Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 07:41 on 25-03-2014, Janne Kirjasniemi
@Robinson
However, I also find it kind of baffling, because it sets up a premise - which the author seems to concur with - that snarkiness is always critical and negative.

I think the writer deliberately does this to defend even the more negative ways of doing criticism just to make a point that the false and naive positivity is still more damaging to a discussion than that. I did not get the feeling that he was defending trolling or anything like that, merely the attempt to stifle discussion by dismissing everything that is not nice and shiny.

The article does proceed by way of opposites though, which reflects the way these sorts of discussions often seem to come about. Snarkiness in nature is more what y'all are describing, an authentically positive, fun inspiring phenomenon.
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at 02:10 on 25-03-2014, James D
@Dan H
I think basically it only makes sense if you assume the target audience is somebody who agrees strongly with the opening sentence and has never considered the reply, so your thought process is supposed to go something like: "Hell yeah undifferentiated XKCD character, I strongly self-define as having an insatiable lust for answers! But holy shit, my self-definition as an insatiable lust for answer having individual is rocked to its very core by your revelation that sleep is mysterious and poorly understood when I, as a person who self-defines as having an insatiable lust for knowledge, have hitherto taken it for granted!"

Yeah, that makes sense I guess, but it presupposes a very specific pair of responses from the readership. In my case I only sort of agree with the first character's premise, but thought the second character's response was common knowledge. Nobody fully understands why gravity works the way it does either - touche?
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at 00:55 on 25-03-2014, Daniel F
But I tend to be at my most (and to my mind, best) snarky when I'm talking about something I'm at least somewhat positive about, but feel compelled to take a few pokes at nonetheless - in other words, not so much being outright critical as taking the piss.


That's my experience as well. I am most able to write about or critique something if 1) it is something I have a genuine affection for and 2) it's nonetheless something that frequently irritates me. There's this odd sweet spot. If I like it too much, I can't think of enough to analyse, or I'm afraid to analyse it because it might taint my enjoyment. If I don't like it enough, on the other hand, I'm just not interested enough to stick with it. If I don't on some level like to think about it... well, as you say, I default to vitriol. That's not pleasant reading.

I did really like the smarm article, though I suspect it is tilting at a straw-man. That's not to say smarm doesn't exist or isn't bad; but it seems to me that when people criticise snark, they're not opposed to meaningful critique. 'Snark' in the sense that I think it's being criticised is a sort of cynical detachment, an attitude that only cares enough to make a pointed observation or a devastating, attacking comment. But it doesn't care enough to provide any real criticism.

So I'd like to think there's a middle ground there. My thought is that smarm and snark are both, essentially, forms of apathy. They're both saying "I don't care enough about your work to engage with it": it's just that one is superficially nice and the other is superficially nasty.
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at 22:30 on 24-03-2014, Robinson L
I dunno, the comic Arthur linked was just incomprehensible, but that earlier one you linked just seems to be saying "dreams are weird, yo" in a moderately amusing way.


I've also started reading that snark vs. smarm article Janne linked - which is neat, but loooong.

However, I also find it kind of baffling, because it sets up a premise - which the author seems to concur with - that snarkiness is always critical and negative.

Certainly, I've seen people (present company included) utilize snark to devastating critical effect, and have often utilized it myself for critical purposes. But I tend to be at my most (and to my mind, best) snarky when I'm talking about something I'm at least somewhat positive about, but feel compelled to take a few pokes at nonetheless - in other words, not so much being outright critical as taking the piss.

Generally, when I'm really offended/annoyed/or bored by something, I don't make too many jokes about it (though I do make some), I'm more prone to just spewing vitriol.
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at 20:39 on 24-03-2014, Dan H
I think basically it only makes sense if you assume the target audience is somebody who agrees strongly with the opening sentence and has never considered the reply, so your thought process is supposed to go something like: "Hell yeah undifferentiated XKCD character, I strongly self-define as having an insatiable lust for answers! But holy shit, my self-definition as an insatiable lust for answer having individual is rocked to its very core by your revelation that sleep is mysterious and poorly understood when I, as a person who self-defines as having an insatiable lust for knowledge, have hitherto taken it for granted!"

