Patterico's Pontifications

3/18/2009

Discussion: Manners, Political Correctness, and the Reaction of the Audience

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:17 am

This post is not about Rush Limbaugh. But it is about manners, political correctness, and the reactions of the audience to speech and actions.

1) Do you believe that speakers should ever change the way they present their message based on the anticipated reasonable reactions of their target audience?

If you answer yes, it is possible to generalize as to how speakers should make such decisions?

2) Do you think society should ever disapprove of someone’s speech in part based on the concept that the speaker knew his words would generate a bad/counterproductive reaction from others?

If you answer yes, can you think of examples? And at what point is it unfair for society to exhibit such disapproval?

3) Do you think society should ever disapprove of someone’s acts in part based on the concept that the speaker knew his acts would result in bad/counterproductive actions by others?

If you answer yes, can you think of examples? And at what point is it unfair for society to exhibit such disapproval?

4) Do you think political correctness and good manners are the same or different? If different, then in what way? What distinguishes one from the other?

I think hypotheticals can help crystallize people’s thoughts, but in this exercise, I’ll let you generate the hypotheticals. For example, if one of you answers a question “yes” and another says “no,” feel free to explain why you answered the way you did by posing a hypothetical.

Different situations are different, of course. But if we can agree on broad principles, that will help us decide how to approach specific situations.

Please, try not to bring up Rush Limbaugh in your answers. That controversy got me thinking about these questions, but at this point it’s a distraction because everyone’s view is set and nobody’s mind can be changed. The broader issues come up time and again and are worth discussion.

91 Responses to “Discussion: Manners, Political Correctness, and the Reaction of the Audience”

  1. I don’t think it’s about Rush Limbaugh, either. I think it’s about how some ‘conservatives’ are willing to lose their souls, to give up their principles, just to get a vote or two from an indifferent and insensate population*; for to get back in power, at any cost. (That’s just a hypo, now, don’t take it personally or anything. INTENT!)

    Herd mentality. Populism. Sorry, I just won’t subscribe to that.

    *I heard “Dancing with the Stars” was on last night. Who knew?

    serr8d (418ade)

  2. 1.) I dunno if this has been brought up yet, but Jesus didn’t have any problem offending the Pharisees. How about discussing that, Patterico?

    verne (e1fa4f)

  3. How about discussing the questions?

    Patterico (cc3b34)

  4. serr, maybe… maybe not.

    But the fact remains that while I think Rush is great, it’s a damn shame that the right didn’t give Mccain the kind of turnout it gave Bush. A shame that will harm this country greatly because some people really think there’s no difference between Obama and Mccain, or that Obama steering this country radically to the left is better than a republican steering this country to the left on a couple of issues, and to the right on a couple of issues.

    Moderate republicans > Obama, Dodd, Frank, Pelosi. Conservative Republicans can be awesome or even better, but that isn’t the path to power in the Senate, some of the house, and I don’t know about the white house (but we all know it’s about the middle).

    On to the topic: It’s usually not wrong to say something that is going to offend the oversensitive when you have a good point you are just trying to attract attention to.

    such as the child saying ‘here boy’ to his dog, knowing it would offend the black man, but trying to make a point that he could use the word Boy without being evil. That’s great use of language and manipulation.

    Juan (4cdfb7)

  5. Do you think society should ever disapprove of someone’s speech…

    Define “society”. Is it mere public opinion, or is is something more official and/or monolithic? If it’s the former, then society can do as it damned well pleases, and what it will do is always going to be “all of the above.” If it’s the latter, then absolutely not.

    Pablo (99243e)

  6. Of course, my point boils down to intent.

    Can we generalize that something is offensive or not? Of course we can, but the bar for doing so should be set high.

    Had the boy called his dog the N word, that would be offensive even if he was trying to make some point about his dog having that as a name.

    For comments that are only ‘insensitive’ and not ‘offensive’, the very lesson the boy is getting at is that we should not generalize… that if we can look into the matter and see a good possibility that the intent is inoffensive and intelligent, then we should give the benefit of doubt in Every Single Case of questionable language.

    This is because restricting language restricts thought. 1984, etc etc.

    Juan (4cdfb7)

  7. Pablo, while you’re right that society can do whatever it wants and will, the question asks what You think society Should do.

    And I think he means just the body of people who think about this stuff. The media, you, me, your grandma.

    Juan (4cdfb7)

  8. PC is different from good manners.
    Example. Racially mixed group talking sports. Somebody brings up the disproportionate ratio of black on white violence vs. white on black violence.
    Nobody in the group signed up for that discussion. It will hurt the feelings of the black members of the discussion to no end. It would be good manners to not discuss it.

    Second case: Racially mixed group meeting to discuss race issues in a non-cowardly way. Somebody brings up the crime issue as having an effect on racial attitudes of whites toward blacks.
    Everybody in the group signed up for tough talk. This is tough, and true, and relevant. It would be PC to avoid this issue when it becomes relevant, to pretend it doesn’t exist, and that whites’ attitudes are inexplicable at best. The people who joined the group claimed, with more or less finger-crossing, to want to bravely face the truth.
    The subject will be harsh, will hurt the feelings of some there, but it would not be a matter of manners, but of PC to avoid the subject altogether, or to attempt to squelch discussion by trying to shame the person who raised it because it is an issue which does not submit to the usual remedies–i.e, white guilt and more money. Thus, it would need to be avoided. PC

    Richard Aubrey (a9ba34)

  9. 1) Do you believe that speakers should ever change the way they present their message based on the anticipated reasonable reactions of their target audience?

    Always. Respect your audience. Otherwise, why even speak?

    If you answer yes, it is possible to generalize as to how speakers should make such decisions?

    I don’t think so. “How” implies “can”. You are either in tune with your audience or you’re not. It is part talent and part learning.

    You are greatly changing tacks with 2 and 3, Patterico.

    2) Do you think society should ever disapprove of someone’s speech in part based on the concept that the speaker knew his words would generate a bad/counterproductive reaction from others?

    If you answer yes, can you think of examples? And at what point is it unfair for society to exhibit such disapproval?

    3) Do you think society should ever disapprove of someone’s acts in part based on the concept that the speaker knew his acts would result in bad/counterproductive actions by others?

    If you answer yes, can you think of examples? And at what point is it unfair for society to exhibit such disapproval?

    Incitement to riot, solicitation and conspiracy? But please let me think about it more.

    4) Do you think political correctness and good manners are the same or different? If different, then in what way? What distinguishes one from the other?

    Good manners are a product of breeding and upbringing. Nature and nurture. First they demand empathy for your fellow human beings. Dr. Spock says that the window for developing that empathy might be only the first two years of life. Second, they require “listening” to your fellow human beings about how they wish to be treated by you. And having the mental capacity to understand what they say. It is a string of “I care”, “I hear you”, “I want to learn”, “I have the capacity to learn”.

    Political correctness is only a special interest group trying to to make you think what they want you to think and not what you might think, and to make you say what they want you to say and not what you may should say.

    nk (0a1ba0)

  10. Pablo, while you’re right that society can do whatever it wants and will, the question asks what You think society Should do.

    Which society? And isn’t the question really what society should think? Or is there an action associated with societal disapproval?

    Pablo (99243e)

  11. nk,

    Good manners are important, but I think political speech that isn’t deliberately over the line is not a display of bad manners.

    I think there’s a big difference between the boy yelling ‘Here blackie!’ and ‘Here boy!’ if he’s making a point about reclaiming the term ‘boy’.

    And if the listener isn’t willing to give people the benefit of the doubt about their language, well, I think that’s low class.

    Juan (4cdfb7)

  12. Pablo, I think you’re on to a good point about the distinction between society’s actions and society’s thoughts. But I personally think it’s more interesting to talk about what language is to be thought of as ‘rude’ or ‘bad’ or ‘I don’t want this language to exist as much’.

    But I don’t think it matters ‘which’ society. You’re in control of the hypothetical society. Which one it is doesn’t matter. If you like, it’s North Korea in February 2345.

    Juan (4cdfb7)

  13. Jesus didn’t have any problem offending the Pharisees. How about discussing that, Patterico?

    Maybe if Jesus had treated his Pharisaic audiences with respect, he could have prevented or lessened the Jewish-Christian schism … and my ancestors might have been saved from persecution.

    aunursa (1b5bad)

  14. Look, “let me make one thing perfectly clear” you don’t say something racist,sexist,or stereotypical if you want to win someone’s attention, unless you are the current vicepresident. But you don’t let them convert policy and philosophical differences; remember the meme, that you couldn’t say socialist during the campaign, because Dubois and a bunch of other socialists were black, into racial things.Because then we really have lost the whole ball game.

    narciso (996c34)

  15. I don’t think that political discussions can be defined in these terms at this point – when the left started screeching about BushHitler over eight years ago, the quaint notion of tailoring your speech according to your audience went out the window. Unless, of course, that speech is just more throwing of red meat to the wolves, so perhaps I’m assuming the wrong scenario here.

    Dmac (49b16c)

  16. Political Correctness just another word for SOCALISM and COMMUNISM they just use a different word for it all

    Krazy Kagu (f5548f)

  17. I’ve been following this, but hesitate to chime in since I don’t have the time to devote to the discussion that most have. But here are my answers to your questions. I’m not in favor of hypothetical examples since there are an infinite number of them and each could spawn a 500+ comment thread. I’ll try to check back when I can.

