Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Depiction Part 26 - Depicting Humanity by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Part 26
Depicting Humanity
Jacqueline Lichtenberg 

Previous parts of the Depiction series are listed here:


Well, now we're turning into Spring (Northern Earth Hemisphere) and the world is pretty much in a lot of trouble.  It's a mess.

So, how do writers of Alien Romance "depict" such a multi-leveled mess?

One of my favorite pastimes is to "explain" human behavior (individual behavior and mass behavior) to non-humans.

I've noticed something on TV News lately -- after the shift to interviewers asking only "leading questions" (never any real questions, only telling the interviewee what to say next), we now have almost every person "interviewed" as a talking head using a tone of voice that is either whining or condescending.

What do we mean by "whining" -- well, it's that tone of voice that projects "pleading" to understand what I'm saying.  It has an underlying texture of "complaint" to it, a whine for you to change your mind.  This is what a child does when parents say, "No."  They come back with, "But, you don't get it!"

What do we mean by condescending?  It's that tone you now hear on almost all voice-overs for commercials that are "telling" (not showing or arguing) you why you need to buy this product or service.  It's the way a parent talks to a child who just isn't old enough to understand complicated things.

So TV voices are using tones (in American English) that are either child-to-dense-minded-parent, or adult-to-incapable-child.

It has been a long time since I've heard the tune or underlying voice song behind words that indicates adult to adult communication.

I heard adult-to-adult in a short clip from some Trump Administration folks talking to the media, then it was gone.

The stark contrast between adult-to-adult tones and child-to-adult whining and adult-to-child "sweet-kind-condescension" just blows you away if you notice it.

So listen for it in the daily news clips you run across.  It is not in the words, but in the melody behind the words.  The tones are most easily spotted when the song does not match the words, the information behind conveyed.

There is an "announcer" song -- which has in it a flaw I've spotted where a word is emphasized by a pause afterward, wholly inappropriate for the grammatical flow of the sentence.

If you tune out the words and just listen to that underlying song you will notice how the song is chosen to affect the emotional response to the words.  The words require one sort of response, but the tone is urging (pleading for) another emotional response, usually an inappropriate one.

This analysis of how people talk, rather than of what they say, is one thing you'd have to explain in depth and in detail to a Vulcan, or any other non-human.  Suppose you are introducing an Alien, a First Contact Situation, to this world we are suffering through today.  What would you say to this Alien, and what TONE OF VOICE (song behind the words) would you use?

There is a rule in public speaking that I've seen disobeyed consistently, and then gradually expunged from our TV Voices (talking heads).  That rule is, "Never Uptalk."

Uptalk is a song where assertions are inflected with an upward tone, as if asking a question when finishing a declarative sentence.  It is common in Southern USA dialects, and if you move from North to South, you will pick it up without noticing.

Uptalk is passive-aggressive -- since you aren't actually saying something is so, but rather asking, you can't be countered.  You take the weaker position in the exchange, and as the weaker you can't be attacked or the other person is a bully.  Passive-aggressive.

How do you explain Uptalk to an Alien?

By tone of voice and facial expressions, humans convey vast amounts of information separately from the denotation of words.  If the three channels of communication carry conflicting messages, we often conclude the human is lying.  If the channels carry the same, harmonious, information, we believe the information is true, or at least the person is honest.

How do we tell if an Alien is lying?

More interesting -- how does an Alien tell if we are lying?  And how do you explain to an Alien that since all the humans know this person is lying, it is OK -- everyone knows what he "really means."

By matching the words, tone of voice, and body language (whether the smile reaches the eyes, and other tiny signals), we figure out what we think about what is being said.

Thinking requires concentrated effort.  Generally speaking, people are too busy exhausting themselves on daily tasks, chores, and life-or-death-decisions (like how to pay for health care).  Just staying even takes all our strength.

So living in today's world, we may pause to figure out what a news item means, or which news anchors are lying, or what interviews are 'canned' (rigged, scripted).  It's hard work trying to sort out which of the 3 streams of information you get from television (words, tone, body language) is the true one, and which are the lies.

So once a human has figured our what "the truth" is, they paste a label on that truth and try very hard not to revisit that decision because all subsequent decisions will have to be changed, too.

