Interpretation and Perception

I don’t mean translating. I mean how we construe what other people say, or write. Interpretation is at the heart of all interaction and is practically always overlooked. Failure to consider how ones words are perceived can, with some certainty, be placed at the core of all bad communication.

The words themselves can be well-meaning, or innocuous, but we derive as much, if not more, information from the sub-text, the nuance. For example, if your female significant other (for those of you that have one) says “Get to bed early last night?”, you know painfully well she’s not making a airy inquiry and that she’s all too aware what time you crept into bed with your tail between your legs.

Politicians are the few people for whom interpretation is foremost in their minds, and still they’re rubbish at it. People see through their lies and stories, see “spin” and deception, even if nothing is spinning. It may be that being aware of how your words are perceived, and actively trying to alter that, merely makes your words seem hollow, regardless of their substance.

The rise of email as a method of communication has thrown the perception of the meaning of your words into even sharper relief. Since all nuance is removed, the original meaning can be even more easily misconstrued. Emoticons (;-b) were invented to counter this problem. This is why, even in this day and age, face to face meetings and conference calls are still commonplace.

Now, if human interaction contains nuances that alter our perception of the meaning of the words, wouldn’t that make written or electronic communication less susceptible to these misinterpretations? Given the continued use of meetings, it would appear that we would prefer to retain this extra information, even if it results in misinterpretations. So, if we’re stuck with speaking to people face-to-face, we should pay more attention to how our words are perceived.

It would be interesting to know how this ramble is perceived. And does my calling it a ramble reinforce or change your perception of these words thus far? Were I, if I haven’t already, to veer off on some random tangent, would that denigrate that which I have written thus far? Does the fact that I have a propensity for using big words make me come across as elitist? Or that I have an intellectual inferiority complex? Does it turn you off? Have you even lasted this far?

Who knows, because the major unknown factor (in terms of perception) is the person with whom you are communicating. Their entire life, and its constituent experiences, alter how they perceive what you have said. This is why communication has to be pitched; aimed at its target audience.

This is where what has laterly come to be known as “spin” comes in; delivering the information in such a way (usually altered) so that its meaning can be mandated to some extent. Spin is a powerful weapon in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing. If Shane Warne could put the revolutions on a cricket ball that government spin doctors put on a press release, he’d be looking at rather more than 600700 Test wickets. However, once people become aware of spin, and its effects, they see spin everywhere. And they don’t like it.

People don’t like to be spun, what I’ll call “active” spin. They prefer passive spin; spin that they apply subconciously. Which is where the spinners have their problem. The unadulterated truth is not an option, yet spinning a yarn isn’t an option either.
So spin, in the political arena anyway, has had its chips.

Spin, and perception, and interpretation will continue to be part of our interactions with other people. It derives from our evolutionary roots, where elementary vocal communications had to be heavily backed up by a range of body language.

It’s an interesting topic and I’m pretty sure I haven’t come up with any answers, merely more questions. I should note that I’m not a psychologist, or behavioural scientist, so it’s more than likely that all this is bollocks.

Driving #1: Middle Lane Hoggers

This may be a phenomenon limited to those countries with motorways (freeways, autoroutres, autobahns, autostradas) with fewer than four lanes (so not America), but my number one hate about motorway driving is people who sit in the middle lane when there is nothing to stop them driving in the inside lane.

I say limited, but my definition above encompasses several hundred million people. It does of course assume that in every country there are thoughtless people who drive with their thumb up their arse and their mind in neutral, which is probably a safe assumption to make.

Rule 238 of the UK Highway Code clearly states “You should drive in the left-hand lane if the road ahead is clear…..Return to the left-hand lane once you have overtaken all the vehicles or if you are delaying traffic behind you.” Crystal, right?

Now, it’s not just that 95% of all drivers forgot the contents of the Highway Code the instant they passed their test. People just do not pay attention when driving on the motorway. I have spent many years traversing the arteries of this fair isle (in the absence of a usable public transport system, we have no choice). Even spending 8 hours driving to Scotland I manage to maintain lane discipline. It’s not difficult. It’s safer and keeps you alert as well.

If only I could be a Special Constable with the power to give people tickets for hogging the middle lane. Boy, would I abuse that power!! I would be a proper constable!!

Driving #2: Indicating

Annoyingly, Dictionary.com doesn’t provide the necessary ammunition for the definition of indicate but I’ll include anyway.

Indicators, Turn Signals, whatever you want to call them, are on cars for a reason. You pay for them so you might as well use them. I believe that not using them is an offence in the States. But sleeping with your sister isn’t. Well, in Alabama anyway1.

The point of indicators is to indicate your next manouevre in advance of that manouevre. I don’t need you to tell me what manouevre you are making. I have eyes. I want to know what you’re going to do, not what you are doing. When we’re doing 70 on the motorway and you switch lanes in front of me, indicating halfway through merely enforces my opinion of you as a moron.

Again the UK Highway Code has various rules about this sort of thing.

