What you really mean

Image via Thinkstock
Image via Thinkstock

Finding ‘hidden meanings’ in everyday dialogue

By Adam Tatelman, Arts Editor

In my online wanderings, I’ve noticed a very annoying trend among the avidly political pseudo-intellectuals populating social media—particularly the Twitter, Tumblr, and Buzzfeed subspecies. When engaged in impassioned intercourse (of the intellectual variety), a rather common tactic is to accuse the opponent of secretly harbouring ill intent and subtly expressing it as subtext. These accusations are usually preceded by the phrase “Here is what you actually mean when you say that.”

I need not explain how condescending such pedantry is. Most people don’t talk to children that way. If I walked up to you on the street and said, “Pfft, you’re too stupid to know your own thoughts. Let me tell you what you actually think,” I’d excuse you for taking a swing at me. You are, after all, a human being with a mind of your own, and I am not Professor X. Unless and until you demonstrate otherwise, I am going to assume you mean what you say. That’s called the benefit of the doubt.

Not presuming to know one another’s innermost thoughts seems like a no-brainer, yet many millennials seem to share an inclination towards assigning heinous prejudice to entirely benign sentiments. Case in point: if I ask someone who has an accent what country they’re from, it’s not because I “don’t consider them to be real Canadians.” It’s because I’m curious to know where they’re from. Rather than assuming some hidden meaning to my words, why not let the person I’m speaking to decide if they are offended or not, and what to do about it? Isn’t it more condescending to get offended on their behalf?

In logic, this is known as the fallacy of post hoc, or “after the event.” This is usually characterized by one party assigning a cause to an effect without providing any evidence that this is true. Example: “Lightning struck, and then I farted. Therefore, I fart thunder.”

Obviously, this is an absurd example, but this is to highlight the illogical thought process behind the conclusion. The real fun begins when the speaker goes on to insist that every fart which comes from their cheeks must be caused by a lightning strike somewhere in the world. Researchers call this phenomenon apophenia, the idea that the more you look for something, the more of it you will find—not necessarily because it exists, but because you are determined to see it.

Diversity is indeed great. So great, in fact, that Douglas College boasts one of the most inclusive and representative campuses in British Columbia, complete with Aboriginal, disabled, and LGBT support groups. Nobody is being excluded here. This is something to be immensely proud of.

Intellectual diversity is also important. No one political ideology can possibly have the answer to every issue, so don’t restrict yourself by adhering to a single stance. Avoid the trap of lazy thinking when others present you with a viewpoint you hadn’t previously considered, even if you disagree. Don’t just assume they are wrong or stupid. If you do that, you might as well just call them heretics. Read up on all sides of an issue—not just the one you support. That’s objectivity, and it’ll help you to better support your ideas.