Monday, June 09, 2008

Selective Implication

I noticed something new today, arguing as I often do with people that I generally agree with about most things because we disagree on some small thing. And I'm struck with the realization that it seems to be remarkably easy for people who don't want to think about something to not think about it.

A useful term to describe the specific phenomenon I'm encountering is "selective implication". This is a phenomenon where a word has certain implications and connotations that are selectively applied. This can be a good thing if used correctly; sometimes for lack of a better word, we use one that implies something slightly different than what we actually mean, and it gets the point across. We leave it up to the plausibility and context to determine what was actually meant by that word in that case, and which connotations or implications might not be intended. For example, the phrase "Capitalism has brought great wealth to the world" is not using the word "capitalism"'s capacity to imply exploitation. The phrase "Gravediggers of Capitalism" is not using the word "capitalism"'s capacity to imply prosperity.

In my previous post on my other blog I described a mental filter I use to compare ideas to each other, and throw away useless ones. A variant of this filter is pretty common to libertarians (I think mine developed from the common libertarian version). The difference appears to be that libertarians very often use this filter on words, not on the ideas that the words stand for. Libertarians very often insist on a very strict definition of capitalism to mean "free market" (although I don't know why they use the word "capitalism" when "free market" does a better job with less fuss). In doing this, they strip "capitalism" down to what they believe to be it's core meaning, and throw away all it's other implications and connotations. As I've said, this can be a useful thing. Libertarians tend to be very precise thinkers. Not always necessarily accurate, but precise. In a "2.24885837+2.11358=3.92485263" sense. But this habit often leads to libertarians stripping away some very important implications and connotations that these ideas and words carry that screw with their ability to understand new ideas that they are not familiar with. It also gives a lot of room for people to assert things that aren't true as if they were obvious. Somebody who doesn't care a bit for the word "Capitalism" will rarely be seen defending inanely huge fortunes on the grounds that the free market naturally produces them. Somebody who cares for nothing but the word "Capitalism" will rarely fail to do so. And very often those who believe that inanely huge fortunes are not legitimate creations of the free market will be denounced as "socialists".

"Whatever you do, do not think of an elephant."

The above instruction is impossible to comply with once having heard it. As soon as you read or hear the word elephant, you're thinking of a big gray animal with a long trunk. If I call a rock "the elephant", I'm not trying to say it's a biological, living, breathing thing. It's obviously not. What I'm trying to do is put the implications of the word "elephant" in your head; I trust you to make the necessary connections between the rock I'm talking about and an elephant, or to discover what rock I'm talking about by associating the idea of a "rock" with the implications of the word "elephant". Maybe it's got a trunk-like feature, on the end of an elephant-head shaped bulge on one end, maybe it's just a big rock the size of an elephant, maybe it's a statue of an elephant. Whatever it is, you know damn well I'm not telling you that the rock has a large brain and grows ivory tusks, even though these are quite essential characteristics of elephants.

"I hate going to work."

I don't know about you, but what passes through my mind when I read the word "work" in this sentence is doing things you've done a hundred times before, leaving home every day, being on a schedule, earning a wage or salary, coming home late in the day, the color of dirt and wood, fighting rush hour traffic, dealing with annoying coworkers and customers, going to sleep tired and waking up tired the next morning because that's the schedule, and the fear of not being in control of things and the dependence upon your boss's happiness. These are the images that come to mind.

When I say "work should be abolished" I'm obviously not talking about the definition from physics. I'm not talking about all productive endeavor. I'm not talking about doing something you don't like. I'm using the word "work" because there's no other word that brings up enough and the same implications and connotations (and as few unwanted or extraneous implications and connotations) as I want you to think of when I choose a word to describe it.

When I say I am opposed to capitalism, I am not saying I oppose free markets. I'm saying I'm opposed to at least most of the things that the word "capitalism" implies, centralized wealth and wealth disparity, bosses and workers, consumerism, consumption, the GDP, corporations, pointless extravagance...that's what I'm opposed to. It is unfortunate that "capitalism" has come to imply "free markets" in addition to these things, as there's no reason for it to be so.

When I say I am opposed to government, I am not saying I'm opposed to order, agreement, or control. I'm saying I'm opposed to politics, opposed to making other people's decisions for them, opposed to lies and bullshit, opposed to monopoly, opposed to all the witless slogans and arrogance and raw, unsubstantial imagery that is brought to mind when I hear, see, or speak the word "government".

A lot of the time all it takes to understand somebody is to try to understand them. Not to hear them, not to listen to them, but to actually recognize that there is an idea, probably at least somewhat sensible, that they are trying to communicate to you, and to try, make a conscious effort, to understand what they are talking about. Robots would object to my calling a rock an elephant on the grounds that rocks and elephants are defined in a mutually exclusive manner. People respond by thinking about what rock or what elephant I might be talking about and how the one relates to the other. Don't be a damn robot. Be a person.