Sunday, August 11, 2013

Words: Knowing the Difference

I have been trying to keep this one under my hat, but I just can’t seem to do so any longer. Recently, I have been inundated with all sorts of nastiness and ignorance across the internet. Mind you, most of it is not necessarily directed at me. However, the way some people state their points—however misguided—it could be. I think one of the more interesting things is how people like to take hot button words and warp their definitions to mean something else entirely. This practice has spilled over to include seemingly innocuous, everyday words. It is a bit much, folks.

I like to think of some basic guidelines when using language.
  1. If you don’t know what a word means, don’t use it.
  2. If you want to use a word, but aren’t sure which one—look it up or ask around. There is a wealth of legitimately useful information out there.
  3. If you want to use big words, that’s fine. But, see number one above.
  4. You aren’t necessarily smarter than someone who chooses not to use big words.
  5. Baffling people with bullshit has a much lower success rate online. Remember, part of the practice includes first knowing what the other person knows.

Why do I fight the fruitless battle of trying to use logic on the Internet? It is a losing battle. I think what’s worse is when illogical people try to claim they are using logic—going so far as making up their own fallacies. And, people say the wise thing to do is let these people move on in their ignorance and even harmful ways and pay them no heed. That is a problem, my friends.

These people, spouting their nonsense, have the ability to infect other people. Someone might be taken in by their foolhardy arguments. They may fall prey to the senselessness. Have you ever met someone who is convinced that something is the truth, because so and so told them it was? How about people who are so convinced of their own bullshit, because no one else has ever dared correct them? “Oh, I know it is the truth, because my sister agreed with me.” It happens, folks. I used to think it was a rare occurrence, but the proliferation of such blind sheepdom has only gotten worse with the spread of internet technologies.

Now, I’m not saying everyone’s opinion is wrong. But, when opinion gets confused for fact, that is an issue. Granted, some of it may be confusion, because people simply don’t know what a word means. This past week alone, I have heard people talk about good people committing some of the most horrible acts imaginable. That, by definition, means they are no longer good. A good person, after all, is “virtuous, right, commendable.” Good people may be forced into bad decisions and have to choose the lesser of two evils. They might even make mistakes. They do not, however, rape, torture, or murder. They might go to extremes, they might kill for the right reasons, but they do not commit acts of evil.

Supporting an argument is good for the brain. It is a good mental exercise. It is unfair to have different rules for different participants in the discussion. It cannot be suspected that one person must fully support their argument, but the other does not. It is unwise to blatantly dismiss facts simply because you do not believe them accurate, discuss them. Do not start a logical debate on one premise, change that parameters of that discussion part way through. If you just want to argue through the use of begging the claim, circular arguments, straw man techniques, sweeping generalizations, and other rhetoric, it accomplishes nothing for any party involved.

Some common words/terms that I have seen misused and abused over the week include, but are in no way limited to, censorship, fact, free agency, gender bias, logic, misogynistic, sexism/sexist. People often trying using big or hot button words, because they feel no one will challenge them on it, because mere challenging of the statement means they are somehow guilty of the misplaced definition of the term.