On the Very Idea of a [micro]Blog

Words and Images from Tim Brown, Philosophy Ph.D. Student @ the University of Washington and member of the Film Shooters Collective.

Here’s an excerpt from a conversation from Facebook today. I’m sure you can pick up the nature of the conversation on your own. Needless to say, it got out of hand pretty quickly.

Me:

First of all, I don’t care much about what black neighborhood you grew up in, how many black friends you have, what black musicians you liked, how much of the stuff you’ve said has been vetted by your black friends, or what your baby’s skin color is. You don’t know all of us, and you cannot claim to have authoritative knowledge about us simply because you have black friends. We are not your passcard. The very fact that you talk about your black friends this way shows you don’t understand: racism lives through just the kinds of attitudes you’ve shown us today.

Further, you definitely have misread and left out a lot of the supposed “facts.” The DoJ says blacks commit 52% of the homicides in this country, but it also claims that whites commit 45%. These numbers are also based on convictions: and every day we find out (through DNA evidence) that many were wrongly convicted. We also find that many whites/hispanics are wrongly acquitted (George Zimmerman squeaked by on a technicality, and that sort of thing happens all the time). Yes. Your facts don’t mean anything at all here, because we don’t even know if these numbers match up to the things we’re arguing about. Hell, I’m not even sure why you bothered to mention these statistics at all.

Here’s my take on Cyrus’ supposed racism. To me, this is not a celebration of black culture, it is a mockery of one particular aspect of black culture put on display. I’ve heard her performance described as “minstrel”—or “black face.” I can’t help but think that’s close to the truth: you take the worst parts of us and make them the focus of TV shows, movies, video games, music performances. It hurts. It hurts so much that it makes me (and lots of people) wonder, “Is this what you see when you think of black people? When you think of me? Is this what you think we are?”

Just the fact that some of us feel this way should be enough for you to stop, shut up, and think about what’s going on. But that’s not what you’re going to do, is it? No. You’ll probably make some remark about how I’m sensitive, or how other blacks you know aren’t having this problem. But before you do, think to yourself: aren’t you overstepping your boundaries right now?

I won’t say anything more… just try to think about what I’ve said on your own.”

Him:

the whites are over 72% of the population mr brown,do the math.. do not talk down to me sir,i do fight back. i dont give a fuck what you think and i would just as soon meet you face to face and whoop your fucking ass as listen to,once again,the IDEOLOGUE bullshit you are spewing. now,you can come back at me like a keyboard badass,but face to face you wouldnt have the balls to open your big mouth to me. and as far as zimmerman,if im getting my head smashed against the sidewalk by a little punk who i was following,not STALKING like you and yours choose to say,id put a bullet in his ass too. so fuck you very much.

Wow. He’d put a bullet in me too? That’s not good.

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Arguing in quicksand, and doing philosophy in broad daylight.

"Thinker thinks about how to take sun burst shot," by David Yu.

When I was a child I decided I wanted to be a professor. I’m not sure what I wanted to study as a professor, and I’m not even sure I knew what professors do. All I knew—and all that mattered—was that professors are people who think really hard about stuff and know a lot about that stuff as a result. I valued and enjoyed those two things—thinking hard and knowing a lot—so much that I wanted to grow up to be the sort of person who gets to do those things as much as possible.

Of course, not everyone wants to think hard and not everyone wants to know a lot about stuff. Most people I’ve known, in fact, just want to get through the day: they just want to think enough to get to some unambiguous answer to a question, and they just want to know enough to complete a task. Some people don’t even want to think that hard or know that much. They’d rather not bother with it at all. The attitude is completely understandable: my passions are not everyone passions.

Sometimes, however, I’ll have a conversation with a person who is eager to have a conversation about something controversial and interesting—about race, politics, art, science, you name it. At some point in the conversation, a line gets crossed and they’ll argue: “you think too much,” or “you just have to be right about everything,” or “you’re so argumentative,” and so on. Sometimes people say these things in earnest (as if they’re identifying some problem in me) while other people say them in anger (as if they’re getting back at me for some damage I’ve done). In either case, once a person tells me I think too hard or I try to know too much (or think I already know everything), I know the conversation is over. The game is over—there are no other moves I can make.

How could I respond, after all? If I respond with an argument, more thought, or response whatsoever, it only demonstrates how argumentative I am and how much I overthink things. “You’re so argumentative,” is a quicksand argument. The more I try to escape it, the more I sink into a deeper pit. It’s the argument that ends all arguments that follow it.

At best, such arguments are strange: they imply it’s wrong to make arguments past some point. I’m not sure what point that is, or why it’s wrong to make arguments after we’ve crossed it. I get the impression that people just tire of the conversation past some point. If a person no longer feels like having a conversation, why not just say so politely and stop?

At worst, such arguments are an incendiary. They imply there’s something wrong with thinking the way I (and like-minded people) do, and that I should stop—or at least stop thinking this way as much as I do. The problem is: why should I feel ashamed about thinking as hard as I want to? Why should anyone feel ashamed to make arguments? Why should philosophers (would-be and otherwise) be afraid to do philosophy in broad daylight if we value it so much? Who does it hurt?

I am not sure how to move forward. As I write this, I see the arguments I could make about how much I enjoy thinking the way I do, how intellectual pursuits are rewarding and enriching in simple ways (contrary to popular belief), and how much of my pain comes from not being able to think as I would like to. But that would only make matters worse: I would end up doing the same thing I get condemned for doing. It’s no fun being in the quicksand.

Perhaps the best course of action is to avoid those kinds of conversations with those sorts of people altogether: even if they seem to want to talk about those kinds of things in those kinds of ways, even if they’re people you love and want to share your passion with, and even if there are important parts of civic life that depend on us having long conversations about difficult topics. Maybe it’s better to just “save the schoolwork for school”—as I’ve been told over and over again since childhood..

…but who the hell wants to do that?