A Persian Cafe, Edward Lord Weeks

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Trolling Should Be Equal-Offender

A couple of weeks ago, Vox.com released an article entitled "Pokémon Go is everything that is wrong with late capitalism". The article argued that Pokémon Go will lead to greater inequality of income and wealth, even if in terms of people's quality of life it is a significant boost to many people and especially those on low incomes. The solution to this, the article continued was looser housing policy, demand management, and perhaps increased redistribution of income. The article took a fair bit of criticism at the time, including this by Rob Wiblin. At the risk of flogging a dead horse, I'm going to add my own criticism of the piece.

Let's be clear: the article is highly tongue-in-cheek. The title alone should be enough to make it clear that they are comically exaggerating the importance of and the scale of their opposition to the Pokémon game. Indeed, I think that for this reason they can shrug off some of the other criticisms. My question is: why, if this is a light-spirited article, is its conclusion identical to those of Vox's serious pieces?

When you start a political argument with an absurdity, there should be no inherent tendency to reach any particular conclusion. (Perhaps there will be a greater tendency towards extreme conclusions, but that doesn't help Vox given that they're arguing for standard centre-left positions). If you consistently reach the same end-point regardless of your premises, then the suspicion has to be that you are starting with your political preferences and then working backwards to see how they might be justified by any particular set of circumstances. What you are showing when you argue, then, is not the strength of your political position but rather your ability to make arguments sound plausible.

This has a knock-on effect for your more serious arguments, too. If I know you can convince me that anything at all is evidence for X, regardless of whether it actually is, then I should not take your arguments for X as strong evidence for its truth - if I take them as evidence at all. Moving from the meta-level to the concrete, if Vox will argue convincingly that Pokémon Go is evidence for why we need to be more left-wing, then they will do that in any situation - and hence should not be trusted in any situation.

There's actually a real lesson to be learned here, which is that if you want to make both serious and joking arguments about the same topic, and you want your serious arguments to be taken in a serious manner, the conclusions of your joking arguments (and ideally your serious arguments too) should not always be for the same conclusion. If you're going to argue that libertarians should be taxed less than leftists, you should also talk about how the UK should invade other countries and take their wealth. If you're going to talk about how Trump should be assassinated, you should also argue that women should face longer prison sentences than men for the same crime.

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