In StarCommunity, we have a bunch of jargon. This is because we are the social equivalent of OpinionatedSoftware?: We have specific ideas about the world, specific ideas about interaction and processing and communications and reason, and to help us develop our conceptual matrix of understanding, we have jargon.
Just a small sampling:
Now I went into some depth on this, not because I’m trying to teach these concepts (I’m not,) – rather, I’m trying to make clear: Just how specific these ideas are. And in fact, I could write an essay about any one of these concepts.
Even the words “anger,” “fear,” “sadness,” “joy,” and “disgust” mean something different for us than they mean for most people. There’s an entire swath of human society, (maybe 60% of our Seattle middle class liberal milieu, and definitely slanted female?), who think that anger is capital-W Wrong. And so when they get (what we call) angry, they call it “displeased,” or “irritated,” or something like that, because if they were angry, that would be wrong. So even in these “simple” words, we have “jargon.”
These ideas are essential parts of the conceptual matrix of the StarCommunity. If you take these ideas and distinctions out of Star, we’re not Star Community any longer. We’d think and act totally differently, we’d do totally different things.
And so this is our “jargon.” And it matters, because it cements the conceptual distinctions that we hold.
It’s very practical. If someone has a behavior, we ask ourselves, “What are we looking at?” Are their buttons just getting pushed? Or are they triggered? Or is it a trauma response? Or is this some kind of a demon, like drug addiction, an addiction to alchohol? Because how we respond to these things is radically different. A button is something we focus on noticing. A trigger is something where we can do a certain kind of work, whereas a genuine trauma response can require something quite different, including the possibility of a culture change. And if you treat something like alchohol in the same way that you treat any of these other things, it’s doomed to failure. At least, this is the way we look at things; That is all part of our SpiritualPhilosophy?.
But if we didn’t make these distinctions, if we didn’t have reliable words for these things, like a TrustedLinkLanguage, then our capacity to talk about things just falls through the floor. We can’t express and share and develop our ideas.
Now in the first 3-4 years of the StarCommunity, one of our members who is quite central complained a lot about our use of Jargon. “Yes, I see your point, but it’s off-putting to outsiders, when we use words that other people can’t immediately understand.” After 3-4 years, she gave up on the issue. Her attitude is now, “Yeah, we have to use these kinds of words. Trying to do things without jargon just doesn’t work. People have to get over this hump of resistance, but on the other side of it, they can develop things.” I’m paragraphing for her, but that’s the gist of it.
For me, the Jargon problem isn’t “people make special terminologies.” For me, the jargon problem is the problem of people having a gut reaction to jargon.
“Oh my god, when you use jargon, you sound like a cult.” We are a cult, but that’s besides the point: The point is that nobody is building anything, the slightest bit complex, much less a functioning community, without a jargon.
The relationship between a world and a language seems to be intrinsic, at least in contact with a human mind. I think I’ve read somewhere that [[Tolkien?]] substantially came up with the Elven language before he came up with the world that the Elven language talked about!
So again for me – the problem of jargon isn’t that jargon exists. It’s that people resist the idea of having a jargon, and in that way, resist formation.
None of this should be construed as an endorsement of all jargon, or an endorsement for all expressible ideas. That is not the case. I think that legal language is a nightmare and should be cleaned up. I think that PHP, at least as it was a decade and a half ago, was horrible and should have been cleaned up. Perl 5 is interesting, and I want to learn it – I think it collects and organizes interesting and useful distinctions, though I don’t speak Perl yet. A jargon, a community language, should be tended to and thought about and interacted with. It’s definitely not the case that it’s all good. But the existence of Jargon – that I think is an essential to me.
I contend that without it, we’re going nowhere.
Alex Schroeder: The only counter points I can offer all relate to the question of being on the inside and using a jargon, or being on the outside, and on how we manage this transition. I think that some people manage to get their points across in books that look like plain English. Sure, they still have jargon, naturally, but it follows well established procedures of teaching things. Start with plain language to define terms you intend to use, introduce full names before using abbreviations for them, etc. There is a general process that happens, there is a redefinition of words that happens in all non-trivial works. Book authors have time because it takes time to read, and they have linear time because people start at the front and work their way to the back, most of the time. Therefore they can order these redefinitions, they can build their own terminology. “When we talk about the economy, we mean this; when we talk about progress, we mean that; when we talk about energy we mean the other thing,” and so on. So a natural definition of the terms being used, of the terminology being used, is not a problem.
It’s harder in non-linear works. If you buy a dictionary of philosophy and start reading about Sartre, it’s hard. You need context. And the dictionary links to other entries, but they’re just as hard to understand. It’s like – you need to know at least some philosophy in order to be able to make sense of it. Where’s the first dictionary entry where you can start to unravel the work? There is none.
Sometimes it’s possible to linearize things that aren’t linear. You can turn the field of philosophy into a different field, the history of philosophy. Now you can rebuild, rethink, reconstruct the entire field in an idealized form, at amazing speed, and learn the jargon along the way. The problem for most communities is that this too takes time and effort. There are no free historians, there is no free history.
Traditionally, this can happen via story telling. How do you make sense of a big war, a big transformation? By looking at the history, telling stories, picking people. The rise of Hitler. Of course this produces gaps: why were the Germans susceptible. You can stop whenever the questions stop, but if they don’t stop, you’re soon talking about Versailles and the First World War. And that leads to the Great Powers of Europe. And colonisation. And… And… It never ends, of course. But at some point you mentioned enough stories such that the Second World War starts to make sense.
This repeats for every topic. How will you ever make sense of Jazz? We tell each other stories of people and retell the history of it all. The racism, the poverty, slavery, New Orleans, we start with Buddy Bolden, we talk about Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Duke Ellington, and on and on, there’s Count Basie, and this is when the went to Europe, and this is Swing, and this Benny Goodman and this is Glenn Miller and this is Coleman Hakwins and Chick Webb and so on. By breaking it down into people stories, we understand bigger pictures. We get introduced to the terms and see how they get used.
This is how we end up in situations with a jargon problem: if we join a cult, a religion, a hobby, marry into a family, contribute to a wiki, we are faced with their lingo, their special words and phrases, signs and sigils, rituals and greetings, terms and history. And it’s work. Getting into it is not free. Introducing new members to the community is work. Taking people in is not free, either. Luckily, people like telling stories so eventually we’ll make sense of it all. It’s not unsolvable. It’s just – hard.
That’s how I explain the jargon problem to myself, and these are the solutions I see out there in the world. And every jargon-using community out there can judge for themselves whether it is worth their time to pursue these solutions. If you’re a professor writing an introduction to book for your field, it might be worth the time. If you’re a handful of people living and working together, it most likely is not.
The solutions are: