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From time to time, I find myself flabbergasted by the hypocrisy demonstrated by various groups when they argue the appropriateness or inappropriateness of various tactics depending on what suits them best.
This irritates me about myself, because it demonstrates that I've fallen for the basic underlying misdirection... that I've been paying attention to the <i>ostensible content</i> of political arguments, rather than their <i>intended purpose.</i>
The analogy I try to keep in mind to cure myself of this is to picture gang warfare in a non-English speaking country whose gangs, for various historical reasons, have adopted essentially arbitrary English phrases as labels and slogans.
So perhaps the "Peace on Earth" gang invades territory nominally controlled by the "Rational Discourse" gang, and scrawls their slogan "Equality for Everyone!" on a nearby wall. And the RDers, in keeping with their usual policy in such cases (which the members refer to as the "Sunshine and Puppies" policy), respond by setting fire to the PoEers' safehouse (known as "Radical Pacifism").
As long as I keep paying attention to what those English phrases mean in isolation, I will keep being deeply, deeply confused; it will keep seeming to me that there's hypocrisy and contradiction and inconsistency going on.
But when I accept that the English phrases are just convenient labels, and pay attention to the actual behavior, there's no confusion or hypocrisy involved. Gang A tagged gang B's property; gang B retaliated with violence. This is pretty standard gang interaction.
Sometimes paying attention to the words only serves to distract me.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 19th, 2014 07:11 pm (UTC)
Think of it as "branding"... like "Fair And Balanced" news. Just tack a [tm] after every descriptor and things become much clearer.
Jul. 19th, 2014 09:38 pm (UTC)
Yeah... I make an analogous mistake with brands all the time.
Jul. 19th, 2014 11:38 pm (UTC)
I've thought about starting a company called "Thorough Investigations[tm]" that would specialize in performing the most perfunctory inquiries possible. That way a politician or a CEO could call us in, then say with a straight face "We have ordered a Thorough Investigation[tm] and found no evidence of any wrongdoing"
Jul. 19th, 2014 08:26 pm (UTC)
Are you saying that you keep being fooled into thinking that groups are conducting politics, when they are really (and knowingly?) conducting gang interaction?
Jul. 19th, 2014 09:37 pm (UTC)
Nope, I'm not saying that.
Also, that isn't true.
Also, I'm not sure gang interaction isn't politics in the relevant sense.

What I'm saying is that I frequently end up trying to understand politics in terms of the literal meanings of the words politicians say, and then getting very confused when the resulting understanding is incoherent or false-to-facts, when I would do far better to treat the words politicians use as consistent but essentially arbitrary labels for various political entities.

And that the gang-labels analogy works for me as a way to bring my thinking back in line with the latter.
Jul. 19th, 2014 11:04 pm (UTC)
Hm. So when you say, " I've fallen for the basic underlying misdirection..." you're not asserting that anyone is actively or intentionally misdirecting by not using words in literal ways, just that your understanding is impaired when you assume they are. Yes?
Jul. 19th, 2014 11:09 pm (UTC)

Or, well, I endorse that interpretation, anyway. It's entirely possible that my choice of words reflects an implicit belief that there's active/intentional misdirection going on, but in any case I don't assert or endorse that belief now when challenged on it.
Jul. 19th, 2014 10:44 pm (UTC)

Politics often makes me want to set fire to things.
Jul. 20th, 2014 01:19 am (UTC)
Quite a lot of people, it seems to me, need to undergo the reverse process of your collapse into cynicism. For them, the literal meaning of a statement is not the first thing they think of -- indeed, it scarcely exists. Their very first thought is: What gang does this mean the speaker belongs to?

I think such people are depraved, and you should beware of taking comfort in joining them.
Jul. 20th, 2014 04:48 am (UTC)
In general, my goal is to understand other people's speech as an expression of what they meant to express by it.

So when their goal is to identify themselves as a member of a particular gang, then I consider understanding their speech as meaning that a success.
Jul. 21st, 2014 03:10 pm (UTC)
I get your point
But people don't just choose arbitrary phrases. They use the words they think mean what they want and this tells you a great deal. They choose words that they think will cause other people to have certain views ("terrorist", "freedom fighter"). Again, that's valuable information.

One of the things I feel allowed me to make sense and advance understanding of the recent BoS incident was to recognize that two groups of people were using different frames to describe incidents that most everyone agreed on. Frames bring with them vocabularies and entailments. Likewise, from the vocabularies people use I can sometimes deduce what their mental frames are like.
Jul. 21st, 2014 03:58 pm (UTC)
Re: I get your point
(nods) Most of the time, I agree.

But the exceptions can easily send me chasing my own tail if I don't recognize them as exceptions.
Jul. 22nd, 2014 11:02 am (UTC)
Priming is a thing and so many of us find that the words we get primed with distract us from the actions we need to observe. It's very true. You have stepped back and leveled up. :) Perspective is an excellent tool in your toolbox and you make very good use of it. For which I, am personally, glad as it's a convenient reminder to support that habit in myself as well.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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