Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Remember This Always, pt. 1:

1) All communication is spin. Think of as unambiguous and neutral a statement as you can contrive, perhaps something like the following:
I went to the store this morning.
Now rephrase it in two or three different ways, keeping the essential meaning more or less intact:
I drove to the store this morning.

I walked to the store this morning

I went to Whole Foods this morning.
Are these four statements equivalent? Would you suppose they would call forth the same mental pictures, connotations, assumptions, and understandings in all, or at least most, of their listeners? Does each indicate the same emphases, interests, social prejudices, and political biases in the individuals who might choose it over its competitors? How would you estimate the typical impact of this type of casual word-substitution in terms of the different impressions each permutation would create from mind to mind? Would you guess these effects would be greater or lesser when discussing democratic politics than when recounting one's morning activities?

Is it ever possible to craft a message so perfectly that most of its intended audience would interpret it the same way? (Note that this is not the same thing as a majority agreeing that the statement is "objective," as the word's definition differs according to the individual using it.) If you think it is possible, how often do you think it actually occurs, and how often do you think it happens that people interpret and judge the messages they receive on a gamut from maximally acceptable to maximally unacceptable?

All the communicative tools we have to work with (i.e. images, words and sounds) are fraught with connotation, implication, and association. This follows directly from a) the fundamental imprecision and ambiguity of all human language and b) from the myriad of circumstances under which people become acquainted with the various visual and aural components of non-linguistic communication. Every change in communicative content effects a change in perception in some subset of the population; therefore it is very rarely possible to discuss anything 'objectively.' (In Public Opinion Walter Lippman argues effectively that this rule does not apply as strongly to scientists, who use far more precise and rigorous language than the general population. Specifically, scientists avoid the worst of the language substitution problem detailed above, since many of the terms they use have no synonyms.)