Thursday, 14 June 2018

On Political Discourse (or Why I Think Everyone Sounds Like They Hate Each Other on Twitter)

I have one thing to say on the nature of public, political and internet discourse at this point in time.

Our language sucks for expressing ourselves.

If I look at the stats and discover that in 2017 gingers bought more hair dye per capita than blondes and then state as much, I am expressing a fact about what happened in 2017. It's an unusual statement to make, but let's imagine I'm trying to minimise the effect of hair dye use on local river pollution.(Disclaimer: I did no research on hair dye stats for this article).

If I look at gingers and think their hair is an inherently ugly colour and then state that gingers will always buy more hair dye because they're ugly and we should probably try to have fewer gingers to keep pollution down then I am being a dick, as well as missing out on many fine potential relationships with many fine gingers. (Preferring the look of blonde hair wouldn't make me a dick, but expecting it to be recognised as fact as the basis for discrimination against gingers would).

Unfortunately the way our language works I can say something like 'Gingers incur higher hair dye costs' and it's absolutely unclear to the reader which of the two statements above I'm really making. It would then be totally understandable that a bunch of people online would read two totally different interpretations into my uncontextualised statement and then accuse one another of ginger-hating and truth-denying.

Sometimes someone's being a dick, and sometimes they're denying the truth. Based on the real world humans I've met I'd bet most of the time people are just trying to share some truth and compassion in a world of people calling each other names.

PS Sorry gingers, you're just a less publicly volatile case study than race and gender.

2 comments:

  1. Telegraphic brevity is the language of crisis! Trying to convey context and meaning in Twitter is like trying to hold a philosophy symposium where the audience sit by a road and the speakers shout at them from passing cars.

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  2. This is a nice post, thank you for it. Also I'm genuinely happy you're surrounded by some A-class real world humans.

    Unfortunately, the real world humans surrounding me are mostly very much just attempting to confirm their own biased views, fed to them at some pliable age. Human brains tend to be that way - quick to form bias and identity, and then very persistent in attempting to rationalize and re-contextualize everything so that they're always right and their identity is not threatened

    Being wrong is painful for egos and brains. Most humans I've met, myself very much included, need extensive practice to even be able to consider facts more or less neutrally instead of wielding them as self-confirming baseball bats. I've gotten some practice myself and I still totally suck at it. I still regularly witness my brain grabbing onto whatever confirms my own biases and just run with it and not think about it too much. Who even knows about the times I don't notice it and it still happens.

    Predictably irrational, as Dan Ariely put it.

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