Respect redux

Into me and through me yesterday shot a moment of sheer rage, such as I have not felt in some years. I did not verbally flay the two persons responsible for the incident, however -- if only because I could not find them, and that not for lack of trying.

A small and meaningless thing, in a society which values the privilege of waste. A tray full of leftover conference sandwiches I had specifically asked, and been granted, and had confirmed with the two of them -- and stepped into the library -- and stepped out again five minutes later, to discover everything had been thrown in the trash.

It was not that I had not eatten yet that day. I was not hungry, for all that budget required of me that day a single meal, and that was not yet. The sandwiches would have been a welcome addition for later, for myself and for others. It would not even have mattered if another had gained those sandwiches: either way, someone would have appreciated them.

(I myself don't observe Ramadan as such. In a temperate clime, a few hours fasting I see as no great physical hardship. Each and every one of us does more than that, sleeping. Yet a fixed obligation to abstain amid constant availability presents its own challenge: and thus the daily fast enforces a certain mindfulness otherwise all too frequently absent ... as indeed does a temporary abstinence born of budgetary constraints: and no less a dictate of one's greater environment for all that it has not the force of community sharing and has not been Read by another first.)

The basis of a common humanity, existing within a shared world, is that of respect: for others, for our environment, for the greater whole of which we are a living, breathing part. Perhaps wars still remain necessary and perhaps they don't: but where respect for the other exists, killing another human being cannot but be the absolute last resort, never the first, certainly never simply as a diversion to avoid having to look too closely at other matters. For wooden beams to hold up our houses, a tree died. For us to eat, a plant or animal was killed.

Where respect exists, it is not possible to waste: yet perhaps it is required of each and every one of us, that in order to respect, we must first understand what its absence means.

In separating ourselves out from the greater whole, in placing ourselves above and forcing to our will all things over which we hold dominion, or believe we should hold dominion: we have equally abandoned the greater part of our willingness to invest respect in the other, where force or coercion or other simple exercises of our own will-to-power seem to us to do just as well -- and thus maybe we are starting to lose the ability also. We seem somehow to have internalised that to admit respect for anything not in one's own image is to be compromising, wishy-washy. To respect is to be seen by many as weak.

I don't agree. It is hard lines which show the true brittle weaknesses, unadmitting of challenge lest they shatter: and thus a refusal to allot respect to what does not fit -- even a determined personal mocking -- is one of the earliest identifying signs of an unquestioning ism. For the defense of choice has always been attack: and one needs to attack only as a means of asserting power over that which has not of itself submitted to that power.

I draw only one exception: those who have placed themselves -- or whom circumstances have placed -- in a position such that their choices affect those beyond themselves, leaders and motivators and advisors of their respective societies: these I hold to be legitimate targets for ridicule and satire as the general public sees fit -- or not! but only with respect to those choices, those actions tied to their rule or influence over others. Not the person themself. Never their personal lives.

In the shadow of the presses

It was not so very long ago that Pravda used to be regularly mocked for being an uncritical instrument of the Soviet government. When New Jersey's Visions Metro Weekly, more commonly publicised as the Newark Weekly News, sold its voice to the Newark city council for 100,000 USD, it becomes a legitimate expression of free enterprise. After all, the transaction was a choice made within full free will, and money did change hands ... never mind that the end result is the same.

Then again, if the free and open speech media had labelled Visions Metro Weekly a tabloid and mentioned that its purpose for existence had never been investigative muckracking, that its closest (and perhaps only) relation to what is commonly understood as a newspaper has always been its appearance: the story might have gone unseen altogether.

The contract expires in one year.

Religion, spirituality, and strictures

I understand religion to be a structure of beliefs shared among a community: with spirituality as the personal expression of belief, shared or otherwise. I invoke society into (specifically) religion (as opposed to spirituality), because I see religion, literally, as a social (interactive) construct. One can be spiritual in the absence of others: but to follow religion requires community.

Thus where the personal expression of faith follows the tenets set by the community, spirituality can encompass religion; and religion can certainly encompass spirituality (for upon what else was the communal structure founded?): but neither automatically entails the other -- nor is the relationship a static thing, what at one time was is not necessarily what is.