In town, its different but no less annoying. If you’re sat in a queue and someone wants to be let out, but they aren’t indicating, they give you a look which means “Please let me out” to which you respond with a look that means “I would, but I haven’t a fucking clue where you want to go! So No. Read the Highway Code while you’re waiting!”2.

Roundabouts (or “keepleftis” in Swahili) are a good invention for getting several roads joined together without undue lights and waiting. However, people’s perception of the rules governing the use of roundabouts is as varied as the nature of moron who abuse them. Some people dispense with indicating full stop, which means that no-one else can join without the distinct possibility of getting a car in the lap, thereby turning a great invention into a circular scrapyard.

So, a plea. We’re all trying to get home as quickly as possible, with as much of our hair and cars intact as possible. Pity the other poor souls sharing the road to hell and keep them informed. Use your indicators. Or…..I’ll bitch and whine at my inability to do anything about it.

1 No offence, Alabama. I reached for a sterotype and you were closest.
2 I can convey a lot in a look.

Planning

Planning is something that everyone does but very few people are any good at. Most people won’t even call it Planning but, since that’s what it is and to reduce confusion, that’s what I’ll call it.

Planning is tricky for many reasons, not least of which because of the old military adage “No plan survives contact with the enemy”. This at least means that Truth and Innocence have someone else to talk to in hospital. Planning also requires taking into account myriad things that are often, by definition, unknowable. Which is why any half-decent plan spawns legion sub-plans. This is where things get sticky.

In the event that the original Plan goes south, you need a Contingency Plan1. Why a Contingency Plan is going to last any longer than the original plan, no-one knows2. But one is still prepared. Standards, don’t you know.

Then there is a Risk Plan, which details all the risks associated with following the Plan and how you’re going to make them go away. Number 1 Risk should always be “Plan A Goes South”, the answer to which is “Switch to Plan B”. If care is not taken, a Contingency Plan can consist of nothing but references to the next plan in the alphabetical sequence.

Next up is the Quality Plan, which details how you’re going to make sure everything goes the way it should3. Quality Plans are generally full of high-minded ideals that function perfectly in theoretical environments but unravel spectacularly quickly in the real world.

From here on the Plans get very application-specific and are consequently less amusing. However, the common thread is that they are all there to address the inadequacies of the plans which reference them. Man’s attempts to prepare for the Unexpected and the Inexplicable.

The amount of money spent on Planning is proportional to what is at risk. If you’re planning meeting friends in town, a 30 second phone call is all the planning you need. If you’re going to Mars, you might want to spend a bit longer. However, amid the variables, there is a constant; that which is inconstant, unmanageable, unknown. No amount of planning can ever address the nature of the universe.

The root of Planning is Man trying to grasp the fabric of the universe and shape it to our will. It’s a cry in the vacuum, trying to attract the attention of something that isn’t looking.

1 Commonly referred to as “Plan B”.
2 Maybe its idiot-proof, but let’s not go there.
3 i.e. Not South.

Why does everyone hate America?

They don’t. They hate what America is, not America.

America are the self-appointed Rulers of The World and, as such, see it as “a matter of national security” to intervene in the internal workings of other countries. I’m not pointing the finger here; the British Empire once covered a quarter of the globe because, to paraphrase Eddie Izzard “we had a big old navy and a bunch of flags……we’d land on a beach, stick a flag in it and say ‘I claim this land, and everything attached to it, for Britain! Where the fuck are we?'”.

Since the time for Empires is past, America are just doing this century’s equivalent of sticking flags in beaches. They’re on top and, understandably, they want to stay there. This, however, does rather annoy the people whose beach it is. Britain was lucky because the people who owned the beaches into which we stuck our flags were primarily clad in dead animals and brandishing nothing more troubling than “viciously sharp slices of mango” (‘Blackadder goes Forth’).

America’s foreign ‘policy’ appears to be mainly a smoke screen for the fact that they have an awful lot of bullets and nowhere to store them. All the deserts are full of surplus airplanes and all the underground bunkers full of stuff they’re probably not meant to have, so it’s cheaper to go abroad and fire a load off at whomever they encounter, friendly or otherwise. And if abroad happens to have oil and someone nasty in charge then, bonus, we’ll call it liberation. Everyone’s happy and we can be home in time for tea and medals.

However, progress being what it is, the people who own the beaches now all have AK-47s and were trained by the Soviets, which makes for unattractive scenes on the news.

Britain had her time and is still trying to shake off the remnants of her Imperial past. America is still at the peak of her powers, but the beaches are getting rockier by the day. As Britain’s Empire declined, so will America’s, although not in the timeframe that people might like.

The universal truth is that nature abhors a vacuum. Someone else will come along to fill the gap. So be careful what you wish for – you might just get it.

Science discovers the obvious….again

Being an engineer by trade, I look down on scientists because, without engineering, everything they come up with would be unusable. And they get paid less. However, my scientist friends argue that if it wasn’t for science, there would be nothing for engineers to do. So I guess we’re stuck with each other.

The government bemoans the falling number of people doing science-based subjects at school and university. Part of the reason is because they get paid nothing and part is because of what gets called research these days.

