Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Conversation

Group tags don't carry a lot of information now that that we can talk, read, write and are empowered. We still want to be part of groups, but they are living organisms that evolve with the times. A little like the way Steven Pinker describes the evolution of English in 'The Sense of Style'. There is no central committee that controls English. Those who put together dictionaries do it as an aid to writers. They survey the very best to see how they are writing and how things are changing. 'Silly went from "blessed" to "pious" to "innocent" to "pitiable" to "feeble" to today's "foolish".' What is more important than how the word should be understood is how the word is understood. If the writers aim is to communicate clearly, pedantically sticking to rules that don't represent usage is not helpful. The writers may be the ones surveyed, but the readers are very much a part of the evolution of the language.

It is for that reason that I am getting more and more careful in ever answering a question about who I am with a tag. As soon as you do, it can shut off the conversation. A hot topic question often avoided in polite company would be 'Do you believe in God?'. I am happy to have a conversation about this, but I would start by delving into what you mean by the question. I am almost 100% certain that our use of the word will be different. What I would hope is that the evolving story that makes sense to me would be useful to you and yours to me. It is the closing off of discussion and the use of divisive language that bothers me. To emphasise their point, some groups will use emotive terms to emphasise just how against something they are. They may even explicitly identify themselves as anti-[enter horrible nasty other group]. When I hear this, I just assume they are talking to themselves. I have no examples of occasions where attack has been a useful strategy in changing someone's mind. Stirring anger is very useful to rally the troops, but only when that anger is directed elsewhere.

How is this connected to talking/reading/writing/empowerment? Well, before the printing press someone had to tell us what we believed. Groups were clearly defined by the handful of the literate. Slowly we realised that the world is more fuzzy. Our stories are more fuzzy. They evolve. The handful of people who cling to a previously defined static story forget that words don't mean anything without the context provided by the listener. Words are a stab at the truth. Imperfect without the other arts. They make no sense without seeing how people interact, dance, paint, sing, love and laugh.

Democratising Thought: Early Wooden Printing Press

Social media is taking it to the next level. Not only are we literate but 'broadcast' is dying. No longer does a small group craft a message which becomes what everyone hears. Wikipedia long ago replaced the World Book as the primary starting point when looking up facts because things are always changing. I get very excited by all this stuff. We don't need groups labels as anything other than a starting point for a conversation.
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