Yet both spirituality and religion, to an outside perspective, can appear confining: and indeed must, if the tenets are to hold any personal value. After all, what is a definition, if not words confining meaning? What is the worth of spiritual values, if they do not define identity?

To speak, perchance to be wrong

Overviewing/skimming through debates which, although covering a wide diversity of subjects, each individually tightly focussed on its selected theme: with a reluctance bordering on terror/hostile defensiveness at any attempt to tangent (let alone cross-discipline). Some degree of focus I can understand, even appreciate -- call it staying on-topic -- but never to allow any kind of straying whatsoever? An increasing reluctance, even, to hear anything that has not already for all intents and purposes been pre-vetted with the group?

Are so many social discussion groups so weak, these days, that a single good debate on a possibly controversial subject might threaten to tear them apart?

The curious thing about a point-by-point debate is that each side chooses which points to answer -- and can ignore those points which they do not choose to address. What I see happening in current debates is starting to remind me of another public debate I attended a decade or so ago, over certain academic research which had ventured into some (racially) politically incorrect areas. The one defending the academic research was defending the methods of research and the findings. The other was attacking the researcher's right to carry out the research in the first place. Both made reasonable arguments (although one tended rather more to emotion than rationality) -- and neither at any point addressed the core issues in the other's argument, and thus neither argument was truly tested. The two sides in the debate had diverged into skew lines: and could not possibly meet.

Interestingly, one primary reason for the skewing was because both sides entered the debate convinced that they were "right": as opposed to the alternate reason of entering debate for both sides to use the tension of dialogue to uncover something new to both. But, when the "truth" is already known, what can possibly be learned? Each raised point of one person's argument in the context of that earlier debate was thus inevitably re-interpreted within the other's framework. Not surprisingly, even the two sets of definitions of the same words did not match.

And so I try to stick to plastic tools -- not always successfully! -- and very important that they be plastic (in the sense of malleable) too: rigid tools themselves are a tool of debate-to-win, not a tool of analysis. The measuring instrument alters that which it measures: but some things do so more than others.

What is the purpose of a two-way mirror? Identity comes both from our own "self" awareness and in the way others see us. To rigidly limit to one or to the other is respectively to assert the illusion of individuality or to oneself become an endlessly reflective, endlessly distorting hollow mirror.

I speculate, yes, and constantly -- and constantly with the willingness to make mistakes in the speculation, and constantly with the hope that others, reading, will argue with me, test my points, perhaps to destruction and a more solid re-building. After all, I may not be "right"; and I would not wish my speaking to drown out or silence another point, perhaps more valid than any I might have raised. If I am to build at all, I have to be willing to be wrong. (In some things, I only hope I am wrong.) The tallest, most beautiful buildings are worse than useless if they are built upon sand. I try, rather, to raise a question: and see how others (re)define their thinking in considering that question. Sometimes, consideration of the question offers an alternate perspective for insight. More often, the question is answered within the answerer's contextual framework, with no attempt to step outside. In both cases, any more times than not, I learn things I never knew before -- which, of course, only creates new questions.

Questions are inevitable. It is the answers which blur. Perfection is a moving target.

To speak is not to listen. There is an old saying about conversations in the United States: that one person is talking, and the other is waiting to talk. Two individuals, each firmly escounced within their personal perspectives, each evangelistically (and often unconsciously) attempting to sway the other away from their deluded thinking and convince them of what is "right".

Where, here, is the listening?

Wedging open the (Shiawase) door

Sorry for this latest delay. Seems this lethargy that has been gnawing at the edges of my effectiveness all week was an influenza trying to catch on ... and now it has. Not that this is exactly a new thing, this month: drove it off once before and then again, far too much documented in this blog -- but seems this latest guest likes this abode. Ah well. Consider it the balance for the months and years before when I had gone completely without so much as a cold.

