My dearest brothers and sisters,
This is Tunia speaking. I love you so very much.
From my perspective it is weird that you have many words that have multiple meanings. To us, this just seems like it would lead to unnecessary confusion, or it would give unnecessary ammunition to those who seek to manipulate others.
Why not just have one word that means one thing, and then have another word that means another thing?
A large amount of confusion and dysfunctional policy is created because one word has multiple meanings.
For example, what is a free market?
Well, sometimes a free market is defined as a market that is free from government interference. And sometimes a free market is defined as a market that is efficient and transparent and has healthy competition and where companies face consequences if they sell dangerous products or if they pollute to an unacceptable degree or if they expose their employees to unacceptable levels of risk. In this second definition, there is some level of government oversight, but not an excessive amount of it.
But the thing is, in practice, these definitions are often mutually exclusive, at least at your current level of consciousness. If a market is free from government interference, then you will have monopolies, where companies increase the price and decrease the quality of their products, because that maximizes profits. If a market is free from government interference, you will have companies selling dangerous products or poisoning rivers or exposing their employees to unacceptable levels of risk. Therefore this market will not be efficient.
Conversely if the market is free from monopolies and free from companies being exploitative or destructive, then almost certainly there has to be a level of government involvement to enforce that. At least, there has to be at your current level of consciousness (fortunately your level of consciousness is rising quickly).
So you have “free market” meaning simultaneously “market free from government oversight” and “competitive, efficient market.” But those two things are in practice often mutually exclusive (at your current level of consciousness).
So you can see how you can have wildly unproductive conversations this way. One person says “to have a free market we must have a smaller government” and if they use one definition, they’re right. Another person says “to have a free market we must have more government oversight to stop businesses from exploiting people in a particular way” and if they use another definition, they’re also right.
Or it can lead to people completely deregulating an industry, because then it’s a free market, and free markets are efficient, right? However, in that one sentence, the term “free market” is used with two wildly different meanings. Deregulated markets are free markets in a sense, but they’re not efficient markets. Free markets are only efficient if they’re free in the “some level of government oversight” sense.
Of course, there’s also such a thing as too much regulation — indeed, most countries are currently over-regulated. At your current level of consciousness, it’s optimal to have some level of regulation: more than the free market true believers want, and less than the mainstream left wants.
So you see that when one word has multiple meanings, this can lead to confusion or bad policy or inaccurate predictions.
This issue becomes even more severe when people intentionally start redefining or misusing words to achieve certain outcomes, in an Orwellian way. For example, people who spend a lot of time talking about diversity sometimes don’t value diversity of thought. People who spend a lot of time talking about tolerance sometimes don’t tolerate those who disagree with them. People who talk a lot about equality are sometimes actively opposed to equality for men or white people in those specific areas where they are disadvantaged. In Germany there was talk of banning a political party (just about the most undemocratic thing you can do) in order to protect democracy. Similarly, some people on the right call people communists to discredit them even if it hasn’t been established that they actually are communists. Just being left-wing and in favor of a relatively large government isn’t enough to make someone a communist.
Still, James Lindsay has said: “Communists share your vocabulary but they don’t share your dictionary.” While I think the label communist sometimes gets over-applied, it is true that the left sometimes has wildly different meanings for seemingly-normal and seemingly well-defined words. In this way, they can dog whistle, or they can suggest policies that seem reasonable but turn out to be a Trojan horse once accepted. For example, the left might talk about equality, which is of course a good principle, but then it sometimes turns out that equality is a dog whistle for “black people quotas.”
So, how can you as an individual navigate this situation?
The best thing you can do, especially if you suspect that someone is trying to manipulate through language, is to ask people to define their terms. And not just ask for the meanings for obscure or highly complicated terms, but also ask for meanings for seemingly-obvious terms. You talk about equality. What is equality? And don’t accept a definition like “equality means people being equal” that doesn’t actually spell out the boundaries of what the word applies to. Ask them to be specific. According to you, does X fit in your definition? According to you, does Y fit in your definition? Are black people quotas part of your definition of equality? Are reparations part of your definition of equality?
