Sensitivity Writers. AKA: avoiding cultural appropriate in writing

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I don’t think we ever have perfect understanding of anyone, but doesn't this attitude just turn people into more of an other? Essentially it starts from ‘this person is so different from me, they are ultimately unknowable’. That doesn’t seem like it is healthy or likely to produce empathy. My wife is from another country, from another culture and a different language. Somehow we have managed to bridge that. I think if we viewed one another as do alien neither of us could understand the other truly, we’d have no real human connection.
I hear your point and that's not really what I meant. I mean, I think we all experience the same basic emotions: your experience of jealousy or rage or wonder isn't all that different from mine. How they differ is mostly in terms of what triggers them, or to what degree we experience them.

But you cannot know my own biography, all the things that led to me being me (and vice versa). The beginning of true empathy is to grok that.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
But where does it end?
It doesn’t. It’s a continuous process of listening and learning.

And who is the final arbiter?
Nobody. Eventually, if people listen honestly and react ethically and morally, incidents will be reduced to a point where it’s just noise in the system. That’s when the remaining concerns will generally be so trivial as to not be addressable at a broad level.

There’s a concept in economics that there is an optimum level of crime in any society. IOW, there is a point beyond which it is too expensive for society to expend more resources to prevent a given kind of crime, that the expenditures to do so outweigh the costs of the crime committed. It sucks for the individual, but it’s a good for society as a whole. (At least in terms of economic efficiency.)

This is the problem - there is no end, or rather the end is dystopian authoritarianism which George Orwell described beautifully in the 1940s.
No. No it doesn’t.

Furthermore, the "constant drumbeat of complaints" don't in and of themselves prove their own validity just because they're constant. There are a wide range of complaints, and my concern is when no differentiation is made. This is happening in a number of different contexts, from cultural appropriation, the metoo movement, free speech, etc etc.
You can’t spoon-feed understanding.

Differentiation requires exerting some effort on the part of the listener. Even the most condescending explanation of distinctions between Situation One and Situation Two will demand the audience using a couple brain cells to comprehend.

There's quite a difference between Harvey Weinstein and Louis CK, just as there's a huge difference between wearing blackface and being inspired by African mythology in a roleplaying game.
That’s a terrible analogy. Weinstein & CK both did things that were legally wrong. Being inspired by African mythology has NOTHING in common with wearing blackface.

The problem with the "constant drumbeat of complaints" is that it tends to drown out any difference or nuance.
Only if you stop listening with a critical ear.

If you turn your attention away from it, a drum solo from a song- even one as complex as found in Frank Zappa’s “The Black Page”- can sound random. But I f you pay attention to it, you can pick it out of a bunch of randomized rhythmic sounds.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
But Danny that process you describe also creates complexity around the process of cultural borrowing that has buybin and weight.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
But why? What if I am a very simple and not particularly worldly musician and I walk by a monastery and hear Gregorian Chant. I instantly start emulating it without understanding its original context but I create something new and vibrant. Why is that problematic. The same would be true if I walked by and heard Buddhist chants in Sanskrit or walked by a house playing salsa music and decided to emulate the scales played on the keyboard. We can like things and borrow them without necessarily understanding them. Borrowing aesthetics isn’t a sacred act that has to be officiated by a priest class (which is what I think is going on and why I pointed to how social class plays a role in navigating this issue)
Lack of understanding doesn’t guarantee offense, just increases the odds that it will happen.

If- like many modern musicians- you routinely carry some kind of recording device and use it record the music you hear as you pass, then use it as a sample in your own, not realizing that the words in the sample are part of a ceremony not for public dissemination, you can and should be called on it. How you react to that could determine a lot about your future.

If someone let you know about the nature of your sample before you released your tune, you're in deeper trouble. (As always, what you know nd when you knew it matters.)
 

MGibster

Adventurer
I'm typing this with a Phoenician alphabet, I use Roman numerals when computing numbers, and despite having no solid cultural connections to Mexico I have tacos for dinner at least once a week. Cultural appropriation isn't always a bad thing which is what makes it such a complicated issue. And, yes, sometimes the lines between good and bad cultural appropriation isn't very obvious. Other times it seems obvious.

