Saturday, 21 June 2014

A Webspeak Phrasebook. 21.06.14

Navigating the Interwebs can be arduous for the uninitiated. Not only you have to learn special terms – LOL, ROTFL, OMG, and so on – but you can bump into people who have a completely different cultural background from yours. This is grand, as it allows us to open our minds to new worldviews, but it can make conversations rather difficult. You may end up finding yourself entirely unable to comprehend what on earth your interlocutors are on about, going around in endless circles, upsetting people, or wanting to punch the screen.

Worry not! You are simply the victim of a linguistic barrier. Whilst Webspeak may sound very similar to English, it is in fact an entirely separate language. In order to facilitate your cyber-interactions, here is a handy list of some common Webspeak sentences that are often misunderstood.

1. “It is so, because the Good Book says that it is so.” 

It doesn’t matter if the book in question is the Bible, the Koran, Silent Spring, The Joys of Sex or The Gruffalo. You are arguing against a dogmatist. There is absolutely no point in doing that, for two main reasons. Firstly, regardless of how we choose to rationalise them, beliefs are not based on fact or reasoning. You will be therefore hard pushed to use fact or reasoning to challenge them. Secondly and more significantly, the person you are talking to is evidently incapable of comprehending that their beliefs are not universal. They are appealing to an authority that is only worth anything if you share their belief system, clearly entirely oblivious to the fact that it may not apply to you.

Translation: “Not only I have nothing original, rational or factual to say about this topic, but I am also stupid enough not to realise that I am appealing to an authority that you do not recognise.”

2. “It’s not scientifically proven” or “it’s not measurable.” 

This is, to my mind, almost a variation of point 1. Science has become some people’s religion, with the scientific method hailed as the one, true way of looking at reality. The problem is that many of the people doing so appear to have no understanding of how science actually works.

Aside from the fact that a lot of our reality isn’t measurable (love, beauty, joy, etc.), science doesn’t yet have all the answers.  It is a continually developing field.  Sometimes it gets things wrong, or only partly right.  Sometimes it can’t explain what is blatantly there; for instance, prior to the discovery of gravity, if you fell out of a window you’d still go “splat” at the bottom.

When it comes to social sciences, things can get ever looser. Due to both practical and ethical constraints, the experimentation that is routinely carried out on minerals, plants and animals just can’t be carried out on people. Old theories in psychology, sociology, anthropology and other “-ologies” are routinely discarded when the scientific community realises that they were nothing but the distilled creed of a past age, rationalised and justified by semi-scientific means, but utterly devoid of innate truth. Sadly, all that can be done is to replace them with the distilled creed of the current age. To put it in plainer terms, soft sciences are often more a matter of popular opinion than fact.

We once knew that women’s brains were too weak to handle complex stuff like maths or sciences, that non-caucasian ethnic groups were stupider and needed whites to “look after” them, that homosexuals were deviants who should be punished by law. To look at less extreme examples, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is at its fifth revision in just over 60 years – and its validity and accuracy are still criticised. Science isn’t static. Science isn’t godlike. Just because science hasn’t yet explained or accepted something, it doesn’t mean it’s not real.

Translation: “Not only I have nothing original, rational or factual to say about this topic, but I am also stupid enough to appeal to science whilst ignoring the way it works.”

3. “The plural of anecdote is not data.” 

This is a factual little statement that may sound undisputable. However, it can get used to reject personal experiences because they are not supported by current theories, scientific studies or any other sort of “official” data, which is frankly bonkers. This is in fact a form of gaslighting, which is neither rational nor benign:
“Gaslighting is a form of mental abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory, perception and sanity. Instances may range simply from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.”
The way I see it, you’ve got two choices. You can get yourself hypnotised and have your memory altered to fit their reality, or you can give up talking to them about this issue. Face it, you are, again, dealing with dogmatists, who will gladly ignore reality if it clashes with their beliefs. 

(Bear in mind, I am talking about truthful, accurate facts, not their interpretation. If you saw a pink elephant stomping your strawberry patch and you were sober, have ruled out any sort of psychological issue, there are large footprints and a pile of dung as evidence, much as it may seem unlikely, hold on tight to your reality. If you saw a bright light in the sky and that’s clearly a sign that aliens exist, however, then you might need to review your thought processes.)

Translation: “Your real life experiences are clashing with my beliefs, causing a cognitive dissonance I can’t deal with. I’m going to take the mature approach here and go LALALALALALALA until you go away.”

4. “Whatever you say, what you are trying to say is…”

Two options here: you are either dealing with a mind-reader with a better command of English than yours who is trying to help you out, or with someone so utterly prejudiced against people like you that they think you all think alike. The latter may have grasped some basic facts about you (gender, race, age, size, political or religious inclinations, whatever you may have put out on the ‘net) and from this they believe they can determine what you think on any given subject. Yes, there are people that narrow-minded. No, you can’t communicate with them.

