or its origin from, cultural anthropology. Note also that physical anthropology is very empirical, but cultural anthropology has been moving away from empiricism and become increasingly philosophically relativistic for a while now.

Moral relativism, like philosophical relativism, is an idea that is available to anyone who is thoughtful, so you can't say what it's origin is. It is closely related to philosophical relativism, for obvious reasons, and is closely related in the field of philosophy. However, in popular culture, moral relativism has strong ties to cultural relativism, because it is startling to people to discover that other cultures have very different moralities.

For me, cultural relativism is simply obviously true. Moral relativism is either true or false depending upon how you define "morality" and "ethics", and being a utilitarian, I choose to define these terms in such a way that, functionally at least, I am not a moral relativist. Philosophical relativism is what we've been broadly dealing with here, and my answer on it depends upon the context within which the question is answered. On one level, I'm a strong empricist as I suspect bugbread is; on another level, a more deeply philosophical level (or, if you prefer, a level with lots more hand-waving), I'm a relativist. Most scientists I've found are naive empiricists, which works out fine, but can sometimes be a little frustrating to me.

grumblebee, your emphasis on the senses is the central question of a period of western philosophy. Pretty much everything from 1600-1900, and you might want to read some of these writers, assuming you haven't already.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:48 AM on November 5, 2005


grumblebee : "bugbread, how do you know that non-value facts are 'probably right, but possibly flawed'? Is it an article of faith?"

In the aspect of it that you're approaching, yes, it's very much an article of faith. Not "faith" in the religious sense, but "faith" in the sense that I believe we actually exist, that we aren't just brains in jars, that our sensory organs can be used to determine external things (albeit often very imperfectly).
posted by Bugbread at 12:58 PM on November 5, 2005


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