The best thing an author can do is listen to constructive criticism. That doesn't necessarily mean they need to make any changes. But at least be aware of the criticism and decide what you want to do from there.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
How you react to that could determine a lot about your future.
This is the mindset that I think is very harmful coming out of this. It doesn't really seem like it is coming from a desire to spread good, empathy and understanding. It seems very focused on the punitive, and bordering on the inquisitorial. And in my example, I am talking about a person with no understanding of the context. So whatever the end result they do is, it is without knowledge. And that gets to my point about the increase in complexity and the classism/elitism going on here with this. There are all these little rules, protocols and expectations of understanding of complex topics. But the person in my example is just a simple musician emulating sounds he or she heard. I think this is where cultural appropriation as a concept tips us into much darker territory than if we are simply concerned about whether we are doing things that are visibly offensive. And does a Catholic or a Buddhist have the moral authority to tell a non-Catholic or a non-Buddhist to abide by their taboos when handling their music? I am not sure they do have that authority.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
I'm typing this with a Phoenician alphabet, I use Roman numerals when computing numbers, and despite having no solid cultural connections to Mexico I have tacos for dinner at least once a week. Cultural appropriation isn't always a bad thing which is what makes it such a complicated issue. And, yes, sometimes the lines between good and bad cultural appropriation isn't very obvious. Other times it seems obvious.
But I think the point I am trying to make is when this concept spread, people had a really hard time finding that line (which is why you now do see people protesting things like appropriation of food). I don't know that it is obvious. I think a lot of people have hard time understanding where the lines and boundaries around appropriation are, what appropriation is, and why it is so significant. I think when you look at the pros and cons of it, it just ends up being a concept that causes more harm than good.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
The best thing an author can do is listen to constructive criticism. That doesn't necessarily mean they need to make any changes. But at least be aware of the criticism and decide what you want to do from there.
Obviously writers should listen to criticism. You don't improve as a writer if you don't. But there are bad critiques. There are bad trends in criticism. There are times when we get too neurotic about certain things. It is one thing to find problems when they present themselves. But it is also possible to be overly vigilant and see problems in every shadow. And when I hear complaints about cultural appropriation most of the time they seem to be just that. The rest of the time, people are really just talking about something being offensive.
 
It doesn’t. It’s a continuous process of listening and learning.
That's one way of looking at it. There is a shadow side, though, which is a continuous process of smothering any disagreement or diversity of ideas and approaches, as if there is "one true way" to look at and understand this and related issues.

That said, I do agree that ideally there's a continuous process of listening and learning, but I think we disagree on how to go about that, and what may or may not be conducive to deepening understanding.

Nobody. Eventually, if people listen honestly and react ethically and morally, incidents will be reduced to a point where it’s just noise in the system. That’s when the remaining concerns will generally be so trivial as to not be addressable at a broad level.
But there's always going to be--at least for the foreseeable future--a gap between a person's intention and how another person interprets their actions. What you say implies that either that isn't the case, or that there is a one-sized fits all formula to ethical action, one morality that we're all aspiring to.

Now maybe there is - but at this point it is an imagination, it is the "best possible world we can dream of." In my view it is based in interconnectedness, underlying oneness, deep compassion and love. It is not about the proper way to act appropriately in every situation that won't offend anyone, and it allows for a wide diversity of not only expression but ways of thinking and seeing.

There’s a concept in economics that there is an optimum level of crime in any society. IOW, there is a point beyond which it is too expensive for society to expend more resources to prevent a given kind of crime, that the expenditures to do so outweigh the costs of the crime committed. It sucks for the individual, but it’s a good for society as a whole. (At least in terms of economic efficiency.)
Not exactly sure what you're getting at here, but what this brings up for me is gun control. On one hand, I don't like the idea of limiting anyone's freedom because of people who misuse guns...the vast majority of gun owners are responsible (or responsible enough). But on the other hand, if stricter gun laws will noticeably reduce deaths, I think that the price of slightly diminished personal liberty for some is worth it.

No. No it doesn’t.
We'll have to disagree on that one as I see that tendency very strongly in that ideological framework.

You can’t spoon-feed understanding.

Differentiation requires exerting some effort on the part of the listener. Even the most condescending explanation of distinctions between Situation One and Situation Two will demand the audience using a couple brain cells to comprehend.
Yes, but what about the listening capacity of the "drumbeater?" As far as I can see, those of that framework are so instistent on their rightness that they tend to disavow the kind of listening that they insist upon from the people they're trying to teach. It has to go both ways. If you want people to listen to you, you have to listen to them as well.

