A DECLARATION OF WAR

The meaning of a word or phrase is how it’s used, and its use changes with the alacrity of the weather. Kleenex used to be a brand name, now it’s synonymous with facial tissue. Likewise to vacuum became to hoover.

Most words in English are compounds, and sometimes, e.g. skyscraper, you can decipher its meaning from its atomics. But as often as not you can’t. Decolonisation does not mean reversing the effects of colonisation. 

In fact this failure of reducibility can apply to whole sentences. Black lives matter, Asian lives matter, Hispanic lives matter, Jewish lives matter, and so on. So you’d think it would follow that all lives matter. But by all lives matter is meant that black lives don’t. Go figure! 

But you can’t figure, because as often as not words, phrases, whole sentences,  whole dissertations, are not reducible to their atomic constituents. Hate crimes have nothing to do with hate. “Is she attractive?” “She has a wonderful personality.” An interrogative is now an assertive, e.g. asking a question about the Holocaust is Holocaust denial, and of course Holocaust denial is anti-semitism. An essay denying indigenous exceptionalism is racist. 

As I say, you can’t go figure, because what one says, no matter how precisely he’s said it, need bear no relation to what he’s taken to have said. And so the smart money goes to saying nothing at all; or would were it not that it’s now been decided that “Silence is violence!”

There’s something we’re each required to say – for example that we do indeed need to decolonize the classroom – but none of us has the faintest idea what we’ve just said. And thus have the new Inquisitors completed the work God didn’t quite finish at Babel.

A small number of us – a very small number – are doing what we can to preserve the meaningfulness of our words. And to hold others to the meaningfulness of theirs. We’re told this is a culture war, and that we’re on the wrong side of history. The Moriscos and Marranos had the good sense to get on the right side. The only alternatives were escape or the stake. Times have changed. I’m not going anywhere. Torquemada take heed: Your robes are as flammable as mine.



Categories: Everything You Wanted to Know About What's Going On in the World But Were Afraid to Ask, Social and Political Philosophy, Why My Colleagues Are Idiots

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20 replies

  1. Your bogeyman is a straw man.

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      • Oh, Bruce. You really don’t want to use biblical scripture as an example, do you? You’re cherry picking.
        Genesis: 5:2 Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them “Humankind” when they were created.
        There’s a lot of blessings and cursings going on in the bible.
        Matthew 6:1 Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. (NIV) ;0)

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    • I’m not following Bruce’s logic here. To strawman an opponent’s argument is to assign him a position he does not hold and then attack that position. Is Bruce saying that the SJW does NOT hold that all lives matter is code for black lives don’t? That they DON’T hold that silence is violence?

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      • Not in the manner you insinuate.

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      • I’d have thought that my “insinuation” was quite clear. The SJW is quite clear that she thinks if you don’t speak out, for example against racism, you’re a racist. So the only way not to be (for example) a racist is a speak out against racism. How is this NOT what she’s saying by silence is violence? Perhaps if you’d offer our readers an argument rather than a soundbite we’d be better able to understand each other.

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      • The aphoristic use of language is a form of argumentation. It may not be academically formal, but I’d reckon its use meaningful if one were to take time to contemplate its contents. Some arguments—dare I say, truths?—such as those communicated in prose, poetry, and humour, aren’t as meaningfully felt when analytically expounded. Of course, analysis is worthwhile; however, I’m encouraging a different kind of analysis. The kind found, for example, in Voltaire’s Candide.

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      • When poetry and humour are employed as argumentation, it’s called rhetoric. I have no problem with rhetorical flourishes. God knows I use plenty of them myself. But if rhetorical flourishes can’t be translated into arguments that can be evaluated for validity, consistency, and soundness, then they’re incommensurable with such arguments, and if they’re incommensurable then, for all our intents and purposes, they’re just noise. Does Bruce want to concede that “Silence is violence!” is just noise? If not, he’s going to have to tell us what “Silence is violence!” means in intelligible English.

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      • Being a bystander to bullying doesn’t also make one a bully, but it does make one an enabler of bullying should the bystander choose to stand by and do nothing.

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      • Okay, Bruce, so if racist speech is violence, and silence is violence, then anti-racist speech must be compelled speech. So now how exactly is compelled speech not bullying?

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      • Personally, I don’t feel bullied by what I consider my moral obligations.

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      • And if the Moriscos and Marranos felt it was their moral obligation to confess Jesus, they wouldn’t have felt bullied by Torquemada either. The problem, Bruce, is that there are millions of people, myself included, who do NOT feel morally obligated to speak out for the right of trans women to compete in women’s sports, or whatever, nor to speak out against that right, but who are being bullied into doing so. Of course you COULD deny that this is bullying, but then you’d have to try to distinguish between the current spate of academic bullying and the Spanish Inquisition. I suppose you could claim that the academic who’s being dismissed from her post isn’t being burned at the stake. But then neither is the trans woman. Is this really the position you want to take?