    1. It depends on the speaker’s intent. If their intent is to offend, then obviously they are going to tailor their speech according to possible reactions (reasonable and unreasonable). If there is no intent to offend then I can’t imagine offense being a reasonable reaction.

    2. Only based on intent.

    3. Only based on intent.

    4. Different. Manners are based on choosing actions and words which convey your intent to be polite. Political Correctness is an attempt to anticipate someone else interpreting your words (innocently or not) to twist your meaning. It is possible to be polite without being politically correct.

    Oh, fine. One hypothetical. Holding a door for someone is polite. Not holding a door for a known feminazi that considers such an act to be belittling is political correctness. In this situation I would hold the door for her. Even knowing that it will piss her off and possibly cause a scene. Holding the door is the polite thing to do. Not holding the door because I know she will mis-interpret my intent is political correctness and it goes against my principles. I’m not going to act against my principles just because it makes my life easier.

    Mob (2fea0c)

  18. Mob,

    Nobody who objects to holding a door open for her is anywhere within the 99.9999 percentile of societal thought. Don’t sweat it.

    And has it ever happened to you? And, if it did, was it a “femanazi” or a little green Martian? Ain’t nothing like the boogeymen we make up in our minds, is there?

    nk (0a1ba0)

  19. It’s really hard not to bring up Limbaugh, since he looms over this whole discussion. While I think you were wrong about Limbaugh, you are right in the larger point you were trying to make. That is, people should tailor their message to their audience, based on their anticipated reasonable reactions. That doesn’t mean changing the underlying message, but changing the manner in which it’s presented so as to help the audience understand the message.

    From what I understand, Jeff Goldstein believes changing the message gives power to those who willfully misinterpret it, so you should never tailor your message to meet anticipated distortions.

    I look on it differently: As long as you don’t compromise the underlying meaning, it’s wise to present your message in a way that’s harder to distort or be honestly misunderstood.

    Reagan took that tack in refuting the leftist trope that conservatives are warlike and mean. He presented small-government conservativism as free and benevolent, compared to the impersonal and arbitrary nature of collectivism, run by an initiative-squashing big government. And Reagan was always willing to pursue peace, even to looking for ways to get rid of nuclear weapons.

    Important qualification: There are some times when this principle should not apply, because the circumstances may call for blunt, unadulterated talk. Limbaugh didn’t want to water down his warning about Obama, so he presented it starkly with those famous four words, then explained why. That was appropriate for Limbaugh, whose influence rests on his willingness to be blunt, even shocking, in the interests of truth.

    Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (0ea407)

  20. I don’t quite understand the answers “Only based on intent.” I think I know what you mean but I’m not sure.

    Patterico (6c82a4)

  21. brother,

    I agree that it’s usually very wise to convey your message as inoffensively as possible. But not always. I think we’re in trouble, as a society. I think the stakes are getting high enough that lives are at stake, and I think the media has steadily transformed into a propaganda outfit that is hiding reality.

    By stating his case in a way that is going to get attention, Rush got a lot of attention to the idea that Obama’s policies will harm us. Implicit in him having to explain why he means the USA well is the entire message he was unable to get to most Americans.

    While I have a liberal view on speech anyway, even if I didn’t, I think the pragmatic view would be that it’s OK to commit a lesser sin to fight an important battle.

    Juan (4cdfb7)

  22. Maybe if Jesus had treated his Pharisaic audiences with respect, he could have prevented or lessened the Jewish-Christian schism

    I think you should reconsider this view. Jesus in the scriptures is generally forgiving and nice to the rabbis. He disagrees with their use of religious law and judging people.

    I wish those Christians who persecute Jews followed Jesus’s example in not judging people via religious law. If everyone treated their friends the way Jesus treated other Jews, I think the world would be a great place.

    Juan (4cdfb7)

  23. I think the whole thing is moot. For unless and until I am forced to listen to someones speech, I am free to tune out that which I disagree with, though that might be considered closed minded. If I start down the path of writing criticism of all the speech I find tedious, there would be little time for anything else. If I do not like what someone has to say, I will not listen, however I think it a waste of time to go on and on over speech that is protected by rights as somehow wrong. Patterico, if you do not want to listen to Rush, don’t. However there are very many conservatives who do not hold your opinion. What part of the Obama agenda are you hoping succeeds? The nationization of our economic institutions, the elimination of secret ballot in union matters, the nationalization of healthcare, the disarming of America (both military and civilian) or the transformation of our country into a socialist society? Read Alinski’s book.

    Zelsdorf Ragshaft III (e461c0)

  24. 2) Do you think society should ever disapprove of someone’s speech in part based on the concept that the speaker knew his words would generate a bad/counterproductive reaction from others?

    If you answer yes, can you think of examples? And at what point is it unfair for society to exhibit such disapproval?

    3) Do you think society should ever disapprove of someone’s acts in part based on the concept that the speaker knew his acts would result in bad/counterproductive actions by others?

    If you answer yes, can you think of examples? And at what point is it unfair for society to exhibit such disapproval?

    Incitement to riot, solicitation and conspiracy? But please let me think about it more.

    I’ll stick with my first instinct. Only when it violates society’s contract with its members. Otherwise, “let the kids work it out themselves”.

    nk (0a1ba0)

  25. If the speaker’s intent was to cause offense, then yes, disapproval is warranted. Otherwise, no.

    Mob (2fea0c)

  26. 1) Do you believe that speakers should ever change the way they present their message based on the anticipated reasonable reactions of their target audience?

    Yes. I tell different jokes to my male friends over beers than I tell to my 92-year-old grandmother. I address the junior associates who work for me differently than I address my law partners. I address clients differently than I address opposing counsel. When I give a speech, I address other defense counsel differently than I address a group of businesspeople. I address a group of people I am mocking subtly differently than a group of people I am mocking openly and differently than a group of people I am trying to convince.

    If I do not follow these differences, and offend someone, I do not face jail. I may, however, face social consequences. This is entirely appropriate, because social consequences are how my listeners exercise their own right to free expression.

    If you answer yes, it is possible to generalize as to how speakers should make such decisions?

    The only generalization I can make is this: my right to speak is no more sancrosanct than my audience’s right to react. If I want to speak, I have to take responsibility for my speech and deal with the fact that someone may react badly. That doesn’t mean I have to agree with them, or kowtow to them. It means I shouldn’t wander about with the delusion that I should have a right to speak but no one should have a right to react.

    2) Do you think society should ever disapprove of someone’s speech in part based on the concept that the speaker knew his words would generate a bad/counterproductive reaction from others?

    Sure. Why not? Assuming you are not talking about an official social sanction under the force of law, “society” reacting is just society exercising its own speech rights. Just as I am free to speak in a way that is stupid, deluded, or rude, “society” (that is, a group of individuals like me) is free to react in a way that is stupid or deluded or unreasonable.

    If you answer yes, can you think of examples? And at what point is it unfair for society to exhibit such disapproval?

    I don’t know what you mean by “unfair.” Society’s reaction is no more “unfair” than the speaker’s decision to talk in the first place. Both are contributions to the marketplace of ideas. Until society starts to use its coercive function — criminalizing speech, kicking people out of state-run schools for speech, permitting defamation suits for speech — “society” (that is, large groups of individual speakers) is simply doing the same thing that the speaker it is reacting to did.

    As for the example, how about this: I speak at a cancer fund-raiser and warm up the crowd of cancer survivors by telling cancer jokes. They’re not very funny, and they offend the crowd. “Society” “disapproves” — that is, large numbers of people conclude that I am a dick. Hopefully I react by accepting that as a marketplace response to my marketplace contribution. Hopefully I do not respond by saying “oh boo hoo. Nobody has a sense of humor. Now there is a liberal/conservative/whatever conspiracy to demonize me and silence me. You can’t tell a joke any more because of political correctness,” or similar reactions which are, to be politically incorrect, unmanly.

    3) Do you think society should ever disapprove of someone’s acts in part based on the concept that the speaker knew his acts would result in bad/counterproductive actions by others?

    I’m not sure what you mean. If I incite a crowd to riot — that is, if my speech satisfies the Brandenburg criteria and I urge imminent violence and my speech is likely to produce it — then there should be a legal sanction.

    Otherwise, as I’ve said above, “society” should be just as free to “disapprove” as I should be to speak in the first place.

    If you answer yes, can you think of examples? And at what point is it unfair for society to exhibit such disapproval?

    My riot is an example. But once again, I quarrel with your term “unfair.” Society’s disapproval is no more fair or unfair than my initial speech is unfair; it’s free expression. Society’s reaction may be irrational, just as my speech may be irrational. But referring to listener reactions as “unfair” is generally a step down the path of preferring the initial speaker’s speech over the listener’s reacting speech.

    4) Do you think political correctness and good manners are the same or different? If different, then in what way? What distinguishes one from the other?

    “Good manners” is a vague term referring to an array of social norms about everything from where to put the oyster fork to how to address the Queen. It’s different from society to society and sometimes within subgroups within societies. Much of it is related to the concept of treating other people decently or the way you would want to be treated; the rest is arbitrary and silly. (I was once kicked off an etiquette forum for arguing that I should be able to say “no gifts” on my kids’ birthday party invitations, and that calling it rude is irrational). But generally it is not political (though it can intersect with politics — as when I decide whether to hold a door open for a lady).

    “Political correctness” is a term that means different things to different people. Increasingly, some people use it as an excuse to prefer the speech of the first speaker over the speech of the second speaker — e.g., I should be able to call blacks whatever I want, and it hurts freedom of expression for you to criticize me. When used that way, it’s unprincipled, whiny, and stupid.

