What do Donald Trump, less reputable politicians, and dubious news sources all have in common?

Besides a certain sleaziness, they all have a tendency to present words and facts out of context in a way that distorts what actually occurred.

In all fields of expertise, presentation/observation/understanding of events and facts in context is vital. That’s why archeologists excavate so carefully, because the context in which objects are found can often reveal even more than the objects themselves.

It’s why courts use the phrase “the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

As I’ve noted earlier, there’s a great deal of difference between the handling of classified documents by Donald Trump and by Joe Biden or Mike Pence, because the context in each instance is very different.

This lack of understanding also results in the misapplication and misunderstanding of certain phrases. The despicable Harvey Weinstein used a common and accurate phrase – “it’s a small world” as a threat to his victims which suggested that he knew enough people to blackball those women from getting future work in entertainment. There’s no doubt that Weinstein was using that phrase as a threat, but the plain fact is that the world of entertainment is a small world. So is the world of classical music. So is the political arena.

But when a classical music instructor told a pupil who’d displayed thoughtless and rude behavior to be careful in the future because classical music was a small world, the pupil complained that the instructor had issued a threat, when no threat was even implied. All the instructor meant was that a pattern of bad or thoughtless behavior would get around, and not to the student’s benefit, but the student likely didn’t understand the contextual difference.

But because of the Weinstein cases, and the publicity involving that phrase, what was an honest and accurate observation of a number of professional fields has become a toxic phrase, all because the media, especially, failed to understand the difference in context.

And, with Twitter, social media, and even mainstream media shortening everything, there’s a growing loss of context… and a corresponding lack of understanding that benefits no one.

12 thoughts on “Context”

  1. KevinJ says:

    What makes it extra fun is everyone thinks they’re the expert on context, more so than everyone else.

  2. Wren Jackson says:

    People are too happy to get the answer they want they never look deeper. In a less depressing example saw a “lovely” article claiming Antman 3 was a horrible failure while the new movie Revolution Jesus was doing amazingly well, proving that the “Woke” left was fading and “real” Americans were going back to the theaters.

    Of course the reality is that those two facts are independent of each other. Disney hoped Antman 3 would be in their top 10 Marvel films but is, instead, currently #16. With a US Box office of $167 million so far.

    Meanwhile Revolution Jesus was expected to make around $15 million but has instead managed over $28 million so far.

    But against each others? The “Woke” movie blows away the religious one.

    But no one wants to see that extra fact.

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      The direct comparison may be a fact and an aspect of context…but there is also context to which one exceeded expectations vs which underperformed expectations. A plausible although by that alone unproven inference is that the estimates of the numbers of people which would favor one flavor vs the other were way off. Alternatively one might suppose that given the level of resources each put into making and distributing, one did a better job than the other. Quite possibly both notions have something to them; people might simply get tired of being preached at by either the woke OR by actual preachers, even if they agree with one or the other to some extent. *

      Sometimes direct comparisons are the most meaningful; other times proportionate comparisons may be more meaningful. Even in math, sometimes it balances if you add or subtract, other times it balances if you multiply or divide.

      * some critics have said that the story behind Jesus Revolution was portrayed in a manner bland compared to the actual events, but at least as movies involving faith go, it was less preachy than is often the case

      1. Wren Jackson says:

        No, putting the two in contrast in an article specifically painting how “real” America is finally standing up to show itself the majority of the “woke” minority is a blatant lie giving the facts of the two films.

        There’s no other spin. The Headlines specifically contrast Antman3 “underperforming” while Jesus Revolution jumped ahead. The clear point is to contrast one as doing better than the other.

        The article very clearly reads that way, the comments posted by readers very clearly cheer the end of Wokeness and how real americans are finally standing up.

        The goal was to make an image that “woke” is somehow anything less than a majority of the country and that the minority of Americans that want Conservative Politics are somehow on top.

        But the Context, which is the point of Mr. Modesitt’s post, shows another situation entirely.

        Beyond that, the reality is that AntMan 3 doesn’t preach anything, it’s a continuing to escalate stakes from a Heist movie and is dealing with world building for Phase 5. It doesn’t preach certain ethics, beyond good vs evil and risk of exploration.

  3. Grey says:

    My experience with the ‘small world’ comment (lawyers) is that a delusional narcissist, or in this case perhaps a literal would-be prima donna, will take the comment as a threat every time, no context required. (Curious also if the student even knows Weinstein exists?)

  4. Postagoras says:

    Well, in the late 20th century there was an effort by news organizations to hold themselves to a higher standard. That managed to persist for a few decades. Now “the media” have largely gone back to the kind of news that people want. Lurid, celebrity-driven, and creating bogus scandals and controversies.
    Fact-based news has a niche market, but it’s smaller than the tabloid market. Also, fact-based consumers are lousy targets for marketing, whereas tabloid consumers can be convinced, for example, to take horse medicine for a deadly infection.

    1. Tom says:

      Do you have a couple of examples of “Fact-Based News” or would you perhaps identify the niche? Other than professional journals.

      1. Postagoras says:

        That’s a good question. The best answer I can come up with is that all the news media is a mix of opinion, fact, and tabloid crap. Some newspapers lean more toward the fact-based side, some less.
        The post-WW2 network news in the USA prided itself for the quality of the news-gathering. None of that remains, although I confess that it’s been decades since I watched any news on TV/Cable.
        The bottom line is that Mr. Modesitt doesn’t like the modern news media for its inattention to nuance. My point is that this inattention has pretty much been the norm in “news”. The few decades of holding themselves to a higher standard were the aberration.

  5. Mayhem says:

    You see high quality journalism in Al Jazeera English and Deutsche Welle, as both picked up a lot of the former BBC World Service and CNN teams when they got downsized.
    They do a lot of long form journalism and in-depth investigative work into things that the mainstream media doesn’t cover much, particularly regional matters outside the main Western countries.

    The Guardian is probably the last of the half decent UK papers alongside the FT. Both are biased but you learn to mentally correct for their slants.

    1. Tom says:

      I use all except FT and add Bloomberg for a quick survey on what to search for.
      Thank you.

    2. R. Hamilton says:

      Japan’s NHK (available in English) web site isn’t too bad. Neue Zürich Zeitung (New Zürich (Switzerland) Newspaper) is pretty good, but only available in German (and subscription, so you can only get a portion of their content; but using a browser that can directly apply Google Translate will help, since automated German-to-English translations are usually fairly readable; I use it if I feel I’m missing too much of what’s there without translation).

      Observing US politics as outsiders, they’re at least less entangled with one side or the other; even with the BBC that’s at least somewhat true, if less so.

  6. Miguel cervantes says:

    We seem more like teknold every day after the grand charter

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