Monthly Archives: December 2012

My own prophecy for December 2012

when-prophecy-failsThe great thing about end of the world predictions is that they’re always wrong. In fact, 100% of them have been so far. Of course, as soon as one is correct that will greatly change the state of affairs. Nonetheless, one prediction I always make ahead of end of the world predictions is that once it doesn’t come to pass, the millenarians will revise their prediction, saying they miscalculated the date. Despite the general lack of predictive power of most of social science, it’s one of the few aspects of the future we can predict with near certainty.

There was a famous study in the ’50s of a doomsday cult called When Prophecy Fails. It’s germane to the current dross being cycled out by harmless hippies and credulous conspiracy theorists. The study examines how people’s beliefs are actually redoubled in the event of a disconfirmed prophecy because of cognitive dissonance and wanting to save face. It’s a cool study of additional interest because it happened to take place when Scientology was considered the bizarre, mainly benign, nonsense-based cult that it is.

I recommend checking the book out as a balm when you hear things on the news like, “If the Mayan calendar is correct…” — the opening of a sentence which presages not the end of the world, but the just as frequently prophesied death of journalism.

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How to sound dumb to smart people

Reading this article by my friend Zoya Patel, editor of Lip magazine, about people who use the word feminazi, I was reminded of something I used to tell my students about the language they chose to use in essays (though it applies to any written or verbal communication). I told them that they could, if they wanted, use pseudo-formal language, the kind that the police use when talking to the media. The sergeant will say, “Police apprehended the individual”, instead of: “We arrested him.” I told them that this sort of language would make them sound smart to dumb people, and dumb to smart people. It was slightly elitist, slightly unkind, but I thought it was a good line and maybe even true.

The same goes for something like the word feminazi. Zoya was worried because:

The term feminazi is obviously a patriarchal construct, designed to create a view of feminism as being extreme, threatening to the status quo, and generally ridiculous. There’s no better way to negate the power of a movement than to create a view of it as being both unnecessary for society, and generally ludicrous. If every feminist who dares to speak out against sexism is treated as if she is being a hysterical woman speaking out of turn, then of course the legitimacy of what she may be saying is negated. It’s a clever move, patriarchy.

True, no doubt, but anyone who does care about language or truth recognises that feminazi is a ludicrous term. In fact, that goes for anything with Nazi appended to it. Continue reading

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Sand under a microscope

sand

Auguries of innocence… A nice pic so my site isn’t just text.

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