False Friends and Tone Policing

post by palladias · 2014-06-18T18:20:07.940Z · score: 47 (53 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 49 comments

TL;DR: It can be helpful to reframe arguments about tone, trigger warnings, and political correctness as concerns about false cognates/false friends.  You may be saying something that sounds innocuous to you, but translates to something much stronger/more vicious to your audience.  Cultivating a debating demeanor that invites requests for tone concerns can give you more information about about the best way to avoid distractions and have a productive dispute.

 

When I went on a two-week exchange trip to China, it was clear the cultural briefing was informed by whatever mistakes or misunderstandings had occurred on previous trips, recorded and relayed to us so that we wouldn't think, for example, that our host siblings were hitting on us if they took our hands while we were walking.

But the most memorable warning had to do with Mandarin filler words.  While English speakers cover gaps with "uh" "um" "ah" and so forth, the equivalent filler words in Mandarin had an African-American student on a previous trip pulling aside our tour leader and saying he felt a little uncomfortable since his host family appeared to be peppering all of their comments with "nigga, nigga, nigga..."

As a result, we all got warned ahead of time.  The filler word (那个 - nèige) was a false cognate that, although innocuous to the speaker, sounded quite off-putting to us.  It helped to be warned, but it still required some deliberate, cognitive effort to remind myself that I wasn't actually hearing something awful and to rephrase it in my head.

When I've wound up in arguments about tone, trigger warnings, and taboo words, I'm often reminded of that experience in China.  Limiting language can prompt suspicion of closing off conversations, but in a number of cases, when my friends have asked me to rephrase, it's because the word or image I was using was as distracting (however well meant) as 那个 was in Beijing.

It's possible to continue a conversation with someone who's every statement is laced with "nigga" but it takes effort.  And no one is obligated to expend their energy on having a conversation with me if I'm making it painful or difficult for them, even if it's as the result of a false cognate (or, as the French would say, false friend) that sounds innocuous to me but awful to my interlocutor.  If I want to have a debate at all, I need to stop doing the verbal equivalent of assaulting my friend to make any progress.

It can be worth it to pause and reconsider your language even if the offensiveness of a word or idea is exactly the subject of your dispute.  When I hosted a debate on "R: Fire Eich" one of the early speakers made it clear that, in his opinion, opposing gay marriage was logically equivalent to endorsing gay genocide (he invoked a slippery slope argument back to the dark days of criminal indifference to AIDS).

Pretty much no one in the room (whatever their stance on gay marriage) agreed with this equivalence, but we could all agree it was pretty lucky that this person had spoken early in the debate, so that we understood how he was hearing our speeches.  If every time someone said "conscience objection," this speaker was appending "to enable genocide," the fervor and horror with which he questioned us made a lot more sense, and didn't feel like personal viciousness.  Knowing how high the stakes felt to him made it easier to have a useful conversation.

This is a large part of why I objected to PZ Myers's deliberate obtuseness during the brouhaha he sparked when he asked readers to steal him a consecrated Host from a Catholic church so that he could desecrate it.  PZ ridiculed Catholics for getting upset that he was going to "hurt" a piece of bread, even though the Eucharist is a fairly obvious example of a false cognate that is heard/received differently by Catholics and atheists.  (After all, if it wasn't holy to someone, he wouldn't be able to profane it).  In PZ's incident, it was although we had informed our Chinese hosts about the 那个/nigga confusion, and they had started using it more boisterously, so that it would be clearer to us that they didn't find it offensive.

We were only able to defuse the awkwardness in China for two reasons.

  1. The host family was so nice, aside from this one provocation, that the student noticed he was confused and sought advice.
  2. There was someone on hand who understood both groups well enough to serve as an interpreter.

In an ordinary argument (especially one that takes place online) it's up to you to be visibly virtuous enough that, if you happen to be using a vicious false cognate, your interlocutor will find that odd, not of a piece with your other behavior.

That's one reason my debating friend did bother explaining explicitly the connection he saw between opposition to gay marriage and passive support of genocide -- he trusted us enough to think that we wouldn't endorse the implications of our arguments if he made them obvious.  In the P.Z. dispute, when Catholic readers found him as the result of the stunt, they didn't have any such trust.