That’s a terrible analogy. Weinstein & CK both did things that were legally wrong. Being inspired by African mythology has NOTHING in common with wearing blackface.
Afaik Louis CK didn't do anything illegal. Furthermore, there is room for interpretation about the morality of what he did. Weinstein is more clear-cut to what degree he abused power. Even if you don't see as large a gap as I do, there is a gap, now? Or maybe if you want something more obvious, how about Bill Cosby and Aziz Ansari? Cosby was possibly the worst serial rapist in modern history, while it is now widely agreed upon that Ansari simply had a bad date that he was unfairly blamed for. But the point is, both received the scrutiny of the Ethical Police - one rightly so, the other not so much.

Only if you stop listening with a critical ear.
Many of the "drumbeat" do very much stop listening. They just want to bang their drum and point their fingers out there.
 
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Bedrockgames

Adventurer
If you turn your attention away from it, a drum solo from a song- even one as complex as found in Frank Zappa’s “The Black Page”- can sound random. But I f you pay attention to it, you can pick it out of a bunch of randomized rhythmic sounds.
We are getting lost in analogies but what he is talking about though is millions of drummers playing different beats at the same time. You can't really compare the difficulty of discerning a pattern in a single complex drum beat, to the difficulty of discerning a pattern from thousands upon thousands of differing critiques.

I really think the complexity issue around this is a lot more major than people realize. It is essentially creating a whole new system of etiquette to be adhered to when creating things or handling anything to do with culture and cultural exchange. And agin, it is something requires in depth knowledge and understanding of the principles and ideas around appropriation (as well as in depth knowledge of the world and the world's cultures). This is the sort of thing priest classes handle in society. It is beyond the scope of most regular people (I know it is for me, I don't think I would be able to create things if I were trying to truly avoid appropriation---because the rules shift, the conversation shifts, and the process keeps getting more complicated).
 

Zardnaar

Hero
But a lot of those things wouldn’t have happened if the concept of cultural appropriation had currency when they were developed.
It's evolution, each successful culture has usually been influenced by other cultures.
The ones that didn't adapt went bye bye.

This alphabet, we got it from the Romans, they were influenced by the Greeks who were influenced by the Phoenicians.

Like the concept of 0? India-Arabs-Europe.
Cultural appropriation right there. Things were different 50 years ago, in 50 years time it will be different, 50 years after that......

Just don't mock other cultures.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
This is the mindset that I think is very harmful coming out of this. It doesn't really seem like it is coming from a desire to spread good, empathy and understanding. It seems very focused on the punitive, and bordering on the inquisitorial.


To quote Col. Potter:





If someone tells you that you hurt them in some way, and you blow off their complaints, you’re probably going to be a target for blowback, and deservedly so.



OTOH, even if you ultimately disagree with the aggrieved, if you approach the discussion of the complaint with an open mind and good faith, you’re not going to get the same backlash.



And in my example, I am talking about a person with no understanding of the context. So whatever the end result they do is, it is without knowledge.


Ignorance is no defense.



And that gets to my point about the increase in complexity and the classism/elitism going on here with this. There are all these little rules, protocols and expectations of understanding of complex topics. But the person in my example is just a simple musician emulating sounds he or she heard.


So he knows nothing. You know what he should do? Ask questions. Educate himself.



Novel concept, I know.



I think this is where cultural appropriation as a concept tips us into much darker territory than if we are simply concerned about whether we are doing things that are visibly offensive.


When in doubt, don’t assume, ASK!



And does a Catholic or a Buddhist have the moral authority to tell a non-Catholic or a non-Buddhist to abide by their taboos when handling their music? I am not sure they do have that authority.


They most certainly do. Would you tell a Native American that they don’t have the moral authority to tell you not to drop a deuce on sacred land?

You don’t have to listen, of course, but that’s on you.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
Afaik Louis CK didn't do anything illegal. Furthermore, there is room for interpretation about the morality of what he did.
Aaaaaand at this point, you and I are done for the foreseeable future. I find it hard to believe you’re discussing things in good faith.

