If you don’t understand that there is message in the medium, then you may not be helping

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Notice that I didn’t say that the medium IS the message. Just that some of the message is in there. In the medium.

I am forever amazed at how easily compelled my fellow skeptics, and/or my fellow atheists, and/or my fellow feminists, and/or my fellow anti-racists are to tell each other that they are doing it wrong. It was once said (by a straight white male Christian, probably), that “If half the people who make speeches would make concrete floors, they would be doing more good.”

Well, in an effort to promote sanity in this discussion, I’d like to point you to yet another voice in favor of the idea that the medium is, to no small extent, at least part of the message.

I know that many of us are tired to the point of exhaustion of discussing our tone. We want to believe that the information content matters more than the delivery method. And ideally, that might even be true. But even among skeptics, who attempt to be as rational as possible, the way criticism is presented often matters as much, if not more, than the actual substance of the critique. The most efficacious medicine, delivered on a load of buckshot, is still going to do less healing and more blowing holes in people.

Have a look at: Organized Skepticism: Process And Progress

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7 thoughts on “If you don’t understand that there is message in the medium, then you may not be helping

  1. This is pretty much related to advertising, no?
    Sometimes you need mostly alienating advertisement to get your target demographic hooked strongly enough, sometimes you need pretty unoffensive and constructive advertisement to get your cause enough support. It’s sometimes difficult to know what grade of what to use where. I here use advertise as a neutral word just indicating promoting something/creating awareness, not the negative connotation of lies, manipulation and deception it sometimes carries for people.

    Also, you might wanna read Wiio’s Laws of communication, if you haven’t already. Pretty amusing and always good to keep in mind: http://www.cs.tut.fi/~jkorpela/wiio.html

  2. I enjoy blowing holes in people. It leaves more surface area for delivering the medicine.

    I agree more with Tanya and Daniel Loxton. I feel skepticism is a thought process, not a movement and any individual can be a skeptic and a “New” Atheist as well as take other stands on other topics.

    Do not fool yourselves that teabaggers will quietly sit and listen to well reasoned and critically thought out positions. Same for the Islamists who would rather blow your head off than let you speak.

    I am posting this comment on Grassroot skeptics and Greg Laden’s blog.

  3. Hmmm…

    I think the problem here is that a lot of people believe there are simple answers and that the simple answers are best. Depending on the context I think that all of us are sometimes guilty of this and sometimes it isn’t even a bad idea to be that way. But all too many people are bent on a black and white worldview no matter the context.

    Reality on the other hand, simply doesn’t work that way. People are complicated – how we think is complicated and the world is complicated. Crossing cultures complicates things further – and it is virtually impossible to discuss much of anything with more than two people in the U.S. without having a conversation that is crossing cultures. I mean sure, most U.S. Americans have a shared cultural context overlying everything. But just below the surface there is a boiling pot of competing and often bitterly embattled cultural perspectives.

    Skeptics and atheists are not immune to this. I am an atheist and a skeptic, as are most of the people I engage with online. But my cultural perspective is fed by so many competing interests that my view is considerably different from that of most atheists and skeptics I know. To a very strong degree, for example, I was a skeptic long before I was an atheist – it was that aspect of my nature that finally led me to reject religion. But my religious background was such that it took twenty some years for my skepticism to overcome my religion.

    Contrast that with someone who realized at a relatively young age, that this religious hocus pocus was a crock of shit. Or someone who grew up without religion. Or someone who became an atheist because they got angry with their god and ultimately came to decide that it was all bullshit. Or a skeptic who just can’t take that final leap and apply their skepticism to their religion.

    It is impossible for any of us not to decide that someone else is doing it wrong, because we are all made up of a variety of life experiences and cultural influences. It stands to reason that in a great many cases this is going to mean that we are going to have conflicting interests and that even when we can agree on a goal, will still have very different ideas about achieving it. Sometimes those ideas will be mutually exclusive, while at the very same time both be correct.

    It is really hard, when you feel so strongly about something, know you have the right idea and see someone else apposing it, not to get really fucking pissed. And it is also often hard to accept that sometimes the very explosive, bitterly angry discourse that comes from that can be quite valuable.

  4. All communication requires two parties. There is the Buddhist proverb:

    â??When the student is ready, the teacher will appearâ?

    What this means is that before someone is ready to learn, they are unable to learn and cannot learn from anyone. Once they are ready to learn, then they will learn spontaneously.

    The reason that the skepticism movement (such as it is) is not making more progress in changing the thinking (or non-thinking) processes of society is that the non-skeptics in the general population don’t want to become skeptics. They don’t want to give up their current ways of believing without thinking. They are unwilling to even consider other ways of believing and thinking. They will reject as unheard and as not understood any and all ideas that do not correspond to their current beliefs and ways of thinking.

    It is exactly like the GOP and the death panels and the bailout of Too Big To Fail. They can’t talk to Democrats because if the GOP understands where the Democrats are actually coming from they might find that they actually agree with the Democrats about some things and that is intolerable to the GOP. The GOP is fighting a zero-sum game of political power. For every bit of power that the Democrats get, the GOP has lost.

    The â??toneâ? doesn’t matter. No matter what the â??toneâ? is, the message will be rejected. The message will be rejected without being understood, and the â??toneâ? will be blamed for why the message was rejected.

    The problem is that non-skeptics can’t and won’t understand the meaning of the message. They are actively preventing themselves from understanding the meaning. They are being intellectually dishonest with themselves because they can’t face reality as it actually is. To admit that their thinking processes in the past has been so flawed that it has led them to believe in bogus crap, is to cause a narcissistic injury that is intolerable.

    There is no â??toneâ? that will work. The tea baggers don’t have the capacity to understand reality. They can’t listen or their delusional world-view comes tumbling down. At one of the tea bagger protests, someone was protesting because she thought that Obama was going to ban fishing. None of them believed inn th reality that their taxes had gone down.

  5. @ Kay: Thanks for the link to Wiio’s laws! A day with a new thing learned from the Internet is never a day lost.

    Hmm. OK. In relation to the debate about how better for skeptics/atheists to express themselves, and especially the thinking that not antagonizing our audience should be more effective than getting in their face, we may need to ponder this:

    “1.3 If communication seems to succeed in the intended way, there’s a misunderstanding”

    I also like Korpela’s 1st Corollary:

    “If nobody barks at you, your message did not get through”.

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