Sunday, May 24, 2009

Tiny hands, tiny vocabulary?

"Dad, I want a gun," young Christopher Titus.

"You don't need one of those, son, the men in our family have penises," Ken Titus.


    These lines are telling. It is a cliché, but let's face it, we all believe it. A Hummer, a Desert Eagle, they all point to the fact that the owner isn't packing a large caliber weapon, so to speak. Linguistically speaking we see it as well, in the use of profane language. We all have seen, heard, or known people who can't get through a sentence without dropping an F-Bomb or using the S-word. And instead of feeling anger or disgust, we should feel pity, because intellectually speaking, they're not exactly "packing".

    It makes sense, logically. In moments of casual conversation, when a person isn't working off of a script, they have to find a way to communicate ideas. When there aren't words to communicate the ideas, they slip to a default word. Hence the extensive use of the word "like" in inappropriate places. Imagine how much easier it would be to identify the intellectual level of the speaker if they would simply insert "duh" for "like": "And we were, duh, going to the mall to check out, duh, the new Feragamos…" And the same goes for profanity. When we speak in conversation, we endeavor to make our ideas heard, which means punching through the verbiage and creating a lasting impression. There are a number of ways to do this: frame an outstanding argument that is logically binding; create a turn of phrase that is notable in its eloquence; drop language that is shocking and provocative.

    Given the state of education and the lack of love of intellect in this country, can anyone honestly claim to be surprised that we find ourselves dancing around this lowest common denominator?

    On occasion, an enterprising and deluded student will attempt to call the whole issue of linguistic convention into question, asking "but why are these words bad?" This is an excellent example of the dangers of going into a battle of wits poorly armed. To begin with, the hows are irrelevant. There are certain words that are considered unacceptable. An attempt t o make them acceptable would result in their loss of power. The people who use profane language use it because it provokes a response they otherwise would not get. Again, why is a pointless question as well. We all accept certain conventions of language, and hold them as inviolate because without them, communication is stalled. If words have no common currency, then language ceases to exist. To arbitrarily seek to change things is a waste of energy, because those words we seek to make harmless will, at least at one point, always remain offensive.

    Case in point: teaching a number of young African-American men, I question the use of the word "bitch", among others, to describe women. I wondered how anyone could find any sort of affection in that sort of language. These young men attempted to explain that this word was, in fact, a term of endearment. "Let's put it t o t he test, "I said, "go home tonight, and use it to your mother, to her face." Embarassed silence filled the class. Even these young men understood what they were saying was wrong.

    Do I want my children learning to speak that way? Certainly not. God gave us our tongues for two purposes: to speak the truth and to praise Him. Profanity is required for neither, and it is evidence of a lack of intellectual sophistication. I want my children to be educated enough to express their thoughts completely, coherently, and clearly. And all of that can be done without resorting to profanity.

    So, ultimately, we find these pathetic individuals hurling around offensive language in an effort to cover up their own linguistic inadequacy the poor victims of their own lack of imagination and education. Disgust and anger isn' t the appropriate response. A simple recognition – we don't need the F-Bomb, son. The men in our family have a vocabulary.

    Because, in the end, the more that they use the F-Bomb, the more these idiots confess the fact that they are intellectual needledicks. And now everyone knows.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Tempus Fugit

"Wow, April sure went fast."

This has to be one of the most common comments made among my colleagues. Faced with the end of May as a deadline (or for some, the next two weeks, and the attendant AP tests), teachers feel the approach of spring more keenly, because spring brings the end of the year tantalizingly, terrifyingly close. Summer break is close, but so are the final opportunities to complete the curriculum.

Was it always like this?

Based on the firm knowledge that time is constant, we convince ourselves that time is, in fact the same, it just "feels" different. But couldn't that feeling be the clue to us that there is something changing?

Ask yourself – does a fish know that it is in water?

A fish lives in a particular medium – water. It cannot know other than water, so it most likely has no concept for "water". But we understand that there is something called "time", and we are able to understand it, or at least the fact that it exists.

More importantly, we can conceive of "something" that exists outside of time. This is significant. A fish cannot conceive of "not-water", but we can rise above a fundamental medium of our existence: time. We have the capacity of objectivity. If we can conceive of eternity, why can't we sense that the flow of time is speeding up?

To be honest, this concept is not a new one. Traditional religions have held this notion in one form or another for aeons. The Greeks spoke of a series of ages, from a Golden age which then degenerates to a Silver age, which in turn degenerates, leading ultimately to an Iron Age. In Hinduism, the doctrines of the Yugas posits the same thing. In Jainism, the issue is even more explicit: time is winding down – the closer we get to the end, the faster time will move.

The most useful image is that of the hourglass – as the sand approaches the neck of the hourglass, it travels faster than it did at the top.

"But what about our scientific instrumentation? Why can't it measure these changes?" The scientists cry, relying on "objective", verifiable fact to support their conceits. Those instruments are a product of time, that is, of the created order, and thus are immersed in it. Those instruments are not capable of objectivity in any real sense. We, as beings created by a Creator, are capable, by virtue of that creation.

This objectivity buys for us the ability to look at ourselves from the outside. It makes us able to "feel" the flow of time.

So, perhaps when someone says to you, "Wow, April sure went fast", you should be a little worried. When the sand falls through the hourglass, what happens next? When time runs out – what is there for us?