OT -- Alternative to 'man-made'?

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jennypenny
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OT -- Alternative to 'man-made'?

Post by jennypenny » Thu May 23, 2019 12:14 pm

I working on something in the public sphere, so some level of political correctness is warranted. Is it still ok to use the term 'man-made'? I can't think of a good alternative. "Human-made" sounds too forced to me. "Human-caused" is better.

Am I missing an obvious replacement? Am I fretting over the term when I should just leave it?

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Re: OT -- Alternative to 'man-made'?

Post by George the original one » Thu May 23, 2019 12:22 pm

fabricated... no need for the gender/person qualifier

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Re: OT -- Alternative to 'man-made'?

Post by Fish » Thu May 23, 2019 12:31 pm

“Artificial” and “synthetic” come to mind, and also show up in the thesaurus. You could also consider “anthropogenic” which is often used to describe man-made climate change but I’m not sure if it’s a preferred term due to being completely genderless, and/or because it also fits well with the scientific context in which CC is discussed.

I’m not bothered by use of “man-made” but I can see how some might be triggered when seeing it in a sentence.

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Re: OT -- Alternative to 'man-made'?

Post by jennypenny » Thu May 23, 2019 12:46 pm

What if I were trying to describe human-caused biological disasters or similar non-climate change disaster? Something not completely natural that humans had a hand in causing, directly or indirectly?

Terms like anthropogenic seem a little, what? ... 'lofty' ... when describing lesser or more immediate disasters. I also don't want to use terms that immediately call to mind the climate change issue. So I guess neutral in more than one way.

I used to be really good at my job but the culture wars making it more difficult. :x

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Re: OT -- Alternative to 'man-made'?

Post by Fish » Thu May 23, 2019 12:58 pm

Unnatural?

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Re: OT -- Alternative to 'man-made'?

Post by IlliniDave » Thu May 23, 2019 1:27 pm

If it's a bad thing, man-made is fine. If it's not a bad thing, then probably a small circumlocution is advisable.

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Re: OT -- Alternative to 'man-made'?

Post by Jason » Thu May 23, 2019 1:46 pm

I don't think the issue with "man-made" is gender it just pisses people off that shit we manufacture or create has negative consequences. Like even though hair styles popular in the 80's may have accelerated the destruction of the ozone layer, the over-use of aerosol created jobs not to mention helped a lot of people get laid. Plus, we don't want to make Bon Jovi feel guilty every time it snows in June.

I think you answered your own question by taking the apophatic approach. Instead of saying what it is, say what it is not ie "non-natural" or "non-organic" or "non-spontaneous" as you referenced above. Like the dissolution of the ozone layer - "non-natural contributions exacerbated its attrition." Or maybe address it from point of origination - "externally generated" or "non-endemic."

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Re: OT -- Alternative to 'man-made'?

Post by Dream of Freedom » Thu May 23, 2019 3:32 pm

The unintended consequence of...

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Re: OT -- Alternative to 'man-made'?

Post by Tyler9000 » Thu May 23, 2019 3:35 pm

I'd probably just ditch the unnecessary adjective and rephrase it in terms of cause and effect. "Phenomenon X caused by people doing Y".

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Re: OT -- Alternative to 'man-made'?

Post by IlliniDave » Thu May 23, 2019 4:36 pm

Jason wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 1:46 pm
I don't think the issue with "man-made" is gender it just pisses people off that shit we manufacture or create has negative consequences. Like even though hair styles popular in the 80's may have accelerated the destruction of the ozone layer, the over-use of aerosol created jobs not to mention helped a lot of people get laid. Plus, we don't want to make Bon Jovi feel guilty every time it snows in June.

I think you answered your own question by taking the apophatic approach. Instead of saying what it is, say what it is not ie "non-natural" or "non-organic" or "non-spontaneous" as you referenced above. Like the dissolution of the ozone layer - "non-natural contributions exacerbated its attrition." Or maybe address it from point of origination - "externally generated" or "non-endemic."
Maybe it's just my obtuse nature, but how is anything humans do unnatural?

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Re: OT -- Alternative to 'man-made'?

