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Archive for August, 2013

Interpretive Aging

August 13, 2013 Leave a comment

When a piece of art is created, it stands as a document of its time. Inside a novel we enter a world constructed by an author. Moral concepts become instilled inside its pages along with details of everyday life: what type pf technology did they use and how did they exist? Seemingly mundane details become a record of “how things were” and function to provide a reader in the future with a sense of history.

One interprets art from this “future looking backwards” perspective. The art exist as a relic of the past, but in our interpretation we apply contemporary perspectives to historical documents. Whether we do so objectively remains unclear, but each reader evaluates the ideas of a novel with his or her perspectives. Standards of morality become tools to evaluate the morality of the characters in this works of art.

In evaluating works of art we garnish value on the basis of an unfair standard. Are the characters interesting to our contemporary ideas? Are their actions ethical or do they disgust us with their ideas. Many works of art fall victim to their contents: characters are racist or sexist or display behaviors that seem downright absurd. Time has the ability of making serious art into farce and farce into profound documents of record.

For some works of art, times functions to nominate material to the canon. What work deserves to be passed on to future generations? What is worth our reading time now in this “busy world of now.” For the great works we find time to give our time and attention. While some work lasts forever, it is a rare gift bestowed on works of art. Often we grow distant from works of old but only on the basis of their ideas. To no fault of their makers, some works of art grow stale with time. All art must evolve with the audience but does so with the curse of textual permanence. The greatest works of generations past often become drivel or, worst of all, documents of shame wherein times of old seem offensive and ignorant.

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Self-Referential Reverie

August 13, 2013 Leave a comment

In this New York Times article, Edward Snowden refers to himself using the word “spy”. Such self-reference comes after others have worked to label him with their own loaded terms. These terms run the gamut of hero to villain: sometimes “Whistle blower” sometimes “traitor”, the actions of Snowden inspire a very mixed public reaction.

President Obama referred to Snowden with a reference to his age, remarking that he wouldn’t respond to a “twenty-nine year old hacker.” Whether Snowden’s age has anything to do with his actions (is he symbolic of some generational perspective on patriotism?) remains unclear. What we do know is that Snowden sees himself as a spy and in referring to himself we gain a sense of what it is he hopes to accomplish.

What can we make of this term “spy”? The article also includes comments from Snowden demeaning popular American media in the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11 and casts himself as public advocate. Based on his comments, he seems to feel he is the “white hat” spy in this game of cat and mouse. He seems to view himself as the hero in this escapade and the general public his victims to be saved. Oddly this remains a fantasy of Snowden- while nervous from what his “leaks” have revealed, the general public has responded with a very mixed reaction. Some see him as a hero while others see him as traitor and while we cannot know what will come from what he has revealed, we can learn a great deal from how he refers to himself and what it is he feels he’s doing in doing what he’s done.

Determined but Denied

August 11, 2013 Leave a comment

For many, the battle for civil rights comes from a desire to establish equality: one group has been denied and the goal is to erase discrimination. These actors exist in the world where their benefits already exist. They work not to establish rights for themselves but to extend the benefits they enjoy to others. While not the case for everyone, many who work towards greater rights recognize the dangers of inequality and work to eliminate an advantage.

Others work from the other perspective: the position of the burdened. For these figures their work is an uphill battle where the desire for equality drives the action. Recent history features African-Americans and Homosexuals among this group. For these individuals it is their common bond of denial that drives them forward. Moving from a position of wanting equal benefits, they battle against an established power for recognition and award.

It is these figures that present an incredible demonstration of patriotism. It is one thing to exist in a country where rights have been provided. For those whose enjoyment of liberty comes automatically at birth there is a different level of appreciation. Given so much for no reason other than arbitrary details of birth (race, gender, class), these figures have less to bind them to the work that went into establishing the system they enjoy.

