How does one discuss sensitive issues? The Institvte is mired in controversy about materials published on the Web for OpenCourseWare for "Visualizing Cultures"; such materials include Japanese anti-Chinese wartime propaganda. Prima facie, do these images offend Chinese people? Yes, they are brutal and gory enough to offend anyone. Chinese prisoners of war are being beheaded, while Japanese soldiers are shown as merciless killers. But that's not the whole of the discussion or even wholly discussed. Apparently groups on and off campus find these images "hurtful to the Chinese community", "shocking and inappropriate" and "emotionally provocative and demeaning", to borrow some words from Tech articles. But taken out of context, these words could apply to all kinds of controversial things. The context is Visualizing Cultures, a historical study. That these images have been reposted, without context, is its own separate issue. It would require an incredible suspension of disbelief to believe these images represent the views of MIT (or really, that MIT has to endorse any materials its professors use, an incredible negation of academic freedom). With context, who then is going to perceive these images that way? No one has answered this, so far. It is only people's meta-perception, their belief that someone else might read them the wrong way, that gives them breath for this outcry. The only way to destroy propaganda is to discuss it intelligently, honestly, and critically. It doesn't require blaring warnings and disclaimers.
How does one perceive lengthy topical discussions? Once they degenerate past all usefulness, once all opinions on the matter have been rehashed, reviled, repeated, and renormalized, further discussion is perceived by most people as wankery. Holy wars, whether religious, political, or computerish, should thus be categorized, which is why the former two are taboo in polite conversation. People often have an impulse to add gasoline to the flames, but they also sometimes resign in disgust, only to complain offline about the wankery and futility of discussion. Often, they neglect the irony of their own futility. As the meta-discussion goes into a rediscovery of all the annoyances of the original discussion, it, too, can only be perceived as wankery. The way to oppose wankery is to do something (a lofty goal which the most recent Random house meeting, I am told, fell short of).