Over the last year I’ve been observing that important thing called words. Yes – I mean spoken written and any other form of words. There is a problem. In this new ‘information era‘ people have been hanging on to words for dear life. Words have a way of being misunderstood, especially if delivered without any visible social cues (like body language or intonation). The meme to the top left is not mine. It is a reaction from somewhere on social media (out there).
The first two words are ‘you’ and ‘people’.
One has a difficult time referring to ‘people’ for a number of reasons. It is my accurate observation that any reference to ‘people‘ causes problems because a) people take people to mean ‘everybody’ b) people have a problem in seeing themselves in any negative observation written about. Well hang on! ‘People’ is a general term and it does not mean ‘everybody‘. Why? Simply because ‘everybody’ means everybody – the totality of people, whereas people just means an unclear percentage of people which could mean up to 100% but not definitely. For the rest of this post, ‘people‘ means ‘some’ people (and not everybody). ‘Some‘ means some unclear proportion of people in the author’s experience – which need not be representative of ‘all people’.
The next is the word ‘you‘. The various English dictionaries are clear that ‘you‘ can be used as an impersonal reference to anybody. So in conversation or in writing, it does not actually mean ‘you who reads‘ the stuff. But in the new social media world, people (note my meaning of the word) tend to take things personally if something falls in their garden – or if they fall into somebody’s garden.
Now to get on with it.
‘People‘ are obsessed with words these days. Like everybody pours over words spoken/written by X or Y and finds meaning in them – and often times find their own meaning which they attribute or imply, as intended by a speaker or writer to refer to them personally. This is called inappropriate ‘self-reference‘. It becomes pretty difficult – even writing something like this post – because in the back of my mind I have to be concerned that somebody out there is going to nitpick some flaw in these words – or put their own meaning to what I have said – as if I said it about them personally. And if I say, ‘That’s not what I meant…‘, I then get told, ‘Well say what you mean, properly!‘ That’s fine except that not ‘everybody’ gets their meaning right the first time around – though in social media circles they should be more careful. If I want to intend ‘you who reads this‘, I’d say so! This is how stupidly complicated it becomes.
Words on social media have a very powerful effect on people’s perceptions of various things. People say that they don’t believe all they read ‘out there’. However belief is not the issue. The issue is about how attitudes are influenced by words and from whom the words come from. Attitudes are not beliefs – and I’m not debating it. I contend that attitudes can precede beliefs or flow from beliefs. Attitudes are ways of thinking or a feeling about certain things. Often times people are not fully aware of their attitudes. Attitudes are linked to past experiences, knowledge of other peoples experiences, the ways one was brought up, the news one reads, books, the movies one has seen etc. All of the latter depend heavily on words or in come cases images. Words therefore influence attitudes, which then influence minds, attitudes and beliefs.
Beliefs are things that people know about – in contrast to attitudes which ‘people’ may not know about. By know I mean unassisted ‘awareness’. So if I say that ‘I believe India is a large country‘ – that is very clear. However, if I ask myself what is my attitude to India as a country, I might have to dig a bit deeper into all that I’ve read, heard or seen. I may have more than one attitude to India as a nation; some positive and some negative.
General and specific
There is a difficulty that when an informed knowledgeable speaker makes a specific statement about something in specific circumstances, a question arises that then includes the ‘general’. The most classic example of this is seen in the questions ‘Are you saying….?‘ or ‘What you’re saying is…‘ – in the interview below. Peterson responds in a polite and controlled way a lot of the times with, “..what I am saying..‘ or ‘I did not say that…‘
The problem is not primarily with ‘words’ as such. It’s more to do with attitude and emotional influence over the use of words.
Did I say that the interview above is ‘social media’? I did not! However, attitudes to what Peterson is trying to get across are influenced by social media. Did I say Cathy Newman was influenced by ‘social media’? I did not! Why am I asking myself questions and going on ‘I did not’? Because this post is in the domain of social media. I do not know who will read it but I can well imagine that a proportion of ‘people’ may read this and leave with an attitude or belief that I’ve taken some side in the above interview. All I’m doing is observing and reporting my own opinions (in tight summary) of the way a tangible pattern in the interview emerged.
The fallout from the interview has been awful for Cathy Newman. Morons on social media have made very unsavoury personal comment about her. The sort of language is entirely wrong. They used ‘words’ – by the way – which ultimately represent perceptions shaped by attitudes. Attitudes coalesce into mentalities.
Complexity and simplicity
People think and know that they need simple answers to simple questions. However, a simple question may be inadequate in relation to a topic that is actually complex. For example, “Are men brighter than women?” may seem like a simple question requiring a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. What happens if either answer is grossly wrong? Complexity is about a tangled set of circumstances or influences. Most people do not have the time or the will to exert effort to understand the depths of a complex issue, so to those types, the simple (and often misleading answer) is what they would settle for.
In 2018, I’ll be observing more the functions of minds, or brains if you like. The ‘cognitive’ is what distinguishes us human beings from lower animals. However, I’m tracking a pattern where the human race is being made more stupid by its own creation – namely ‘social media’. To be clear, I imply nothing more than is explicitly stated in my words above.