[ Question ]

Is there a mu-like term that means something like "why is this any of my business?"

by CraigMichael1 min read6th Apr 202111 comments

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Personal Blog

[Context: mu is a way to respond to a question phrased in a yes or no way but that can't be answered with a yes or a no.] 

I'll quickly try to explain my predicament. 

I'm two episodes in to the HBO series Allen v. Farrow, a documentary about Woody Allen and Mia Farrow's relationship and Allen's relationship with Farrow's children.

I'm watching it because I subscribe to a film critic on YouTube, Rick Worley, who made a documentary By The Way, Woody Allen is Innocent, that I found very compelling. I thought the HBO series would be a good counter-balance to see what the other side would say.

Tonight I found myself thinking, "why is it important that I have an opinion one way or another on this?" The knee-jerk responses that came to mind were along the lines of "yes, this is totally a waste of your time" or "there are forms of entertainment with higher RoI."

Perhaps that's true, but another side of my brain retorted with "hey remember when you saw Gideon's Trumpet (the documentary about the events surrounding Gideon v. Wainwright) that you drop in conversation all the time now when you're discussing someone going to trial who looks guilty as sin but then looks completely different once they have access to a competent lawyer and other legal services?"

I started thinking "of all the high-profile controversial scandals, why are any of them my business?" In some cases, perhaps there are things I could do to change the outcome or there may be ways that the outcome would affect me by way of a legal or cultural precedents. In many cases there aren't or the reasons for concern aren't clear.

I believe this situation and others like it may be improved if there was a term or phrase for them that could be invoked when, specifically, a scandal is framed apriori in a way that implies it's really important for you to understand and have an opinion on it when the default position should be "it's none of my business." So when someone brought up something as complicated as the Allen v. Farrow story you could respond "etaoin shrdlu?"* which would mean something like (1) what obligation do I have to thoroughly investigate the claims being made to the point that I have very little doubt about my conclusions? (2) by what right am I being obligated to have an opinion on them? and (3) what is the expected benefit to me or society from (1) and (2)? This would then shift the responsibility to that someone who brought it up to explain the particular salience of the scandal. 

And I don't mean (1), (2) or (3) in a sneering or "so what?" kind of way. There may in fact be good reasons to invest time thinking about these situations, but it's also possible that you're just getting too involved in someone's personal life... or are maybe living vicariously to the detriment of other things.  

Ideally such a term, if it already exists or exists in the future, could also be used as a response to political slogans that would enjoin someone to a cause at penalty of falling in to a Kafkatrap.

*etaoin shrdlu is already taken, but it seemed like an appropriately randomish set of characters. 

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5 Answers

This is a hangover from being a monkey.

We are social primates. All that is going on here is that your brain is madly trying to figure out the social organisation of the apes on TV. This is porn for your evolutionary social imperatives. 

Your brain is telling you this is important. It's not. 

Given that it is a maladaptive evolutionary response from being a primate I wouldn't suggest a word to describe it so much as a sound. Primates have vocalisations, find one that fits.

Pragmatically, the way I deal with these situations is that I just find a precis. Wikipedia is pretty good for that. That way I can get a really quick bearing on how much I care. I cannot even begin to tell you how much popular media I've not consumed by this method whilst still being able to understand what people are talking about if they reference it.

The other thing I am a huge fan of is accelerated media. If I can play something twice as fast and/or skip sections then that helps to ingest faster than the default speed. I still haven't found a solution that removes spaces between spoken words (which is a really useful demo I've seen once, and never again), so if anyone knows how I'd like to hear it. Recorded media lets you manipulate time, and that obviously significantly enhances your ability to allocate it.

There is for sure a social hierarchy component to it.

Recently I’ve also been asking myself why I pay attention to the news. I decided that a it’s basically to get an idea of the current Overton window (or windows, as the case is now with various tribes) so I can bring that sensitivity to the state of mind of other people.... but there’s generally very little that’s actionable or relevant to me.

To push back slightly here, I think a term like I’m proposing would be a useful in other circumstances, take for example the slogan used proceeding and during Prohib... (read more)

