Author Archives: peakfuture

The rat problem

rat.jpg
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rat#/media/File:Rattus_norvegicus_1.jpg

Another school shooting, and yes, the same arguments will be brought out.   One friend passed this on: https://pjmedia.com/andrewklavan/left-reaping-whirlwind-culture-made/ ; the upshot from the article is that the Left is responsible, not the Right.  In a few days, I’m sure a friend from the Left will forward me an article that the Right/NRA/Trump is the reason these things are happening.

There are a host of reasons on why these things happen, and there may be a nugget of truth in every one of them; these don’t need to be trotted out here.   There may be darker reasons, that folks on the left or right may not like to consider, and that might have a far larger influence.   Part of the reason we may be having these troubles may be biological, and rooted in things that either political party has no real control over.

There are two points that might be considered:

1) We have exceeded the carrying capacity of the planet by a large extent due to our use of cheap fossil fuels; we are overcrowded.  Talking about overpopulation is sometimes ‘an elephant in the room,’ but it needs to be addressed.   There’s a good free book online (with some classic quotes about overpopulation) by populationspeakout.org here.   Overpopulation (and overconsumption) can cause serious glitches in societies.

2) With the ubiquity of social media and smart phones, we have eliminated private space. There is little to no space for contemplation, and the outside culture (which usually plays to the lowest common denominator) can have too much sway over our development.

Comparing the behavior of mice/rats and people may not be perfect, but with both being social animals, studies which look at the overcrowding of organisms show some eerie similarities.  A quick search on ‘mouse/rat overcrowding experiment’ turns up many articles, including these:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/how-mouse-utopias-1960s-led-grim-predictions-humans-180954423/

https://nihrecord.nih.gov/newsletters/2008/07_25_2008/story1.htm

http://www.victorpest.com/articles/what-humans-can-learn-from-calhouns-rodent-utopia

The original thought was that it was “obviously” the overcrowding, but from reading a bit further down in the texts, it could be that private space/time is what makes for better societies.  It is very difficult to get those things when you are overcrowded; but as one of the articles points out, populations with the same density can have different outcomes if they are set up differently.

One the the key quotes in the second article was “Moral decay resulted “not from density, but from excessive social interaction.”  “Moral decay” seems too strong a word, but the concept that excessive social interaction might cause sub-optimal behaviors doesn’t seem too far fetched.  As far as “moral decay” goes, if someone claims that homosexuality and promiscuity are effects of overcrowding, that would seem a very large stretch.   Homosexuality has been with us for a very, very long time, and promiscuity may be a result of technological changes (one of Niven’s Laws is “Ethics changes with technology.”), rather than overcrowding.  Excessive social interaction seems like a good description of what we’ve got now, especially with smart phones in everyone’s pocket.

The concept of shooting up a school, would seem to be a new thing, but a quick search on a history of school shootings does turn up incidents from as early as the 1700s.

Wikipedia has this plot, showing school shootings as a function of date:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_shootings_in_the_United_States#/media/File:School_shooting_deaths_injuries_by_decade.png

US Census data doesn’t exist in 1760; using the school shootings data from Wikipedia, and dividing by US population during the time periods for which we do have US Census data, this plot emerges:

shootings_per_year.png

(Own work, CC-SA)

There are a host of questions on this below; it was a bit of an eye-opener.

Someone made an observation to me many years ago (paraphrasing here):

When we were young, we came home from school on a Friday afternoon, and went back on Monday morning.  In the intervening time, we were in the company of our families and neighbors, not subjected to the onslaught of whatever culture was out there.

Perhaps high speed Internet, social media, and smart phones aren’t the best for society, or at least for those who haven’t matured.   This doesn’t mean more background checks are a good thing or bad thing, nor does it mean concealed carry by everyone, everywhere, anytime is a good thing or bad thing.  Folks all along the political spectrum may wish to solve this plague by their own pet methods, but we may need to look deeper.   There’s an old skit from Saturday Night Live, with Steve Martin (Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber) that might be of use here.   After losing a patient from excessive bloodletting, he says with authority:

You know, medicine is not an exact science, but we are learning all the time. Why, just fifty years ago, they thought a disease like your daughter’s was caused by demonic possession or witchcraft. But nowadays we know that Isabelle is suffering from an imbalance of bodily humors, perhaps caused by a toad or a small dwarf living in her stomach.

Perhaps we need some new ideas in handling this scourge, and we may be a long way off from knowing why people go off the rails.  If someone is mentally ill, or is motivated enough, practically any energy dense technology controlled by a single individual or small group can be used as a devastating weapon.  As noted in a previous post on stopping terrorism, we generally don’t have to worry about people blowing up our cars every morning.  Stopping this at the source seems the more logical solution.  “Solutions” that appear to work for a short while eventually won’t, and we’ll be left with the root causes (whatever they are) that will continue to cause damage and societal rot.

