Thoughts on communication #4 (“calling out”)

Words I never use: “Calling out”

Well obviously I am using them in order to say that I don’t use them, but you know what I mean – I won’t say or write “calling out” without holding such a smelly and disgusting object at a distance with a nice clean pair of quotation marks.

It is equally obvious that I’m quite happy to call out to my friends across the street, or answer a shout which is calling out for help. No, I’m objecting to the relatively recent usage of the term – heard in contexts such as:

“I have to call you out for that statement” or “this behaviour should be called out at every opportunity”

As to “relatively recent”, my subjective observation is that it only started a few years ago – certainly the meaning I grew up with had no hint of morality about it. All of a sudden the air is thick with people being “called out”. Google has an entertaining tool which will generate a usage frequency graph from a large collection of books. Here’s one for american english:
and here’s one for british english:Looking at the british graph – get a load of that gradient starting around maybe 2002 or so. (Which would be compatible with the steep rise in internet usage in the Uk in the early noughties). Anyway, that was just idle curiosity, let’s get to the the real point:

What is wrong with “calling out”?

In one sense nothing at all. Language changes, new words and meanings come in all the time. People use neologisms because they find them useful. I ain’t no language pedant. I make up new words all the time – it demonstrates robustitude of thought.

Anyway, “calling out” rubs me up the wrong way and I want to explain why. I wince slightly when I hear or read the term (no-one has actually used it at me, so far), because it sounds off-puttingly self-righteous1. Note that I’m not accusing people of being self-righteous, I’m saying that (to me) it sounds so. I wonder why? Why these words – what images are they suggesting?

The metaphor I pick up is of literally calling someone out – asking them to step aside from whatever they are doing in order to be told off for an infringement of some sort (the images that come to my mind are of a child being called out of class, or someone in the military being called out to receive a disciplinary ‘chat’). What is squirmy for me about “I need to call you out on that!” is that some sort of superiority has been asserted – the caller is assuming that their right to “call out” is unquestioned. Furthermore the superiority that is being assumed is moral superiority. Now obviously, ethical discussion is not out-of-bounds, not by any means, and some stances really are morally superior, but “calling out” is so un-nuanced that it doesn’t look like discussion, it looks like a crude “I have the high ground here and you’re stuck in the mud, all decent people think the same, don’t even think of trying to defend yourself”.

“Calling out” is one of those rhetorical manoeuvres that internet discussion seems to breed. I have a dark suspicion that – and here I really must stress that this suspicion is based on myself, on attempting to introspect the dubious machinations of my own inner world, I am not accusing anyone else of anything (‘anyone else’ must examine their own conscience) – I have a dark suspicion that some people, sometimes, actually enjoy being angry. I’m probably quite enjoying being angry about this in fact. Ahem.

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Some words and phrases that I find useful when refusing to “call you out”:

“I think you’re wrong (because)” “ I protest about that (because)” “I can’t let you get away with that (because)”, “you have omitted some important points (which are)”, “you are only looking at one side of the question”, “that has dangerous implications (which are)”, “you are ignoring (whatever)”, object to, complain about, demur, attempt to rebut, naive, unconsidered, over-simplified, “I’m not sure you understand all the implications of what you’ve just said”, “do you really mean that?”.

Footnote

1. I’ve just discovered that there is now something called “tone policing” which is felt to be oppressive. Having read a few books on socio-linguistics I’d prefer to say that my opinions on this are not “tone policing” but rather “discourse analysis”. Actually, they’re neither, I’m just explaining why I wince slightly when someone says it.

Quote

Not talking about climate

From George Marshall on climate outreach (my bolding):

My view is that the climate change community (a deliberately all-embracing term that encompasses politicians, policy makers, scientists and  campaign organizations) have all underestimated the critical importance of social conversations in generating change. Peer-to-peer conversations provide a vital signal to us about the issues that are important and the opinions that are socially required for us to hold. And the conversation itself provides us with the forum within which we can then rehearse and negotiate our own views.

Such climate conversations are the essential underpinning for political change. If people do not mention climate change with friends, they do not mention it to pollsters either, which is why climate change never appears on the regular polls of key voter issues and is sidelined in elections. Politicians see it as a risky and divisive issue which will yield few votes so they too avoid mentioning climate change.

(The piece is about how little we talk about this – ‘stealth denial’ (“the fact that the majority of those who understand the problem intellectually don’t live as though they do“). Oh how true – I’ve talked a bit myself about how difficult it is to bring up such subjects in everyday life – relevant bit is halfway through, below the asterisks)

 

Europe yet again – a passing thought

It has just occurred to me that part of my gut feeling about ‘remain’ was, I think, probably the same gut feeling as many of the ‘leavers’.