And once people have defined their terms, hold them to those definitions. Make sure that they don’t switch definitions halfway through their argument. And make sure that people don’t use associations that only apply to one sense of the word, but not to the sense of the word that they’re using.
For example, don’t let a right-winger get away with saying “free markets are efficient, therefore the market will become more efficient if we deregulate it.” Free markets are only efficient if the word “free market” is used in the “some government oversight” sense, but then the switch is made to the “free markets are deregulated markets” sense later in the argument.
A rhetorical trick that is often used is called the Motte-and-bailey. Historically the bailey was a hard to defend courtyard, which was linked to the motte. The motte was an easy to defend keep. So if you’re attacked in a motte-and-bailey castle, you can retreat to the motte because that’s really easy to defend.
Similarly, someone might say that equality is good, and if you agree, they’ll try to ram through black-people quotas. If you disagree with them, they’ll retreat to their easy to defend motte, and they’ll say that of course we shouldn’t discriminate against black people, what are you, a racist?
So in other words, they’ll use the word “equality” to mean “black people quotas”, but as soon as you disagree with them, they retreat to their easy to defend motte and they start defending the position of “it’s not okay to fire someone for being black.” And then if they win the argument, they’ll implement black people quotas.
Some policies have been rammed through this way, even though most people didn’t want those policies.
In other words, they switch definitions of the word “equality” as convenient for them. And that’s why you ask them to define their terms. Because then they can’t switch. Then they either have to make the case for black-people quotas (an unpopular position), or they have to make the case for “let’s not openly discriminate” but then be unable to switch gears and implement black-people quotas.
So you ask people to clearly define their terms, and to be clear about which things do and don’t fall into the definition according to them. It’s not specific enough to say “equality is the state of people being equal.” You say: person who uses the word equality, according to you, is it equality to have black people quotas, yes or no? Is it equality to have reparations, yes or no?
Some people use needlessly complicated words or long sentences, or use sentences that don’t actually say anything if you look closely at them. Usually these people are either trying to manipulate, or they’re trying to appear smarter than they actually are. Actually smart people are concise and use clear language. And whether a person is trying to manipulate or they’re simply not that intelligent, in both cases it helps to ask them to define their terms.
Be willing to look like a fool doing this. You may feel silly asking people to define seemingly-obvious words, but this is how you get clarity between two well-intentioned parties, or this is how you avoid being manipulated by a malicious actor. If you feel embarrassed about asking someone to define a seemingly obvious term, you can always think that asking is being as-a-king. Asking, as-king, as king, as a king.
Saying that asking is being “as a king” may sound somewhat silly, but asking to define terms can encourage thought and discussion and it can dramatically improve clarity and the quality of a debate. If the person you’re talking to is actually interested in sharpening their arguments or being nudged to think more deeply, as opposed to wanting to just win the debate, they may very well appreciate you asking them to define terms.
When we’re talking about verbal manipulation: another tactic that is used all the time is intentionally trying to create an artificial link between the thing you want to promote and good things, and the thing you want to demonize and bad things.
For example, a certain tv series shows exactly one person complaining about cancel culture, and this person is a racist who literally murders black people for no reason, and when he’s being held accountable for his murders he complains about cancel culture. Hence the average viewer comes away with the impression that people who oppose cancel culture are all murderous racists, and that cancel culture is the justified holding-to-account of awful people.
When in reality, even people opposing cancel culture are generally fine with murderous racists being held accountable. The type of cancel culture that I and some people oppose is for example people being deplatformed merely for having a politically incorrect opinion, or for disagreeing with the official narrative. Even scientists and experts get hit by cancel culture and are deplatformed, for the crime of doing science and finding results that don’t agree with the official narrative.
