The Cooperative Principle in Conversation versus the Prejudice in Silence

In the following, I understand the Internet as a massive text connected by many participants conversing with one another. Parts of the text are in close connection, and the discussion can be viewed as heated insofar as the sub-texts reference each other in some way (links are merely one example of such cross-references). Other parts of the text are fairly isolated, hardly discussed, rarely (if ever) referenced. I want to argue that the former parts are “well formed” in the sense that they follow Grice (1975)’s cooperative principle, and that the latter seem to evidence a sort of prejudice (performed by the disengaged participants) — which I hope to be able to elucidate more clearly.

Before I embark on this little adventure, let me ask you to consider two somewhat complementary attitudes people commonly choose between when they are confronted with conversational situations. These are usually referred to as “feelings” — and in order to simplify, I will portray them as if they were simply logically diametrically opposed … whereas I guess most situations involve a wide variety of factors each varying in shades of gray rather than simple binary black versus white, one versus zero. Let’s just call them trust and distrust, and perhaps we can ascribe to elements of any situation as trustworthy versus distrustworthy.

Next, let me introduce another scale — ranging from uncertainty (self-doubt) to certainty (self-confidence).

Together, these two factors of prejudice (in other words: preliminary evaluations of other-trustworthiness and self-confidence) crucially impact our judgment of whether or not to engage in conversations, discussions, to voice our own opinions, whether online or offline.

As we probably all know, the world is not as simple as a reduction to two factors governing the course of all conversations. For example: How does it happen that a person comes to fall on this end or that end of either scale? No doubt a person’s identity is influenced by a wide variety of group affiliations and/or social mores, norms and similar contextual cues which push and pull them into some sort of category, whether left or right, wrong or fixed, up or down, in or out with mainstream groupings. One of the most detailed investigations of the vast complexity and multiplicity woven into the social fabric is the seminal work by Berger and Luckmann titled “The Social Construction of Reality”.

While I would probably be the first to admit the above approach is a huge oversimplification of something as complex as all of human interactions on a global scale, I do feel the time is ripe for us to admit that the way we have approached the issue thus far has been so plagued with falsehoods and downright failures, that we cannot afford ourselves to continue down this path. In an extreme “doomsday” scenario, we might face nuclear war, runaway global warming, etc. all hidden behind “fake news” propaganda spread by robots gone amok. In other words, continuing this way could be tantamount to mass suicide, annihilation of the human race, and perhaps even all life on the planet. Following Pascal, rather than asking ourselves whether there is a meaning to life, I also venture to ask whether we can afford to deny life has any meaning whatsoever — lest we be wrong.

If I am so sure that failing to act could very well lead to total annihilation, then what do I propose is required to save ourselves from our own demise?

First and foremost, I propose we give up the fantasy of a simplistic true-or-false type binary logic that usually leads to the development of “Weapons of Math Destruction”. That, in my humble opinion, would be a good first step.

What ought to follow next might be a realization that there are infinite directions any discussion might lead (rather than a simplistic “pro” vs. “contra”). I could echo Wittgenstein’s insight that the limits of directions are the limits of our language — and in this age of devotion to ones and zeros, we can perhaps find some solace in the notion of a vocabulary of more than just two cases.

Once we have tested the waters and begun to move forewards toward the vast horizons available to us, we may begin to understand the vast multi-dimensionality of reality — for example including happy events, sad events, dull events, exciting events and many many more possibilities. Some phenomena may be closely linked, other factors may be mutually orthogonal in a wide variety of different ways. Most will probably be neither diametrically opposed nor completely aligned — the interconnections will usually be interwoven in varying degrees, and the resulting complexity will be difficult to grasp simply. Slowly but surely we will again become familiar with the notion of “subject expertise”, which in our current era of brute force machinistic algorithms has become so direly neglected.

If all goes well, we might be able to start wondering again, to experience amazement, to become dazzled with the precious secrets of life and living, to cherish the mysterious and puzzling evidences of fleeting existence, and so on.

propaganda, rational media,
language, natural language,
algorithm, algorithms, algorithmic,
big data, data, research, science,
quantitative, qualitative,
AI, artificial intelligence,