Slow Roundup 2

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

1. When I go to work, I park my car at a lot several blocks away and take a shuttle bus to my building. Recently at the bus stop, I overheard a woman claiming matter-of-factly over a cell phone that "The Holy Spirit was talking to me." Nah. That was just the wind of superstition howling at the last few flames of the Enlightenment.

2. Have you ever noticed that self-sacrifice is the ideal of altruism, and yet it is not called "human self-sacrifice"? That would be redundant, but it would also be a helpful reminder of what we are being asked to do. Put this another way, why is it that human sacrifice is always wrong -- unless the victim commits the act himself? But these are all things that if we thought about them too much, we might not do the dirty work ourselves....

3. My brothers are very funny. Once, one of them out of the blue asked the other, "You know what's good about cat meat?" The other had no answer. So the first one continued, "It's free."

4. Ann Coulter, when she attempts to pretend that there is no such thing as a "religious right", will sometimes cite hit counts from Lexis-Nexis searches for "religious right" in left-wing media reports. I wonder what a similar search of "secular left" among her own writings (or those of other conservatives) would yield. As I have pointed out here before, "secular" and "leftist" do not mean the same thing, but conservatives are working overtime to make you think they do.

5. As a child, I knew adults who would say things like "It done tumped over," meaning "It fell over." These are the same type of people who will refer to a suit -- any suit -- as a "monkey suit".

6. I never claimed I wasn't weird! Two of my favorite smells are diesel exhaust and dead skunk. I got both the morning before Thanksgiving when I took the tram downtown to pick up our rental car.

7. There is a difference between collecting for charity and attempting to expand the welfare state. Having said that, I still have to suppress a mild urge to laugh any time I hear Salvation Army bells around the holidays because they immediately remind me of Ayn Rand's phrase "the leper's bell of an approaching looter".

8. Is it just me or isn't it inexcusable in this age of high technology that when someone like me from a ten-digit dialing area slips up and forgets the "1" before a long distance call, he gets several rings preceding an ear-splitting tone and an annoying message about how to dial long distance? Why not a voice mail stating that the call is long distance followed by the option to cancel or continue? Would that really be so hard to do?

9. Help! My head may soon explode if I don't figure out a snappy comeback to all the Christers out there who substitute religious hectoring for common courtesy. Particularly annoying are people who say, "Have a blessed day," instead of something like, "Have a good day." I might be able to pull off "Have a blast, too, man!" if I were a hippie, but I'm not. Any ideas? I don't particularly care what they choose to believe. It's the rudeness I want to make clear. [Update: On further thought, this really applies only to a few exceptional instances for reasons Kyle Haight brings up.]

-- CAV


: (1) Several minor corrections and edits. (2) Added a note to end of Item 9.


Darren said...

Somebody I know once referred to the Salvation Army bells as "guilt bells."

Target stores do not allow those bell-ringers on their property. It would probably be hard to accurate calculate this, but I would love to know if keeping those people away increases their Christmas sales. I've done a lot of my shopping there!

Gus Van Horn said...

I have heard that Target keeps the "guilt bells" away, and I've wondered the same thing.

The ban exists only because the bell-ringers had been the lone exception to a corporate policy against allowing solicitors.

Jennifer Snow said...

Tell them "Thanks, Lord Satan loves you, too!"

Either that or, "I didn't sneeze, what are you talking about?"

Gus Van Horn said...

I like the second better. The first too easily looks like they've "gotten to you" (beyond simple rudeness) enough to have made you stoop to borrowing from their pantheon.

Anonymous said...

What about a snappy comeback for all the Allahers who say 'salam' instead of Good Morning?

Kyle Haight said...

I have to question your assumption that "Have a blessed day" should be interpreted as rude or religious hectoring. It's a statement of goodwill expressed in a form consistent with religious principles -- that doesn't make it an attempt to push religion. Everybody expresses themselves in ways consistent with their basic premises. Ayn Rand used to wish people "good premises" and ask them "how's your universe?" Should we view that as a rude attempt to impose atheism on religious listeners? If so, why is it OK for Rand to be rude, but not the religious, and if not, what's the difference?

I think the best approach is simply to return the statement of goodwill in a manner consistent with your own premises, with a faint stress on the secular term you choose as an alternative. Rand's "good premises" is a candidate here, or perhaps "have a benevolent universe"?

Gus Van Horn said...

Kyle and Anon.,

You both bring up a good point, and it is more obvious with the far more common practice of saying "Bless you!" after a sneeze or "God bless America." I had thought of the benevolence angle myself, and almost didn't post that item at all on that basis.

I suspect that most of the time, that is the case, and would continue acting as I have, but perhaps stressing a secular alternative as Kyle advises.

But last night, someone really rubbed me the wrong way, and then "blessed me off", so to speak. As a result, it occurred to me that both (a) I didn't have a good, ready reply in reserve for that person, and (b) I hadn't really thought through the issue very much anyway. So I threw it out there.

I think I have a bead on the snappy reply I want and the right perspective on the whole issue.

Thank you both for your input.


Clay said...

When my brother-in-law went to work at a hospital near Memphis he was looking at a chart which said, "DFO."

He racked his brain trying to figure out what obscure terminology from medical school that he simply must have forgotten. Upon asking a nurse he was informed that "DFO" stand for "Done Fell Out."