When I write it out like this it may sound silly, but this kind of manipulation is actually a surprisingly effective way to debunk certain concepts or positions in the mind of your average person. If you show an average person a few of these kinds of tv shows, they will likely genuinely believe that cancel culture either doesn’t exist or is justified, without ever listening to the arguments of people who oppose cancel culture. Again, when you are in a discussion about cancel culture, it helps to both define what things are and what things aren’t cancel culture.
It’s not very easy to deal with this, because so many people use that trick on all ends of the political spectrum. Even if someone doesn’t intentionally try to manipulate, they’ll still probably show certain things in a good light and certain things in a bad light. It’s a rare show or movie or book or argument indeed who presents both sides of the argument in their strongest form.
For example, when the left talks about immigrants, they often talk about children who come from areas where there is war or starvation. When the right talks about immigrants, they often talk about “men of fighting age”, or at least about adult men who weren’t in danger in their home country and who simply wanted better economic opportunities. Of course, these descriptions generate completely different emotional responses. And most people present immigrants as either people and children fleeing from death, or as adult men who are just after better economic opportunities and who are possibly dangerous. Most people want to push a certain agenda or political message, and therefore only show what supports that. It’s rare for someone to show or acknowledge both sides of an argument.
This ties into a point that we made in earlier messages: ideally you are able to present an argument for both sides of the discussion, one that is so high-quality that people who sincerely have that view would say you are doing a good job.
Another way in which discussions often derail is when one side gives three reasons, and the other side spends all their time completely destroying the weakest of the three reasons, while ignoring the two stronger reasons. This sounds silly if I say it like this, but the side that relentlessly attacks the weakest reason often looks like the discussion winner to the average joe. One way you can deal with this is to simply omit relatively weak reasons and only present your strongest reasons. Yes, I know, theoretically one weak plus two strong reasons should have more weight than just two strong reasons, but this is not how it often works in practice.
Most people don’t debate in good faith, unfortunately. Most people don’t debate to learn or to come closer to the truth, they debate to win, and they’re willing to use under-handed debate tactics to do so.
Another debate issue is that people often don’t actually debate the position of the other side, instead they debate an easy-to-dismantle strawman. Again, define your terms and be clear what is and isn’t part of your definitions. In theory, you should actually be debating not a strawman but a steelman, which is the best version of the other side’s argument. So if they say something, you first mentally improve their argument to the strongest version possible, and then you evaluate that steelman version of their argument. This is debating in super good faith, and if you do this, you will make rapid progress towards more truth and nuance.
As for how you can improve the quality of your own arguments: you can ask yourself if you would still have the same opinion if the people involved were gender-swapped or nationality-swapped or political-party-swapped. If not, you might want to think about what your underlying principles are, and then apply those consistently. If you actually formulate principles and then actually apply those consistently, then you will be a great example for others indeed, and you may be able to draw strength from your principles.
People often pretend to be even-handed, but in reality only give lip service to the well-being of one group while actively speaking out for the well-being of another group. That’s actually not even-handed at all.
If there is a conflict and both sides are doing bad things, but you only ever speak out to condemn the bad things that one side does, then you are not being fair.
If at one specific moment in time it’s clear that it’s one side doing the bad thing, then alright, you can say that’s bad, period. And you shouldn’t make excuses for the bad thing, because the bad thing is bad. However if the other side then later does something bad, you should for fairness sake also speak out against that.
It’s absolutely possible that at one specific moment in time, one side is clearly in the wrong. And it’s fine to point that out, without trying to justify the bad thing. But if you speak up then, but never speak up during moments when the other side is doing bad things, then you’re not being a part of the solution.
What Earth humans love to do is to create a narrative where history starts at the precise point where their disliked group does something bad. And then all the bad things that their group does are justified because of that earlier bad thing. Well, that’s not a productive way to argue, because then the other side just says that history starts at the precise point that supports their narrative, and then says that all the bad things their side does are justified.