It's nice to work to cultivate that trust, and to be the kind of person your friends do approach with requests for trigger warnings and tone shifts.  For one thing, I don't want to use emotionally intense false cognates and not know it, any more than I would want to be gesticulating hard enough to strike my friend in the face without noticing.  For the most part, I prefer to excise the distraction, so it's easier for both of us to focus on the heart of the dispute, but, even if you think that the controversial term is essential to your point, it's helpful to know it causes your friend pain, so you have the opportunity to salve it some other way.  

 

P.S. Arnold Kling's The Three Languages of Politics is a short read and a nice introduction to what political language you're using that sounds like horrible false cognates to people rooted in different ideologies.

P.P.S. I've cross-posted this on my usual blog, but am trying out cross-posting to Discussion sometimes.

49 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-06-18T19:06:14.588Z · score: 27 (29 votes) · LW · GW

It seemed pretty clear to me at the time that PZ Myers was trolling — in the classic sense of doing something provocative in order to selectively make people who become outraged look stupid in public.

As ESR puts it (with his usual subcultural defensiveness):

The well-constructed troll is a post that induces lots of newbies and flamers to make themselves look even more clueless than they already do, while subtly conveying to the more savvy and experienced that it is in fact a deliberate troll. If you don't fall for the joke, you get to be in on it.

http://www.catb.org/jargon/html/T/troll.html

Trolling isn't really an attempt to have a conversation or debate with the trolled. It's an attempt to demonstrate power, status, ability to take control of the social situation; to deflate the ego (or self-control) of the outraged victim, and so on. It is a performance for an audience, in which the victims of the trolling are a not-entirely-consenting part of the performance.

IIRC, the political context of that particular troll had a lot to do with religious folks (not particularly Catholics) insisting that non-religious folks should be obliged to express respect or deference to religious symbols. See also Qur'an-burning, "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day", and a long thread here involving British people being offended by salmon. I argued in that thread that one point of "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day" was akin to that of "Banned Books Week" — it is a show of defiance against those who would censor particular expressions.

comment by palladias · 2014-06-19T04:36:24.873Z · score: 13 (15 votes) · LW · GW

I don't really like "Proof of Opponent's Unreasonableness by Trolling" as an approach, from my side or anyone else's. For almost any movement of size, there will be people who take the bait, so I don't learn much from what announces to a proof of "There exist people on the other side such that, if I poke them with a stick, they will yell."

It can make it harder for the more patient people on the other side to engage with the more patient people on your side, to boot, since now the people you want to dialogue with have to do more work placating the people on their side that you teed off, before a conversation can begin at all.

I think trolling also requires a fair amount of callousness towards the harm/pain etc you're inflicting through your stunt. I prefer, when possible, to engage in something like civil disobedience, where you can show your commitment to your cause by being willing to accept suffering for yourself (jail, beatings, etc) rather than demonstrating the strength of your opinion through your willingness to hurt others.

[That's my general feeling. In this specific instance, I don't think "Don't desecrate a Eucharist" is really equivalent to censorship or banned books, since it doesn't limit your freedom any more than "Don't set your neighbor's house on fire" or "Don't piss in the baptismal font." This kind of politeness doesn't infringe on day-to-day actions of non-believers the way anti-blasphemy laws might generally.]

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2014-06-19T12:12:14.464Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Right. I do not think fubarofusco was endorsing PZ Meyers' actions - just saying that this wasn't really an argument against them.

comment by hairyfigment · 2014-06-23T21:42:15.885Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Again, PZ Myers responded to the use of physical violence against someone who allegedly disrespected a Eucharist. The intended proof is of, "There exist people your bullies can't shut up using threats of violence."

It's kind of like if someone were trying to drive away everyone who disagreed with his politics, using mass-downvoting (and thereby decreasing humanity's chance of survival).

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-06-20T00:52:59.750Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think trolling also requires a fair amount of callousness towards the harm/pain etc you're inflicting through your stunt. I prefer, when possible, to engage in something like civil disobedience, where you can show your commitment to your cause by being willing to accept suffering for yourself (jail, beatings, etc) rather than demonstrating the strength of your opinion through your willingness to hurt others.