    Sometimes “political correctness” means that people will react badly when you challenge certain dearly-held beliefs or sacred cows. Whether we should care — whether “political correctness” is a problem distinguishable from the background noise of human irrationality in general — depends upon what conduct it drives. A school seeking to officially sanction a student for a speech in class is worrisome political correctness. Someone telling me I am a sexist for not agreeing with some feminist dogma is not worrisome political correctness, any more than it’s worrisome when someone tells me I am an idiot for not agreeing with, say, their view on the economy. That’s because my initial speech is no more precious than their response speech.

    Ken (c97a0c)

  27. God damn it you’re a bunch of stupid motherfu–wait, what was the question again?

    SEK (072055)

  28. Good one, SEK.

    nk (0a1ba0)

  29. Mob at 18. I was on the horns of a similar dilema once but from the oposite end, and this also concerns intentionalism.
    In the early nineties I worked for a security company as a Security Officer at a nuclear power station. One morning I had cause to stop at the companies local office which was in an office building in a nearby city. I was wearing my uniform from the shift I had just got off which was dark slacks with a black “wooly-pully” commando type wool sweater over a a white shirt with gold sergeant stripes on the collar tabs. As I’m approaching the front doors, not really paying much attention, a much older gentleman (quite possibly in his 80′s) dodges around me and grabs the door, and proceeds to hold it for me. I begin to say thats not necessary and I’ll get it for you when he says “No, thank you son.” I decide to be polite and nod mumble a quick thank you and proceed about five steps when it hits me that he thinks I’m a soldier. (This was during Desert Storm and we ourselves were on alert at the time.) It ran through my head quickly, do I go back and explain that I am not and possibly make him feel the fool or do I go on and letting him think a falsity. I took the second (not ignoring the fact that that was also the easiest and least confrontational for me) and continued on but have often wondered if I took the right path. It may seem like a very small thing but it still seems I may have accepted honors not due me but, at least at the time, it seemed more important to me to honor the old gentleman’s gesture even if it was misdirected.

    Have Blue (974cdf)

  30. 1. Instead of “change,” I’d say “tailor.” Given that, my answer is yes, a speaker should tailor the words used in a presentation.
    .
    Speakers should tailor their language in order to obtain the desired impact on the mind of a majority of the audience. The desired impact can be anything from clinical learning of a non-controversial subject to emotional outrage. A speaker may intend to inflame the audience to be AGAINST the point of view expressed by the speaker.
    .
    2. Sure. Free speech results in some amount of objectionable speech; and sometimes speech that flows from objectionable motives. Society not only should be free to reach whatever conclusion (about content and motive) it feels is justified, it in fact does so.
    .
    “Fairness” has nothing to do with it, and doesn’t exist in the real world. Approval and disapproval are registered by individuals according to their own sensibilities; and no two people have precisely the same set of sensibilities.
    .
    3. Similar to 2, substitute “action” for “talk.”
    .
    4. Different. Good manners involves not taking offense where none is implied or intended. Political Correctness is reacting to an unreasonable taking of offense. Good manners is respectful of and generally doesn’t challenge social tradition. Political correctness aims to modify social tradition, in some cases, to eradicate fundamental aspects of social construction.

    cboldt (3d73dd)

  31. 1. Yes. If you are giving a presentation to the blind – skip the PowerPoint.

    2. Society can approve or disapprove of whatever it wants – however if that disapproval turns into government action it has gone too far.

    3. Yes. There are all sorts of acts society should disapprove of. Off the top of my head, flying airplanes into buildings is one.

    4. Different. One is about being polite one is about adhering to liberal/multicultural orthodoxy.

    Alternatively:

    1. I hope Obama Fails
    2. I hope Obama Fails
    3. I hope Obama Fails
    4. I hope Obama Fails

    Stephen Macklin (fc20a6)

  32. From what I understand, Jeff Goldstein believes changing the message gives power to those who willfully misinterpret it, so you should never tailor your message to meet anticipated distortions.

    I never said you shouldn’t tailor your message to a specific audience — only that such a decision is a rhetorical one based on what you’re hoping to accomplish.

    I’ve talked explicitly about courtesy, in fact, which is often (at least plausibly) called for.

    That being said, if you find yourself walking on egg shells out of fear of what might be done to your utterances or writings by those who are out to pull whatever you say or write out of context, you are having your method of delivery chosen for you, not by society but rather by those looking to recontextualize what you say in order to use it as a cudgel against you. They are dictating your mode of rhetoric, and they are working to silence you by making sure you become overly vigilant. This not only can lesson the power of your message, but it can eventually frustrate you into silence.

    And you’re powerless to fight that tactic if you believe, or pretend to believe, that context somehow determines meaning.

    Insist on what you meant. Refuse to accept their reframing. And in the event that it was your failure to signal your intent properly that is the cause for confusion, clarify.

    Jeff G (40465d)

  33. Jeff G and Patterico:

    I just wanted to note you both are handling this in a great way that I hope is adding more viewers to both websites.

    Juan (4cdfb7)

  34. “Insist on what you meant. Refuse to accept their reframing.”

    Something to do while you’re waiting in the unemployment line after getting fired for calling your boss “boy.”

    drinka (1e884c)

  35. Jeff G.
    I apologize for my unintentional misstatement of your view. Your statement above is very clear.

    Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R., (e16ed2)

  36. Stephen Macklin at 32 subpoint one – Always assume your audience is blind and always skip the Powerpoint.

    Have Blue (974cdf)

  37. Tailoring the message to the intended audience…

    “Some people just deserve to be killed!”…or;

    “Don’t get stuck on stupid, people!”

    AD - RtR/OS (64ac21)

  38. Patterico

    I haven’t read any of the comments yet, I’m approaching your points first:

    1) In crafting a speech, comedy routine, writing a novel/screenplay or marketing campaign, tayloring it to the audience is an ongoing process, not a do the speech, then consider the “reaction.” The author has a message to deliver and works to craft a way to deliver the message as clear as possible to his/her intended audience. If the message is clear, then the meaning should be able to be interpreted by good faith receivers regardless of the different audiences. This is entirely different than, say, when Obama said one message in flyover country, then got behind closed doors in tony San Francisco and gave them a totally different message (dissing the bitter, godbothering gunclingers)

    2) who is this “society” and how do they know the object of their [good or bad faith?] ire KNEW or INTENDED offense? Way too vague a question. Some people are deliberately provocative, they want to engender visceral reactions (ie comedy routines). Most audiences go to see a particular comedian knowing what to expect, so any “outraged” reaction makes as much sense as someone being “outraged” that a vegetarian restuarant menu doesn’t carry a cheeseburger.

    3) um, same answer above, I see little distinction in this question from #2

    4) Absolutely different. Manners are voluntarily accepted social conventions – Honorifics, politeness, acts like opening doors and giving up bus seats. Political correctness is public square/political speech extortion where the “offended” party claims a moral superiority and demands unconditional apology, contriteness and fealty from the people they condemn for “offending” them. Political correctness is never about clarity or meaning but a matter of silencing the opposition.

    No hypotheticals here but real world examples:

    In order not to “offend”, should St. Patrick’s Day give way to Shamrock Day?

    In order not to “offend”, should the honorifics Miss, Mrs, Senor, Seniorita, et al be banned? Do note from this last that Political Correctness finds MANNERS “offensive”.

    Darleen (4e02c9)

  39. 1) Do you believe that speakers should ever change the way they present their message based on the anticipated reasonable reactions of their target audience?

    As noted above, a good communicator always tailors his message to his audience. That said, the audience today is nearly unascertainable. Youtube, blogs, cable news all provide a much greater platform than the traditional whistlestops and townhall meetings of the past. The “bitter clinging” remark was addressed to an upscale liberal elite in San Francisco, but it got its play through Youtube and cable news among those very bitter clingers. If your audience is infinite, whatever tailoring is possible is very limited. Thus the plethora of easy bromides and non-statements of Obama that so frustrated commentators throughout the campaign. It’s very hard to examine Hope and Change under a policy microscope.

    If you answer yes, it is possible to generalize as to how speakers should make such decisions?

    The problem is that a certain segment of that infinite audience is acting in bad faith. They need to be called on it harshly and loudly. Making this not about Limbaugh, think of Charlie Gibson’s mischaracterization of the Palin “God’s on our side” quote. That was egregious bad faith and yet Gibson slid by without having the rest of the interview tainted in the public eye. Knowing that your message WILL be mischaracterized by a proportion of the chattering classes makes it impossible to set up your intent clearly and unmistakably. The solution is to speak in easy bromides, which requires complete cooperation of the chattering classes to avoid being called a mushbrained doofus (see Biden, Joe), or to loudly and viciously tear into the bad faith actors in the media.

    2) Do you think society should ever disapprove of someone’s speech in part based on the concept that the speaker knew his words would generate a bad/counterproductive reaction from others?

    Are those misinterpretations in good faith? If so, the responsible members of society should attempt to correct the misinterpretation. Would you have them castigate the speaker because part of the audience was too stupid or lazy to figure out what he said?

    If you answer yes, can you think of examples? And at what point is it unfair for society to exhibit such disapproval?

    My answer was no, so there you go.

    3) Do you think society should ever disapprove of someone’s acts in part based on the concept that the speaker knew his acts would result in bad/counterproductive actions by others?

    Acts and language are similar enough in effect that I’ll brush this one off for now. Venturing into the realm of easy bromides, everything is a text.

