Archives for category: Semiotics

wiseman

A timeline of me changing my attitude on iconoclasm:

  1. When Russians pulled down Lenin statues, at the end of the Soviet era, I cheered.
  2. When folks in Seattle’s Fremont District put up a Lenin statue, I snickered.
  3. When American forces, during the Conquest of Iraq, hit some major sites of ancient Mesopotamian civilization I was deeply irked.
  4. When ISIS began dismantling, destroying and selling off ancient statues from Assyria as “idols,” I was aghast that any modern would wish to treat as objects for either current reverence or irreverence millennia-old statuary.
  5. When SJWs turned against the statuary of the Civil War dead, I was somewhat disturbed that anyone would treat centuries-old and even decades-old memorials as objects for current reverence or irreverance — other than a reverance for history.

My attitude about recent iconoclasm is not unlike my attitude regarding speech: just as the proper response to speech one does not like is more speech, the proper response to statuary one doesn’t like is not iconoclasm but more statuary. It is easy to destroy, not so easy to put up new monuments — they cost money, at the very least. Destroying statuary amounts to destroying history. And destruction, even the destruction of ugly history, seems more like childishness than maturity. Adults should be able to look at a statue and not get sucked into its implied ideology.

And, surely, the postmoderns are right: any given artifact possesses more than one meaning. We Hyperboreans are authorized to pick and choose the meanings we prefer, surely.

I prefer knowledge to ignorance, truth over myth, and seeing even the most vile of monuments as examples of history.

Yes, I am one of those people fascinated by ancient monuments. I have been since very young. You know: the Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu, Göbekli Tepe, all that.  My interest has engendered quite a bit of reverence for these monuments’ historicity, not allegiance to their original functionality. I am quite certain I would not support the bulk of the policies of the ancient monument-builders were someone foolish enough to attempt to revive those policies.

I made peace with Lenin being in Seattle. Still . . . perhaps I should fear the statue’s influence on Seattle politics. Could it have given succor to socialism on the current Seattle City Council?

Which brings up an important point: republican governments should probably forgo the making of monuments. They are inherently propagandistic, and though celebrating the heroes of the republic seems a fine thing, it is worth doing this privately, with private funds on private land. If republics have any legitimacy, it is in defending individual rights. Adding propagandistic and eulogizing monuments to the mix of political duties is part of the ancien régime where much effort had to be made to pretend that leaders were gods, or,  at the very least, God’s servants upon the Midgard.

All this notwithstanding, were it up to me, a motto emblazoned upon every legislative house with the words Mundus vult decipi would be more apt than any other maxim, like E pluribus unum or Novus ordo seclorum.

But in politics, truth is not what you lead with.

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One of the odder things about dealing with people in the political realm is the recurrent reliance upon simple definitions — speaking as if an Official Meaning could trump reality.

For instance: we call a government policy “a minimum wage.” People therefore seem to think that what the government does in enforcing such a policy is establishing wage rates. I mean, “that is just what we are doing, right?” Wrong. A minimum wage law is a law prohibiting hiring people below a specified rate. It is functionally a prohibition on hiring at a specified set of rates. It does not and cannot guarantee any person a wage, for it does not set any wage — wages being, after all, the terms of a particular kind of trade contract. Wages are set by businesses and workers in the market. The government has merely made some contracts at certain rates illegal.*

Calling a legislated wage-rate floor a “minimum wage” is like calling the prohibition of heroin a “minimum opiate” — with only some opiates allowed (Darvon, Dillotid). Under minimum wage laws, only some wage contracts are allowed. On the transactional level, both policies are policies of prohibition, not guarantee.IMG_1239

And yet people blithely go along speaking of minimum wage laws as if they established employment at the levels specified.

Like magic.

Say the word, and it happens.

