Monday, February 7, 2011

Say What You Mean!

One of my pet peeves is when someone constantly uses a concept that means something different than what they actually mean, resulting in them not saying at all what it is they meant to say. In an informal environment with like individuals it may lead to no obstacles, but for someone such as I, who is trying to be precise in the meaning of his vocabulary, it leads to confusion, barriers in communication, and irritation. It's fine by me if a person is innocently mistaken, but when they know they're imprecisely using a concept and refuse to correct themselves otherwise, it leads to continued problems. I'm not going to adjust my conceptual mindset to theirs, so I'm perpetually confused by their statements.

Take the two concepts "margarine" and "butter." Obviously, these two substances are not the same thing: You cannot validly call a stick of butter margarine or a tub of margarine butter. Among their differences are chemical makeup, nutrition, biochemical effects on the body, smell, taste, texture, and so on. They're both unique. In a household or restaurant that carries both products, it's especially useful to distinguish them (as opposed to a house that only utilizes one all the time).  Treating them as equivalent can not only be annoying, but severely damaging.

In the realm of annoyance, I dislike it when people call margarine "butter" because I do distinguish the products: If you ask me for butter, I'm going to give you butter. Whenever someone refuses to make the distinguishment I always get confused because the dairy product always pops into my mind first, but then I quickly have the realization that this person typically means something else and have to ask them to clear up my confusion. Since I work to be so precise in my meaning, it takes a long time for me to habituate that a person means margarine when they say "butter" if they refuse to correct their mistake. Because we're two individuals who manage the meaning of our concepts differently, there's barriers to communication which leads to misunderstandings and inefficiency.

In the realm of actual harm, such simple imprecision can lead to long-term consequences. From a paleo perspective, if such a person were to develop heart disease from the constant use of margarine, then he's going to misinform his doctor about his diet when he tells him about all the "butter" he eats, influencing a possible misdiagnosis and treatment. Imagine, margarine incurs the disease, and then the doctor prescribes more of it!

But the difficulty doesn't only burden the person who's trying to interpret an imprecise person's approximate speech, but also the concept misuser himself. These are mentalities who don't merely treat one or two concepts in an approximate manner, but their entire vocabulary. Such an extensive refusal to precisely define distinguishing features consistently leads to mixing together things that shouldn't be mixed, saying things you don't actually mean, and being unaffected intellectually and emotionally by those who do use their terms very precisely. When dealing with such people, I've witnessed them pick up the wrong items from the grocery store consistently, constantly forget the substance of my statements, be unaffected by strong qualitative or moral evaluations, and so on. Using a game analogy, it's like these people are throwing darts at a target and the darts are absurdly landing behind them. They can hardly communicate intelligibly, and the world is ultimately unintelligible to them in return.

Really, all I desire of people is to at least be as precise as they can. They don't have to be as rigorous as I. Essentially, what I desire is to see people recognize mistakes, correct them, and quickly move on. When a person refuses and allows himself to stay stuck in approximate thinking, barriers in communication always exist in our relationship since I won't lower myself to that level, so it'll always be the case that he'll say one thing and mean something else, and my mind will interpret his statement on the basis of what exact concepts he used. I could easily develop a sense of disgust towards such a person, as I might express a strong negative moral evaluation of someone and experience an intense emotion accordingly, and the concept misuser, with his approximate thinking, may judge me to only be "bugged" by that particular individual, am being emotional and anti-intellectual, and am having a childish fit. If I judge something to be that evil, then I cannot take easy someone who takes me lightly in that regard. Such leads to a further gap between us as individuals, not only in how we utilize concepts, but how we act according to our worldviews. The person who takes knowledge seriously will act on his views intentionally, and the person who doesn't will be prone to lip-service and hypocrisy.

So say what you mean!

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