Violence, Media & Arms

As indicated in the initial post of 2013, I’m hoping to spend some time addressing a question posed to me by a colleague following the Shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut, on December 14, 2012. The specific question, “what responsibility do game designers and entertainment companies have in the fetishization of and desensitization to first-person shooter experiences?” (KL, 12/2012), is directed specifically to a particular kind of video game interface. It was followed by another inquiry, to quote, “What is the balance between exploring these ideas and the road to censorship?”(ibid), tying this rather narrow initial question to a much larger discourse on censorship.

I really have nothing to say about the development of first person shooter games in particular. They are quick to produce and have mass appeal. That said, there may be something too the idea that the manner of play is to gaming what texting is to writing. In these games matches are very short and repetitive. Repetitive behavior, or “habit” is central to the whole notion of the “subject” explored by Hume and today by Deleuze’s students. Zizek asks us, in “Living in the End Times” I believe, to consider if it is possible that one views one’s “virtual self(s)” as more “authentic” or more “honest” to our “true self” than our vital/physical existence.

This past semester, when discussing this notion the students seemed a little troubled, some rather horrified. They know these games rather well, some have make or seek to use their skills to design these games. Others play them or have friends who are enthusiasts. They were all reflecting on the mutability of our own subjectivity. Formulating dangers that boiled down to a concern that, if we remain passive in the development of our own “world view”, we risk abdicating any claim to autonomy. That is, if we are passive, “we do not make media, the media makes us”. [[One of the central questions that my Philosophy of Media course returns to is this, “do we make the media or does the media make us?” this is with a nod to a Heideggerian notion: “It is not we who speak language, but language which speaks us”.]]

So there is an issue of repetitive behavior in the constitution of what we as subjects “are” so to speak. Indeed it is this idea of ‘repetition’ or ‘habit’ which is central to a whole (Hellenic) notion of what it means to be an autonomous subject, it is tied, not just by Deleuze but by late Foucault as well, to what it might mean to practice an “ethics”, a “discipline of the self”. In short, for Foucault, if we do not cultivate our own discipline(s) of the self than we more than likely will be subjects to the disciplines of the institutional regimes which constitute our lives (work, school, public, private, etc.) For my own part, I certainly take something from all of this, but it is not the totality of ‘ethics’.

There is nothing particular to video games in any of these notions, nor is it anything like a “sociology of media”. Fully consistent with the logic of the NRA, “how may people with a crap-ton of violent media are law abiding, hard working, normal people”. What I find particularly interesting are the discourses that emerge after the horrific incident and the formula of media presentation. I’ve reduced these discourses to media, arms and violence. There is another discourse of mental and emotional health in the US, but that seems to be tied principally to the, “guns are too easy to get your hands on in the US” argument.

The first two, media and arms, were our villains, depending on the ‘camp’. So broadly speaking, the NRA blamed ‘violence in our culture’ (i.e., movies, TV, and Video Games). While everyone else (esp. the “media”) blamed easy access to Assault Rifles (citing over and over after market gun show sales which proceed sans background check). However, both sides condemned the act for its violence. I think this is dishonest, however, serves as the condition to open up the discourses on assigning sources of violence in the world. That is, we have settled on “violence=bad”. On this point I am close to Zizek, that is, “what do we mean by violence”. For Zizek, violence is something like a ‘disruption in the normal functioning of things’.


So with Zizek, I want to hold off on a categorical illegitimacy of violence. But I also want to ask, why is it legitimate to blame a real act of horror on ‘fictions’? If we can blame among other things, cartoons, for actual tragedy, aren’t we already admitting that the distinction between fiction and ‘the real’ is not mutually exclusive. That is what is counted as ‘real’, like ‘violence’, is a question not an axiom or an answer.

Happy New Year

If anyone is reading this blog you know it has been dead for the past year and has had at least one massive design and content change. With a new year I’m aiming to breath new life into this site. It is after all my “digital home”, where I present myself and my work to the public. That will all be here and hopefully something of a new project I am developing might manifest as well.

Sometimes however the blog might take a more “journalistic” tone. I may post comments on “current” happenstance, local national or international news, scientific developments, or peculiar novelties. At times these may appear partisan, especially when addressing “political” happenstance.

I am fascinated with public conceptions of philosophy, and as a professional philosopher I might have something to say about it. I will return to the figure of the philosopher, what I think philosophy is, what it does and what it isn’t fairly regularly.

Finally, as a college instructor I encounter brilliant and creative students daily. Sometimes I may reply to them, or address questions that originate from them. They can be absolutely brilliant, and in a way they are the reason for this site.

I hope you’ll check back regularly, over the next few days I will be implementing and integrating more social networking tools with the site.

The next post will be rather topical. Following the tragedy in Connecticut, I was asked about the relation between the media and violence in our society. I will not be addressing this particular question, but I will address the discourse that has developed politically and socially after the tragedy.

Happy New Year.
Stay Tuned.

Mapping the History of Philosophy

This is an interesting piece called Graphing the history of philosophy on Drunks&Lampposts. It uses data sets from Wikipedia’s “Influenced” sections on entries of philosophers. Interestingly the graph also groups together philosophers from related ‘schools’ of thought, the section above is cut from the “Continental” tradition.

From Simon Raper,

Each philosopher is a node in the network and the lines between them (or edges in the terminology of graph theory) represents lines of influence. The node and text are sized according to the number of connections (both in and out). The algorithm that visualises the graph also tends to put the better connected nodes in the centre of the diagram so we see the most influential philosophers, in large text, clustered in the centre. It all seems about right with the major figures in the western philosophical tradition taking the centre stage. (I need to also add the direction of influence with a arrow head – something I’ve not got round to yet.) A shortcoming however is that this evaluation only takes into account direct lines of influence. Indirect influence via another person in the network does not enter into it. This probably explains why Descartes is smaller than you’d think. It would also be better if the nodes were sized only by the number of outward connections although I think overall the differences would be slight. I’ll get round to that.

The full file can be found Here. It’s licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.