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Sunday, August 16, 2020

RAW Semantics on generalizations and politics on social media

I have felt for awhile that, as Gene Healy argues, politics in the U.S. tends to make people dumber and meaner.  I've also tried to engage with social media mindfully and read books as the subject, as for example when I read Cal Newport's Digital Minimalism last year and tried to adjust how I use social media. (I temporarily deleted Twitter and Facebook apps from my phone. I later put them back on, but I use Twitter now pretty much through curated lists, and I don't really use Facebook that much.

The RAW Semantics blog has a new post up, "RAW Political #1," which uses Robert Anton Wilson's linguistic analysis of generalizations about groups to analyze why so many Twitter political comments incite hate rather than thoughtful discussion. Excerpt:

Because it seems so obvious, it also seems easy to take for granted. “Sombunall” – a simple enough idea, but not widely adopted. I recently read an online comment claiming “sombunall” as redundant, since the qualifier “some” seemed perfectly sufficient by itself (as “some” already implies “not all”). Perhaps “sombunall” could be considered redundant if the vast majority of people routinely used qualifiers such as “some” or “most” in their generalisations. But Bob created “sombunall” precisely because those qualifiers tend to be omitted by lazy habit (or by self-righteous or malign intent).

To demonstrate this, I recommend conducting a Twitter search for “liberals are”. (You can substitute other political labels in the search – eg “libertarian”, “progressive”, “conservative” – but I found that “liberals” seems by far the most frequently hypergeneralised label. Here are a few examples I found (on Twitter) at the time of writing:

“Liberals are brainwashed”

“Conservatives are morons”

“Libertarians are sociopaths with no conscience, empathy, or vision.”

“Liberals are categorically insane & making you live like slaves.”

“Conservatives are absolutely terrified of women having sex and enjoying it.”

Apparently more posts on the subject are on the way; the RAW Semantics blogger might find it useful to take a look at Newport's book, which seemed useful to me. Sombunall of you might find it helpful. 

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