Probably for my own peace of mind I should not be reading just now the many scare-articles about the bird flu cropping up across the Internet like viruses. (Not that reading comes easily in any case, when the words keep fever-blurring on me.) Yet of late I have been starting to see other, societal symptoms suggesting a mushrooming apologia for multinational drug companies. The basic concept seems to be to that the multinational pharmaceutical corporations generally (and especially Roche, the patent-holder for Tamiflu) should be allowed greater leeway of action -- any action, whether or not valid tort exists against them -- to allow them to be able to manufacture enough of the drug to deal with the looming epidemic.

(Opinion remains split on whether any of the current lawsuits against various multinational drug manufacturers are legitimate. Some identify questionable science in a few cases and extrapolate to all. In this context I note that it is impossible to demonstrate scientifically a clear cause-effect without a double-blind controlled, and sometimes longitudinal trial: something ethically questionable to undertake where harm is suspected. It should also be noted that until very recently -- as remains the case in most world countries -- pharmaceutical companies have been under no obligation whatsoever to release all the results of their research, but could do so as selectively as they wished. Thus negative results for marketed products had been rarely, if ever, reported by the pharmaceutical company prior to or during product release: not because they did not exist but because there was no legal obligation to do so, so long as at least some positive outcome trials existed. Thus negative outcomes would rarely be discovered by the public until such discovery was first-hand.)

It is true enough that corporate research and development requires some measure of economic incentive to make such research viable within the capitalist system which has birthed these entities. Above and beyond product sales, such incentive is also provided in part by patent protection which is intended to grant the researching corporation or individual a specific time-limited monopoly on the developed product ... in theory at least: the nature of a patent is that process and structure must be made public to be patented, thus rendering it vulnerable. (The either-or threat, unspoken as yet, is government-sponsored piracy: by way of acting in the public interest to secure Tamiflu for its population independent of private enterprise.) Some companies choose instead to sidestep patent protection and retain secrecy instead: but for pharmaceutical companies this is not an option.

In this latest trend, I see a willingness born of panic to cede any and all legal rights of mid- to long-term protection in favour of possible short-term protection in the face of any perceived threat. Watch for legislation and judiciary decisions to be framed so as to increasingly wedge open the door to extension of patent protection periods and complete corporate freedom from product consequences, as well as imposing ever tighter restrictions on manufacturers of generics/clones.

No limit to profiteering from panic though, is there?

Interpretations

Eowyn ... you may wish to skip this entry.

Perhaps I have spent too much time wading through what passes these days for political discourse ... but let's try some definitions all the same, just for the sake of it: and these are actual ones I have seen in play, and at least in two cases quoted in full or part from a dictionary.
Fuck - lustful intercourse outside of marriage
Shit - filth before God's eyes, as in 'the best works of humans are as filthy rags before God'
Hell - where we go if we're naughty, and a bad place for god
Damn - what god does. Not you! Don't say it, that's vain!
Jesus Christ - appealing to the old guy for help, how dare we presume?
Hmmm ... those interpretations do come across as resentful, don't they? especially of the dominant forces in society -- and, by extension, of those absolutes defining the justification of those dominant forces? So let's try some slightly different ones:

Fuck
Scientific expression: "copulate"
Common literal alternative: "have sex"
Associated meaning: "oh, that did not go well!"
The "cheat": closest I can find is the Italian "figo", or "figs", which is at least as old as Dante
No particular association with marriage at this point in time: although those using it are somewhat more likely to be unmarried than married (correlation, not causal relationship), to have more stable marriages when they are married, to fall within a certain socioeconomic level, and so on. Associated with many, many other similarly blunt words detailing anatomy (especially female: for some reason the equivalent male expressions seem to have more acceptability, perhaps because the male organs are the more visible?). Easily the single largest category.

Speculation: the negative association might arise out of the current traditional reaction of both (unmarried) parties to discovering one (often undesirable) by-product of the act: pregnancy. This would suggest that in a society where pregnancy is always desirable, an equivalent association of meaning would not exist.

