Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Secret Handshake

There's only so much time and effort one can put into engaging with people who aren't willing to listen. Doctors need to spend time being doctors, not dealing with conspiracy claims about Big Pharma. Governments have countries to run, not to bow down to every crackpot conspiracy theorist who has some claims that need debunking. Climate researchers need to do science, not answer FOI request after FOI request because someone can't accept the reality of global warming.

At times there are arguments that aren't worth pursuing with particular people, not because the arguments aren't important but that the people either don't know enough about it to argue it properly (Dunning-Kruger effect) or have an agenda of which they'll use innocuous sounding arguments to mask some otherwise unfavourable aspects.

Perhaps one way to filter this is to have the equivalent of a secret handshake, that by looking for key words of phrases that indicate that a discussion will take place in good faith. Some topics are by their nature volatile but are worth discussing nonetheless.

Like any lock and key system, it then becomes a matter for those looking to discuss that they would be otherwise excluded (because of the volatile nature) by finding that key. The inverse problem is that someone can unwittingly find themselves locked out or accidentally opening the wrong lock through a careless use of language.

One could envisage an intellectual minefield: a landscape scattered with potential trappings that only the most skilled and knowledgeable about the terrain could safely navigate it. The rest, however well-meaning, are doomed to eventually hit the minefield if they choose to enter at all. Some topics are just not safe to visit, for they have been subject to such intellectual manipulation that the only safe way to avoid accidentally stepping on a minefield is to not step in at all.

The handshake has gotten so elaborate that it has morphed into a near-Herculean quest.

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