    4) Do you think political correctness and good manners are the same or different? If different, then in what way? What distinguishes one from the other?

    Definitional arguments, eh? Political correctness is tied to a comprehension of political consequences. It is a political tool of ascension. Those who master the politically correct positions present themselves with no impediments in the rise to power. As such, political correctness is tied to no principle other than not pissing off the grantors of power.

    Manners, on the other hand, are rooted in principle. Good manners dictate that it is incorrect to intentionally give offense where it is not due. There is also a strong concept of integrity tied to good manners. A person with good manners would act the same in a locker room that they would at a dinner party.

    The overlap between manners and political correctness comes when they both produce identical results.

    Hypothetically two individuals, Miss Manners and P.C., attend a party with guests of mixed races. Both know a racist joke, and both refuse to tell the joke. The reasons for the refusal are key. Miss Manners refuses because her concept of self revolts at the idea of communicating racism and intentionally giving offense. P.C. refuses because he wishes to be invited back to the next party so he can schmooze for a promotion. He avoids intentionally giving offense because there would be negative repurcussions on his ascent to power. Identical results, but for very different reasons.

    The same two people attend a small party where they know the guests aren’t offended by racist jokes. P.C. tells the racist joke. Miss Manners still refuses. P.C. thinks that since the political constraints against racist jokes are lifted, a little racism might endear him to partygoers who may be able to grease the wheels for him in the future. Miss Manners does not rely on political constraints to inform her decisions, but her own guiding principles.

    Manners are tied to integrity. PC is tied to nothing but the shifting winds of power.

    For a real life example, see Chris Dodd and Barney Frank on the AIG bonus kerfluffle. That is the PC mentality in full force.

    Hadlowe (1e5988)

  40. If you know in advance that certain formulations will make it easier for some in the audience to misrepresent what you said with the objective of making you look bad and distracting from an unwelcome message, it is good tactics to think of a way to get the message across which will reduce their opportunity.
    That is neither manners nor PC, but cagey tactical thinking.
    IOW, dodge the PC issue but not the actual issue.

    Richard Aubrey (a9ba34)

  41. Here’s a not so hypothetical scenario for you Patterico.

    There is a game called Resident Evil 5. Just recently released. It is the latest in a series, all dealing with an outbreak of a virus or somesuch thing which turns people into zombies. This game takes place in Africa, so the zombies are black. The protagonist is a white American, Chris Redfield, a recurring character since the beginning of the series in 1996.

    There is some controversy as to whether or not this game is racist. It can be (overly) simplified as a game where a white protagonist kills black zombies. Here is a link to a review which characterizes this game as racist.

    Here are some questions for you?

    1. Do you consider this game racist?
    2. Do you think the creators of this game are racists?
    3. Do you think the creators should be ashamed of making this game?
    4. Do you think society should disapprove of this game?
    5. Do you think the creators should apologize to the people offended by this game?
    6. What do you think the creators of this game should have done to avoid this controversy?

    Mob (2fea0c)

  42. Do you think political correctness and good manners are the same or different?

    Different. Political correctness is just posing, narcissism, or whatever you wanna call it. Its focus is on presenting an image of moral superiority regardless of any substantive damage done in maintaining that image. The fact that it’s usually served up with a heaping helping of sneer sauce only reinforces the pc person’s self-doubt and even self-contempt that motivates it.

    In contrast, genuinely good manners are a simple show of respect for others without being a toadie about it. Rather than projecting superiority, as pc’ers do, well-mannered people deliberately project quite the opposite: that they are not trying to elevate themselves above you.

    It’s usually very easy to spot the diff cuz most peoples’ intent seeps thru quite clearly in their words. Only occasionally can it be hard to distinguish the one from the other, and then but briefly.

    ras (20bd5b)

  43. Question 1: Do you believe that speakers should ever change the way they present their message based on the anticipated reasonable reactions of their target audience?

    Absolutely. The point of speaking, or communication in general, is to get your ideas across to others. If there are lots of people you want to hear your idea, you have to be aware that certain modes of expression will cause them to cease listening or discount what you have to say. You want to have the highest probability that they will get the message. The generalization is that you choose to speak to your target audience in the way they would like to be spoken to. I have never known anyone to be offended by the lack of profanity, vulgarity, use of epithets and name calling. These add nothing to the conversation and a communicator loses nothing by eliminating such language. There are many left wing blogs I won’t read on account of language choice. There are some right wing blogs that do so as well. If they feel their right to use disrespectful language is more important than the message they’re trying to send, I figure their message isn’t important. I may be wrong, but I don’t have to listen to it. I don’t read them. I’ll make rare exceptions if the topic is important and the ideas help solve important problems, but it certainly isn’t my first choice. Ideas on the other hand are a bit tougher. I’d like to see a flat tax so everybody has a stake in how the government spends money. If everybody paid a proportionate amount of their income, I don’t think you’d be seeing the bailouts and massive spending that is going on right now. Many people find this thought very offensive, regressive, uncaring etc. I’m not about to change my thoughts or communication whether people are offended or not. But I do try to make sure I don’t give them any unrelated reason to block my message.

    Question 2: Do you think society should ever disapprove of someone’s speech in part based on the concept that the speaker knew his words would generate a bad/counterproductive reaction from others?

    Yes. The FCC routinely enforces regulations that prohibit a variety of words and certain content based on public use of airwaves and the age level of potential viewers. Parents would like to have a controlled environment in which to teach their kids civility and respect (even when they don’t do so well at controlling themselves). I appreciate these regulations.

    No. Context is important. I’m unwilling to have society tell people what to say in private. Or to protect them from people not listening to them-think Air America. Freedom of speech allows us to communicate our ideas, but does not guarantee us an audience.

    To address the issue of ‘knowing’ bad reactions or counterproductive responses to be likely, I’d point out that the speaker still has no control over how the message is taken, and I seriously doubt he can read minds any better than I can. For example, I ‘knew’ that if my pet tarantula escaped and I discovered it in my bed with me in the middle of the night, that I’d be out of that bed so fast it would make lightning seem slow. When it actually happened, I sleepily turned to my wife and said, “I know where the tarantula is”. She responds, also sleepily, “ok, where”. I say “between my legs”. She says “ok, I’ll go get a jar” and calmly gets out of bed, gets the jar, and I scoop the big spider into it. It was horribly anticlimactic. I ‘knew’ for certain something that was totally false. Some speakers feel that bad reactions help get their points across or get them attention for some larger purpose, and I think society shouldn’t be second guessing people most of the time. I’m not a big fan of prior restraint.

    Oh, and shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater is a big no no.

    Question 3: Do you think society should ever disapprove of someone’s acts in part based on the concept that the speaker knew his acts would result in bad/counterproductive actions by others?

    Absolutely. We call this concept law, which governs how people interact with each other. As to how far it should go, it depends on the activity. If the activity ripples out to substantially harm other’s property or rights, I think society has a right and duty to regulate that behavior. The public routinely debates these issues as to where to draw the line.

    Question 4: Do you think political correctness and good manners are the same or different? If different, then in what way? What distinguishes one from the other?

    I think they are different. Manners are about following generally accepted rules to ease people’s interactions with each other. Political correctness takes it much further. Good faith is out the door. Words mean only what the offended thinks they mean. It is based in victimhood and grants the target the opportunity to bash the speaker regardless of intent. For example, I’m a grandparent in my mid fifties. I never knew ‘boy’ had a derogatory meaning until it was brought up in the last couple days on this blog. I would guess I have a bunch of other words in my vocabulary that could be potential land mines, but I haven’t a clue what they would be. What bothers me is that it is now seemingly culturally acceptable, even encouraged, for people to TAKE OFFENSE, even when none is intended. The intent is not to communicate but to beat the other side down and gain advantage. You are suddenly beyond forgiveness, no amount of apologizing will satisfy these people. It is not about ideas, but rather with tyrannical power. With manners, there is a dialogue or back and forth to clarify meaning or intent and a willingness to communicate feelings and allow the other party an opportunity adjust, whereas with political correctness, people are looking for slights which they can then broadcast to the world at large and demonize people that aren’t a demon.

    One last comment on holding doors open. At University 30 years ago, I was approaching the Computer Science building north door and a person with cerebral palsy was walking with difficulty to the same door. He was slightly ahead of me, so I opened the door so he could go in first. He went in and then turned around in anger and said “I DON’T NEED ANY HELP FROM YOU” in a particularly nasty tone. I assume he thought I was doing it because he was handicapped, not because I was trying to be polite. He had the better positioning to go through the door first, and I would have done that for anyone. Getting chewed out for everyday average politeness was very disturbing. Yet I think my politeness was evidence to him of diminishing capacity and he was fighting that with all he had. He was defiantly telling everyone he still had what it takes to do things on his own. It wasn’t a particularly productive response to kindness and I don’t know how many people he did that sort of thing to. Maybe just that once. He may have had a bad day. What I believe to be true is that taking offense, even if offense was intended, is poison to the soul. Giving offense deliberately is more poisonous still.

    jeff (149fb6)

  44. And you’re powerless to fight that tactic if you believe, or pretend to believe, that context somehow determines meaning.

    This is where you’re confused, Jeff. You think this is incorrect because of this:

    Insist on what you meant. Refuse to accept their reframing. And in the event that it was your failure to signal your intent properly that is the cause for confusion, clarify.

