To understand the Left you must understand that central to their worldview is the hermeneutics of suspicion which is essentially a diluted amalgam of themes from Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud.
Thus nothing has the plain meaning that it has; every meaning must be deconstructed so as to lay bare its 'real meaning.'
Suppose I say, sincerely, "The most qualified person should get the job." To a leftist that means: "People of color are given extra unfair benefits because of their race."
Or suppose I describe a black malefactor as a thug. What I have actually said, according to the hermeneutics of suspicion, is that the malefactor is a nigger. But 'thug' does not mean 'nigger.' 'Thug' means thug. There are thugs of all races.
Leftists often call for 'conversations' about this or that. Thus Eric Holder famously called for a 'conversation' about race. But how can one have a conversation -- no sneer quotes -- about anything with people who refuse to take what one sincerely says at face value?
The Republicans have been accused of 'politicizing' the debt crisis. But how can you politicize what is inherently political? The debt in question is the debt of the federal government. Since a government is a political entity, questions concerning federal debts are political questions. As inherently political, such questions cannot be politicized.
If to reify is illicitly to treat as a thing that which is not a thing, then to politicize is illicitly to treat as political what is not political. Since governmental debt questions are 'already' political, they cannot be politicized.
Some commentators are now claiming that the Paris attacks are being 'politicized.' But again, how can something that is inherently political be 'politicized'? An attack by a terrorist entity upon a Western democracy is clearly a political event.
Someone might respond to me as follows. "I see your point, but when people say that an event is being politicized, what they mean is that it is being exploited for partisan advantage. Thus those opposed to Muslim immigration will 'use' the Paris attacks to support their case against such immigration."
I agree that this is what most people mean by 'politicization.' But then what is wrong with it? Nothing as far as I can see.
We must learn the lessons from these terrible events. One lesson of Paris, or rather a confirmation of a lesson that already should have been learned, is that radical Islam (militant Islam, Islamism, pick your term) is a grave threat to civilization. French civilization, and European civilization generally, borders on the decadent; but it is still to be preferred to the fanaticism, tribalism, and backwardness of the Islamic world. That is what we call an understatement.
So I say we need more 'politicization' in the second sense of the term. We need more 'exploitation' of such horrific crimes.
And there is a bridge from Paris to Mizzou.
In a characteristically piss-poor OpEd piece in the NYT entitled Exploiting Paris, Frank Bruni whines, "Using Paris to delegitimize them is puerile." He is referring to the 'safe space' girly-girls and crybullies.
This shows how willfully stupid he and his colleagues are. (Not all of them, of course: Douthat and Brooks are worth reading.) They fail to grasp the connection between the assault on free speech by the Islamists and that by the crybullies and pampered fascists of our elite universities. And they will never own up to the obvious fact that the Left serves to enable radical Islam.
Both are incredibly destructive forces that attack the foundations of genuine civilization. Observe also that the Left is not only destructive, but insanely self-destructive: they think they will use the Islamists for their ends; but they will be the first of the infidels to be slaughtered.
Leftists are consummate linguistic hijackers. I've been making this point since the inception of this weblog back in aught-four. I won't repeat my examples. It just now occurred to me that a useful tactic in the culture war might be the reverse hijacking of liberal-leftist lingo.
I have done this three times in the last few days without conscious subsumption under the italicized rubric.
Thus 'Black Lives Matter' gets twisted into 'Black Lies Matter' to highlight the fact that the distortions, falsehoods, and outright lies of many blacks and their liberal-left enablers get people killed, mostly blacks, and undermine the rule of law.
'Safe space' and 'trigger warning' are easily mocked as I did a few hours ago.
All's fair in love and war, and this is a war, muchachos. Make no mistake about it. The behavior of leftists shows that they see it as a war, as witness their relentless smearing of Dr. Ben Carson. They practice without scruple the politics of personal destruction. They did it to Sarah Palin in an especially vile manner, and to Herman Cain. If they see politics as a war, we can't see it as a gentlemanly debate. Mockery and derision are potent weapons as Saul Alinsky recognized and they must be employed to attack the enemies of the republic and to energize those who, for whatever reason, are impermeable to calm and learned disquisitions.
But you must also have rigorous arguments and calm disquisitions at the ready for those who are capable of processing them.
Remove the question mark from the above caption and you have the title for a New York Timeseditorial for 16 October. Here are the first three paragraphs with my comments interspersed:
Lawmakers in Washington and around the country are in an uproar over what they derisively call “sanctuary cities.” These are jurisdictions that limit cooperation with federal immigration enforcement, or try in other ways to protect unauthorized immigrants from unjust deportation.
"Derisively call"? Here is a well-known leftist tactic. Words and phrases that have long been in use, have clear meanings, are descriptive rather than emotive, and are therefore innocuous, are given such labels as 'derisive,' 'insulting,' demeaning,' 'racist,' and so on. 'Anchor baby,' 'illegal alien,' and 'Obamacare' are three examples that come immediately to mind. As for 'anchor baby,' Alan Colmes recently opined on The O'Reilly Factor that it is demeaning because it likens the babies of illegal border crossers to weights that place a burden on American society. I kid you not. That's what our boy said. But the term implies no such thing. Anchor babies are so-called because, if you will permit me to change the metaphor, they provide a foothold in the U.S. for their illegal alien parents. This is because, on current law, anyone born within the boundaries of the U. S. is automatically a citizen of the U. S. Now whether this is or ought to be an entailment of Section 1 of Amendment XIV of the U.S. Constitution is an important question, but not one for the present occasion.
Notice in the second sentence of the first paragraph the phrase "unjust deportation." If you will excuse the expression in this context, it takes cojones to call unjust the lawful deportation of illegal aliens. Cojones or chutzpah, one.
The Senate is voting Tuesday on a bill from David Vitter of Louisiana to punish these cities by denying them federal law-enforcement funds. The House passed its version [hyperlink suppressed] in July. North Carolina’s Legislature has passed a bill forbidding sanctuary policies. Lawmakers in Michigan and Texas are seeking similar laws.
This a distortion of Vitter's proposal. The truth: "Vitter’s legislation would withhold certain federal funding from sanctuary states or cities that fail to comply with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued detainer requests for illegal aliens." (Emphasis added)
These laws are a false fix for a concocted problem. They are based on the lie, now infecting the Republican presidential campaign, that all unauthorized immigrants are dangerous criminals who must be subdued by extraordinary means.
It takes unmitigated gall to claim that your opponents are lying, when you are lying. I'd like to know who among Republicans has claimed that ALL illegal aliens are dangerous criminals. So who is slandering whom here?
At this point I stopped reading. Three paragraphs, four howlers: first a trade-mark leftist act of linguistic obfuscation, then an outright lie, then a distortion of the truth, then another outright lie.
But of course few if any contemporary liberals will agree with what I have just written. This leads us beyond this particular issue to a strange, ominous, and yet fascinating development in American life which of course has been long in the making: we can't agree on much of anything any more. We are, unbelievably, arguing over what really are beneath discussion, over issues that ought to be non-issues. And every year it gets worse. Suing gun manufacturers? Aussie-style gun confiscation? No photo ID at polling places? Sanctuary cities? Social Security benefits for illegal aliens?
Now you can perhaps understand why I often refer to contemporary liberals as morally and intellectually obtuse. There is really nothing reasonably to debate on these and many other, not all, current hot topics. Those who think otherwise and are willing to use the power of the State to enforce their crazy and deleterious ideas are making a very strong argument, nolens volens, for Second Amendment rights.
Note first that atheism cannot be identified with the lack of theistic belief, i.e., the mere absence of the belief that God or a god exists, for that would imply that cabbages and tire irons are atheists. Note second that it won't do to say that atheism is the lack of theistic belief in persons, for there are persons incapable of forming beliefs. Charitably interpreted, then, the idea must be that atheism is the lack of theistic belief in persons capable of forming and maintaining beliefs.
But this cannot be right either, and for a very simple reason. Atheism is something people discuss, debate, argue for, argue against, draw conclusions from, believe, disbelieve, entertain, and so on. Atheism, in other words, is a PROPOSITION: it is something that can be either true or false, that can be the object of such propositional attitudes as belief and disbelief, that can stand in such logical relations to other propositions as entailment, consistency, and inconsistency. But one cannot discuss, debate, argue for, . . . believe, etc. a lack of something. Atheism redefined as the lack of theistic belief is a PROPERTY of certain persons. Now a proposition is not a property. Atheism is a proposition and for this reason cannot be redefined as a property.
Someone who understands this might nevertheless maintain that 'negative atheism' is a proposition, namely, the proposition that there are people capable of forming and maintaining beliefs who simply lack the belief that God exists. Admittedly, one could use 'atheism' as the label for the proposition that there are such people. But then atheism so defined would be trivially true. After all, no one denies that there are people capable of beliefs who lack the belief that God exists. Furthermore, if 'atheism' is so defined, then theism would be the view that there are persons capable of belief who have the belief that God exists. But then theism, too, would be trivially true. And if both are true, then they cannot be logical contradictories of each other as they must be if the terms are to mean anything useful.
Now what is the point of the terminological mischief perpetrated by these 'negative atheists'? It is terminological mischief because we have just seen it ruin two perfectly good words, 'atheism' and 'theism.' If atheism and theism are worth discussing, then atheism is the view that no gods exist and theism is the view that one or more gods exist.
