The Ethics of Awesomeness

Sunday, August 29, 2021

What Is It

The word “awesome” once meant inspiring extreme fear or dread. Nowadays it’s mostly used as a general purpose exclamation of approval. So when we describe a person as awesome, are we saying that they exemplify some general form of excellence? Or are awesome people those who break specific social norms to generate moments of creative expression and social connection? Would the world be a better place if we all aimed to be more awesome and less sucky? Josh and Ray stand in awe of Nick Riggle from the University of San Diego, author of On Being Awesome: A Unified Theory of How Not to Suck.

Comments (24)


Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Wednesday, July 21, 2021 -- 3:31 PM

No. This is stupid. Anyone

No. This is stupid. Anyone knowing awesome from mediocre gets this.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, July 25, 2021 -- 4:47 PM

Everytime someone tells me

Everytime someone tells me something is awesome, when it is little better than usual, reasonable
and customary, I think about exaggeration for effect. I want to grab these people by the throat and demand to know what their notion of awesome is. For example, a comfortable and successful bowel movement is not awesome. The Grand Canyon might be. Or, the borealus. When we place an order for food at a favored restaurant, that is not awesome. If the service and food is exceptional, we may reexamine our assessment. Awesome is a worn out algorithm, leaving us with the sense of nothingness. It is a further useless application of political correctness. If I sneeze, will you declare:, awesome? I truly hope not.

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Sunday, July 25, 2021 -- 11:24 PM

Riggle discusses this and

Riggle discusses this and more. You have more in common with his thesis than you think.

Riggle is not stupid. He pokes fun at his own arguments, but there is something new in the terms he is discussing, something most all Americans agree upon. Social openings are rare. Let's not waste them with wack. Fear is no longer the core awesome. Wonder extends to community where, lately, it's been tough to find.

Awesome Prius
-Nobody

The same goes for bowel movements.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, July 26, 2021 -- 3:15 PM

Well. You may have this any

Well. You may have this any way you wish, Tim. Awesome is over-used. In 1986, i had a brief relationship with someone.. She was a mid-level administrative professional, paid in the 65 to 70 thousand dollar range. Her boom crutch was UM. She could not prepare well enough to avoid this piece of presentational sleight-of-vocalization. Anyone in the business of presentations understands that a pause is better than an um. Awesome is similar. Seems to me. Same with if you thank someone for something and they reply: no problem. If there were a problem; could be one, you have no business in any kind of. person-to-person public contact. You are welcome is respectful and involves only one more word. .I do not care for new-speak. This has nothing to do with constructive change. It is about respect, understanding and uncommon sense. Common sense is no longer an option, it seems.

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Monday, July 26, 2021 -- 11:40 PM

Well indeed. I detect a chill

Well indeed. I detect a chill.

My way and wishes aren't half as interesting as yours and Riggle's. If I understand you, the issue is semantic bleaching (SB) and a halcyon good old day that has lost all sense of awe. If I understand Riggle, there is a new term in town called awesome who celebrates humanity at every opportunity.

Bleaching is a technical term that I honestly don't understand too well but can be measured using n-grams. The transition that you are talking about is SB. Awfully bad becomes awfully nice over time, changing from modifier to an intensifier. I don't want to get too deep into it but to say that this is real and measurable with natural language modeling and linear algebra.

If I were to do this analysis, I agree that awesome has transitioned from modifying the Grand Canyon to intensifying the taste of candy. I haven't done that analysis and don't have the talent. I have looked at the n-gram for 'awesome,' however, and its usage has considerably increased in the last two decades, tagging closely with the term' sucks.' Using Google's n-gram viewer or Microsofts, the word 'excellent' has a more gradual slope and is perhaps intensifying.

Nick Riggle, who is a better thinker than I am, without doubt, isn't using vector space to make his case, and neither are you. Instead, he appeals to our common sense and uses anecdotes, not unlike yours of the mid-level boom crutching 'um' user. Riggle and your friend's usage are not intensifying but somewhat different ideas altogether. 'No worries' or 'no problem' and 'um,' for that matter, are particles of pause for social politeness.