    But this isn’t a theory of how language works — this is a tactical point concerning how to make language work for you. To say that you shouldn’t let someone else frame a statement such that it no longer means what it meant in context is to admit that context is the primary arbiter of meaning. You don’t deny that — you just believe that it’s strategically important to align the contextually accurate meaning with authorial intent. As I noted on one of the other threads, your theory of intention breaks down with a statement like the one Faulkner made about Joe Christmas: “I wrote [Light in August] to help the niggers.”

    His intentions are good, but can you honestly claim that the statement itself isn’t racist? If you focus solely on what Faulkner intended, you completely lose the meaning of the statement.

    SEK (1e62be)

  45. Why are so many of you not answering the questions? Anyways, here goes:

    1) Do you believe that speakers should ever change the way they present their message based on the anticipated reasonable reactions of their target audience?

    NO. We each act as we choose to act. We are not controlled by others. A speaker may anticipate the reactions of his audience (or may be surprised) but that is IMMATERIAL; what matters is what he says.

    2) Do you think society should ever disapprove of someone’s speech in part based on the concept that the speaker knew his words would generate a bad/counterproductive reaction from others?

    YES and NO. YES, they should disapprove (and take legal action, if possible) if the speaker’s words are lies, slanders, or factually deceptive. But just because they make someone mad doesn’t justify disapproving of the speaker.

    3) Do you think society should ever disapprove of someone’s acts in part based on the concept that the speaker knew his acts would result in bad/counterproductive actions by others?

    See #2. If someone’s acts are criminal and/or destructive to society, and lead others to similar criminal and/or destructive acts, then society should condemn the person’s acts as subversive, or harmful, or violent, etc.

    But disagreement alone with someone’s acts, without showing harm caused by them, is not a reason for censure.

    4) Do you think political correctness and good manners are the same or different? If different, then in what way? What distinguishes one from the other?

    They are very different. Good manners are social lubrication, designed to make others interact more comfortably. PC are rules designed to restrict behavior to the lowest common denominator, to offend nobody but at a cost of creativity and flexibility. PC stifles the mind.

    David Krishan (f112ab)

  46. Why are so many of you not answering the questions?

    I have a hall pass.

    SEK (1e62be)

  47. Recently there has been a backlash of sorts with some reactionary hate mongers bringing back “Merry Christmas” as a winter solstice greeting instead of the less offensive “Happy Holidays”.

    Surely we can all agree that such deliberate offensiveness for spite is just wrong wrong and wrong.

    boris (ecab60)

  48. Great answers. Ken’s #27 is pretty close to what I was thinking of writing, so I’ll save myself the plagiarism.

    I’ll answer them, however, so I don’t seem so lazy.

    1) Do you believe that speakers should ever change the way they present their message based on the anticipated reasonable reactions of their target audience?
    If you answer yes, it is possible to generalize as to how speakers should make such decisions?

    Ever? Has there been any person in recorded history that didn’t alter their presentation at some point? If there was, I know why they died without procreating.

    2) Do you think society should ever disapprove of someone’s speech in part based on the concept that the speaker knew his words would generate a bad/counterproductive reaction from others?
    If you answer yes, can you think of examples? And at what point is it unfair for society to exhibit such disapproval?

    Society doesn’t approve or disapprove of anything. Individuals do, and once enough of them have a similar opinion, then the term ‘Society’ describes a ‘general consensus of opinion’. Regarding speech, this consensus is like a pressure gauge in that it’s value derives from its description of something else. Any attempt to control it, such as in North Korea, renders its value meaningless. The steam is still there, you’ve just re-drawn the numbers. To eleven.

    3) Do you think society should ever disapprove of someone’s acts in part based on the concept that the speaker knew his acts would result in bad/counterproductive actions by others?
    If you answer yes, can you think of examples? And at what point is it unfair for society to exhibit such disapproval?

    Acts are quite a bit different than speech, in that they have a physical effect. Society (general consensus) already does disapprove of such acts, and the result is the criminal code. nk pointed out riot incitement, but I would add most criminal behavior, as such behavior, if left unchecked, produces quite counterproductive results. I now think I see where you’re going with this comparison of speech, actions, and their conflation, and it’s good.

    4) Do you think political correctness and good manners are the same or different? If different, then in what way? What distinguishes one from the other?
    Good manners are the self restriction of speech. Political Correctness is the forced restriction of speech. They couldn’t be farther apart.

    Nice job.

    Apogee (f4320c)

  49. is to admit that context is the primary arbiter of meaning

    SEK

    That’s not what I’m getting. What I’m understanding is that the utterer uses context as another tool in shaping his/her meaning.

    When I build a table, I use wood, table saw, nails, a level, but that is not the primary reason a table emerges. It is my will [intent] to build a table that is the primary mover in bringing the table into being. Whether I have done a good or bad job of making that table is something you can interpret, even using the list of my tools to evaluate my intent. But you cannot look at only those tools and discern whether I really intended to build a table or a chair or an art project that Speaks a Larger Truth, without consulting ME (and if I’m unavailable, the totality of my other furniture building) on my intentions.

    Darleen (4e02c9)

  50. That’s not what I’m getting. What I’m understanding is that the utterer uses context as another tool in shaping his/her meaning.

    You can’t use context anymore than a speaker can use air. It’s there, whether you like it or not. You can attempt to shape it, as I did above when I mentioned Faulkner’s statement: in a different context, you could call me a racist. You can do whatever you want to the context in order to alter other’s perceptions of how my statement fits within it, but you can’t actually change the context itself. There’s a reason Jeff’s response to the statement by He Who Won’t Be Named was to provide more of its context. Did Jeff change the context? Not at all. He provided more of it in order to demonstrate that his interpretation of He Who Won’t Be Named’s intention was more accurate than someone else’s. But that doesn’t mean he knows what that intent actually was, or that the context can’t be accounted for more fully in such a way that invalidates Jeff’s reading.

    But you cannot look at only those tools and discern whether I really intended to build a table or a chair or an art project that Speaks a Larger Truth, without consulting ME (and if I’m unavailable, the totality of my other furniture building) on my intentions.

    But you’re leaving quite a bit out here: the context isn’t merely the tools you used to build the table. My knowledge of all the tables I’ve ever seen is important to how your work will be received. If you build a table with drawers, built-in hot plates, cutting boards, &c., then I’ll infer you mean for it to be in a kitchen. If you respond that it was meant for a gallery, that doesn’t change the fact that you’ve used your tools to design a table which, given the context, belongs in a kitchen. (Note that I’m not talking about some Platonic notion of tableness or some sub-Ideal like kitchen tableness, but merely inferring the function from the form.)

    SEK (1e62be)

  51. Good manners are GIVEN from me to you, in an effort to ensure a pleasant transaction

    Political Correctness is a DEMAND made by others (not necessarily a party to the transaction, i.e.: eavesdroppers) that there be no potential for offense for either the counter party to the transaction or to any of the eavesdroppers.

    All the difference in the world.

    Less (8da0c8)

  52. 1. Speakers should say what they sayto evoke the response they want to evoke.
    2. Speakers should say what they sayto evoke the response they want to evoke.
    3. People should expect speakers to do 1. or 2. above.
    4. Not the same.

    PC is choosing words go get approval, Courtesy is choosing word to avoid unintended pain.

    Larry Sheldon (86b2e1)

  53. There isn’t any one, singular “Context”. There are as many “contexts” as there are receivers of communication (plus the sender or senders). There may be large, gigantic swaths of agreement across contexts, but no two are truly identical.

    Of course it is incumbent upon the sender, when shaping a communication, to take into account the context or contexts within which that communication will be received. Most people do this naturally. The problem is that the Left has sought to establish, and to a large extent has succeeded in establishing, that all communications by those on the Right should be interpreted using the most unfavorable context possible. That’s the only way a meaningless throwaway phrase by Trent Lott praising Strom Thurmond could be judged as a racist pining for the good old days of segregation.

    Even more galling is that our own political representatives on the Right seem to stumble over themselves to ratify these bad faith interpretations, probably in the (foolish) hope that this will somehow protect them from being targets in the future. Whatever one thinks of what Rush said or meant, the eagerness with which luminaries on the Right leaped to denounce and distance only serves to STRENGTHEN the notion that Conservative statements should be evaluated in the worst possible light. Professional politicians like Steele and Gingrich ought to know this, but they obviously don’t

    cnh (ba0d2e)

  54. Jesus didn’t have any problem offending the Pharisees. How about discussing that, Patterico?

    Christ was a Pharisee. A learned Jewish intellectual. His problem was that He had the dangerous gift of persuasion and He was politically incorrect.

    Maybe if Jesus had treated his Pharisaic audiences with respect, he could have prevented or lessened the Jewish-Christian schism … and my ancestors might have been saved from persecution.

    You’re kidding, right? You do know that Christ was crucified for his “lack of respect”? “Maybe if that bitch hadn’t been so hot I wouldn’t have raped her, and if she hadn’t screamed so much I wouldn’t have had to strangle her, and I would not be on death row now.” (Stricken for political incorrectness.)

    nk (0a1ba0)

  55. SEK

    I disagree. Context may be fixed at the time the utterer creates meaning, but the utterer chooses the context in creating meaning (yes, I am a layperson when it comes to semiotics, so I may be mangling the jargon. But I’m also a human being that uses language every day and some of this is common sense — and “common sense” becomes increasingly rare those who travel the road to higher levels of non-math/business degrees.) Choice of context is voluntary while breathing is not.

