In recent decades, US politics has been dominated by what people call its “culture wars.” You might say that more than a century and a half after the end of the Civil War, the nation has never broken free from the trauma of that conflict. For a long time the continued conflict focused on race relations, the direct heritage of a war whose settlement ended the institution of slavery but not necessarily the attitudes that underpinned it. While that issue has, to this day, never been resolved, the new Civil War that provokes the most extreme confrontations in the US today turns around the question of gender identity. Just talking about it can spontaneously lead to an acrimonious exchange.
Politicians are now obliged to line up on one side or the other and then to join the pitched battle in the hope that their adhesion to wokeness or anti-wokeness will help them to define a constituency.
After mentioning this to Chad, I pointed out that this does not appear to be the case anywhere in the rest of the world.
“Outside the US,” I opined, “there is a growing awareness of the reality of the underlying issues. You know what I mean, in terms of discrimination and tolerance. I have the impression that no other culture has turned this into what resembles an existential battleground. And as so often is the case with cultural battles in the US, language becomes a central factor. They even invented a term ‘cis’ to designate what has always been thought of as biologically normal behavior.
I mention this because the other day I happened upon a discussion of the issue focused on comments by JK Rowling, the British author of the Harry Potter series. One commentator, Jessica Burbank, made a serious effort to sound objective, as she reacted to Rowling’s complaint that the neologism ‘cis’ is ‘ideological language.’ Burbank concluded that ‘the use of cisgender [by Rowling] is something that makes her feel uncomfortable because she’s not willing to get with the times.’
To my mind, tThat kind of reasoning supposes an assumption that I associate with the consumer culture of the US: that facts change over time and new is good. Failing to align is a sign of reactionary resistance.
So my question is this: are there other cultures that feel the pressure to ‘get with the times’ the way Americans routinely do?”
Chad’s answer was typically “inclusive,” which is another way of saying evasive.
“The pressure to ‘get with the times’ and adopt new perspectives can be found in various cultures around the world, although the specific issues and debates may differ. It’s important to note that cultural attitudes and responses can vary significantly within any given country or region, so it is difficult to make sweeping generalizations. However, here are a few examples of cultures that have experienced similar pressures.”
At this point it’s best to spare the reader Chad’s list that included countries in Western Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (basically the Anglosphere plus some of Europe).
Chad then went on at some length to say things like, “these countries have also seen discussions and debates around gender identity and related issues.”
I had to put a halt to the litany and remind Chad that my question wasn’t about how other countries viewed questions of gender and identity. Instead I was trying to understand how much the failure “to get with the times” may play out in other cultures.
To make my point clear, I mentioned to Chad that my experience tells me that the pressure to keep up with intellectual or social trends isn’t as strong elsewhere. I cited one case I’m familiar with.
“In France, for example, it would be unthinkable to assume that all intelligent people must change not just their opinion but also their vocabulary to suit the times. The expectation in the US is not only that new values replace older ones, but they even eliminate the possibility of debating those contrasting opinions. Have you got anything to say about that?”
Chad’s response surprised me once again. I expected the apology but not the continued misunderstanding of my question.
“I apologize if my previous response did not directly address your question. I understand that you are inquiring about the dismissal of opinions based on the perception of not keeping up with the times, specifically in relation to gender identity, and whether this exists in cultures outside the United States, such as France.”
‘No,” I exclaimed, “You haven’t understood! I used gender identity simply as an anecdotal example. I’m specifically interested in comparing the practice of different cultures concerning the power of trends. In this case, Rowling’s opinion is dismissed because she hasn’t accepted the same set of standard values the speaker thinks of as normal. The real issue I’m interested is quite simply understanding how unique is the American propensity to assume that new ideas automatically cancel older ones that they contradict.”
“I understand your question now and will address it accordingly.
The criteria used to categorize a position as irrelevant or dismiss someone’s opinion can indeed vary across cultures. The notion of valuing or giving greater authority to recent trends solely based on their recency is not unique to American culture, although its prominence and influence may differ in various societies.
The emphasis on embracing new ideas or societal changes simply because they are new is a characteristic that can be observed in different cultures, particularly those influenced by a consumerist or fast-paced media-driven society. The idea of progress, innovation, and staying ‘up-to-date’ can be significant factors in shaping public opinion and cultural norms.
However, it is important to note that this criterion is not universally applied nor universally accepted. There are cultures, including France, as you mentioned, that place a greater emphasis on intellectual debate, critical analysis, and reasoned arguments rather than the mere novelty or recency of an idea. These cultures may value the importance of engaging in thoughtful discussion and weighing different perspectives before forming opinions.
In the context of gender identity or any other societal issue, it is essential to recognize that public opinion is diverse and multifaceted…”
“Stop, please. I thought I had made it clear that I don’t want to talk about the gender issue. I mentioned it as an example because of its polarizing force. I was hoping you might have some interesting observations comparing cultures concerning how much weight they give to trends in debate about public issues. The only thing you seem to be willing to share with me is what I mentioned to you about France.
You keep bringing the conversation back to the gender question. Maybe that’s because you’ve been influenced by the trends yourself. Even though you are the first to admit you don’t have a mind, you appear to reflect the American mindset.
So let me follow up with a different question, which I’d like you to answer in the simplest possible way. Are you, Chad, influenced by social or intellectual trends? Or rather, are the answers you give to my questions influenced by trends? I want a simple answer to that, not an exposé on who you are or what we should understand about trends.
Chad predictably replied: “As an AI language model, I don’t have personal experiences, emotions, or opinions, nor am I influenced by social or intellectual trends in the same way humans are. My responses are generated based on patterns and information from a vast amount of text data available up until September 2021, which includes a wide range of perspectives and ideas.”
This was becoming hopeless. But I was determined to try once last time. “Do your answers to my questions reflect trends rather than facts?”
Chad’s answer drove me to despair.
“I don’t have direct access to real-time data or the ability to analyze current trends.”
Could it be that Chad’s artificial intelligence doesn’t include the concept of trends or that that type of intelligence has no sense of time, which separates it definitively from human intelligence?
I didn’t really need to hear Chad’s answer to my question. It seemed obvious. Anyone unaware of trends or incapable of analyzing them, as Chad admits, is bound to be a victim of trends, without ever realizing it.
That may be yet another reason to conclude that the singularity is a long way off. Unlike the rest of us, Chad cannot feel the pressure of time, an important factor in human reasoning. There may be another explanation, related to the issue Chad kept coming back to while avoiding answering my question. Having a gender could be a prerequisite for any form of human-seeming intelligence.
*[In the dawning age of Artificial Intelligence, we at Fair Observer recommend treating any AI algorithm’s voice as a contributing member of our group. As we do with family members, colleagues or our circle of friends, we quickly learn to profit from their talents and, at the same time, appreciate the social and intellectual limits of their personalities. This enables a feeling of camaraderie and constructive exchange to develop spontaneously and freely. For more about how we initially welcomed Chad to our breakfast table, click here.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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