Friday, 19 May 2017

Thought 549: Video Games – Responding and Reacting – Responsibility

"Do we not always sit at a great mocking-and-gaming table?

- Thus Spoke Zarathustra

"A strong nature manifests itself by waiting and
postponing any reaction."

The Will to Power

"Every characteristic absence of spirituality, every piece of
common vulgarity, is due to an inability to resist a stimulus –
you have to react, you follow every impulse."

Twilight of the Idols

It is said by some that unlike film-watching which is said to be 'passive' - a position that neglects to see how film-watching not only involves the senses but is often followed by evaluation and even interpretation, which are both far from 'passive' - video games are 'active' because you have a degree of control over the visual information displayed on the screen via a controller.

Yet in essence the control the 'gamer' feels he has in a game - a degree of control which is mathematically calculated by the game developers - is mostly always in reaction to the game's visual and audio information. Jump here, shoot there, brake here, collect there, place here, destroy there etc. 

In a very real sense then, gaming is reactive or rather, acts in reaction to pre-determined data.

This action-in-reaction to data in video games raises the question of when action is not reactive to pre-given data - is there such a thing as pure action, i.e. non-reactive action?

For instance writing this blog post, whilst a form of action, is also reacting to a desire to communicate an angle on video games, a desire triggered by reading a philosophy book. 

Actions based on the fulfilment and satisfaction of needs - such as going to the loo - are obviously reactions to data that our mind-body complex is giving us. 

A lot of online literature reacts to statements and angles offered by others, news items, social media trends, current world conditions and so forth and indeed the interplay of social interaction always involves an element of responding to the communications of others.

It could even be said, more widely, that in every single action we take we are responding (or reacting) to, at the very least, a thought or an emotion. 

We've reached the point in the argument where it is necessary to attempt to distinguish reaction from response. 

Both reaction and response are forms of action that are triggered not only by information in our mind and body but by external events. 

However a possible line of demarcation between the two can be drawn in looking at the shared root between the word 'response' and the word 'responsibility', the latter meaning, in its psychological sense, being in charge of something and accountable, i.e answerable, for it. 

A philosophical point could be made that in responding to something we are in psychological control and therefore can be held accountable for the quality of our response whereas in reaction the quality of action occurs almost despite ourselves in a practically involuntary way - the emotions that move us to react not being voluntary - so that we cannot be held so easily accountable for the deed that resulted from the reaction. 

In that sense reflexes are reactive, because reflexes are too quick and sub-consciously instinctive to be considered to have the same quantum of voluntariness as response.

So when Nietzsche wrote of what he called men of ressentiment (men of resentment) in contrast to active men of nobility that their their actions were really reactions, we could make an exegesis based on what I have argued above, that the actions, including the speech and writings, of these 'resentful' human beings lack the quality of agency and voluntariness typical of non-reactive responding natures who, having more agency and self-control, can be held more accountable for their responses and in that sense are more responsible. 

Turning it around we could say that to be responsible entails having the quality of someone who responds rather than reacts, who has agency over his thoughts, emotions and actions and therefore can be considered as having an element of free will and therefore is more answerable for his deeds and words in that he can answer, i.e account, for them. 

Addendum - Mark Passio, in his What On Earth is Happening video presentation series, points to the green language aspect of the word 'responsibility' as response ability, i.e. our ability to respond (rather than react). That both of us should have picked up on this idea in our own separate journeys shows the large amount of congruence between his and my way of thinking. 

Addendum 2 - The 'sponse' of response and responsibility comes from the Latin verb spondeo, to promise, bind, pledge oneself but also, in the context of Roman law, to stand as guarantee for the actions, liabilities and promises of another.

Thus, right there in the etymology of 'responsibility', the ability to respond, and discourses of 'responsibilisation', we find an ambiguity as to the extent to which in taking responsibility for ourselves we are also taking responsibility for others, including those who have harmed us and done us wrong, with the result that the virtue of 'responsibilisation' turns into the vice of 're-victimisation', of blaming the victim (see Misfortune & Blame).

[Regarding which, these dark words of Nietzsche's Will to Power, number 55, come to mind
"[It] is the experience of being powerless against men, not against nature, that generates the most desperate embitterment against existence. [...] If the suffering and oppressed lost the faith that they have the right to despise the will to power [including its violent deeds], [such as if it were incontrovertibly shown that the hatred and contempt of the will to morality is also will to power, operates on the same plain as that of the oppressors, without prerogative or higher rank] they would enter the phase of hopeless despair."]