Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sticks and stones...

In response to what I understand to be a fairly common phenomenon in WoW’s chat channels and some vent servers, I’ve read a few opinions on why figurative use of the word “rape” is wrong. I find it hard to argue that trivialising -- or even worse equating to a victory state -- an act of sexual violence is anything but abhorrent.

On the other hand, though, context. Language is subjective. Meaning is always, always, always contextual. It is not ever endemic to any particular combination of letters or spoken sounds. The letters “c”, “u”, “n” and “t” -- even when combined in that order -- have no meaning that isn’t one individual’s interpretation. Our past experiences with this word allow us to form a meaning. Your past experience will have set up a different context than mine, so that word will literally have a different meaning for you than it has for me.

The problem occurs when people don’t see outside of their own personal context. Many people falsely assume that their own understanding of the meaning of particular word is necessarily the same as another person’s, and therefore the only way this word will be used is in the full knowledge of their own past experience with it. It’s a ridiculous fallacy, but it happens far too often, especially on the Internet, when you lack supporting information such as tone and body language to gauge another person’s context.

I admit to be irrationally offended by some things. For instance, certain people on my server who habitually spew verbal diarrhea onto the trade channel, the kind of stupidity that causes me physical pain to be aware of, for which I wish I had a pejorative term strong enough to express my hatred. I feel like even putting them on /ignore isn’t enough because I know they’re still doing it, on my server. I wish there was a way I could banish them permanently. I fear that their behaviour will influence others to imitate them and gradually degrade the quality of our trade chat to the levels I’ve seen on other servers.

Um. Where was I? Oh right, my point is that it’s completely unrealistic to think that other people should be required to change their behaviour because I interpret what they say in my personal context and take offense to it. They have as much right to speak freely as I have to stop listening, and my only option in the above situation is to accept my /ignore solution and simply stop listening.

This comes back to personal responsibility. Other people are not responsible for what I see and hear-- I’m the only person who can make that choice.

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