Shit
Scientific expression: "defecate"
Common literal alternative: other words of slightly lower "taboo" factor ("crap"), or "kidspeak"
Associated meaning: "oh, that did not go well!" (slightly milder than "fuck")
The "cheat": "shh -- ugar" (or anything else that can be extrapolated from the first sound in this manner)
A blunt expression for what is commonly perceived as an unpleasant (taboo?) bodily function. No really commonly used alternative exists except specifically among/when speaking to young children. Otherwise the function is simply not discussed.

Speculation: the negative association might come from adult societal perception of the act of defecating -- except in the context of teaching the child. This would suggest that in a society where defecating is not a hidden action, an equivalent association of meaning would not exist.

Hell
Scientific expression: none
Common literal meaning: a place of eternal damnation
Associated meaning: "This is not good", "Boy, am I in trouble now!"
The "cheat": "heck"
Tends toward the situational rather than the personal (ie. describing the current situation rather than a judgement of any person involved). Apart from its literal religious meaning (which btw implies the existence of judgement, and implicitly that of ultimate good and evil), the word has almost completely taken on its associated meaning to the exclusion of any others. This has had the interesting side-effect of making the word rather more generally acceptable, except specifically among those more religiously oriented (as distinct from "spiritually").

Speculation: the negative association is obvious, but requires a culture which has an underlying judgemental perception of good/evil and appropriate reward/punishment. (Observational perception of good/evil is not sufficient.) As that focus is diluted (and especially as judgement appears to become less and less associated with some ultimate rule and more and more arbitrary), the word simultaneously may become more common and less meaningful.

Damn
Scientific expression: none
Common literal meaning: to be condemned by an absolute power to a place of eternal damnation
Associated meaning: "This is not good" (but increasingly its reverse: "Damn" as compliment, echoing "bad")
The "cheat": "darn", "dang"
Tends slightly more toward the personal than the situational, although this can gray toward general commentary (especially with the associated "it"). Again the literal religious meaning implies judgement, with slightly less good/evil connotation. Increasingly as that judgement has been popularly turned on its head, the word is revised to its opposite as the values with which it has been traditionally associated are recognised (perceived) as arbitrary and reversed. At this point the word appears to be almost completely acceptable except among those most religiously oriented (as distinguished from "spiritually").

Speculation: requires a culture which has an underlying judgemental perception of good/evil and appropriate reward/punishment. As perception of absolute good/evil is diluted and judgement is seen to be more arbitrary, the word will increasingly lose its negative connotations. Already it has taken on its reverse meaning among the counterculture (the more liminal members of society): those most likely to be the receptors of judgement based on a good/evil division they might not share. If general cynicism continues to increase, any negative meaning is quite likely to erode altogether except among those most religiously oriented ... who might themselves become the counterculture at that point.

Jesus Christ
Scientific expression: none
Common literal meaning: in the dominant Western Christian culture, the Son of God
Associated meaning: "This is not good", "I can't believe I just did that" (neg), self-annoyance or annoyance at others
The "cheat": "Gob", "Jebu", "H" (from "Jesus H Christ", sometimes understood to stand for "hell"), "Ke-rist"
Cored in the seventh commandment ("Thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain"), and thus specifically in the ban on rendering any judgement except in God's name (and thus implicitly based on an absolute framework). Interestingly, as a vaguely unacceptable expression this is focused very personally, and specifically upon self-commentary or in personal, negative comparison with another -- almost as if the change of values from absolute to relative reflects in an increasing permission to judge oneself by one's own standards.

Speculation: absolutely requires a Christian perspective (although other culturally oriented equivalents do exist in other cultures rooted in a judgemental religious system). Unlikely to change further within the current societal context, since such change would also tend to remove all meaning from the words.


The pattern that comes across is that words most commonly agreed to be most unacceptable seem to be those words dealing with "taboo" or "hidden" functions: those things done by everyone, but not discussed. A different degree of unacceptability is directly tied to religious connotation: with the word acquiring more acceptability (and perhaps less usage?) as the religious association -- and specifically the societal framework by which judgement is rendered -- loses societal relevance as the sanction of absoluteness/impartiality and becomes perceived as more arbitrary.

