How are you here?
And where do you want us to go next?
Nice to see that the comments on Jason Shen’s report on the experiences of Asian-American men have continued and are mainly supportive (despite the labor it takes to read comments in Medium, as noted by Max Woolf in a comment to Anil Dash’s post decrying a blow-off attitude against reading comments).
A major issue in the comments is whether we can both preserve customary practice (e.g., ostensibly terry levine, Andre krasinski, Jim Hoyt-McDaniels, Paula Burger-Posada, Nathan Emmett) while also improving the social environment for Asian-American men — as well as members of other groups who experience varying degrees of systematic discrimination. Jason’s response to Andre makes an important distinction: “adapting to the world may benefit people on an individual level, [but] it does not lead to societal change.”
One of the questions implied by such a dichotomy (either “this” or “that”) is whether the dichotomy is false. Nathan Emmett and I agree (I think! wink) that keeping a popular custom and creating a non-discriminatory environment ought to be possible, that is, these are not necessarily mutually exclusive goals. If (when) a popular custom is implicated as an aspect of discrimination, a source of doubt arises in the attribution of meaningfulness: not only regarding what “is” or “isn’t” an act of discrimination, but also on whose authority does “meaning” happen at all?
Without burrowing too far down that rabbit-hole (a version of “he said/she said” isn’t it?), we got to the matter of
“how difficult it can be sometimes, no matter how carefully one tries otherwise, to ensure that the message you want to send can be received and interpreted.”
Try as we may, messages that we don’t mean, didn’t intend (or didn’t intend to reveal), or didn’t even realize were lurking in us (!) come out all the time. And, receivers decide the meaning regardless of our best intentions (which, let’s be honest, are not always called into play, certainly not by everyone, all the time, and — even if they are — may differ in terms of “best” for all kinds of diverging reasons). So here we are wondering about discursive control and the possibilities of constraints. Nathan wrote,
It is self-evident (my new code for ‘presumed’ ü) that the constraints in poetry (and in other art forms of course) deriving from, for example, rhyming schemes, or syllable counts, lead, counter-intuitively, toward *greater* — not lesser — creativity. Might we also find this feature in everyday speech if we socially outlaw certain constructions too?
I’m going to have to take that up in a different post, possibly titled something like “Relationships and a different kind of control.”
Meanwhile, anyone who’s actually read this far must be as much of a communication nerd as me and Nathan!
How did you get here?!?
Where do you want to go next?
As It Happened
Background: I had to organize linearly in order to get to the gist of what seems most significant, and — since reading comments is so dang-blasted difficult — I wanted to create a timestream with the links for re-reading, if desirable. the ethnographer in me.
Nathan Emmett took issue with how Jason’s survey tool and/or analysis determined “the intentions” of someone asking the question, “Where are you from?” (Near as I can tell, the survey does not ask about the intentions, it only asked about frequency. It’s the rate that indicates a systemic problem.)
I responded that there are “unintended consequences of innocent curiosity,” which was not a direct response to Nathan’s explicit question but rather an engagement with some of the premises in his query. Sherry Harris said, “I found myself focused on this question and reconsidering whether I should ever ask that question in the future.” (She concluded that she will, because her sincerity is evident to whomever she chooses to ask.)
Nathan responded to my “five questions” from a linguistics angle (at least mainly). I responded by “Thinking Out Loud” about the presumed normativity of [white] Americans asking, “Where are you from?” and took some risks to paraphrase what I thought Nathan meant by things he had written.
Collegially (if I dare to characterize our interaction thusly!), Nathan provided feedback about how accurately I understood him: “not quite.”
A nice ‘tell’ that you are in a good communication is when someone points out that they have done this kind of thinking and is willing, perhaps even eager, to share it with you; another would be someone who welcomes such observations when they are made by others and uses the new data to adapt their views when appropriate.
I can live with that! Especially if the openness to adapting views exists on both sides ;) I suggested that the deviations between my understanding and what he meant are basic examples of normal communication in which precise and accurate shared meaning is developed and refined through the course of interaction. We’re still in this…