The point of the cyberpunk definition is to avoid being pinned down, to avoid being committed to a positive thesis. But of course the claim that there is no God is a positive claim about Reality, namely, the claim that Reality is godless. And so our cyberpunk commits himself nolens volens.
If you are a conservative, don't talk like a liberal! I've made this point before but it bears repeating. We conservatives should never acquiesce in the Left's acts of linguistic vandalism. Battles in the culture war are often lost and won on linguistic ground. So we ought to oppose resolutely the Left's attempts at linguistic corruption.
A phobia is a fear, but not every fear is a phobia. A phobia is an irrational fear. One who argues against the morality of homosexual practices, or gives reasons for opposing same-sex marriage is precisely -- presenting arguments, and not expressing any phobia. The arguments may or may not be cogent. But they are expressive of reason, and are intended to appeal to the reason of one's interlocutor. To dismiss them as an expression of a phobia show a lack of respect for reason and for the persons who proffer the arguments.
There are former meat-eaters who can make an impressive case against the eating of meat. Suppose that, instead of addressing their arguments, one denounces the former carnivores as 'carniphobes.' Can you see what is wrong with that? These people have a reasoned position. Their reasoning may be more or less cogent, their premises more or less disputable. But the one thing they are not doing is expressing an irrational fear of eating meat. Many of them like the stuff and dead meat inspires no fear in them whatsoever.
The point should be obvious: 'homophobia' is just as objectionable as 'carniphobia.' People who use words like these are attempting to close off debate, to bury a legitimate issue beneath a crapload of PeeCee jargon. So it is not just that 'homophobe' and 'homophobia' are question-begging epithets; they are question-burying epithets.
And of course 'Islamophobia' and cognates are other prime examples. Once again, a phobia is an irrational fear. But fear of radical Islam is not at all irrational. You are a dolt if you use these terms, and a double dolt if you are a conservative.
Why does language matter? Because clear thinking matters, and language is the medium of thought.
Why does clear thinking matter? Because clear thinking is truth-conducive.
Why does truth matter? Because living according to the truth is conducive to human flourishing.
A merton is a person who doesn't distinguish between studying a subject and writing a book about it.
Cf. The Journals of Thomas Merton, vol. III, 136: "Thought of writing a book on Columbia under Spain . . ..") In his short life Merton published some 60 books, some of them good, some of them but attempts to work his way into a subject.
A reader sends me the following quotation from a Richard Mitchell:
I have never yet written anything, long or short, that did not surprise me. That is, for me at least, the greatest worth of writing, which is only incidentally a way of telling others what you think. Its first use is for the making of what you think, for the discovery of understanding, an act that happens only in language.
I agree with Mitchell's thought subject to a minor qualification. The achievement of understanding is not possible without language, but it does not, in every instance, require writing, or even speech. Nevertheless, the perfection of (discursive) understanding is possible only by writing.
Second to the careful articulation of one's thought in written language comes that rare event called 'dialogue,' in which two sympathetic minds use each other to arrive at a truth that transcends both.
As always, Bill, I find reading your blog enlightening and enjoyable. I note you are using the term "traditional marriage" to refer to marriage. Now that the Supreme Court has redefined marriage as nothing more than a civil union, the meaning of the word "marriage" is in turmoil. So we do need a term to mean what "marriage" has always meant until the day before yesterday. Instead of "traditional marriage", I suggest "natural marriage". "Natural" more accurately conveys what is essential to marriage than "traditional" does. After all, everything that can be said to be traditional about marriage follows what is natural about it, sexual complementarity. More than that, natural law informs us that the good of sexual complementarity is actualized in marriage. Nor does it hurt that the rhetorical force of "natural" pushes buttons that confuse the Leftists and denies them their knee-jerk response to all that is labeled traditional.
Now that the Left has destroyed the word 'marriage,' we need a word to distinguish the genuine article from the leftist innovation. I agree with Tingley about this. I suggest 'traditional marriage.' He suggests 'natural marriage.' His reason for the superiority of the latter over the former is that:
. . . everything that can be said to be traditional about marriage follows what is natural about it, sexual complementarity.
I think this overlooks something important, namely, that marriage, while grounded in the biological complementarity of male and female human animals, and essentially so grounded, is a social institution. So there is more to marriage than the merely natural. For this reason, I prefer 'traditional marriage' to 'natural marriage.'
To clarify this, a brief look at the relation between the natural-biological and the social-cultural is in order.
Consider three situations, each a kind of 'intercourse.' (1) A man and a woman playing chess with each other. (2) A man and a woman just copulating with each other. (3) A man and a woman getting married to each other and consummating their marriage.
Ad (1). Chess has no objective reality outside of the system of rules or laws that constitute it, and these are of a conventional nature. In this regard, the laws of chess are nothing like the laws of nature.* They are not descriptive of culture-independent occurrences. Nor are the rules of chess prescriptively regulative of processes and transactions external to them, in the way traffic laws regulate vehicular processes, and laws against fraud regulate business transactions by setting up norms that one ought to follow when one drives or does business. The rules of chess are constitutive of the game, not regulative of some antecedent process, and what they constitute is something of a wholly conventional nature. Chess is a social artifact in toto; there is nothing natural about it. A man and a woman playing chess are engaged in a social interaction with no natural or physical process underpinning it. Of course, the touching and moving of pieces are physical processes, but there is nothing in the physical world corresponding to an instance of chessic intercourse in the way there is something in nature corresponding to a description of photosynthesis.
Ad (2). Brute copulation is at the opposite extreme. Copulation is a physical process whether it is done in marriage or outside marriage, whether it is done lovingly or rapaciously. Brute copulation has nothing social or cultural about it. It makes sense to say that chess is a social construct or a social artifact; it makes no sense to say that brute copulation is a social construct or social artifact.
I am assuming a healthy-minded realism. I am assuming that there is an important distinction between what John Searle calls brute facts and what he calls institutional facts. It is a brute fact that the sun is 93 million miles from the earth or that two animals are copulating. It is an institutional fact that Barack Obama is POTUS and Michelle Obama FLOTUS. A woman's being pregnant is a brute fact; a child's being illegitimate is an institutional fact. The existence of gold, the metal Au, is a brute fact; the existence of money is an institutional fact even if the money is realized in gold coins. "Brute facts exist independently of any human institutions; institutional facts can exist only within human institutions." (The Construction of Social Reality, p. 27) It follows from these definitions that the consummation of a marriage, even though it necessarily involves sexual intercourse, is an institutional fact.
(Searle's use of 'brute fact' is a bit idiosyncratic. I would say, and I think most philosophers would agree, that a brute fact is a contingently obtaining state of affairs the obtaining of which has no causal or other explanation. If an atheist says that the universe just happens to exist without cause or reason, then he is saying that its existence is a brute fact in my sense. Of course, it is also a brute fact in Searle's sense. Only a leftist loon would maintain that the physical universe is a social construct. That the moon has craters, however, is not a brute fact in my sense though it is in Searle's inasmuch as it is not an institutional fact. That astronomical distances are measured in light-years is an institutional fact, but not the distances themselves!)
Ad (3). Marriage is between chess and brute copulation.** Chess is whatever FIDE or the United States Chess Federation says it is. Marriage cannot be what any legislative body, or bunch of judges playing legislators, says it is. For it is grounded essentially in the natural fact of human sexual complementarity. Chess is entirely a social construct; marriage is not.
On the other hand, marriage, unlike brute copulation, has a social side: it is after all a contract. For this reason, I prefer 'traditional marriage' over 'natural marriage.' Strictly speaking, there is no natural marriage: non-humans mate and reproduce and cohabit, but they don't marry.
*An interesting question is whether 'laws of chess' can only be construed as a subjective genitive: the laws of chess are chess's laws, not laws about something external to these laws. But 'laws of nature' can also be construed as an objective genitive: the laws of nature are laws about something external to them, namely the natural world.
**And if I may be permitted a joke, too much chess and any extramural copulation, brute or not, can destroy a marriage.
According to the WSJ, Hillary Clinton thinks that Republican-controlled states have “systematically and deliberately” tried to “disempower and disenfranchise” voters.
Here is another clear example of how leftists distort language for their political advantage.
To disenfranchise is to deprive of a right, in particular, the right to vote. But only some people have the right to vote. Felons and children do not have the right to vote, nor do non-citizens. Not yet, anyway. You do not have the right to vote in a certain geographical area simply because you are a sentient being residing in that area. Otherwise, my cats would have the right to vote. Now a requirement that one prove that one has the right to vote is not to be confused with a denial of the right to vote.
My right to vote is one thing, my ability to prove I have the right another. If, on a given occasion, I cannot prove that I am who I claim to be, then I won't be able to exercise my right to vote on that occasion; but that is not to say that I have been 'disenfranchised.' For I haven't be deprived of my right to vote; I have merely been prevented from exercising my right on that occasion due to my inability do prove my identity.
But for a leftist, the end justifies the means; all's fair in love and war; and politics is war. This explains why they have no scruples about hijacking the English language.
It is not that Hillary does not know what 'disenfranchise' means; it is that she will do anything to win, including destroying what ought to be a neutral framework within which to conduct our debates.
