Sunday, August 9, 2015

Why Can't I Give Somebody the Finger?

This Blaze post, which reflects serious journalistic research on a different topic, just happens to tie into something this web site has been wanting to say to some of our correspondents for several weeks now:

http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2015/08/09/legacy-of-ferguson-were-seeing-more-instances-of-citizens-saying-why-cant-i-give-a-cop-the-finger/?

Why can't you give anybody "The Finger"? (Foreign readers: in the U.S. pointing with the middle finger, especially on the left hand, is considered extremely rude; in some places this gesture is considered rude enough to get people arrested for harassment, disorderly conduct, etc.) As far as this web site is concerned, you can give anybody "The Finger" or a cyberspace equivalent. What they do about it is, of course, up to them. But you can...provided that you don't want us to link, endorse, or "like" what you've done.

This web site is maintained primarily by an aunt, with some help from a grandmother and a grandfather. Such sponsors as we have are also aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents. We like correspondents to maintain the level of civility they'd maintain when talking to their own aunts and grandparents, please, and thank you.

Yesterday somebody posted about a substantial new scientific study. The research she publicized happens to fit into GBP's and my conclusions about our experience, so naturally we liked it. The research showed that boosting people's awareness of obesity-as-a-disease does not help them lose weight. The new research measured the extent to which obese people overeat, because that's their default self-calming response to emotional stress, when nagged about their weight problem.

Our focus had been on the idea, now a confirmed fact, that the more normal or slightly overweight people think about food (as in trying to eat precise amounts of food on a precise schedule), the more insulin our bodies secrete, the more likely we are to feel hungry when we're not, and the more of the calories we consume we're likely to store as fat.

Anyway we liked this report and thought readers would want to know about it. But the report didn't make it into the Link Log.

For one thing, the blogger's screen name contains a misspelled form of a word that triggers family filters. Aunts don't like having to explain this kind of thing to any of The Nephews who are still too young to get the point for themselves.

Also, the blogger referred to a living person with a playground taunt. This web site has a somewhat hazy, but firm, policy about playground taunts. If it's confirmed that someone has done something vile, such that using terms like "ratbag" or "Bogus-As-His-Hair" or "convicted felon" is an appropriate and auntly substitute for even ruder terms that we think might naturally come to people's minds, then we'll tolerate the use of playground taunts. If you're quite sure that somebody stole your horse, go ahead and call him a horse thief. But if the person merely disagrees with us, then we prefer to keep references to the person parliamentary.

There's usually a selection of ways to refer to annoying people, reflecting various levels of respect, and U.S. rules of etiquette are quite relaxed about these options. You don't have to say "His Holiness the Pope"; you can say "the Pope" or "Pope Francis" or, if you want to be obscure but totally unsupportive, "Jose Bergoglio." You don't have to say "the First Lady"; you can say "Mrs. Obama" or "Michelle Robinson Obama" or, if you're writing about her family and have used everyone's name in such a way that it fits naturally, "Michelle." But, considering that we don't hate these individuals personally, we just disagree with them, politeness is indicated, so please don't choose "big red popey" or "Moochelle" or similar tacky things. Some readers may know, or like, or respect these people more than you do.

If you want a link here, try writing as if you think there's a chance that people with whom you disagree might read what you'd written and learn something. Write to educate these people, not to annoy them. Say nice things about them if possible. Explain specifically what's wrong with what they've done, without merely insulting them as individuals. Because some of them, or their staff, do read this web site; some of them may also read your web site, and people learn better when they're not annoyed by playground taunts.