One of the most impressive things about humanity is how hard we work to try to convince ourselves that things either are or are not X. It doesn’t matter what X actually is. Whether it’s “sociable,” “alive,” “pleasant,” or any other value that you can come up with to describe a person, we work hard to make sure we think of these things in only two categories: Yes, or No. Are, or Aren’t.
The problem with reality, which tends to be fairly stern about having its own way about things, is that it is rarely that simple. People, on the other hand, (who try just as hard but to lesser effect to have their own way about things) like to pretend that actually, things are that simple.
Take something as simple as liking other people. Or, as the emerging calcification equipment we use to understand stuff like this is called, the difference between an “introvert” and an “extrovert.”
It’s very simple. Extroverts are sociable. Introverts are not sociable.
With that easy step accomplished, human beings have all been neatly sorted into their boxes for your perfect understanding. You don’t even really need to ask questions anymore, because your first impression tells you everything you need to know.
Headphones, head down, drab clothes, or just not speaking to people means introvert.
Bright clothes, no headphones, and chattering away to anyone who will listen means extrovert.
See, the universe really isn’t that hard to understand, after all.
Except things really aren’t that simple, are they? Drab clothes are less expensive, music is awesome, and having your head down is actually a common posture problem these days.
Meanwhile, bright clothes could be a way to distract you from actually looking at the person, no headphones might mean that for this person, music is not awesome, and chattering might be a way to fill that attention gap.
Who knows if either person is even actually paying attention? It’s hard to take that first impression and back-engineer it into an entire human being. Well, I say hard. In fact, it’s impossible to do, but that doesn’t seem to stop anyone from trying.
So why is any of this a problem?
Well, we’ve talked about this before, on this site. I’m actually published as having predicted that a variant of this would take over on the world stage after decisive US action in Syria.
(Sneaky how right I was, in retrospect, isn’t it?)
What we’re seeing is an attempt to try to kill dialogue. It’s just like any group trying to create catch-all buzzwords to hide behind while avoiding any kind of rational argument—which would have to meet in a rhetorical middle-ground. Rhetorical middle grounds require context, knowledge, and the ability to both confront and argue with another human being who also possesses some measure of those things.
Killing dialogue is deceptively easy to do. All you have to do is scream really loud, and it works even better if there’s some fuzzy, invented word that you can use which seems to identify with what you’re trying to say.
Let’s say I was a meat-eater, trying to convince a vegan about the benefits of eating meat. Tragically, I showed up without a single clue about nutrition, diet, or proteins. What I did show up with, though, was the pleasant mental image of a hamburger.
So while my vegan compatriot might have appeared with a lot of hard fact and science, all I would do is ask them, “Are you hamburgerphobic? Are you, my friend, engaging in cowphobia? Are you some kind of racist?”
It kills the discussion entirely, because we either have to start debating the nature of “cowphobia,” or the vegan has to start denying it or justifying themselves in the face of the claim, and either way they’re fighting on my ground and the game is over, in terms of its usefulness.
Naturally, this is complete nonsense. But people feel bad, because “racism” has been used to justify many horrible crimes through history. That, of course, has no legitimate bearing on anything. The base linkage is easily severed. Racism has a set value; it involves the unreasoning hatred of another ethnic group, which is terrifying both in its ignorance and closed-mindedness.
Now, that definition is very important. It’s so important, and that’s because arguments are formed from two things: premise, and conclusion, which can be premise for another conclusion. Basically, factual evidence has to form a conclusion. If premises are weak or wrong, the conclusion is weak or wrong. If the conclusion does not follow from the premise, the conclusion is wrong irrelevant of how true the premise is.
The reason we have to agree on what words mean, and have to so savagely fight off subjective definitions for things, is that premises cannot ever be subjective unless the conclusion is also intended to be subjective.
Legal systems, and therefore policy, cannot be subjective. Things cannot be more or less legal, or legal or illegal because the plaintiff wasn’t sure if he meant to do anything illegal the day of his crime. Therefore, you can’t use subjective premises to determine anything to do with legality or policy.
Happily, this sort of thing is beginning to lose its potency through overuse. Political correctness relies on creating these false, ignorant dichotomies because if it had to spend all its time educating people about the middle grounds and reasonableness of most positions, it wouldn’t have time to call people racist.
Similarly, science (if we can trust it) is beginning to tell us that we can change most things with neuroplasticity (a complicated word that means that your brain doesn’t really stop growing new synaptic pathways). So, there are no set values. Being an introvert at some point in your life doesn’t mean you can’t figure out how to be an extrovert later—there are huge, raging arguments over how much of what we do is “learned behaviour,” and therefore how many things a human being can change about themselves.
We all have the capacity for great change.
The thing is, this great calcification of discourse that’s been going on since I’ve been around is so sickly for that development. People don’t need to be told that they’re just extroverted, or introverted, or cowardly, or aggressive, or angry, or ditzy. They need to be interested in changing it, and creating these huge, categorical cement bricks to wall people up with isn’t helping anybody.
Because that creates the illusion that we can’t choose. The enemy of calcification is choice. Decide to be better. Decide to be different. Decide to change.
Decide to talk.
We all have the capacity for great change, whether or not we’re using it right now. What we have to work on as a species is a way to facilitate people’s ability to use that power.
Schools aren’t doing it (or anything else). The Internet won’t do it.
Only you can do it.
Fight these definitions. Without being too over-dramatic about it (and if you feel like it is, just scroll up and read this again) this should be your job at every new meeting.