Friday, October 8, 2010

That Really Stupid Essay in the Times

Further refinements and a touch of color. I don't like the black corners; only the streetlamp and lines should be black.

Note the subtly varied color -- I've found that by using layers of transparent gradients, I can get a much more interesting, much less 'dead' result than a straight-up from the box gradient. Bringing life to digital art is the real trick.

I thought I was going to be able to avoid writing about this, but I've been obsessing on it to the point where I've been losing sleep. This is retarded, but this is what it's like to be crazy. How crazy?

Crazy enough to care about the state of intellectual discourse in the US. I mean, you've seen crazy from me before, but not on that scale.

Here's the article I'm addressing.

If you ain't up for it, dude is saying hey, shouldn't we be thinking about how we can eliminate meat-eating? As a behavior? In animals everywhere? Like, just get rid of the carnivores because they're real mean.

I shit thee not.

I tried to imagine that this is some kind of put-on but if it is, this guy puts Andy Kaufman in the fucking shade. I really think he means it. Red wine? Pot? Both of the above, maybe a little medication mixed in? Because these just do not seem like the thoughts of a sober man.

Let's get this straight. I don't think Jeff McMahan is a bad person. And for all I know he's done work that would blow me out of the fucking water. But as I write this, I will abuse him as a fool over and over and over again because this essay is stupid as shit -- which is bad -- and it was published under the rubric of the New York Times. This is fucking nuts. Isn't that the paper of record? Are those guys huffing thinner? What the hell is going on?

Okay. I don't want to spend time on this. I want to spit my bile and move on. Since that's how I'm handling it, my writing is going to be fucking awful, so I won't make a big deal out of how...

Rob once sent out a rejection letter where he accused the person's manuscript of having been 'rat-fucked by academia.' If you're wondering what that means, go read the essay. 'Too stuffed to jump' is another phrase that comes to mind.

Anyway. On to the meat. First off, the core of his position is this statement.

"It is relatively uncontroversial that suffering is intrinsically bad for those who experience it, even if occasionally it is also instrumentally good for them, as when it has the purifying, redemptive effects that Dostoyevsky’s characters so often crave."

I'm sorry, but that's a load of stupid you need a wheelbarrow to move. It is not at all uncontroversial; rather, it is the exact opposite of the truth. Anyone with the most infinitisimal grain of sense or experience knows that suffering is an absolutely necessary and unavoidable part of life, and that exaggerated attempts to avoid it cause grotesqueries that bring suffering of themselves. Without the experience of suffering it is impossible to truly understand the suffering of others.

Life exists in a dynamic situation of contending forces. Pleasure is the way our organismic selves guide us toward things that have proven beneficial to the meta-organism in the past, while suffering guides us away from things that have proven harmful. To the species, not the individual, please note. Suffering is not a source of harm; it is a warning that harm is being done. To struggle against the real sources of suffering is a noble thing. To attempt to eliminate suffering itself is like tearing out your goddamned smoke alarms. Jackass.

Are you familiar with the fate of those who do not feel pain? They, and those around them, must be constantly inspecting their bodies for unnoticed injuries. They frequently die young.

Get me?

And starting off with that muttonheaded Schopenhauer quote -- “one simple test of the claim that the pleasure in the world outweighs the pain…is to compare the feelings of an animal that is devouring another with those of the animal being devoured.”

What kind of idiot actually thinks that is a reasonable picture of life? I rather doubt it was one who had any experience of animals and how they live. Note the pleasure/pain dynamic above. It is tuned, so that a typical animal under typical conditions will of course experience more pleasure than suffering because that is how the relative functions of pleasure and suffering balance. Mild pleasure lets you know you're doing okay, suffering tends to indicate special circumstances. An organism that suffers more than it experiences pleasure is not a typical organism -- it is unfortunate.

And as for the specifics of one animal eating another. This is squeamishness, plain and simple. Would you rather be eaten by a shark or die of AIDS? Neither will be pleasant; the first will be much faster.

It also may not be as bad as you'd think. When David Livingston was attacked by a lion, he reported a dreamy sense of disconnection; anyone who's handled animals injured by cats has seen something of this.

