Monday, March 12, 2012

The Communication Issue

See, I keep trying to figure out how best to express the communication issue, because it's extremely important. The problem is trying to distill communication down to nifty, boxed rules just rarely seems to work. But maybe I can illustrate what I'm talking about better.





The problem with Rush playing around with words like "slut" or "prostitute" isn't "those words are offensive, you shouldn't use them because offending people is wrong". I think if there's one thing I've made clear on this blog and in pretty much every interaction I've had, it's that the Politeness Police are of zero concern to me. The polite word for an abortion is, say... "termination of an unwanted pregnancy". "Baby-slicing" is the impolite word. 9 out of 10 times in a conversation, I'm opting for the graphic, accurate words.

Nor is the problem, necessarily, that someone, anyone may tune out Rush for using those words. There are lost causes in conversation, or at least situational lost causes. The lifelong diehard liberal, who self-describes as a diehard liberal, and just has it in his head that all things labeled 'conservative' are wrong and must be opposed will be gravely offended if you call anyone a slut, and may well stop the conversation there. But that doesn't matter, because there is no "conversation" to be had with such a person anyway. They're there to represent, not converse. Two reasonable people may discuss whether Man X is guilty of murder, and there's a possibility one may change the other's mind, and end up saying "Alright, I think man X is guilty - but previously I thought he wasn't. I changed my mind." You will not get a defense lawyer to say this for obvious reasons. And you won't get people who approach a given topic like a defense lawyer to say this for equivalent reasons. You don't want to just piss this guy off necessarily - people change, people remember conversations months or years later in retrospect - but the fact is he's pretty low priority. In fact, if you go out of your way not to offend him, he will go out of hid way to find ways to be offended that are advantageous to him.

But what about the person - I suggest these are the vast majority of people - who may lean one way or the other on an issue, but in principle they may change their mind if you're persuasive? This is the one you have to worry about. This is a person who may be receptive to your arguments, even if they have a negative disposition towards your view to begin with for whatever reason. But they also may shut you out and not even listen if you say the wrong thing. Maybe he can be convinced that some given pro-union legislation is a bad idea - but his dad is a lifetime, proud, diehard union member. If you say "union workers are lazy shitsacks", you're done. You just insulted his dad, he's offended, he's not even listening anymore. It does not matter if you follow this up with a knock-down argument against the legislation, because he stopped listening as soon as you pissed him off, and now he may well back that bill out of spite, or for flimsy reasons he'll grab for because now the priority is sticking it to the group (you and your side) he doesn't like.

Now, you can dig in your heels and say, "If I offend him but I have the better argument, he's irrational and wrong for not conceding and changing his mind." Maybe. But it doesn't matter. And I suggest that if you privilege saying whatever you want without any concern of what effect it has, over and above actually getting people to listen to you, you're being irrational. At least if you value changing minds and advancing your cause. And if never, ever being careful with what you say is more valuable to you than accomplishing any real change, please quit bitching about "liberals" of all stripes, because you've already made it clear that their success is a price you're willing to pay to behave the way you are. Believe me when I say, liberals across the board pay attention to this sort of thing more often than not.

Maybe that's the lesson people are missing. If a poll shows that 52% of people are in favor of gay marriage, and 48% are opposed, and you are against gay marriage, how many people are your enemy? If you said 52%, you're wrong. That number subdivides into quite a spectrum: the diehards for whom this is just the most important issue ever, usually for irrational reasons, who will never change their mind barring a miracle. The people who never thought about it much but hey those gay guys on TV seemed nice enough and what's the harm? The people who don't really care but they have a gay friend and that girl will not shut up about this topic. In other words, of the 52%, you likely have a sizable number of people who in principle can and will change their minds about this topic if only you can reach them. But that's the trick - you have to reach them.

