Saturday, August 20, 2016

Computer Games, Hypocrisy, and Demagoguery

373 days until the start of class as I return to graduate school.

In yesterday's post, I lamented that shortage of time. I reported wanting more time each day to read, to write, and to prepare for graduate school.

Yet, I spend a fair amount of time playing online games. Actually, one online game: Lord of the Rings Online. On the Landroval server, my current main characters are the hobbits Alphred Trout and Hedgerow Shrewburrow.

I have raised repeated objections to spending time on on useless activities such as sports, movies, and computer games - resources that could have been spent on other things such as food and medicine for the global poor. Yet, here I am wasting time and resources on a computer game. I mostly protest what could be done with the $600 billion spent each year on sports - lamenting what could be accomplished if that time and money went to something more productive.

Yet, I spend time in computer games.

Am I a hypocrite?

Technically, no. A hypocrite is somebody who applies a different moral standard to other than he does to himself. If I were to condemn such time-wasting activities in others, but not in myself, then I would be vulnerable to the charge of hypocrisy.

However, I will be consistent and insist that I would be a better person if I had no interest in such activities and, instead, found just as much enjoyment in doing something more productive. I am not as good of a person as I could have been. I wish I had been that person. However, I am not.

I acknowledge that people have reasons to condemn those who are like me in this respect - people who waste time on games. When they protest those wastes of time, I do not get defensive and try to come up with some rationalization that it is a good use of time. I don't argue that it improves my hand-eye coordination or my reading skills or any such thing. I admit to the soundness of the protests and the legitimacy of the reasons that motivate that protest.

Nor do I engage in these activities free of guilt, but often with the knowledge that there is something else I should be doing - that I should want to be doing. And, indeed, I do find motivation to spend less time on games than I would otherwise enjoy spending, and putting that time to work instead studying philosophy and writing blog posts.

These points are relevant to a class of argument popular in public debate. The examples of this class that I am most familiar with involves somebody who is strongly anti-gay being discovered soliciting same-sex partners. A common response is to call this person a hypocrite and assert that this discredits everything that person has said on the subject.

Using myself as an example, these claims are false. The agent is not a hypocrite if the agent sincerely condemns the activity even in himself - if he accepts the objections to homosexual activity and applies them equally to himself and others.

Nor is it the case that arguments against an activity suddenly lose their validity (assuming they had any to start with) simply because the agent commits an act that the argument condemns. In fact, to use the agent's activity as a reason to condemn the argument is an example of the "ad hominem" fallacy.

Ironically, we can find genuine hypocrisy (as opposed to the misapplied charge of hypocrisy described above) in those who shamelessly use these fallacious arguments to score political points since, when others use fallacious arguments against them, they condemn the practice. So, while being gay cannot be reasonably condemned, being a demagogue and a hypocrite certainly can be.

I want to make this clear that I do not think that there are any good reasons to object to homosexual relationships. However, the reader who gets fixated on that matter misses the point. There are legitimate arguments to be made in defense of homosexual relationships and illegitimate arguments. The false claim of hypocrisy and the "ad hominem" fallacies used in the cases I described above are not legitimate responses.

While there are no good arguments to be made against being gay, there are good arguments to be made against being a hypocrite and a demagogue. The homosexual does nothing harmful to society as a whole. Hypocrites and demagogues are responsible for a great deal of harm and prevent a great deal of social progress by cluttering up discussions with nonsense claims and unfounded assertions. We do not have good reason to demand that people be straight, but we do have reason to demand that people check their facts, and their logic, and put some effort into making sure that their arguments are strong and their conclusions well founded.

Just as there is reason to criticize the hypocrite and the demagogue, I must admit that there are reasons to condemn the waste of time and resources that go into playing computer games. I see no way to refute those arguments that are not simply rationalizations (and, thus, cannot be adopted without violating the interests in strong arguments and well-founded conclusions).

I should add that, if this was an activity that I performed alone, then I would find it easier to give up. However, this is an activity that I engage in with others, and that makes the thought of quitting so much harder. I would miss the people. And, I suspect (hope) that they would miss me. Relationships are hard to give up. Relationships ought to be hard to give up.

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