    Man A desires sexual intercourse. Sexual intercourse is a morally neutral act. Man A can court his wife/girlfriend, woo her with his love and secure her cooperation in an act of love-making.

    Or Man A can break into house, tie up a woman against her will and rape her.

    Man A chooses the context for the act of sexual intercourse.

    Context alone wasn’t the primary arbitrator of whether either act was moral or immoral, it was the choice/will/intent of the actor.

    Darleen (4e02c9)

  56. Patt:

    What do you do when your interlocutor insists that you’re using “code words” to communicate bigotry, but they’ve never published the little red dictionary to tell you what those code words are?

    Should you just shut up to avoid being called names? And if someone pulls this kind of crap on you, what is the proper response?

    dicentra (7f8475)

  57. Patt:

    What do you do when your interlocutor insists that you’re using “code words” to communicate bigotry, but they’ve never published the little red dictionary to tell you what those code words are?

    You disagree with them. You argue with them. You illustrate the inanity of their assertion.

    You don’t say what amounts to “halp halp, they used the magic ‘racist’ word on me, now I am helpless.’

    Should you just shut up to avoid being called names?

    If you want. The marketplace of ideas is rough. Wear a cup. You may be calling people stupid or craven or evil. They may call you racist. If that’s too painful, you don’t have to play the game.

    And if someone pulls this kind of crap on you, what is the proper response?

    Man up.

    In the Breitbart exchange you linked, this is an example of manning up:

    You tell me what he has said that is racist.

    See? He’s demanding evidence.

    This, on the other hand, is not manning up:

    Oh, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. I find that offensive. Because there’s nothing in this country that’s a worse accusation. In America, where you accuse someone of racism, that person has to disprove that. It’s completely Unamerican to call him racist.

    That’s just whining. It’s no different than if the rest of that abysmal panel had said “Oh Breitbart, your comments about race debilitate us racially and are unfair.”

    We get free speech. What we don’t get is the right to a receptive, intelligent, well-mannered, or fair audience.

    Ken (c97a0c)

  58. [...] “Yes, boss.”* Posted by Jeff G. @ 4:37 pm | Trackback SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: “Today’s imaginary [...]

    Today’s imaginary conversation between a boy and his black Lab, Petey: installment 2 (7a2640)

  59. @haveblue # 30. Sir, you did the right thing. The old gentleman was giving you an honor and we do not know the cause. Saying thank you and proceeding on your way is perfectly OK. Getting a salute from a recruit home from basic who still hasn’t learned that NCO’s don’t get saluted and RETURNING that salute as though you deserved it would have been wrong.

    Besides, the old gentleman may have lost his son in the service and wanted a bit of fond remembrance to hang on to. You really don’t need to worry about that any longer.

    GM Roper (85dcd7)

  60. Our esteemed host asked:

    2) Do you think society should ever disapprove of someone’s speech in part based on the concept that the speaker knew his words would generate a bad/counterproductive reaction from others?

    If you answer yes, can you think of examples? And at what point is it unfair for society to exhibit such disapproval?

    All you have to do is make statements using the slang derivation of Negro, and the answer is obvious. Senator Robert Byrd’s statements of a few years back make a perfect example.

    However, I think the question out to have included “or should have known” as part of the formulation.

    The erudite Dana (556f76)

  61. This is where you’re confused, Jeff.

    Doubtful.

    There’s a reason Jeff’s response to the statement by He Who Won’t Be Named was to provide more of its context. Did Jeff change the context? Not at all. He provided more of it in order to demonstrate that his interpretation of He Who Won’t Be Named’s intention was more accurate than someone else’s. But that doesn’t mean he knows what that intent actually was, or that the context can’t be accounted for more fully in such a way that invalidates Jeff’s reading.

    Actually, Jeff widened the context that was excerpted in order to allow people to make a more informed decision about what a certain person meant. You know, what he had in mind. Intended. That sort of thing.

    Sure, you can try widening the context more and then argue a different intent, but you’d still be appealing to intent. That’s fine by me.

    And of course I don’t know what his intent is with absolute certainty. I can only try to reconstruct his intent with whatever tools are available to the interpreter. One of which is the context in which the utterance took place: who was his audience, who did he expect was listening, what was his goal, how has he operated in the past in terms of ways he frames arguments given a similar contextual alignment, what can I gather from tone or inflection (if listening), etc. There are other tools, from conventional usage to any number of structural analyses (I happen to be a fan of narratology) — all of which are designed to make the best case for what that intent was.

    this isn’t a theory of how language works — this is a tactical point concerning how to make language work for you. To say that you shouldn’t let someone else frame a statement such that it no longer means what it meant in context is to admit that context is the primary arbiter of meaning.

    I never said it “meant” something different in a different context. I said that people might use the new context to argue that the meaning is now different.

    So in fact, I’m saying the opposite of what you argue I’m saying: that is, because people want to pretend meaning changes as a result of context, the best defense against that is to prevent them from trying to recontextualize with a mind toward distorting your meaning.

    That is a tactic used to combat a faulty view of how language works that others constantly advance. Changing contexts doesn’t change my meaning: it just takes away some of the power others have to distort it.

    As I noted on one of the other threads, your theory of intention breaks down with a statement like the one Faulkner made about Joe Christmas: “I wrote [Light in August] to help the niggers.”

    His intentions are good, but can you honestly claim that the statement itself isn’t racist? If you focus solely on what Faulkner intended, you completely lose the meaning of the statement.

    I’m sure it’s racist to you, and it may have even be considered racist back when Faulkner wrote it. But whether or not he conceived of the racism in such a statement the way you do now speaks to his intent having primacy over your (historically subsequent) outrage.

    Which is why you are torn between the racism you see in the statement and the good intentions you know Faulker had.

    Which is to say, racism may have meant something different to Faulkner than it does to you.

    Twain often finds himself in that same boat. Or raft.

    I’m not sure how you’re making the case that if we rely on what Faulkner intended we lose the meaning of the statement. Because the statement has no meaning without Faulkner’s intent.

    Jeff G (40465d)

  62. 1) Do you believe that speakers should ever change the way they present their message based on the anticipated reasonable reactions of their target audience?

    Knowing that sometimes I got answers wrong because I read too much into the question here goes. Strike the words reasonable and reactions and I might agree. You may need to forcefully say what they need to hear and their reaction may not be reasonable. If I tell my class of grad students that they are pissing their tuition away by not reading the assignments, that this is grad school and I’m not by gosh going to baby them to an “A” then I really don’t care what their reaction is. They can grow up and get with the program or walk out, or call me names and I’ll toss them out.

    Some comedians tell really nasty racial jokes and get huge laughs. Are some offended? Yeah, but what did they think they were purchasing tickets to the church social?

    If you answer yes, it is possible to generalize as to how speakers should make such decisions?

    I like NK’s answer “I don’t think so. “How” implies “can”. You are either in tune with your audience or you’re not. It is part talent and part learning.” Of course, that was itself a generalization so who the heck knows?

    2) Do you think society should ever disapprove of someone’s speech in part based on the concept that the speaker knew his words would generate a bad/counterproductive reaction from others?

    If you answer yes, can you think of examples? And at what point is it unfair for society to exhibit such disapproval?

    Ahhh, sneaky Patterico. Were “others” a part of the audience… if not, who cares?

    3) Do you think society should ever disapprove of someone’s acts in part based on the concept that the speaker knew his acts would result in bad/counterproductive actions by others?

    Including the word “ever” makes this question/sentence nonsensical. Ever includes an infinity of possibilities. Now, if we include the word “sometimes” instead, the answer should be a resounding yes.

    If you answer yes, can you think of examples? And at what point is it unfair for society to exhibit such disapproval?

    I give the example of citizens of nazi Germany beating someone to death for extolling the value of Jews to society as a counter-example, a not good example, but riding someone out of town on the proverbial rail because someone stood up in a Synagogue and extolled the ‘value’ of the nazification of the United States… well, I’ll help carry the rail. ( and maybe even supply the tar and feathers – metaphorically speaking of course).

    4) Do you think political correctness and good manners are the same or different? If different, then in what way? What distinguishes one from the other?

    Well, I’ll have to think on this for the nonce.. Ok, the answer is that manners promote healthy societal growth and cohesiveness and P.C. destroys it. How’s them apples fer ya?

    And all the other commenters provided healthy food for thought. Thanks folks!

    GM Roper (85dcd7)

  63. “Changing contexts doesn’t change my meaning: it just takes away some of the power others have to distort it.” = “Changing contexts doesn’t change my meaning: preventing such changes just takes away some of the power others have to distort it.”

    Jeff G (40465d)

  64. 1. Yes, but for that matter, they should also adjust the presentation based on the anticipated unreasonable reactions, as well. In either case, they should deliver their message in the manner most likely to persuade as many persuadable members of the target audience, net of those the same delivery would predictably dissuade.

    2. Yes. Deliberately provoking people for provocation’s sake is bad. However, censoring the content of one’s views is worse, so society should limit its outrage to cases where the speaker had an opportunity to express the same concept in less inflammatory terms, and consciously chose not to do so. Using the word “niggardly” while addressing the NAACP, just because you can, would be an obvious example. But if you aren’t allowed to make your point, or have to make it in an extremely awkward way, that’s not cool. At some point you have to say what you mean, and if it pisses certain people off, so be it.