I've said it before: beware of unsourced 'quotations.' An über-conservative correspondent forwarded me the following:
"Negotiating with Obama is like playing chess with a pigeon." "The pigeon knocks over all the pieces, shits on the board and then struts around like it won the game." ~Vladimir Putin
Now Obama is indeed a feckless fool, and a disaster for the country and the world. It is a blot upon the American electorate that this mendacious incompetent was elected and then, horribile dictu, re-elected. I hope we can all agree on that. Mockery and derision are appropriate weapons to deploy against him and his supporters. But we who stand up for truth ought to be especially scrupulous about getting things right. So I ran the 'quotation' past Snopes.com whereat it is plausibly maintained that Putin said no such thing. There I snagged this nifty graphic:
Having recently compared two lunch companions to each other in point of having checkered pasts, but aware of recent shifts in the meaning of the phrase, and not wishing to give offense, I quizzed one of them on the meaning of 'has a checkered past' as applied to a woman and to a man. He replied that it suggests that the woman was a prostitute and the man a crook.
That answer is not wrong and accords with current usage. If you listen carefully to how 'checkered past,' 'checkered career,' and similar expressions are now used, I think you will find that they are often used with a pejorative connotation. But the phrase originally had no such negative connotation as far as I can tell. My old Webster's defines checker, v.t., as to vary with contrasting elements or situations and gives the example of a checkered career as a racer. Nothing pejorative about that: the racer's career had its ups and downs. Or one might describe a man whose 20s were spent in the Jesuits, his 30s teaching philosophy, his 40s as a soldier of fortune, and his 50's as an exterminator of insects as having had a checkered past. Nothing pejorative about that either.
Only a liberal or an idiot thinks that change qua change is good. And so I hold to the old way of using 'checkered past.' But I can do so only if my language mates let me. Like it or not, meaning is tied to use. If the phrase comes to be used in an exclusively pejorative way, then I must conform to the change if I want to communicate with the vulgar as opposed to display my erudition among the learned.
It is too bad that we are at the mercy of the masses in so many things, though not in all things. I have no objection to the phrase 'male chauvinism.' But if enough come to substitute 'chauvinism' for it, then the former has been rendered redundant and the latter destroyed. And that would be a change for the worse. I suppose this makes me a limited prescriptivist in matters linguistic.
Addendum. And then there's 'hook up.' To members of my generation it does not imply an exchange of bodily fluids when used in a sentence like 'I hooked up with Sally again after years and years.' Peter Geach, an English philosopher of my father's generation, in one of his books uses 'make love' to mean something like 'woo' or 'make a romantic approach,' a quaint usage that had fallen into desuetude by the time my generation came of age, a usage to be replaced in the main by one rather more raw and 'hydraulic.'
The grandpappy of them all is attributable to Hanns Johst: Wenn ich Kultur höre, entsichere ich meinen Browning! "When I hear the word culture, I release the safety on my Browning."
Often misquoted and misattributed. I myself misquoted it once as Wenn ich das Wort 'Kulture' höre, entsichere ich meine Pistole. I apologize for that rare lapse from the high standards of MavPhil. Wikipedia:
When the Nazis achieved power in 1933, Johst wrote the play Schlageter, an expression of Nazi ideology performed on Hitler's 44th birthday, 20 April 1933, to celebrate his victory. It was a heroic biography of the proto-Nazi martyr Albert Leo Schlageter. The famous line "when I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun", often associated with Nazi leaders, derives from this play. The actual original line from the play is slightly different: "Wenn ich Kultur höre ... entsichere ich meinen Browning!" "Whenever I hear of culture... I release the safety catch of my Browning!" (Act 1, Scene 1). It is spoken by another character in conversation with the young Schlageter. In the scene Schlageter and his wartime comrade Friedrich Thiemann are studying for a college examination, but then start disputing whether it is worthwhile doing so when the nation is not free. Thiemann argues he would prefer to fight than to study.
SCHLAGETER: Good old Fritz! (Laughing.) No paradise will entice you out of your barbed wire entanglement!
THIEMANN: That's for damned sure! Barbed wire is barbed wire! I know what I'm up against.... No rose without a thorn!... And the last thing I'll stand for is ideas to get the better of me! I know that rubbish from '18 ..., fraternity, equality, ..., freedom ..., beauty and dignity! You gotta use the right bait to hook 'em. And then, you're right in the middle of a parley and they say: Hands up! You're disarmed..., you republican voting swine!—No, let 'em keep their good distance with their whole ideological kettle of fish ... I shoot with live ammunition! When I hear the word culture ..., I release the safety on my Browning!"
SCHLAGETER: What a thing to say!
THIEMANN: It hits the mark! You can be sure of that.
SCHLAGETER: You've got a hair trigger.
—Hans Johst's Nazi Drama Schlageter. Translated with an introduction by Ford B. Parkes-Perret. Akademischer Verlag Hans-Dieter Heinz, Stuttgart, 1984.
I heard David Brooks on C-Span 2 last night. He uncorked a very funny line. "I am the conservative at The New York Times, which is like being the chief rabbi in Mecca."
By the way, it was a mention by Brooks in his latest book that got my friend Lupu onto Soloveitchik. Now I am reading the good rabbi. I have finished The Lonely Man of Faith and I've started on Halakhic Man. Impressive and important for those of us exercised by the Athenian-Hierosolymanic dialectic.
In other humor news, Heather Wilhelm reports, via Chelsea Clinton, that the Clinton family motto is, wait for it:
“We have a saying in my family—it’s always better to get caught trying (rather than not try at all).”
Full disclosure: When I first read that sentence, I laughed out loud. Next, I read it two more times, just to make sure it was not some glorious figment of my imagination. “Get caught trying?” Who makes this their family motto? Concerned that I was missing the popular resurgence of this wise old adage—a saying that ranks right up there with “There’s more than one way to obliterate an old email server” and “If the silverware is missing, Sandy Berger’s pants are a-jangling”—I decided to Google “get caught trying.” If you’re looking for lots of advice on how to do things like hide an affair from your spouse, illegally sneak over the border, or fight off a wild crow that is trying to eat your lunch, I suggest you do the same.
Here’s the thing: If you “get caught” doing something, it implies that you are doing something secretive, underhanded, or out-and-out bad. What kind of family, outside of the Corleone crime syndicate, instinctively associates “trying” with doing something surreptitious, or an action where one can get “caught”? Moreover, is there any one-liner in the history of the world—with the exception, of course, of “It depends what the meaning of ‘is’ is”—that better sums up the Clinton ethos?
What Miss Wilhelm fails to realize, however, is the signal impetus Bill Cinton gave to a renewed assault upon the question of the meaning of Being, die Frage nach dem Sinn von Sein, a question occluded and forgotten (Seinsvergessenheit!) in political precincts until Bubba re-ignited it with his penetrating inquiry into the manifold meanings of 'is.'
I am reading an article on some arcane topic such as counterfactual conditionals when I encounter a ungrammatical use of 'they' to avoid the supposedly radioactive 'he.' I groan: not another PC-whipped leftist! I am distracted from the content of the article by the political correctness of the author. As I have said more than once, PC comes from the CP, and what commies, and leftists generally, attempt to do is to inject politics into every aspect of life. It is in keeping with their totalitarian agenda.
If you complain that I am injecting politics into this post, I will say that I am merely combating and undoing the mischief of leftists. It is analogous to nonviolent people using violence to defend themselves and their way of life against the violent. We conservatives who want the political kept in its place and who are temperamentally disinclined to be political activists must become somewhat active to undo the damage caused by leftist totalitarians.
By the way, there is nothing sexist about standard English; the view that it is is a leftist doctrine that one is free to reject. It is after all a debatable point. Do you really think that the question whether man is basically good is the question whether males are basically good? If you replace 'he' with 'she,' then you tacitly concede that both can be used gender-neutrally. But then what becomes of your objection to 'he'?
You are of course free to disagree with what I just wrote, and you are free to write as you please. I defend your right to free speech. Do you defend mine? I understand your point of view though I don't agree with it. I can oppose you without abusing you though I may abuse you from time to time to give you a tase taste of your own medicine should you abuse me. Call me a 'sexist' for using standard English and I may return the compliment by calling you a 'destructive PC-whipped leftist.'
It's all for your own good.
Here's a modest proposal. Let's view the whole thing as a free speech issue. Don't harass me for using standard English and I won't mock you for your silly innovations. We contemporary conservatives are tolerant. I fear that you contemporary liberals are not. Prove me wrong.
It's a funny world in which conservatives are the new liberals, and liberals are the new . . . .
Here are some questions for journalists. Why do you refer to Muhammad as the Prophet? Is he your prophet? Do you mean to endorse his claim to be a prophet? Or the prophet? Do you accept the very idea of prophecy? Do you speak of Jesus as 'Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ'? Or as 'the Son of God'? If not, why not? Or perhaps you advocate a double standard: in a Christian country such as the USA one may not refer to Jesus using the honorifics employed by Christian believers, but one must, in a Christian country, albeit with a secular government, refer to the warrior Muhammad as the prophet, and this while Christians are being slaughtered by adherents of the 'religion of peace.'