That feeling was distrust.

I don’t actually trust the typical UK government to have any sort of care for the natural environment and am pleased that there is some recourse elsewhere over such things as sewage-laden beaches and dangerous air. There is also a strange feeling of relief almost in having a supra-national court of human rights (why is it hated so much?). I don’t really trust UK central governments to get anything right – so much so that Brussels, for all its faults, seems like a safety net. This isn’t ‘hating my country’, it’s not being too keen on what our country has become.

I think some of the gut feeling behind some of the leavers was also distrust, which was why ‘take back control’ was a powerful slogan (and why it is unfair to assume it was nothing but a dog-whistle for latent racism – in fact I’d suggest that racism is the epiphenomenon of deeper feelings of disempowerment). The difference is that “Europe”, being more distant and ‘faceless’ (not to mention that a swathe of our press has never accepted our membership anyway and has been lieing about it since we joined) is a much more obvious target for that distrust, for that feeling that things always seem to be going wrong and we can’t seem to put them right.

Previous posts on this:

poor communication in the referendum#1

poor communication in the referendum#2

reasons to be (not un-)cheerful

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Why is “less” so bad?

From Vaclav Smil (Energy at the Crossroads, 2003, MIT press) (emphases in bold are mine, those in italics are the author’s).

“what is called for is a moderation of demand so that the affluent western nations would reduce their extraordinarily high per capita energy consumption not just by 10% or 15% but by at least 24-35%. Such reductions would call for nothing more than a return to levels that prevailed just a decade or no more than generation ago. How could one even use the term sacrifice in this connection? Did we live so unbearably 10 or 30 years ago that the return to those consumption levels cannot be even contemplated by serious policymakers because they feel, I fear correctly, that the public would find such a suggestion unthinkable and utterly unacceptable?

[…]

“would the billions of today’s poor people be distressed when a generation from now they could experience the quality of life that was enjoyed by people in Lyon or Kyoto during the 1960’s?”

…I will ask any european reader … having a good recollection of the 1960’s, this simple question: what was so unbearable about life in that decade? What is so precious that we have gained since that time through our much increased energy use that we seem to be unwilling even to contemplate a return to those levels of fuel and electricity consumption?”

[from pages 338 and 353 of the 2005 edition]

The Green Party – further thoughts #2

How are the bees in my bonnet doing?

I’ve previously given the reasons I (re)joined the green party – basically:

“The mere presence of a Green party in boring old mainstream politics – having councillors, MPs, MEPs MSPs, Assembly Members, Lords – has the effect of making it feel legitimate to take the environmental context seriously. It gives salience to the wider physical context in which all the fun of finance and politics and business and trade and art and shopping and human life in general takes place. Green ideas will sound louder because some of their proponents are willing to play the game of mainstream politics.”

Tom Chance recently said something similar, and with the authority of actually having worked for elected green politicians in the London Assembly:

“It’s widely assumed that the Green Party isn’t needed now that other parties take ‘green’ issues seriously. It’s also often argued within the Green Party that we shouldn’t focus too much on ecological issues for fear of reinforcing the impression that we’re a single issue party.

But in my experience, it was all too often necessary to have a Green politician in the room to get ecological issues raised, and all too important for them to take those opportunities.”

It is because that particular bee is still buzzing that I chose to renew my membership.

The other “bee” is that, as I said in one of last years posts, the Green Party is not “left-wing”. Party luminary (I suspect he’d be amused by that description) Rupert Read seems to agree with me, though with rather more philosophical depth. Unfortunately we seem to be in a diminishing minority on that one.

The Clive Lord tendency

The Green Party had a leadership election recently. I gave my first preference vote to Clive Lord. He’s an elder of the party, almost a founder member, and I voted for him because he has rather similar bees in his bonnet. He stood for election, not with any serious hope of winning (he’s now in his eighties), but as an opportunity to send those bees out to forage.

His blog is worth reading and I have been gratefully enlightened by his arguments in favour of the Citizen’s Income (or something which amounts to it) as a means of creating the fairness which would be necessary for a steady-state economy to be acceptable. Here is his pitch to voters in a by-election (which he claims did actually work on well-off ‘natural’ conservative voters):

“The Green Party was formed to deal with things like climate change, but there are powerful vested interests delaying this. There will have to be a much fairer society if we live within the Earth’s limits, so the only thing we can be sure of is that people like you will pay more tax. But what you will get for your money is a planet fit for your grandchildren.”