Most people want to be honest with themselves (at least), even politicians, but don't especially value being completely honest with all other people.  We select who to be "honest with" -- and that is a kind of intimacy called "being close."

Politicians do that.  They hold one, personal and private position, sometimes sharing it with other elected politicians of similar rank, and a totally different position publicly, a position crafted to get votes.

Thus if there is a "hack" of a private communication (such as an email) which reveals the private position, and how it differs from the public position, the public often stands aghast.  Then things settle down, and the public slaps a label on the individual whose private position was revealed.  The problem is just that one person, not all politicians.  And you tell the difference by the labels.

In fact, the whole commercial industry is based on labeling -- a type of labeling called "branding."

If you want to buy a GM car, you want it to have a GM label on it somewhere.  If you want Dole pineapple, you want to see the Dole logo.

Why do you want certain brands of an item, but not other brands?

Shortcut thinking.  Radio, TV, Magazine, media advertising methods use that "tone of voice" plastered over words that do not match to engrave on your mind that this Brand is better than that Brand.  And it might actually be better.  You never know until you try it, yet when you try it, your preconceived notions may color your tasting experience.

Labels matter when they are shared among humans.  Labels, short-cut-thinking, accepting the opinion of others who "know better" is learned in childhood.  At some point you are expected to mature, to shed the thought habits of childhood, and "think for yourself."  But thinking is hard work, so after you've thought, you do not want to re-think.  So you slap a label on your conclusion and move on with the business of survival.

Explain that mental shortcut I'm calling "Labeling" to the Alien you are falling in love with.  Can you understand his explanation of how his people use shortcut thinking, labeling, whining, condescension and Uptalk?  Do they even have an equivalent?

As an example of an emotionally charged yet completely abstract (i.e. thematic) element in Depicting Humanity, consider political science, philosophy, and history.

Modern record keeping is allowing us to revisit and rethink Labels invented about a hundred years ago, more or less.  Printing has allowed even minor works to be preserved.  Historians study these records, as do journalists, and often exhume Labels invented to cover certain cultural Idea Bundles that were "sold" to whole communities in the past.

Explaining individual behavior to Aliens is easy compared to explaining our mass movements, shifting cultural norms, and vicious arguments over what the facts were, and what those facts have now become.

Yes, as part of the labeling shortcuts human cognition uses, we change the "values" of the facts as time progresses.

Labels used in short-cut thinking are like the X, Y, W, symbols used in algebra -- they stand-for-something rather than be that something.  So we can manipulate labels the way we manipulate terms in algebra -- it is abstract thinking, and the kind of Aliens you could plausibly use in a Science Fiction Romance would very likely use this type of thinking.

Assemble a group of Ideas under a Label, (say X, for example) then juxtapose that group of ideas to a different group (say Y, for example).  Then try to find a relationship between them that holds through time -- perhaps requiring the invention of another Label or Symbol called W.

For humans, I expect this systematic explanation of human belief systems is impossible.  Humans as a group, (it seems to me) will fight any process that threatens to reveal the truth about their behavior.  We love and admire irrationality as a method of tricking our most dire foes.

Thus, definitions of Labels used historically change -- I expect in a 20 year cycle, and an 80 year cycle.

Academics, today, are struggling to redefine and clarify the Label "Fascist" -- I've seen at least 5 mutually exclusive definitions bandied about on social media, often with legitimate academic credentials attached.

Since these definitions usually come in cold text only, there is no tone of voice or body language to analyze, just words.

We have equally shapeless, whipped cream type Labels being shouted about - Liberal, Conservative, Religions, Atheist, etc.  (e.g. Zuckerberg suddenly came out with the statement that he now sees Religion as important last year, and some instantly speculated he's planning to run for public office.)

Journalists and Academics (often with identical credentials) are trying to Group the beliefs and tenets under sharply contrasting Labels, so they can call them X, Y, W and manipulate them before your eyes.

You can't make this stuff up, but maybe you can explain it to a visiting Alien just discovering humanity.  If you can get this point across, you may hit the best seller list because people will talk  (shout, argue, get red in the face, and cry inconsolably) about your novel.

