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Trust and Language

Last year, at ScienceOnline09, it appears that the overarching theme of the meeting emerged, and it was Power, in various meanings of the word.

This year, looking at the titles and descriptions of the sessions on the Program, the keyword of the meeting will be Trust. Again, in various meanings of that word: how do you know who to trust (e.g., journalists, scientists and press officers), and how do you behave online in order to be trusted. The debate over recent hacking of e-mails concerning climate change also hinges on the trust and how language affects the perception of who is trustworthy.

It is important to remember that calls for civility are often attempts by those in power to silence those out of power and thus preserve the power hierarchy in which they are on top. And the only proper way to respond is to refuse to be polite.

Sometimes, showing anger is the only way to get attention and make a difference.

Sometimes, shocking and jolting with strong language is the only appropriate way to communicate in order to break the status quo:

Too many of us speak in calm and measured tones when there’s so much at stake. You won’t find that here. …This blogger, this American, is as mad as hell, and she’s not going to take it anymore.

On a related note, fearing that we face a whole new level of bullshit about which we will, and should, be visibly angry, and preparing myself thusly, comments and emails composed specifically to tell me to stop using bad language or to start being less aggressive, less hostile, less antagonistic, less bitchy, less arrogant, less belligerent, less vitriolic, less nasty, less acerbic, or less of a poopyhead, are as welcome as any other, but I feel obligated to inform all potential authors of such missives that they are, however, a waste of time.

If I get my facts wrong, let me know. If you don’t like my tone, tough. At this bus stop in the blogosphere, I’m Queen Cunt of Fuck Mountain, and I’m mean for a reason. Once we get our country back on the right track, there will plenty of time for nursery rhymes.

And while being angry alone is unproductive, using the Web to find other people who are angry about the same societal injustice and organize to make the world a better place, is the only way forward:

Think about it….

Update: Alex and Greg have additional thoughts.

Comments

  1. #1 Greg Laden
    December 12, 2009

    I love that movie.

    If you play with honey, you get sticky fingers. If you sling shit, you get smelly fingers. It is a choice, and either way can be effective. But later, don’t complain about your fingers.

    When my neighbor came over the other day to scream at my wife (who was busy nursing the baby so he screamed at me instead) I remember thinking “This guy could be a blogger.”

    Not really. What I did think is that we live in a small townhouse association with two officers and 6 members, and this guy is new here and has not learned the ropes yet. What he does not know yet is that if you yell at the person in charge, you get to be the person in charge for the next year. He also does not know that if the second conversation you have with your neighbor is to scream at her/him, your neighbor may be less sanguine about turning off the hose you left on or offering a jump for your car, etc.

    Yes, it is true that demands for civility for the purpose of silencing voices is very very bad. Everybody gets that or should get that. But insisting on asshatery or using asshatery as the default is not a very thoughtful alternative. I am not interested in giving up on diplomacy our thoughtfulness in communication. And anyone who wants me to can kiss my ass. … ;)

    Telling someone “shut up and be civil” is not worse then screaming at someone “SHUT UP AND STOP BEING CIVIL!!!11!!” Is it?

    Yes, we need new ways to communicate, and maybe new affective modalities. It is good to explore these things.

    I’m looking forward to the UnConference!

  2. #2 Comrade PhysioProf
    December 12, 2009

    At this bus stop in the blogosphere, I’m Queen Cunt of Fuck Mountain, and I’m mean for a reason.

    This is the greatest line in the history of blogging!

  3. #3 Glendon Mellow
    December 12, 2009

    That’s the thing. It takes all kinds of voices to make a message hears. Ridicule, persuasion, listening, reaching across the table, vitriol….every type of communication can reach a different ear.

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    December 12, 2009

    and art.

  5. #5 Alex Palazzo
    December 13, 2009

    It’s funny, I wasn’t aware of your post until my wife alerted me. I’ve been reading two historians of science who have a lot to say about trust and science – Steven Shapin, and Simon Schaffer. I’ll write something soon on their views, but until then I’ll recommend this interview (from CBC Radio’s Ideas): http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/media/science/episode-1-schaffer.ram

  6. #6 greigos
    December 13, 2009

    Amusing, but I don’t agree. Noise is noise. Cognitively, threat rallies defensive mechanisms, not thoughtful learning. Any teacher will tell you a child learns better and deeper when comfortable and not afraid than when under threat. There is only so much space in the brain available for attentive learning and when more than half of that space is taken up with defending against threat, learning is less efficient. If one wants to rally cooperation in a cause there is ample evidence non-hostile engaging informative discussion if far more effective than noise. What noise rallies is more noise, not effective action. My opinion based on what I know, anyway. I’m sure many will disagree. In fact, I’m quite sure most who would disagree are more interested in power over others than rallying cooperation on an equitable basis. Sad such warlike mentality is so prevalent today.

  7. #7 Elia
    January 3, 2010

    Bora, I have to respectfully (not angrily) disagree. Most psychologists will tell you that when someone shouts at you, you notice the shouting but not the meaning of the words being shouted. I have no problem with cursing and swearing and even raising one’s voice now and then (I certainly do it myself), but I don’t see the point or effectiveness of using excessive obscenity and other forms of incivility in the course of discourse, as in the blog excerpt you posted above. That may make the writer/blogger feel better, entertain her listeners, and help in preaching to the choir, but it’s not going to win any arguments.

  8. #8 Steve
    January 3, 2010

    My work has at times required me to resort to uncivil behavior, which in my case amounted to throwing temper tantrums. I didn’t like behaving like a child, but I got my point across.

    But here’s the thing. Those I was trying to influence know I’m not normally an uncivil person. They took notice of my tantrums because my abnormal behavior made them realize I was genuinely concerned. If I was the sort who always yelled, screamed, and cursed, they’d just think, “Oh that’s Steve off on another rant. Doubt he has anything special to contribute.”

    Yes, emotion can be a valuable tool in communication. Like any tool, it must be used judiciously and wisely.

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