This requires that you only use such techniques to criticize people who can hurt you, though. What about people who can't hurt you, but who can hurt someone else — for instance, their own children? How would you apply this principle to, say, anti-vaccinationists? Provoke them by illicitly vaccinating their children without their consent, thus risking jail for battery? Doesn't sound like a very good idea to me.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-06-20T02:20:18.641Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Provoke them by illicitly vaccinating their children without their consent

That's not trolling, that's battery at least.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-06-20T02:29:51.584Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Uh, that's what I said.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-06-20T02:33:39.363Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

In that case, I don't understand the comparison you're making in the grandparent.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-06-20T03:47:24.039Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

palladias seemed to be asserting that trolling people who are wrong was morally inferior to civil disobedience:

I prefer, when possible, to engage in something like civil disobedience, where you can show your commitment to your cause by being willing to accept suffering for yourself (jail, beatings, etc) rather than demonstrating the strength of your opinion through your willingness to hurt others.

My question was whether this generalizes to cases where we might choose to make someone who is wrong look ridiculous in public, to discredit their cause (e.g. by trolling them) but where we could not rightfully oppose them using civil disobedience, because the matter at hand involved a third party (e.g. the child of an antivaccinationist).

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-06-19T03:58:41.985Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I argued in that thread that one point of "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day" was akin to that of "Banned Books Week" — it is a show of defiance against those who would censor particular expressions.

And I think that is the right response against those who would censor speech - say it again, louder.

I'm torn on the PZ Myers trolling.

On one hand, he's being a dick, but given the indecency and incivility with which believers greet unbelievers, to some extent I support his response.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-06-20T00:45:19.629Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I am reminded of this comic.

I don't have a principled moral judgment of PZ Myers' trolling of the Catholics, or for that matter Terry Jones' trolling of the Muslims. As far as I can tell, both are polarizing, which isn't super-great; but it's probably a good thing for discourse in general if every once in a while some showman type — a Lenny Bruce, or even an Anton LaVey — makes a point of making some sacred-cow hamburgers. (An expression I recognize rests on a misinterpretation of yet another religious group's beliefs ...)

But censorship can also lend countercultural legitimacy to ideas that are plainly false. Take the case of Wilhelm Reich, for instance. I find his social critiques of sexual repression and sex-economy to be pretty well on the mark, and had he stopped there he would have made a major contribution to radical psychotherapy, sexual liberation, and (for that matter) women's rights. But bions and orgone are not real, and cancer is not caused by a deadly form of orgone radiation. The FDA burning Reich's books, and his death in prison, made him into a martyr, rather than a plain quack, to a lot of people. And that was a long time before the Internet and the Streisand Effect.

comment by Omid · 2014-06-23T02:23:35.505Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That comic is unfair. Being called a blasphemer or a ratfink is not the same as getting bashed on the head with a cross. Now the artist would argue that this is a metaphor, but in that case, wouldn't breaking a cross also be metaphorical assault?

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-06-20T01:17:44.954Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

sacred-cow hamburgers. (An expression I recognize rests on a misinterpretation of yet another religious group's beliefs ...)

Yet the expression is so catchy. Good cartoon too. I think I'l be getting mileage out of both.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-06-19T08:38:52.053Z · score: 22 (24 votes) · LW · GW

Relevant SMBC. It illustrates my political theory that in every political conflict that seems to be between Greens and Blues, there are actually four sides of the conflict, let's call the "Nice Greens", "Nasty Greens", "Nice Blues" and "Nasty Blues". And there is more than one line of conflict.

Officially, "Nice Greens" + "Nasty Greens" and "Nice Blues" + "Nasty Blues" should be the only existing coalitions. But there is also the value of niceness, which somehow connects "Nice Greens" and "Nice Blues", and puts them into often unconscious opposition against the "Nasty Greens" and "Nasty Blues". Being nasty is a personality trait... for a "Nasty Green" it is often easier to become a "Nasty Blue" (different slogans, but generally the same behavior) than a "Nice Green" (different everyday behavior both among the enemies and the allies).

