Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Ideology makes you confuse the literal and the metaphorical--a bit about the 4th Street Kerfuffle

This year's 4th Street Fantasy Convention was generally fine, but Steve Brust's initial comments were badly misunderstood. His text is here: My opening remarks at Fourth Street Fantasy Convention 

Ideally, you will read that before continuing so my comments won't color your interpretation of what's there.

I'm writing this post because I said something in the discussion on Facebook that I regret, but though I said it snarkily, it seems to be true:
I see several people here are not familiar with a literary device called the metaphor. Perhaps metaphors should be the subject of a Fourth Street Panel next year.

Out of curiosity, why would anyone think Steve would want to turn a literary convention into a place where people are physically threatened?
The people who're upset by Steve's talk are unable to see that his opening lines are metaphorical:
Fourth Street Fantasy Convention is not a safe space. On the contrary, it is a very unsafe space.
And they're unable to see that his third line is literal:
Of course, it ought to be safe in the sense of everyone feeling physically safe, and in the sense that there should be no unwanted harassment, and it should be free of personal attacks of any kind.
If you think about his statement logically, there's no reason to interpret the first two lines as saying he wants 4th Street to be a place that's physically unsafe, and there's every reason to think his third line means exactly what it says.

But humans aren't logical. To people who think of safe spaces as sacred spaces, any questioning of the idea is taboo.

At least one of Steve's critics insists they do understand metaphor. But if that's true, why are they upset?

The answer: Ideology affects our ability to interpret text. Someone first pointed this out to me with Christian sects: they often disagree over what's literal and what's metaphorical, so some Christians think they should be able to handle vipers and some do not.

Secular cults also struggle with what's literal and what's metaphorical. Though Strong Whorfianism has been discounted, they police words fiercely, sometimes to the extent that they treat words as deeds. Cognitive dissonance keeps them from recognizing the inconsistencies in their understanding. When the possibility that an article of faith might be doubted arises--like the idea that a "safe space" may have both good points and bad--they react with anger, then comfort themselves with platitudes.

And so they confirm that Steve's fears are justified. Safe spaces only allow for safe ideas.

ETA: Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces on College Campuses Can Silence Religious Students - The Atlantic:
Trigger warnings and safe spaces are terms that reflect the values of the communities in which they’re used. ... These advocates routinely use the word “ally” to describe those who support their positions on race, gender, and religion, implying that anyone who disagrees is an “enemy.”
How Trigger Warnings Are Hurting Mental Health on Campus - The Atlantic:
...trigger warnings are sometimes demanded for a long list of ideas and attitudes that some students find politically offensive, in the name of preventing other students from being harmed. This is an example of what psychologists call “motivated reasoning”—we spontaneously generate arguments for conclusions we want to support. Once you find something hateful, it is easy to argue that exposure to the hateful thing could traumatize some other people. You believe that you know how others will react, and that their reaction could be devastating. Preventing that devastation becomes a moral obligation for the whole community. Books for which students have called publicly for trigger warnings within the past couple of years include Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (at Rutgers, for “suicidal inclinations”) and Ovid’s Metamorphoses (at Columbia, for sexual assault).
Trigger warnings: more harm than good? - Telegraph

Three essential points about trigger warnings, Neil Gaiman, and Kameron Hurley; or Trigger warning: Shetterly

Part 2: Yes, some people literally did not understand that Steve Brust was speaking metaphorically