Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘words

Our elites / Follow-up: Some unfortunate words and uses

leave a comment »

A belated-because-too-long excursion to Some unfortunate words and uses:

A potentially problematic word, and one which should be used much more rarely, is “elite[s]”:

Many of the sources that I read make complaints about e.g. “our elites” or “our ruling elites”. (For various, usually correct, reasons ranging from poor results to a “rules for thee, but not for me” mentality.) Sometimes, the use appears ironic, e.g. when someone with a known low opinion of the competence levels of the “elite” uses the word—and that might be, barely, acceptable. Similarly, sometimes a clear implication of “self-appointed elites consisting of Dunning-Kruger victims” shines through. (Such writers also often use “midwit” or some other more suitable term.) Less acceptable are many uses that seem to take “elite” largely at face value, often with implied or stated ideas of “if only the elites could walk a mile in our shoes” or “[some negative thing] proves that rule by an elite is bad—we must let the people have a greater say”.*

*Note, with an eye on the below, that I do not disagree with the idea that even a true elite might benefit from that mile or that even a true elite needs some type of democratic check.

The latter presuppose that the “elites” actually are elites by a meaningful standard, which is, mostly, a faulty assumption. By all means, a typical U.S. senator (or similar figure in the country at hand) is likely to be above average in both intelligence and education, but the step from there to a true (intellectual) elite is quite large. If we look at some famous U.S. politicians, are Biden,* Hillary, Harris, Pelosi, AOC, or even Obama persons of truly great intellect?** If so, they have hidden it well, as they appear unimpressive even by the standards of politicians. The situation among Big Business leaders (another group often included in these “elites”) might be better, but is still not what it could be—and an increasing proportion of “diversity hires” on the higher levels does not help. Do not get me started on large parts of the academic “elite”.

*Even discounting his apparent severe mental degradation.

**The examples are all Democrat. This because (a) the problem almost consistently appears to be worse on the Left, (b) the Democrats are currently in charge (=> ruling elite), (c) the aforementioned sources tend to be more negative about the Left. Many cases can be found among e.g. Republicans too, however.

Correspondingly, to take current political “elites” as a sign that rule by (real) elites would be a bad thing is incorrect. Speaking for myself, I would be much happier and much more willing to trust or comply with politicians if they were true elite. (And I am on record as a proponent of e.g. IQ cut-offs both for voting and for holding office.) Many of the problems we have arise simply from non-elites presuming to make decisions for others—many of whom are more intelligent, educated, informed, whatnot, than the self-appointed nannies.

Written by michaeleriksson

April 5, 2022 at 12:27 am

Some unfortunate words and uses

with one comment

There are many unfortunate words and uses of words, say, abuse of “they” where it does not belong or the abomination that is “homemaker”*. Below, I will discuss some of the more problematic cases. I stress, however, that there are a great many other examples. (Note e.g. earlier texts on “raising awareness”, “leader” (also see excursion), “create” ([1]), and “discrimination”.) There are also a great number of words, e.g. “diversity”, which are not necessarily used incorrectly, but are attributed with positive or negative characteristics in an incorrect manner.

*Consider e.g. the implication that a house or an apartment without a homemaker would be a mere residence—not a home. By PC standards, applied in the other direction, this would make the word offensive to e.g. a working single person, who would, then, be homeless. Or take a family where both parents pursue a career in the office: Would they not rob their children of a home? Would not the implication be a duty for a mother to stay back and make a home?

  1. Deserve:

    Ever more often, claims are made like “X deserves Y”—usually without an explanation. Often, especially in the case of “I deserve”, it is no more than wishful thinking,* a “I want” in disguise, or some cheap propaganda trick. Only rarely does it refer to something that someone has actually earned. (And when someone has earned something, then use “earned”! Do you “deserve” that raise or have you actually earned it?) This as if “deserve” would be a magic phrase that created an entitlement to whatever is desired—abracadabra.

    *Up to and including claims from many stupid and self-centered women that they “deserve” some variation of Prince Charming for a boyfriend—while giving every impression of having more in common with the Evil Step-Mother/Queen than with the Noble Heroine. (I note my extensive readings of relationship forums, maybe, some fifteen years ago.)

    In another direction, actual rights are often diminished by a “deserve”. For instance, the public in a democracy and Rechtsstaat does not*deserve free speech, secure and fair elections, answers about this-and-that government action, whatnot—it has a right to these things. A writer fighting for free speech should not hide under a wishy-washy “deserve”, thereby implying that there is no right and that the government is allowed to limit free speech, but should speak out loudly and clearly for the right.

    *Or, rather, whether it does or does not in some sense “deserve” is irrelevant.