A reader sent me the following quotation from Peter Kreeft's Socratic Logic, 3rd ed., p. 36, n. 1:
The use of the traditional inclusive generic pronoun "he" is a decision of language, not of gender justice. There are only six alternatives. (1) We could use the grammatically misleading and numerically incorrect "they." But when we say "one baby was healthier than the others because they didn't drink that milk," we do not know whether the antecedent of "they" is "one" or "others," so we don't know whether to give or take away the milk. Such language codes could be dangerous to baby's health. (2) Another alternative is the politically intrusive "in-your-face" generic "she," which I would probably use if I were an angry, politically intrusive, in-your-face woman, but I am not any of those things. (3) Changing "he" to "he or she" refutes itself in such comically clumsy and ugly revisions as the following: "What does it profit a man or woman if he or she gains the whole world but loses his or her own soul? Or what shall a man or woman give in exchange for his or her soul?" The answer is: he or she will give up his or her linguistic sanity. (4) We could also be both intrusive and clumsy by saying "she or he." (5) Or we could use the neuter "it," which is both dehumanizing and inaccurate. (6) Or we could combine all the linguistic garbage together and use "she or he or it," which, abbreviated, would sound like "sh . . . it." I believe in the equal intelligence and value of women, but not in the intelligence or value of "political correctness," linguistic ugliness, grammatical inaccuracy, conceptual confusion, or dehumanizing pronouns.
What a sexist Neanderthal this Kreeft fellow is! Send him to a re-education camp!
However, most people understand their side is good and the opposing side is bad, so it’s much easier for them to form these emotional opinions of political parties.
This sentence features a misuse of 'understand.' 'Understand' is a verb of success. If you understand something, then it is the case. For example, if you understand that both 2 and -2 are square roots of 4, then this is the case. Otherwise there is a failure to understand. 'Understand' in this respect is like 'know' and unlike 'believe' or 'think'. My knowing that p entails that p is true. My believing or thinking that p does not entail that p is true. My understanding that my side is good entails that it is. The above sentence should read as follows:
However, most people THINK their side is good and the opposing side is bad, so it’s much easier for them to form these emotional opinions of political parties.
Intellectual talk can be as bad as mundane trivial talk, an empty posturing, a vain showmanship without roots or results. But worst of all is ‘spiritual talk’ when it distracts us from action and (what is better) contemplative inaction.
Corruptio optimi pessima. The wonderful pithiness of Latin! "The corruption of the best is the worst of all."
Christ has harsh words for those who misuse the power of speech at Matthew 12:36: "But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment." But what about every idle word that bloggers blog and scribblers scribble? Must not the discipline of the tongue extend to the pen?
Suppose we back up a step. What is wrong with idle talk and idle writing? The most metaphysical of the gospels begins magnificently: "In the beginning was the Word and Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1) The Word (Logos, Verbum) is divine, and if we are made in the divine image and likeness, then the logical power, the verbal power, the power to think, judge, speak, and write is a god-like power in us. If so, then it ought not be abused. But in idle talk it is abused. Here then is a reason why idle talk is wrong.
But if idle talk is wrong, then so is all idle expression. And if all idle expression is wrong, then it is difficult to see how idle thoughts could be morally neutral. For thought is the root and source of expression. If we take Christ's words in their spirit rather than in their mere letter, moral accountability extends from speech to all forms of expression, and beyond that to the unexpressed but expressible preconditions of expression, namely, thoughts. Is it not a necessary truth that any communicative expressing is the expressing of a thought? (Think about that, and ask yourself: does a voice synthesizer speak to you?)
So a first reason to avoid idle thoughts and their expression is that entertaining the thoughts and expressing them debases the god-like power of the Logos in us. A second reason is that idle words may lead on to what is worse than idle words, to words that cause dissension and discord and violence. What starts out persiflage may end up billingsgate. (This is another reason why there cannot be an absolute right to free speech: one cannot have a right to speech that can be expected to issue in physical violence and death. Consider how this must be qualified to accommodate a just judge's sentencing a man to death.)
There is a third reason to avoid idle expression and the idle thoughts at their base. Idle words and thoughts impede entrance into silence. But this is not because they are idle, but because they are words and thoughts. By 'silence' I mean the interior silence, the inner quiet of the mind which is not the mere absence of sound, but the presence of that which, deeper than the discursive intellect, makes possibly both thought and discourse. But I won't say more about this now. See Meditation category.
What go me thinking about this topic is the 'paradox' of Thomas Merton whose works I have been re-reading. He wrote a very good book, The Silent Life, a book I recommend, though I cannot recommend his work in general. The Mertonian 'paradox' is this: how can one praise the life of deep interior solitude and silence while writing 70 books, numerous articles and reviews, seven volumes of journals, and giving all sorts of talks, presentations, workshops, and whatnot? And all that travel! It is a sad irony that he died far from his Kentucky abbey, Gethsemane, in Bangkok, Thailand at the young age of 53 while attending yet another conference. (Those of a monkish disposition are able to, and ought to, admit that many if not most conferences are useless, or else suboptimal uses of one's time, apart from such practical activities as securing a teaching position, or making other contacts necessary for getting on in the world.)
There is a related but different sort of paradox in Pascal. He told us that philosophy is not worth an hour's trouble. But then he bequeathed to us that big fat wonderful book of Pensées, Thoughts, as if to say: philosophy is not worth an hour's trouble — except mine. Why did he not spend his time better — by his own understanding of what 'better' involves — praying, meditating, and engaging in related religious activities?
And then there is that Danish Writing Machine Kierkegaard who in his short life (1813-1855) produced a staggeringly prodigious output of books and journal entries. When did he have time to practice his religion as opposed to writing about it?
I of course ask myself similar questions. One answer is that writing itself can be a spiritual practice. But I fear I have posted too much idle rubbish over the years. I shall try to do better in future.
It "drives him crazy" that people say 'at the end of the day.'
(Now why did I use double and then revert to single quotation marks? Because I went from quoting a particular person to mentioning a phrase in widespread use, but not quoting any particular person. There is no need for you to be so punctilious. Just don't call me inconsistent.)
. . . is like a mafioso's denying that there is a mafia. "Mafia? What mafia? There's no mafia. We're just businessmen trying to do right by out families." Our mafioso might go on to explain that 'mafia' is really just an ethnic slur used to denigrate businessmen of Italian extraction.
This an instance of a rhetorical pattern. Can we tease out the pattern and present it in abstracto? Roughly the pattern is this: A person who is something denies that there is that something. A proponent of a view denies that there is any such view as the one he proposes. A representative of an attitude denies that there is any such attitude as the one he represents. An employer of a tactic denies that there is any such tactic as the one he employs. A performer in a musical genre denies that there is any such genre as the one in which he performs. (I'll have to check, but I seem to recall that Dylan in his folk phase in an interview denied the existence of folk music.)
For instance, a person who is politically correct denies that there is political correctness. Note that only the politically correct deny that there is political correctness, just as only mafiosi deny that there is a mafia. Note also that the denial is not that there are politically correct people, but that the very concept of political correctness is misbegotten, or incoherent, or introduced only as a semantic bludgeon. The idea is not that a person who is something denies that he is that something, but that there is that something.
But we need more examples. Some of the people who are proponents of scientism deny that there is scientism. They may go on to reject the word as meaningless or impossible of application or merely emotive. But of course there is such a thing as scientism. Scientism, roughly, is the philosophical thesis that the only genuine knowledge is natural-scientific knowledge. Not only is there that view; it has representatives.
Suppose that some conservative denies that there is Islamophobia. Then I would have to object. There are a few people who have an irrational fear of Islam and/or of Muslims. They are accurately labelled "Islamophobes.' "Islamophobia' does pick out something real, a 'syndrome' of sorts.
But of course the vast majority of those who sound the alarm against radical Islam are not Islamophobes. For their fear of radical Islam and its works is rational.
Other examples that need discussing: white privilege, institutionalized racism, racial profiling. Could one reasonably believe in these three while denying that there is political correctness?
I'd like to go on; maybe later. But now I have to get ready for an 8 K trail run.
I suggested earlier that we think of abbreviations as a genus that splits into three coordinate species: acronyms, initialisms, and truncations with the specific differences as follows:
An acronym is a pronounceable word formed from either the initial letters of two or more words, or from contiguous letters of two or more words. For example, 'laser' is a pronounceable word formed from the initial letters of the following words: light, amplification, stimulated, emission, radiation. And Gestapo is a pronounceable word formed from contiguous letters of the following words: geheime, Staats, Polizei.
An initialism is a string of contiguous letters, unpronounceable as a word or else not in use as a word, but pronounceable as a list of letters, formed from the initial letters of two or more words. For example, 'PBS' is an initialism that abbreviates 'Public Broadcasting System.' 'PBS' cannot be pronounced as a word, but it can be pronounced as a series of letters: Pee, Bee, Ess. 'IT' is an initialism that abbreviates "information technology.' In this case 'IT' is pronounceable as a word, but is not in use as a word. You can say, 'Mary works in Eye-Tee,' but not, 'Mary works in IT.' The same goes for 'ASU' which abbreviates 'Arizona State University.'
A truncation is a term formed from a single word by shortening it. 'App,' for example is a truncation of 'application,' and 'ho' is presumably a truncation of 'whore' (in black idiom). 'Auto' is a truncation of 'automobile,' and 'blog' (noun) of 'weblog.'
Malcolm Chisholm in an e-mail comment objects to my taxonomy, claiming that the classification looks like this:
While my scheme probably has defects of which I am not aware, Dr. Chisholm's scheme is open to objection. He tells us that a truncation is "formed by taking the first part of each word." But then 'laser' and Gestapo are truncations, which can't be right. There is no word of which 'laser' is the truncation as there is a word of which 'hood' is the truncation ('neighborhood'). Chisholm also tells us that an acronym is "formed by taking the first letter of each word." But Gestapo and Stasi are not formed by taking the first letter of each word. Stasi is formed from the first three letters of Staat and the first two letters of Sicherheit. (By the way, the Stasi was much worse than the Gestapo, according to Simon Wiesenthal.) And what about 'sonar'? It takes two letters from 'sound' and one each from 'navigation' and 'ranging.'
