The other day I got into an interesting conversation with someone (random) from Brazil after discussing some game design aspects inside the #feedback channel on a closed beta of a new game. I'll refer to them as Raiane for this short story.
The game is all about building your own logistic network using train railway tracks combined with different signals. A game that requires a lot of structure and/or creativity of you in order to succeed.
After receiving a first direct message from Raiane, we soon found out that we had both made the same observation: that surprisingly many conservative people with very clear structures in their mind, using circular conversational approaches (not unlike OCD) seem to be drawn to this game's Discord server.
Raiane stated that the critics in the feedback channel were being pricks. While admittedly that sentiment resonated well with me as they weren't being particularly polite, I also argued that they probably weren't being pricks on purpose. And that intention counts.
For the next two hours or so we continued our conversation. We asked ourselves “How and when should we be more inclusive of others?”. It brought forth the importance of context and nuance among other things. I would like to share the following condensed snippets from that conversation with you.
German and Portuguese
- Raiane: German, one of the hardest languages to learn! I believe it is only a little harder than Portuguese, though both have complex conjugations.
- Webber: Portuguese seems hard to learn as well. The same word can have a different gender in each language, and I hear there are no clear rules to deduce whether a word should be masculine or feminine in Portuguese.
- Raiane: Oh yeah... nouns can be masculine or feminine... and yes, there's not really a "why" that was chosen. And it can become confusing too.
- Raiane: For example a car can be a she or a he, and sometimes one would just call it whatever feels right in that context. :P
- Raiane: I mean, you could say "My (she) Ranger", or "My (he, for the make Ford) Ranger" - so in this case either gender is fine.
Evolution of language
- Webber: Now that there's a rising preference to use "they", rather than “he/she” and also “hey peeps” instead of “hey guys”, German grammar is getting into some trouble.
- Webber: For example, the English word colleagues in German becomes Kolleg*innen, where the asterisk denotes the inclusion of any gender.
- Webber: Does it become easier or harder in Portuguese or Brazilian Portuguese?
- Raiane: We use masculino and feminino when the subject is masculine (Webber). But when the subject is feminine, like when using a feminine noun or pronoun (she), the same words are used as masculina and feminina. So that by itself is a great example.
- Raiane: As part of the inclusion discussion these became exactly how it is written in English: "masculine" and "feminine". Some also suggest "masculinx" and "femininx". There are all kinds of jokes going around about this in Brazil. There’s a gender for "they" as well (eles/elas, m/f).
- Webber: Not everyone agrees in Germany either, often because of language fundamentals based on dated views on gender identity that ended up breaking the grammar in a way.
- Raiane: I think for Portuguese it would take a full grammar reform to propagate those inclusivity changes.
- Raiane: I feel very reluctant about these inclusion things. I don't know to which extent they are really including, or actually excluding or giving unfair advantages for minorities.
- Raiane: For example, someone with autism spectrum disorder could go out of their way to let people know about it, just to get an advantage.
- Raiane: Isn't giving advantages to disadvantaged minorities and acknowledging they are a disadvantaged minority creating segregation by itself?
- Webber: Agreed one the point that it's a very nuanced discussion.
- Webber: I believe a good heuristic might be to imagine when one would feel offended if something was said or not accounted for 10 years from now.
- Webber: For example: If you were to treat someone like a slave today, as people would in history (not even that long ago), many people would be offended, not excluding bystanders.
- Webber: Or if you were to tell someone - who you know is diagnosed with classic autism - to “deal with it”, referring to the noise level in an office.
- Webber: And I believe the key is in identity.
- Webber: Lets take your example of a neurodiverse person and an example about gender:
- As a neurodiverse person, I wouldn't feel offended if somebody does not take my neurological condition in mind, because it's not what defines me as a person.
- If you tell someone "you are not a boy, because you don't have a penis and biology says so" to someone who doesn't identify with their biological sex, they will likely be offended because you're effectively telling them they can't be themselves.
- Webber: After the inclusivity revolution has passed, we'll probably look at gender inclusion as the most normal thing in the world - something you just do out of respect.
- Webber: However, before the end of that revolution it'll take society many examples, nuances, explanations and pioneers to pave the way, because it has to balance against conservatism. Which I wouldn't say is a bad thing by the way, as this process filters many bad ideas.
The neurodiversity example
- Raiane: While chatting in discord, people would probably hate it if someone told them they are this or that neuro-wise. So wouldn't it be hard to bring that up even when you’d feel offended?
- Webber: Yea exactly. But my point is that you can't really be offended by people not taking into account that you’re neurodiverse, because it doesn't define you. It's not a big part of your identity. So while some people might feel offended I believe it's not always warranted.
- Webber: There's something called owning up to it as well. That said, there are traits that do require people's understanding.
- Webber: In the end it’s all about respecting each other; if someone places their autism very close to their identity, who are we to judge them?
The gender example
- Raiane: How would a professor give a lecture about biology in a class with someone that has an identity that doesn't match their biological gender?
- Raiane: Another example that has been becoming a meme recently, are the women in sports performing remarkably well... well, and them not being biological women.
- Raiane: I mean, I want to treat people equally but the very concept of inclusion seems contradictory to equality!
- Webber: So yea, this seems controversial, but for me it can also be simplified to the following.
- Webber: Consider these two facts:
- Women are more socially intelligent than men on average.
- On average male bodies are stronger than female bodies.
- Webber: We don't have to be afraid of these facts, because both of these are purely based in biology and it’s just how humans evolved for thousands of years.
- Webber: However, we have to recognise is that there is a difference between sex (biology) and gender (identity), and that these facts do not make either sex more valuable.
- Webber: Furthermore, it has been scientifically proven (and not disproven) that for example men and women should be mixed equally in order to combine their qualities and to make for the best outcomes in governments, leadership, teamwork and so on.
- Raiane: And here's a case from Brazil. There's a ProUni (something like pro-university) that gives advantages, for instance, for black people to qualify for university.
- Raiane: Knowing this ProUni, how can you help not thinking "that black person in class" is taking the place of a "more committed white person"?
- Webber: Yea so thinking "is that black person not taking the space of a white person" and "the white person being more committed, or more deserving" is called racial bias.
- Webber: It is normal, but it is not a good thing. Over time we should all learn to accept that Latin Americans are just as deserving as African people and vice versa. And that Europeans have humour not so different from Latin Americans.
- Webber: I believe the only real way to do that is by exposure.
- Webber: For example by having a friend, classmate or colleague, and finding out that prejudice was just a story, never based on facts, but based in fear of change and fear of the unknown.
Ultimately something I keep learning is that context matters.
Every conversation is different, as it is with different people in different situations. A conversation about the Russo-Ukrainian War with someone from Brazil brings up very different nuances than a conversation about the same topic with my colleagues from Ukraine and Russia.
And yes, as a
wealthy, able, white, european, male person I feel it's my responsibility to not
perpetuate sexual, racial or other bias. This is the reason why I can no longer laugh at some of my
friends’ jokes, which can sometimes be at the expense of gay people.
And to do that I will sometimes have to change my own point of view compared to what it was before, in order to better align with reality. And if it were up to me, ideally, so would everyone. Yes, it can sometimes be tiring, but it is also the right thing to do.