Friday, July 29, 2016

Crowd Theory and Social Media

The past few weeks have seen the passing of the both Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention. Many excellent speeches were made at both, regardless of whether I agreed with all, some, or none of the content.

But it got me thinking about what really goes into an excellent speech. (I'll give you a hint: It's not logic.) See this humorous compilation of examples from the RNC or this example from the DNC. (It's too soon for a compilation from the DNC. Maybe later.) UPDATE (Aug 2): Here is a compilation from the DNC (but it also contains an impassioned appeal against Trump).

Have any of you ever read about crowd theory? Probably not many of you have read Gustave Le Bon's The Crowd. It's an old book but still quite interesting. In it, Le Bon writes:
The characteristics of the reasoning crowds are the association of dissimilar things possessing a merely apparent connection between each other, and the immediate generalization of particular cases. It is arguments of this kind that are always presented to crowds by those who know how to manage them. They are the only arguments by which crowds are to be influenced. A chain of logical argumentation is totally incomprehensible to crowds, and for this reason it is permissible to say that they do not reason or that they reason falsely and are not to be influenced by reasoning. Astonishment is felt at times on reading certain speeches at their weakness, and yet they had an enormous influence of the crowds which listened to them, but it is forgotten that they were intended to persuade collectivities and not to be read by philosophers. An orator in intimate communication with a crowd can evoke images by which it will be seduced. If he is successful his object has been obtained, and twenty volumes of harangues -- always the outcome of reflection -- are not worth the few phrases which appealed to the brain it was required to convince.
Obviously this is just a snippet. Hopefully the ideas, divorced from the context as they are, still make sense. (As I know the book and the context, sometimes it is hard to know if the ideas presented are clear to the uninitiated.)

Then I got to thinking beyond the speeches. What about social media, a.k.a. internet 2.0?

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the whole lot of them are essentially large crowds. Memes (images divorced from reasoning) rule the day. We're constantly trolling for likes from those in agreement with us and ganging up on those that don't. We so quickly descend into personal insults and labels and cliches rather than truly engaging in reasoning.

Could it be that social media, rather than bring about a more educated populace, has simply helped us create mobs and coalitions, resistant to reflection, rejecting true thought?

It's an idea.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Stop Complaining and Engage!

Two things of which there is no shortage in this election season: complaining and blaming.

Two things that never really solve a problem: complaining and blaming.

This morning I mentioned to a Chinese friend that I've been watching (and now just listening to) Rage Against The Machine's "Sleep Now in the Fire" on repeat for two days now. (You can see the video below.) He replied that it seemed a bit out of character for someone who loves the blues so much. I explained as follows:

I've been known to call myself a "Punk Rock Christian". Meaning, if faith is not going to shake up your way of looking at the world and what it means to be part of the solution, it's kind of useless and just a feel-good belief. I have a lot of the same anger that a lot of people like Rage Against The Machine do, but I try to channel that into more productive ends.
I don't understand how anyone of faith can look at this world and just decide to sit on the sidelines watching TV and enjoying life. Jesus meant Christians to be forces of good, not members of the status quo. Jesus meant for his followers to engage their cultures. With so much injustice, so much pain, so much evil, how can Christians sit idly by? There is a thing called righteous anger, after all.

But complaining and blaming (online or otherwise) is not what Jesus had in mind.

All Christians are supposed to share the gospel, so I'm going to take that as a given (though I shouldn't). But what else are you doing? Do you not see pain around you? Do you not see a cause to take up? I don't care what it is. Help starving children. Help refugees. Demand equal pay for equal work. Defend black lives and livelihoods. Labor for respect for the homeless. Bring neighborhoods together. Sacrifice yourself for something and someone that doesn't directly benefit yourself, your family, or your friends.


Shake up this world order. Shake up the status quo.

Jesus was holy, but when he engaged society, he was considered a renegade, a "punk", by the powers that be. What makes you think it would be any different now?

Basically Why I Am Against Open Carry

I have a problem with open carry.

Before you get all bent out of shape, hear me out. I'm not trying to discriminate against you, nor am I trying to remove all guns from the public sphere. In fact, I have no problem with concealed carry. I'm simply not on board with open carry.

Here's the situation as I and many others see it. You may be a completely honest law abiding man or woman. You may be the kind of person that would never hurt anyone. You may carry a gun because you sincerely want to serve and protect the public. But there's still a problem: I don't know that.

I don't know you. I don't know if you intend ill or harm. I don't know if you are or are not mentally balanced. I don't know if you're a disgruntled ex-employee or a jilted lover set on revenge. I don't know if you're a well-trained gun handler or an idiot with a gun. I don't know if you know your child or dog happened to inadvertently turn of the safety on your weapon. I don't know anything about you.

And you expect me to be comfortable with that?

It is rational for people to feel uncomfortable in the presence of a weapon. Should they or shouldn't they? Irrelevant. That fact is that many (perhaps most) do for very understandable reasons. Is your desire to carry a weapon openly so important that putting people on edge is acceptable to you? Is concealing a weapon such an ugly prospect. Go ahead. Have your gun. Just let the rest of us ignore that. You know you're protected and that you can protect others. Isn't that enough? Have you any empathy at all?

A few questions:

  • Do have any conflicting feelings when looking at these two pictures?

  • Would you feel completely at ease if you saw people you thought were Muslims with this cache in your favorite restaurant?

  • Would you feel absolutely comfortable if someone who looked like this walked into your business? Or these gentlemen?

  • Or is open carry only for white folk?
Think carefully before you answer. Are you absolutely sure that open carry FOR EVERYONE is something you support? Do you really think that no one should feel uncomfortable?