What's more, I see no point in making acronym superordinate to pronounceable acronym. That strikes me as a distinction without a difference, i.e., a merely verbal distinction. As I see it, 'pronounceable acronym' is a pleonastic expression. But I will irenically grant that there may be no fact of the matter here and that we can slice this bird in equally acceptable ways. Those who classify the initialism 'SBNR' ('spiritual but not religious') -- the initialism that got me on this jag in the first place -- as an acronym are free to do so. But I prefer not to since every example of an acronym I can think of is pronounceable.
Perhaps I can appeal to parsimony. My scheme is simpler than Chisholm's. His Porphyric tree sports three branchings; mine only two.
But perhaps I am making some mistake here. What is wrong with my taxonomy if anything is wrong with it? But I'm no linguist; I'm merely a philosopher who thinks it wise to attend carefully to ordinary language while avoiding the aberration known as Ordinary Language philosophy.
I have nothing against slang as such, but there are contexts in which it does not belong. Here is a book by one Fr. Andrew Younan entitled Metaphysics and Natural Theology. One chapter is entitled "Aristotle and the Other Guys." Another "Thomas Aquinas -- A Bunch of Stuff." A third "God Stuff."
Disgusting. Either you see why or you don't. I can't argue you out of your low-rent sensibility. In matters of sensibility, argument comes too late.
Over at NRO, I found this in an otherwise very good column by Charles C. W. Cooke:
I daresay that if I had been in any of the situations that DeBoer describes, I would have walked happily out of the class. Why? Well, because there is simply nothing to be gained from arguing with people who believe that it is reasonable to treat those who use the word “disabled” as we treat those who use the word “n***er” . . . .
Isn't this precious? Cooke shows that he owns a pair of cojones throughout the column but then he gets queasy when it comes to 'nigger.' Why? Would he similarly tip-toe around 'kike' or 'dago'? I doubt it. It is clear that he is aware of the difference between using a word to refer to something and talking about the word. Philosophers call this the use-mention distinction. Call it whatever you like, but observe it.
True: 'Boston' is disyllabic. False: Boston is disyllabic. True: Boston is populous. False: 'Boston' is populous.
Consider the following sentence
Some blacks refer to other blacks using the word 'nigger.'
The sentence is true. Now of course I do not maintain that a sentence's being true justifies its assertive utterance in every situation. The above sentence, although appropriately asserted in the present context where a serious and important point is being made, would not be appropriately asserted in any number of other easily imagined contexts.
But suppose that you take offense at the above sentence. Well, then, you have taken inappropriate and unjustified offense, and your foolishness offends me! Why is my being objectively offended of less significance than your being merely subjectively offended? Your willful stupidity justifies my mockery and derision. One should not give offense without a good reason. But your taking inappropriate offense is not my problem but yours.
In this regard there is no substitute for sound common sense, a commodity which unfortunately is in short supply on the Left. You can test whether you have sound common sense by whether or not you agree with the boring points I make in such entries as the following:
Every acronym is an abbreviation, but is every abbreviation an acronym? I just read something in which 'SNBR' was referred to as an acronym. 'SNBR' abbreviates the trendy phrase 'spiritual but not religious.' The phrase is foolish despite its currency, but that is not my present topic.
Call me pedantic, but 'SNBR' is so unlike 'laser,' 'sonar, 'radar,' 'Gestapo,' 'Stasi,' NASA,' and 'NATO,' that it ought not be referred to as an acronym. Call it an initialism. Think of it as a species of the genus, abbreviation, alongside acronyms and truncations.
What is the difference between an acronym and an initialism? Perhaps this: An acronym can be pronounced as a a word, whereas an initialism cannot be pronounced as a word, but only as a list of letters. Consider 'BBC' which abbreviates 'British Broadcasting Company.' One can pronounce, sequentially, the individual letters as Bee-Bee-Cee and thereby communicate something, but the sound you get from pronouncing 'BBC' as a word won't communicate anything except to yourself and your cat. Same goes for 'HTML,' the standard abbreviation for 'hyper text markup language.'
'App' is a truncation, most commonly of 'application' in the sense of 'computer program.' But just last night I saw a TV commercial in which 'app' was used as a truncation of 'appetizer.' I was led to believe that Appleby's serves up great 'apps.'
Acronyms and truncations are both pronounceable as words. What then is the difference between the two especially since acronyms involve truncations of words? For example, the acronym Gestapo derives from the phrase Geheime Staatspolizei which is composed of two words which are then treated as three words each of which is truncated down to its initial two or three letters. Thus: Ge-sta-po.
Perhaps we can say that a truncation involves the shortening of a single word whereas an acronym involves the shortening of two or more words.
'Arizona State University' is abbreviated as 'ASU.' Initialism or acronym? I said above that an initialism cannot be pronounced as a word. But 'ASU' can be so pronounced, and I do sometimes so pronounce it when I am talking to people associated with the university, e.g. 'I'll meet you at Ah-Soo by the fons philosophorum." (As I have said or written to Kid Nemesis.)
I had a new thought this morning, new for me anyway. It occurred to me that the familiar use-mention distinction can and should be applied to images, including cartoons. I recently posted a pornographic Charlie Hebdo cartoon that mocks in the most vile manner imaginable the Christian Trinity. A reader suggested that I merely link to it. But I wanted people to see how vile these nihilistic Charlie Hebdo porno-punks are and why it is a mistake to stand up for free speech by lying down with them, and with other perpetual adolescents of their ilk. Those who march under the banner Je Suis Charlie (I am Charlie) are not so much defending free speech as advertising their sad lack of understanding as to why it is accorded the status of a right.
So it occurred to me that the use-mention distinction familiar to philosophers could be applied to a situation like this. To illustrate the distinction, consider the sentences
'Nigger' is disyllabic. The use of 'nigger,' like the use of 'kike' is highly offensive. Niggers and kikes are often at one another's throats.
In the first two sentences, 'nigger' and 'kike' are mentioned, not used; in the third sentence, 'nigger' and 'kike' are used, not mentioned.
Please note that nowhere in this post do I use 'nigger' or 'kike.'
I chose these examples to explain the use-mention distinction in order to maintain the parallel between offensive words and offensive pictures.
Suppose someone asserts the first two sentences but not the third. No reasonable person could take offense at what the person says. For what he would be saying is true. But someone who asserts the third sentence could be reasonably taken to have said something offensive.
Jerry Coyne concludes a know-nothing response to a review by Alvin Plantinga of a book by Philip Kitcher with this graphic:
Coyne added a caption: AL-vinnn! Those of a certain age will understand the caption from the old Christmas song by the fictitious group, Alvin and the Chipmunks, from 1958. ( A real period piece complete with a reference to a hula hoop.)
Here's my point. Coyne uses the image to the left to mock Plantinga whereas I merely display it, or if you will, mention it (in an extended sense of 'mention') in order to say something about the image itself, namely, that it is used by the benighted Coyne to mock Plantinga and his views.
No one could reasonably take offense at my reproduction of the image in the context of the serious points I am making.
Likewise, no one could reasonably take offense at my reproduction of the following graphic which I display here, not to mock the man Muslims consider to be a messenger of the god they call Allah, but simply to display the sort of image they find offensive, and that I too find offensive, inasmuch as it mocks religion, a thing not to be mocked, even if the religion in question is what Schopenhauer calls "the saddest and poorest form of theism."
By the way, journalists should know better than to refer to Muhammad as 'The Prophet.' Or do they also refer to Jesus as 'The Savior' or 'Our Lord' or 'Son of God'?
Ready now? This is what CNN wouldn't show you. Hardly one of the more offensive of the cartoons. They wouldn't show it lest Muslims take offense.
My point, again, is that merely showing what some benighted people take offense at is not to engage in mockery or derision or any other objectively offensive behavior.
When I pound on liberals, it is contemporary liberals who I have on my chopping block, not classical liberals or liberals from circa 1960. Call the latter paleo-liberals or old-time liberals. My brand of conservatism incorporates the best of their views. My conservatism is distinctively American; it is not of the 'throne and altar' variety.
But 'contemporary liberal' is ambiguous. It could refer to an old-time liberal with respect to some or all of the issues who just happens to flourish in the present, or it could refer to one who espouses contemporary liberalism, that species of aberrant political ideology increasingly indistinguishable from, and ever on the slouch toward, hard leftism.
I mean 'contemporary liberal' in the second sense. Accordingly, 'contemporary' in 'contemporary liberal' as I use the phrase modifies the liberalism of the liberal and not the liberal. The cynosure of my disapprobation is contemporary liberalism or progressivism or leftism. Finer distinctions can be made as needed. And no one outdoes the philosopher when it comes to drawing distinctions. For one of his mottoes is:
My argument against the use of these terms is simple and straighforward. A phobia, by definition, is an irrational fear. (Every phobia is a fear, but not every fear is a phobia, because not every fear is irrational.) Therefore, one who calls a critic of the doctrines of Islam or of the practices of its adherents an Islamophobe is implying that the critic is in the grip of an irrational fear, and therefore irrational. This amounts to a refusal to confront and engage the content of his assertions and arguments.
This is not to say that there are no people with an irrational fear of Muslims or of Islam. But by the same token there are people with an irrational fear of firearms.
