Don't like Semantics? Tough.

 

Most social or political arguments are like quicksand: they come from seemingly out of nowhere, pull you down into the muck really quickly, and rarely do they ever end well. But how can we change this? How can we stop the teenage snarky bickering online and start having more productive discussions? The answer just might lie in semantics. 

In order to have a decent debate with someone (or hell, even just a conversation these days), you first must establish some solid, common ground; otherwise you're just going to be fighting on quicksand. This is where semantics come into play. Now, you might feel that if someone resorts to breaking down semantics, they've lost the argument, or perhaps they're a nitpicker who isn't truly interested in the actual issue at hand, or desires to muddy the waters in order to stump their opponent. And in some cases, you may very well be right. 

But semantics are important. Think about Wittgenstein's 'pictures' analogy: he argued that when two people hear the same word, they often think of different pictures. And because we're all seeing different pictures - even for some of the most basic words, ideas, or emotions - everything can quickly become skewed or muddied. And so we need semantics to iron out any relevant definitions (or pictures) from the start, so that we can have solid ground to debate on. 

So what are the textbook definitions related to the topic or issue at hand? How much nuance do those definitions allow for? How much nuance actually exists? Do we agree on the definition of ______? Can we agree that _______ really means _______? What are we really talking about here?

Take the time to ask questions, iron out definitions, and YES - talk about semantics. If we can learn to do this more with each other, we can stop having so many quicksand arguments and start having healthy, productive conversations again. And hey, if semantics don't work and you still can't find common ground, then sure, throw out a 280-character snarky 'mic drop' and move on.