I wanted to get to this post while the thinking is still fresh for me …
[NOTE: If you haven’t read Rethinking the Value of Language (Part I), yesterday’s post here in BlogNostra I recommend that you do that first,
What originally compelled me to begin writing this series of article postings on language usage was an exchange I had recently with someone in a thread on a friend’s
page. The thread began in relation to a conversation about Swine Flu Vaccinations. Then quickly degenerated into something less than dialogue. In the interaction I had the chance, yet again, to play with ideas around how people reveal themselves in communication.
Where is the Power in Language?
Specifically one of the things that I was playing with was the idea of PROVOCATION, i.e.: noticing how folks re respond to embedded questions about them and/or their position. These questions are actually implicit in the structure of the dialogue and contained within the prose.
This isn’t necessarily the ordinary way folks think about provoation, but it can be a useful way to think about it in terms of languaging for effect and/or outcomes. I pulled up a useful definition for provocation – i.e.: something that incites or provokes; a means of arousing or stirring to action. In the world of linguistics this would fall into the least studied aspect of language for most folks,
We’re taught to think about language mostly from the point of view of lexicon (vocabulary) and grammar. Seldom if ever do most people come into contact with the field of pragmatics. Yet, every utterance you’ve ever made is mostly a function of pragmatics. You use pragmatics everytime you attempt to make something happen through communicating, but you’ve likely never been trained in how to do that impeccably.
So what’s all this got to do with Power in Language? … EVERYTHING!
Inside the “Story”
In order to give you the whole story I’d have to give you the whole story. Literally I’d have to copy out the entire thread I responded on Facebook I referred to above.
Even then that wouldn’t be enough, because I’d also have to make sure you get the entire context that the thread occurred within. This would by necessity have to include all the contributors current and historical positions, at least relative to one another. Then you’d have to also know something about the larger context that the story takes place in and in relation to, e.g.: the United States and the current atmosphere around the topics of Swine Flu and vaccinations …
In addition to all that you’d also have to know things like:
- What point are they making and why
- What the intention of the speakers was at each point in the interaction
- Where (if at all) do they intend to lead others through their communication
- What do they intend for others to think about them and their communication
-and maybe most significantly-
- What (if anything) do they intend their communication to produce in terms of action
I’ll assume for brevity’s sake that you’re beginning to see the picture I’m painting here. This is the essence behind the structural form of pragmatics, the usage of language. Yet it doesn’t speak at all to the function of pragmatics.
Okay … here’s the story that drove me to this series of postings and I’ll stick with the parts that will help for purposes of illustration only.
Let me lay out the players so that you can at least identify them as we go:
- Jim – an M.D. by education and practice, old acquaintance of …
- Jeff – my friend and colleague, a MythoSelf Master Trainer who works as a mentor with teens/young adults and their families …
- Joseph – me
(there were comments posted by others but I’ll keep all those folks out of the story except to quote them very briefly as needed for the sake of continuity)
Inside the Story
This is what started it all,
, an article Jeff posted on his Facebook page. Then the commentary began …
Someone said “Bravo” to Jeff posting the article, and added, ”Thankfully this whole thing is turning out to be nothing at all as feared.” So far so good … or so it seems …
However, Jim then responded,
”You people are naive. If it were only the current form of H1N1 that the medical community was contemplating, you would have a point. The fear is a mutation, like 1918, into a more aggressive form. If that happens, those of you who are more concerned about the vaccine than the virus will be too late. If you look who is dying now, you will see … Read Morethat it is young and healthy people, aside from those with chronic illnesses. …
The vaccine is the same technology as the yearly flu vaccine and is no more dangerous. Why would you ignore the advice of trained medical experts who do nothing but study these situations and develop public policy? Keep burying your heads in the sand. Just don’t be surprised if things go differently than you presume and you had a chance to preempt it.”
I could dissect this bit, but for that we’d really need a lot of time and space and this (hopefully) short article would be a true dissertation.
The short of it is that there is an entire position stated within that comment, including the most blatant and egregious commentary on himself … Why would you ignore the advice of trained medical experts …
If you get just that you would know a lot about what’s to come … and where it’s coming from.
I.e.: This kind of comment is never about the … trained medical experts … it’s self-referencing.
However, what more significant for our purposes is that it’s incredibly likely that A) Jim doesn’t really get this in a fully conscious, aware manner … and B) Jim probably doesn’t get that anyone in his audience of readers will read it that way as blatantly as it’s stated.
Yet, when I saw this statement I knew we’d be off to the races!
From here it just keeps getting better and better … (if you’re a student of pragmatics that is).
The Story Continues …
A response, ”I agree with Dr. Hiken.”
Ahhh, here’s were it begins to get good … I told you it would! … Dr. Hiken referencing the expert.
This is also likely an unconscious response. Not that this poster refers to Jim as “Dr. Hiken” but rather that he intends to send such a strong message about everyone else NOT being an expert. The message is, ‘Dr. Hiken, the expert knows … and you don’t.” – whether or not is was done consciously or not, the message gets sent in context.
This sets up more of what follows IMO.
”Which means you disagree with Dr. Carlston (see above) and thousands of others and are ignoring the real data that keeps coming in, not the hype…”
Calling into question at least the expertise of Dr. Hiken and his supporter, or maybe even the expertise of all experts – depending on the readers position. But to know you’d have to know the reader/s and also be reading critically, i.e.: thinking about the meta-messages.
But for me the big question so far remains, What are the intentions that the folks who are posting hold?