It's probably the Nasty person's greatest fear that one day the Green/Blue conflict will stop being important. Because then they would stop being "a person in service of the great Green/Blue cause, who happens to be a bit nasty, but is a great fighter on our side, so we should support them", and become merely "a nasty person who is better to be avoided".

Specifically in this case, PZ Myers seems to me analogical to those religious people who bring hate banners to funerals of gays. (As oppossed to people like Dawkins who are analogical to priests, that is, legitimate speakers of their movements' beliefs. I am making this contrast to prevent putting both of them to some general category of "militant X". There is a difference between being frank about your opinions, even if it offends those who believe otherwise, and being an asshole.)

Also, I don't like that PZ Myers is hiding behind the banner of "atheism" when doing his nasty things. Because this is not his true banner. As far as I know, he has his own set of values that he is trying to impose on all atheists: the whole "Atheism Plus" stuff. He hates the non-Plus atheists. ("Dictionary Atheists. Boy, I really do hate these guys. You’ve got a discussion going, talking about why you’re an atheist ... and some smug wanker comes along and announces that “Atheism means you lack a belief in gods. Nothing more. Quit trying to add meaning to the term.”" -- source) So I hope he will proudly wave the banner of "Atheism Plus" when doing controversial things, not to be confused with the average boring atheists. Because I certainly don't want to be confused with him.

comment by Suryc11 · 2014-06-24T19:58:38.906Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Relevant SMBC. It illustrates my political theory that in every political conflict that seems to be between Greens and Blues, there are actually four sides of the conflict, let's call the "Nice Greens", "Nasty Greens", "Nice Blues" and "Nasty Blues". And there is more than one line of conflict.

Officially, "Nice Greens" + "Nasty Greens" and "Nice Blues" + "Nasty Blues" should be the only existing coalitions. But there is also the value of niceness, which somehow connects "Nice Greens" and "Nice Blues", and puts them into often unconscious opposition against the "Nasty Greens" and "Nasty Blues". Being nasty is a personality trait... for a "Nasty Green" it is often easier to become a "Nasty Blue" (different slogans, but generally the same behavior) than a "Nice Green" (different everyday behavior both among the enemies and the allies).

Yup, and that is almost exactly what (at least part of) the relatively recent disagreement between Yvain and Arthur Chu was about. See http://www.patheos.com/blogs/hallq/2014/02/on-some-criticism-of-lesswrong/ and http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/02/23/in-favor-of-niceness-community-and-civilization/

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-06-25T03:56:14.343Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The disagreement wasn't just about tone. It was about Arthur Chu's willingness to lie for his cause. The only reason it appeared to be mostly about tone is that Yvain didn't make the strongest argument he could have.

comment by Suryc11 · 2014-06-25T20:07:15.288Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hm, I'm confused. I agree that at least part of the disagreement was over Arthur's willingness to lie for his cause, but how is that not captured by Viliam_Bur's post?

Lying for a cause or otherwise playing "dirty" to win for your cause, as Arthur seemed to be advocating, seems to straightforwardly line up with Viliam_Bur's theory about "Nice Greens", "Nasty Greens", "Nice Blues" and "Nasty Blues"; specifically, in this theory, Arthur would be a "Nasty" player on the side of progress/civilization/neoliberalism-ish/etc. and Yvain would be a "Nice" player on the same side.

I guess I'm not sure what you mean by tone?

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-06-26T02:07:17.242Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The nastiness Viliam talks about is mostly in the form of trolling or making insulting statements with little semantic content. Lying of the type Arthur advocates goes beyond that since it injects false statements into the discussion and tends to result in one's side filling up with people who believe said lies and thus willing to lie further.

comment by Suryc11 · 2014-06-26T13:22:42.143Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, okay. That makes sense, thanks.

comment by satt · 2014-06-23T01:47:08.721Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It illustrates my political theory that in every political conflict that seems to be between Greens and Blues, there are actually four sides of the conflict, let's call the "Nice Greens", "Nasty Greens", "Nice Blues" and "Nasty Blues". And there is more than one line of conflict.

