Word Nerd Wednesday: Problematize

Yes. Apparently, problematize is a word. I don’t like this word, and I like its meaning and implications even less, but I don’t choose words here solely on the basis of how they make me feel. The goal here, if I can manage it, is to learn something along the way. For those of you already familiar with the word, indulge me in my ignorance, and I hope the combination of my snark and enlightenment don’t bore you to death.

Before we get into the implications of the word and why the concept makes my head ache, we should define the term. So here goes, from the Oxford English dictionary:

Problematize:

verB

  • Make into or regard as a problem requiring a solution.

    Example: ‘he problematized the concept of history’

Maybe I’m over thinking this, but when I saw this word used, and gave a bit of thought to its implications,  it occurred that our entire social fabric has been torn in pieces precisely because of this tendency. It has permeated every sector of our society and culture. We have problematized everything and the result has been disastrous.

Everything is a problem now. The names of our founding fathers on schools and government buildings has been problematized. Being white has been problematized. Being black is a problem, as is being a woman, a man or a child. Being a Christian is a major problem to a lot of people.

The Cambridge dictionary blog even discussed whether dictionaries, words, or indeed, language itself, is problematic:

However, English is the language of a culture that does often associate the colour white with things that are pure, with no dirt or no faults – with being “as white as snow.” And the culture also often associates the colour black with bad things, so there are many idiomatic expressions that use these positive and negative senses of the words white and black. (For example, white knight, someone who buys a company to save it, and black knight, someone who tries to take over a business when the owner doesn’t want to sell it.)

Since ancient times, many human cultures have associated day/light/white with perfection and goodness, and night/dark/black with danger and evil. That is not itself a racist thing. What is racist is taking this association of whiteness with purity and blackness with evil, and applying it to people – when people who happen to be paler see themselves as better than people who happen to be darker, and then use their power to treat darker people unfairly or cruelly.

The use of the words white and black to describe people’s skin (and yellow and red, which are offensive, and brown, which is often now used in a positive way to include Latinx people) developed independently from the use of colour words in idioms. But idioms that didn’t originally have anything to do with perceived race feel, to many people, as though they do – particularly the ones that associate a colour with either purity or evil. So it really doesn’t matter where an idiom came from: what matters is how it makes our fellow humans feel when they hear it. It is perfectly possible to find other words and phrases to express our ideas so that we avoid offending people. The language is rich enough.

Note that despite starting out with a relatively sane explanation of meanings and context and calling some common sense to this increasingly senseless hand wringing over nothing, they eventually capitulate. It doesn’t matter that these words and phrases are completely devoid of racial overtones. it only matters that some people feeeeel as if they do. And that, is a problem.

That’s the thing about problematizing things. Ever-shifting standards that reflect the whims and emotions of whomever, whenever, is a never ending source of angst and grief. We really need to get off of this merry go round.

Truly, there are plenty of genuine problems to solve without problematizing the benign because we’re too lazy, unimaginative, and entitled to make the hard choices required to actually change things for the better.

True change requires that we change as individuals, and most Americans are fully invested in the lie that things will get better if they can force you and I to change, to their benefit of course, while they contribute nothing but opinions, supervision and Twitter activism.

Happy Wednesday?

 

Word Nerd Wednesday: Aseity

We recently spent several days exclusively studying theology, and had a grand time doing so. Over the course of that time, I was introduced a word that I’d never heard before, which rarely happens to me. To be sure, I was intimately familiar with the concept, I’d just never heard the word before. So, today’s Word Nerd Wednesday installment is the word aseity.

Aseity: the quality or state of being self-derived or self-originated specifically : the absolute self-sufficiency, independence, and autonomy of God.

I don’t really have much more to offer about this word. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, but I do think that aseity is a really cool word.

Happy Wednesday.

Word Nerd Wednesday: Unequivocal

The past two weeks found me musing on the lives of people, recently departed, whose lives have affected mine. One of those people is a woman with a small but potent sphere of influence. Her effect on me was profound, but personal.

The other is a person of renown with a much larger sphere of influence, whose writing and commentary began to help shape my cultural and political philosophy when I was only beginning to form them.

In the case of both of these people, one word I would use to describe them is unequivocal. My kind of people. The kind of people with which there is little to no ambiguity. On issues that matter, they are clear about where they stand and leave no room for doubt about it.

