Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Recommended: a thicker skin

A friend sent me an email with the following line in it a few days ago:

"People are sensitive to language these days."

It was with some dismay I realized how far that was from the truth.

My observation is that because the quality of education has been so lowered over the last 50 years, most people today are actually less sensitive to nuances of language than at any time in the last few hundred years. They have to be educated to more understanding of the words to achieve any sort of "sensitivity" to language.

Most high school graduates know how to use about 600 words more or less correctly. Once you start using words not among those 600, they are in deep water and you must slow down and explain what you mean and demonstrate using your hands.

But it is only certain words, phrases and actions are currently targeted for "sensitivity" in our Western Civilization -- it's more as though the general public is being "sensitized" to -- made allergic and reactionary toward -- certain buzzwords.

Words that used to mean something different have been redefined:

"Enemy" -- most young people have this confused with "opponent", and the
educational system has tried to convince students for the last 50 years that
BOTH sides of any issue are equal, and that if you assume the viewpoint that
someone is your enemy, there is something wrong with you.

None of our ancestors would have understood this modern lunacy, which apparently derives from the tenets of the "Dialectic": Thesis versus Anti-Thesis resolving into Synthesis -- which works great in debate class but not in the real world.

The way that is supposed to work is that you arrive at "the truth" by disclosing the contradictions in the opponent's argument and overcoming them.

But it doesn't actually work that way. One arrives at the truth through a series of smaller understandings that lead somewhere new. Or sometimes one arrives at the truth in a startling moment of clarity, one BIG understanding.

One does not debate the merits of burglarism with a burglar when you surprise him with loot in hand. If you catch one in the act, ought one not shoot first and debate the merits of it later? That makes more sense in the real world.

Does one debate the merits of adultery with one's spouse, when caught "en flagrante delicto" (Medieval Latin for "while the crime is blazing")? Not if one is sane.

Words being redefined:

There are some words (off the top of my head) that have been undergoing that kind of systematic redefinition:

treason - best definition I know is "betrayal after trust". It used to get you shot - now it gets you a job on network TV as a talking head.

patriot - used to mean someone proud of his (or her) country and happy to support it. It did not preclude griping about rationing, bemoaning the stupidity of ones commanders, or voting for the opposition party.

conservative - used to mean "not favoring change" or "seeking to preserve what one has" - now is used to mean "reactionary jingo" and "knee-jerk stupidity".

militia - used to mean a citizen army, such as the Minutemen of Revolutionary War fame. Now it means "violent, organized para-military crackpots" (if you ask a newsman).

assault - used to mean a violent attack. Did not include being yelled at unless modified - that was a "verbal assault". Did not include someone simply touching you. Did not include wearing a cross or turban.

truth - It used to mean things that were self-evident. Now it means whatever the lawyers want it to mean or whatever some group of organized victims agrees that it means. When someone says, "the truth is..." watch out for redefinitions.

marriage - used to mean the union of a man and a woman, recognized by both church and state.

gay - used to mean "happy".

Christian fundamentalist - used to mean a Bible-thumping Christian who believed in the literal word of the Bible. Now it has been subtly positioned with "Moslem Fundamentalist" in the press to imply the potential of violence from those with deeply held Christian beliefs. Notice how those who attack abortion clinics are usually identified as a "Christian Fundamentalist". While our security forces are prevented from "profiling" as even slightly more likely to be a terrorist those who are young Moslem men. So Al Gore winds up being searched at the airport. (This isn't so much funny as it is grossly, criminally ineffective.)

Actions that were once considered normal and acceptable are now objectionable under the new rules of "sensitivity", gradually put in place by the psychs (psychologists and psychiatrists if you are unfamiliar with the abreviation), through repetition in the media, during our own lifetimes as part of their agenda. Don't think the psychs have an agenda? Attend one of their yearly conferences and read their conference notes, or see CCHR.

God help you in England if you use a weapon these days to defend yourself from a burglar, rapist or mugger. You'll be put in jail for taking the law into your own hands, and you'll have to pay damages to the burglar, rapist or mugger if you injure him.

Praying in public in America (for instance with the phrase "God help you" I used in the last paragraph) now puts one in the camp of "Christian fundamentalists" and "conservatives", two groups that are now under constant attack in the media in America. While "hateful" language (including prayer, mind you) is banned in public schools across America. So we have defined secularism now as the new state religion.

In France today, laws are being enacted to prevent your child from wearing to school a cross, a Star of David, or headware mandated by your religion (such as a turban or kerchief). All religious symbols and reminders are forbidden.