This struck me when I was reading the Earthsea trilogy by Ursula K. Le Guin, when I was a youth. The magic rules in these fantasies are all about knowing how to find and speak the True Names of the thing or person to be manipulated. Now, these are terrific books. Le Guin’s account of word magic basically amounts to the reification of the human reliance upon words. But one must not believe that this is actually how the world works. The books are good because this is how the human mind works — especially in dreams.

In the actual world, outside our mindscapes, there are no True Names. Words here in the everyday world serve as conveniences of communication. They are semiotic tools. Signs. And though they come in three varieties (icons, indices, and symbols), and evidence no small degree of complexity in the dimensions of their utility and meaning, we can hone these signs to focus in on separate essences — logical atoms — each distinct.

And this is where the power of definitions come in, when we so hone our focus as to become clear as to what we are talking about, and what we are talking about pertains to the world around us and our operations within it. When we define something as x, and point to an X, our definition of x does not change the pointed-to X in our mere act of definition. The thing pointed to, X, may contain essence x as well as essences y and z. So all our blithe confidence in our definitions may not reach far beyond those definitions.

To pretend they do is magical thinking.

Yet that is what dominates politics.

I have found this over-imputation problem in rights theory, in discussions of religion and politics, and in . . . nearly everything said by a leftist today.

IMG_2080Let us say I am arguing with a feminist about the nature of sex and gender and human rights, and I make the case that feminism has advanced some grave errors and moral atrocities. And the feminist responds, “but feminism is merely equality of the sexes — it’s in the dictionary, stupid!” My jaw drops. The dictionary definition does not track what feminists actually say. Though I advocate equal rights for all, regardless of sex, I find that much of what self-designated feminists do is seek superior status for women and girls over men and boys. Special privileges. More rights. And feminism, today, contains a whole lot more bizarre content than is represented by the seemingly inarguable cause of “sexual equality.”

Another example relates to antifa. I often complain, to my friends, about the violence of these leftist bullies in black. And yet mainstream center-left mavens assert that we should not worry at all about these thugs. Why? “Because they are literally ‘anti-fascists’!” Well, yes, fascism is a bad thing. Sure. But fascists can, in reality, masquerade as anti-fascists. And fascists are not the only authoritarian bullies to worry about. But leftists merely point to the definition as if they have proved something. It is as if they think they can utter a few words of a definition and, magically, change reality with their utterances.

This seems like the simplest and least sophisticated form of logic-chopping. It does not even quite rise to the level of logomachy. But when done confidently, with brio, it can bowl over opponents, partly out of the sheer audacity of it all. Which is why one sees the method everywhere, especially in the realms of religion in politics. It is the sophistication of simpletons.

And it is now a major problem of our time.

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* An exception, in a sense, is when governments raise their own employees’ — government functionaries’ — wage rates. But you should see the difference here.

Dr. Jordan Peterson came into fame and infamy for refusing to comply with a Canadian law forcing him to use the “preferred pronouns” of self-designated “gender non-binaries.”

Recently, he was challenged by linguist John McWhorter on this issue, mainly on the tangential matter of psychological insight. McWhorter’s point was that while he admitted that some students who desired a peculiar manner of address might indeed be trying to push a power play upon him, he could not be sure, and it was just easier to comply with their requests, no matter how bizarre.

Well, prudence was not Peterson’s issue with the law, and, were I in such a position, it would not be mine, either. Besides, there is an issue even more basic than politics. Easier? How is changing the basic, most in-grained features of one’s language “easier”?

But there is one sense in which McWhorter is right, it is easy to comply. Because the whole thing is in most cases a non-issue. And I am surprised that a linguist of McWhorter’s brilliance would not make a point of it. One does not address another by a “gendered” pronoun, in today’s Engish. One uses “you.”

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What all this talk about preferred pronouns is really about, as near as I can make out, is how we address others “behind their backs,” so to speak.

“I’m asked, often,” says Professor McWhorter, “to call people, singularly, ‘they.’”

In the third person.

