Saturday, January 13, 2007

selective personification

Let me begin by first talking about 3 logical fallacies. Note that the three are not mutually exclusive.

Ad hominem
An ad hominem argument is basically what is also known as a "personal attack", although the form it takes might often be subtle. The following are examples of ad hominems:
i) Blogger G is only 18 years old. What does she know about the real world? Her views are naive.
ii) Blogger T is a PAP butt-kisser. Don't bother with what he says.
iii) From the arguments he has made, it shows that Blogger K has no heart for the people. We do not need to hear from those like him.

Appeal to emotion
There are many different possible manifestations of this fallacy, but generally this is a fallacy because it instead of relying on what philosophers like to call "valid argumentation", they rely on the manipulation of emotions. Here are some examples of appeal to emotion:
i) Trans fat is not banned by the government because the government values economics more than the health of the citizens. Aren't you disgusted by such money-mindedness of the government?
ii) The government does not allow us to voice alternative opinions because it wants to hold on to power. This only goes to show that the government is inherently selfish and cares not about the people. How can you not be angry at such a government?

Appeal to authority
This fallacy is not unlike the ad hominem. It is something like an inverse version of it. This is a possible example of an appeal to authority:
i) Blogger W is so much more popular and credible than Blogger F. So we should obviously side with Blogger W when he disagrees with Blogger F.

Also, let me say that I am also aware of the fallacy fallacy, which is the idea that just because someone said something which is fallacious, doesn't mean he is wrong about what he says, it just means his reasoning is poor (according to the standards of philosophical reasoning). I am not attempting to assert that any of the views in the examples that I've given is incorrect. Nor am I saying that the standards of the philosophers is what is appropriate for the current blogosphere. And I am also not interested to debate any of the views in the above examples in this post.

It appears to me that such fallacies currently rule in the plogosphere. The purpose of this post is not to criticize, but an attempt to understand why this is so. I first started to think about this when I realized that alot of people have the impression that I am a very young person. How did they get such an impression, and what effects does this impression have?

Although I describe myself as a "young punk" and a "noob blogger" in the sub-header and the "about me" section of this blog, it appears to me that this is not the real reason why people think I'm young, but rather it is the how I blog. Several blog entries of mine have been rather introspective, often questioning and challenging my own perceptions, beliefs and values. It appears that this is something young bloggers do. Old bloggers don't question and challenge themselves. They are confident of their own views, and confident that they can't possibly be mistaken. I also believe in being vocal in my admiration and respect of other bloggers, and generous in my praise. This, it appears, is not something old bloggers do. Only young bloggers show admiration and give praise. Old bloggers are too aloof to do that.

Why do we have such an impression? I actually do not think this phenomenon is unique to the blogosphere. It probably exists in the workplace and other social settings. In our minds, we have already classified people into the lao jiaos or the ginnahs. A "lao jiao" is someone who is "steady", knows what he is doing, knows what he is talking about. He commands respect. A "ginnah" is a newbie, someone who doesn't know what he's talking about, and someone who needs to respect and listen to others in light of his inexperience. A ginnah is considered "out of line" or "not knowing his position" if he disagrees with a lao jiao. Conversely, a lao jiao does not need to be polite or kind to a ginnah, although if he does so he is being generous. This kind of mentality, of course, traces its roots to an Asian mentality of hierarchy and respecting one's elders.

How about the blogosphere? It appears to me that we also subscribe to such a mentality, albeit in a confused manner. (Ironic that bloggers also tend to criticize "the Asian mentality"). Let's take Gayle Goh to be an example. When she takes an anti-establishment stand on some issues, she is heaped with praise and recognition as an excellent prodigy blogger. Yet, when she takes an stand which is less popular, such as criticizing Mr Wang for not accepting the invitation to appear on BlogTV, she is criticized for being naive and that she is too young to understand the real ways of the world. So it appears that you are free from the "ginnah" label so long as you take a popular stand, such as an anti-establishment one.

There is another aspect of the blogosphere which is unique from other social settings. To explain this better, I will invent a new term "personification". This word refers to how much of a person we see when engaging with somebody else in a non-face-to-face medium, such as on the phone, instant messaging, "slow mail", emails, and of course, the blogosphere. (Note that I am not intending the word "personification" to mean anthropomorphism, which is the meaning of the word in literary contexts)

Adopting the use of this new term, we can see that a phone conversation, although more "de-personified" than an actual face-to-face conversation, it is more "personified" than an email or instant messaging correspondence, where we do not even hear the person's voice. I think this helps to explain why some of us behave so differently in real life than on an online medium. I know of people, for example, who feel way too shy (conscious of others) to talk about deep personal issues in real life, but suddenly feel much more open about them over instant messenger (not as conscious of others).

So how about the blogosphere? I suspect we practise what I would call "selective personification". Which is, we personify netiziens to different degrees, depending on how much we agree with their views. If you agree with a certain blogger, you are more likely to personify that blogger more, and more likely to acknowledge the person behind the view by giving praise and voicing our admiration. Yet, if we disagree with the view, we are more likely to depersonify the blogger more, often attacking the blogger in such a way which fails to respect the dignity of the person behind that view (yet still personifying enough to attach the label of "ginnah").

Take a typical plogosphere flame war which starts over two disagreeing views. Now imagine that instead of an online medium, all the involved parties are sitting in a room and the two people voiced their views. Is the same flame war likely to occur in this room where all parties can see each other face-to-face? I think not. Why so? When our opponents are more personified, we feel more obligated to conform within certain informal rules of social behaviour, i.e. being civilized. It is precisely because we fail to see the other netizen as a fellow human being, where we feel it is justified to behave in an manner which is not quite as civilized.

Many of my blog posts are about honest and introspective reflections, where I question and challenge my pre-existing views. I confess such thoughts to blogosphere not because I want to whine, nor because of some cathartic or therapeutic desire to express such internal conflicts I have. Rather, I was thinking perhaps some people might have similar uncertainties I have, and hoping that reading my own confessions would be helpful for them. Also, I want such blog posts to be a reminder to others that behind every articulated view on the blogosphere, is a person with human emotions, weaknesses and frailties. I care very little that as an end result, I appear to me more "ginnah", and people take my views less seriously. My "reputation" and my "credibility" is not so important to me, but it is rather the people who read what I have to say and are able to take something away from it, for whom I blog.


The Uncharted Waters said...

Interesting post.

I think people tends to engage aggressively in online "flame wars" because there is less fear of repercussions (compared to a face-to-face confrontation).

Which reminds me of a thought experiment: "If you have the power of being invisible, what would you do?"

Both leads you to a clearer view of your true moral.

Fearfully Opinionated said...

Yes I believe you are quite right.

"If you can get away with anything in the world, what will you do?"