How the government (note the lower case?) expects to have more scientists when they throw money at projects whose aim is to determine how high one must be when jumping onto a spike before it becomes lifethreatening?

This is a silly example, but every week in the news you see a headline like “Eating rocks is bad for you, research shows” and “Don’t fall under buses, scientists claim”. Almost without exception, everything they’ve “discovered” is something we’ve taken to be self-evident for quite some time.

Plus, scientists are always positive they’re found the answer to everything, until next week, when some other experiment shows it to be a sack of horses business, or they realise they were looking at the numbers upside down, or they’d forgotten the twenty pages of assumptions they’d had to make in order to make any sense of it at all.

Any research that produces a interesting result like “Drinking Coke increases chance of lottery win, scientists find” is devalued when it is appended by “Research funded by The Coca Cola Company”. How can science be objective if it’s funded by organisations who proscribe the results?

All this means that when Science unearths anything at all, we are Stunned. But we’re stil waiting to be Stunned.

Why Women Think Men are Bastards

It’s a relatively simple reason. It’s because, below our witty, urbane, noughties exteriors, sometimes not very far, lies the feral, snarling beings from which we evolved. If you can call it evolution.

When we were feral, snarly things, you attracted women by basically being the biggest swine you could possibly be to everyone. The women, who at this point really did only want to have babies, looked at the big swine and thought “Ooh, isn’t he snarly! And so very feral. Grrrrrr! He is big and strong.”. Then then go over to the big swine, grab him by his feral areas and say “I want you to father my babies!!”, to which the big swine thinks “Result!”.

Fast forward not very long to nowadays. The feral, snarly things are now swathed in witty, urbane, noughties exteriors and populate wine bars and clubs. The male feral, snarly things revert to type and start being swine again. The female feral, snarly things also revert to type and demand babies.

A middle ground is struck and, as the Noughties requires, a relationship ensues. The female feral, snarly thing decides that living with a big swine of a male feral, snarly thing isn’t quite what they’d hoped. They then confide as much to their fellow female feral, snarly things over a chilled Chablis, adding “Why are men such bastards?”.

Put succinctly, we’ll are still animals under the surface, no matter how much we drape ourselves in Burberry and language and opposable thumbs. Sometimes I think we forget that.

University vs Trade

This is a short one.

Dear Prime Minister,
Why, oh why, oh why, MUST everyone go to University? When its 4 o’clock in the morning, pissing rain and there is a hole in my roof caused by, I don’t know, de-orbiting Branson-craft, I do not need a Media Studies graduate. I need someone qualified to fix my shagging roof!

Not everyone in the country, even if it is steered1 by New Labour, a) knows what they want to do after school and b) has the ability or finances to complete a degree.
So, why force more people to go to university if they don’t want to or won’t make it? All that’s happening is that you’ve got people part-qualified in something completely useless to the world with thousands of pounds in debt! It’s basically a stealth tax.

Let the people who probably won’t make it though (and let’s face it, a significant proportion don’t, regardless of their class, or brains, or finances) go do something useful, because I guarantee they’re far more likely to get a job and get paid WAY more money being a plumber or a electrician.

So if you’re undecided about higher education, DON’T throw two years and several grand down the toilet. Become a plumber. You’ll be living in a four bedroom house inside two years.

1 I use “steered” in the biblical sense. What does that mean anyway?

Men vs Women

There has been a lot made recently of whether men still have the upper hand over women, or whether men are being devalued as women take a more dominant role in society. Most notably, Michael Buerk, newsreader and presenter of Police! Stop! Bang! Ouch!, has rather rashly gone public and whinged that women getting all the top jobs in unfair.

Since men have had the top jobs for ages, we can’t complain if women get their share. I’m all for a meritocracy where people succeed based on how good they are. However, there are concerns that the pendulum is swinging a bit too far in women’s favour and we’re heading towards where we were a few decades back, except with the roles reversed. It’ll be The Two Ronnies’ “The Worm That Turned” come to pass.

Women should have the same rights as men and should be given equal opportunities as men. That’s not up for discussion. However, what society has overlooked is that, even when men were in all the top jobs, women ruled the world. Whoever said “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world” was spot on. Everyone in the world, regardless of anything, has a mother who, in most cases, is the biggest influence in how people turn out.

It’s instinct. Just because we don’t run around naked, sniffing each other and hitting each other with sticks, doesn’t mean we’re not still driven by the same basic urges as every other creature on the planet, the thrust of which is “propogate your genes”.

That’s a bit of a tangent, and a separate post for a rainy day. My point is that one half of the planet should be able to do what they want without it having to come at the expense of the other.

Vicks Prayer

Our Vicks, who art inhaler, Hallowed be Proctor and Gamble.
Thy product come.
Thy nasal stick be done, Up noses as it is inserted.
Give us this day our daily breath.
And forgive us our sneezes,
As we forgive those who sneeze over us.
And lead us not into nasal congestion,
But deliver us from stuffy noses.
For thine is the Menthol,
and the Camphor,
and the Siberian Pine Needle Oil,
for ever and ever.
Amen.