So, what these gender-obsessed youngsters are really fretting about is not how they are addressed, but how they are referred to — in conversation in groups where they are being referenced to other people with personal and possessive pronouns.

Peterson is surely in the right that this sort of thing should be negotiated. People who cannot handle social negotiations of this sort may understandably yearn to cry to Big Brother to enforce the exact terms, but if they are bucking a long tradition, they need to stop being such . . . juveniles. And conjure up from deep within themselves a little tolerance.

And maybe even respect for the past. And biology. And . . .

After all, is it not the people who wish to change others’ behavior, and tradition of long standing, who must prove the most? The burden of persuasion usually falls upon the radicals. It is they who must be expected to be the more tolerant and forgiving. (Amusingly, in the collective, their non-gendered pronoun falls trippingly off the tongue as well as the typing fingertips — for there is no gendering of “they/them/their/theirs.”)

That they are not tolerant, in this issue, but demanding, instead, is a sign that they are pampered, “privileged” whiners with little to recommend them as civilized beings.

And, as for me . . .

mygender-meme

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N. B. The first graphic “meme,” above, is from my second memegenerator.net account: Wirkman. (Not my first, Lucian.) The second graphic meme refers to a philosophy central in the early science fiction novels of F. Paul Wilson, which featured prominently in his LaNague Federation books such as Healer (1976) and An Enemy of the State (1980). “KYFHO” stands for “Keep Your Fucking Hands Off.”

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Early adopters of a meme — which could be a folkway, a technology, an idea or whole ideology — are different from late adopters; indeed, early adopters are psychologically distinct from late adopters across time, even regarding the same idea.

This means that the early adopters of “progressive” statism in the 19th century and early 20th centuries do not look like current proponents of the same ideology. That is, because today’s progressives are late adopters — indeed, holdouts . . . as their ideology, once dominant, begins to receive significant cultural challenge — they are essentially conservative or reactionary in temper.

This explains current ideological conflict, and the outrageous censoriousness of the left. The people who think they are radicals are conservative, and the people who think themselves conservatives may, in psychological fact if not on some historical ideological maps, be the radicals.


From Alex Ross’s The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (2008):

In 1984, the great American avant-garde composer Morton Feldman gave a lecture at the relentlessly up-to-date Summer Courses for New Music, in Darmstadt, Germany. ‘The people who you think are radicals might really be conservatives,’ Feldman said on that occasion. ‘The people who you think are conservative might really be radical.’ And he began to hum the Sibelius Fifth.

What we now know for sure: feminism is crazed lunacy.

But when did we know it?

IMG_2080This varies from person to person, I guess. I have not called myself a “feminist” since my 20s, but for most of those subsequent decades, I tried not to come off as too extreme in my opposition. Why? Probably for the reason most skeptics of feminism have not: the term is associated with sexual equality, which I just call “individual rights” — and I did not want to erode that notion in any way. But as the years have gone on — leading inevitably to my death, to the death of the human race, and (I gather) to the heat death of the universe — it has become clear that today’s feminists are not interested in sexual equality. They talk, instead, about “gender,” cannot keep a somewhat nebulous concept even they straight (oops: my heteronormativity is showing! I should have said “queer”). And their relentless attacks on white heterosexual men, and their demands to give special favors to “the oppressed classes” of women and POCs and LBGT+ers, show their lack of interest in equality of rights before the law, and a nasty itch for compensatory preferences and class-figured “equality of outcomes.”

Which is why they seem so dangerous.

But crazed lunacy? That can be seen in their lack of empathy and broad-mindedness, in seeing other people’s point of view. The grand example? “Manspreading.”

This is a term that grew out of the grand feminist epithet, “Mansplaining.” Now, this concept did not bug me, for it merely meant the habit of some men to explain to women their own experience.

