Inter-Subjective Linking - Tying Star Wars, Marvel, Sports Rankings, Democracy, and Marriage Norms Together - Yuval Noah Harari - Joe Abittan - Sapiens

Inter-Subjective Linking

In my own mind I like to play out lots of fictional scenarios before I go to bed. If I have recently watched a Marvel movie, then I might be teaming up with Iron Man or Captain America in my own superhero story while I brush my teeth. If I was listening to a Star Wars audio book, then I might be engaged in a space battle while my day winds down. Since I was a kid I have had my own running fantasies with me as a main character in some of the science fiction stories I like the most. In my own mind, these stories are as real as the stories that appear on the big screen.
 
 
My individual stories, something the nerd community might call my own “head canon,” are subjective. They exist only within my own consciousness, and as a result I can change them or abandon them and they will no longer exist. They are subjective to my own individual consciousness, not dependent on the subjective consciousness of others and if I want I can completely ignore the rest of the world or certain aspects of the larger story.
 
 
Contrasting my individual fictions are the larger narratives that I engage with in my mind. The stories that make it on the big screen, onto a streaming platform, or into official books are inter-subjective. In the book Sapiens Yuval Noah Harari describes the existence of the inter-subjective by writing, “the inter-subjective is something that exists within the communication network linking the subjective consciousness of many individuals.” Iron Man has died in the current Marvel story line, and his death is now part of the inter-subjective communication network linking all the fans of the Marvel movies. In my own mind Iron Man might come back to life, but my individual consciousness doesn’t change the larger story which is inter-subjectively linked.
 
 
Outside the world of science fiction, inter-subjective linking is an important part of human societies. We see it in sports rankings, political organization, and marriage and family norms. We debate which sports team is better and have our individual opinions about who is a great player and what teams are the best. We can individually believe that our team will win the championship, should be ranked #1 in the country, or got screwed out of the playoffs without our subjective beliefs influencing how the sports season actually plays out. We can also have inter-subjective beliefs about sports that drive the narratives around the season and can lead to coaches being fired, players being traded, and coordinated booing at bad officiating calls.
 
 
Within politics and marriage and family norms we can have our individual beliefs, such as beliefs that one political system would be better than another, beliefs that polygamy is better than monogamy, or that kids need to leave the house at 18. There is nothing that makes representative democracies inherently better than divine monarchies, nothing that makes monogamous relationships inherently better than polygamous relationships, and no reason kids should be afforded the option to live at home after they turn 18. In each of these areas our inter-subjective beliefs have come to shape the way we understand the world, our relationships to others within the world, and our subsequent beliefs about how the world should ultimately be ordered. Representative democracies fit with other inter-subjective beliefs which have come to discredit divine monarchies. Monogamous relationships have certain advantages in helping ensure more men find romantic and life partners which blends with other inter-subjective beliefs that form the backbone of modern stable societies. The idea that one becomes and adult and full citizen at 18 and not 17, 19, or 21 is also an inter-subjective belief that we support together. It makes no difference if I decide that a young man is an adult at age 17 rather than 18. Inter-subjectively, our culture has agreed that full citizenship begins at 18.
 
 
Thinking about the relationship between the subjective and inter-subjective is helpful for understanding the world. It is helpful to see that our individual beliefs are often little more than our own twist on a fictional story. It is helpful to see that larger institutions and structures in our worlds are based on little more than shared fictions. Recognizing this dynamic can change the way we interpret and approach debates and arguments about topics for how we all should live and coordinate our lives together.
Nihil Sub Sole Novum Series: Fat Shaming

Nihil Sub Sole Novum: Fat Shaming

[This is a new blog post series of mine. The idea for this series is partly from Tyler Cowen’s blog where he does informal series such as That was then, this is now or Markets in Everything. The idea is to have an ongoing discussion through blog posts tied together by the Latin phrase Nihil Sub Sole Novum – There is nothing new under the sun. Each day is a new day, but so many of the problems we face have deep roots and historical precedence. We constantly face new challenges and it can feel as if no one has faced what we or society face today, but the reality is that much of what we deal with has been part of humanity for centuries, and this series will explore that long past.]
– – –
In 1901 Frank Andrew Munsey purchased a newspaper in New York called the Daily News. Around that time Munsey was purchasing a lot of newspapers in an effort to compete with Pulitzer and Hearst, two titans of the news industry. Michael Tisserand writes about Munsey’s purchase of the Daily News in his biography of George Herriman titled Krazy because Herriman had recently started at the paper as a cartoon artist and illustrator. Herriman was born in New Orleans to mixed black and Creole parents, but passed as white, giving him a precarious position in a newspaper industry that was brutal toward its employees. To demonstrate this brutality, Tisserand shares a quote about Munsey who purchased the paper which employed Herriman:
Tisserand quotes Allen Churchill in writing, As soon as Munsey purchased a newspaper, he ordered all fat men on the staff fired, for he considered them lazy as a breed. Munsey even demanded that no smoking signs be put up, as he considered smoking a waste of time.”
Tisserand offers this quote to show that Herriman, who would not have been able to get his job if he could not pass as white, was always on edge about his identity and appearance. What I want to focus on, specifically for this article, is the idea of fat shaming in the quote regarding Munsey.
I am a fan of Marvel’s movies, and I admit that I found Fat Thor from the Avengers Endgame movie pretty funny. I am guilty of repeating the line “You look like melted ice cream” which was issued to Thor to criticize his appearance. However I am able to recognize the fat shaming, prejudice, and mockery which takes place in that scene and with Thor’s character through the movie. I recognize how an innocent joke can be quite harmful to individuals who find themselves in a similar situation in real life.
In our world today, we put a lot of emphasis on our weight and appearance. One aspect of Neoliberalism, a term used characterize the general political and philosophical approach of most people in the United States today, is a sense of hyper-responsibility of the individual. The individual is responsible for maintaining good health, for being productive at all times of the day, for paying taxes, walking the dog, playing catch with their son, attending every dance recital, and having an opinion on all current events. Society is not expected to provide anything, the individual is expected to be responsible for all of their affairs. Thor, facing PTSD and survivor’s guilt, couldn’t handle the personal responsibility that his failures placed on his shoulders, and his outward weight gain reflected his inward tragedy, but was played for laughs more than it was used to really explore the pressures he was crumbling beneath. Thor was fat shamed rather than counseled and supported by society.
Fat shaming is receiving more attention today (the name itself is relatively new) but it has existed for a long time. Munsey’s quote shows that fat shaming and the personal responsibility of Neoliberalism were present at the turn of the 20th century. Being fat was taken as a projection of laziness by Munsey. A person was judged from their body shape and weight, without regard for who the person was, what factors contributed to their health, or how hardworking the person actually was. Munsey may not have had anyone around to call his behavior fat shaming, but that is clearly what he was doing by firing the fat people at the newspapers he purchased – nihil sub sole novum.
We will see in future Marvel movies if Thor returns to being the muscular manly-man that he was prior to Endgame, or if he retains a body weight and shape that is not typical of superheroes. Either way, Thor can help teach us that our weight and body shape doesn’t just reflect how worthy we are but is influenced by trauma, by challenging life circumstances, and by complex social factors. Fat shaming is something we should be aware of and something that we should recognize has been a problem for a long time. We can continue to display coarse prejudices against fat people, or we can think about what being healthy really means and requires, what our body shapes say about us, and work to build more healthy communities that integrate healthy spaces for activity, healthy communities to appropriately work through trauma and stress, and healthy systems for eating. These are complex areas, and the struggles around them and resulting fat shaming is nothing new.