Tongue-tied

For a long time I have known in the abstract that there exists a verb tense in ancient Greek corresponding roughly to "long ago, and a bit longer yet", which does not exist in most (any?) modern language.

I did not understand its meaning, however, until I myself ran headfirst into the need for it ... and that was the first I knew that I could conceive what I could not say.

Cycles come, and cycles go

In a fashionably polarised world headed by a few recognised and eternal gurus (o Ozymandias!), a new Internet "generation" discipling one side of the equation is once again meeting and immediately squaring off against the new Internet "generation" discipling the other. It seems to happen about once every 3-4 months (maybe correlating in part with college semesters?), and during those times very nearly the only thing one can do is to get out of the way and wait for the flak to clear.

But ... all cycles come full circle.

The Internet demands a different definition of "generation", as waves of newcomers sweep through a medium and become acclimatised in their turn: yet we all share the same conversational space. The effect can be likened to a tight group of friends talking about whatever friends talk about, only to be suddenly swarmed by all the new kids in town: some of whom are out for reaction, some for recognition, some for disruption ... all seeking a spotlight, all seeking reinforcement of their own views, all seeking company like to themselves. Perhaps a few will gradually merge into the tight group of friends. Gradually each finds their space (one hopes): and then the next bus pulls up, and the cycle begins all over again.
The seat behind the driver's chair is mine
The only section from his mirrors hid
So when I slide my ticket in the lid
Myself as well, exact behind the line.
Once safely in my chrysalis entwined
Enclosed from world without, one soul amid
The wasteland, mindless thread of selfdom rid
By silk self-wrought, to block out every sign
Of intimates, of these and thous and thine
Bereft in dreamless slumber, cold sea-brine:
On every face a narrative is writ
Though lacking script, dull eyes retain the wit
In protest, shriek against the endless tide --
But I remain, unseeing and unspied.

Alone, in a crowd. The image takes on entirely new connotations in the Internet world.

Biosphere

While I had been watching for some time the progress of the newest variant of bird influenza across Asia and now Europe (and at one point it had reached N. America as well); that is all I am doing: watching. Yes, I agree with the more visible assessments that should H5N1 establish itself in humans and become fully airborne, this variant could be potentially as dangerous as the Spanish flu of 1917 -- which itself would have played some role in bringing that war to an end, as countries increasingly discovered other concerns having been brought much closer to home -- but so are a dozen and more other diseases that we live with invisibly each and every day, most of which already are far more communicable and have comparable mortality rates.

Given that some basic steps are being taken such as to curtail spread insofar as possible, I see no need to add to a global hysteria-mongering.

We have even come to such accommodation with many diseases of our present and our past that their markers live permanently within our DNA: constant background possibility to burst loose in times of significant systemic stress. We know it best in that late cousin to chickenpox, shingles: but it is possible to catch even something such as smallpox more than once, even after having been vaccinated. (For me, this bit of trivia is family history: I grew up knowing first-hand what smallpox scars looked like -- and found amusement in watching the discovery-reactions of later doctors who had not.) It is only natural to take such steps as we can to avoidance: but we remain part of the gaiasphere, and as such we, no less than any other species, are subject to its checks and balances. Some we can attempt to deny or postpone: but in all things balance will be found, even if a forest fire ... and the longer we attempt to defer, the harsher that balance will end up being.

(Working within that balance rather than trying to fight it directly, the most effective treatments against bacterial diseases are no longer antibiotics but antibacterial phages: much of the research into which has been stranded by the sudden collapse and re-identification of the USSR into the CIS, abandoning Georgia. The politics of a term-focussed government is necessarily short-sighted.)

Nor did the current germ-of-the-day suddenly become a story only once it reached N. American and European shores. The world, it seems, is yet larger than it seems from an electronic Anglo-centric perspective. Nothing hides in the shadows: but until a drift of news is translated into English, it may as well not exist.

On truce in the face of disaster it seems, a few days ago, that I spoke too soon: and yet, no matter what the majority (even of militant independence groups) may believe or seek to impose, always there will be one. Think of it as the price to pay for living in a society which allows individual free will.