Though male tendencies to do this do seem to spring from the dimorphism of our brains — men are stronger systematizers, so we tend to turn, say, emotional complaints into logical problems, and women, less tolerant of systematically modeled explanations, tend to object to that — you would have to be something of a mome not to see how this could be reasonably interpreted as disrespectful and logically odd (not a contradiction, necessarily, but logically odd, as P. H. Nowell-Smith used the term). So, “mansplaining” did not bother me too much.

Initially.

Then the word began to be used to condemn men for explaining anything to women — including their own male experiences! The outrageous overreach of this occurs when feminist women accuse of Men’s Rights Activists of mansplaining, just for defending their own individual rights and sexually differentiated experiences.

Which leads us to the moment when it became obvious to me that feminism had run off the rails completely: when young feminists concocted men’s dread crime of spreading their legs in public.

Manspreading, or man-sitting, is the practice of men sitting in public transport with legs wide apart, thereby covering more than one seat. Both this posture and the use of the neologism”manspreading” have occasioned some internet criticism and debates in the US, UK, Turkey, and Canada. The public debate began when an anti-manspreading campaign started on the social media website Tumblr in 2013; the term appeared a year later. OxfordDictionaries.com added the word “manspreading” in August 2015. Use of the term has been criticized as “a caricature of feminism” and the practice has been juxtaposed with examples of women taking up excessive space in public spaces with bags.

Now, this Wikipedia entry ably indicates its absurdity even in this first paragraph of the encyclopedia entry. It is the reductio ad absurdum of feminism — but advanced by self-identified feminists. And the habit of taking up more than one seat is something I have witnessed, and often, in America — when corpulent women bulge onto additional seats and into the aisle. Not a pretty picture. But “fat spreading” is not something that went viral. Manspreading did.

Why? Because young women have been trained by the feminist tradition to nag at men as a right and a . . . privilege. For being women. The superior sex.

Er, gender.

It is ridiculous in this case because it is exactly the opposite of mansplaining: it is womansplaining — women explaining to men the nature of men’s own bodies.

I remember reading one of the first articles on the subject. The young woman feminist said [something to the effect of] “come on, guys, your balls are not that big.”

Well, one hates to bring up personal experience in such matters. But I can assure the reader, I never boast about testicular massiveness. Nevertheless, I could explain to you, at length, about testicular pain. Merely from keeping my legs together. It is a thing. I believe it gets worse with age. Men spread their legs because they do not wish to incur sharp and persistent pain.

But the young feminists apparently never even asked men what they were doing. The men, of course, may not have noticed what they were doing. And perhaps men, so ready (usually) to please women, have eagerly tried to comply.

I wonder how many men now experience enduring agony in their genitals merely to please these women.

But I won’t do it, and I completely sympathize with those men who despise any woman who complains about manspreading.

Early in the aughts, when public discussion of the penis was everywhere, I predicted that soon “cunt” would become common in everyday speech. The pejorative use of the term for objectionable women aptly affixes to any woman who marshals the term as a critique of icky male habits.

Now, the context: Girls are taught to keep their legs together. And for good reason. Opening a woman’s legs provides easier access to her femalia, into which the penis was designed (so to speak) by nature to penetrate. It is the reasonable life plan of a woman to restrict access to this much desired hot spot, and so keeping one’s legs together became part of heteronormative practice, for heteronormativity doubles down on the basic evolutionary strategies of the sexes, protecting women from most men while enabling them to secure the cooperation of a limited set of men (usually one) in exchange for access to the Delta of Venus.

And, because the female of our species lack descending sex organs of a rather obviously fragile nature held on by the thinnest of tissues, but with all-too many nerve endings . . . their characteristic habit of keeping legs tightly closed, when sitting, is easy for them.

The suspicion we non-feminists have had for a long, long time is that feminists have been trying to turn men into women. This issue is the prime example.

Experience and standards that are apt for females get applied, dogmatically, to men — even when inapt and wildly inappropriate.