See also this much earlier comic on the subject of dreams.
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at 14:06 on 23-03-2014, Arthur B
Yeah, it's like he did the rest of the comic and the alt-text after forgetting what the setup line was.
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at 00:54 on 23-03-2014, James D
Fuck, the third paragraph of the Wikipedia article on sleep goes "The purposes and mechanisms of sleep are only partially clear and the subject of substantial ongoing research." I dunno about you guys, but "substantial ongoing research" is a pretty glaring symptom of curiosity and a hunger for answers.

I don't know if you read the alt text, but Randall even acknowledges that point himself. Some dude has spent 50 years researching sleep without coming up with any real conclusive answers...so doesn't that kind of prove the first guy's point about humanity? Why is the "we all sleep and don't know why" a touche?? Really I find this comic more mystifying than anything else. It's like Randall realized he didn't really have a point and made the comic deliberately ambiguous to hide that fact.
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at 23:18 on 22-03-2014, Dan H
XKCD gripe squad: ACTIVATE!


Oh dear, that really was annoying.

It wasn't even trite, because being trite implies saying something a least vaguely coherent. This is just a meaningless statement followed by a complete non sequitur.

But just to prove I don't hate all XKCD on principal, I will add that I quite liked this one possibly because it is a rare example of the "trite rebuttal to common observation" comics that actually manages to be halfway insightful.
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at 22:04 on 22-03-2014, Arthur B permalink
at 20:18 on 21-03-2014, Janne Kirjasniemi
Well, that's as good an opportunity as any to link this article against that whole "criticism and snark is bad and done by envious people" thing that is plaguing the culture of our times. It also provides some shots at Dave Eggers, so there's a tangent to a recent article here as well!
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at 20:03 on 21-03-2014, Arthur B
Elsewhere in webcomics: Zen Pencils does a four part comic (1, 2, 3, 4) which lazily presents all criticism as lazy drive-by trolling and concludes (in the news section of the final comic) by outright declaring criticism to be The Enemy whilst making all sorts of statements about art which a whole lot of artists would dispute. (For instance, they seem to implicitly assume that the point of art is to create "something new and hopeful in an increasingly dark and depressing world", which seems to imply that pessimistic and cynical art isn't art.)

Chainsawsuit shoots it down with a single comic.
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at 19:35 on 21-03-2014, Janne Kirjasniemi
And doesn't the slapping down itself rather prove the trite point? By asking a question about a vital thing that humans need, but don't know why, it affirms that questions are a definitive human or perhaps sentient attribute. Because it is the need to understand, rather than success in it which is proposed originally. Or then it's just a non sequitur, which the other one just accepts for reasons unknown.
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at 19:26 on 21-03-2014, Arthur B
XKCD gripe squad: ACTIVATE!

The thing which bugs me about this comic is that, if I'm reading it right (and it's sufficiently oblique that I admit that this is not necessarily the case), Randall thinks he's slapping down the trite "humans are driven by our need to understand shit" line by pointing out that we don't understand sleep - as though any genuinely curious person who applied themselves to the problem would solve it as a matter of course.

This completely glosses over the fact that a) there are people who actually do make a whole damn profession out of studying sleep and b) even people who don't often find dreams fascinating and would probably love to know why it is that we sleep in the first place.

Fuck, the third paragraph of the Wikipedia article on sleep goes "The purposes and mechanisms of sleep are only partially clear and the subject of substantial ongoing research." I dunno about you guys, but "substantial ongoing research" is a pretty glaring symptom of curiosity and a hunger for answers.

The other way I can read the comic is that it's a slam on coming up with trite commonalities between human beings in order to "define" us, but even then "we all sleep" isn't any sensible definition of humanity because it's a trait we share with all sorts of other creatures, whereas philosophical inquiry is not something we have yet observed outside of humanity.