Unequivocal: Not ambiguous; not of doubtful signification; not admitting different interpretations; as unequivocal words or expressions.

My friend was a woman who loved without partiality and judgment. With her there was no hypocrisy and no doubt.

The educator and commentator who helped me reconcile that the common sense values of my youth were incongruent with the political traditions I had embraced was unequivocal in his assertions. And he was right.

Because this is a site dedicated to learning, literacy, and the importance of education’s impact on culture, I want to focus on the unequivocal work and words of the recently departed Dr. Walter E. Williams. He was an economist, educator, and prolific author.

Dr. Williams, an economy professor at George Mason University, passed away on December 2, at the age of 84. You can read the Washington Post’s subpar obituary here, and Dr. Thomas Sowell’s tribute to him here.

I have never reviewed one of  Walter Williams’ books in this space. I have only read one, Race and Economics, and it was back before I began this blog. However, in honor of his legacy I intend to read it next month and review it here. I’ll end this post with an excerpt from one of Dr. Williams last columns, Blackshttp://walterewilliams.com/blacks-of-yesteryear-and-today/ of Yesteryear and Today:

At the time of my youth, today’s opportunities for socioeconomic advancement were nonexistent for black people. For all but a few, college attendance was out of the question because of finances and racial discrimination. If you were not admitted to the black colleges of Lincoln University or Cheyney State College, forget about college. I do not know of any student of my 1954 class at Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin High School who attended college. Though the quality of education at Benjamin Franklin is a mere shadow of its past, today roughly 17% of its graduating class has been admitted to college. The true hope for a youngster graduating from high school during the 1950s was a well-paying and steady job. My first well-paying job was as a taxi driver for Yellow Cab Company.

Younger black people today have no idea of and have not experienced the poverty and discrimination of earlier generations. Also, the problems today’s black people face have little or nothing to do with poverty and discrimination. Political hustlers like to blame poverty and racism while ignoring the fact that poverty and racism were much greater yesteryear but there was not nearly the same amount of chaos.

The out-of-wedlock birth rate among blacks in 1940 was about 11%; today, it is 75%. Black female-headed households were just 18% of households in 1950, as opposed to about 68% today. In fact, from 1890 to 1940, the black marriage rate was slightly higher than that of whites. Even during slavery, when marriage was forbidden, most black children lived in biological two-parent families. In New York City, in 1925, 85% of black households were two-parent households. A study of 1880 family structure in Philadelphia shows that three-quarters of black families were two-parent households.

There’s little protest against the horrible and dangerous conditions under which many poor and law-abiding black people must live. It is not uncommon for 50 black people to be shot over a weekend in Chicago — not by policemen but by other black people. About 7,300 black people are murdered each year, and not by white people or racist cops, but mostly by other black people. These numbers almost make our history of victimization by racist lynching look like child’s play.

The solutions to the many problems that black Americans face must come from within our black communities. They will not come from the political arena. Blacks hold high offices and dominate the politics in cities such as Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New Orleans. Yet, these are the very cities with the nation’s worst-performing schools, highest crime rates, high illegitimacy rates, weak family structure and other forms of social pathology.

I am not saying that blacks having political power is the cause of these problems. What I am saying is that the solution to most of the major problems that confront black people will not be found in the political arena or by electing more blacks to high office.

One important step is for black Americans to stop being “useful tools” for the leftist, hate-America agenda. Many black problems are exacerbated by guilt-ridden white people. Often, they accept behavior and standards from black people that they would not begin to accept from white people. In that sense, white liberal guilt is a form of disrespect in their relationships with black Americans. By the same token, black people should stop exploiting the guilt of whites. Let us all keep in mind that history is one of those immutable facts of life.

Unequivocal.

Rest in Peace, Dr. Williams.

Word Nerd Wednesday: Dipsomania

Disclaimer: While I am for the most part, a teetotaler with a few rare exceptions, I do not view drinking a glass of wine as a moral or Christian offense. Nevertheless, the wine mom trend has given me pause about the current state of American motherhood.

When I was recently reacquainted with this week’s word, I decided its pleasant linguistics, combined with the current motherhood zeitgeist, made it a worthy WNW installment.

