Thursday, April 24, 2014

Drew Levin and Social Issues: A Letter to a Friend


I consider you a friend regardless of our disagreement on certain issues.  That's true now, and something unexpected would have to happen going forward for it to change.

My question is this: What would you do if your friends, who shared your approximate social values in the core-belief sense but had a very different way of expressing it, kept engaging in circle-jerk, echo-chamber type discussions where critical thinking took a backseat to getting applause and pats on the back?  If you'd call them out for it, then you're like me.

Now, from the friends' perspective - from inside the echo chamber - it would appear that someone interjecting was just being "disruptive" or "trolling", or worse yet, evidencing hidden beliefs in line with the "other side" conservative viewpoint.  See, for example:
"Drew Levin ‏@drewlevin [to me] @mtg_law_etc ... you are literally the biggest concern troll I've ever encountered."  
"Drew Levin ‏@drewlevin [to me] @mtg_law_etc You derail every conversation about [social justice] you participate in, claim liberal social views yet bat for the other side CONSTANTLY."  
Well, of course it looks disruptive, it's intended to disrupt.  When you, Drew, and others are doing things like attacking a straw-man argument or otherwise serving your like-minded audience at the expense of the persuasive arguments, then, upon being called out, falling back on "well, I wasn't intending to persuade anyone, just to offer support to those who are oppressed/struggling", you are engaging in a pattern of discourse that SHOULD be disrupted every time people try to pass it off as persuasive writing or discourse.  Being supportive is fine, but I constantly see an attacked persuasive piece being defended as "mere support for the victim(s)" when the arguments are scrutinized, in an attempt to shield the piece from criticism and critical analysis.

At the end of the day, bad arguments are written in sand.  Solid arguments are written in stone.  If you care about social issues, that should matter to you.

An example of an argument I've made (pulling pretty randomly, I just happened to make this one this morning) is "To depict is not to endorse."  How could they show violent rape on [TV Show X] or ambiguity about racial issues in [Movie Y]? Well, depicting events with either realism or exaggerated realism is one of the artist-as-social-commentator's most powerful tools. Victims of crime or people in other sensitive circumstances have to be the ones applying filters to content if they aren't ready to view certain material.  The only alternative to that (since we all agree expression should be legal - 1st amendment disclaimer, we aren't talking about that) is authors censoring themselves in anticipation of various sensitive groups of viewers, and nearly all interesting and forward thinking content will give a careful author pause. There are all kinds of viewers, sensitive to all kinds of content, it might not even be possible to filter at the author level for things that may trigger something in a particular audience member, wherever they may be.  Even if an author can filter, say, depictions of rape, the overall landscape of awareness of and discussion of rape will suffer.  It's too large a price to pay.

I rehash that argument here in an attempt to show, with a concrete example, that I do practice what I preach.  I get called a troll all the time by those on both sides of social issues who don't want to have to actually defend what they're saying, but where in the above paragraph do you find the name-calling, assertion of claims I don't honestly believe have value, or hiding the ball/distraction that is actually the work of trolls?  That's the great thing about an argument like the one above.  Now that I've written it, it stands alone, and nothing that can be said about me will take away its force when a rational person reads it.  I hope my friends, regardless of how they feel about offensive content, will point out whether they think the argument is persuasive or unpersuasive, and I hope they cite opposing viewpoints in doing so, even if they don't hold those viewpoints themselves.

Drew, join us as we write our arguments in stone and hope the next generation will find them.

Matt Sperling


  1. The issue is that there are people like Drew who are uncomfortable with the status quo, but not sure how to do anything about it due to social pressures against calling people out on damaging language. Drew isn't trying to directly persuade those who are using the damaging language because he knows they won't listen to him in the medium he's using because it's much easier not to. Instead, he's trying to reach people who are sympathetic to encourage them to act against said social pressures. He's not trying to persuade because his target audience at the time doesn't need persuasion, they need support in bothering to speak up.

    This isn't to say that trying to make solid arguments to persuade people is wrong, it just wasn't Drew's agenda at the time. I don't see the purpose of attacking the separate and useful task that Drew was pursuing by saying that it isn't the other task that you want people to do.

    1. If you don't present a compelling argument that how people are acting is wrong, you just state it's wrong, it hardens and preserves the status quo, it doesn't challenge it. Those on your side will nod along, those opposed will not find anything rigorous or persuasive, and thus will be emboldened. Both sides engaging in this behaviour is what sets off spirals of confirmation and a large gulf between the sides without rational discourse across the gap. So though support is a noble goal, I think the consequences are more important.