Louis CK was accused of- and admitted- that he exposed himself to and masturbated in front of at least 5 different women, only one of whom (Sarah Silverman) expressed any notion that it was in any way consensual. And even she stated that he abused his power and celebrity. This isn’t obscure stuff, this was widely reported in industry outlets like Variety, news outlets like The Guardian & CNN, tabloid press like TMZ, and even soft news like People.


That isn’t ethical/moral shades of gray stuff, that behavior is black letter law illegal. In all likelihood, only the statute of limitations has kept him out of jail.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Aaaaaand at this point, you and I are done for the foreseeable future. I find it hard to believe you’re discussing things in good faith.

Louis CK was accused of- and admitted- that he exposed himself to and masturbated in front of at least 5 different women, only one of whom (Sarah Silverman) expressed any notion that it was in any way consensual. And even she stated that he abused his power and celebrity. This isn’t obscure stuff, this was widely reported in industry outlets like Variety, news outlets like The Guardian & CNN, tabloid press like TMZ, and even soft news like People.


That isn’t ethical/moral shades of gray stuff, that behavior is black letter law illegal. In all likelihood, only the statute of limitations has kept him out of jail.
Sacred bloody Night! the idea that there is room for interpretation as to the morality of CK’s actions!?

DA, you’re approaching sainthood for your participation in this thread.

@Sacrosanct , message me if you want some twitter recommendations for people who anyone interested in learning more on this, and people that may well signal boost or give recommendations for sensitivity readers.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
The problem with the "constant drumbeat of complaints" is that it tends to drown out any difference or nuance.
I think a bigger problem is, being a relatively “new” big thing, people aren’t paying attention to nuance when they use it and I see what I suspect is a lot of misapplication. To use the dreadlock example - dreadlocks have been around for thousands of years, Rastafarianism since about the 1930s. Is a Rastafarian chiding someone else in dreads himself engaging in cultural appropriation by claiming an exclusivity that isn’t backed by history?

And honestly, you see a lot of things like that with internet denunciation culture - uninformed criticism. So no wonder there’s a lot of cynicism. But I also believe too many people use the fact that there is misapplication as an excuse to throw the baby out with the bath water. Claims of cultural appropriation deserve to be investigated, interrogated, and accepted or rejected based on their merit, not dismissed or accepted because they’re currently one of the IN-things for people of a particular ideological bent.
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
Sacred bloody Night! the idea that there is room for interpretation as to the morality of CK’s actions!?

DA, you’re approaching sainthood for your participation in this thread.

@Sacrosanct , message me if you want some twitter recommendations for people who anyone interested in learning more on this, and people that may well signal boost or give recommendations for sensitivity readers.
Well, the point of this thread was to get info like that lol. So no need to PM, I’m sure others could probably find it useful as well
 

S'mon

Legend
I think there's a big difference between "this is real/historical" and "this is a fantasy". People can legitimately take offence at a fantasy too, but the bar is a lot higher than for something presented as a genuine/accurate portrayal of a particular culture.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Ignorance is no defense.







So he knows nothing. You know what he should do? Ask questions. Educate himself.
But this again brings me back to my earlier point, where a lack of knowledge, and a lack of education are being treated as the crime. There are times when a person's ignorance would most certainly soften our reactions to different perceived transgressions. You are put this mountain of expectation on the person transgressing, where you expect them to behave with complete and total empathy and understanding (and empathy and understanding are not bad things) but you place no such expectation on the side castigating him. You are giving one side a narrow band of territory to pass through, where you are unforgiving of missteps, and its like you are justifying any reaction to that.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
They most certainly do. Would you tell a Native American that they don’t have the moral authority to tell you not to drop a deuce on sacred land?

You don’t have to listen, of course, but that’s on you.
Sacred land is a physical thing. That is like digging up someone's grave or knocking down the door of a church. Obviously if you are inside a church or at a Native American ceremony, they would both have moral authority in those cases. What I am saying is, people can't hold you to their taboos outside of their 'jurisdiction' if you don't share their foundational beliefs. If you are a guest participating in a ceremony, that is one thing. But when you move outside that venue, especially in the realm of imagination and art, why would you be beholden to peoples' taboos? I mean a non-Christian playing with Christian themes doesn't have to be bound by the same taboos as an actual Christian would be. We shouldn't be able to impose our religious taboos on other people who don't believe.
 
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