Questions:

  • The thesis that overcrowding/social media/too much socialization could be a cause of these behaviors – could this theory be valid?  How could you test this?
  • A recent post suggested marrying off potential terrorists; could there be a similar program for troubled youth?  Not so much marrying them off (a bit early for teens) but getting them involved in helping others, and being part of a community?   Even when you have a strange community of people, you still have a community, and that alone might help anyone who is in distress.
  • How does someone “go off the rails” like Nikolas Cruz?  It appears people did try to intervene, on multiple occasions, but still he was not stopped.
  • Were school shootings/violence in the 1800s a serious issue? Did they really bottom out in 1940-1950, on a per-capita basis? Has this issue really been rising since 1940-1950? And why is this an issue now?  Perhaps instead of using total population, this should be school-going population.  In looking at the details of the shootings, some of them were not perpetrated by students, but by adults, so this may skew this very simple five-minute back-of-the-envelope plot.  The amount of violence in schools on a per-capita basis, even in the 1800s, was shocking.  If someone has a better analysis, or knows where to find one, please let me know.  This is one place where we could use a good social science statistician and researcher.
  • As mentioned above, excessive social interaction seems like a good description of what we’ve got now, especially with smart phones in everyone’s pocket, and the ubiquity of social media.  Even some folks at Facebook have said that it has been made deliberately addictive.  Is this a possible contributor to having people go “off the rails?”

 

 

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Day Zero For Cape Town

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A “simple” glass of water (CC-BY)

In a post last year, the question was asked, “Which American city goes first?”  In retrospect, this might have been asked with a slightly broader view; “Which First World/”modern” city goes first?”

It looks like we may have a “winner”, in Cape Town, South Africa.  It is projected that the taps might stop running in April, perhaps May of this year.   The list of other cities that might go is impressive, both in America and elsewhere.

It appears that we are very close to a “when the taps close,” versus an “if the taps close” moment.   Given that Cape Town is a regional capital, and has a population of about 400K, with a metro region of over 3 million persons, it seems unlikely that the city will completely empty out.

Water is at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid.  You don’t have much of a great life without it.

Questions:

  • This is stuff that anyone paying attention has known about for a while, but when will this start to hit the mainstream? When will it start to impact business and personal decisions to move for work or retirement, so much so that these cities start to empty, even before resource limitations hit?
  • When will real estate prices start to suffer in these cities?
  • Are you hearing whispers in the corporate hallways, or by your friends, about resource issues being a factor in relocation or business decisions?
  • There are a few lists of ghost towns; could Cape Town ever join this list, or just simply become a fraction of its normal size?  What might that fraction be?
  • Are there any other cities that will just shrink, due to location, politics or sheer size and ‘importance’?   If the city of Cape Town lost 90% of its population, there might be enough water for the remaining 10%, but could the city function as a city?  Could you even call it a city anymore? Would it become like a Chinese ghost city?  Any one of a dozen things might destroy a city, but short of a war, nuclear or biological accident, some folks may always stay behind.

 

 

 

 

Loyalty and competency in The Long Emergency

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The Godfather wedding photo; stick figure version (own work, CC-BY); here for the high-resolution real versions

In watching “The Godfather” this week, the issue of loyalty to a group (family or nation) arises naturally.   Who should you be loyal to?  How much loyalty do you give to a group?  The permutations of questions are extensive. For sure, if one is disloyal in that particular world, you are at best useless, and most likely dangerous, and you must be eliminated.  Pretty harsh stuff.

Many news outlets have reported on the President’s ‘obsession with loyalty,’ over  competence.   Whether it was appointments to the Federal Reserve, or asking people for loyalty pledges, the President demands utmost loyalty from his subordinates and advisors.   All of us understand that having loyal friends and confidants is critical.   If loyalty supersedes competency, however, you wind up with a serious mess on your hands, as anything from a government to a business will fail, because incompetence is a fast way to wreck any sort of system.

As much as people may claim they want competence, without loyalty, you will always wonder if the person who you are working with/partnering with is going to “knife you in the kidneys” one day.  If you’ve ever been in that situation, either personally or professionally, you know how awful that feeling can be.   Having questionable trust in someone you need for technical, financial, or political reasons can have you sleeping with “one eye open,” and that is not a very pleasant way to run your life.   It is this point “The Godfather” (and its cinematic and televised offshoots) hammer home, time and time again.    Ironically, it was this line:

“We are all honorable men here, we do not have to give each other assurances as if we were lawyers.”

that was said in “The Godfather” by a not-so-honorable Don.   Real trust and loyalty can be rare.

