A slightly old video from Rationality Rules, a UK YouTuber that speaks to the ways of thinking I find interesting.
For those unfamiliar, Brett Weinstein fell out of the sky in 2017 as a public intellectual to be taken seriously (actually he was catapulted there following some unpleasant campus protests sparked by an email he sent). He’s politically liberal but looks at the current political trends through the lenses of evolutionary biology and game theory.
Running through the video is the idea that someone who claims to be on the left might not be on the left. I’ve often pointed out a kind of magical thinking in debates where many believe on an intuitive level that a thing’s properties are determined by what we choose to call it and not the other way around. The psychological trick that by changing the name of a thing, you change the properties of that thing. So You can take someone with regressive attitudes, they can self identify as being on the left and that makes their policies liberal.
And this isn’t a conscious phenomenon, we all do it. And it does work sometimes, as evidenced by the fact that political spin is a real thing and gets used all the time.
But Brett expanded on that to build this concept of linguistic booby traps, so things that sound like something laden with values we might agree with, but in practice turn out to be things that we disagree with.
A few years ago, I realized that there are words that have such vague meanings (or words that have undergone concept creep and now mean different things than they did 10 or 20 years ago) where when they turn up in conversation, I know that I can’t possibly be sure of what the other person is trying to say because I know the odds of that the way they use that word and the way they use that word being the same are so small. The nice example is art. Although the contemporary examples include religion and sexual assault which do have clear dictionary and legal definitions, but it’s hard to discern what they mean in everyday conversation.