    3. Yes. Donning sheets just for fun would be a prime example. Ted Danson going to a party in blackface is another, even though we know he didn’t do it to express hatred of blacks, but because Whoopi Cushion put him up to it; it was still wrong and he should have known better. Or Bill Maher going to a Halloween party as Steve Irwin mere weeks after he died. Etc. As with speech, it becomes unfair for society to react if the guy had a legitimate reason for doing what he did, and no reasonable alternative that wouldn’t have provoked the same reaction.

    4. Different. The biggest differences are that political correctness yields to unreasonable reactions as well as reasonable ones (e.g., American Indian vs. “Native American”), and that it doesn’t just tell you how to say it, but what you can say.

    Xrlq (62cad4)

  65. May I suggest that your (the speaker’s) only control over the context is your speech? Your audience will come with its pre-programmed passions and deeply-ingrained values. To whatever extent you appeal to or challenge, either, is entirely dependent on your talent and ability to “push the right buttons”?

    nk (0a1ba0)

  66. How about discussing the questions?

    Because it’s to whine.

    JHoward (cc869e)

  67. Speaking of language:

    We lack the popular vocabulary to intelligently discuss ethnic conflicts.

    For starters, there is no such thing as “black” and “white” races. Biologically speaking, an Ethiopian, on average, is as genetically distinct from a Zulu as he is from a Swede.

    Yet, in popular discourse, we speak of the black race as if it actually exists.

    More important, we use the word “racist” to categorize behaviors as different as telling a joke that plays on stereotypes and participating in a lynching and conspiring to exclude the stereotyped minority from a job or a business deal.

    Everyone’s racist, to some degree. It’s the human condition. The difference is in how we respond to it and how much of our racism is conscious and how much is unconscious.

    One suggestion, which has come from author Kwame Appiah, is that we distinguish between “racialism” and “racism.” Racialism would be the notion that racial differences are significant and worthy of analytical observation. Racism would be the attempt to assert the superiority of one race over another.

    Not sure Appiah’s idea gets us much closer to reality, but it’s a start….

    Hax Vobiscum (23258e)

  68. One suggestion, which has come from author Kwame Appiah …

    I would never read anything from someone calling himself Kwame Appiah. Maybe that’s the name he was given at birth, but it’s his tough luck that someone named Leroi Jones changed his name to Amiri Baraka.

    nk (0a1ba0)

  69. We lack the popular vocabulary to intelligently discuss ethnic conflicts.
    .
    If by “we” you are referring to adherents to political correctness, I’ll subscribe to your theory. But if “we” refers to the population as a whole, I dissent.

    cboldt (3d73dd)

  70. Cboldt: So what words do you use to describe someone who tells ethnic jokes, say, in an ethnically mixed workplace?

    Would you say they were telling “racist” jokes?

    Then, what word would you use for someone who consciously excludes ethnic minorities from employement or housing? Racist? Would you use the same word for someone who UNCONSCIOUSLY does the same?

    Hax Vobiscum (23258e)

  71. Bear in mind that computers can beat the best human chessmasters at chess but still can’t pass the Turing test.

    Also bear in mind that the Turing machine concept was created to prove that no system of math, logic, or philosophy could be constructed free of paradox and ambiguity.

    Still, communication does occur between humans but the method is provably subject to deliberate distortion. When a speaker and the intended audience both claim that some party is distorting that communication, it seems pointless to try to analyze the words to support or discredit the distortion. Words (in general) cannot contain the entirety of a communication.

    I could say to some audience “I want America to prosper but I want Obama to fail”. The audience may correctly recieve the intended meaning. If challenged they may seek to support the received meaning in a direct rational fashion like “he must have meant failure to enact …”

    If I am challenged however in the form “that means you want more unemployment” my response would be “that does not follow, the expected results of Obama’s policies do not include restoring prosperity and his words and background reveal that isn’t even his intent”.

    My response and the audience direct response were not part of the original communication, but are infact generated by the challenge, a false challenge. Neither the false challenge, nor the audience member’s response, nor even my response provide a frame to evaluate the clarity of the original communication. The only valid basis for that is whether the intended audience understood that “I want America to prosper but I want Obama to fail”. If some other party misleads some other audience using the last 5 words of that communicaion, that’s on them, not me.

    boris (ecab60)

  72. 1) Do you believe that speakers should ever change the way they present their message based on the anticipated reasonable reactions of their target audience?

    If you answer yes, it is possible to generalize as to how speakers should make such decisions?

    Yes, serious speakers should tailor their presentation to specific audiences provided they don’t alter the substance of their message. Unfortunately, it’s easy to use that as an excuse to avoid addressing issues that are contentious or offensive to certain groups.

    I believe in this approach: Say what you mean but pretend you are saying it to a group that doesn’t agree with you. Because the topic is something you believe in, you will state your case as forcefully as possible. But talking to an audience that doesn’t agree with you forces you to boil your message down to the important points and hopefully helps you avoid gratuitous offense.

    In other words, I think the speaker’s goal should be to speak in a way that accurately conveys his/her core message and avoids gratuitous offense.

    2) Do you think society should ever disapprove of someone’s speech in part based on the concept that the speaker knew his words would generate a bad/counterproductive reaction from others?

    I think it’s good for people to speak freely (subject to legal limits on speech that inflames violence, is defamatory, etc.), and it’s good for people to disagree or disapprove of that speech. However, the more inflammatory and emotional a speaker is, the more likely that speech will turn off listeners. A speaker can selectively use those tactics to his/her advantage, but doing so too often or too shockingly risks the speaker’s reputation and persuasiveness.

    3) Do you think society should ever disapprove of someone’s acts in part based on the concept that the speaker knew his acts would result in bad/counterproductive actions by others?

    I’m not sure where I would draw the line but I would place significantly more limits on actions than on speech.

    4) Do you think political correctness and good manners are the same or different? If different, then in what way? What distinguishes one from the other?

    I think they are very different. Manners makes you act in a way that considers the feelings of other individuals. Political correctness makes you act in a way that satisfies society’s expectations.

    Anon (eb4fed)

  73. what words do you use to describe someone who tells ethnic jokes, say, in an ethnically mixed

    Irish. I tell Irish jokes all the time. I’m Irish.

    boris (ecab60)

  74. what words do you use to describe …
    Whatever string of words conveys the thought I have in mind. it seems from your follow-on, that you meant for vocabulary to be taken as “single word labels.” E.g., you asked if I’d assign the label “racist” to a person telling ethnic jokes in mixed race company.
    I generally find single word labels to be troublesome, as the point of conversation tends to focus on assigning the “proper” definition to the label, and the conversation stalls on that point.
    I took “vocabulary” as admitting use of the more common words in the dictionary.

    cboldt (3d73dd)

  75. A Canadian ethnic joke:

    A Newfie drives past a pub advertising, “Lobster tail and beer”

    “Lard tunderin’ Jaysus!,” he cries, “me tree favorite tings!”

    Is this joke offensive? Why or why not?

    ras (20bd5b)

  76. Darleen:

    Context may be fixed at the time the utterer creates meaning, but the utterer chooses the context in creating meaning

    A speaker can choose how (or whether) they enter into a particular context, but short of the obvious — deciding not to speak to someone or group of people at all — they cannot choose the context in which they speak. Example:

    You’re at work. People around the water-cooler are chatting them. The extent to which you can control the context of your speech ends the second you decide to talk to them. Once you address them, you’re co-creating the context of the conversation. (If you’re they’re boss, that’s one context; if you’re their underling, that’s another; &c.) Imagine they’re all liberals and they’re talking about affirmative action. How do you go about changing the context of their conversation? You could try the old standard — “I don’t want to sound like a racist here” — but they’ll immediately peg you for a racist. You could stomp your hands and feet and insist they listen to your words with charity and interpret them in the best light possible, but even if you have firing power over them, their charity’s not likely to outlast the conversation. Your attempt to frame the conversation becomes part of the context in which your statements are interpreted.

    I am a layperson when it comes to semiotics

    I wrote an entire dissertation in an English department and I never once cited a trendy theorist. I know Jeff’s convinced people such things aren’t possible, but there you have it. I’m not big on jargon-for-the-sake-of-jargon.

    Context alone wasn’t the primary arbitrator of whether either act was moral or immoral, it was the choice/will/intent of the actor.

    Isn’t the operative lesson there actually the opposite? That the same act means different things in different contexts regardless of intent?

    Jeff:

    I never said it “meant” something different in a different context. I said that people might use the new context to argue that the meaning is now different.

    So who determines the relevant context? I can easily demonstrate that The Nameless One meant something different from what you say he did simply by recontextualizing his remarks. That is, after all, what you did to Patterico. Why is your context superior to his? If I were to take an even wider view, would mine necessarily be better than yours? It’s not difficult to make a convincing case that The Nameless One meant exactly what Patterico initially claimed he did by appealing to a context larger than the original remarks and those made shortly thereafter. Who’s to say that my contextualized interpretation of his remarks are not, therefore, closer to his original intent?

    I’m saying the opposite of what you argue I’m saying: that is, because people want to pretend meaning changes as a result of context, the best defense against that is to prevent them from trying to recontextualize with a mind toward distorting your meaning.

    At what point does a recontextualization become a distortion? If I appeal to a statement someone made 10 minutes ago, is that necessarily more meaningful than one he made 10 hours, 10 days, 10 months or 10 years ago? Which one speaks most closely to intent — and, more importantly, why?

    But whether or not he conceived of the racism in such a statement the way you do now speaks to his intent having primacy over your (historically subsequent) outrage.