Honestly, Diogenes pulled off this joke better when he showed Plato that plucked chicken.
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at 10:32 on 19-03-2014, Arthur B
Finally! I'm glad to see people are waking up to the threat of free retro-clone RPGs.
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at 21:32 on 15-03-2014, Kit
Aaaand I'm off to have nightmares about the first one. Kthxbye.
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at 16:47 on 15-03-2014, Arthur B
The guys behind Don't Hug Me I'm Scared have made another one and it's great.
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at 00:25 on 15-03-2014, Daniel F
I'm not very familiar with it, but do tell us more!


It's been a few years, but as I recall it really just boils down to 'the scientists and the philosophers are finally talking to each other'. The stereotype would be that the psychologists would all be off in their own rooms saying, 'Look, we're learning, we're making scientific progress, soon moral philosophy will be obsolete!', and the ethicists would be off in their rooms saying, 'Nah, they're just doing descriptive stuff, they can't have anything to contribute to us'.

(The former line is part of what made Harris' The Moral Landscape so infuriating, incidentally. Awful little book.)

Fortunately, over the last decade or so the gap seems to have been narrowing. Richard Joyce wrote a small paper on it a few years back. Shaun Nichols has written in response as well. Jonathan Haidt has jumped on the science bus as well, though in my opinion a bit more tenuously. There's a reasonable overview of the whole thing here.

I personally am very nervous of the triumphalism that I see in some of this literature - with the help of science we will finally solve this morality issue once and for all! - but there's definitely interesting work being done. It is an exciting time to be working in meta-ethics.
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at 23:05 on 14-03-2014, Kit
Nah, we're all metamodern now :) (or have never been modern in the first place, if you follow Bruno Latour)*

@Tamara: it's really strange, because, at least here in France, there are just tons of intersections between Marxism and those schools of thought that have been labeled, rightfully or not, postmodern/poststructuralist/French theory/deconstructionist (Badiou, Derrida, Deleuze and Guattari, and so many others). I don't even know if it would occur to most people to see them as fundamentally incompatible - maybe also because it was such a fundamental component of the French philosophical landscape and education that fostered that particular generation of thinkers.

*or, according to Haraway, for example, postmodernity - defined as a historical era - is what happened around after WWII and climaxed in the 80s and 90s, and which we now should try to overcome already.
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at 22:00 on 14-03-2014, Michal
When I took my historiography class in grad school, I learned we've already entered post-post-modernist era. It's like post-cyberpunk, only more confusing.
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at 19:54 on 14-03-2014, Tamara
I feel like post-modernism is just woefully unknown to me. I was kind of in a Marxist cult for a while and I study geography now, which also tends towards Marxism a little (there's some history i've mostly forgotten about sociology and economics and more obvious places where academia gets political stamping it out and it toodling on quietly through in geography instead. Plus, it's harder to be blithely un-materialist in geography) so I have it coded pretty hard in my head that postmodernism is essentially the root of all evil, but I don't even know how to approach doing more objective research.
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at 16:55 on 14-03-2014, Arthur B
Not that scientist don't step out with less than convincing results.

Richard Dawkins is a living example of this.
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at 16:53 on 14-03-2014, Kit
But happily you do learn to fake it better. :D

I hope I will! For now, I feel like studying has consistently, with each class and seminar and book and paper, widened the scope of everything I do not yet know (that's a good thing, I guess, if quite dauting at times). Study they said, you'll learn things they said, write a thesis and feel accomplished they said...
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at 16:12 on 14-03-2014, Janne Kirjasniemi
The point of the Sokal Hoax wasn't to embarrass the peer review process, it was specifically to see if the editors of Social Affairs would bother to ask probing questions of the paper in the absence of a peer review process.

Ah. Point taken. It does limit the Sokal affair's applicability somewhat, as you point out, but the phenomenon he criticized is surely an issue all the same.

Not that scientist don't step out with less than convincing results. Sam Harris's attempt at claiming that science can actually solve the issue of the naturalistic fallacy in The Moral Landscape comes to mind, which did receive its fair share of criticism on its handling of that particular ethical fly-trap. Or lack of handling, I suppose, I haven't actually read the book.
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