This gets even funner because people disagree about how to operationalize "Nice" & "Nasty". And doubleplus fun when Greens & Blues have systematic group-level disagreements about how to operationalize "Nice" & "Nasty".

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-06-23T09:21:44.682Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, recognizing what is "nice" and "nasty" has an instinctual component, and a cognitive component. The cognitive component depends on the model of the world, which is easily influenced by politics. For example, if someone honestly believes that gay people cause hurricanes, then opposing gay marriage is effective altruism according to their model.

The instincts are unreliable and can be manipulated. A person may be perfectly polite... and then go to their office and organize a genocide.

But I still think the instinctive part can serve as a sanity check. If someone pretends to be nice, and yet they miss many small opportunities to be nice, and are habitually nasty in situations where it doesn't serve any obvious purpose... then it's worth considering a hypothesis that this person actually is a nasty person who happens to belong to my faction. That their nastiness is not instrumental in fight against a greater evil, but it's who they are, it's what they enjoy doing.

Specifically: If PZ Myers wants to desecrate a catholic host not because he is an asshole, but because he honestly believes that it is instrumentally useful in creating a world where people are more nice to each other... then I would expect to find more evidence confirming that he cares about people being nice to each other. Until I get that evidence, I will consider "a person does X because they prefer doing X" my null hypothesis for human behavior.

comment by pragmatist · 2014-06-20T05:42:34.935Z · score: 0 (10 votes) · LW · GW

He hates the non-Plus atheists. ("Dictionary Atheists. Boy, I really do hate these guys. You’ve got a discussion going, talking about why you’re an atheist ... and some smug wanker comes along and announces that “Atheism means you lack a belief in gods. Nothing more. Quit trying to add meaning to the term.”" -- source)

I don't think he's saying he hates all non-Plus atheists (whatever that means) here. It seems to me he's saying that he hates atheists who don't see atheism as a part of a broader network of commitments or values, or resist the idea that it should be seen as such. He goes on to say, "there is more to my atheism than simple denial of one claim; it’s actually based on a scientific attitude that values evidence and reason, that rejects claims resting solely on authority, and that encourages deeper exploration of the world".

That actually seems like a pretty reasonable position to me (although "hate" is admittedly a strong word to use in this context). If indeed there are people who see atheism as fundamentally disconnected from general-purpose rationalism, or who don't see the promotion of atheism as a mere corollary of the promotion of a general rationalist worldview, or who object to making the atheist movement about rationality and science rather than mere disbelief in god, then I do think those people are wrong.

It does seem odd to me that there would be a significant number of atheists who adopt this kind of view, though, so maybe Myers is attacking a strawman here.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-06-20T07:32:15.494Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to me he's saying that he hates atheists who don't see atheism as a part of a broader network of commitments or values

And he has a very specific set of values in mind. Something like feminism or social justice warriorism, or whatever it is they call "Atheism Plus". (RationalWiki calls it: "a wedding of the New Atheist's in-your-face attitude about religion with social justice concerns"; and RationalWiki is very positive about this movement, because it's very close to their own beliefs.) And there is some internet drama about it, which I don't follow closely, but it seemed to me that all influential atheists who disagree with Atheism Plus soon get anonymously accused of sexual harassment, and then Atheism Plus fans demand their removal from atheist conventions. Or something like this. And PZ Myers is an important figure there.

Essentially... there is a political faction within the atheist community, and the idea is that the atheists who don't subscribe to this specific political opinion, are not the true atheists. To me it seems that this is not really about atheism, but about a political movement infiltrating another movement which was originally apolitical.

So, if these people dislike (and allegedly fight dirty against) the atheists who don't join their political faction, I would like to see them starting their conflicts with the outsiders under their own flag, not including the people who disagree with them. So that the natural and predictable reaction would be "Atheists Plus are assholes", not "(dictionary) atheists are assholes". If someone starts their own fights, I don't want them hiding behind my back, especially when the next day they are likely to stab me in the back.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-06-21T16:57:28.757Z · score: 3 (11 votes) · LW · GW

If indeed there are people who see atheism as fundamentally disconnected from general-purpose rationalism, or who don't see the promotion of atheism as a mere corollary of the promotion of a general rationalist worldview, or who object to making the atheist movement about rationality and science rather than mere disbelief in god, then I do think those people are wrong.