    There might be need to clarify whether a particular right is based in law, e.g. the Bill of Rights in the U.S., whether it arises from an ethical principle (that a law might well violate), or whether some other set of principles, conventions, international treaties, … is the basis. Even so, a right is a right and should not be diminished to a mere privilege by words like “deserve”.

  2. Conversation:

    When used correctly, there is nothing wrong with “conversation”—say, for a talk about some trivial matter over tea and biscuits. However, now there appear to be “conversations” over the war in the Ukraine, the climate, the energy crisis, election laws, whatnot. These are not, and should not be, conversations, be it in private or on some general national or international level. These are topics for discussions, debates, and arguments* (which depends on circumstances and details).

    *In the strong-disagreement-or-worse sense; not in the support-of-my-claim sense used in most of the rest of this text.

    Whether the main problem is that the topic is diminished or that the approach is faulty, is unclear—but not that it is a problem. As to faulty approach: A conversation will often contain opposing views and disagreements, but only within limits, as pushing too hard will sour the mood or turn the conversation into an argument. At the same time, big issues must be open to strongly opposing views, the presentation of strong arguments for and against the respective views, etc. A conversation about whether Putin is trying to conquer Europe or protect the Donbas republics would be a pointless triviality. Even over tea and biscuits, nothing less than a discussion will do.

  3. Science:

    Again, when used correctly …

    During the COVID era, “science”* has degenerated into a mere slogan in the mouths of politicians, journalists, etc.—and use has often been problematic even before that. No, Fauci is not science incarnated—no matter what he likes to believe. On the contrary, he has shown a very un-, maybe even anti-, scientific mindset. Science journalists usually have a shallow and flawed understanding of science; politicians are the same; and there is little doubt that the official message has not been driven by science—no matter what they like to claim.

    *Here I refer to the word, as this is a text on words, but a similar discussion around science-with-scare-quotes would be quite possible.

    Science, by its nature, demands free debate, exchange of opinions and arguments, that factual arguments and observations take precedence over preconceived opinions, etc. A scientist supports his position with science—and abandons this position, if the other side has better arguments. The point is not to win* the argument, but to find the truth. A good scientist does not scream “Fake news! Fake news!”, does not proclaim himself to be science, does not attack* his opponents* with ad hominem in order to defeat* their positions (but does put the positions to the test by facts and arguments), etc.

    *Indeed, even thinking in terms of “win”, “attack”, “opponent” (let alone, “enemy”), etc. is contrary to a sound scientific mindset. While scientists might compete to get a certain result first, or hope that their pet hypothesis wins out over another hypothesis, they should view themselves as allies in the search for a greater scientific understanding. Only when someone, e.g. the likes of Fauci, puts science aside and engages in un-/anti-scientific behavior might an attack or the image of an enemy be justified.

    Similarly, consider “climate science”: There is real climate science (and I do not necessarily disagree with it), but what is reported as “science” (or “settled science”) is often fear-mongering, exaggerations, speculation based on models that have, at best, a checkered record, … Screaming that the world will end and that anyone who thinks differently should be ignored is not science—not even should the world actually be ending.

    Great doubts has to be raised against the use of “science” to refer to many (most? all?) softer sciences. (But historical reasons make this use hard to avoid.) To consider e.g. literary science a science is very dubious. Some social sciences could potentially be better off, but rarely actually are, as they have been polluted by ideology and a lack of scientific thinking—the “truth” is known and reality has to bend to fit “truth”. Some texts by Philip Carl Salzman at Minding the Campus describe a depressing degeneration of anthropology.* (Many other texts there deal with related issues in academia, but Salzman has an unusually long-term perspective on this field.) Certainly, grave doubts must be raised against any field dominated by postmodernism, postcolonialism, Marxism, …

    *I do not vouch for his view being correct and correct in detail, as these are one-sided accounts, but (a) he is well-placed to judge the issue, (b) his observations broadly match what I have seen in or been told about large parts of the softer sciences, in general.

  4. A very great number of words and expressions introduced, abused, or distorted by the PC crowd, the Left, and similar groupings could be added. I point e.g. to the long standing abuse of “racism” to denote much which is not racist and the newer attempts to redefine “racism” to exclude Black-on-White racism (generally, Black-on-X and Minority-on-White). A particular perfidious example is use of terms like “justice” and “equality” in a manner that is in direction contradiction to the meanings of these words, often by prefixing a “social”. As a joint example, “social justice” usually has implications of equality of outcome, which is both highly unjust and not equality at all—equality demands equality of opportunity and denying this in order to ensure equal outcomes is a great injustice.