Suppose a defender of gun rights were to label anyone and everyone a hoplophobe who in any way argues for more gun control. Would you, dear liberal, object? I am sure you would. You would point out that a phobia is an irrational fear, and that your fear is quite rational. You would say that you fear the consequences of more and more guns in the hands of more and more people, some of them mentally unstable, some of them criminally inclined, some of them just careless.
You, dear liberal, would insist that your claims and arguments deserve to be confronted and engaged and not dismissed. You would be offended if a conservative or a libertarian were to dismiss you as a hoplophobe thereby implying that you are beneath the level of rational discourse.
So now, dear liberal, you perhaps understand why you ought to avoid 'Islamophobia' and its variants except in those few instances where they are legitimately applied.
I think the two distinctions you make are the right ones to make. I doubt that the four necessary conditions in your definition of 'terrorism' are jointly sufficient, but I'm not too concerned about that. [And I didn't claim that they are jointly sufficient, only that they are individually necessary.] I was hoping for a good practical definition and this is as good as I've seen (and better than the ones I offered). If the State Department were to adopt this definition, they would have a good, functional definition that got nearly every case right. It's too bad that you and I both know the State Department as currently staffed and run would never do anything so sane!
BV: Here is the State Department definition:
Title 22, Chapter 38 of the United States Code (regarding the Department of State) contains a definition of terrorism in its requirement that annual country reports on terrorism be submitted by the Secretary of State to Congress every year. It reads:
"[T]he term 'terrorism' means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents".
That is fairly close to what I said, though I wasn't aware of this definition until just now. I didn't mention premeditation, but that pretty much goes without saying. There are plenty of spur-of-the-moment crimes of passion, but how many spur-of-the-moment terrorist acts of passion are there? But three of my points are covered.
Here's my attempt at a counterexample. Suppose we are in Nazi Germany and suppose further that the Nazi state was not a legitimate one. Thus, in Germany during Nazi rule, there was no legitimate state. I am part of a German underground agency working to overthrow Hitler's regime because I and my agency recognize the Nazis as illegitimate and murderous. My agency is clearly not a state, so I think it meets condition three. My agency and I have a political goal: the overthrowing of the Nazi regime and the establishment of a legitimate government. So, condition one is met.
The other two conditions might be a little harder to meet. Suppose I know that Hitler is to give a speech at a rally, flanked by many high ranking Nazis. My agency has found a way to get myself and a few others into the crowd, but we know the Nazis thoroughly check a crowd for guns. Luckily, agent X is an ace explosive maker, and can make explosives out of things that not even the Nazis would suspect. Agent X equips us all with highly explosive cigarette lighters. We want to kill as many of the Nazi brass as we can and this may be the best shot we have. Given the circumstances, we do not have the option of discriminating between the "combatant" Nazis and the civilians who may have just come out of curiosity. We decide it is better to risk killing a civilians who are too close than not take the opportunity. Thus, we seem to meet condition two.
The question is whether this counts as an act of sabotage against the Nazis. It certainly involves the killing or maiming of other human beings. And, you might think that sabotage involves acts against legitimate entities, and the Nazis are not legitimate. It seems to me to be more than mere sabotage. But I think someone could reasonably disagree with me about that. If I'm right, then it appears that I'm a terrorist unless we come up with more conditions.
BV: Let us suppose that you count as a terrorist by my definition. Would that be a problem? My definition says nothing about whether terrorism is good or bad, morally permissible or impermissible. It merely states what it is. The original question was whether it is true that most terrorists, at the present time, are Muslims. To answer that question we need a definition of 'terrorist.' On the basis of my definition I would say that, yes, most terrorists today are Muslims. My concern was merely to define the phenomenon. I leave open whether some terrorist acts are morally permissible.
Of course, I consider Muslim terrorism unspeakably evil, from the beheading of Christians, including Christian children, to the attack on Charlie Hebdo, even though I consider the Hebdo crew to be moral scum who misuse, egregiously, the right to free speech, thereby confusing liberty with license. This is why it is is so wrong and indeed moronic for people to stand up for free speech by saying Je suis Charlie. Do they really mean to identify with those people? The way to stand up for free speech is by courageously but responsibly exercising one's right to free speech by speaking the truth, not by behaving in the manner of the adolescent punk who makes an idol of his own vacuous subjectivity and thinks he is entitled to inflict on the world every manifestation of his punkish vacuity.
If someone brings up all the violent drug cartel members in Mexico and Central and South America who 'terrorize' people, assassinate judges, bribe politicians and law enforcement agents, and so on, the answer is that they don't satisfy my first condition inasmuch as they are members of organized crime, not terrorists: they are not in pursuit of a political objective. It is not as if they aim to set up something like a narco-caliphate. They do not, like Muslim terrorists, seek to assume the burdens of governance in an attempt to bring about what they would consider to be a well-regulated social and political order in which human beings will flourish by their definition of flourishing. They attack existing states, but only because those states impede their criminal activities. See Mexican Drug Cartels are not Terrorists.
As for sabotage, I was suggesting that sabotage is not terrorism because terrorist acts are directed against persons primarily, while acts of sabotage are not directed against persons except indirectly. If Ed Abbey urinates into the gas tank of a Caterpillar tractor and manages to disable it, that will affect people but only indirectly. (But what about tree-spiking?) So I would not call you and your cohorts saboteurs.
You are not a terrorist by my definition because you are not indiscriminate in your attack on people: you are not trying to kill noncombatants. What you are doing comes under collateral damage.
Jeff Hodges just now apprised me of a post of his featuring the following bumpersticker:
My take is as follows.
Just as tautological sentences can be used to express non-tautological propositions, contradictory sentences can be used to express non-contradictory propositions.
Consider 'It is what it is.' What the words mean is not what the speaker means in uttering the words. Sentence meaning and speaker's meaning come apart. The speaker does not literally mean that things are what they are -- for what the hell else could they be? Not what they are? What the speaker means is that (certain) things can't be changed and so must be accepted with resignation. Your dead-end job for example. 'It is what it is.'
There are many examples of the use of tautological sentences to express non-tautological propositions. 'What will be, will be' is an example, as is 'Beer is beer.' When Ayn Rand proclaimed that Existence exists! she did not mean to assert the tautological proposition that each existing thing exists; she was ineptly employing a tautological sentence to express a non-tautological and not uncontroversial thesis of metaphysical realism according to which what exists exists independently of any mind, finite or infinite.
Similarly here except that a contradictory form of words is being employed to convey a non-contradictory thought. But what is the thought, the Fregean Gedanke, the proposition? Perhaps this: Islam is not the religion of peace. Since Islam is supposed to be the religion of peace, to say that Islam has nothing to do with Islam is to say that Islam has nothing to do with peace, i.e., that Islam is not the religion of peace, or not a religion of peace. Since one meaning of 'Islam' is peace, the saying equivocates on 'Islam.' Thus the proposition expressed is: Islam has nothing to do with peace. This proposition, whether true or false, is non-contradictory unlike the form of words used to express it.
Here is another possible reading. Given that many believe that Islam is terroristic, someone who says that Islam has nothing to do with Islam is attempting to convey the non-contradictory thought that real Islam is not terroristic.
Such a person, far from expressing a contradiction, would be equivocating on 'Islam,' and in effect distinguishing between real Islam and hijacked Islam, or between Islam and Islamism.
I have argued that that which exists at no location or at no point in time, by definition exists never and nowhere, which is by definition not existing.
'Nowhere' means 'at no place' and 'never' means 'at no time.' By definition. So far, so good. Now suppose it is true that whatever exists exists in space and time. Could this be true by definition? Of course not! One cannot settle substantive metaphysical questions by framing definitions.
I stumbled upon this word yesterday on p. 140 of John Williams' 1965 novel, Stoner. (Don't let the title of this underappreciated masterpiece put you off: it is not about a stoner but about a professor of English, surname 'Stoner.') Williams puts the following words in the mouth of Charles Walker, "Confronted as we are by the mystery of literature, and by its inenarrable power, we are behooved to discover the source of the power and mystery."
As you might have guessed, 'inenarrable' means: incapable of being narrated, untellable, indescribable, ineffable, unutterable, unspeakable, incommunicable. One would apply this high-falutin' word to something of a lofty nature, the hypostatic union, say, and not to some miserable sensory quale such as the smell of sewer gas.
Serendipitously, given recent Christological inquiries, I just now came across the word in this passage from Cyril of Alexandria:
We affirm that different are the natures united in real unity, but from both comes only one Christ and Son, not that because of the unity the difference of the natures is eliminated, but rather because divinity and humanity, united in unspeakable and inennarrable unity, produced for us One Lord and Christ and Son.
One of the tactics of leftists is to manipulate and misuse language for their own purposes. Thus they make up words and phrases and hijack existing ones. 'Islamophobe' is an example of the former, 'disenfranchise' an example of the latter. 'Racial profiling' is a second example of the former. It is a meaningless phrase apart from its use as a semantic bludgeon. Race is an element in a profile; it cannot be a profile. A profile cannot consist of just one characteristic. I can profile you, but it makes no sense racially to profile you. Apparel is an element in a profile; it cannot be a profile. I can profile you, but it makes no sense sartorially to profile you.
Let's think about this.
