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Wed, Feb. 7th, 2007, 07:07 pm

Gravity Wells

I've noticed a phenomenon on the 'net. Certain subjects and lines of argument exert a powerful attraction. Discussions that come anywhere near to them are likely to get sucked in, pulled off course from wherever they were originally going.

Censorship is Bad is a big one. When I posted to alt.sex.stories.d about my opinion that there is no substantive distinction between pornography and erotica, the conversation turned rapidly and smoothly, to agreement that Censorship is Bad.

When I posted to writing_sex, asking what members feel the personal moral boundries of writing fiction are, the responses pouired in: censorship is bad, censorship is bad, censorship is bad.*

Discussions of fat politics have their own interesting gravity wells. Discussions of discrimination against fat people have a tendency to turn, very rapidly, into discussions of whether being fat is bad for you. Because discriminating against unhealthy people is obviously a good idea?

A post about the right to autonomy and self-determination in the context of weight can turn, amazingly, to diet tips!

The reason these gravity wells are worth identifying and fighting is that the way we discuss these issues controls how we think about them. I've sharpened and extended my thinking a lot by writing in this journal, and by reading and responding to your comments.** Though substantive and productive discussion can occur inside a gravity well, their tug obfuscates by connecting ideas by proximity rather than actual relevance.

*Not to mention you are a sinister anti-spanking provocateur, but that's off the point.

**Quoth the peanut gallery: "Man, if this is the new, improved version, I shudder to contemplate the 'before' picture."

Thu, Feb. 8th, 2007 01:10 am (UTC)

Thank you both for your thoughtful writing and for making an example of the gentleman commenter in my journal. The latter especially fills me with glee.

Thu, Feb. 8th, 2007 04:56 pm (UTC)

I'd been a little suprised you didn't have a few choice words for him yourself.

At any rate, I'm happy to have done your dirty work for you.

Thu, Feb. 8th, 2007 07:36 pm (UTC)

I tried suggesting that his ideas were nothing unprecedented, and that in fact most people were aware of them. He focused on the means for finding out whether they knew these tricks as something that perhaps people are owed... and I gave up. Instead, I told aleph that the only response I really had was to say the same thing again, more loudly, and I didn't care to do that. She took care of it.

(qijm commented, "Alice comes off as a bit of an asshole in that discussion."

"Well, Alice is a bit of an asshole, so it works out," was my answer. "I mean, what?")

Thu, Feb. 8th, 2007 01:22 am (UTC)

Good golly yes! I saw a big example of this "gravity well" principle recently. People were talking about prostitution, and whether it's dangerous for sex workers.

Some people were saying "Prostitution is morally wrong! Sinners repent!"

And some people were saying "No, prostitution is not morally wrong! Back off, prudeboy!"

It took a long time for someone to say "Hey, we're talking about labor conditions here. If their job were to clean sinks, but everything else about the job remained the same, it would still be a dangerous, oppressive job with a lot of problems."

I was amazed by the insight that you could face the issue and ignore the big gravity well sitting next to it.

Thu, Feb. 8th, 2007 05:05 pm (UTC)

Yeah! I think sexuality issues are particularly rife with these nice safe arguments people fall into having that help one ignore the more challenging ones.

Did you follow the story about the Brazillian group that was working on protecting hookers from HIV? The US had been giving them money, but cut off funds because they weren't doing enough to encourage prostitutes to change jobs. Imagine the same thing happening with a group that was trying to give medical help to, say, sharecroppers!
(Deleted comment)

Thu, Feb. 8th, 2007 05:10 pm (UTC)
vinnie_tesla: Re: So....

To be honest, as a reader & commenter, I'm often one of the people who often replies to a substantial post with an insubstantial comment. It's just a hell of a lot less work.

Even apart from gravity well stuff, I've noticed in my own journal that big, ambitious pieces often get fewer comments than little one-off bits. And I think just the effort levels involved are a big part of why--a larger (both in terms of word count and ideas) post is a lot of work to assimilate and comment on; responding to a quip with a quip is often more pleasant.

