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SHA Hate

A look at how shorthand abstractions contribute to stereotypes and cultural divides.

SHAs are Shorthand abstractions. SHA itself is one. So is the name of a sport or a field of study. They are simple ways to talk about complex things. The idea was proposed by psychologist James R. Flynn in a book examining the nature of intelligence (see Wikipedia: What is Intelligence?: “Shorthand Abstractions: SHA”). It’s worth pointing out that while a SHA is a meme, not all memes are SHAs.

But onto the matter at hand. SHA hate. Not hatred of the ideas of SHAs, and not really hate in the ultimate sense of the word (hate also being a SHA for negative attitude towards things), but people who are prejudiced in conversation and comments by the use of certain SHAs.

The most common one in debates between free-software advocates and others used to be some variation of Microsoft with a dollar sign. This would regularly provoke kvetching about its infantility and so forth. And sometimes it was (is) misused. The problem, as usual, is that someone would use such a SHA in context, and others would miss the subtle context, then adopting the SHA as a general epithet.

In the ecig fora I’ve seen some minor murmurings against the use of the Big SHAs. The two most common to that community are Big Tobacco (BT) and Big Pharma (BP), due to both having histories with tobacco and disinformation and lobbying and massive coffers with which to undertake said disinformation and lobbying.

So the question comes, when used correctly (i.e., in context) should these sorts of SHAs prejudice us? Even if we deny that they are accurate, and argue that point, is the SHA not still useful? I think so.

I’ve seen a similar utility in SHA usage by the people who disagree with climate science. A segment of that group will, with great ease and zeal, claim that any given study has been thoroughly debunked. And they will do so using the claim as the SHA, which means that they can then pack into that one SHA any and every study that claims something similar.

For example, several studies of scientific consensus in climate science have been conducted, but disagreers lump them all under the SHA of 97% and believe they are all false due to a few potential mistakes in voluminous reviews. This is similar to the case made for voter identity card laws. That even if the Margin of Error were high, the results would not differ dramatically.

SHAs also serve as gatekeepers to community (intentionally or not). Learning the SHAs of a trade or group tends to be one way of settling into the group. Neophytes to ecigs have to learn about all sorts of -mizers and might hear about TH (throat-hit) and THR (tobacco-harm reduction) and so-on.

But those same SHAs can mark speech such that others do not understand the context or reason for the SHA. And if they have encountered others that misuse a SHA, it may trigger a stereotype. For that reason, it may be useful to avoid SHAs except when they can be used with mutual agreement.

Cult Thinking and Terrorists

Looking at some of the links between cultist thinking and terrorism.

Tragic events pain us, and even more so for the failure of media to put them in the proper context. The media fails to educate, to the point they prefer to run with gossip and innuendo to purely educational content to fill dead air.

On some issues they may paint a fair picture, such as when they cover cults. Most of the time the cult harm to society comes in alienation and wasting of resources. The media seldom covers cults unless their harm grows far beyond this basic level, to mass suicide or worse.

But many events we see in the news are intimately related to the sort of cultural relativism needed to understand cults. None more so than terrorism, and the world view that allows for it.

First one should might contrast the reaction to domestic incidents with those that take place overseas. The media tends to barely report terrorist bombings in Iraq, for example. They certainly do not follow any manhunts, seek out family, neighbors, and other acquaintances to interview, and the like.

This itself shows the sort of tribal and cultist worldview. The value difference based purely on nationality or locality becomes essential to terrorism and cults in general. But that value finds itself lacing most any culture.

The feature of the media that stands out as an unanswered question (the media should both ask questions and answer or seek answers to questions): ‘how could terrorists kill the innocent (children, civilians)?’ But worse than media, this sentiment arises from elected officials (which suggests the need for a Constitutional Amendment requiring continuing education for all legislators).