2Stuart Anderson5dIf you are talking about temperance, abstinence, chastity etc. then what's wrong with those kind of words here? You are treating your attention as a quantity not to be squandered on unworthy pursuits.
1CraigMichael3dI’m kind of responding and thinking outloud here.... thanks for being patient it’s taking me to longer to put my finger on this than I thought it might. I do believe that attention should be treated as sacred, if anything should be. I was thinking about this in the shower... with with something like “ Lips That Touch Liquor Must Never Touch Mine” or “Believe X” where X is some demographic group of people or a single person, there’s an aspect of “smuggling priors” that I dislike. While I don’t drink, “Lips That Touch Liquor Must Never Touch Mine” is a shitty argument for not drinking. There’s an implied prior that personal preference in the behavior of romantic partners should be legislated. But there are plenty of good arguments for reducing or excluding consumption of alcohol, that’s just not one of them. With the Woody Allen case it’s a lot of “Believe X.” So long as X is describing a human(s), there’s a prior that one kind of human is inherently infallible (or at least substantially more credible). But there may still be good reasons to pay attention to the case. It may be like there’s a novel takeaway from it similar to Gideon v. Wainwright. In both situations I am more just fantasizing about a single word or term people could use to politely say “I’m not saying you’re wrong or that I don’t care, but I find your argument and evidence presented for it lacking in (framing, relevance to me, etc) although I could be be persuaded if your argument improved or you had better evidence for it.” Just kind of seemed like something someone would have thought of before and coined a phrase for. Sorry if I’m scattered here, thanks for helping my sort it out.
1Stuart Anderson2dPeople do have degrees of credibility. Isn't that the core of the entire genre of entertainment at question here: figuring out who's credible? It's not really about Allen potentially diddling his kids, it's about you figuring out (or having a sense thereof, anyway) whether he did or not. Which monkey is the lying monkey? I think that this particular circumstance could boil down to recognising porn for your evolutionary social hierarchy responses and then deciding whether to consume that porn or not on the basis it is porn. I'm not against porn per se, but it is what it is, and I think if you are stuffing your head with copious amounts of it then that's an indication that you might have a problem. The obvious problem is that what you are trying to communicate is such a complex compound statement. If I had to pick a single word for that it would be unconvinced.

"I haven't taken the time to look into it" can sometimes serve the role of redirecting the conversation, but doesn't convey the general sense of "It's a waste of both our time to even be discussing this."

In the specific case of Woody Allen, you could try something like, " I don't know if he's guilty, legally or morally, but either way I think the real problem is that we live in a society where it's likely enough to even be plausible." 

But yeah - I don't know of such a word or phrase. I think establishing one would be much easier in a community where most people were familiar with the kind of ideas in Politics is the Mind-Killer and Your Price for Joining. I say that because I think most people are viewing these kinds of discussions as being, not about the factual question but about tribal affiliation and group identity. In that context, just refusing to state an opinion either looks suspicious or like you're trying to seem wise and high status, like a judge.

That’s true... and maybe part of my frustration.

Tribally it’s the kind of thing people want you have any opinion on one way or another.

If anything I’m searching for, or maybe hoping to seed the idea of, a linguistic trick to get people to go from talking about an opinion one way or another on (for example) Woody Allen, and rather for them to have opinions about forming opinions one way or another on these kinds of things.

Like what is the teleology of forming or having an opinion on Woody Allen and Mia Farrow? If there was only some neat trick to get them there... like a word...

I’m probably obsessing about it too much. Obsessing about people obsessing... feeling so meta right now. :)

3AnthonyC5dIt's very hard to have a word for a concept that doesn't exist in the cultural milieu you share with your conversation partner. Here on LW it might be relatively easy, I'm sure we could coin one, and maybe we use it enough in our own circles and adjacent to those circles that it starts to trickle out. Words are paintbrushes, and all that. For now I'm amused just imagining trying to explain the concept of "teleology of forming an opinion" to, say, some of my less inquisitive and curious aunts and uncles. I think (after the maximum amount of time I'd be able to sustain the conversation) they'd come away with something like "Oh, he's not really interested in current events, and has his head in the clouds thinking about abstract things I can't understand." That said, I think a lot of the people I talk to would understand if I said, "I think having an opinion either way is a distraction, since I don't know enough to add anything that hasn't already been said, and in any case it's not something that I can affect or that affects me in any way. [This next sentence is one I would add, but may not apply to you, IDK] And since there are so many stories where similar things do happen, and others where they didn't but people think they did, I care a lot more about why the heck these kinds of things keep happening." Then the next time something comes up, like "What do you think about Meghan Markle?" or "What do you think should/will happen to each member of the Loughlin family?" you can say, "Remember what I said about Woody Allen? I feel the same way about this." You change the local culture by putting that idea into the air enough times that it becomes a concept you can point to.

In image board lingo there is the "this is very much my business" idiom of "this is relevant for my interests" which typically also expresses enjoyment of the content.

My brain also thinks that the question "Why do I care?" is already partly an idiom in english.

And when you know you don't care then you can "give 0 fucks".

A court can find an issue moot, it won't bother trying to resolve it because some part of the setup makes the question ill-founded or not important

I like to start with "I have no opinion on that." If pressed, I'd follow up with something like, "I don't understand; why is this so important to you?" Often, though, conditions result in my saying something more along the lines of, "What does that have to do with [what we were just discussing]?"

Are "whatever" and "I don't care" are still too sneering for your taste? It's intrinsically expressing a value judgment on the question if you claim it's not relevant (for you) to know the right answer to. So I'd expect any response for it to quickly take on a sneering connotation…