Riggle is defining a whole new significance to awesome and suckiness. Again, I'm just taking this in myself, but when I look to the n-gram viewer for these terms… there does seem to be something to it—namely social openings between groups of Americans who generally don't treat each other all too well.

This social engagement is awesome, and not my way but Riggle's. I prefer wack with my coffee, mescaline, or drug of choice. Regardless of how good the old days were for me, the new day is different and ever-changing. I want to enjoy that drink with some reflection but not too much reverence for lost meaning. There isn't any.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Wednesday, August 4, 2021 -- 12:01 PM

The chill of disbelief. No

The chill of disbelief. No flowery language or rhetorical artifice. There. Flowery enough? Awsome-ness is another version of dramatic license---ways of making important the mundane. Kind of like um-ness, which I visited with an ex in 1986. These topics were tired, before they ever BECAME topics. To me, it is arguable that such mundane matters merit any sort of philosophical discussion. But, it is not within my purview to make these decisions. There are all kinds of ideas floating about now regarding cancel culture; history revisionism; and who knows what else that have peripheral relation to philosophy. Flavors of the week. These diversions have no place, seems to me. Their creation (or emergence) is distraction from more serious problems that current thinkers are loathe to tackle...

many of which are insoluable. And have been for centuries. So, rather than rendering philosophy irrelevant, new questions are posed; new problems, suggested, tongue-in-cheek, hopinig no one will notice. i noticed. Read some of what Burke has written about rhetoric. Maybe the light bulb will yet illuminate.

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Thursday, August 5, 2021 -- 8:35 AM

Um...OK. No problem. I guess

Um...OK. No problem. I guess I can't have it my way.

So it's not semantic bleaching. Your point is what then? That this post is not worth posting. Yet still, you post to it? I think the philosopher protests too much.

Let's use Burke if you want. You won't find a purchase there. He was a politician first, philosopher second. He talks about some points that Riggle touches upon (social connection, relation, and language), but he cuts both ways to get his table flowers cut. If that is your table, then cut away... enlighten me. But make an argument, Burke is all over the place as suits his need, unlike Riggle who is precise in calling out a new aesthetic.

I will hear Riggle out first... then wack it down as needed. That is the ethic of philosophy, and also kind of awesome.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Thursday, August 5, 2021 -- 9:41 AM

Not sure we are on the same

Not sure we are on the same Burke. Kenneth is the one I referred to. An autodidact and college instructor who never obtained a college degree. Talented intellect, who played by his own rules and marched to his own drumbeat. He recognized the limitations of rhetoric, and was, thereby, the one to best write about it.

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Thursday, August 5, 2021 -- 5:43 PM

Definitely not talking about

Definitely not talking about the same one. I will check him out. That will take some time but I will definitely do this.

Take care.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, August 6, 2021 -- 2:41 PM

Thanks, Tim.

Thanks, Tim.

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Friday, August 13, 2021 -- 2:45 PM

Harold,

Harold,

I read 'Permanence and Change' (PAC) and 'Rhetoric of Motives' (ROM) by Burke. The language is "flowery," but the content is good. I'm not sure what you are pointing to concerning Riggle's argument or whether these books are the right ones.

I like off-the-path philosophers, but in retrospect, Burke is well-reviewed and respected if not canonized like Edmund Burke. At least I have read a couple of his works now.

I need help. What are you pointing to here with Kenneth Burke's work? He is not arguing a loss of meaning in words and he seems to acknowledge creativity and derived new meaning in words and sentences as a matter of literary critical fact. He actually uses awe and awesome in a similar sense to Riggle in ROM. I can quote those passages but they don’t really pertain exactly to the idea here of social opening. But Burke is open to human acts as awesome. If anything, it would seem to me Burke would entertain Riggle's argument at least and is a strong proponent of thought and action as derivative of our interests. This much is clear from PAC. Riggle is pointing to social openings as that interest. I also liked Burke's discussion of mysticism, which could also be extended to Riggle's observations in a godless sense, where people see acts as awesome and previously divinely inspired acts as such in the artful social openings of media and human-to-human interactions.