The problem is that's not what Myers was trying to do with Atheism Plus. The values he wanted to introduce were those of the "social justice" crowd, a.k.a., the people who believe that certain scientific opinions are inherently "unjust" and shouldn't be heard, that their cause is so noble that it justifies lying and falsifying science.

comment by whales · 2014-06-18T21:48:30.004Z · score: 21 (21 votes) · LW · GW

I'd add that this kind of misunderstanding is frequently mutual; it's generally not the case that one party is sensitive to tone and the other is immune. The version in which someone takes an expression of feeling as an attempt to shame them into silence or otherwise limit allowable discourse is more or less the same failure mode.

Perhaps I say something, unaware that someone with different experiences and perspective might hear it differently, and it makes you mildly uncomfortable (somewhat like your examples). You try to communicate what you're feeling, perhaps intending only to provide me with more detailed information about the kind of reaction I'm provoking and why (some version of the Emotions As Inputs To Rationality approach). There may be good reasons for your reaction: for example, maybe you've heard things like that before from people who caused related harms, and you want to make sure I'm not likely to hurt anyone or normalize harmful behavior in others.

But then I take your expression of feeling as an anti-rational rhetorical move meant to silence me, because that's a thing that some people do using the same language that you used. Then my following plea for dispassionate rationality and a return to the details of the argument gets heard as dismissive/disrespectful and nitpicking, because, well, you know. And so on back and forth.

(It's also, importantly, not always the case that these are mere misunderstandings. Even if I didn't mean something a certain way, you can still be right that it was harmful to say or that it's a sign that I might cause harm. And even if you're not trying to silence me, it could conceivably be the case that by expressing your feelings you weakened our discourse, although I'm not sure I've ever seen that happen.)

comment by [deleted] · 2014-06-18T19:00:39.077Z · score: 21 (21 votes) · LW · GW

false cognate (or, as the French would say, false friend)

Technically, false cognates are words that look as though they are etymologically related but actually aren't, whereas false friends are words that look like they mean the same but actually don't. For example, English have and Spanish haber are false cognates but true friends, and English preservative and Spanish preservativo are true cognates but false friends.
comment by palladias · 2014-06-18T19:08:21.898Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Neat! I wasn't aware of this distinction. My French teacher just told us the French word for "false cognate" was "faux amis"

comment by sediment · 2014-06-29T19:56:46.116Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Does that make the pair autological, in some sense?

comment by Benito · 2014-06-18T20:57:57.254Z · score: 20 (22 votes) · LW · GW

Have some positive reinforcement - please cross-post again. I thought this was a very good example of how not to shoot yourself in the foot. I think that the example of using Chinese is especially good, because it really is just a mistake that can hinder fruitful conversation, which is the real goal.

I think that's an important point: fruitful discussion is the goal. I know that a good friend of mine got most of his knowledge about atheism from online debates and the like, and so he would talk in unproductive tones of voice when discussing (arguing) it with people face to face. But as fubarobfusco pointed out, the rules of public action and personal conversation are very different. For me the Chinese example really brings it back to that. When you're talking with someone privately, make every effort to communicate optimally to that person.

comment by James_Miller · 2014-06-18T18:40:47.555Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Are Chinese visitors to the United States repeatedly warned against saying (那个 - nèige)?

comment by leplen · 2014-06-19T00:15:16.854Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

In general no. And as someone working with a bunch of Chinese people in the Southern U.S., it's sort of hilarious. They typically only use neige as a verbal pause when actually speaking Chinese. When speaking English they don't have a verbal pause, they typically just sort of stand there with their mouth open trying to think of the English word, so you really only hear them saying, "neige, neige, neige" when you have several Chinese people all talking to each other, but the way it's used it gets repeated rapid-fire while they think of the next thing to say, and it's certainly something people's ears pick out of the conversation.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-06-18T19:49:08.957Z · score: 11 (15 votes) · LW · GW

If every time someone said "conscience objection," this speaker was appending "to enable genocide," the fervor and horror with which he questioned us made a lot more sense, and didn't feel like personal viciousness.

