Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Argument from Pettiness

A Short Fable


A man owns a nice bit of land. On it he has a great big apple tree. He loves the tree very much. His neighbor is jealous and wants the tree for himself. One day the neighbor drops a brick in front of the tree. The man sees it and asks the neighbor about it. The neighbor responds, "Oh, don't worry about it. It's just one silly brick." Each day he drops another brick and each time makes a similar excuse about how the man need not worry about it.

One day the man wakes up and finds that a brick wall is blocking his tree. Irate, he asks the neighbor to tear it down. The neighbor is mystified. "Tear it down? But why? You didn't have a problem with this brick, or that brick, or that brick, or really any of them. Tearing it all down now would be rather extreme don't you think? Perhaps we could have a discussion about adding bricks more slowly?"

The Moral

"Is this really the hill you want to die on?"

"It's just a stupid movie. Who cares?"

"Really? You're going to sperg out about some commercial?"

"How can you be such a man child as to get upset about a few changes to a video game?"

You hear these sorts of responses when people argue about social issues. Conservatives do it to feminists when they are mad about a sexy character in a TV show. Progressives do it to conservatives when they are upset about some celebrity talking about politics. The goal is to shame someone into feeling that their complaints are petty. Because the offense is small, we are told, tolerating the offense is the virtuous thing to do. However it only takes a moment's examination to see the irrationality. An evil doesn't become good simply because it is small. A small amount of poison is still poison.

In social disputes the general rule is that whichever side is least tolerant will win. The social justice left understands this and it is why they still are culturally quite powerful. While edgy right wing YouTubers make "Feminist FAIL," and "SJW ownage" videos, the snowflakes are busy running higher education, news media, public schooling, Hollywood, sports leagues, tech companies, regulatory agencies, and legislative bodies across western governments. They're even dictating to religious denominations. These "intolerant," "cringey" SJW's are literally codifying their world view into law. The tech giants handle the censorship of dissidents while the surveillance state is empowered to punish people for "hate speech."

How have they managed this across the last several decades? There are many reasons, but one approach was simply by working one brick at a time and effectively employing the argument from pettiness. It has worked well because the argument from pettiness plays on a very simple cognitive bias; the desire to feel strong and generous. People don't generally like to complain. When we detect a small offense, we want to be kind and overlook it. It makes us feel magnanimous. We feel that we are doing a good thing by simply letting the other person get away with it. We often don't realize that this reaction is exactly what the other person hoped to trigger by specifically using a small offense.