Where does all the anger come from that we have seen in the past years, ever-growing, to become even a topic in the news? Where does the aggression come from that turns a person who might have been raised more or less properly into a being they would probably rather not have been, once they have been made accountable? My theory: It’s the misrepresentation of information bits that are ripped out of context to infuse emotional reactions. Unfortunately mostly negative emotions.
“Quod licet Iovi non licet bovi”, my mother used to say. In other words, what is permissible for one person, might not be for another. I’d like to add, what’s agreeable in one situation, might not be in another. The common knowledge of or consensus about the situational context is key.
Watch this, please:
Imagine, you encountered a group of neighbors in your driveway, acting like this. If you are in a situation where a traditional Haka dance makes sense, it might be a wonderful surprise. You might even wonder when and where they managed to work the choreography without yourself noticing. Now, imagine you didn’t know about Haka – you’d simply see the threatening. Right? Historically, of course, Haka IS a war dance. And showing another person the tongue was probably as disrespectful as it would be if you did this today to your doctor outside his office hours. So, in one context, it’s doing you an honor or confirming unity and strength, in another it’s mere aggression.
Every culture has its own expressions in body language and words. What forms a culture is the mutual understanding of the context in which gestures or language are used. “Just wait until we get home”, therefore, in English might be a promise, a request, or a warning. And you can be perfectly sure that, due to the situation, your addressee knows perfectly well what you mean. There are even linguistic studies on these so-called speech acts. Also, it depends, on WHO says this. Imagine it is spoken as if in a warning, but it’s a wife saying it to her husband after he has been bantering with her. All of a sudden, the warning is actually a joke.
Unfortunately, in recent years political Ueber-correctness has been placing wording over context. What once was banter, is now often considered a serious overstepping in language. The light-heartedness and humor are often censored by people outside the context. The consensus or common factor is lacking. And it gets even worse when machines are turned into judges. Artificial intelligence and algorithms are only as good as their programmers.
It recently happened to me that I was blocked by a social medium’s algorithms. Twice. First, I was called out for having insulted a person. How did it happen? A simple typo turned the word “how” into “hoe”, and the algorithm decided, since I had been commenting to a woman, that I must have meant a dirty slang word. Honi soit qui mal y pense – shame on him who thinks evil on it. But machines don’t think. And any gardener among you be warned, when using social media, about mentioning the gardening tool that is the more common meaning behind the three letters. The second time, I was bantering with a friend in Germany, and they posted something naughty. Nothing dirty, just funny. I answered back with a common German phrase. We shared a good laugh that day. A week later I got banned for three days for having threatened somebody with violence. My German phrase had been misinterpreted. Machine judgement created by insufficient human insight.
The trouble these days is that we often get judged and judge others without knowing the context of an utterance, a gesture, a word. It gets even worse when we don’t know a thing about the person’s language or culture but judge by what WE understand. The danger of political Ueber-correctness outside the context means that a phrase that is harmless can be misinterpreted, but if you sugarcoat and glitz your wording enough, you can get away with murder.
Tolerance and Ueber-correctness exclude each other. There is no room for satire, banter, double-entendres, lightheartedness with machines and censors. The consequence are phobia of free speech, and growing aggression with those exposed and liable to extra-contextual “information”.
Of course, if I’m not in the know about the dance, I might call in the police on the Haka performers in your driveway. Causing a whole lot more trouble than necessary. Or I might just look and ask. And read up and learn. Find common grounds and enjoy the beauty of something that looks so dangerous but is meant to confirm bonds. Because context is knowledge. And knowledge is reassurance.