Clear Language

This article is basically a follow up on this article and this tweet as well as the discussion to that tweet afterwards. Here I want to clarify why this tweet is just wrong.

By looking at your placement of Tuvel’s career over my safety.

First off all this comparison is lacking very much. On the one side, we have the career of the author of the very article being discussed. The outcome of this discussion could very well influence parts of her career. As seen with Jordan B. Peterson who recently got his funding cut after he repeatedly spoken up against gender pronouns and similiar topics, it’s not too far-fetched. On the other hand we have singular person who has no direct connection to the topic at hand - except being on the other side of the debate as a transgender person. It’s completely blown out of proportion to compare these two. The scientific paper is only of lesser interest to most people especially as it’s behind a $50 paywall. So only those who actively pay attention to this debate. Its effect in the general population is insignificant at best.

Secondly, the tweet is extremely misleading as it uses “safety”, a word used for the physical well-being of a human. It’s either blatantly exaggerating the effect of that paper or just plainly used incorrectly. For the first case it means that paper is threatening her physically in some form. But as I explained above its effect is insignificant, so that’s highly unlikely. She can be scared of Trump’s executive orders or new laws being passed. These might change the country in such a way, that she could feel unsafe. But this is a scientific paper read by a very small community. Words are powerful, so they can still change some behaviour or opinions in its readers, which may effect her. However as we live in free democracies with free speech, that’s a non-argument, as this its purpose to some degree. I agree that we should strive to become a peaceful community where everyone is at least tolerated if not accepted, but the path to that is unknown to us, so we have to find it ourselves. For that we need to discuss these things.

In the second case, she uses the powerful word “safety” to describe something entirely different to her. That can be confusing for a moment and incredibly bad in the long run. Language is a powerful tool. It gives us the ability to communicate, to transfer information to one another. But to properly use this powerful tool it also needs to be well-defined. Here Burns uses “safety” while probably meaning something a lot minor. On top of that she expresses something subjective, something that isn’t measurable. She only feel less safe. Safety while not being entirely measurable, is least visible. We feel unsafe near carnivorous animals or unstable constructions. We also feel more safe if we’re with a group of friends at night in a city. Not to mention, I can’t even be sure what she means, since the original meaning makes no sense in this context. So I have to guess its meaning and to what degree it’s used. Hence why I used probably probably in the sentence above.

Luckily it doesn’t make much difference here, because it didn’t evolve into a discussion. Regardless these cases weakens our ability to communicate. Language is just a tool to transform and transfer our thoughts to others. If some don’t use this tool properly, bend words as they want, it becomes dull. We wouldn’t be able to communicate properly as we have to guess the intention behind some words. It would disrupt discussions or in the worst case, make it impossible to understand others.

Lastly I was asked why I felt entitled to reply to that tweet. Unfortunately, I haven’t figured out how to embed tweets with markdown, so just gonna quote them one after another. For reference, the last part of the discussion starts here

If you are jumping in to bother a marginalized person about your desire for her meeting your standard of precision

“Bother” is aharsh word here. Twitter (to some degree) exists to voice your own opinion on a variety of topics. Nothing says I can’t put my comment under that of any person. Rather it’s the other way around. Since we live in democracies, it should be encouraged to express your opinion and challenge those of others. Besides, why am I bothered by a thread of more than 34 replies? Just because I’m a white man doesn’t mean you can bother me more than others.

Plus as I pointed out above, this standard may very well be more important to me than the arbitary “safety” of Ms. Burns, a person I just don’t know. Of course the things I value are more important to me than the things others value. Now, before I get a reply that I don’t care for someone else’s safety. I don’t want her to be unsafe, but her claim that she’s less safe because of that paper is completely empty. There is nothing that warrents that feeling of insecurity, so I don’t see why I should put my standard of precision beneath her felt safety

Because you personally believe it doesn’t fit right. But why does that entitle you to contradict and/or bother her?

Yes, that’s what it means to freely speak your mind. If I see something that doesn’t fit, I’m free to point that out. I’m also free to not do so for that matter. That’s a right in every western democracy and the very system we live on.

Why do you believe your reaction is so much more important?

Nowhere did I say so. This is just the impression you, Mr. Pietri, have of me. My reaction or opinion doesn’t need to be more or less important to qualify as a response to that of someone else.

Written on May 7, 2017