The basic formula of the cult, of terrorists:

  1. The world differs from how you learned to view it (and therefore from how your teachers view it and how their group views it).
  2. There will be calamity unless either most people come to view it correctly.
  3. For peoples’ minds to change, YOU must participate in some activity that you wouldn’t do without our programming.

It’s a little more involved, especially using ego control (using emotional abuse to train the person to become dependent on the cult (and more importantly on fulfillment of their promise) for emotional health), isolation (to prevent opportunities for cognitive dissonance), and other techniques.

The belief that one’s soul hangs upon carrying out a religious/ritualistic promise to the gods, and that not continuing once promised would essentially doom one to hellfire illustrates why many single out religion as a problem. But that can be said equally of any religion that posits the existence of a hell, and pointing to the non-cultist believers as both wrong and faithful simply strengthens the belief.

To understand the act of terror one must unpack the meaning not as it appears to the asker, but to the terrorist or cultist worldview. Ultimately the prevention of terrorism relies upon this sort of thinking. Some measure of terrorist acts may be prevented through law enforcement and military operations. Most terrorism will need to be literally disarmed through cultural actions not violent actions.

But society needs this sort of understanding not just for combating terrorism, but cults, racism, and fascism of all sorts. We need to be taught to unpack our own culture from time to time and recognize the dysfunctional and functional parts. It doesn’t ruin a thing to understand it, yet it seems a part of our culture believes exactly that it does.

Hegemony in the (Tech) World

This is another discussion about culture stemming from the ongoing dissatisfaction in the open source community at large over the bad culture that exists in the computer industry (and far beyond it).

This is another discussion about culture stemming from the ongoing dissatisfaction in the open source community at large over the bad culture that exists in the computer industry (and far beyond it).

I’ve been lucky enough to more-or-less avoid direct contact with the dominant culture in Western technology. But I can understand that culture’s existence in the wider culture. It’s not about women, but about dominance. And it will continue until an alternative culture supplants it. Outlawing it, banning it, these do not suffocate it.

Cultures develop very rapidly. Culture is basically an instantiation of an expectation. If you visit your grandmother, and she answers the door wearing a leather jacket, jeans, and combat boots, then that particular instantiation of the grandmother-grandchild culture probably just took a weird turn. But it could be that your grandmother is a biker, in which case her answering the door in slacks and a blouse would get you diving in the hedges and calling the invasion of the body snatchers hotline.

One of the key problems in changing the culture is that many members of the dominant culture that you interact with aren’t alone in their daily lives. So even if you get them to see the light, by sheer inertia of returning to their regularly scheduled programming, they will readopt the bad culture.

Indeed, many will have initially adopted the persona of a member of that group in the presence of others of that group, in order to fit in. But once you’re expected to think of jokes of a certain type, your brain rewires itself a bit. And you’re supposed to get them out there fast, before the other guy, to show your own dominance within the group. So now you’re losing your natural tendency to analyze your speech before expressing it.

The company you keep ends up keeping you. Everyone becomes a copy of a copy of a copy. The first rule about the culture is that you do not talk about the culture.

The code of silence in the book Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk isn’t to prevent the spread of the fight clubs. It’s to prevent the members from openly discussing what they are engaged in. They can tell non-members about it in the sense of spreading the culture, but never have a metatalk about it.

And I think that’s key. If an infection is deep enough, the best that the body can do is to build around it, wall it in. To truly remove it requires opening it to the air and light and pulling it out completely.

So talking about it from the outside helps a bit. But ultimately the discussions have to happen on the inside. The purveyors the various cultures must themselves come to understand their own culture, instead of ignoring that it is controlling them without them having any real say in it.

It’s a difficult thing to do. If you try to raise the issue from within the culture, the same defense mechanisms that are harmful to outsiders will be turned on the rule breaker. It will be a light attack at first, and persisting will only make the threat more real.

It’s probably best to go for one-on-one discussions of the culture with the purveyors for that reason. Less feeling that they have to enforce the culture in that setting, and one-on-one cultures of their own develop rapidly.