The Structural Failing of Dunkology

It’s easy to make people look stupid.

On the internet it’s incredibly easy to make someone look stupid. You can just take single phrases, put them out of context, and then you make the person who had the temerity to put words out there on the internet look like some kind of big stupid asshole. Any given quote can be put into contexts where it looks bad, a practice that’s very popular amongst Young Earth Creationists that we sometimes refer to as quote mining, or cherry picking. If you control the frame and context of words, you can make the work of any person with a meaningfully large corpus of language say almost anything you want them to say, and in the process, make them look foolish or useless or evil.

Ostensibly, there’s a solution to this; sourcing. If you provide a link to everything you’ve mentioned, people can look at things in their proper context. It helps to build a structure of all these arguments and positions around us, and it means anyone who wants to can look at your argument and the original source, and if they have sourced properly, a whole thread of sources going back to the root.

This isn’t perfect, though. Thanks to very reasonable defensive measures, as well, like not wanting to spread conspiracy theories or relate to dangerous individuals, or rile up the audience of a dangerous individual, you might not want to link to an original source, which is a thing that comes up with me. I don’t tend to link to the work of total shitheads; I might quote a passage from a Ray Comfort book where he discourages people get cancer treatment, but I’m not going to direct you to go check out his youtube page. Similarly, for a host of vulnerable people who are dependent on their twitter capacity to do meaningful work, a brigade there is an overwhelming strain on the network of resources we have that operate their lives, and in that situation, the right shithead with a large enough, mobile enough division of shitheads, can overburden them.

This means that if you are invested in perhaps, addressing a complaint but not necessarily a complainant, you may want to talk about a thing someone is saying without actually opening up the opportunity to platform them. And that means that citations and sources have to be done with a nod-wink, breaking this line of context. I understand that that means sometimes you can’t do it, and that’s okay, and I like to encourage my friends to reduce the amount of attention they direct to professional shithead attention-sponges. Excising a bad opinion from its context to sanitise it for your own purposes is a reasonable thing to do. I don’t mind that.

What I am concerned about is how we get an evolving form of common discourse on small-industry space ideas in these spaces that boils down to making your criticism of ideas, or your explanation for those ideas, as exactly as deep as you can do in a dunk that you think will be funny. It’s an attempt to make your critique of things exactly as deep and meaningful as necessary but also make it engaging content and make it funny and interesting and then usually, as a byproduct of how twitter works, an attempt to reinforce an in-group.

This is dunkology; critique through the dunk, and do not get me wrong, dunks are great, dunks are good for that, uh, again, reinforcing in-groups. Sobstories about billionaires’ problems are often well-pierced by a solid dunk. Empty air about political promises and racist talking points, they go choom straight down with a good ole dunk. Mockery is a beautiful and wonderful tool. It is a rebuff, it is a dismissal, it is a dissent.

It’s not really engagement. Indeed, it’s the opposite of engagement – it’s an insistence on not engaging. And that makes dunkology fantastically bad for actual critical engagement with specific media, to talk about why and how things work.

A dunk needs to be incisive and funny and it needs to be brief. Critique often can’t be. Critique often needs to engaged with the work, it needs to understand the work and it needs to be able to test the original work within the framework of that work.

Doing Dunks on out-of-context pages of indie TTRPGs is going to make you worse at criticising with and engaging with them. If it’s your primary means of engaging with work, if you can’t incarnate things like ‘I don’t like this’ without resorting to ‘well clearly these people didn’t read Engels,’ you don’t project ‘I’ve read Engels’ you project ‘I am a boring turd.’

Dunks are fun.

Dunkology makes you worse at thinking.