I'm not reading these as closely as I should perhaps. It would be nice were Kenneth Burke alive today to discuss Riggle's work at least

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Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, August 6, 2021 -- 3:30 PM

General remarks on the

General remarks on the premise of this post. 1. I do not see awesome-ness as a matter for ethics at all.. Tried to get to that earlier with velvet boxing gloves, clearly lacking effect. 2. When I referred to the Red Sea incident, I could not qualify that. We were, I venture, not there.. 3. If, as I doubt, Jesus arose from his grave after three days, that would have been awesome, I guess. And just so. There are notions posited on this blog. Many of which I find dubious, if not preposterous. There are commenters with whom I disagree, ideas I find paradoxical---even though paradox is impossible, as a practical matter....something only explainable, within our limited understanding.

In any case, thanks for your indulgence. PT is still more fun than a headache. Or covid. But, you might consider breaking your repetitious mold..Moreover, thinking more deeply on whether there are ethics connected with things like awesomeness...There is no next big thing. Never was.
Good night and good luck.
Be Well.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Saturday, August 7, 2021 -- 2:55 PM

Lastly,your notions of ethics

Lastly,your notions of ethics and how those play into routine things such as algorithims, science and on, leave me puzzled.. Ethics are slippery. As is truth. But, that asserted, tools and advance of knowledge seem trancscendent to ethical concerns. I am not talking about abomination here. There are clear examples of that...which current thought would deny. Ethics, morals and the like are, according to Davidson, propositional. Subject to skepticism, according to Dewey's notion about the
shady nature of belief. Philosophy changes. But,not so much,at bottom. If philosophy is betrayed by convenience or some next-big-thing, it will not be the last time.

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Tuesday, August 17, 2021 -- 10:33 PM

Algorithms and science are

Algorithms and science are human endeavors and as such incorporate ethics by virtue, rule, or consequence. Internet searches, image deep fakes, and calls for car warranty extensions are examples of ethical issues with algorithms. Opium, DDT, leucotomies, and American eugenics are examples of scientific ethics gone wrong. So too and often with social interactions, but not in this case, the ethics of social openings. Riggle is not chopping at the root of philosophy, or at propositional attitudes exactly. There is no convenience in observing a new meaning to awesome, only greater explanatory power and proscriptive thought.

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Daniel's picture

Daniel

Sunday, August 8, 2021 -- 6:57 PM

The word describes the

The word describes the phenomenon of awe, as in "shock and awe". Could this be an attempt to portray military aggression as "awesome"?

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, August 9, 2021 -- 2:17 PM

Anyone's guess is as good as

Anyone's guess is as good as anyone else's. Depending on motive, we can bend meaning, any which way we wish. This is why I have been fascinated with Davidson's idea of propositional attitudes.
Desire, belief, expectation, and a dozen others are what they are at any given time, depending on contingency and a totality of circumstances. Dewey, notoriously, found beliefs shady. Ideologies twist meaning to their own ends. Religion ends up with Philosophy in University humanities departments.
Some say the humanities are thereby enriched. I am not so certain. Truth remains illusive.. for all of the foregoing reasons. And more,I expect. But, some might argue, this is all rhetoric. Sure. But, if we do not exhaust reasons, we cannot arrive at solutions either.

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Tuesday, August 17, 2021 -- 8:44 PM

I flat out disagree with the

I flat out disagree with the statement - "Anyone's guess is as good as anyone else's." while going along with the idea that it may very well be all guesses. I'll have to read more Davidson and it looks like the Dewey show is going to repeat here soon so that will give some time to think about his thoughts on belief. Kenneth Burke doesn't argue this is all rhetoric. I'm liking Riggle's ideas the more I read and think about what he is saying. It's a path away from the polarizing battles over beliefs, taking time to express identity and even celebrate it.

