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Relations and Tone and Stuff


Some minor changes, and thoughts on tone.

The latest feature added to this site is the “related posts” section at the end of each post. This automatically comes up with links to other posts on this site based on titles, contents, and categories. Having looked at the results of several posts, I’d say it works pretty well, probably better than if I picked them myself.

I took a shot at using an automatic tag generation system, which did not produce agreeable results at all. I may try something like that again in the future, or go about manually adding tags, but right now I think the category system along with the popular and related posts sections does a lot for making this site more “discoverable.” Nothing would please me more than somebody coming in from a search engine, reading an article, then clicking another to read, and another. I would hope people find the posts interesting.

Lately, I’ve come back to thinking about tone. This is hardly the first time I’ve written about it, either. It’s always on my mind when it comes to this blog, and how I conduct myself online in general. In a medium that relies almost entirely on text, it’s important to communicate what you mean to. Tone is key to this–it’s the difference between coming off as confident or abrasive, simpering or sympathetic. One of the tendencies of blogging (and, indeed, people in general) that I have a difficult time condoning is unbridled stridency. Too many people are too convinced of their rightness. Worse than that, this sense of rightness is often not underpinned by any clear logic or even direct experience. I don’t expect every statement of opinion to come with a neatly packaged series of logical statements, but if someone is unwilling or unable to produce them, I question the value and coherence of that opinion.

I’m not talking about people relating their own experiences, though. There is also a tendency for argumentative individuals (and I consider myself one) to attack individuals reporting their experiences as if they were stating incontrovertible truths of reality. This is a cheap means of denigrating people whose perspectives we’d rather not hear, and I do my best not to engage in that. But when it comes to suggesting policy or prescribing behavior for other people, there needs to be a reasonable argument that follows a clear cause-effect sequence. In addition, it’s essential not to mix up causes and effects. Too often, I see statements about how people “should” behave based on certain conceptions of morality, without regard for how people¬†actually tend to behave. Say your goal is to reduce the incidence of some particular type of bad event–car crashes, drug abuse, take your pick. If the goal is to truly alleviate threats to people’s well-being, and it’s shown that certain methods of mitigating those threats don’t work (say, ruthlessly punishing people for drug possession), then why on Earth persist with demands to intensify those same methods, as if the problem is that we aren’t (for instance) punishing people hard enough?

When I propose suggestions on this blog, either for the behavior of individuals or for public policy, I am trying to think of what could achieve the best outcomes in the long term. By no means do I think I’m right about everything–nobody is. I’m always trying to refine my thoughts on the topics I talk about. One thing I’m never sure of is whether I come off as condescending or not. I certainly hope I don’t. I try to stick to relatively simple language for that reason, too, not because I think readers are incapable of understanding anything more complex (I wouldn’t even bother if that was the case), but because of a tendency of many writers who are politically left-of-center to invoke complex academic concepts with which most readers may not be familiar, and use them as a bludgeon to keep people in line. “I know more about this than you, and I’m proving it by using complicated words you don’t understand. I’ve done your thinking for you, now pipe down.” This is, again, an ugly side of discourse. People who are convinced of their own rightness are dangerous. The only trustworthy path is one on which you are always questioning and enhancing your understanding of the world around you. If you think you’ve got it all figured out, you’re guaranteed to be wrong.

My views aren’t exactly the same as they were when I started this blog, either. I used to be more strident and aggressive, and trying to communicate my thoughts in detail rather than unleashing emotional outbursts has forced me to think much more about why I feel the way I do about a host of issues. It is these understandings that I try to communicate here. One should never take one of my posts as the final word on anything. I’m just another person putting my views and opinions online. Anyone can do that–and so can you. All I am hoping to do is to maybe provoke some thoughts you didn’t have before, to make you second-guess and explore issues that you thought you had nailed down. There’s always more to learn, and more work to do. The tone I try to strike with this blog is one that’s not out to beat you over the head, but nor is it hiding in the corner, afraid to assert a clear opinion.

I leave it up to you to decide whether it works well or not. I’m also always happy to hear feedback. I know many people say this when what they really mean is, “Tell me how great I am!” In this case, I mean that I am always open to constructive, honest feedback, and that includes harsh critique. I don’t get much of that here, although I’ve certainly had it in the past, in other venues. I can take it. It’s all in the service of making this blog better, and making it into something more people might find useful and enlightening.

This topic will no doubt come up again in the future. Maybe I’ll have things a bit more figured out by then. In the meantime, have a great week!