Thoughts on genre, language, grammar, and other
rhetorical and linguistic norms
rhetorical and linguistic norms
In the wake of the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, and after the initial shock and horror and heartsickness, I’m going to expand a bit on my last post, Hating Categories. Initially, I wanted to leave the last post as my only comment here. I still feel such horror and grief and anger that I don’t want to respond to it as a thinker. But those emotions also carry me into seeing the suffering that people cause through their categorizations. So I’m adding some quick perceptions about the negative side of categories.
Since I write about genres, I write about categories. In some ways I’m a defender of genres and other categories. Yes, they normalize behavior, but that’s good as well as bad. Yes, they constrain writers and readers, but without such constraint there can be no creativity. All topics I’ve written about in scholarly works quite a bit.
But the categories work against us, too. In the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on June 12, 2016, that terrorist act targeted a category of human beings. Categories have very real consequences in our very real worlds.
Photo scene of Orlando nightclub shooting: Credit Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press
So, without over-intellectualizing and distancing from the emotional pain of that horrible event, I want to return to the conclusions from psychological research that I posted about earlier. Based on the New York Times article by Tom Vanderbilt, I summarized points on The Psychology of Genre, repeated below. My additions below each point in that bulleted list today: What can be the painful results of categorizing?
Sorting the world into patterns that are easier to read allows us to ignore the information that doesn’t suit us, or the information that contradicts those categories. “Ah, some people are gay” (probably even ignoring the more complex category of LGBTQ). A category that sorts individual human beings becomes “those people.”
Once we have sorted people into categories, those people “become more alike in our minds.” Forget all the variations that are humans, “those people are all alike.”
We don’t know enough yet about the shooter in Orlando or his groups, but if it turns out, as initially reported, that he at least identified with ISIL, then he would be a part of a social group that perceives and condones violence against the categories of Americans he perceived, regardless of the reality of who might have been in that club.
Obviously, haters and terrorists don’t perceive their targeted groups positively, so any distinctions within the category they hate are lost. Their categories become large and all-consuming, deliberately masking subcategories and differences within. They maintain the hate by maintaining the rigidity of categories. They don’t change.
So much lies outside the perception of those who hate and those who hate by categories. The category allows them to keep from perceiving what they don’t want to perceive, to keep from generating “cognitive disfluency” that might make them question their perceptions.
To move beyond adding anger and violence to the world requires moving beyond rigid categories and limited perceptions.
For hate not to win, we must remember.