Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Frank Boosman
"These People"

I've talked with two citizens of foreign countries about the presidential debate -- one from Australia, the other from Germany -- and interestingly, both of them found the following statement by President Bush extremely offensive:

I know how these people [world leaders] think. I deal with them all the time. I sit down with the world leaders frequently and talk to them on the phone frequently.
I like to think I'm sensitive to international points of view, but honestly, I wouldn't have predicted that reaction. Apparently it's the phrase "these people". On reflection, I think I can see why someone from outside the US would find it condescending -- and misguided as well, since it seems to imply that "world leaders" all think similarly.
Interesting. I find the term "these people" annoying because it is a "us and them" sort of word and also makes "them" sound like enemies or maybe a nuisance. "Leave it up to me. I know how to deal with these people," sounds like some intermediary negotiating with Native Americans in an old Western movie to me. He should have said, "I know the other world leaders and know how they think." Or something like that... although Frank's right in that it does make it sound like that they all think in the same way which is silly, but not really insulting - just stupid.


I don't think it is stupid at all! I think it is minutely calculated and done on purpose! (not to sound too much like a quack...)

The role of linguistics is huge in all this. The use of language in shaping views and interactions is not something most people are aware of...
Watch these two videos. They are a linguist's recommendations to the democrats on how to more effectively use language to "fight back", so to speak... ;)


Windows Media format:

(language shapes how we interact and deal with the world!)

I am surprised that Frank is surprised. I am also curious why he uses the term "someone from outside the US". It is a native English nuance and it is obvious to any native English speaker, "these people" is a term of condescension that infers an inferior or disliked group that is not part of your own group, as you mentioned.

The collective thinking element is also condescending but in this context probably not too far out as "most" world leaders I would imagine thought President Bush to be reckless.

I read the transcript surrounding this quote and in context it is a little softer than being quoted in isolation, however it still has very much the same condescending inference.

i knew these people ... (paris, texas -- the film).

I take more offense in the 'deal with' than 'these people.'

You don't 'deal with' friends or opportunities. You don't talk about 'dealing with' your workmates.

'Deal with' is what you do with problems. You 'deal with' nitpicking and moaning customers, three year old children throwing tantrums and badly behaved pets.

I'd say most people in other countries would be offended by George Bush's attitude that he can 'deal with' other world leaders, as opposed to 'do deals with', or 'work with' them. It implies that the leaders of other countries (let alone the people that, in most cases, elected them) are unimportant.

Of course, that more or less sums up how the United States does seem to have been behaving over the last number of years - do what you want, ("I did what I thought was best.") then 'deal with' those who disagree. Unilateralism, in a word. The ability of the President personally to 'do deals with' or 'work with' other nations (multilateralism and compromise) seems to have been conspicuously absent, at least on the big issues of the last few years.

Of course saying that he knows how they think (period.) is also pretty callous. If you want to offend someone you've hardly met, tell them you know how they think.

"I know how these people [world leaders] think."

To know yet to think that one does not know is the best: not to know yet to think that one knows will put one in difficulty. -- Lao tzu, tao te ching

As a Canadian, I can honestly say I'm pretty sure my government would have helped out in Iraq if the US had used Kerry's approach, ie. exhaust all possible diplomatic actions, then go in with a UN force and disarm Hussein as a last resort.
We were a major military contributor (per capita anyway) to the first Gulf War, but our leaders had the (rare!) good sense to not participate in such an immoral act...
By the way, I recommend to anybody not in North America to torrent the Daily Show's Debate report... Jon Stewart had this great line... "You're second country is POLAND???" :)

Joi, by registering your protest in such a reasonable manner, I think that you are being far too gentlemanly. Bush was a disaster in the debate, but I don't know why anyone is surprised at that. Didn't everybody know that Bush is the USA's first idiot President?

Bushists see Kerry as an appeaser when all Kerry really wants to do is build a consensus and get powerful countries to act together to defeat terrorism. I wish the senator would clearly communicate that.

Gonna have to go back and listen to this. Tone of voice carries more meaning than word choice in this kind of thing. Somehow I would not be at all surprised if "some people" were just looking for a reason to be offended...

I did a google search of the words "these people" to see if there were any good examples of usage out there... Joi's page was the 4th result returned!

What I like with Bush is that he is very open and frank on most issues. What he means he says. Never before it was so clear and obvious what the goals of the US foreign politics are. Look at the history, when was last time there were foreign soldiers on US soil ? So this big army is there to defend the US. Ok, but where are they ? Spread all over the planet ? I don't call that defend. By this definition the roman empire was also just pure defense :). Bush made it clear the US rule this planet, and they give a damn s.... on what the rest of us thinks about it. Kerry is not much of a difference, he still denies that the US committed plenty of war crimes in Vietnam. After all who brought Saddam to power ? Wasn't he one of the CIA projects as many others on this planet ?
So Bush is just sooo frank, if you don't do what we want we
replace you with another puppet regime. Call it Allawi, call it Karzai. It doesn't matter what the people want, it matters what is best for business. UN who cares,
Bush is a real eye opener for lots of people on this planet. It doesn't matter if Kerry or Bush, it matters if the rest of the world still wants to play the game by Washington's rules.

Nojetlag, you said it! Never before has it been so clear and obvious to the rest of the world what the goals of US foreign policy are... revenge for attempt on Bush Sr.'s life and oil money for Haliburton.. :)

nojetlag and cam c. - GWB himself hasn't said anything that would convincingly refute your arguments. Please know, however, that most Americans could care less about avenging Bush Sr.

Joi: The Australian who was one of the sources for my blog entry tells me that you did a far better job than did I of explaining why the phrase "these people" is offensive.

Ian: Re: "it is obvious to any native English speaker," well, any native English speaker except me, I guess.

Chris_B: I don't think the people I talked to were looking for a reason to be offended. In fact, given their attitudes, I'd say they're inclined to think favorably of the US unless we really, really screw up. Sadly, we'we really, really screwed up.

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