Final Notes For “Lowest Difficulty Setting”
Posted on May 23, 2012 Posted by John Scalzi
It’s now been a week and a day since I posted the “Lowest Difficulty Setting” piece, and the dust around is finally beginning to settle, so a moment for some final notes on it before I let it go off into the sunset.
1. Overall, it was interesting. If I had to do it over again I would have posted it yesterday instead of a week ago yesterday, because a week ago yesterday I had five days of travel and business ahead of me which kept me away from the site and led to the comment threads not as pruned for twits as I would have liked. This should be an indication that I honestly did not expect the piece to blow up like it did. I was occasionally accused of writing the piece for attention, which is an interesting thing to accuse a writer on a public blog of; I mean, duh, yes, of course I wrote it for attention. However, I did not write it solely for attention, nor did I expect the amount of attention it got. So: interesting experience.
2. I’ve been asked for whom the piece was written, as at least some of the Straight White Males who were the focus of the piece did not take kindly to it, and thus it could be argued that it failed. Well, the audience for it wasn’t specifically white straight males, it was everyone, including and especially those folks looking for a way to explain the concepts of under discussion, especially to white straight males, without hauling out the dreaded word “privilege,” into the discussion. This did make the subsequent discussion here and other places just a little bit meta, but that’s okay.
3. Do I still think the analogy is useful? Sure. For one thing, the piece was useful for some folks already, both in giving them a new way to articulate the idea, or to think about it. I’ve got enough anecdotal evidence for that. For another thing, while the piece has received hundreds of thousands of page views, both here and other places online, that means there are still millions of folks who have never heard the analogy. Could still work for them.
4. There were a number of complaints about the article, many of which I addressed in the first follow-up post, although of course there were complaints about those responses as well. One of the biggest complaints was lack of facts in the piece, and while I argued and would still argue that the piece was about the analogy rather than the (to me rather painfully obvious) underlying assumptions, it’s still something that sticks in the craw of some. So, fine. For those folks, the estimable Jim Hines has thoughtfully given you some facts to chew on, although it should be noted that those are the beginning of the wall of evidence, not the only facts to support the piece’s underlying assumptions.
The second major sticking point is the chunk of folks who really very truly believe that I should have put class/wealth into the difficulty setting in addition to or instead of race/gender/sexuality. Again, I’ve already explained why I designed the analogy as I did, and while I think it’s fine that people disagree, I haven’t been sufficiently convinced by their arguments that I was wrong in the manner in which I designed it. I think some people are suggesting that I don’t think wealth and class matter in a significant way; they need to reread the entry. It’s not about whether it makes a difference. It does. It’s about where it’s properly placed in the analogy. Some have commented this is set-up that really is specific to the US, not other places in the Western world; I’m not wholly convinced of this, but then I live in the US, not other places in the Western world.
Also, let me be blunt about this: I think there’s a relatively small but non-trivial number of people arguing the wealth/class thing who believe that if they can only and simply make this all about wealth and class, then they can flat-out deny (or at least hugely mitigate) the idea that the US in particular still has issues with race, sexuality and gender, and that directly related to that, they have unearned advantages as straight white males. Well, that’s just stupid, and I’m not in the least inclined to indulge these folks in their particular fantasy.
Finally, and in general, please note the piece is really not intended to be a be-all piece; it couldn’t and won’t do everything. It’s a start to a discussion or a stepping stone to another part of a discussion.
5. Among the straight white males (and some of their friends) who read the pieces, my guess is that the majority found it non-controversial or perhaps food for thought, or that if they disagreed, and many did, they did so at a setting somewhat below “froth.” But there was a loud but I suspect relatively small number who disagreed at a setting of “froth” or above.
This is of course their right. No one has to agree with me. What I do find interesting is the rhetoric that was often involved, which, for lack of a better way to put it, seemed to me like an attempt to de-legitimize my standing as, you know, as a white dude who loves him some women. And I suppose I get this; it’s true enough that most of the folks who point out the unearned advantages of straight white maleness are not at least one of those things. When someone from inside the fence makes the observation, a lot of the tricks and tools one might use to discount the message and demean the messenger just won’t work, and one has to fall back on some ridiculous “No True Scotsman” sort of argumentation.
The silliest example of this I’ve seen are the fellows who’ve noted darkly (no pun intended) that I live in a little town that’s more than 98% white; I think the idea there is that I choose to live among the white folks and/or don’t know what it’s like to live among the dark folks. Leaving aside anything else about this assertion that’s racist and stupid (and ignores the idea that there might possibly be women and/or gays and lesbians in Darke County, Ohio), this is an interesting argument to offer about someone who grew up in the LA area, went to school in Chicago, and then lived in Fresno and the DC area prior to moving to Darke County, Ohio, and whose family here in Ohio is packed to the brim with people of Hispanic and African-American descent. Perhaps a little research — perhaps on this very site! — might have been in order. It’s been otherwise suggested that I’m a quisling to other races, genders and sexualities (which lead to my recent tweet which said “THE MATRIARCHICAL HOMODARKOSPHERE WANTS ME TO TELL YOU I AM NOT THEIR PUPPET”), that I’m a beta male and that I’m ugly, or at least “profoundly unhandsome.” And so on.
Dudes: You can’t demote me. You just literally cannot. Despite your best efforts, when I go out into the world, in 98% white Darke County, Ohio or anywhere else, I’m still me, and me is pasty, and Y-chromosomed, and very very fond of the opposite sex.
Beyond this, mind you, the idea that simply noting the concept that white straight males operate on the lowest difficulty setting is the equivalent to an attack on, or a call for guilt on the part of, people who literally had no choice to be born white, or male, or straight, suggests of a level of panic that makes me wonder how these particular fellows manage to get out the door every single day of their lives. Fellows: I haven’t a single trace of guilt or angst on the subject. I don’t know why on Earth you think I think you should. But if you want to work on making life better for everyone, well, that would be a mitzvah, don’t you think?
6. And that’s pretty much where I am on all of this at the moment.
(PS: I’m about to go out the door to the dentist’s, and depending on how things go I will be shot up full of painkillers for several hours and in no condition to deal with the comment thread this entry would inevitably spawn. Also, will anything be said that wasn’t already said in three other separate comment threads on the subject, positive and negative both? I’m thinking: Not really, no. So I’ll just go ahead and keep the comment threads closed for now. If I get back home with my head undrilled, I may unlock it then. In the meantime, don’t worry, there’s all the rest of the Internet to air your comments on. I like Twitter, myself.)
Whatever Everyone Else is Saying