Re: MEMETICS: Politeness in Communication

Lee Daniel Crocker (
Thu, 16 Jan 1997 14:42:39 -0800 (PST)

DM> I understand what you mean, but consider: to *communicate* a message,
DM> the minds you wish to communicate with must be receptive to what you
DM> have to say. If they're not open to what you are saying, then you will
DM> end up *saying* your "message", but it has no real effect, because it
DM> is not transfered to another mind; so it is not really a message after
DM> all, since there is no communication going on.

Point taken. I still see value in plain, honest, expression even in
those cases where it may provoke an angry response, though, for
several reasons:

- Trying to second-guess someone else's emotional response is often
impossible, and insulting to their mind. They are just as capable
of reason as you are. They may have a different set of prejudices
and delusions and beliefs through which they filter ideas, but you
cannot know every possible reaction of everyone you talk to. You
can know, though, that they are all human, and capable of reason if
they choose to use it--so speak to them plainly, with reason.
Their reaction is their responsibility, not yours.

- Trying to communicate with someone "from their point of view"
implicitly validates that point of view. If their views or their
epistemology are irrational, they can just as easily wiggle their
way out of your idea with their own methods, or they accept your
result, they may use your words to validate their own ideas.

I once argued with a man about flag-burning. Knowing that he was
a Christian, I argued that God made the second commandment "Thou
shalt not make unto me any graven image" because he knew that people
often lose sight of reality when they worship symbols, and he
wanted to make sure the people worshipped /him/, not an image of him.
I should have known better--he just dredged up scripture to support
his point of view (the Bible is great for that) and pressed on. So
I lost the point, and I validated his theism. Even if he had taken
my argument to heart, I may have won his vote on one small issue,
but I still validated the idea that God is a proper way to argue.
Thereby winning a small battle by conceding the war.

- Sometimes the angry response is evidence that they /did/ understand
the point, and are uncomfortable with its consequences. Such reactions
may well lead your listener to examine why his beliefs conflict with
your ideas, and to find a way to resolve them. Of course, he might
resolve them with further irrational nonsense instead of reason. In
that case, he is likely to run into further conflicts, and have more
opportunities to see reason--and to see difference between his life
of conflict and the lives of men of reason. Even when you cannot get
your point across, you are still an example.

So I stand by my premise: the only job of a speaker is to be honest,
clear, and understandable--by his own standards. The emotional reaction
of the listener is the listener's responsibility to deal with.