Dipsomania: An uncontrollable craving for alcoholic liquors

Dipsomania among moms is now one big meme; laughed off as harmless fun or a lifesaving coping mechanism. Raising children in the context of a society with few to no community bonds and little social support means many mothers are stretched thin, a problem that we need to earnestly address. And it can’t be properly improved with Internet “communities”.

Instead, we’re told that a glass -or two, or three- of wine supposedly takes the edge off. From the Atlantic piece:

Moms who enjoy wine certainly existed before the internet, but it’s the internet that catapulted the wine mom to meme stardom. In the mid-2010s, the phrase was popularized as it became commonplace for moms to joke online about drinking wine to cope with the stresses of motherhood: Self-identifying wine moms began to poke fun at themselves in viral videos, blog posts, and memes. “The most expensive part of having kids is all the wine you have to drink,” goes a particularly ubiquitous meme. “Wine is to moms what duct tape is to dads. It fixes everything,” says another. “Motherhood—powered by love, fueled by coffee, sustained by wine.”

I’ve been thinking a bit about dipsomania as the increase in drinking among moms of all social, economic, and religious categories has increased.

What do you guys make of the wine mom trend?

Word Nerd Wednesday: Train Wreck

This installment doesn’t warrant much in the way of explanation or commentary, so here goes. We’re resorting to slang this week, so consider this fair warning.

Train Wreck: describes something that is so bad that you don’t want to keep watching or following but you just can’t look away from it.

For example: Last night’s presidential debate was a total train wreck.

It was actually three old men yelling at each other, but I think that about covers it…

Word Nerd Wednesday: Troglodyte

I’ve had occasion to consider this word, troglodyte, recently while watching the fast moving, ever evolving wave of current events unfolding in our country. It’s a different America than the one I grew up in, for certain. I really appreciate the the Internet, my phone (sometimes!), and all the other amenities of today that weren’t around when I grew up in the late 70s and 80s. There’s been some wonderful developments.

There have also been some not-so-great developments, even in the past 20 years, and I find myself longing not only for the simplicity of days gone by, but lamenting the loss of old-fashioned values that formed the way I viewed the world. In truth, many of those values were falling out of vogue even as my dad was teaching them to us. But I don’t think anyone could have anticipated how far away from sanity we would fall in such a short period of time. I am, to get to the point, what some would disparagingly refer to as a troglodyte:

Definition of troglodyte

1 : a member of any of various peoples (as in antiquity) who lived or were reputed to live chiefly in caves

2 : a person characterized by reclusive habits or outmoded or reactionary attitudes

It should be obvious, but the second definition is more relatable than the first, although neanderthal-ish could also be used to described those of us who believe that the thousands of years of accumulated human wisdom might have something to teach us today. And yes, I recognize that there has never been such a thing as “the good old days”. Even ostensibly idyllic eras such as the 1950s were rife with injustice and sin, but  our inability to drain the bathwater without aborting the baby (literally or figuratively) doesn’t speak very well of this era.

One area in which my troglodyte perspective comes rushing forward is, if you hadn’t noticed, the destruction of childhood as a time of innocence, learning, and growth. In particular, this spot by comedian Jeff Allen brings to mind how much common sense we learned simply by virtue of being allowed to play, fall, scrape knees or even break bones. It’s funny to me, while also a little poignant because I know how much today’s children miss out on because we supervise them to within an inch of their lives.

It’s clean as well as funny  five minutes, so you can watch it without worrying about what he might say:

Word Nerd Wednesday: Metanoia

I was a part of an education training recently and one of the books we touched on was Plato’s Five Dialogues. I hope to have more to say about this book at a later date. Today, however, I want to explore a word we discussed as we contemplated our chief educational aim, which is to teach our students to pursue virtue. Today’s word is metanoia.

Anyone who has done a Greek word study of the Bible’s new testament is familiar with the word metanoia as the direct translation of the word repent. At its core, that’s what metanoia is; a turning away from one way of thinking and believing to another. It’s a perfect description of our religious conversion, but what does metanoia look like in a more general educational context? Or in any area of life?

The word metanoia speaks to me because there are a number of philosophical and political issues through which I went on a journey of metanoia, as described in the above definition. This journey, in the context of Socratic education philosophy, is taken together with one’s teacher through a series of questions and propositions crafted to make the student think. It can, however, be taken through personal research, contemplation, and prayer. We just have to be willing to interrogate ourselves.