If you accept that logic of “we can do bad things because they did bad things first” then both sides will just pretend that history starts at the precise point when the other side did a bad thing. And then both sides will feel justified in doing bad things.
So that doesn’t work. In reality, people simply shouldn’t do bad things, such as hurting innocent civilians of another side. Even if the other side has killed your civilians, that doesn’t justify you killing civilians of another side.
So, about the current Israel – Hamas conflict:
If you have only ever actively spoken up about the bad things that one side has done, but have never spoken up about the bad things that the other side has done, then in my personal opinion you are not helping.
If you don’t outright say that it was wrong that Hamas killed Israeli civilians, period, then in my personal opinion you are not helping.
If you think that Israel is justified in killing civilians right now because of what Hamas did, then in my personal opinion you are also not helping. This is the “history starts at the precise point when it’s convenient for my narrative” fallacy we discussed earlier. In reality, people shouldn’t kill civilians even if the other side killed civilians first. If you want to argue that Israel gets to kill Palestinian civilians now because of what Hamas did previously, then Hamas can say they were justified because of what Israel did previously. So that’s just not a productive way to move forward. Yes, what Hamas did was wrong, but that doesn’t mean that it’s now justified for Israel to kill civilians themselves. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
Note that about half of all Palestinians are under 18, and right now many children are dying because of what Israel is doing. Obviously it’s not justified to kill Palestinian children, which is what Israel is currently doing, because some Palestinians have murdered Israeli citizens. Those children are innocent, and that’s about half of the population. Not every Palestinian is a murderous Hamas fighter. You don’t get to kill Palestinian children just because some Palestinians murder Israeli citizens. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
Often it is said: Israel has a right to defend itself. This ties into our earlier point about definitions. Now, yes, when taken at face value, it’s certainly true that Israel has a right to defend itself. But if someone says “Israel has a right to defend itself”, ask them to define what exactly does and doesn’t fall into that definition, according to them. Does the person saying “Israel has a right to defend itself” think that Israel is justified in killing Palestinian civilians now, to potentially save Israeli lives later?
If yes, does that person think that Israeli lives are more valuable than Palestinian lives?
Also, once someone has defined what “having a right to defend itself” means, ask them: does Palestine also have a right to defend itself? There is a laundry list of reasons that Palestine could cite as being sufficient reason for it to “defend itself”, which apparently means killing civilians of the other side — at least, that’s how Israel is currently using “the right to defend itself”. So then, do both sides have a valid reason to kill civilians on the other side?
Some Israelis are effectively claiming that it’s acceptable for them to kill Palestinian civilians because that makes Israelis safer. Well, if Palestinians also claim that it’s acceptable for them to kill Israeli citizens because that makes Palestinians safer, then the result is a conflict that only ends once one side ethnically cleanses the other side. So logically speaking, people shouldn’t be allowed to kill civilians even if that makes them safer, because that doesn’t lead to a good place. Unless the actual unspoken position is that Israeli lives are more valuable than Palestinian lives, however that is of course a very racist position to take.
People also often subconsciously label one group as good and one group as bad. And then when the bad group does bad things, that’s definitive proof that the good guys can treat them harshly. But when the good guys do bad things, that’s either a mistake, or an unfortunate necessity. But this is very much motivated reasoning. If you don’t presuppose that one group is good, then the bad actions by the so-called good group suddenly don’t look so good anymore.
So: killing civilians is wrong, period. You can’t justify the present-day killing of civilians by saying that the other side killed civilians first, in the past. This applies to both sides. Hamas shouldn’t have killed Israeli citizens, and there is no “but Israel did this” that justifies that. Israel shouldn’t kill Palestinian civilians, as it is doing now, and there is no “but Hamas did this” that justifies that.