He is also quite clear that the Green Party has “lost it’s way”, losing it’s specific environmental-limits-to-growth focus by opening its doors to any and every worthy liberal cause. It’s a toughie that one – worthy causes are of course worthy and who could refuse them a home? Except that … well, one thing that has become clear to me recently is that I am an anti-utopian and that “the perfect is the enemy of the good”. In a practical Green Party context this means that it is important that the social justice tail does not wag the ecological dog. I do genuinely find this a difficult conclusion, and I have havered over it, but what decided me is the following thought.

Accepting quite how deep in the soup we are is difficult, painful really. A good life is still possible for everyone on earth, but it cannot be the same kind of good life that is now enjoyed by most in the developed countries. There is therefore, even in some people committed enough to go and join a political party which titles itself “green”, an unconscious tendency to shy away from how bad things really are, and a welcoming of displacement activity. And what better displacement activity than social justice causes? Particularly as, (see earlier) a sustainable society, to be even tolerable, let alone pleasurable, has to be above all fair and reasonably equal.

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Last word to Clive:

“I have often said I cannot leave the Green Party, I have nowhere else to go. That remains true, but it does need putting back on the rails.”

Oh dear.

The Green Party – further thoughts #1

How much has it changed?

I’ve now been a member of the Green Party for a little over a year. My original intention was to be a fairly passive supporter – most members of most political parties are just that, joining to lend a little financial and moral support to something they consider worthwhile. My earlier post explaining why I considered the green party to be worth supporting was based on my brief membership of the party at the start of the century, (I’d known about the its existence since it was called the Ecology Party and Jonathon Porritt was active in it, but I’m not a “joiner”. I philosophically disapprove of my reluctance to get stuck in to things, so I’m trying to work on this). Since I re-joined I’ve been pootling around the party’s online forums, reading the personal blogs of random party luminaries and footsoldiers, have attended the national conference and one meeting of my local party. I’m still rather undecided how much proper involvement I want to have.

The Green Party has changed in several ways. The most unexpected thing is the size. At the start of the century the membership was around 5,000 and now it is around ten times that, with a proportionate rise in the number of active members. So the conference now looks superficially exactly like all the other party conferences (though there is still a one-minute silent “atunement” before the opening of voting sessions). Structurally, there are now enough members to support a whole bunch of sub-groups. Back in the 70’s, the tiny Liberal party had a notoriously hot-headed youth section, the Young Liberals, who always seemed to be getting themselves into trouble. The Young Greens seem lively enough to be capable of occupying the same cultural space (though so far no headlines) – or perhaps they’re really fulfilling the same function as the Young Conservatives famously used to (i.e. finding partners).

One thing that has not changed, but which has arguably become unworkable in the enlarged GP is the policy process. This is famous for being entirely run by members and voted on, live, at each conference – in principle anyone can submit a policy motion. Motions which pass get added to something called the Policies for a Sustainable Society (PfSS to its friends), which is not the same thing as the manifesto. I did read a big chunk of PfSS prior to my previous short-lived membership, to check if it was sufficiently aligned with my opinions on science and whatnot, but a brief glance at the 2016 version was enough to put me off repeating the exercise. It seemed bigger and vaguer than I remember, though it could just as well be me who has changed. At any event the PfSS is a large sprawling mess and if I were an elected Green politician of some sort (I’ve absolutely no ambitions there, but if I were), I reckon I would pretty much ignore it. I was therefore interested to see, from this post on Tom Chance’s blog that it was indeed largely irrelevant to the Green Group in the London Assembly. I do wonder if the unacknowledged point of the policy process has become to give people something to do in a party with relatively little real power. I could certainly see a sort of think-tank function as a useful aspect of the GP, but it looks less like that than a mere energy-sink.

The Green Party had a leadership election recently and that will form the starting point of my next post.

Lifelog: veg box failure

My aim is to eat everything that appears in the box (apart from the occasional caterpillar) – give everything a fair tasting and attempt to overcome existing vegetable prejudice (veg-prej). I have sucessfully made my peace with red cabbage, brussel sprouts and chillie peppers (a rather unstable peace that last one, but still …).

I admit defeat with the fennel bulbs they keep sending me this year (must have been a good year for fennel, I suppose). I have tried several times, over the years, to like, or at least tolerate, aniseed-liquorish flavour (I once bought a bottle of pernod because I thought it would be cool stuff to drink) but there seems to be no softening in my tastebuds. It’s just yuk.