I profile you if I subsume you under a profile. A profile is a list of several descriptors. You fit the profile if you satisfy all or most of the descriptors. Here is an example of a profile:
1. Race: black 2. Age: 16-21 years 3. Sex: male 4. Apparel: wearing a hoodie, with the hood pulled up over the head 5. Demeanor: sullen, alienated 6. Behavior: walking aimlessly, trespassing, cutting across yards, looking into windows and garages, hostile and disrespectful when questioned; uses racial epithets such as 'creepy-assed cracker.' 7. Physical condition: robust, muscular 8. Location: place where numerous burglaries and home invasions had occurred, the perpetrators being black 9. Resident status: not a resident.
Now suppose I spot someone who fits the above profile. Would I have reason to be suspicious of him? Of course. As suspicious as if the fellow were of Italian extraction but fit the profile mutatis mutandis. But that's not my point. My point is that I have not racially profiled the individual; I have profiled him, with race being one element in the profile.
Blacks are more criminally prone than whites.* But that fact means little by itself. It becomes important only in conjunction with the other characteristics. An 80-year-old black female is no threat to anyone. But someone who fits all or most of the above descriptors is someone I am justified in being suspicious of.
There is no such thing as racial profiling. The phrase is pure obfuscation manufactured by liberals to forward their destructive agenda. The leftist script requires that race be injected into everything. Hence 'profiling' becomes 'racial profiling.' If you are a conservative and you use the phrase, you are foolish, as foolish as if you were to use the phrase 'social justice.' Social justice is not justice. But that's a separate post.
I wrote and posted the above in July of last year. This morning I find in The New Yorker a piece entitled No Such Thing as Racial Profiling. It is just awful and shows the level to which our elite publications are sinking. It is not worth my time to rebut, but I will direct my readers to the author's comments on the R. Giuliani quotation. Get out your logical scalpels.
Addendum. There is also the liberal-left tendency to drop qualifiers. Thus 'male' in 'male chauvinism' is dropped, and 'chauvinism' comes to mean male chauvinism, which is precisely what it doesn't mean. So one can expect the following to happen. 'Racial' in 'racial profiling' will be dropped, and 'profiling' will come to mean racial profiling, which, in reality, means nothing.
Any candid debate on race and criminality in this country would have to start with the fact that blacks commit an astoundingly disproportionate number of crimes. African-Americans constitute about 13% of the population, yet between 1976 and 2005 blacks committed more than half of all murders in the U.S. The black arrest rate for most offenses—including robbery, aggravated assault and property crimes—is typically two to three times their representation in the population. [. . .]
"High rates of black violence in the late twentieth century are a matter of historical fact, not bigoted imagination," wrote the late Harvard Law professor William Stuntz in "The Collapse of American Criminal Justice." "The trends reached their peak not in the land of Jim Crow but in the more civilized North, and not in the age of segregation but in the decades that saw the rise of civil rights for African Americans—and of African American control of city governments."
Regular readers of this blog know that I respect and admire Dennis Prager: he is a font of wisdom and a source of insight. But I just heard him say, "Egalitarians by definition lack wisdom." That is another clear example of the illicit use of 'by definition,' a mistake I pointed out in an earlier entry. Here are some examples of correct uses of 'by definition':
Bachelors are by definition male
Triangles are by definition three-sided
In logic, sound arguments are by definition valid. (A sound argument is defined as one whose form is valid and all of whose premises are true.)
In physics, work is defined as the product of force and distance moved: W= Fx.
In set theory, a power set is defined to be the set of all subsets of a given set.
By definition, no rifle is a shotgun.
Semi-automatic firearms are by definition capable of firing exactly one round per trigger pull until the magazine (and the chamber!) is empty.
In metaphysics, an accident by definition is logically incapable of existing without a substance of which it is the accident.
In astrophysics, a light-year is by definition a measure of distance, not of time: it is the distance light travels in one year.
By definition, the luminiferous either is a medium for the propagation of electromagnetic signals.
By definition, what is true by definition is true.
Incorrect uses of 'by definition':
Joe Nocera: "anyone who goes into a school with a semiautomatic and kills 20 children and six adults is, by definition, mentally ill."
Donald Berwick: "Excellent health care is by definition redistributional."
Illegal aliens are by definition Hispanic.
Bill Maher, et al.: "Taxation is by definition redistributive."
Dennis Prager: "Environmentalists are by definition extremists."
Dennis Prager: "Egalitarians by definition lack wisdom."
Capitalists are by definition greedy.
Socialists are by definition envious.
Alpha Centauri is by definition 4.3 light-years from earth.
The luminiferous ether exists by definition.
By definition, the luminiferous ether cannot exist.
I hope it is clear why the incorrect uses are incorrect. As for the first Prager example, it is certainly true that some environmentalists are extremists. But others are not. So Prager's assertion is not even true. Even if every environmentalist were an extremist, however, it would still not be true by definition that that is so. By definition, what is true by definition is true; but what is true need not be true by definition.
As for the second Prager example, it may or may not be true that egalitarians lack wisdom depending on the definition of 'egalitarian.' But even if true, certainly not by definition.
So what game is Prager playing? Is he using 'by definition' as an intensifier? Is he purporting to make a factual claim to the effect that all environmentalists are extremists and then underlining (as it were) the claim by the use of 'by definition'? Or is he assigning by stipulation his own idiosyncratic meaning to 'environmentalist'? Is he serving notice that 'extremist' is part of the very meaning of 'environmentalist' in his idiolect?
Similar questions ought to be asked of other misusers of the phrase.
I am interested in your logical or linguistic intuitions here. Consider
(*) There is someone called ‘Peter’, and Peter is a musician. There is another person called ‘Peter’, and Peter is not a musician.
Is this a contradiction? Bear in mind that the whole conjunction contains the sentences “Peter is a musician” and “Peter is not a musician”. I am corresponding with a fairly eminent philosopher who insists it is contradictory.
Whether or not (*) is a contradiction depends on its logical form. I say the logical form is as follows, where 'Fx' abbreviates 'x is called 'Peter'' and 'Mx' abbreviates 'x is a musician':
LF1. (∃x)(∃y)[Fx & Mx & Fy & ~My & ~(x =y)]
In 'canonical English':
CE. There is something x and something y such that x is called 'Peter' and x is a musician and y is called 'Peter' and y is not a musician and it is not the case that x is identical to y.
There is no contradiction. It is obviously logically possible -- and not just logically possible -- that there be two men, both named 'Peter,' one of whom is a musician and the other of whom is not.
I would guess that your correspondent takes the logical form to be
LF2. (∃x)(∃y)(Fx & Fy & ~(x = y)) & Mp & ~Mp
where 'p' is an individual constant abbreviating 'Peter.'
(LF2) is plainly a contradiction.
My analysis assumes that in the original sentence(s) the first USE (not mention) of 'Peter' is replaceable salva significatione by 'he,' and that the antecedent of 'he' is the immediately preceding expression 'Peter.' And the same for the second USE (not mention) of 'Peter.'
If I thought burden-of-proof considerations were relevant in philosophy, I'd say the burden of proving otherwise rests on your eminent interlocutor.
But I concede one could go outlandish and construe the original sentences -- which I am also assuming can be conjoined into one sentence -- as having (LF2).
So it all depends on what you take to be the logical form of the original sentence(s). And that depends on what proposition you take the original sentence(s) to be expressing. The original sentences(s) are patient of both readings.
Now Ed, why are you vexing yourself over this bagatelle when the barbarians are at the gates of London? And not just at them?
You have already guessed that it has something to do with flowers. By its etymology, a gathering of flowers, literary flowers. A florilegium, then, is an anthology, compendium, collection, miscellany, album of excerpts and extracts from writings of (usually) high quality by (usually) ancient authors. The Philokalia is a florilegium.
An album of pictures of flowers would also count as a florilegium, and, I suppose a book of actual dried flowers would as well.
Last night on The O'Reilly Factor, the sharpest comedian out there uncorked the following:
He makes Narcissus look like he invented self-effacement.
In battling the Left, it is not enough to have facts, logic, and moral decency on one's side; one must turn their own Alinsky tactics against them by the use of mockery, derision, contumely, and all the weapons of invective to make them look stupid, contemptible, and uncool. For the young especially, the cool counts for far more than the cogent. This is why the quintessentially cool Miller is so effective. People of sense could see from the outset that the adjunct law professor and community organizer, associate of former terrorist Bill Ayers and the 'reverend' Jeremiah Wright, raised on leftist claptrap and bereft of experience and knowledge of the world, would prove to be a disaster as president -- as he has so proven, and as even Leon Panetta the other night all but admitted. But Obama came across as a cool dude and that endeared him to foolish voters.
Civility is a prized conservative virtue, and one wishes that such tactics would not be necessary. But for leftists politics is war, and it is the foolish conservative who fails to see this and persists in imagining it to be a gentlemanly debate on common ground over shared interests. Civility is for the civil, not for its enemies.
Some time ago I heard Miller quip, in reference to Melissa Harris-Perry, that
She is a waste of a good hyphen.
A nasty thing to say, no doubt, but not as nasty as the slanderous and delusional things she had to say about the supposedly racist overtones of the word 'Obamacare.'
Conservatives should not allow themselves to be hobbled by their own civility and high standards. As one of my aphorisms has it:
Let's begin by reviewing some grammar. 'Walking' is the present participle of the infinitive 'to walk.' Present participles are formed by adding -ing to the verb stem, in our example, walk. Participles can be used either nominally or adjectivally. A participle used nominally is called a gerund. A gerund is a verbal noun that shares some of the features of a verb and some of the features of a noun. Examples:
Walking is good exercise. Sally enjoys walking. Tom prefers running over walking. Rennie loves to talk about running.
