Saturday, 27 August 2016

Real lives are stake, this is no time for abstract thought!

Here's an archetype of a conversation I've had in variations throughout my life:

Friend: I believe X is the right thing to do so we can all be happy. 
Me: Ok, but what if X were a Y, or if the situation was Z? Or what if the people you disagree with were advocating a minor variation of X, would you still agree? 
Friend: I distrust and am personally insulted by your attempts at analysis. You sound like one of those people who doesn't want others to be happy. 
Me: No, no, no. I like the happiness part, I'm just not sure about your specific suggestion of X. I'm simultaneously trying to find out why you think X will be effective and trying to relate X to a universal moral framework to ensure that doing X would be fair.
Friend: Real lives are stake, this is no time for abstract thought!

I'm fascinated (in the car crash sense) when people reject analysis because of the real that can't be captured by analysis. I mean it's a fair enough point that experience is richer than the symbolic, but if not for concepts, how are you going to talk about the real, and if you're using concepts anyway, wouldn't it be better if they were marginally consistent?

Of course the tumblr activism take is that consistency is just The Man's way of trying to oppress you and demands for logic and argument are really just expressions of power by the privileged within a system of deep seated and invisible oppression. Even if we were to grant that point, what's the answer? Abandoning logic to give completely free reign to your biases? Creating a new system not based on logic that nobody has thought of but works much better on a modern scale? Please try that over there and if I don't see ominous smoke clouds within a year, I may go check it out.

While I don't want to overinflate the importance of tumblr activism, it is useful in that it expresses a common tendency that many people share to some extent in unusual clarity. I'd like to dig deeper into that in future posts.