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“That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”

So says Juliet (Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2).

If you look back through history at various mystical or metaphysical belief systems (Pagan, Wiccan, Druid, etc.) you find an interesting common belief:  all things, visible and invisible, have 2 names:

  1. The name everyone knows that thing by (rock, tree, wind, sky, etc.)
  2. The “secret” name known only to that thing and the supreme deity.

It’s the secret name (the “name of power”) that interested early mystics, as they believed that once you learned a thing’s secret name, you had total control over the thing.  Another example would be knowing the “secret name of God”, and the power that knowledge afforded those who knew that name.

As a species, we’ve carried that belief forward to this day.  Look around you:

  • The words “new and improved” seem to magically make products better.
  • How often have you found yourself in a discussion where the phrase “I wouldn’t use that term …” has come up?
  • Doesn’t “pro-life vs. pro-choice” imply that “pro-choice” is “anti-life” (since it’s on the opposite end of the argument?
  • We have no more handicapped, only “differently abled”.
  • It’s Windows XP … no Windows 2009 … no Windows 7 … no Windows internal version 6.1 …

In other words (quoting a colleague), “Names is important”.  Hold on to that thought as we fast forward to back to the present and current political events.

Newt Gingrich got another 15 minutes in the spot light when he called Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor “racist” (or since she’s Hispanic, a “reverse racist”).  He’s since recanted the use of the “R word” but still clings to his fear that her decisions, should she join the highest court in the land, could very well be biased because of her ethnic background (and an ill-played attempt at humor).

While the media (and the GOP, and the DFL, and anyone else who thinks they’re opinion is important to the mass public …) are all having a field day analyzing and speculating, and pointing and counter-pointing, we’re overlooking an important point here:  Newt’s opinion of her has not changed … just the term he’d (publicly) use to describe it.  Stop and think about that for a moment, and ask yourself the following question:

“Which is more important:  The word or it’s definition?”

Many may argue that the word itself is the key.  All we have to do is eradicate (or replace) the word and we’ve solved the problem (at least, that’s what Newt seems to be saying).  Sound familiar?  It should. as it’s the philosophy driving the “politically correct” movement.

George Carlin was a great student of language, repeatedly putting our use of English under his comedic microscope.  More than once he opined that words by themselves are just words, having neither innate good nor evil.  It’s the associations we tie to them that render them bad or inappropriate.  Sadly, we’ve become so wrapped up in the words themselves, we completely ignore the definition that drives them.

So, to say “Sotomayor is not racist” but she could render ethnically-biased opinions is call her potentially racist without every using the word.  And, somehow to Newt, that’s alright: don’t use the word and the problem goes away.  Idiot.

Looking at it another way, isn’t the act of insinuating that someone could be biased because of their racial background an act of racism itself?  In order to make that statement, aren’t you assuming that (since they are of a different race than you) they aren’t as unbiased as you (and your race)?

Perhaps I was wrong, but I thought we were getting away from the “because you don’t think the way I do, you’re un-American, evil, and dangerous” mindset of the last 8 years.

Jul 23, 2008 - musings, philosophy    No Comments

Zen and the Art of the Reply (Part II)

I wrote yesterday about 3 questions you can ask yourself before you respond to someone (to figure out whether a response is needed or warranted). Today, I want to delve deeper and offer a perspective for answering those questions, by using an adaptation of the “Ben Franklin” decision technique.

For those not familiar with it, the “Ben Franklin” technique was a method used by Ben when faced with a complicated issue. With it, he’d boil all the pros and cons of the issue down to a simple question with two possible outcomes. Simply put:

  • List all the points that support the question.
  • List all the points that counter the question.
  • Apply any necessary weighting factors to what’s been listed (if certain pros/cons are more important than others)
  • Look at what you’ve written, letting the the lists and weights drive the decision.

A very simple example (without weighting) would be:

  1. Take a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle.
  2. List all the pros down one side of the line, cons down the other. Keep each item to a single line (bullet point).
  3. Which ever side has more bullet points (pro or con), that’s the decision to make.

In applying Ben’s method to the 3 questions, we get:

  1. Does [what they said] require a response?
    • What would happen if someone did respond?
    • What would happen if nobody did?
  2. Does [what they said] require a response from me?
    • What would happen if I did respond?
    • What would happen if I did not?
  3. Does [what they said] require a response from me now?
    • What would happen if I responded now?
    • What would happen if I waited?

A key thing to remember: “I’d feel a lot better once I …” isn’t necessary the best answer (to any of the questions above). When you finish venting you naturally feel better because you’ve “run out of steam” and are less stressed than you were at the peak of your vent, but you’re still much more stressed than you were before you started. Not everyone is like Mel Gibson’s Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon, who went from wild-eyed, in-your-face-with-a-revolver-under-his-chin to a half-lidded, matter of fact “I’m hungry” in under 5 seconds. Stress takes the rest of us time to work out of our systems, to return to our “resting heart rate” as it were.

So, why stress in the first place? Ask your questions, look at your answers, then decide whether it’s worthwhile to pursue things.

Things that make you go "WTF?"

There was a little buzz among bloggers, kicked off this week by Podnosh (and picked up by Bad Science) around a report published by the Charity Commission stating that (to paraphrase) “wikis and blogs have no educational value”.  I’m not going to go into a detailed stance here (I’ll let the discussion on Podnosh and Bad Science do that for me, they’re doing a wonderful job), but I am going to make one observation:  What does this mean for the BBC? Let me explain.

If you take a look at who makes up the Charity Commission, you’ll find Sharmila Nebhrajani is one of the commissioners.  Sharmila is also COO of BBC Future Media & Technology, and this is where I get confused.  The commission has a member who runs the BBC department that handles its digital content, website, and (I would assume) blogs and podcasts.  The commission doesn’t see blogs as educational, yet the BBC continues to support Sharmila’s department in spite of a £36 million overspend.

Did I forget to mention that Sharmila also has a Facebook account?

Does this strike anyone as mildly … well … odd?

What a Trip!

Albert Hofmann, “the father of LSD”, died yesterdayat the age of 102! That’s one hundred two years old. Makes me wonder about these health nuts and what they espouse. However, that’s not the main reason I’m writing.

Think about this: It’s a common belief that, as you’re “crossing over” you review the events of your life … they “flash before your eyes”. In essence, you have a life-encompassing “flashback” as you leave this plane of existence. The ultimate trip, eh?

Now try this: One side effect of LSD use is the possibility that you will continue to have occasional flashbacks throughout your life, even long after you’d stopped taking the drug. Good trips, bad trips, didn’t matter. I had a friend who described his flashbacks as, “I’d be driving along and all of a sudden the sky would turn green, the grass in the median neon blue, and the highway a hot red. I’d be like … ‘cool … let’s see where this goes …'”. Anyway, you get the picture.

Now, here’s the final point to ponder: If your life of flashbacks flashes before your eyes as you pass, wouldn’t that set up an infinite recursion that would either:

  • Send you back in time, or
  • Make you immortal (since you wouldn’t finish passing until the recursion collapsed)


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