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Monday, January 23, 2006

Weird Wise Words

Came across this website called World Wide Words while searching, again, for the meaning of "the exception proves the rule". What an interesting and informative site that reminds us of the wonderful and wacky world of the English language! It also appears to be the place to watch for a preview of newly coined words and phrases, their definitions (what an impressive project it is!) and history, most of which have yet to make their way into standard dictionaries--phishing and televersity, for example. One can certainly learn a quick thing or two just by glancing through the list, and clicking on words that catch your attention. I learned the meaning of obesogenic, defined as referring to "conditions that lead people to become excessively fat—a worrying trend in developed countries, especially among young people, who are eating too much of the wrong things and not taking enough exercise...", a word that may have first appeared in print in 1996 in a British newspaper.
Saturday, January 14, 2006

The importance of our worldview

I was led to reflect a little on the above question by Theodore Dalrymple's recent article, "Most murderers just need to get a life".

Dalrymple, a psychiatrist, draws on his experience of preparing reports on murderers and notes a pattern--among the poor which feature prominently--which leads him to conclude that "their main problem was that they had not the faintest idea how to live and yet - this is the hallmark of modernity - they were plentifully supplied with ego." His analysis of this group of murderers is a harsh one, and one can all too easily accuse him of showing a moralistic bourgeois prejudice against the lower classes. But I think that much truth lies in his analysis. The issue is really not about how much money one has; these murderers aren't criticised for being poor. As Thomas Sowell notes, Dalrymple's own father was born in a slum, but in a very different era which did not give the poor so many excuses and incentives to remain at the bottom of the social ladder. Dalrymple rightly observes, "The poor who once prided themselves on such things as respectability, cleanliness, honesty, orderliness and thrift, often in the most difficult circumstances, now pride themselves on their bohemianism. Disorder and chaos are a metonym for freedom and authenticity. But they are bohemians without being artistic, and the result is a squalor scarcely credible in times of supposed prosperity." We are largely what we believe and think, and what we do often arise from what we are, inside. Much like the clothes we wear, the inner life manifests itself in the outer which is a reflection of what is inner.

Dalrymple describes the typical home of such a murderer: a small messy apartment where the television and video dominate the inhabitants' unproductive lives. In his words,
"these are the homes in which the television or video is never switched off so long as there is someone awake in the house. There are also many more videos on shelves in every room throughout the house, for images of a pseudo-reality mean more to the inhabitants than most of life as they actually live it." Drifting aimlessly from one vicarious pleasure to the next, and being employed in not much else besides satisfying certain basic needs and desires, these people, as it were, make themselves more susceptible to criminal tendencies and opportunities.

According to Dalrymple, these typically present details of such apartments tell us a great deal about the people who inhabit them. Their lack of a healthy worldview and purpose-driven inner life manifests itself in the messy and degrading clutter of dirty clothes, beer cans and videotapes. I would go further to suggest that their abject looking homes are not only the effect of their having 'no life', but also a cause of the continuation of such an existence by making them inured to such a lifestyle, or perhaps subconsciously persuading them to despair of ever being able to live on a higher plane.
To break from this vicious cycle, one will need a radical change from within.

Can we as individuals avoid, or step out of the type of worldview and life Dalrymple writes about? Can we really fault these murderers for having, as it were, 'no life' in the first place? These are complex questions, but I think that the answer to both questions is yes. It is true that many biological and sociological factors play a part in shaping us, but blaming our parents or society for the lives we lead and the wrong we do undermines our ability to think and choose for ourselves, a capacity and prerogative that is at the heart of what it is to be human, a creature made in God's likeness.
Thursday, January 12, 2006

Good work, Military Review!

This is my first post in a long while due to a busy mommy schedule, and I am one who feels more at home with a friend's playful definition of politics as "many insects" than with its more conventional one as the art or science of government or governing. As such, it seems a little strange that I should be commenting on anything regarding the US military. But I just felt like doing a little blogging on this article which made me impressed by the willingness of the US Army's Military Review to publish so scathing a criticism of its soldiers and their work in Iraq. To me this is one of the best things about America and liberal democracy. One is free, within reasonable legal bounds, to disagree, to criticise, to comment, on even the most sensitive of issues. And if the criticism is given by well-meaning gentlemen (excuse this plausibly un-PC term), is constructive, or could be used by the parties being criticised for honest self-examination, then the more the better even though criticism is often unpleasant business.

Thus, while some may question the wisdom of publishing an 'anti-US Army' essay in the Military Review, and others may disagree with the accuracy of the critique, I applaud its editor, Col. William M. Darley, for having the moral courage to publish such a critique.

"We've had some very strong reaction as to why the Military Review would even consider publishing this," he [Darley] said as he strolled across the grounds of Fort Leavenworth last week. He said he did so because he wants "to win the war" in Iraq.
Thursday, January 05, 2006

Berkeley Trip (20 Dec 2005 to 4 Jan 2006)

P1000357The alternate title to this post is renqing. I stayed in the Berkeley area for three years and Elaine one, yet it sometimes seems as if we have been there for ages.

And it is not quite because of the wonderful weather (though, as Mark Twain said, "the coldest winter I've ever spent was a summer in San Francisco"), the character of the quaint (read, "Berserkely") university town, the wiff of freedom (or "running amok", as your will), or the well heeled squirrels of Grinnell Natural Area--though these will always have a special place in our hearts; it's always been the people.

It has always been in large part the "tangible humanity", as I like to call it in a more reflective mood, that makes the essential difference. Some have become friends, others we only just or barely know. All play an essential part in defining the character of the place.

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