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Daniel's picture

Daniel

Monday, August 23, 2021 -- 2:44 PM

Awesomeness and its negation,

Awesomeness and its negation, "suckyness", appear at first glance to be expressions representing excellence and sub-standardness. This however seems not to be the case, as these latter can refer to actual or possible perfection or imperfection of objects, which can be judged the same way independent of who beholds them. Awesomeness, however, seems to include the intrasubjective phenomenon of pleasant extraordinariness, and therefore describes an event, rather than a person or thing. Considered as a propositional attitude (ala Davidson), when something is called "awesome", say the taste of an ice cream cone, a real predicate traced to taste sensations whose causes are describable by physical processes, is applied in the mind of the subject, i.e. in the context of a "mental event", to a merely abstract object, the generic notion of what an ice cream cone is. The causes of the truth of its awesomeness as excellence, say its sweetness and semi-meltedness, might be very different from the reason I call it "awesome", e.g. perhaps because I want to impress the person who sold it to me. And calling it "awesome" must be included in the event of its being awesome. I therefore agree with interlocutor Neuman that the event of something's awesomeness is readily approachable by considering it as a propositional attitude, which could be any kind of belief, claim, fear, aspiration, desire, etc.;' the essential point being that one of these is the genuine reason for the event of the awesomeness, and not the physical causes of the perception of what, in relation to the propositional attitude of the subject towards it, constitutes a merely abstract physical object which, while being real, cannot contribute to the truth of the awesomeness claim.

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Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Monday, August 23, 2021 -- 4:48 PM

Jesus! Two interlocutors are

Jesus! Two interlocutors are greater than one. If I can find no second on the intertubes... I will resign myself to the proposition that Davidson is awesome.

Dewey have agreement? I am just trying to Riggle my way out of this.

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Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Thursday, August 26, 2021 -- 9:28 PM

This show went all over the

This show went all over the place. Many of the places that this pre-show posting did as well - especially Ian's bit. I did read the book. As with most books I finish I found myself enthusiastic about it overall. Not all philosophy is deep. Some of it is unexpected. I actually think there is more to this than maybe the author thinks.

Sometimes abiding is awesome I think. Maybe that is my learning here.

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Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Wednesday, September 8, 2021 -- 1:07 PM

All else aside, I just don't

All else aside, I just don't get an ethical connection with awesome-ness. Can't even suss why there ought to be one.

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Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Saturday, September 11, 2021 -- 5:05 AM

What is the difference

What is the difference between swimming and parkour? Cultivating community, style, and individuality, and I would add meaning. This is one of the examples Riggle uses from his book. The fact that he is a world-class athlete gives him a unique appreciation for this ethic, and I would say that is how he first came to the concept.

Ethics and morality are the same more often than not. Thinking of ethos and mores might help. Human action can be awesome; Tom Harmon jumping out of a plane over a jungle and walking away, Richard Brown breaking skin dropping into a skate park, and people thinking of terms with new meaning.

The ethic is appreciation and respect of others as they show us new ways of acting and creating meaning.

The connection is one of the book's arguments that PT chose to pick up as that is not only where the fun is but also from where conflict resolution and personal and social growth come.

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Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Thursday, September 23, 2021 -- 10:17 AM

I suppose I have been tedious

I suppose I have been tedious about this topic. Maybe only odious? All else considered, my life experiences, vis-a-vis, awesome, were not dreadful or fearsome. Fear and dread have not been associates with my own notions of awesome. I have never been to the Grand Canyon. Nor seen the Great Barrier Reef. I have viewed the hues of the Aurora Borealus. Found those neither dreadful nor fearsome. Now, I suppose if I had been present at the alleged parting of the Red Sea, I would have been puzzled. Or the alleged resurrection of Jesus. Such events are enigmatic---if one was not there.
They are, therefore, matters of faith. Or belief. In previous instances,, I have allowed that people have every right to their belief and faith. If those propositional attitudes attach to the things held dear, Que sera, sera. Awesomeness is overrated, by recent accounts. Everybody has their own album to do. I am just not that excited about it...

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