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  2. Paul said: “There’s something we’re each required to say – for example that we do indeed need to decolonize the classroom – but none of us has the faintest idea what we’ve just said.”

    Here’s an example from the Government of Canada.

    “Setting new directions to support Indigenous research and research training in Canada 2019 – 2022”

    https://www.canada.ca/en/research-coordinating-committee/priorities/indigenous-research/strategic-plan-2019-2022.html#5

    “At the same time, it was also widely recognized that decolonization is a highly complex topic with no single definition or interpretation. Research was acknowledged as playing a critical role to furthering a better understanding of decolonization in ways that reflect the distinct experiences among different Indigenous communities. The federal granting agencies’ engagement with Indigenous communities is seen as an important step for ensuring a sustained commitment towards decolonizing historical structures and processes of research funding.”

    My comments.

    So, we don’t know what ‘decolonisation’ is or what it means, but we’re going to go ahead and use it.

    ‘What’ are we committing ourselves ‘to’?

    If to “[further] a better understanding of decolonization in ways that reflect the distinct experiences among different Indigenous communities”, then are we to better understand that which we haven’t understood in the first place? And, if we are required to do so to reflect “the distinct experiences among different indigenous communities”, then must each of these communities be reflected in the classroom? Even when individual communities are at odds with each other? Is this a reasonable burden given the objectives of a university, objectives that empower indigenous and non-indigenous students alike to pursue their own education and research interests? What if indigenous students, just like their non-indigenous counterparts, don’t want to pursue their old ways?

    There’s a child’s story book called A Cranberry Thanksgiving. The lesson is about good intentions and being deceived by appearances. A young girl and her gramma lived alone together and every Thanksgiving each invited one guest to their table who would otherwise dine alone. The young girl invited Mr. Whiskers, a scruffy, uncouth sea captain, who the gramma suspected of wanting to steal her famous cranberry recipe. Gramma invited a dapper gentleman, Mr. Horace. Gramma trusted Mr. Horace but it was he who tried to steal the cranberry recipe. Mr. Whiskers caught Mr. Horace and exposed his theft.The moral: beware those who carry a gold cane and smell like lavender. Of course, the reverse might be true, or both are trustworthy, or neither trustworthy. But where valuations of good and evil come into play, as attached to notions of colonisation, proceed with caution. Repackaging old products in a ‘new and improved’ shell is a well-known and effective sales tactic.

    One last comment concerning the wants of indigenous and non-indigenous students alike. In the document I’ve linked is a paragraph under the subheading, Supporting Indigenous students.

    “They also noted that the current academic advancement model often competes with their ancestral values. Indigenous students and young researchers often find themselves torn between conforming to the expectations of their post- secondary institutions and staying true to their knowledge systems and responding to the needs of their communities.”

    How is this observation not true for every university student?! This just is what a university is and does. For first generation students especially there is often tension between the expectations of post-secondary institutions and staying true to their knowledge [belief] systems and responding to the needs of their communities [and families]. I am speaking as a class traitor. But this disruption is expected. Going to university allows, encourages, depends, on people evaluating what we think we know, how we know, and so on. In some sense, we become strangers to our communities and families. We speak different languages, e.g. jargon heavy, grammar standardised, accents diminished. As in my community, “I seen a moose” changed to “I saw a moose”. Some might walk away from religious faiths, some into one. Some thwart their family’s wishes and heavy funding to become a medical doctor to become an unemployed artist. Some refuse to send their own kids to Sunday school, Hebrew school, or Chinese school as they’d endured. Some change political affiliations and can’t stand to sit to dinner with their families.

    Some embrace us and encourage us, some are jealous, some are contemptuous, some come around and get curious themselves. I think many friends and family just worry about losing us or that we’ll look down on them. It’s love, loss, and fear. Here’s an example of old gift, new package. Normal human phenomena get dressed with a new theoretical wrapper. And a bow.

    “Pam’s gone to university, turned her back on us, thinks she’s better than us. I sure miss her, I hope she’s okay, I hope she doesn’t forget her roots, forget me.” And you know what? These worst fears can and do happen. We have no choice but to live with it.

    And it’s not just going to university. I moved from a small rural town, much like a Rez where my community was my family, a part of me, to the city. I experienced culture shock, got caught between two worlds. My mom’s family immigrated from a large rich family to live in poverty in Canada pre-ESL and social services. And there was no internet or phone system to keep connections with home. Some people are cut right off with these moves. Some lament this break, some don’t.

    Acknowledging these commonalities doesn’t take away uncomfortable, disorientating, and sometimes frightening experiences indigenous students MIGHT have. These experiences are not inevitable or true in any whole or part for any given student. But they are understandable since they are common enough among the student population generally. So, rather than say, hey this experience just shows how different you are, How ’bout, Hey, you’re not alone. You’re not different or weird. The pressure is normal. Follow your heart and your interests. You’ll be okay.

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  3. Re: ‘decolonization’ and the input of the elders and indigenous communities to this end. As a young, adult university student I would not want my family and community at university monitoring me.

    Replace indigenous with Mormon.

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