2009-10-29

Further musings on dichotomies... briefly

Have you ever noticed that if you don't absolutely agree with someone, they often tend to assume you absolutely disagree? Why is that?

note - this is not in reference to the comments on the previous post at all, just general thoughts.

2009-10-23

What love isn't....

I just want to make it clear that there has never been a definition of love that includes "makes a point of changing other peoples' behavior". That's part of the definition of fear.

Thanks.

2009-10-22

Right or wrong...?

It is often necessary to admit that you are wrong in order to love someone, especially when you feel absolutely certain you are right.

Moby - Study War

A song from Moby's new album Wait For Me.

Finally brethren, after a while
The battle will be over
For that day when we shall lay down our burden
And study war no more

2009-10-20

Dichotomy

I've been thinking a lot lately about the idea of dichotomy, and how it's promoted and ingrained into our society until many people literally cannot think in any other terms but black and white, left or right, liberal or conservative, republican or democrat, christian or secular, whatever the two opposing viewpoints are.

It's almost as if our country runs entirely on the fuel of dichotomy and staged battles against groups of people on either side of certain issues. It seems that we've done this for so long, and with such fervor, that many people are now completely unaware of this fact, and are completely incapable of thinking about life in any way other than in dichotomies.

Here's how it goes: if you're a republican, anyone who doesn't agree with the republican 'agenda' is obviously a democrat, or at least a 'liberal'. If you are a democrat, anyone who doesn't agree with the democrat 'agenda' is obviously a republican, or at least a 'conservative'. If you're a Christian, anyone who doesn't agree with your accepted Christian agenda is a liberal, secular, and is probably trying to take away all your rights, and if you're not a Christian, the Christians are probably all trying to bang your door down to tell you how evil you are.

Obviously this is a generalization, as not everyone behaves this way - but this kind of behavior has become so rampant that I feel like it's the majority rather than the minority who are entangled in this mess.

Here's why I feel this is damaging. Life is just not this simple. You cannot simply group and categorize people by these labels, ascribe a set of beliefs to them, and then just make all kinds of wildly radical statements about what they do or don't believe, what their agenda is, how they're trying to ruin everyone in your own category, etc. All this tends to do is alienate people, make them feel misunderstood, and want to lash back. It certainly doesn't help solve anything, except maybe for easing your conscience by allowing you to dismiss huge groups of people as irrelevant.

Another reason this is damaging - if you get used to thinking about life in these categories and labels, you cease to be able to comprehend something that doesn't itself claim a label. For instance, in the U.S. right now, it's difficult for many people to understand a person who rides a bicycle for transportation as just a regular person who happens to use a bicycle instead of a car to get around. Mostly, they are just labeled "cyclist" - which carries with it all kinds of sports baggage, bad traffic behavior baggage, funny clothing baggage, and a tangible sense of "other-ness." To give another example, people often refer to 'liberals' as people who completely follow the American democrat agenda, believe in huge government with lots of spending, limitation of individual human rights, agreement with any philosophical view that comes along, wish-washy and of course, out to undermine anyone who comes up against them. If you think though, about the people who would usually be grouped into that category "liberal" - there are so many different viewpoints and beliefs and ideologies that there is no way you could generalize and say that everyone in that group is the same - and in fact, many of the viewpoints expressed by those in that group would be quite similar to viewpoints expressed by people in the group who would label them as "liberal".

Dichotomies are a great way to promote enmity, strife, and hatred. They do several things - they give you a sense of belonging by dumping you in a box with other people; they give you a sense of working against something - that is, the people in the other boxes; and they give you an easy way to not really think about the people you're fighting against in any concrete terms, but simply as an object with a label. It's exactly the kind of mindset you see surface on a mass level during war time - 'we' group together as 'us', and label 'them' as 'them' with all of the obviously negative connotations that we can attach to them, and then it's easy to just say "we have to eradicate them, because they represent everything that is opposite of what we represent." We did it with Germany, we did it with Russia (and likewise, they did it to us) - because if you can portray the 'other' as being obviously opposed to the 'we', then you have a good reason to promote war. In reality, our societies, and especially the people in those societies, are not all that different, but we have to make them so in order to justify eradicating them.