You hit an emotional core response when you rip Labels apart and re-arrange what those labels stand for.  Imagine the disruption when a packaged food your family relies on is under botulism recall!  Now imagine if a Label you are absolutely sure of is "recalled" and re-formulated.  Explain to your Alien Character just how disruptive his people arriving on this planet will be to our nice, neat, reliable labeling system.

As an example, or perhaps inspiration in how to go about writing an explanation of human short-cut thinking and what happens to us when our short-cuts are disrupted, read this article all the way through.

You already know the information in this article -- Donald Trump is a Populist.  But there are dozens of definitions of Populist going around, some from serious academics, all mutually exclusive.  Historically, the Label Fascist is being redefined, reorganizing a Group of behaviors some of which were evident in Italy, and some not.

Don't worry about deciding which Label is accurate and applies to whom.  Read carefully with an eye to explaining to your Alien Character how humans use (and abuse) Labeling as a cognitive process.

This is a difficult exercise.  I warn you, the article will make you fume and stomp, maybe shout and snap at anyone who talks to you for the next day.

While you read, remember that "right-wing" means the opposite in Europe than it does in the USA, and it means something entirely different in the Middle East (explain THAT to your Alien).  I have no idea what "right-wing" might mean in China but I'm betting the meaning does not resemble anything I've ever heard of.

The point of this exercise is to gain the kind of perspective on humanity that Gene Roddenberry had when he invented "Number One" (the emotionless female) and Spock (the half-human Alien), then combined the two Characters.

Roddenberry was fascinated by "emotion" -- actually explored it from another angle in a failed pilot he made where a human being was from a culture where the worst invective was to Label something Inconvenient.

Because he was interested in how humans were affected by Emotion, he created a Character who "had no emotions" (we know he walked that back later, due to the exigencies of commercialized fiction).

That's what you can do with this exercise.  Create an Alien who has NO LABELS -- who does not understand the cognitive shortcut we use when we apply Labels (or Branding).

If you can succeed in reading this (explosive) article without blowing your top, you may be able to create such a Character who will haunt readers for generations.


Donald Trump isn’t a fascist
A leading expert on 1930s-era politics explains that Trump is a right-wing populist, not a fascist — and the distinction matters.
Updated by Sheri Berman  Jan 3, 2017, 1:00pm EST

Of course, an expert must know what they're talking about.  Would your Alien assume she did?

Pay particular attention to the article section:
Four key characteristics of fascism (not in evidence in Trumpism)

Note the contrast with Liberalism.  Maybe you thought you were a Conservative?

All of these labels are tossed about in this article as if they are "real" -- as if everyone agrees on the definitions.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Note also that the "four characteristics" are treated independent variables.  There is no thematic connection among them (as would be required in a novel).

If you have one of the four variables, that does not mean that you have the other three.  The other three are not generated by the one -- not consequential.

What if your Alien's psychology could not encompass a notion of thinking beings functioning in such cognitive chaos?

Explain how humans can believe contradictory things.

Given that humans do believe contradictory things, why should the Galactic Community accept humans as intelligent?

You might also want to explain to your Alien Character how Fascism, as defined by this article (or maybe some other articles about it) differs from government by Aristocracy.

How is a Dictator different from a King?

A King controls life or death over individual citizens, is the chief justice of the supreme court, is the speaker of the house, and the president pro-tem of the senate, as well as the superior to every corporation's CEO.  In fact, a King is CEO of all the businesses in his Land.  The King owns all the Land and grants tenancy to Dukes etc.  The King can revoke tenancy of anyone at any time (if he can get away with it politically).

So how do Fascists differ from Kings?

We write a lot about historical times when Kings ruled, and we have projected the Aristocratic model of government into Fantasy, and even Galactic Civilizations.

We also use the constitutional monarchy model in Galactic Civilization - is that Fascist?

Suppose your Alien objects to your explanation, "But the role of government is to protect the individual from government!"

Do you answer with the ancient wisdom of humanity that without the strong hand of government, humans would eat each other alive?  Humans misbehave if nobody tells them what to do.

So read

if it's still available - or if not, Google fascism and see what you find as a definition, then explain it to your Alien.

In that explanation you come up with, you will find your Alien Romance Theme -- and you will find what barrier Love must Conquer to forge your human/Alien couple.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

No comments:

Post a Comment