The problem for which this is the touted solution is one of being "assaulted" by the beliefs and beingness of others who are somehow different. Reminders of someone's religion through his clothing, which you have to look at every day, has become an unbearable "assault" upon your sensitivities.

Back before the last Ice Age (actually in the 50's and 60's) when I was a young agnostic going to school in Texas and Oregon, we said the Pledge of Alliegance every morning. It contained the phrase "under God", and I always deliberately omitted saying that part of the pledge - I just left it out completely. This made me feel, not "assuaulted" by the beliefs of others in the school and by the Department of Education, State of Texas, but "affirmed" in my own belief. "Let them believe," I thought. "As for me, I do not know, and they cannot make me say something I don't believe." Not once was I ever castigated -- in fact I can't remember that anyone ever noticed.

In those days we used to call someone who blew out of all sane proportion something minor done to him a "cry-baby". I never complained to anyone about being required to recite the Pledge of Alliegance - it would have been "uncool" and I would have been a cry-baby.

We recognized that people who did that kind of thing were "thin skinned", meaning "too easily offended", and we knew it was abnormal, that it was something the person was mainly doing to himself for some hidden reason, an obsessive need for attention, the dramatization of some un-sane impulse.

Nowadays things are different.

Believing that people are created equal and are responsible for their own happiness is now a form of "bigotry" and "prejudice". Just try doing away with race-based admissions policies and see what happens to you. You'll be pilloried for your bigotry.

Crimes committed while thinking a particular thought are now set up to be punished differently from crimes committed while thinking something different. They are called "hate crimes" now but they should have be called what they really are, the "thought crimes" described so well by George Orwell in his book "1984".

"What were they thinking?" is no longer a rhetorical question but evidence used in court.

Actions that were considered abnormal and unacceptable have been redefined as "normal". The entire institution of marriage (the primary building block of our society) is under an attack that would have been unthinkable 50 years ago.

Recently here in the US we have had a spate of "gay marriages" - despite laws to the contrary -- and God help you if you state publicly that this is in some way wrong!

Any attempt to say "Wait a minute! that isn't a marriage if it's between two guys!" is labelled "hateful" and "spiteful" and "hurtful" -- and that's the side that is emphasized by the media and pounced on by homosexuals who are "wounded" by the implication that there is something wrong with their sodomy.

One is bombarded with messages in the media that homosexual activity is normal and acceptable. If you're thinking right now while reading this that gay love isn't completely normal and acceptable, under these new rules, you should label yourself not a normal "moral person" but "hopelessly insensitive" and "homophobic" and "mean-spirited".

Back in the 60's and through the 70's, one of the catch phrases of the day was "let it all hang out", which actually meant "say what you like and act as you will, without regard to what people will think about it." That's the phrase that has been picked on these days as an exaggeration of what the 70's culture was all about.

But there was another phrase that was used in school in those days. When someone claimed (incorrectly) he was being picked on or singled out, you would say, "Don't be a cry-baby!" or "Don't be so SENsitive!" Cry-babies were ridiculed (and yes, we actually used to ridicule people by pointing up or dramatizing in some way the ridiculousness of what they were doing) by screwing up one's face, pretending to suck on one's thumb and saying, "Waa, waa!"

Here in the early years of the 21st Century I'm in favor of growing a thicker skin.

So my advice when you see someone acting with undue sensitivity is to screw up your face and let them have it with that venerable line: "Don't be such a cry-baby!"

If that fails to work, you can always use your thumb.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

H.D. Thoreau, about Chaucer:

We are tempted to say
that his genius was feminine,
not masculine.
It was such a feminineness,
however, as is rarest
to find in woman,
though not the appreciation of it;
perhaps it is not to be found
at all in woman,
but is only the
feminine in man.

Now there's a man who understands
his feminine side.

"Blog no Michi" means "The Way of the Blog"

Have been reading
from works of R H Blyth,
famous for Zen and Haiku,
whose name
in Chinese pictograms means
"You have not come to see me
for a long time"

I mistrust any book with
"genius" in the title, but
profound quotes abound
in the book
The Genius of Haiku,
among them:

When people agree with me
I always feel that
I must be wrong.

from Oscar Wilde

and from Wordsworth in
The Tables Turned:

Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things: --
We murder to dissect.

Enough of science and of art;
Close up these barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

More tomorrow - I can't top that.

Here is today's blog of choice:
  • JM Blog - poems, stories, etc.

  • And thanks to Dean Blehert of
    for recommending the
    Readings of R H Blyth