Saturday, April 4, 2015

Speaking Out About Problems: Brave Heroes and Problem Solvers

Wow, it's been a while, hasn't it? Time to make some people angry!
The following material is flagged Red Level. It deals with the blogger's original ideas, personal beliefs, and delusions; and might not be believed by any expert in any field anywhere.
Disclaimer: I am not claiming that anyone does this intentionally or consciously. This is primarily a sarcastic response to the "children starving in Africa" argument, and partly an attempted explanation of why it's always children starving in Africa instead of someone starving nearby.

Suppose you are asked to speak about one problem somewhere in the world. What criteria should you use to choose the problem?

Well, that depends on whether you want to be a Brave Hero or a Problem Solver.

A Brave Hero is someone who is speaking about a problem mostly to be seen caring about it. You might be a Brave Hero because your PR agent told you that a show of compassion would help your image, or because you recently said something insensitive and intend to make up for it with a display of sensitivity, or because you want a talking point to bring up to get someone else to be quiet or otherwise do what you want.

If you are a Brave Hero, you want to pick your problem based on these criteria:

  1. It Has To Be Bad. You should go with the worst problem you can find. Pick the thing you know about that causes the most suffering, and plays on empathy the most. You should find something that has Good Victims: civilians, children, innocents, and so on. You're giving the speech to show how compassionate you are; the worse the problem, the better for you.
  2. It Has To Be Uncontroversial. You're giving the speech to make yourself popular, not to make yourself unpopular. This ties in with the point above; the worse your problem, the fewer people there are who will risk being seen calling it "not bad". As much of your audience as possible should agree that the problem is one that needs to be solved.
  3. It Has To Be Difficult. You want a problem with no obvious solution, or at least no obvious solution on your part. If you must mention a solution, go with something you are already doing. If there is an obvious solution, come up with a reason, no matter how poorly-thought-out it is, why it won't work. This is to minimize the chance that you might be asked to actually do something.
  4. It Should Be Well-Known. This isn't quite as important as the other criteria. You can spend some time explaining the problem, for those who don't know about it, but your goal is to show yourself as one of your audience. Mentioning problems that they aren't likely to know about both introduces a distinction between you and your audience, and requires you to spend time explaining both what the problem is and why it is a problem.
On the other hand, a Problem Solver is speaking about a problem in an attempt to solve it. If you are a Problem Solver, you care about the problem or your chosen cause. The problem you pick might not be the worst one you want to solve, or the most severe manifestation of what your cause opposes, but it is one you care about and want to fix.

If you are a Problem Solver, you should use these criteria:
  1. It Has To Be Solvable Or Reducible. If it doesn't have a solution, you're just wasting time. If the solution is one that your audience can't act on, you're wasting time. Pick something that your audience could, if they chose to, contribute to fixing. If possible, present alternatives or solutions.
  2. It Should Be Controversial. If your audience already considers your problem a problem, all you can do is suggest solutions. If your audience already knows about your solution, you're wasting time.
  3. It Should Be Obscure. The only thing a speech can do toward solving a problem (other than "I can use my speaking fees for something" or "the problem is that we don't have a speaker") is raise awareness of the problem or a solution. If all information about the problem and its solutions is publicly known, speaking about it is a waste of time.

(Alternate titles for this post include "Why Games? In Defense of Sarkesian" and "We Get It, Harris. You Don't Like Islamic Misogyny".)

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