And it may be inappropriate indeed. I am no anatomist, or diagnostician, but I suspect that men who have been keeping their legs together at the behest of female expectations may have contributed to the startling decline in testosterone levels in the modern male population. But this is just conjecture. Regardless of medical consequences other than discomfort and pain, men closing or crossing their legs was once seen as effeminate for good reasons.

So, this is now the paradigmatic issue upon which I define feminism: the application to men and boys the standards appropriate for, and experience derived from, women and girls.

As epitomized on Broadly, a few days ago, with “100 Easy Ways to Make Women’s Lives More Bearable.” The tenth demand is most objectionable:

10. CLOSE YOUR LEGS ON PUBLIC TRANSIT, OH MY GOD.

All-caps, even. As if her point had one quantum of wisdom to it.

It does not.

It may be time to stop thinking so much “of the women.” Frankly, Dani Beckett (perpetrator of the above indecent inanity), I am not interested in “making women’s lives more bearable”: feminists can stop complaining about trivialities (their feminist etiquette breached by male extremity splays) and stop expecting the world to revolve around them. Take your female privilege and stuff it.

On a kinder note: I suggest re-introducing into our culture that now-forbidden power, common sense.

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It has become commonplace: the hallmark of today’s self-identified Left is to play encomiast* to diversity while brooking scant diversity of opinion. Indeed, difference of opinion now fills them with scorn and rage.

What do we call their error here?

They have ready terms for people who hate or discriminate against others on the basis of race or sex: racism and sexism, respectively.

They have ready terms for people who hate or discriminate against gays, trans people or foreigners: homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia.

So, what do we call their hatred for people with different philosophies, who diverge on matters of facts and values?

Shall we dub them with an “ism” or a “phobia”?

If it is to be the latter, may I suggest xenologophobia?**

I have many ideas for the ism variant, but I suspect I should merely ask others for the exact term that has been fixed upon by professionals. (Call this a bleg.)

Nevertheless, I proceed. And I note that it would be especially satisfactory to base the epithet on the philosophical nature of the error.

How? Well . . . racism and sexism, for example, are not just about hatred or “discrimination.” The error in these attitudes, if we drill down to principle, limns the nature of the prejudice: racism is the “making too much of race” by imputing some generalizations about a race to individuals of that race regardless of merit.

Even were the modal Swede socialist-minded, it would be an error to assume that every Swede you meet is a socialist, no matter how statistically relevant the identification with Swedes and socialism. This would be racism, were Swedes considered a race. (Otherwise we could call the error Swedism? I mean, ethnism?)

Similarly with sexism. “Sexism is judging people by their sex,” wrote the coiner of the term, “when sex doesn’t matter.”

Leftist ideologues who will not debate their opponents respectfully, who exclude non-leftists from the community of scholars on criterion of lockstep ideological agreement, put too much stock in their ideas, and have abandoned liberality, tolerance. We could simply and rightly call them illiberals. But that doesn’t quite get to the heart of the matter.

They negatively judge people by their ideas when ideas don’t really matter . . . by ideologies when ideologies shouldn’t matter. But we can’t call these illiberals “ideaists” (“idealism” already having been nabbed for other purposes). Too clumsy.

But hey: we do not need the -ism or -ist, really; there are other suffix options: think of Christianity. Isn’t there an -ity suffix, or something similar?

How about idiots?

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* Encomiast, remember, was defined by Ambrose Bierce as “a special, but not particular kind of liar.”

** If they fear even going halfway to meet people they disagree with, for fear of endlessly parsing disagreement, we could call them Zenologophobes.

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Caught a few moments of Scott Adams, on Periscope last night. He explained why calling terrorists such as yesterday’s New York pedestrian killer “cowards” is “not very good persuasion.” Mayor Bill de Blasio just did that, as GWB had in mid-September 2001.

