Human Nature Negotiated

I have observed an irony, possibly a hypocrisy, among some of my fellow humans. On one hand we are being told again and again to act a certain way or else. Or else what? All sorts of things, but mainly some predetermined punishment will be meted out for you. This is a rule system whereby a deterministic chain reaction is defined and later implemented when certain cues appear. Usually these rules are reasonable and even important on the face: If you act in a racist manner you will be called out as a racist. If you disrespect our soldiers we will get mad at you. And so on.

Many of the same individuals eschew deterministic models of the human condition. Deterministic models have been with us for a long time. For instance, if you are a female you won’t really develop a moral sense, so you need to follow the rules laid out by males, who do have a moral sense. If you are dark skinned you should be happy serving those with light skinned, because you are predestine for a role of servitude. If you are wealthy, this is because it has been predetermined by god that you will be wealthy, so you can take moral and ethical shortcuts to maintain this status. And so on.

I’m not equating the first set of rules with the second set of rules in any functional, pragmatic, or topical way. I am equating them as structurally similar and as contextual analogs. They are structurally similar because they are logically deterministic. They are contextual analogs because the are strong conclusions based on zero factual information with the presumption that the model is darn near perfect.

Reality is, of course, totally different. In reality, the nature of a person is a negotiation of numerous circumstances. In reality, the nature of a conversation including the lexicon, the tone, the semantics and the meanings are also negotiated. It is well established in linguistics and related fields that meaning is generated through negotiation between producer and consumer (of the words, imagery, etc.). How much work is carried out by participants in a communication, and the nature of that work, is not rule-bound and predetermined. It is negotiated.

I was thinking about this1 in relation to a number of different issues (off-Internet, off-Blog, believe it or not) when I got an email this morning from Stephanie Zvan asking me to look over her new post for Quiche Moraine (we check each other’s posts for typos and spelling errors, which means Stephanie is the Editor of Quiche Moraine and I am a useless administrative step). And lo and behold the post was titled “Negotiables” and was a look at the recent even in which Sheril Kirshenbaum was welcomed to the new home of The Intersection by commenter’s on Phil Platt’s blog, Bad Astronomy. A couple/few of the commenters provided the internet equivalent of leering or butt pinching as their ‘welcome,’ which was considered by many (including myself) to be out of line. Stephanie’s post does not really address that specific event but rather uses it as a springboard to discuss negotiation and the central role negotiation plays in thoughtful and socially mature human interaction.

Thoughtful. Socially mature. Probably not something the Blogosphere is ready for yet.

So, as usual, Stephanie Zvan’s post, “Negotiables,” is a bit ahead of it’s time. Please go read it.


1 The astute and eidetic-brained observer will note that I actually used the term “negotiated” in a comment on Sheril’s post (here). So, Stephanie and I were having similar thoughts. Is that because we, as friends, have been talking about this? Or because we think similarly about this and therefore are friends? The latter, it turns out.


  1. #1 Stephanie Z
    April 3, 2009

    Hardly just looking for typos and hardly a useless administrative step.

  2. #2 noel
    April 3, 2009

    I was surprised to see that some of the offenders tried to defend their comments. It is indicative of how ingrained it is in our society to think that women desire approval for their physical appearance – even from strangers – even when introduced as scientists. Those guys thought that was a given – no negotiation needed!
    The explanation for the assumed intimacy is simple: bloggers write in an informal, chatty style, and some commenters feel free to respond in an overly familiar way. That, and they know they’re anonymous and don’t have to watch their words as carefully as they otherwise would. Neither fact is, of course, any excuse.