I'm going to end this one with an example I think is key. Westboro Baptist Church. They are extremely obnoxious and offensive. They rant on and on about how "God hates fags". Do you think "Gay Rights Groups" see WBC as a net asset or liability? In other words, "Is their cause advanced or held back by WBC's behavior?" There's no debate on this question - the answer is, they're an asset. Because WBC ends up being, for many people, the image of what it means to oppose Gay Marriage, etc. And it's a nasty image - a bunch of crazy hillbillies with no arguments, screaming their heads off and being obnoxious pricks. That association is absolutely loved, because for anyone who makes that association, the argument against gay "marriage", etc, is over immediately, and actual arguments will be dismissed. But the moment you understand why WBC, despite their superficial opposition to gay marriage, harms opponents of gay marriage... you're going to be armed with the logic that explains why you should choose your words carefully, particularly when you have an audience of Rush's size.

This is not an exhaustive treatment of this topic - that's not possible, it's human communication - but hey, maybe I've made one of my points on this sharper.

6 comments:

Drew said...

People don't really hate the Westboro Baptist Church because the church opposes gays, or uses strong language. They hate them because the church disrupts military funerals.

Crude said...

People don't really hate the Westboro Baptist Church because the church opposes gays, or uses strong language. They hate them because the church disrupts military funerals.

The way the WBC presents itself - not 'strong language' but "GOD HATES FAGS" and other such crap - is why no one wants to be associated with them. Go read the criticisms of WBC, even from people who oppose gay marriage. The problem does not begin and end at 'protesting military funerals'.

Don't believe me? Try this one: go to some people you know who are against gay marriage and say this. "You know, aside from their protesting military funerals, I think the Westboro Baptist Church is right on. God hates them faggots, they should all choke on a cock, catch AIDS, and die. Fuck 'em, right guys?" Prepare to be shunned.

The problem isn't that the WBC "opposes gays". It's how they oppose them. They use the most incendiary, nasty, and frankly stupid slogans - absolutely chosen to maximize how offensive and obnoxious they seem. And one reason the WBC gets so much press is because the intention is to associate people who oppose "gay rights" with people like the WBC. Not so everyone will somehow link proposition 8 and protesting at military funerals, but so everyone will link opposing proposition 8 with being a hateful, bumbling, crazy hillbilly.

Communication matters. Hell, we have an idiot president who rode to power almost entirely because he's a good public speaker. It wasn't as if people loved his ideas. It was his stupid but popular slogans, his image, the emotions he conveyed, and the fact that for many people he was pleasant to listen to.

"Gay rights" have advanced in the US, not because of their compelling freaking logic and reasonable arguments. It's because they played the social and cultural games like pros, and it paid off. And it will keep paying off until they are properly opposed.

Crude said...

By the way, want to see exactly what I'm talking about backed up?

Google for this: "thank god for the westboro baptist church"

Have fun reading who's saying that and why.

Drew said...

//"You know, aside from their protesting military funerals, I think the Westboro Baptist Church is right on. God hates them faggots, they should all choke on a cock, catch AIDS, and die. Fuck 'em, right guys?"//

But even then, it has virtually nothing to do with language. Most people just disagree with that theology.

Crude said...

But even then, it has virtually nothing to do with language. Most people just disagree with that theology.

Uh, no. It has everything to do with the language. Hence why if you google for what I told you, you'll see plenty of pro-"gay rights" types talking about how much they love the WBC, precisely because of the attitude and display they put on, how it comes across, and how some people then associate "opposing gay rights" with that image and mentality. Image and perception matters.

According to you, how you present an idea has absolutely nothing to do with how people will be inclined to either the argument or yourself. Emotion, first impression, instinct, associations... none of these play any role, much less a major role, in a decision-making process. You're dead wrong, and you only need to read up on the psychology of marketing (to give one example) to see as much. Here's a example picked mostly at random.

Crude said...

And just to keep racking up evidence.

Why do you think the atheists holding the Reason Rally have specifically invited the WBC to show up?