Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Day 6: On Liking the Olympics

As someone in rhetoric, I frequently confront the question of motive. Why do people do things? Why do people hold certain beliefs and act in particular ways. And also, why do people like what they like and how are they brought to like it? This is likewise a question outside of rhetoric as a discipline: in art, literature, psychology, sociology, and even biology. And each approaches it differently: formal conventions in the things themselves (we like it because of how it is structured), cultural predispositions (we like it because our culture inscribes the thing with value), biological predispositions (we are primed to like certain things and dislike others through the process of natural selection).

Being in a discipline historically seen as without its own body of knowledge (thanks, Plato), I am free to subscribe to any and all of these. And I buy them all, but with a caveat. I buy them all not as separate or even competing explanations, but as incomplete explanations that necessarily need the other. Because each, in and of itself, begs numerous questions. Why do it's formal qualities appeal to us, why has culture decided to value it, and why have certain likes been selected through time?

Speaking for myself (as one invested in investigated likes), one of my favorite things about the Olympics is watching myself come to like and invest in things I did not previously like or was not previously invested in (at least not in the last four years). Most of the year I take for granted both the things I like and my liking of them. I like this or that, but I don't explicitly or obviously come to like things. I'll find a new a band or watch new movie that I like, but those are often like other things that I like, and I already liked music and movies to begin with. Investments are typically enculturated, embodied and emplaced (and all simultaneously) and happen outside of our conscious gaze.

Now, I do like sports and so, in that regard, I come to the Olympics primed in that direction. However, because of the intensity of the experience and its momentariness, the process of being persuaded to like something is magnified. I can feel myself becoming invested in a way I do not think we normally can. And, no doubt, my liking of the Olympics is no less enculturated, embodied, and emplaced. It is just, for two or weeks or so, I get to become aware of (or feel) this process.


  1. I like the Olympics for similar reasons: sports in general + an opportunity to unabashedly pull for a 15-year old spinning girl on ice = Obviously.

    You're too comfortable begging the question, though, if you ask me. I'm bothered by why I should enjoy investing in things I was previously not invested in.

    If everyone shared our opinion here, then we could talk about a universal feature of human psychology. But I'm sure there are those who don't enjoy this opportunity for fleeting fandom.

    So then the question must be about ourselves, about motivation: why should I enjoy this?

    Are you just comfortable enough alluding to the infinite regress to not explore that question further? And if so, why should you be comfortable with that infinite regress, while I am not?

  2. I was here speaking of my own enjoyment. Obviously many individuals never come to like things outside of a strict set of parameters they are comfortable with. I think my invoking the complexity of the process of how we come to like things (formal, social, cultural, biological) can be like-wise appealed to in exploring why I like liking things in this way. That is, frankly speaking, I benefit (by virtue of my upbringing and my academic training?) from liking the liking of things - so I seek out things to like and often like it when others get me to like things.

    But, as you suggest, this does not get me out the "infinite regress" - in the end, I am in the same boat as everyone else in terms of the complexities of investment.

    To answer the question you pose - "why should I enjoy this?" - I would have to make an argument. That argument could, perhaps, take the form of this blog. "Look at what investing in games allows you to explore" (but this argument, obviously, implies another argument about liking talking about things as I do here).

    I guess I am comfortable with this infinite regress (this is the infinite regress you speak of?) because either: a.) I can't imagine a way out of it, b.) I don't desire a way out. c.) I think desiring a way is precisely what cripples public life (that is, what ruins politics is not an excess of rhetoric, but an influx of personal Platonism - "I have the truth," or d.) ways out of it have been proposed for thousands of years and the haven't work (Plato's Republic never happened and David Hume is but an fart in the wind according to network television).

    Any argument about likes and dislikes are just that, arguments. What I was saying here is that I think, for me, that argument is more explicit during the Olympics: NBC has only so much time to get you hook before the games run out.

  3. I'm "50/50" on this, as Brian Dunn would've used-to've said. Is this fair: Here are two people:

    #1 notices that he likes something, and likes noticing that. And that's about all for him.

    #2 notices that he likes something, and feels neutral about noticing that. But then he starts to wonder what caused him to like that something. "Certainly," he thinks, "I could've hated liking that something."

    So then #2 would quote Captain Ahab, who says, "Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm? But if the great sun move not of himself; but is an errand-boy in heaven; nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does that beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I."

    But of course, that wouldn't get #2 any closer to understanding why he likes certain things. And this why can be really... intriguing. Almost bothersome. But not quite.

    So you're #1, and I'm #2. Is that fair? Why? Do we have physically different brains? Or what?

    [Sorry for being "all over this blog." I get more bloggy whenever I get really busy, which is counterintuitive, I know. But I'm really busy right now.]

  4. (I love that you are all over this blog. I keep checking back to see if you have commented. "Oh, Jodi, Casey's commented again," and all that.)

    To answer your question: I don't quite think I am #1. What have you there seems right, but my post, if you recall, indicated that I am very much interested in exploring just why we like what we like. My point is that it is difficult to pin down just why we like something (or don't). Doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't try. I like the Olympics, in this case, because I have the opportunity to see myself get persuaded to like something. Most of the time that persuasion is so distributed and or embedded as to go unnoticed.

  5. So, you like seeing yourself getting persuaded by something.

    But... (infinite regress) ... why?

    Hi Jodi!

  6. It is proof that I could be otherwise. That "we" could be otherwise. It is, if not proof, then an inkling of evidence that transformation is possible.