It's also worth noting that someone failing to comment doesn't necessarily mean they didn't understand or agree. It just means they didn't have anything they wanted to add to the discussion.

Tue, Feb. 20th, 2007 06:38 pm (UTC)

Nice icon, by the way. Raar!

Thu, Feb. 8th, 2007 10:38 am (UTC)

I was going to comment, but I friended you and made a very long post instead. Hope you don't mind.

Thu, Feb. 8th, 2007 05:13 pm (UTC)

I'm delighted, albeit a little intimidated by your lineup of name-checks.

I like it enough that I'd love there to be an unlocked version (as a comment here or a journal entry as your prefer) so other readers of this journal can have a look at it.

Thu, Feb. 8th, 2007 05:43 pm (UTC)

I guess I could break my rule of only making public posts idly bashing Stephen King movies just this once. :P

Thu, Feb. 8th, 2007 11:46 am (UTC)

I wonder if it happens because people feel such a strong need to make it clear what side of the fence they're sitting on and to justify their reasons for doing so. With hot topics such as those there's often two very clear camps and in their rush to pitch their tent in the 'right' one people don't bother to look much past the issues that scream out for attention and so over-look the finer points.

Just a thought :/

Thu, Feb. 8th, 2007 05:29 pm (UTC)

That can be a factor, but it doesn't have to be a live debate to produce the effect. For the ASSD and writing_sex examples above, both are communities with very uniform views on censorship. More likely, what's going on there is the warm fuzzy feeling of consensus. People like agreeing on things. Bringing up something where you know your homies got your back (sorry, tlcbird) feels safe and reassuring.

Thu, Feb. 8th, 2007 10:10 pm (UTC)

I wanna know where all the people are who'd rather have a passionate, gets you juices pumping debate, than settle for a warm fuzzy feeling. :P

Tue, Feb. 20th, 2007 06:35 pm (UTC)

Well, to be fair, even to have a good debate, it helps to have a big base of common premises. For example, I'll generally have more fun discussing taxation with a Libertarian, with whom I see eye-to-eye about a lot of stuff, than with a member of the Religious Right.

I have a funky relationship with the monkey-grooming aspects of internet discussion. On alt.sex.stories.d, when someone's birthday comes around, there'll be an announcement, and then a couple dozen people will post saying "Happy Birthday!" Then, if the birthday boy is someone culturally at-home there, he'll reply to each post, saying "Thanks!"

In someone's living room, this would all strike me as perfectly normal and reasonable, but I could never really get over it bugging me on Usenet.

I'm still very much negotiating my way between those responses here on LJ. I tend to keep the social ritual out of my posts themselves, but I've been making an effort to loosen up about it in comments.

Wed, Feb. 28th, 2007 05:16 am (UTC)
tlcbird: I've been gone a long time and I'm off-topic. But hey.

"People like agreeing on things. Bringing up something where you know your homies got your back (sorry, jersey_buttafly) feels safe and reassuring."

Here I am, sipping the last of my tea, scrolling thru and catching up on your elljay entries since I've not been around, and lo and behold. No *wonder* my ears were ringing lo, those three weeks ago.


Weird that I should see this today, actually. I had a meltdown after work tonight (internalized racial identity invisibility linguistics stuff fizzing my wires again...I actually exclaimed KILL THE WHITE PEOPLE at one point in a desperate search for humor, such as it was) and I came home and proceeded to write what may well be a SONG. It was one of those "if I don't find a positive outlet for this I'm gonna torch something/someone, eat my cats, strap my dogs to a sled and head north" kind of moments. Not sure if that's a good environment for song-writing, per se, but a) I guess we'll find out and b) it sure beats the alternative. O.o



Sat, Apr. 18th, 2009 06:00 pm (UTC)

Your footnotes are making me laugh again. Thought you ought to know.

(If you receive email notifications of comments on your entries, and end up looking at the notifications of my comments in reverse chronological order, I can only imagine the bizarre narrative that will result...)