    2. >If you don't present a compelling argument that how people are acting is wrong, you just state it's wrong
      Does it really need to be explained why sexism, heteronormativity, and racism is wrong? The perpetrators of damaging discourse could care less about the consequences of the discourse they participate in. The consequences are obvious.

      The point is that we have to roll back the desensitization that has occurred in our community. Some players who would never use this kind of language or behavior ignore signs of someone being harassed and go about their day. Support isn't just a "noble goal," it's an important mechanism to make more people feel welcome in our community. We have to support the people who have been harmed and oppose the perpetrators of these kind of damaging acts.

    3. Camden... You, me, Drew, we'd all like to arrive at a place where people are treated way better than they are now. I just ask that you think carefully about whether the "tribal" approach of "oppose the perpetrators", which translates on the internet as personally and un-carefully attack them, is the right approach. The good arguments tend to have longer lasting effects than the other types of "opposition" in my experience and as I read history. That's all I'm saying.

      It's dangerously easy to justify counterproductive behavior by saying it's counteracting some other negative behavior or force. That things have gotten so bad fire must be fought with fire. That's what I'd caution about "The point is that we have to roll back the desensitization that has occurred in our community[, and therefore providing support in the form of name calling and related nonsense to perpetrators should be a valid approach]."

    4. I don't think that the tribal approach, as you put it, is a very good idea. What "support" should mean is being inviting to all people who want to pick up our game. I have personally experienced where people are attacked for just being different and nobody even bothered to support them. That is the other extreme-no accountability for those who are vicious in our community.

      It is as easy to justify counterproductive behavior as it is to complacently accept vicious behavior. Many are so fed up with the behaviors of some players that they lash out. That is a human response to vicious activity. I would preach moderation but assertive rejection of that sort of behavior. What I said in my other comment does not imply what you added on to my statement. Becoming sensitive to how those players are feeling does not mean LASHING OUT in response. It means feeling something and being cognizant of the potential for productive change.

      What are the arguments that stand in stone? That's the main question I pose here. If people were taking notice to the arguments that stood in stone then there wouldn't be these pervasive issues. How do we pose those arguments and make them? What is the rhetoric that is successful in convincing people to check their behavior?

  2. Your assumption in this case, Matt, is that the best way to raise the average level of behavior in the community of {those who attend Magic Events} is to educate and reform those who behave badly. What many (including myself, and maybe Drew) believe is that the best way is to make it clear that such actions are unacceptable, try as hard as possible to build a community totally separate from those who act in such a manner, and require them to reform themselves if they wish to rejoin the community. I don't want to spend a half hour debating Troll X at FNM over why calling someone a faggot or slut is bad, I want the store owner to tell him he is unwelcome to play there until he cleans up his behavior. This happens when the community finds the strength to collectively demand better behavior.

    1. Just for clarity, this post wasn't made in connection with Drew's tweets about the behavior of magic players at magic events. In fact, I made zero comments about that topic, this is a bit more general. And further for the record, I don't have a problem with shop owners enforcing policies around how players treat each other or what language they use. I think we're drifting a bit off topic as what Drew has been tweeting about a lot recently is bleeding in.

  3. I have enjoyed following Drew Levin and his internet persona through different social media outlets, mostly because he fascinates me. I am just going to state some opinion I have developed about Drew Levin based on observations I have made over the years.

    -Drew Levin is an internet bully. He just is, but a very unique one. He berates and belittles people that disagree with him often instead of just going after their arguments and being more civil and dynamic, or when he does go after their argument he also insults them. It is extremely off-putting and makes it hard to take him seriously. What makes him unique is that Drew is usually correct in my opinion at the very core, he just arrives at his conclusion in the most convoluted way possible.

    -In counter, it is obvious that Drew is very intelligent and has a caring, well intended sociopolitical viewpoint. Sometimes you just have to see it through all the garbage he spouts at times.

    - Drew comes across as the type of person who is prejudice against racists and thinks that is a fine way to go about it. He also manifests the high horse personality as I think his opinions on crack gate and Colbert made evident. It isn’t that I think his opinion on those topics are wrong, but as Matt points out, he isn’t compelling in the right kind of way where anyone would ever want to actually listen to him.

    - Drew also presents a very matter of fact attitude. I am afraid to get involved in discussions with him because if I have a differing viewpoint I will just be lambasted as a racist/sexist/republican/scumbag etc..

    1. "prejudice against racists"

      who gives a shit? lol.

    2. It is perfectly valid emotionally to be prejudicial towards racist since we all view and know racism to be immoral. The problem IMO, is that if your ideals are based in social justice and not some political gain, then being proactively hateful toward another group that is hateful isn't going to resolve anything.

      You don't bully the bullies to get them to stop bullying.