Listen, McMahan? Most animals don't die of predation. Most animals die worse deaths. Most small animals die of pneumonia. Think of all the tiny mice and birds laying on their sides and quivering as they drown in their own snot and then tell me how cruel predators are.


Next up is this little doozy. In reference to the notion that it may be possible to some day engineer carnivorous behavior out of the ecosystem, he says, "Rather than continuing to collide with the natural world with reckless indifference, we should prepare ourselves now to be able to act wisely and deliberately when the range of our choices eventually expands."

So let me get this straight.

If we ever get magical superpowers, we should already have our wishes lined up. Is that what he means?

The idea that we should invest thoughts in hypothetical situations like this does have a place. It is in fiction. And if McMahan had plotted this out with the intellectual rigor used in the best science fiction, he may have come up with something of interest to say.

But that would mean speaking from a position of knowledge. He would have to say something meaningful about how predation operates in the ecosystem, how we'd manage birth control for moths and so on. He would have to really think, not engage in the outgassing of an intellectual colon.

Doing this kind of half-baked wambling about does not have anything to do with real thought. This piece consists of words and half-understood emotional impulses chasing one another around a cranium that is either permanently fuzzy or temporarily pixilated.

To prime oneself for possible action based on guesses made from a position of profound ignorance is a terrible, terrible idea. Jesus, McMahan! What the hell!

Okay, I'm sorry. That was uncalled for. But it really, really pisses me off that this kind of vague dopey slop -- and sorry, McMahan, I'm sure you're a nice guy and this isn't representative of your work, but this honestly does read like the transcribed ramblings of an over-educated stoner -- is being placed before the public eye and given the gloss of credibility that comes with The New York Times. This is the pathetic state of discourse. And here I sit, stewing bitterly in petulant insignificance. Unread save for the true elite.

(If for incomprehensible reasons McMahan is reading this, that was for you -- I am a spiteful nobody. Go ahead and dismiss my ravings. Plus, really, I'm irked because you want to get rid of all my favorite animals.)

Listen up, US of A. This is a warning. I'm watching you.

Think better.

Or else. I mean it.


Zach said...

You might like the following article and the often mind-numbing comments that follow, brother. McMahan ain't got nothin' on Pearce:

Anonymous said...

My google alert caught your response & i was atingle to discover a new blog. If i'd known "That really stupid essay in the Times" was not in quotes for irony, i wouldn't have been so underwhelmed by your boring word choice. Try some subtle gradients in your prose !It sound's like Waynes World, which was satirical mockery of dude jargon in the last century. No idea what you were trying to say about anything but your own choice(?) or default (?) lack of skillz with words. And yes, i used skillz because it's from back in the day when middle school kids called called everything fucking nuts &retarded, dude. ;)
Use a thesaurus! Edit!

Sean Craven said...

Yeah, the decay of scientific education in the US is really kind of a staggering thing. We should turn it into a tourist attraction like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon.

And Anonymous! Been a while, but you're still the same, I see. Good to hear from you, man. The part where I say the writing in the post is going to be awful? And you ignore the substance of what I wrote in favor of criticizing the crappy prose? Classic Anonymous. Stay gold, buddy. Stay gold.

voidmonster said...

Hilariously, I hadn't looked at the comments to your post yet. I went and read the original article and was telling Sharon about it. I characterized it as a frantic grab at retreating relevance.

So I'm quite delighted that anonymous (who just happens to have a google alert for McMahan!) has shown up to accuse you of inadequate zeitgeist huffing.

Poor McMahan, stewing in the weltschmerz!

EFKelley said...

I'm not even sure McMahon believes what he's saying. My bet is it's deliberately ridiculous just to get attention. Even the NY Times will go the way of Fox News eventually.

As for the title, perhaps "The Aforementioned Inane Discourse Presented in The New York Times" would have impressed Anonymous.

But it isn't really concise is it?

I'd go with: "That Stupidity I Read in the Times." To the point. Simple. No room for misinterpretation. And it doesn't look like you're trying too hard.