For those denied equality it is their stoic determination and unwavering patriotism that strikes one with zeal. To be denied equality and still remain patriotic is remarkable. To exist in a world where the denial of equality comes via the reasoning of trivial and arbitrary details of things like skin color, gender or class is a testament to true patriotism. It is one thing to have pride in one’s country when one has been given so much. Still noble, these figures cannot comprehend existence in a world where these rights did not exist. It is in the patriotism of these figures, denied so much for so long and for such trivial reasons, that a starkly impressive form of patriotism exists. It is in these figures that the purest form of patriotism exists: denied and yet determined, unloved and yet still loving.

Forbidden Speech

August 3, 2013 Leave a comment

The ability to end a conversation is the finest measure of communicative power. One who can deny a conversation controls the very existence of ideas. Indeed the very birth and death of thought rests with these figures whose personal perspectives decide what can be spoken and considered.

Disgust is often utilized as weapon of choice for those with this control. Some offensive feature of a topic is presented and used to justify the end of its consideration. A topic is discarded and no matter how keen the insight, the speaker’s perspective left ignored.

Political correctness broadly categorizes this process of topic consideration. Certain ideas deemed “beyond the pale” simply go without discussion. Ironically by the very act of denying their existence we often perpetuate them and multiply their power. The comedian Louis C.K. considers this process in a joke about racial vulgarity. In essence, he suggests that by using abbreviations for these words we force the listener to speak the unspeakable in their minds. The joke seems to ask that if we’re so offended why do we insist the other person think the word? Might a better tactic be to use the word constantly as a means to desensitize its content and make it stale?

Unfortunately we latch on to certain powerful words and use them as a means to control conversation. These verboten terms function less for their actual meaning and more as weapons to control discourse. We know who is aware of our cultural norms by the words they use. Speak the wrong word and reveal yourself as an outsider.

Communicative power stems both from speaking and not speaking. To control a conversation is to decide the existence of ideas. Is this power ever beneficial? Often groups in power use this ability to discard the discussion of certain topics as a means to perpetuate their existence. If we never speak of Topic X does it even exist? Never can we register our disgust if we’re not allowed to discuss the topic. Keep it silent and it forever will exist: ever hidden in plain sight.

Addicted to Excuses

August 2, 2013 Leave a comment

What is the purpose of an excuse? Most often, it is used after someone has done something wrong. “I’m sorry, but…” precedes the reason explaining the mistake. Maybe lack of knowledge or some inability to control oneself lead the the mistake. Did a medical emergency strike you at an inopportune time and you had no choice but to act as you did?

Excuses can also be used to explain failure to act. “I’m sorry, but…” precedes the reason why you didn’t do the desired action. Maybe a missed party or a failure to provide some service. In these cases the excuse is used to explain the failure.

Other uses may exist, but both forms have a common goal: defer punishment. In the realization that a failure has occurred the actor who failed is asking to avoid punishment. An excuse is an explanation for a mistake. It both acknowledges that the error has occurred, and by its deployment, that a standard existed. It is the violation of the standard that establishes the fault (ie, the crashing of the car or drinking of the forbidden drink) and leads to the need for an excuse.

In some cases excuses are acceptable. “I didn’t know it was rude to wear red hats here on Sunday” seems like a valid excuse. Some unusual feature or rule of some place or group may be beyond the knowledge of a stranger.

Excuses fail more often than they succeed. “I’m sorry, I’m an addict” seems less an understandable explanation and more of a justification. If one uses an excuse, he or she is asking for forgiveness. “Don’t punish me because…” is the message beneath the spoken words. Excuses also acknowledge that a mistake has occurred, in essence saying, “I know what I did was wrong, but I don’t deserve punishment because…”

To grant validity to an excuse is to grant forgiveness. To deny one punishment on the basis of an excuse is to subvert the laws of justice. “You’ve broken the rules, but I’ll let you go.” Excuses aim to allow crimes and are a criminal’s most common tool of use. Honor them we may, but in doing so we risk depleting the very basis of our authority and suggesting that our rules aren’t really existent and what really matters is the charm from which your crimes can be explained.

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