I grew up in a range of environments including a high-crime and poor neighborhood. It was the sort of place with a lots of impulsive crime such as fights and a stabbing (and arson incident) driven by personal animosity. Suffice to say, I consider the reality of crime to be obvious and not inherently tied to wealth (for I have seen much poorer people behave better) and tragic in its consequences.

Rather than describe what I witnessed and my factual assessments, it is clear I tend to focus on the wording of a directive, not some unknowable imputation. When trying to find out what the lethally enforced social norms are, I don't just look at the legal system, I look to human behavior such as seeming tolerance for physical attacks before anybody might bother reporting it to the police.

I know I struggle in figuring out directives from peers since I may assume a wider range of expected behavior (talking about a stick-up seemed to shock some classmates). When broadly worded directives get issued in the imperative such as "always be tolerant" or "never call the cops on a Black person", I assume the scope of the wording applies, not some unspoken restrictive clause or that "always" means "generally" and "never" means "generally not".

The sense of being in a double-bind has not been improved since the broad wording issued in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

I may or may not be rational in how I process the wording of the directives but what can be done? Importing alleged goals seems like a recipe for wishful thinking or utterly disregarding the expressed wishes of people (indeed, "imposing your values on other people is specifically contraindicated). Being cynical and saying "people don't understand what they are demanding" seems to dehumanize people clearly capable of reason. When facts about specific incidents, it seems like dangerous mind-reading to assume that they are unfamiliar with specific incidents they are complaining about (like complaining the police shot someone in the middle of a stabbing but took the surrender of someone with his hands up).

The path in between seems dangerously like laughing manically and screaming "I know better than everybody else". While in the past, one could perhaps assert a degree of selectivity in criticism and some attention to the words used, that may not be possible here of the norms of communication have ceased to view the exact wording as applicable.

If the words cease to be decisive and there is no common background to infer specific meanings, how can one judge what one is demanded to do except by inferring some personal protection or animosity?

The implications seem so destructive that I question the sanity of the process that led to those conclusions.


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I think you need to bite the bullet that the VAST majority of communication among humans is imprecise, and often intentionally so.  There's no way to avoid contextual interpretation of such things.  Further, many such demands are mostly about signaling of very general values, rather than actual behavioral advice.   If you focus on the wording rather than the unknowable imputation, you'll BOTH behave in ways that don't further your own goals AND still offend the people who are making the demands, because they EXPECT you to read their minds and follow their norms more than their words.

"always" means "generally" and "never" means "generally not".

Sometimes "always" means "only sometimes, but slightly more than I think is common".  "always be tolerant" really only applies to some dimensions of difference, and most times means "usually be judgemental" for other dimensions. 

 laughing manically and screaming "I know better than everybody else"

I tend to cry rather than laugh, but in fact you DO know better than anybody else knows (and you certainly know better than anyone else can communicate) what the precise circumstances of your actions are, and what criteria you should follow in making decisions.  This is not to say they are information-free and should be fully ignored, but they are incomplete and nowhere near universal.  You have to figure out how much the over-simple statements apply to any given action you can take.

Further, I doubt this is a new phenomenon.  Many elements of it appear in fairly ancient religious beliefs and demands, and in almost all historical records.

That conclusion seems pretty horrifying. While obviously knowledge may be localized, the severity of some consequences seems pretty understandable. It is certainly predictable that adults in a city famous for the crime would know kids may face things like stabbings or less savory incidents. When talking to military personnel, they were perfectly happy to insert caveats and point out that isolation often meant death. While gang members were less inclined to insert caveats, they likewise pointed out death was anticipated and the arson incident and stabbing was suggestive of the sincerity. Both of those fields try to accomplish something.

What would vague wording accomplish? There are classic ways to be ambiguous that do not impose an imperative.

Can you both treat someone seriously and disregard their wording? It seems absurd to claim one is treating a nuclear technician seriously while not listening to their description of the situation. If the words are be disregarded, that just seems to reduce every problem-solving effort into a brutal popularity contest that just benefits specific cliques and yet the people issuing broad wording are praised for being idealistic. If results matter (and at least there was a lot of verbal appeal to results), then the wording to accomplish the tasks would also seem to matter.  These are not new issues and the bitterness over ADM Zumwalt's "I should have been more clear" excuse was famous in the US Navy.

