Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Common Sense and Human Nature

This morning Peter Cohen used his Gamification column for ZDNet to express his opinions on the Supreme Court ruling against criminalizing the sale of violent video games to minors.  He summarizes the background nicely in his opening paragraphs:

It’s plain to see that some parents - many, in fact - aren’t doing their job when it comes to keeping violent video games away from their children. But is it time for laws to do it instead?

Last week, in a landmark ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court said no. In a 7-2 ruling, the court overturned a 2005 California law that would have fined retailers convicted of selling violent video games to minors. In its ruling, the court said that violent video games are subject to the same First Amendment protections as other possibly violent art forms, like art, books or plays.

Similarly, his personal position is summarized in his choice of title:

We don’t need more video game laws, we just need common sense

Here is how he summarizes his position at the end of his article:

Laws aren’t going to change human nature. Parents are going to continue to use video game systems as babysitters and entertainment devices for their kids, because they work. And violent video games are going to continue to be created because they sell.

I do not disagree with any of this.  Cohen even recognizes that what constitutes common sense is tightly coupled to the normative practices of human nature.  Therefore, the real issue at stake is how human nature has brought circumstances to their current situation.

The answer lies in how those “normative practices of human nature” have changed.  One of the consequences of our “citizenship” in “the world the Internet has made” is that ours has become a culture of outsourcing.  Basically, the Internet freed us from conventional boundaries of space for outsourcing;  so, in many respects, the rise of globalization has fostered a belief system based on the premise that every problem can be solved by outsourcing.  Put another way, it is a culture in which no individual need take responsibility for solving a problem because the solution can be outsourced.

The result of is that child care has become outsourced to any number of technological innovations, one of which happens to be video games.  The ensuing problem of violence cannot similarly be outsourced to technology;  so the “next level” involves outsourcing to legislative bodies.  It seems to me that the real difficulty that we face as a culture is that our capacity for common sense can no longer cope with even the simplest levels of problem solving.  I would further hypothesize that this proposition is a corollary to the ways in which Google and related media have gotten us hopelessly addicted to consumerism:  Why think about solving your problems when you can buy a solution (as easily as you can buy a video game)?  Earlier this year I suggested that this has led to the infantilization of most parents, to the point that, through their normative behaviors, they may be more infantile than the kids whose care is their responsibility.

I would thus question Cohen’s appeal to common sense because it does not account for what common sense has become!

1 comment:

DigitalDan said...

Not all that new. I was "outsourced" to large piles of comic books, as I recall. More like Little Lulu than Savage X-Beasts or whatever, but that was just parents exercising common sense. At any rate, I believe the level of absorption at that age was similar to that generated by today's video games.