As the examples show, gerunds can occur both in subject and in object position.
Participles can also be used adjectivally as in the following examples:
The boy waving the flag is Jack's brother. Sally is walking. The man walking is my neighbor. The man standing is my neighbor Bob; the man sitting is his son Billy Bob. The Muslim terrorist cut the throat of the praying journalist.
Now what about the dreaded fused participles against which H. W. Fowler fulminates? In the following example-pairs the second item features a fused participle:
She likes my singing. She likes me singing.
John's whistling awoke her. John whistling awoke her.
Sally hates Tom's cursing. Sally hates Tom cursing.
If you have a good ear for English, you will intuitively reject the second item in these pairs. They really should grate against your linguistic sensibility even if you don't know what it means to say that gerunds take the possessive. That is, a word immediately preceding a gerund must be in the possessive case. A fused participle, then, is a participle used as a noun preceded by a modifier, whether a noun or a pronoun, that is not in the possessive.
Fused participles, most of them anyway, are examples of bad grammar. But why exactly? Is it just a matter of non-standard, 'uneducated,' usage? 'I ain't hungry' is bad English but it is not illogical. Fused participles are not just bad usage, but logically bad inasmuch as they elide a distinction, confusing what is different.
This emerges when we note that the members of each of the above pairs are not interchangeable salva significatione. It could be that she likes my singing, but she doesn't like me. And if she doesn't like me, then she doesn't like me singing or doing anything else.
In the second example, it could be that the first sentence is false but the second true. It could be that John, who was whistling, awoke her, but it was not his whistling that awoke her, but his thrashing around in bed.
The third example is like the first. It could be that Sally hates the sin, not the sinner. She hates Tom's cursing but she loves Tom, who is cursing.
Is every use of a fused particular avoidable? This sentence sports a fused participle:
The probability of that happening is near zero.
The fused participle is avoided by rewriting the sentence as
The probability of that event's happening is near zero.
But is the original sentence ungrammatical without the rewriting? Technically, yes. One should write
The probability of that's happening is near zero
although that is perhaps not as idiomatic as the original. In any case, one would have to be quite the grammar nazi to spill red ink over this one.
According to Panayot Butchvarov, "Fused participles are bad logic, not just bad usage." ("Facts" in Cumpa, ed., Studies in the Ontology of Reinhardt Grossmann, Ontos Verlag, 2010, p. 87.) In Skepticism in Ethics, Butch claims that a fused participle such as 'John flipping the switch' is as "grammatically corrupt" as 'I flipping the switch.' (Indiana UP, 1989, p. 14.)
I think Butch goes too far here. Consider the sentence I wrote above:
And if she doesn't like me, then she doesn't like me singing or doing anything else.
I don't agree that this sentence is grammatically corrupt. It strikes me as grammatically acceptable, fused participle and all. It expresses a clear thought, one that is different from the thought expressed by
And if she doesn't like me, then she doesn't like my singing or my doing anything else.
The first is true, the second false. If she doesn't like me, then she doesn't like me when I am singing, shaving, showering, or doing the third of the three 's's.
So we ought not say that every use of a fused participle is grammatically corrupt. We ought to say that fused participles are to be avoided because they elide the distinctions illustrated by the above three contrasts. The trouble with 'I hate my daughter flunking the exam' is not that it is ungrammatical but that it fails to express the thought that the speaker (in the vast majority of contexts) has in mind, namely, that the object of hatred is the flunking not the daughter.
What does this have to do with ontology?
Some of us maintain that a contingent sentence such as 'John is whistling' cannot just be true: it has need of an ontological ground of its being true. In other words, it has need of a truth-maker. Facts are popular candidates for the office of truth-maker. Thus some of us want to say that the truth-maker of 'John is whistling' is the fact of John's whistling. Butchvarov, however, rejects realism about facts. One of his arguments is that we have no way of referring to them. Sentence are not names, and so cannot be used to refer to facts.
But 'John's whistling' fares no better. It stands for a whistling which is an action or doing. It does not stand for a fact. For this reason, some use fused participles to refer to facts. Thus, the fact of John whistling. Butch scotches this idea on the ground that fused participles are "bad logic" and "grammatically corrupt."
I don't find Butchvarov's argument compelling. As I argued above, there are sentences featuring fused participles that are perfectly grammatical and express definite thoughts. My example, again, is 'If she doesn't like me, then she doesn't like me singing or doing anything else.' So I don't see why 'John whistling' cannot be used as a name of the fact that is the truth-maker of 'John is whistling.'
I just heard Dennis Prager say that he never mocks his ideological opponents. If I had his ear, I would put to him the question, "Do think there are no conceivable circumstances in which mockery of an ideological opponent is morally justified?"
If he answered in the affirmative, then I would press him on how this comports with his conviction that there are circumstances in which the use of physical violence against human beings is morally justified.
I would urge that if the latter is morally justified, and it is, then the former, a sort of verbal violence, is morally justified. In battling evil people and their pernicious views, all means at our disposal should be employed, it being understood that the appeal to reason and fact is the tactic of first resort.
I just now noticed that the following two sentences are interchangeable salva significatione:
Gluttony is to be avoided
Gluttony ought to be avoided.
A curious linguistic tidbit, possibly of philosophical use later, possibly of no such use at all. But interesting either way. So I note it en passant.
Addendum (literally, something to be added or that ought to be added)
Seldom Seen Slim e-mails:
I see that you've just discovered the obsolescent gerundive or future passive construction in English.
"Gluttony is to be avoided" = "Gluttony is a thing to be avoided" = Gluttony is something we should/ought to avoid" (pretty much equivalent statements).
But now are any of these statements at all? How do they differ from the directive "Avoid gluttony!", which is plainly no statement at all.
Well, I was careful to call them sentences, not statements.
There look to be two puzzles here. The one that struck me was: how can a future passive construction be used to make a normative point? Compare the gluttony example with this one: 'The execution is to occur tomorrow at sunrise.' This does not mean that the execution ought to occur tomorrow at sunrise, if 'ought' has a normative sense. Or perhaps a clearer example would be this: 'The sunrise is to occur tomorrow at 5:30 A.M.' The latter cannot be replaced salva significatione by 'The sunrise ought to occur tomorrow at 5:30 A.M.' if 'ought' has normative bite. It is just a prediction. It means that the sunrise will occur tomorrow at 5:30 A. M. It is strictly speaking a future passive construction with no modal component.
Slim's concern is different. His question, I take it, is this. When I utter 'Guttony is to be avoided' am I making a statement or issuing a command? I am making a statement. I am stating that the action-type inordinate eating has a certain deontic property, the property of being such that it ought not be tokened. I am using a sentence in the indicative mood to make that statement. If I utter 'Avoid inordinate eating' I utter a sentence in the imperative mood and issue a command.
The Roman senate or the emperor could say to the army, Cartago delenda est, meaning that Carthage is to be/ought to be/should be/must be destroyed. But the senate or the emperor could say this without issuing a command.
Here, with a response by McGinn. Merits the coveted MavPhilimprimatur and nihil obstat.
In fairness to Churchland, it is her letter, not her, that Cavell calls "hysterical." A politically incorrect word these days, I should think. Isn't 'hysterical' etymologically related to the Latin and Greek words for womb? According to the Online Etymology Dictionary:
1610s, from Latin hystericus "of the womb," from Greek hysterikos "of the womb, suffering in the womb," from hystera "womb" (see uterus). Originally defined as a neurotic condition peculiar to women and thought to be caused by a dysfunction of the uterus. Meaning "very funny" (by 1939) is from the notion of uncontrollable fits of laughter. Related: Hysterically.
One of the purposes of this site is to combat the stupidity of Political Correctness, a stupidity that in many contemporary liberals, i.e., leftists, is willful and therefore morally censurable. The euphemism 'undocumented worker' is a good example of a PC expression. It does not require great logical acumen to see that 'undocumented worker' and 'illegal alien' are not coextensive expressions. The extension of a term is the class of things to which it applies. In the diagram below, let A be the class of illegal aliens, B the class of undocumented workers, and A^B the intersection of these two classes. All three regions in the diagram are non-empty, which shows that A and B are not coextensive, and so are not the same class. Since A and B are not the same class, 'undocumented worker' and 'illegal alien' do not have the same intension or meaning. Differing in both extension and intension, these expressions are not intersubstitutable.
To see why, note first that there are illegal aliens who are not workers since they are either petty criminals, or members of organizedcriminal gangs e.g., MS-13, some of whose members are illegal aliens, or terrorists, or too young to work, or unable to work. Note second that there are illegal aliens who have documents all right -- forged documents. Note third that there are undocumented workers who are not aliens: there are American citizens who work but without the legally requisite licenses and permits.
So the correct term is 'illegal alien.' It is descriptive and accurate and there is no reason why it should not be used.
Now will this little logical exercise convince a leftist to use language responsibly and stop obfuscating the issue? Of course not. Leftism in some of its forms is willfully embraced reality denial, and in other of its forms is a cognitive aberration, something like a mental illness, in need of therapy rather than refutation. In a longer post I would finesse the point by discussing the cognitive therapy of Stoic and neo-Stoic schools, which does include some logical refutation of unhealthy views and attitudes, but my rough-and-ready point stands: one cannot refute the sick. They need treatment and quarantine and those who go near them should employ appropriate prophylactics.
So why did I bother writing the above? Because there are people who have not yet succumbed to the PC malady and might benefit from a bit of logical prophylaxis. One can hope.