In the longer term, this situation can only be resolved in two ways. Either one side ethnically cleanses the other out of the contested lands, which would of course be a horrible outcome. Or the people learn to live together in peace. To take a step towards peace, there should be a cease-fire and both sides should stop killing the civilians of the other side, directly and indirectly. Israel has already killed more Palestinians in retailiation-bombings since the assault, than Hamas killed during their assault. Israel already has its revenge, it’s time for the bloodshed to stop.
It’s easy to say “we must continue to fight and kill Hamas terrorists” but it’s really hard to distinguish a Palestinian who is willing to kill Israeli civilians from a Palestinian who is innocent. What continuing to fight means in practice is killing lots of innocent Palestinian civilians — half of whom are children. And killing more Palestinian civilians will only create more Palestinians who are willing to kill Israeli civilians. I’m not saying that they would be justified in killing Israeli civilians, but still: war begets war and violence begets violence. Harming others ultimately doesn’t make you safer, in the long term.
Both sides currently feel so unsafe and have so many legitimate grievances that it’s understandable that they wish to damage the other side so much that the other side can’t hurt them anymore. I understand the impulse. But that is not the way forward. People don’t have a right to kill civilians on the other side just because that allegedly improves their own security situation. Yes, people may defend themselves, but that does not include directly or indirectly killing civilians on the other side because that might save the lives of your own people in the future. That is not actually defense, under any sensible definition of the word defense. That just leads to an endless cycle of violence.
The way forward is that no one should kill the civilians of the other side, directly or indirectly. Wanting revenge or wanting more safety for yourself isn’t a valid reason to kill civilians on the other side, or force civilians on the other side to endure conditions that very well may lead to their death.
International law should be applied to the region. And note that Israeli settlements in occupied territories are clearly illegal under international law. Even wikipedia admits that, on the wikipedia page “International law and Israeli settlements.”
This means that at the very least, Israel should immediately stop building new illegal settlements. Not after the current conflict is over, but immediately. You don’t get to violate international law just because that allegedly makes you safer, or just because the other side did bad things in the past. If those were valid reasons, then practically every country would get to violate international law.
I get that many people on Israel’s side consider it to be unacceptable for the building of new settlements to end, but this conflict is either going to end with ethnic cleansing or it’s going to end with peace. And to get peace, both sides should stop killing civilians of the other side, both directly and indirectly, and international law should be applied. It’s not realistic to say that you are in favor of peace but then continue to violate international law.
Americans and people in other countries could argue that their country simply should not donate money to countries that violate international law, as determined by the UN. This is a very reasonable-sounding position that is hard to argue against. And this position also means that their country shouldn’t donate money to Israel so long as Israel keeps building new settlements.
And it would actually make Israel safer if it stopped building new settlements, because that would go a long way towards defusing tensions. If Israel announced today that it was no longer building new settlements, then probably peace would be established more quickly, and fewer people including fewer Israelis would die.
It’s easy to say that of course Israel should be fully supported right now, but in the current context, that would mean lots of bloodshed, which would make Israel less safe in the long run. Sometimes, being a true friend means saying: “no, this path you’re currently on isn’t a good idea, and I’m not going to enable you.”
We think it’s productive to ask yourselves: do you want the conflict in this region to be resolved through peace or through ethnic cleansing? If you want this conflict to be resolved through peace, then the path forward isn’t enabling one side as it is killing civilians of the other side, as Israel is currently doing. And again, Israel since the Hamas assault has already killed more people than Hamas did during recent assault.
If you want this conflict to be resolved through peace, then the path forward is a cease-fire and having the international community push both sides to follow international law. While those things wouldn’t immediately solve all the underlying problems, they would be good first steps on a path that would actually make both Palestine and Israel safer in the medium term.
Very many people right now are in my thoughts. I’ve been looking at the situation and it’s awful.
We’re currently taking steps behind the scenes to nudge both sides towards peace. As for myself, I will continue sending my loving energy to the region.
I love you so very much.
For Era of Light
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