Previous Entry Share Next Entry
don't know much about relativism
In continuation of a discussion at Grognardia:

James said: 
I don't think there's any hiding the fact that I miss the days when the hobby had a stronger common culture... To the extent that such a common culture exists anymore, it comes from the ouroboros of D&D itself, a substitute for the books and authors that once formed the Common Tongue by which gamers conversed. I'm not sure such days can ever return -- the hobby is simply too diverse now -- but I long for it just the same.

FrDave said:
What you've noticed is actually a culture-wide phenomenon. Education in the Western world used to be about great books (including the Bible!). If you hadn't read these books, you weren't educated. Then two things happened — technology and post-modern relativity. Technology made information easily accessible and easy to produce. Relativity took this plethora of information and stated that it was all of equal value. Thus, it didn't matter what you read, as long as you read it. This forced our common culture to shift to TV and movies as source material. Thus, today a D&D rule book or module has as much value as anything written by REH, and the inspiration for todays games are movies and TV.

I said:
...I'd also caution against blaming postmodernism for anything: actual pomo thinking remains a very minor concern, and relativism had currency long, long before the "postmodern moment" (since 1968?); TV was bound to become respectable one day, merely because of its ubiquity (cf. advertising, comics); great books have suffered partly at the hands of the publishing boom after WW2. I don't want anyone to think I agree with economic determinism - I don't - but I agree even less with crediting French theory with real potential to move the world.

S'mon said:richard: "I'd also caution against blaming postmodernism for anything: actual pomo thinking remains a very minor concern"
Except that journalists and authors go to University, study English, are indoctrinated in PoMo, Frankfurt School Critique & Deconstructionism, then take that with them into the real world.
They may not be able to quote Derrida but they do 'know' that 'everything's relative'.
As an academic, I see how the stuff that starts here in the University eventually affects (infects) the wider culture in profound ways.

I say: My point, which I didn't make very well, is that a consciousness about 'everything being relative' has been in popular press at least since the 20s (with the popularisation of Einstein, and very likely before) as have anxieties about the same. I didn't want to say that pomo has had no effect, just that it's an easy and maybe misleading target for a wider cultural phenomenon. Broadly speaking, I tend toward "continuationism" (although it's a horrible word): whenever I see a claim for some cultural thing starting abruptly, I am suspicious. The argument here is that everyone used to read the same limited set of books, they no longer do, and the cause is postmodernism (for which no date is given). That strikes me as implausibly sweeping and unicausal. It smacks of an attitude about the role of the academy as social progenitor that I find a bit one-sided: I am inclined to wonder what the social conditions were that lead to the forming of postmodern theories - how much relativism was in the air.
I am, incidentally, likewise enormously bothered by the Marxist contention that capitalism is a specifically European phenomenon, which started either in the 16th or the 18th century (depending on who you read) - I think such a contention either requires a uselessly narrow definition of capitalism or makes unsustainable claims for some kind of "modern awakening" coincident with the "enlightenment." I don't necessarily think the two kinds of continuationism are interdependent, but I thought by laying the second one out there I could give you a succinct idea of the depth of my folly.

Further down the thread, Kaeosdad said: I don't think your adopted culture will ever die because it lives on in new forms.
hrm. That depends, I suppose, on what (irreducible essence or kernel) you recognise as your culture.

In an interesting fit of synchronicity, I was listening to a good reading of Hannah Arendt's The Rise of Totalitarianism last night, and in particular to a discussion of how various social/political movements of the second half of the 19th century picked up on and used ideas including that principles and claims only have meaning within a particular society constructed by its members choices, that nothing in history is relevant to the group-culture until the group chooses to make it so, that all standards outside the group are either trivial or oppressive...and so on and on.

Very little is as new as either its friends or foes want it to be, I guess.

From my perspective, the common culture at the start of gaming was simply the result of its drawing on a very narrow slice of society. The gaming population broadened immediately - as in, within weeks of D&D appearing at sf cons, there was demand in a bunch of sf apas and fanzines for the damned RPG talk to go elsewhere already, and within a year there were at least two apas that flourished for decades to come. But as I've commented before, the grognard movement of today is quick to write out inconveniently un-Gygaxian alternatives, even ones with roots in that very first year of RPGs on the market. Heterogeneity has been there all along, but can be pushed aside as "oh, well, that doesn't matter and isn't as pure as our real thing".

drawing on a very narrow slice of society... Heterogeneity has been there all along

Bingo. As usual, it seems there were multiple wargaming campaigns that were tending in some kind of RPG direction, and that when EGG and DA brought out D&D, some other folks thought they'd better hurry up and write up their ideas, too. Allegedly Runequest was already in some sort of development when the LBBs came out, although I don't know if the counterfactual (what if RQ had been published first) is a valid exercise, because D&D has such an immediate effect on Stafford.

Actually, I'd love to see what some of those counterfactual games could have been - what if one of the other wargame campaigns had taken off, and it became natural to always have players command battalions rather than individuals, or if White Bear Red Moon had lit the spark, and we saw a whole industry of homebrewed expandable boardgames?
Hm. Now I want to play in a Risk LARP.

High-level play in the Camarilla network pretty much is RISK LARP, and I think that's a big part of its appeal to the stalwarts.

I sometimes wonder if D&D had been delayed a year, whether we'd have had the marketplace emerge in 1975 with 2-4 loci right in parallel. Possibly a smaller market, but wider spread.

It's so weird to me that people throw "relativism" and "postmodernism" around as if... as if, I suppose, human nature underwent some massive shift a few decades ago, and now we have this new behavior as fundamental as laws of supply and demand which drives us to (apparently) read trashy romance novels instead of Ovid. I honestly generally shut out a discussion entirely when either of those words is used, because I'm convinced I don't understand what is meant by them.

That's a useful survival mechanism. Sadly, much of the time I can't do the same, for (perhaps one day) professional reasons.

Your example suggests a (intellectually bankrupt, positivist) experiment: to track the per capita sales of some canon of classical literature and some suitably trashy romances, from say 1910 to the present. Who knows what might come up?

People have always read trashy romance novels instead of Ovid. Including, one suspects, the Emperor Augustus.

But until fairly recently, the phrase "instead of Ovid" was more a normative statement than it is now. The notion that one has to defend the existence of a Canon is relatively recent, but it does predate Derrida.

You are viewing richardthinks