Post by Jason » Thu May 23, 2019 5:17 pm

I was just looking at it through the prism of environmental politics which the OP JP indicated was the context of the language issue. And from that stand point "natural" is a hypothetical world where there are no humans or at least where humans consider the environment before they consider themselves and "unnatural" is where humans prioritize themselves over the natural order, specifically through industrialization and/or the pursuit of corporate profit. That's how at least I understand the debate when human factors are analyzed in terms of contributing to natural disasters.

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Re: OT -- Alternative to 'man-made'?

Post by IlliniDave » Thu May 23, 2019 7:02 pm

Jason, okay I see. My take is that humans are part of nature and whatever we do is just as natural as anything other creature or physical force does. So "man-made" (or human-caused, or whatever) is a reasonable attribute. I initially thought the question was about gender politics, and about the only time one can get away with saying "man-made" without risking agitation the oppressor/victim element is if the the thing that is said to be man-made is bad. But in my mind all of that is within the realm of nature.

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Re: OT -- Alternative to 'man-made'?

Post by jennypenny » Thu May 23, 2019 7:14 pm

Thanks for the suggestions, they were helpful. I'm sorry I wasn't more clear with my question. I'm trying to categorize certain events without any editorializing and I found myself stopping too often on my current project to wrestle with language, so I decided to take the time to do a style sheet to save time going forward. It turned out to be a lot harder than I thought. Language is quite fluid these days if you're trying to avoid pushing anyone's buttons (not because I believe in being completely PC but because writing is more effective/persuasive if it avoids poking the elephant).

As far as the natural vs. unnatural, I find there are three categories I'm struggling with ... natural occurrences that for the most part have always been a part of nature, completely man-made events/disasters, and a third category that is where humans have juiced the process but not necessarily caused it. I could also argue for a fourth that is basically humans being humans which causes occasional disasters (crowd mentality comes to mind). I think maybe the problem is not the language choice but that I haven't crystalized my thoughts yet.

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Re: OT -- Alternative to 'man-made'?

Post by Solvent » Thu May 23, 2019 7:32 pm

You could try "human-induced."

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Re: OT -- Alternative to 'man-made'?

Post by Kriegsspiel » Thu May 23, 2019 10:39 pm

Huxir-made.

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Re: OT -- Alternative to 'man-made'?

Post by Tyler9000 » Thu May 23, 2019 11:25 pm

jennypenny wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 7:14 pm
As far as the natural vs. unnatural, I find there are three categories I'm struggling with ... natural occurrences that for the most part have always been a part of nature, completely man-made events/disasters, and a third category that is where humans have juiced the process but not necessarily caused it. I could also argue for a fourth that is basically humans being humans which causes occasional disasters (crowd mentality comes to mind). I think maybe the problem is not the language choice but that I haven't crystalized my thoughts yet.
I'm hearing a spectrum of human causation -- none, some, and total. Your fourth category sounds to me like you're introducing a second vector of premeditated vs. spontaneous or accidental.

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Re: OT -- Alternative to 'man-made'?

Post by unemployable » Thu May 23, 2019 11:39 pm

Use man-made, don't draw attention to it and if anyone complains worry about it later. Maybe use she somewhere a generic pronoun is required for style points from the looking-to-be-offended mob.

It's like people who make it a point hate the word moist. They won't notice if you just casually throw it in.

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Re: OT -- Alternative to 'man-made'?

Post by Jason » Fri May 24, 2019 7:39 am

IlliniDave wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 7:02 pm
Jason, okay I see. My take is that humans are part of nature and whatever we do is just as natural as anything other creature or physical force does. So "man-made" (or human-caused, or whatever) is a reasonable attribute. I initially thought the question was about gender politics, and about the only time one can get away with saying "man-made" without risking agitation the oppressor/victim element is if the the thing that is said to be man-made is bad. But in my mind all of that is within the realm of nature.
I agree in principal. And maybe I conflated issues. But in context of the environment, I can see "man-made" as being both problematic from a gender and non-gender standpoint.