Let’s Continue Our Story …
Jim now responds:
”Spoken like a card-carrying anti-government conservative. Keep ignoring the advice of the vast majority of the scientific community.
The whole H1N1 must just be another liberal attack of big government on conservative America and its Constitutionally-protected … Read Morerights. Just be forewarned. You’ll get no herd immunity from the rest of us. Self-destructive behavior is just another evolutionary pressure, if you believe in that “theory”.
So you’ve got to be wondering (if you’re still with me here) … Who are the “us” in the quote? … ”Just be forewarned. You’ll get no herd immunity from the rest of us.”
The reason this is so significant here is because it’s actually a subtle point lost on most readers (and listeners when done in spoken communication) … yet it is very potent and effective.
He’s built an “us/them” paradigm … i.e.: “us” – the smart/clever/good … ones, and “them” – the stupid/dull/bad ones.
It’s a classic propaganda technique used by politicians, polemists and pundits frequently. Now you have to decide, A) am I one of “us” … B) am I one of “them” … or C) none of the above. If you choose C) the next decision is whether you’ll stick around for the rest of the drama or not.
What’s really powerful is that only folks who choose C) have any power left to them to use.
They get to play if they want to … and have a “Get Out of Jail” (and go free) card to use anytime they want.
The Story Gets More Interesting …
Another poster jumps in:
”You write “Why would you ignore the advice of trained medical experts who do nothing but study these situations and develop public policy?”
The answer is that the training of the medical community has been infected by the virus of Big Pharma. They have killed 10’s of thousands of people year after year with toxic compounds that essentially don’t work. The medical community has continued to be arrogant and unavailable.
The Western medical mode, for anything other than putting people back together after accidents or injuries, IMO is a failure.
Secondly, who says that the people who are choosing not to accept the vaccine are doing nothing. You would probably call it naive, but IMO holistic health is achieved by a healthy lifestyle, nutritious natural foods, and exercise are the best health insurance money can buy.
Personally I have no faith or trust in Big Pharma, they have not earned my respect and when they do I will reconsider.
This is sure to get Jim going. The poster is literally baiting this guy (Jim). It’s guaranteed to up the ante of play.
Jim has already he’s announced that he’s an expert, that he’s part of a group he calls “us” … and that the other group “them” is stupid and going to die because of their own stupidity. Even more he’s told “them” that they deserve it for bringing it all down on themselves.
Now this poster attacks all of who Jim is … his fundamental identity position. This is the worst kind of attack of all an attack on a person’s basic ontology, i.e.: who they perceive themselves to be.
In the movie with Aaron Eckhart and Catherine Zeta-Jones there is a scene where Catherine Zeta-Jones who plays a top NYC chef declares, “This place is all I have … it’s who I am.” A declaration of ontology. Jim in his own way has done the same thing here, and now he’ll have no choice but to defend it as it’s being presented.
At least in the movie Aaron Eckhart who plays Catherine Zeta-Jones’ sous-chef and lover says, “No your not … your more than this.”
Here the poster leaves Jim no way out. You gotta love the ability to predict the human dynamics of where events are going when you get the foundational power contained in language.
So We Continue …
Jim responds to this poster …
It’s pointless to argue with someone who has no belief in the primacy of the science. If you have lost faith in medicine, then good luck with your homeopathic and “natural” methods.
You have no idea what you are talking about. The vast majority of medical practitioners would totally disagree with your examples and conclusions – and the vast majority of such experts would not be on any Big Pharma payroll. The real danger is that other malleable minds would believe your “opinions” as somehow based on facts.”
Had to predict that one …
Jim is screaming at the top of his lungs … trying to get his testicles to swell and rise so that the testosterone will come spewing over everyone who dares to disagree and challenge him in the sanctity of his own throne room … in his castle.
First he reestablishes the primacy of his right to speak with authority while others cannot (and probably in his opinion, which will be borne out later on) should not be allowed to speak in the domain of his competence at all.
”You have no idea what you are talking about. The vast majority of medical practitioners would totally disagree with your examples and conclusions –”
A critical reader will observe how the positioning is again one of “us” and “them” – using the polarity to override the potential to entertain the challenge as worthy of consideration.
This is a personal attack on the “speaker” (in this case the writer who posted that response), and I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that Jim would vehemently disagree that he’d been intentionally and/or maliciously offensive.
It’d be a better bet that he’d say he was “only stating the facts to put things right” as is his privilege and obligation as a professional expert to protect the innocents, i.e.: those who do not know.
Here again is the kicker … ”The real danger is that other malleable minds would believe your “opinions” as somehow based on facts.”
Now the best part … Jim continues as part of that same posting with this as the postscript so to speak:
“All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others.” ~ Douglas Adams
“The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously.” ~ Hubert Humphrey
This doesn’t ever require much “critical reading” to get the sub-text of the message, i.e.: there are those of us who know and those of you who don’t … so stay out of it.
BTW anyone who knows me at all would know I don’t disagree with the positioning of “expert” … hell the tagline on this blog is: “I Know … You Don’t … So Listen!”
The distinction is that I say it outright … both putting the message out there for anyone to decide upon, and also holding it in place with a bit of tongue in cheek.
Jim is just building to a froth in his fury of folks who shouldn’t be allowed in his playground to have come through the sacred gates, uninvited and unwanted.
After this I decide to jump in and play a bit …
I thought to myself …
”Let’s go beyond just critical reading and play a bit with the boundaries of critical thinking and see where this whole thing goes …”
But we’ll leave that for Part 3 …
Joseph Riggio, Ph.D.