XKCD
gurnemanz
xkcd was for a long time one of the eminent webcomic series on the internet, and had a large cultural impact on the internet of the late '00s and '10s. it represented (and influenced) the thoughts, opinions, and attitudes of the university-educated millennial cohort, the culture-bearing class of said generation. while the author, randall munroe continues to appeal to said aging millennials as well as democrats like bill gates, he has long since lost relevance in trendy internet circles. some of his older comics i still like, and on occasion one sees a "relevant xkcd" trotted out. certainly, he was not entirely bereft of talent.

my impetus for making this post was this particular comic https://xkcd.com/675/ which came to mind. on the surface, it's a simple strawman for one of the author's past interlocutors, but it provides a candid look into a particular view of science, and epistemology in general. the first 3 panels are statements of what are presented as facts: that "science" is a democratic, egalitarian process open to everybody, and that a degree "equips" someone with powerful intellectual capabilities that set him apart from laymen. yet the punchline, which is meant to be a powerful rhetorical blow, amounts to "you did NOT just say that, the experts disagree." i think it's very telling that randall chose this pathetic sort of appeal to authority when trying to make himself look as good as possible. every libtard you see on twitter still talks exactly like this, in their eyes it is genuinely a decisive tactic to win an argument. randall has to resort to this because the logical conclusion the assumptions he outlines is in fact that the philosophy major is endowed with the ability to disprove special relativity, but to him this is obviously wrong because all the experts agree that special relativity is real.
Leverkühn
(08-02-2022, 06:47 PM)gurnemanz Wrote: it represented (and influenced) the thoughts, opinions, and attitudes of the university-educated millennial cohort, the culture-bearing class of said generation. while the author, randall munroe continues to appeal to said aging millennials as well as democrats like bill gates, he has long since lost relevance in trendy internet circles.
I've always had an issue with this guy since I saw him back in highschool because so many of his comics are set up in such a way where he finds the shittiest possible way to represent his interlocutor. Like you correctly say, it's a strawman. What he wants to say here is that essentially just that people who try to question scientists are stupid. It's an early instance of TRUST THE SCIENCE. I'm sure people were spreading this like wildfire all throughout covid. But as I'm sure Randall is smart enough to know, not every scientific issue is abstract and complicated as the theory of special relativity. And of course, this isn't even the kind of scientific issue people take issue with. The armchair researching isn't usually trying to debunk high-level physics, the most commonly challenged fields are surrounding the health field (eg medicines, nutrition), and there's a good reason for this. But the author of the comic doesn't want to explore this, he wants to give you something catchy you can send anyone who tries to challenge a scientific narrative, and then you and every fellow xkcd fan can pat yourselves on the back for being so enlightened.

I feel like like xkcd was the perfect comic artist for people who grew up watching Jon Stewart and Colbert in their teens and fell into the nu-atheism/rationalist redditsphere. The kind of person jokingly represented by the Euphoric Chad. The problem with this type of person is their 'cool-eyed rationalism' was severely limited in scope, because in the end they were just liberals. They could don the fedora and attack the religious right, but ultimately that was really the only sacred idol such people were really willing to tear down. The vast majority of those people didn't turn their rationalist appraoch on subjects like race and gender, or ethics (they all ended up being Singer-type Utilitarians, as far as I can tell). Hence reddit became a leftist haven and has been actively shutting down anything that actually goes against the established liberal narrative for years.
JohnnyRomero
XKCD is one of the core touchstones of a very particular early-mid (i.e. 2006-2012) internet Gen Xer/Millennial culture. As previously mentioned, big with the skeptic/atheist "trust the science crowd." The kind of people who had a high IQ and not much else and so fell into reductive rationalism. The sort to genuinely believe that an AI in a box with an IQ of 1000 would be an immortal, all-powerful, reality-warping god because of nanomachines or whatever. They vociferously cling to their establishment credentials and gray, dull, rationalistic worldview because it's all they have; if there's more to life than "high IQ" (in actually midwit) rationalist materialist science and pleasure, then their lives have been squandered. In a way they are a very left-brained type, simultaneously very rationalistic but also very hedonistic. The original archetypal "redditor" with a middling intelligence and trying very hard to seem smug, detached, and "above-it-all" despite constantly seething that those fucking non-university-accredited plebs (e.g. creationists, fundamentalist Christians, New Age hippies, psychics, cryptozoologists, "pseudoscientists," etc.) would even DARE question their EXPERTISE. A lot of these people are troons now, likely because of their common traits of liberal social values, sexual deviancy (see: the Amazing Atheist🍌), and logocentric reductionism (i.e. "reality is all just information maaaan," nonsensical mind-uploading fantasies).

A bit of a rambling statement I suppose, but it gets the idea across.

Also, I bought Randall's What If? book many years ago as a teenager. It's a very fun light read, the kind of amusing but still somewhat intellectually engaging work that's good for when you're mentally drained and want to relax or have a young but clever kid; comparable to The Imponderables or Freakonomics, the sort of popular and rather basic "weird & interesting facts" collections that my father liked to read growing up.
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