Monday, June 07, 2021

Negotiated Truth and ALL CAPS

I have the old-fashioned value that truth is hard at the center, however soft it might be at the edges because of our fallen nature and general foolishness. However, it is for this very reason that I am deeply suspicious of those who try to present to me that their truth is hard at the edges and non-negotiable. I am as suspicious as any fuzzy-minded postmodernist on this score, forever noting "But on the other hand..." or "Yet have you considered...?" Not for nothing does one of my main contributors have a site called I Don't Know, but...  The lesson has come at cost.  I know things that others don't, and I grow frustrated at having reasonably intelligent people get sucked into the Conventional Wisdom* and cliches**. Yet even on those things I know, that I am adamant about, someone in the room will see an angle I have missed, setting me back. So I know it takes multiple angles, and the edges are soft.

I get frustrated at people communicating in ALL CAPS. The online convention, dating all the way back to usegroups in the 90s, is that this is shouting.  I know many online commenters don't get this and take umbrage when I point out that they aren't coming across how they think they are. "No, I'm just using this for EMPHASIS." Theoretically that could be so, or more accurately, could have been so. There's no canon law about all-caps, no federal or local statutes.  It's just convention.  Still, if you keep going with them, you see that they are more than emphatic.  They are rigid, and they are shouting, and are clearly signalling YOU CAN'T REASON WITH ME SO DON'T BOTHER. I AM UNMOVED BY FACTS AND REASON. I have seen exceptions.  I have not seen many. Are conservatives more likely to use this tactic?  I don't read enough liberal sites to know how common it is there. 

But the left has a different expression of hard-edged reality. Currently it is showing up in Blak Lives Matter, or Ta-Nehisi Coates, or Robin DiAngelo, or Ibram X Kendi.  It's not always racial, that's just this year's fashion.  But that idea of the single prism, that all events must be interpreted through race, is that same hard-edged, no-other-view, all-caps reasoning. When Christian groups used to do that back in the day they were called fundamentalists and hooted out of serious conversations. You can see it in gay activism and especially trans activism.  Gay men and lesbians actually seem rather retro at this point. Of course there are reasonable environmentalists, but when so much latitude is granted to nutcases I think it's just all-caps again. We certainly saw the intensification of this over the last few years, the dismissive tactics used against Reagan and both Bushes now unleashed against Trump and his supporters. It was just smoother, all-caps wearing cufflinks and an understated tie. At root it was BUT YOU DON'T SEE THAT HE'S RACIST AND TERRIBLE AND YOU ARE JUST STUPID.

It is not new in America.  My reading of history suggests that this is not only common, but normative in all times and places.  Yet it is also clearly dangerous, something to be transcended. We should not tolerate it, even from allies - and you will notice that people politely poke each other or smack them awake here quite often.

The counter to this is Orwell and other persuasive writers insisting that we should be forceful and uncompromising in our expression.  Let your opponents come back at you with with their argument, as in a debate or court of law, and truth can be subsequently negotiated. I don't think that is quite the same thing, but I take the point.  It is no fun to read someone who is shilly-shallying, spending so much time telling you the other point of view that you aren't sure of hers. 

But in contrast there are the essays of Lewis. He has already negotiated the various claims to truth before he publishes, and you can see his work in every paragraph. (I am reading essays of Tolkien and it is much the same.  He is forceful and even a bit insulting to the carriers of bad ideas, yet he has clearly understood their viewpoints and is not misrepresenting them.) He could debate, and do it well, but he is not putting forth a single point of view with an eye to negotiating in a thesis-antithesis-synthesis form..  He has already done that negotiation in his own head before writing.

That is mere intellectual honesty, to my mind.  As forceful as Orwell is, one detects his grappling with the other possibilities before daring to bring it forth. I expect the people I am discussing things with to have done something similar.  You may believe the Pontic-Caspian Steppe theory is far superior, but I want to hear you say that you have at least encountered the Anatolian theory and know what it is. After that, be as forceful as you wish.

Having brought up the racial aspect again I mention as an aside that a racialised understanding is ultimately unsustainable for a free society even if it is valuable to individuals in the short term. Unfree societies can be stable with any amount of oppression, it seems. They can even be successful in some sense if the elites are capable of acquiring resources well enough that the whole enterprise does not collapse. (The English notoriously looked down on everyone else - after Calais, it's all wogs and all that - even the other tribes of the UK were viewed with suspicion - yet were able to provide some benefit to all, however unequally distributed, and it lasted forever. China has no regard for non-Chinese.) I know the reasoning of the critical race theorists.  They will claim that this society is already racialised and they are simply pointing out who is on the losing side. But that is calling a Pekinese a Dire Wolf, simply ludicrous. The are attempting to re-racialise America because it will benefit them personally, and screw everyone else, black or white - not to mention Hispanics, Asians, Natives, Jews, Pacific Islanders, or LGBTQ's. It is unsustainable. It perpetuates anger and hatred.

*In the case of this group, when you go wrong, it is seldom because you have been caught up in the Majority Conventional Wisdom that the Kardashian-followers, sociology majors, and elite media tribe are prey to, but one of the two or three Contrarian Conventional Wisdoms that are also available on the market with significant niche followings.  Those are my most frequent false trails as well.  I understand.  But because of that I don't hesitate to smack you a bit when I suddenly see the ruse myself, because I know that a) you get the principle of conventional wisdom and its dangers and so should be ready to smarten up, and b) you are adults - okay, most of you - and don't look for the fainting couch.

**My wife and I will be sharing a headstone so I can't use it, but if I had an epitaph to myself it would be He really, really hated cliches. Hezekiah 4:8


Uncle Bill said...

Heh, heh: Hezekiah 4:8, eh? Testing us?

The Mad Soprano said...

The web series Protectors of the Plot Continuum referred to talking in all caps as the Capslock of Rage.

Thos. said...

As I read this, I kept thinking of Judge Learned Hand's statement that, "The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right."