This, of course, is an effective Dark Arts technique for shifting the terms and the atmosphere of the debate.

comment by palladias · 2014-06-18T20:02:12.841Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Sure, though, in this case (in person conversation, friend I know well), it was clear it was a sincere, heartfelt argument rather than a tactical ploy.

If I'm stuck in arguments where I can't tell if my opponent is sincere, I tend to bow out.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-06-19T14:38:14.608Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Something being a heartfelt argument doesn't mean that it's not a choice that someone made. Especially in the social justice movement people do make choices about shunning specific words and developing an emotional attachment.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-06-18T21:10:01.270Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

In cases where it is a heartfelt argument the question becomes whether you can have a rational discussion with a person of such views.

comment by palladias · 2014-06-18T21:32:44.743Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Working pretty well to date!

comment by Lumifer · 2014-06-19T15:06:06.583Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Well, a world where contributing to the campaign for one side of a pretty even referendum (52% vs 48%) is morally equivalent to personally enabling genocide, such a world to me looks very similar to a world where voting against government shutdown is morally equivalent to hanging rich people on the lamp posts and personally shoving their wives and daughters into cattle cars which will take them to gulags.

In either of these words even only a logical and reasonable discussion, never mind a rational one, is pretty much impossible.

comment by wedrifid · 2014-07-19T12:39:04.298Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Sure, though, in this case (in person conversation, friend I know well), it was clear it was a sincere, heartfelt argument rather than a tactical ploy.

Sincere and heartfelt dark arts are the most effective dark arts. In fact, they are most dark arts period. That's more or less the reason social emotions exist.

comment by evand · 2014-06-28T22:22:00.383Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think permitting tactical incentives for my interlocutors to self-modify is a real cost, and worthy of careful consideration.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-06-19T00:51:59.433Z · score: 10 (16 votes) · LW · GW

It's possible to continue a conversation with someone who's every statement is laced with "nigga" but it takes effort. And no one is obligated to expend their energy on having a conversation with me

Conversely, it also take effort to carry on a conversation when you're constantly trying to avoid saying "um".

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-06-19T00:30:42.201Z · score: 7 (17 votes) · LW · GW

It can be worth it to pause and reconsider your language even if the offensiveness of a word or idea is exactly the subject of your dispute. When I hosted a debate on "R: Fire Eich" one of the early speakers made it clear that, in his opinion, opposing gay marriage was logically equivalent to endorsing gay genocide (he invoked a slippery slope argument back to the dark days of criminal indifference to AIDS).

This is not just about the same word having different meanings. His feeling contains an implicit substantive claim about slippery slopes (not to mention a false narrative of the early history of AIDS).

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2014-06-19T12:24:52.809Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

He may be wrong, but that doesn't mean that you can't have a useful conversation, and to do that, you'll need to pick words.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-06-19T23:37:04.093Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

In order to have a useful conversation about the topic it will be necessary to challenge his implicit claim. If he insists on making that impossible then its not possible to have a reasonable conversation with him.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2014-06-20T00:00:05.377Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

For certain conversations, yes. Others, no.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-06-20T04:19:34.679Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

For certain conversations, yes. Others, no.

For conversations about the topic that don't involve you conceding all points to him, yes.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2014-06-20T14:32:33.406Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I suggest that these conversations could include whether his way of interpreting that position is correct.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-06-18T19:49:08.493Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

It's nice to work to cultivate that trust, and to be the kind of person your friends do approach with requests for trigger warnings and tone shifts. For one thing, I don't want to use emotionally intense false cognates and not know it, any more than I would want to be gesticulating hard enough to strike my friend in the face without noticing.

Reading body language and noticing when someone get's tense can help a lot even if the person is not willing to overtly tell you about the fact that he finds language that you use offensive.

For face to face conversation I take empathy and being aware of the emotional state of the other person over following a bunch of rules about which words are allowed and which aren't. I like to be in social environments where people express themselves authentically and have enough empathy to be aware of the effects of their words instead of social environments that are heavily rule based.

comment by Agathodaimon · 2014-07-19T07:19:17.083Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you