Translation: “I am so bigoted I can’t even bear to listen to people like you.”

5. “You can’t say that, because it would trigger me.” 

Again, two simple options: you are either dealing with a PTSD sufferer who gets triggered by a certain topic, or with someone who is using emotional blackmail to manipulate you. While at first it may seem problematic to try and tell the two apart, it’s actually really simple. Firstly, a genuine PTSD sufferer is unlikely to choose to hang out in places where their particular trigger is commonly mentioned. If they want to avoid a trigger, they will be avoiding that trigger. Secondly, they will not carry on the conversation after they’ve shut you up, turning it into a monologue.

Translation: “I can’t win this debate with logic or facts, so I am going to shut you up playing a dirty emotional trick.”

6. “You can’t talk to me like that!” 

Some people may try and pull rank on you because of age, gender, experience, position, or any other factor, whether relevant or irrelevant. Some people may do the same using a purported weakness – age, disability, illness, life traumas, etc. – as a justification. The tactic remains the same regardless of the specifics. 

Translation: “You can talk to me like that. In fact, you just have. Unfortunately I have nothing of any value whatsoever to use as a retort, so all I can do is pull rank and hope for the best. Darn.”

7. “That’s groupthink!”

“Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints, by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.”

Groupthink is bad. Groupthink is very bad. Fortunately, the mere fact that you are agreeing with some people on a subject doesn’t mean you’re not thinking for yourself. If you all came to the same conclusion having thought independently, that may well be a sign that it is the most rational conclusion. Conversely, being in the minority on a subject doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re cleverer or better informed than everyone else. You may be the odd one out because your conclusion is just plain wrong.

Translation: “Everyone is disagreeing with me, so they are all wrong and stupid! I can’t possibly ever be wrong! I’m speshul!!!”

8. “You can’t say that! That’s justifying rape!”

This sentence is thrown around so often these days that it makes me want to puke. I am in favour of school uniforms: "Justifying rape!" I am in favour of self-defence training for everyone: "Justifying rape!" Say anything that the extremist branch of the feminists don't agree with, and you're a rape justifier. It's got to be the stupidest straw man fallacy out there, ever. 

“A straw man, also known in the UK as an Aunt Sally, is (…) an informal fallacy based on the misrepresentation of an opponent's argument. To be successful, a straw man argument requires that the audience be ignorant or uninformed of the original argument.
The so-called typical "attacking a straw man" implies an adversarial, polemic, or combative debate, and creates the illusion of having completely refuted or defeated an opponent's proposition by covertly replacing it with a different proposition (i.e., "stand up a straw man") and then to refute or defeat that false argument ("knock down a straw man") instead of the original proposition.”
As it happens, I am in favour of school uniforms, supplied free to all the kids, because they can reduce the huge differences there can be between rich and poor kids. I am in favour of self-defence for everyone (not just women, not just against sexual assaults) because there are people out there who, due to lifestyle choices or personality disorders, choose to victimise people. Neither argument has anything to do with rape. Both can be warped to make them be about rape, but that is a huge misrepresentation and has no rational validity. Yet, this happens all the time. 

Yes, rape is awful and a very emotive subject, but so are murder and torture. If anyone said that you should not advocate self-defence training because “it justifies murder” we’d laugh in their faces. As an argument, it is visibly absurd – so why do we let it win when someone uses the “R” word? Operant conditioning dictates that, as we allow it to be successful, its use will only increase and spread.

Translation: “I can’t back up my beliefs with any sort of rational argument, so I’m going to accuse you of doing something heinous in the hope that it will horrify you and make you shut up.”

9. “You could have been working on the cure for cancer.”

This very common comment can cause huge confusion to the uninitiated. Someone achieves any sort of feat – in engineering, theoretical research, literature, art, even sports – and some bright spark is bound to point out that it isn’t the cure for cancer. This would make a tiny bit of sense if the creators in question were doctors skiving off work to succeed at their hobbies, but this invariably not the case.

Are there really people out there unaware of the difference between oncology and metalwork, meteorology, cake baking, etc.? Do some people really think that you could work on the cure for cancer with an arc welder? Thankfully, no. These people are not that stupid. What they are is incredibly small-minded and bitter. Unable to criticise someone else’s work on its quality, they are desperately struggling to find another way to slate it.

Translation: “I can’t criticise your work. Either it’s too good, or it’s so far above my head I can’t even begin to understand it. But I’ll piss on it anyway, because I have never achieved anything.”

10. I’ve saved this one for last, because it’s my absolute favourite. I will also let Stephen Fry do my homework for me:

Translation: "I have nothing to say.  Not a damn thing."

1 comment:

Denton said...

Wait..."We once knew that women’s brains were too weak to handle complex stuff..." That's not true? When did we figure that out? I thought we just dumbed down the classes for them, like they did the military PT tests.