When listening to environmental conversations it always seems that there is this unspoken, idealized version of nature. Like a garden of eden setting. It seems to be both a heuristic and political device. Some notion that over time, unanticipated (unnatural) elements have entered the ecosystem that it was not created or originally designed to withstand and causes disturbances i.e. acid rain. Philosophically speaking, underlying the argument is one's subjective view of man and nature, which for some is man vs. nature. It comes down to where you place man in the picture. My point is that environmentalists unwittingly take a biblical view, where the earth is created before the arrival of man but unlike the biblical view, they believe chronology is tantamount to priority.

If you look at nature as a "body" or an "organism" devoid of mankind's influence and understand everything we do as to be external, maybe the biological term "exogenous" can be employed with various degrees of hostility.
Last edited by Jason on Fri May 24, 2019 7:50 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: OT -- Alternative to 'man-made'?

Post by jacob » Fri May 24, 2019 7:43 am

unemployable wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 11:39 pm
It's like people who make it a point hate the word moist. They won't notice if you just casually throw it in.
Oh yes, we will! :twisted:

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Re: OT -- Alternative to 'man-made'?

Post by jacob » Fri May 24, 2019 9:20 am

@jp - This might be useful:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment ... nvironment

Noting that The Guardian has a left-center bias and are therefore interested in picking their phrasing in a certain way, I still think that this new "style" is more useful because it is more accurate and more importantly, it has more information content. As you know, presenting a complex subject like climate change^H^H^H^H^Hbreakdown is still very much work in progress. Initially, it was called "global warming". This makes sense because temperature is the most obvious variable to track when building simple physics models. However, the simplicity also hides a lot of more important effects like precipitation and temperature ranges, so then it became "climate change". I recall that at one point, the term "man-made" became automatically tagged onto climate change, so that now---at least when not reading pro-business sources---it is always "man-made climate change"(*).

(*) Technical note: This is literally true and the reason for the statement is based on comparing physical models that a) include CO2 emissions from human industrial activity with models that b) do not include them. If the A models showed a +1C temperature increase and the B models showed a +0.5C increase, you could roughly claim that global warming was 50% man-made. As it is, A-models show a 1C increase (which is also what we see in reality, thus confirming the models) and B-models show a slight decrease so <0C (say -0.1C or whatever), so we know the human effect is 100%+. This is how the "man-made" attribution is justified. Ironically, the precision of the attribution becomes somewhat hidden because the attribution is 100%+ which then becomes unstated. If it was 98%, say, it would lend more weight e.g. "98% man-made climate change".

But that is not important now ... what is important is how it is perceived. To me, man-made carries no signal value because I already know the physical science. It is a redundant word. I also think it can be confusing because it suggests that there is another kind of climate change going on right alongside that is natural. Based on the tech-note above, this is obviously a completely wrong interpretation of how the physical science works. To me, man-made fails Orwell's test of good English because it adds nothing informational to the conversation anymore. "Man-made" has come to signal whether the publication falls on the left or the right of the political spectrum. This is my most important point.

To trigger-happy pronoun-warriors, man-made might suggest something else entirely: That the breakdown is caused entirely by menfolk. However, I'm not sure what would be the preferred message here? To be included in the group of those responsible (human-made) for this disaster-in-the-making or to get an implicit free out of jail card in terms of the responsibility (because it was mostly men pulling the levers).

Thus "man-made" is a keyholder for a lot of implicit assumptions based on who reads it. This makes it a very unreliable dog whistle. Therefore, I prefer to explicitly establish some causation. This is more difficult in complex situations (like e.g. climate change, the credit crisis, zoonotic epidemics) but in that case, one can pick the strongest driver. For example, if you were writing about the flooding in the Midwest, then instead of saying "man-made climate change" say "changes in rain patterns caused mainly by increasing power plant emissions over the past 30 years". If you were writing about SARS, then instead of talking about "man-made epidemics", write "epidemics caused by market farming practices where humans and live animals come into close contact making it easy for vira to mutate and jump species".

This does run the risk of "blaming" factors that readers find disagreeable. E.g. was the credit crisis mainly a result of "Wall Street bankers", "subprime borrowers living above their means", "irresponsible underwriters", "government home ownership policies", ...

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