In the same way, the people in the groups of 'liberals' and 'conservatives' or 'christians' and 'secular' or 'democrats' and 'republicans' are not that different either, and the people in each group display a wide range of beliefs, opinions, viewpoints - if you actually get down to looking at them. But while we're all wrapped up in these little ideological wars all over the place between groups of people that don't really even exist in any kind of concrete way, we cease thinking about or doing anything that really matters.

2009-10-13

A good quote

"To exchange one orthodoxy for another is not necessarily an advance. The enemy is the gramophone mind, whether or not one agrees with the record that is being played at the moment." --George Orwell

In other words, simply changing the fashionable or widely accepted opinion or view on something doesn't necessarily mean you're making progress, if it was accomplished simply because the majority regurgitates whatever ideas are fed them. The danger is exactly that mindset, the unthinking acceptance or rejection of things. As long as that persists, there's no telling what might happen.

2009-10-09

I love Big Brother... er... I mean Christ.

I just saw that the lovely folks who came up with the idea to do Conservapedia have now decided to do a conservative "translation" of the Bible.

As of 2009, there is no fully conservative translation of the Bible which satisfies the following ten guidelines:

  1. Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias.
  2. Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, "gender inclusive" language, and other modern emasculation of Christianity.
  3. Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level[2].
  4. Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: using powerful new conservative terms as they develop;[3] defective translations use the word "comrade" three times as often as "volunteer"; similarly, updating words which have a change in meaning, such as "word", "peace", and "miracle".
  5. Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction by using modern terms for it, such as "gamble" rather than "cast lots";[4] using modern political terms, such as "register" rather than "enroll" for the census.
  6. Accept the Logic of Hell: applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil.
  7. Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning.
  8. Exclude Later-Inserted Liberal Passages: excluding the later-inserted liberal passages that are not authentic, such as the adulteress story.
  9. Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples: crediting open-mindedness, often found in youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels.
  10. Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities.

In reading through these items, I can't help but be reminded of the principles of Newspeak set up in the book Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell (go take a look at the article if you don't know anything about the book).

Let's consider them here:

"The basic idea behind Newspeak is to remove all shades of meaning from language, leaving simple dichotomies."

"The underlying theory of Newspeak is that if something can't be said, then it can't be thought."

In the book, the Party has invented a language called Newspeak, the aim of which is to reduce vocabulary to the point that nothing substantial that is opposed to the views of the Party could be expressed in language, and therefore could not be thought in any concrete manner by people who only spoke Newspeak. In the book, the Party combs through all existing literature, translating it thought by thought into Newspeak (since literal translation is impossible, they instead translate the original idea into one that fits within Newspeak), so that nothing can be read by the citizens which contradicts the views of the Party. This also has the effect of creating only strict dichotomies between things. If something is not in line with the Party, it is directly opposed. This is the only way of understanding things, and it is a great way of creating fear, tension, and setting up "us vs. them" situations with anyone it becomes convenient to alienate. After all, a common enemy unites, right?

Now, let's go back to the stated goals of this conservative Bible translation:

"Providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias."

Translate thought by thought into a language that allows room for one ideology.

"Using powerful new conservative terms as they develop;[3] defective translations use the word "comrade" three times as often as "volunteer"; similarly, updating words which have a change in meaning, such as "word", "peace", and "miracle".

Create new words and remove others until the language only expresses ideas which fit a single ideology.

"Explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning."

Writing your own interpretation into the text, so that only one meaning can be interpreted by the reader.

"Excluding the later-inserted liberal passages that are not authentic, such as the adulteress story."

If a passage cannot support our ideology, we will remove it.

"Preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities."

Reduce the vocabulary of the language and remove possible ambiguities so that only one meaning could be understood by the reader.

In general, this just got me thinking that if being conservative means stifling thought, dumbing down and restricting expression, and associating God with a political party and agenda, I'm happy to not be conservative.