Nomenclature

Some time late last Sunday night, I stumbled upon a fight discussion on Twitter. It turns out there are actually more threads to it than I’ve reproduced here, so if you’re really keen, do feel free to click through on individual tweets to see where it went. Here I’ve only reproduced the thread I read at the time. It starts with this:

 

I’m pretty sure this next tweet is the one I first noticed in my timeline:

 

 

At this point my stupidity got the better of me, and I decided to engage:

 

 

On reflection, that’s not too terrible an ending. But this exchange go me thinking about the words we use. Various ancient cultures had a notion that words had power; that to name a thing would cause it to come into existence. So I tried this myself today. I said, in the most solemn voice I could manage, “there is a bacon cheeseburger on the corner of my desk”. Alas, it didn’t work. I was stuck with my linux.conf.au 2014 lanyard, my headset, sunglasses, a stapler, some Ceph and HP stickers, a stack of SUSE post-it notes and a pile of folded up Tasmanian state election propaganda I’ve been meaning to set fire to.

Perhaps I’m not as adept as the ancients at manipulating reality. Perhaps “bacon cheeseburger” isn’t actually a word of power. Or perhaps that notion was simply never meant to be taken literally. Maybe it was more that the words we use frame the way we think. More disturbingly, that the words we use put walls up around the way we are able to think.

Cassy O’Connor said “rape”, which I (with the benefit of never having actually been raped; apparently it helps to be a reasonably sized, allegedly scary looking, bearded white male) took to be a rather evocative analogy for the violence that can be wrought upon forests. But, she was shot down for this usage, because it was seen to be “disrespectful toward those who have been raped”.

Rob from Taroona seems to be referring to forests as “resources”, and while it’s apparent he understands that there’s a balance to be struck between the existence of forests and our use of them, for me the term “resource” is problematic. Dig up “resource” in a dictionary if you still have one (or just go the lazy approach), and it tends to be defined along the lines of “something that one uses to achieve an objective”.

I can’t bring myself to see forests that way. Rather I see timber as a resource, and trees as life forms.

And I wonder to what extent the words I choose to describe things trap my thinking inside little mental boxes.

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