Adams is of course right. “Coward” is inapposite. It makes no inroads into the belief system of would-be terrorists, surely the rhetorical target. As I explained, years ago, in defense of Bill “Politically Incorrect” Maher’s infamous ridicule of Bush’s “faceless cowards” designation, the cowardice charge is weak-minded and pathetic.

A better insult — better even than Trump’s “losers” epithet — would attack the terrorists’ faith and efficacy.

Adams suggests “burning in hell.”

A spin on that might be:

“Damned raisin-eaters.”

You see why, right?

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A local theater is advertising a special night for fans of an upcoming movie. In the deal “concessions” are included.

What a bizarre use of the word. The theater managers seem to think concessions means food and drink.

Though it is not specifically so listed in my dictionary (nearest at hand), I am fairly certain that the etymology runs like this:

In certain venues, the owner/manager would subcontract out the food and drink, as in a caterer — or in the case I grew up with (and with which most folks would find familiar) the school would cede, on game nights, the “refreshments stand” to be run by a school club, for the profit of the club as a fundraiser.

Thus the word concession refers to “a right to undertake and profit by a specified activity a concession to drill for oil : a lease of a portion of premises for a particular purpose; also : the portion leased or the activities carried on. . . .”

In my high school’s case, the band would be granted a concession to profit selling goodies for one event, the home-ec club the next, and so on. Concession thus serves as a term of art within the business ambit of management and volunteers of a kind of service at an event and location.

It does not have any legitimate place in consumer lingo. It makes no logical sense, at least, to apply the word like this, to extend the meaning in this way.

But since kids deal with “concessions” in school, when they grow up and find themselves managing movie theaters, they infer that “concessions” is a reasonable name for a refreshments stand wherein goodies are sold. But it makes no sense in the movie theater for the simple reason that the stand is run by the management, not by a contracting third party, a “concessionaire.”

Thus the language changes, with semantic drift, by the inattention and slovenliness of the speakers. And copywriters.

(This has been a very low-level pet peeve of mine for decades, I . . . concede!)

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My little sister had red hair. I mean, really red hair: dark, bright, astounding.

When she was a very young child, adults, particularly women, would gush over how beautiful her hair looked. This constant barrage got on her nerves.

One day, after being asked for the umpteenth time where she got her “beautiful red hair,” she responded, “my hair is black!”

That was a statement, a social statement. I am not sure if it was irony, exactly, but it was a signal: stop bugging me.

Many statements are not what they seem. What looks like a false statement may very well be a performance of some sort, a “speech act” more than a proposition.

Which brings us to race. In America, sometimes it seems as if everything brings us back to race. The fretting about race is so ubiquitous that I would not be shocked to hear someone respond to some inapt racial query with “my race is red, white and blue.”

But we probably will not hear this from Michael Jackson’s daughter, Paris.

83FE0212-4584-44EE-85DE-EB247C7E6E80“Most people,” she says, “that don’t know me call me white. I’ve got light skin and, especially since I’ve had my hair blond, I look like I was born in Finland or something.”

So, doesn’t that make her white?

At least “off-white”?

Not according to her father, who “would look me in the eyes and he’d point his finger at me and he’d be like, ‘You’re Black. Be proud of your roots.’”

Dutifully, she follows her late father’s instructions. “I consider myself Black,” she says.

She does not look “black.”

I guess the one-drop rule still applies. The commonsense color-coded race designators no longer apply; it is not about color as such, any more. The issue seems to be tribal membership, instead . . . and there is open enrollment.

Or maybe it is about self-identification, the presentation of self in a social context. It is a badge.

Progress? Regress?

I confess, it seems utter perversity to me. But then, I not only look “like I was born in Finland or something,” according to 23andMe I am thoroughly and almost entirely Finnish. To me, race and ethnicity are fun games to play, something of a lark. But seriously, I “identify” as my very own self, an individual. Or That Individual, as Kierkegaard put it.

Others do not have — or take — that “privilege.”

They seem to prefer not to emphasize their personhood.

Bizarre.

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