The problem with mind-reading


I have been wanting to write about this for some time. This happens, in some shape or form, whenever someone reads others on the internet. Especially on sensitive subjects. Many readers are linguistic sleuths. Every fraction of language will be forcefully interpreted and analyzed in order to reveal some hidden truth (which is always assumed to be negative), the user’s actual position, his or her sinister agenda. On the one hand, that is a consequence of the very real fact that many individuals do have sinister agendas, and many organizations do employ backhanded tactics to manipulate public opinion. I get that. At the same time, this makes it very hard to communicate sometimes.

This affects the neurodiverse disproportionally and is a common complaint in places like /r/aspergers and /r/autism, among others. Some of us are not highly efficient machines of context evaluation and reproduction of linguistic patterns. Some of us actually do mean precisely what we say. No subtext, no irony, no desire to influence through excuse means.

There are also people for whom English is not the first language, as well as those of varying age, cultures, and circumstances. While it is understandable that English-speaking communities naturally center on the US, the assumption that everyone lives within that context produces all kinds of misunderstandings. This makes me less likely to truly engage with some communities because every once in a while I’m hit in the crossfire. Sometimes I inadvertently use words, expressions, or phrasing patterns which North Americans associate with a certain position they disapprove of, and their “mind-reading” is led askew.

This is not specific to any linguistic community. It happens everywhere. We’re all kinda messed up. But it would be nice to be able to comment on complicated issues without feeling like Edward Norton in his first day at the Fight Club.

I don’t mean to imply that everyone should just abstain from hermeneutics in regular discourse. But maybe be a little more charitable, give it another chance when someone strikes you the wrong way.

Sometimes people mean exactly what they write.

(A lot of the above is directly transferable to offline interactions)