Excursion on models:
It appears, both with COVID and the climate, that models are made and trained, used to make predictions, and then policy is made based on these predictions. This is sloppy and likely a strong reason why so many policy-influencing predictions have been wrong. Specifically, the first few rounds of predictions should be used to test the model—not to make policy. If these predictions match reality, then later rounds of predictions can be given at least some influence on policy; if not, it is back to the drawing board. (And great caution is needed, even when the tests are successful, especially for predictions that are far into the future, involve many unknowns, and/or involve chaotic systems.)

Excursion on “leader”:
I have already discussed “leader” in [1]. However, reading it again, I notice a major overlooked case: the use of “leader” to imply e.g. “administrator”. This is often a case of flattery or self-flattery, in that a school administrator might be addressed with nonsense like “educational leader” in an attempt to score points in a letter. (I saw an example of this quite recently, but do not remember where.) In some cases, e.g. with a school principal, it has some semi-justification in that a principal can be seen as the leader of the school. (Whether this makes for an educational leader might still be debated. Certainly, a formulation with e.g. “principal” would be fairer and more accurate, even here.) In most cases, however, these administrators are not leaders at all, notwithstanding that they might have some decision- or policy-making power.

Moreover, it is usually a bad idea to make or consider administrators leaders. Doing so makes for a flawed system, where persons of often lower understanding of the actual work, lower intelligence, and lower general ability are in charge. Look at a typical U.S. college: is that diversity manager of even remotely comparable competence and intellectual capacity to the physics professor whom (usually) she bosses around? Highly unlikely. Chances are that (usually) he is levels above her, and that he would be able to get a better grasp than she of what little of value her field contains within days—should he be so inclined. Or look at my own work experiences as a software developer: Hardly ever has the middle-manager or project leader in charge been the intellectual number one (even discounting my own presence). Often he has been above average, by developer standards, but about as often below average. Complete disasters have been found.

Let the people with real brains and the domain expertise do the leading and use administrators to take busywork off their backs. Just like accountants are hired to do the accounting, administrators should be hired to administrate—not lead. (Admittedly, there is a danger that the nature of an administrator’s position allows for gradual power grabs over time, implying that a sound original intention might be perverted over the years.)

Written by michaeleriksson

April 2, 2022 at 7:40 am

My favourite word

leave a comment »

I have repeatedly heard “cellar door”w called the most beautiful word of the English language. Few people would argue that there is any particular merit to its meaning; others would protest that it is, in fact, two words. Yet, others make the case that the pure sound and flow of the pronounced word would make it stand-out.

They have a point—with the right pronunciation. Obviously, among the countless dialects of English, not all yield the same result. In my ears, even using a too rhotic pronunciation would break the word.

Looking at my native Swedish, however, there is very similar word of excelling beauty: Pärlemor.

With a similar flow and many almost-matches in vowel and consonant sounds, it is equally pleasing phonetically. (As a rough pronunciation guide, join together “pair”, the “le” of “lemon”, and “moor”.) In a twist, it actually works quite well with the Swedish rhotic pronunciation.

When we go beyond the pure sound, however, there is no comparison: On the one hand, something boring and mundane, often even ugly. On the other … mother-of-pearl. (Both in part and as a whole: “Pearlsmother” would be the literal translation.)

Mother-of-pearl is a material of beauty in its own right and the source of even greater beauty; and that beauty is salient through the “pearl”/“pärle” part of the word. Even the way that it creates valuable pearls from an intruding irritant has something poetic and symbolic about it. Further, “pärla” (the base form of the noun) is also a verb, meaning to purl or to sparkle, “en pärlande bäck”—“a purling brook”, “ett pärlande vin”—“a sparkling wine”. In a way, the word it self flows from the lips in a way that makes me think of water flowing through a shallow bed, breaking over small rocks, and glittering with reflected sunlight. My associations to water are strengthened both by the aquatic nature of oysters and by the story “Bäckahästens pärlor”, which I encountered as a child. (I believe this story to be “The kelpie’s pearls” by Mollie Hunterw. “Bäckahäst” literally means “brook horse”, similar to the Scottish “water horse” each uisgew.)

Now, when I hear “pärlemor”, my mind is filled with images of pearls and mother-of-pearl, purling water, sparkling wine, … When I hear “cellar door”, well, in a best case scenario, I see a door—in a worst case, it may be the hatch to an earth cellar. Indeed, as “pärlemor” is my favourite word, “mother-of-pearl” may well be my favourite English word: It brings me many of the same associations as “pärlemor” and is not without “phonetic beauty” of its own.

Written by michaeleriksson

March 4, 2011 at 7:49 pm