Maybe some of this is a difference between a long-term and short-term mindset. I was brought up around people that dealt with practicalities like "did this ship get sunk" or "can you survive reporting bad news to the dictator" or "will there be enough meat to prevent more malnutrition or infant deaths" so it boggles my mind that adults would be sloppy with their wording. Are there people so cruel they would issue broad demands just to seem dramatically "compassionate" even when rational people would know death is likely to be involved?

You may be right because my efforts to comply with the wording never seemed to satisfy the adults whom I am referring to. I sometimes speculate they had some hypothetical "normal" society in mind rather than the range of incidents I saw in the old neighborhood but that strikes me as way to speculative to rely upon.

I'm not sure if you're misunderstanding or if you're seeking extreme cases and trying to apply more generally. There are certainly some cases where a formal law or expert advice is clear and clearly applicable to your situation.  There are FAR MORE cases where law needs interpretation (formally by judges and lawyers, but also informally by citizens in terms of whether to follow or enforce the letter of some laws).

Can you both treat someone seriously and disregard their wording?

Not only can, but must.  It's not a complete disregard of their wording, but a recognition that the wording is less complex than reality, and therefore is incomplete.  It's (sometimes; let's ignore value signaling and pure hypocrisy for now) strong evidence of the shape of someone's preferences, but it's ONLY that - evidence for you to update on. 

For many cases, you can talk to them about it, and use more words to get more information about limits, exceptions, and contextual situations that modify the statements.  That's great.  For many cases, you can't, and need to rely on other clues to modify your interpretation of the over-simple words.

That conclusion seems pretty horrifying.

Goodness, this is just a hint of the horrors found in an evolved competitive socially intelligent species.

I lived in a bad neighborhood in DC in the 1990s but went to school in a safer neighborhood and then into a school in the suburbs. 

The block I lived on rarely had grass because of the mess of broken alcohol bottles, needles, and dime bags (and very occasionally a shell casing). Several of my neighbors argued sincerely that Malcom X was a race traitor whose murder was justifiable. While most of what I witnessed were scuffles, there was mention of serious crimes and of strong aversion to talking to the police. That was not a universal attitude but it was enough that several adults there seemed frustrated at their neighbors. Having seen a Dutch woman drive through the block, I saw her check the car doors were locked. 

If people were actually in favor of Malcom X's murder or the murder of the families of the Hanfi Muslims, then why would disrespecting them be safe? Maybe the kids saying that were ignorant (which is hard to believe) or the adults saying it were just trying to look good to others but it at least suggests a willingness to reward violence against opponents and the crime behavior in the area suggested impulsivity.

Talking to the American teachers in school seemed to get very negative reactions and accusations I was just watching too much television (I did not have a TV and my father's radio did not always work). I recognize my father was probably mentally ill but his reserve colleagues seemed happy to discuss the use of violence in securing an area with caveats or to discuss evidence. It is as if there was a huge but quietly denied gap in how details were handled between the reservists, bank officials, and lawyers and the teachers. Insofar as teachers got very angry when trying to add caveats, it seemed they were sticking with the initial wording.

I specifically asked "Is tolerance more important than human life" when in 1st grade and didn't get a clear answer but remembered the reactions as angry. How can anyone prioritize under such a refusal to specify?

Once going to undergrad, I saw similar behavior in getting angrier the more precise the wording was with several of my fellow undergrads but not all of them.

I am trying to figure out if "Tolerance" culture is different from "stop snitching" culture but they just look similar because of the resort to hyperbole. I need to know if there is a functional or even a theoretical difference between "always be tolerant" and "snitches get stitches". When i tried pushing on the issue, I often got uncomfortable looks, not answers. 

When I try to infer people's priorities from their statements, I note that, of the people who speak, they tend to very negative to police action when discussing an incident in the news and articulate as obvious facts discerned after the incident. A smaller subset seems to be insistent that police conduct has to be judged based on information available at the time, not after the time. From that, it seems like the real test is if one bulk of people are happy with the result, not the actual conduct but lie as if the result is done by people with perfect knowledge. While assuming perfect knowledge may be a fallacy, is it realistic that people would engage in it in a calm environment?

Sure, I can speculate that "they really mean X" but have such an fantastically leaky memory or imprecise wording that conversation is impossible but they don't seem to be treated that way. I think it is more likely that there is some unspoken assumption I don't get (which I assume is some notion of "normality" that is being modified with hyperbolic wording) or sincere approval of what went on.

If the idea that people are trying to signal modifications to some hypothetical "normal" state and are using hyperbole to that end, how can someone without that idea of "normality" operate based on such instructions?