Other related terminology was "I've got the sugar" for I have diabetes, and "I have the high blood" for high blood pressure.

DFO is still the best if for no other reason than the fact that the nurses actually write it on the charts.

Gus Van Horn said...

What blows my mind about such constructions is the high degree of cluelessness or indifference it takes to use them as adults.

To produce "DFO" on a hospital chart, one has to go through at least 14 years of eductaion and fail to notice that most people don't speak that way -- or fail to give a damn that they don't.


Clay said...

In fairness I think that in the South that the term would be widely understood.

Gus Van Horn said...

Yes, but also understood not to be proper English, and by an educated person, not used at all by people from outside the South, particularly any doctors fitting that description on the staff.

It's one thing for someone who doesn't know better to say something like that, but quite another for someone who does to keep doing so.

Burgess Laughlin said...

"[...] 'The Holy Spirit was talking to me.' [...] That was just the wind of superstition howling at the last few flames of the Enlightenment."

I know very little of the Enlightenment, as a period of history, but I have been reading a little lately, mostly in Peter Gay's two-volume The Enlightenment; in various articles in the four-volume Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment; and in biographies of Kant, whose life spanned much of the period.

One tentative conclusion I have drawn is that, as progressive and exciting as the period was compared to the preceding period, it was nevertheless a period of turmoil, conflict, brutality, mysticism, and emotionalism in some of its elements.

From one bookend of the Enlightenment to the other--from Locke (d. 1704) to Kant (d. 1804)--advocates of the Enlightenment (including, officially, Kant) struggled against "enthusiasts." These people believed God (theo-) was in (en-) them, talking to them directly.

Some periods of history are more positive than others for objective people. However, I suspect that generally the elements of the various periods are similar. Only the proportions change.

Gus Van Horn said...

I for one, am all for resurrecting that older, more pejorative meaning of "enthusiasm".

A small part of the battle for a more rational culture (and by no means a substitute for putting forth strong arguments in favor of rational philosophical positions), is to show support for the good.

Our culture is saturated with enthusiasm for mindlessness and even worship of thuggery. Expressing contempt for the sort of mindlessness I have described, along with open support for the good, is something I think we must do as well.

Kyle Haight said...

I'm intrigued by the use of "I've got the sugar" as a description of diabetes, and "I've got the high blood" as a description of high blood pressure. Both constructions have something in common: they take a random concrete extracted from a longer proper description of the symptom and use it as a label. What makes them funny is that the concretes selected are random, not essential. (This is particularly true of the second one, in which the concrete is literally at the word level.)

I have this vision of a patient faced with a diagnosis he doesn't understand, grasping at straws in a futile attempt to grasp what the doctor is saying. The mentality on display in these cases is seemingly incapable of abstraction and essentialization. Rather, it is tragically concrete-bound. I can't help but connect it to the post of Monica's you linked to in today's Quick Roundup, on grading public school exams.

It's amazing to me how many problems in the modern world can be traced back to concrete-bound, short-term thinking. There's an article there waiting to be written.

Gus Van Horn said...

It is at times like this that I wish the cultural war were being won and you had a few more Objectivists in fields like linguistics. I take the pattern you detect as arising at least in part from from the dialect.

This does not exclude an epistemological problem as an explanation. In fact, it leads to another interesting question: How much of an effect can learned language patterns have on conceptual development?

The closest thing I have ever seen to an attempt to entertain such a question is the book, by Eleanor Wilson Orr on Black American Vernacular called Twice as Less. I read it years ago, but it was very interesting.

As for the blog post you mention, I didn;t round it up today, but perhaps I should have.

Kyle Haight said...

There's definitely a connection between psycho-epistemology and these kinds of dialect issues. One of the major reasons I don't speak that way is because I don't think that way. Such a dialect doesn't allow me to express my thoughts. It's simply an inadequate tool for my personal expression.

The interesting question, as you say, is to what extent the causality runs the other way. It could be that exposure to poor speech contributes to poor thinking. It's also possible that the presence of poor speech implies poor thinking in the adults, and that poor thinking gets used as a model by the child. As children, we tend to view the behavior of our parents as definitionally "normal", or at least acceptable, and that applies both cognitively and existentially.

It's interesting that you mentioned Twice Is Less. While I haven't read it myself, I was aware of it and actually thought of it while writing my earlier comment. I'd love to see more solid research on these kinds of psycho-epistemological/linguistic connections from an Objectivist standpoint.

Gus Van Horn said...

Twice as Less.

The title comes from one of the very types of usage considered in the book and found to hamper comprehension of certain types of mathematical concepts.

I strongly recommend the book.

Matt F. said...

One of the reasons for my intense distaste for protracted periods of interaction with the general public is that inevitably you will have to stand in line, wait at a bus stop or something along those lines with a big clump of them. In such a situation, it is nearly impossible to block them out completely. Staying focused enough to navigate through the activity at hand necessarily means allowing some of their blathering to slip in.
Yesterday, in a check-out line in Best Buy, I heard the woman in front me say into her cell phone that here children were only getting three presents a piece because that is how many presents Jesus got (you know, the three wise men and all)--although I'm sure Jesus would've liked the portable DVD player better than myrrh. I was unable to suppress the involuntary snorting chuckle I let out.

Gus Van Horn said...


I think Miss Manners would have given you a pass even for a full-fledged belly laugh for that one!

Thanks for sharing!