    I’m not sure where you see outrage, but that’s neither here nor there: why should his intent have primacy over his utterance? Statements made by great-but-conflicted authors in the heat of the Civil Rights Movement are more meaningful than “What did he mean to say?” Especially since Faulkner’s so confused at this point that he likely would’ve given you a different answer on Tuesday than he did on Monday.

    SEK (072055)

  77. Patterico, you have three basic concepts you are addressing in your questions. Question one is a stand alone question, questions two and three are related and different from question one, and question four is also a stand alone and not really related to the other three. With that said, here goes.

    Question one. The answer is yes, a speaker should always attempt to connect with the target audience and that may require that his message be presented in different ways. For example, an economist speaking to the general public would present his message differently than if he were speaking to a panel of economists because the general public would not be familiar with some of the concepts and terms that other economists would. After all, the general public would probably be bored out of their minds if he presented many graphs and tables that economists might find fascinating, whereas a general audience might be more interested in hearing about specific instances that illustrate his points.

    Questions two and three. The answer is no. When you speak of society you are not speaking of a monolithic body and remarks that part of it–maybe even a large part of it–may find offensive and counterproductive might well be applauded by other segments of it. Also, your statement that the speaker or actor knew the results would be viewed as offensive or counterproductive fails because you are making the unprovable assumption that the speaker or actor knew. As an example of people ascribing motives(which I’m quite confident were not the speaker’s intention)I offer Trent Lott’s comments at Strom Thurmond’s birthday party. People can argue that the speaker or actor should have known, but unless they have a proven ability to read minds they are simply talking out of their hats.

    But to go a little further on the concept that certain words or actions might produce bad or counterproductive reactions from some, most advances in civilization have come as a result of words or actions that produced great outrage or controversy when they were said or took place. I could list numerous examples of such, but try the concept that the earth orbits the sun as a starting place. By trying to limit what can be said because it might offend or upset a segment of society we stifle any chance of advancement.

    Question four. Political correctness and good manners have no relationship to each other as presently practiced. As originally envisioned, political correctness was supposed to be a means to promote good manners through raising the public’s awareness that words can hurt, but it has turned into nothing more than an attempt to grab political power and no longer bears any resemblance to good manners. But to go a little further, good manners stem of an inner desire to be pleasant and polite whereas political correctness now amounts to outside pressure to force people to comply with the views of others.

    There is a lot more that could be covered, such as is it proper for one segment of society to take offense at the comments made by someone addressing a specific audience, but since you didn’t ask that question I’m not going to address it here. However, I do think it would be an interesting subject to explore. As an example of what I mean, is it proper for the people living in the central part of the country to be offended by Pres. Obama’s remarks regarding clinging to guns and religion.

    Fritz J. (9a9afa)

  78. SEK: what does it mean for a *statement* to be racist? Isn’t that just shorthand for saying that it’s the sort of thing a racist would say? If I give a foreigner a faulty phrasebook (a la Monty Python) and he says “I hate ni***rs” when he thought he was asking for a roll of scotch tape, is it still a racist statement?

    So looking at the Faulkner quote, if the question is only “is that the sort of thing a racist would say”, the answer is probably yes; if the question is “was Faulkner a racist” or “was he in a racist state of mind at the time he made that statement”, then intent absolutely matters, because it becomes a question not of language but of mind.

    Jeff G: I disagree that a statement is “meaningless” absent any (implied or explicit) knowledge of the speaker, although perhaps it’s just a terminological dispute. I think it’s fair to say that, e.g., “asdfk asfdlkhsf” is meaningless in a way that a speakerless “I hate scotch tape” is not. But perhaps you would use a different word for indicating simply whether a statement can be decoded within a given language.

    kenB (88b394)

  79. Why not ask the question “What do you think of those who will not clearly attack those who advocate a horrfic position that is quite a violation of the principles you hold dear in the name of civility?”

    To wit:

    Gore Vidal: Buckley you are a crypto fascist.

    Buckley (PC version): I disagree with you.

    Buckley (1968 tv broadcast):
    Say that again you flaming faggot and I’ll smash your teeth down your throat.

    I vote for honesty every time. Do you disagree with Buckley’s response?

    Thomas Jackson (a495b3)

  80. Once you address them, you’re co-creating the context of the conversation

    That’s plain silly. Context is mine to use and create in shaping the meaning of my speech or act. How I create my meaning tailored to my boss or my subordinates is a matter of manners and/or company policy, it is not intent. The liberals around the water cooler who tag me racist for the statement “I disagree” have not co-created my context, but have engaged in creative writing. They disregard what I have said and projected their own meaning in its place.

    That the same act means different things in different contexts regardless of intent?

    The same act (sexual intercourse) means different things due to the intent of the actor choosing/creating the context in which to act. The context of “rape” would not happen without the intent of the actor.

    Context doesn’t exist without actors.

    Darleen (4e02c9)

  81. 1. Tailoring the presentation to the audience: If you want to persuade, you must tailor the message to best communicate your actual ideas in a way that the audience will see your points and think about them. A secondary consideration would be to present it it a way that is controversial or exciting so the audience will be stirred up and continue to talk about the ideas (I think this was Rush’s attempt). I exclude dishonest attempts to hide the true message in order to get people to go along.
    2. Generating a bad/counterproductive reaction: This isn’t wise and it’s fine for society to criticize a presentation if it was intended to create the bad/counterproductive reaction. However, a presentation given in accordance with the principles I described in item 1 would not qualify as being in category # 2. Note that opponents will often try to spin a true #1 presentation as an example of a #2 presentation in an effort to discredit it. Example of a #2 presentation: a David Duke speech (but that is too easy). I think people should cut some slack for someone who tried to do a #1 presentation that inadvertently became a #2 presentation.
    3. I think it is the duty of citizens to criticize actual bad behavior in an effort to discourage it in the future. Of course, some claim to be doing this when they just want to discredit an opponents valid presentation (this is unfair).
    4. Political Correctness and good manners are different. Political correctness is the effort to use the guise of good manners to suppress valid discussion and argument over policy.

    Ken in Camarillo (aa2192)

  82. 2) Do you think society should ever disapprove of someone’s speech in part based on the concept that the speaker knew his words would generate a bad/counterproductive reaction from others?

    I’ve noticed that you ask a lot of questions that seem to me to be built on logical fallacy. “Society” and “others” implies that there is some sort of single-minded Borg(Star Trek) like society for whom we can tailor our speech.

    But then it occurs to me that a lawyer will have a different outlook on these things. Someone might hope to have a long term influence on society and this person can use brutal honesty to bring a majority to his way of thinking over time. After all the kicking and screaming, the truth remains. But a lawyer doesn’t have time to change people, and it’s not in his best interest ( or his client’s best interest ) to unbottle genies. I suspect he needs to speak to a jury based on that group’s current outlook on things.

    j curtis (8e737a)

  83. [...] I hope that he won’t mind my taking his whole post: [...]

    Patterico's Latest on Language and Intention [Dan Collins] (7a2640)

  84. Lets talk about the legitimacy of exterminating Jews, but whatever you do, don’t mention the Nazis. That’s not what the discussion is about, you see.

    ccoffer (50afcc)

  85. Great responses (some) :)

    nk at 19: And has it ever happened to you? And, if it did, was it a “femanazi” or a little green Martian? Ain’t nothing like the boogeymen we make up in our minds, is there?

    I have been cursed like a sailor for opening a door for a female before, not sure you would call her a femanazi but she didn’t appreciate my ‘treating here like some kind of simpleton’… I told her I held the door because I WANTED to, not because she NEEDED it and told her good day.

    Lord Nazh (899dce)

  86. It was not this “lady” by any chance, was it? (Link somewhat questionable for mixed company.)

    nk (0a1ba0)

  87. I think Ken makes some excellent points. This isn’t a back and white issue; there are lots of gray areas.

    I work at a big corporation and I self-censor what I say at work. But by the same token, a lot of that relates to simply having good manners. Work is not an appropriate forum to discuss how big your coworker’s breasts are. It’s also not a forum—IMHO—to use bad language (the ‘f’-bomb, for example). But reaction shouldn’t be overboard either.

    Just because someone has the right to say something doesn’t mean others don’t have the right to react. For example, if I were to say that Hispanics (I’m half-Spanish, BTW) were inferior to whites intellectually, I can expect justified outrage from them. Where it gets into PC is when people take offense too easily to something not meant as racial. The chimp cartoon from a couple of weeks ago is a good example of that. Many blacks who spoke out, in my opinion, were too overzealous in condemning that cartoon.

    People are entitled to their opinions, which is why I have such a problem with Republicans kowtowing to Rush Limbaugh. It should be their right to disagree with Rush. But the dittoheads won’t allow it.

    Joe (0ccd61)

  88. Isn’t question 1 a bit misleading?

    If we’re talking in the context of Rush and controversies like that then the problem isn’t the intended audience, but third parties who are deliberately looking to be offended by the statement.

    “[long discussion about Obama's policies]…I hope he fails” is a strong but honest statement that was aimed at the listeners of his radio show. The MSM then took that statement and turned it into only “I hope Obama fails.”

    That has nothing at all to do with changing your statement to match your audience. That’s changing someone else’s statement to match a different audience. This being what caused the whole “controversy” in the first place then the questions as phrased is really moot.

    Rob C (015891)

  89. [...] to someone named “Jeff G,” when facing down “those who are out to pull whatever you say or write out of [...]

    You think you know what you mean? I’ll tell you what you mean. « The Edge of the American West (5d93ba)


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