Both of these, whether personal or with a teacher, indicate wrestling and grappling with ideas. To do this demands questioning our own presuppositions in search of  greater truth. That wrestling and any resulting change of heart is the journey of metanoia.

There isn’t much room for metanoia in our world today. We live in a world increasingly devoid of wrestling, meditation, enlightenment or repentance. To wrestle with what we believe is true, even in the face of mountains of evidence and thousands of years of documented human experience and understanding, is anathema to the post modern soul.

This lack of introspective meditation, this lack of metanoia, combined with tearing down fences without regard for the wisdom of those who went before us, is a primary characteristic of the postmodern era, and it’s becoming our undoing. Chesterton’s fence is an excellent touch-point reference:

As simple as Chesterton’s Fence is as a principle, it teaches us an important lesson. Many of the problems we face in life occur when we intervene with systems without an awareness of what the consequences could be. We can easily forget that this applies to subtraction as much as to addition. If a fence exists, there is likely a reason for it. It may be an illogical or inconsequential reason, but it is a reason nonetheless.

Chesterton also alluded to the all-too-common belief that previous generations were bumbling fools, stumbling around, constructing fences wherever they fancied. Should we fail to respect their judgement and not try to understand it, we run the risk of creating new, unexpected problems. By and large, people do not do things for no reason. We’re all lazy at heart. We don’t like to waste time and resources on useless fences. Not understanding something does not mean it must be pointless.

This is why it is vitally important that we educate our children on the pursuit of virtue. A surfeit of academic exposure without the corresponding ability to use those intellectual storehouses to the meaningful benefit of others renders our education little more than fool’s gold.

Of course, we are all basically lazy at heart, and metanoia requires something of a mental workout. Workouts that produce lasting transformation are hard. To quote my favorite video workout dude:

If was easy, everybody would be doing it.

 

 

Word Nerd Wednesday: Ad Populum

This week’s installment, like another recent installment, is inspired by our children’s logic lessons, which are continuing via Zoom throughout this quarantine. An argument ad populum is probably self-explanatory, but I’ll provide the definition offered at The Skeptic’s Dictionary:

The ad populum fallacy is the appeal to the popularity of a claim as a reason for accepting it.

It’s also referred to as the bandwagon fallacy and the appeal to popularity.

By now we can probably all point out any number of things in history that were believed to be universally true only to be proven false. Mobs can be, and often are, wrong.

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to offer in the comments any ad populum fallacies you can think of that have been disproven and debunked.

Word Nerd Wednesday: Ersatz

We are living in interesting, if not especially novel, times my friends! I suspect more people are reading books than have been in a very long time. I have several going at once, and as many book reviews in draft, so stay tuned.

Ove the past week or so, I’ve been hearing or reading a particular word used more often than I am used to hearing it. Both in podcasts and columns, the word ersatz has been coming up, almost as if it’s trending. I don’t know it’s a trendy word right now, but I like it. Ergo, our word of the week is ersatz.

Ersatz: 1. Being a usually inferior imitation or substitute; artificial: ersatz coffee made of chicory. 2. Not genuine; fake.

I’ll use the word in a sentence:

We live in a culture awash in ersatz experts, activists, and spiritual gurus.

Besides the fact that I enjoy the sound and spelling of ersatz, something about the increased usage of the word instead of simply “fake” or “phony” or even “faux” highlights the current zeitgeist or spirit of the age. Zeitgeist is another word I really like.
What the heck. Let’s make it a twofer!

Zeitgeist: The spirit of the time; the taste and outlook characteristic of a period or generation.

Let’s use it in a sentence!

The cult of celebrity and social media influence is deeply embedded in the current zeitgeist.

I’m not sure if that’s a great sentence, but it’s all I can come up with at the moment.

Those are the words of the week. So tell me, what do you think of these two words? Do you use them? Do you hear them often?

Word Nerd Wednesday: Syllogisms

I almost forgot about Word Nerd Wednesday! As it happens, I was studying logic this afternoon with my kids and this word, which is cool to say, struck me as a suitable installment.

For the record, I’m not very good at the study of formal logic. Someone else handles the instructional guidance, while I provide home support. With that said, here is the definition:

Syllogism: A form of deductive reasoning consisting of a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion.
For example:
All mammals are living things.
Human beings are mammals.
Therefore, Human beings are living things.
For those interested, the concept of the syllogism was introduced by Aristotle.