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Jan. 31st, 2016

The Birds

Jan. 31st, 2016 03:13 pm
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Snow still covers most of the ground, though it has melted and refrozen into something more like crumbled ice covered by a crunchy crust. It still looks nice from afar. I love the stark colors of winter days--the white and grey of the landscape and the black and brown of bare, dormant trees against the bright blue sky.

As I turned onto the main road of our neighborhood yesterday, I spotted a large, black shape in the middle of the street. I made out the shape of a bird, black feathers, black beak but something seemed odd. Too large, way too large for a crow.

I drove closer. I saw the bird pecking on something in the middle of the street. I remembered seeing a badly mangled corpse of a small animal, probably a squirrel, at that spot in the street earlier. A flattened splotch red lined with grey fur. The bird now stood astride this small shape, pecking methodically. As I drove closer, the bird stopped feeding and looked up slightly, but continued to stand there.

Creeping along with my car, I neared to within twenty of feet. Finally, the bird spread its black wings. Slowly, it flew up and made a small circle above the street into a Japanese Maple by the side of the street. I craned my neck to look as I drove past. The bird and another companion sat in the tree. Behind them, the low afternoon sun glanced off the ice of nearby rooftops. The light filled the the speckled weather-stains on my car's window, covering the scene with a hazy, amber glow. I could only make out the the vague outlines of the two. Unmoving, patient, they waited for me to pass. As I rounded the bend in the road, and glanced back again in the mirror one last time, but the pair and the barren tree had already disappeared from view.
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Yesterday, I read this Slate Star Codex article about social class in the US. It responds to a post here here on Livejournal by [livejournal.com profile] sideria, which I haven't yet read. I haven't read the two different social class breakdowns the article mentioned, either Michael Church's or Unqualified Reservation's. I have to remain skeptical of the exact breakdowns, but the idea that social class still exists separately from economic class sounds pretty compelling.

I got excited enough about this idea that when you allude grouping people it can make others pretty uncomfortable. And then it can be hard to communicate what you think is valuable, especially if they haven't read or thought about the same things you have. On the drive home from Rutgers, I enthusiastically brought up the idea with Marlon. He became pretty upset partway through the conversation. He hates it when people analyze him or other people based on generalizations, and that sounded like what I was doing. He doesn't like being sequestered into a category or pidgeonholed because of social labels. He doesn't like that done to him, nor does he like doing it to other people, and neither do I. Before I brought up the topic I might have considered my personal context for approaching this topic, and how other people--even people close to me--might come from a very different place that makes the ideas come across as very different, or even offensive.

I've run into a lot of people on the web who feel it is best to speak your mind frankly, come what may. Anything past a bare minimum of diplomacy slows things down too much, and ends up wasting productive discussion time. Some people are going to get offended, others will completely misinterpret what you are saying, and that doesn't matter. Truth matters more than feelings.

This philosophy of communication and discourse doesn't work for me. Communication is difficult because it's a two-way process. You must listen just as much as you talk. Even if you are giving a lecture, it is important to consider the audience. If how you deliver your message just tries to bulldoze over the biases and sensitivities of your audience, you can easily turn a very open minded group into a crowd who can't hear a word of what you're saying. And I have no patience for social commentators who taunt readers with outrageous things, then use the defense of satire to call everyone stupid when those outrageous things are taken seriously.

Good communication is really hard. I'd like to figure out a way to better talk about things like social class, because they could be part of the many hidden patterns that shape how we communicate and interact with each other. There's more to the truth than just blurting it out. Thinking, and then saying what you are thinking is the easy. More important: figuring out how to make it meaningful for your fellow human beings, the people with whom you share this world, the people with whom you will be cooperating with to shape the future.

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