Loyalty isn’t always friendship (you can be loyal to a boss, but not necessarily friends with them), but it shares a similar core of trust, and trustworthy behavior.  The case for being loyal does make sense, because you do want people “watching your back,” and not jumping ship when things get difficult.  Perhaps what is really wanted (and needed) is people to be loyal to you and to your vision.    With regards to competency,  if you know you aren’t up to handling a specific task, and you are loyal enough to someone, the best move is to admit that non-competence, and continue to give support in whatever way you can.

When it comes to trust and loyalty in the modern world of contracts, laws, lawyers and the courts, things are a bit different.   When we value uber-competency above all else, we have to rely on the use of contracts and laws to substitute for trust.  Contracts, supported by the courts and laws, codify  “trusted” relationships in excruciating detail, and, if the contract is written a certain way, that trust might be only one-way, or tilted in favor of one party or another.    This isn’t a great way to live either, as very few people are equipped to handle pages of legal minutiae and terminology (ever tried reading your EULA?).    Needed societal elements like “trust” and “loyalty” are micromanaged by obscure and alien language.   Some folks have parodied this to an extreme, of course.

All of this legal complexity is expensive.  Teaching  and certifying lawyers, archiving extensive records, keeping courts open, having legal teams the time and means to warp and finesse the meanings of any series of words – much of it can be superfluous in a world where excess resources aren’t available.   A great deal of energy is needed to keep the briefs flying back and forth, and to support a class of people who don’t produce, fix, or maintain the actual infrastructure of life.   In the Long Emergency, courts and the legal process may be severely hampered by a lack of resources, and only the gravest of crimes and issues might be taken up.   People can be loyal to their region or nation (even Michael Corleone volunteered for the Marine Corps), but it is critical that these institutions “do the right thing” and maintain order and deliver true and fair justice.  If institutions such as the legal system can’t do this, people may naturally start to trust those most local to them.

The Godfather is filled with notable quotes; this is another one that sums up an important lesson in a world that may not have the resources to enforce contracts that make up for the trust that you would normally place in family, friends, and community:

Friendship is more than talent. It is more than government. It is almost the equal of family. Never forget that.

“The Godfather” is a pipe-dream fiction, as noted by many.  But the parts about family, friendship, and loyalty are not.   Yes, we do need competent people to build the roads, tend to the sick, teach the young, and do all the ‘real world’ stuff a basic society needs.    Yet it is far easier to teach those things, and to teach competence in a particular field, than to teach trust and loyalty.

Questions

  • How do you handle loyal and trustworthy folks, who aren’t technically competent for what you need them to do?
  • What happens when you find yourself not technically competent in a situation, but know you are trustworthy and loyal to a cause, person or group?
  • How do you think these issues will change in the Long Emergency?
  • Do you think you can count on your friends and family in the Long Emergency?
  • What legal niceties will go first as things start to “get difficult”?   A look towards countries currently in difficult situations may provide a clue here.
  • In the “World Made By Hand” series, the legal is system is almost non-existent; how accurate do you think this is?  Legal systems and courts still functioned in the mid-1800s; will we go back to that sort of environment instead?

 

The Godfather Reality

commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Godfather_puppetmaster.jpg

Last week, the two-time Medal of Honor recipient Smedley Butler was brought up as an unassailable hero who minced no words, and told the truth, especially about war.   In his classic anti-war pamphlet “War is a Racket,” he explains that war profits only a small few, while many others pay the ultimate price.

There’s a quote that is easily found online, and in it, Butler sums up things quite well:

“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

There is no question – war is a  racket, and a dirty business indeed.  There may be times when going to war is the absolute and unfortunate last resort, but too many times it is the first thing that comes to mind, especially for people who don’t have to do the fighting.   Smedley Butler isn’t the only who who thought warlust wasn’t a brilliant idea; General William Tecumseh Sherman (of the ‘scorched earth’ March To The Sea) fame wrote:

I confess, without shame, I am sick and tired of fighting—its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families, appealing to me for sons, husbands and fathers … tis only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated … that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.

Coincidentally, after writing about Smedley Butler last week, two people made it known to me that they’d never seen the classic film “The Godfather.” Now, if you have any better than passing knowledge of organized crime, that movie bears the same relation to the criminal underworld as Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” has with the US Senate.   Read the World Encyclopedia of Organized Crime for a sometimes gruesome description of the folks who inhabit that world.

“The Godfather” saga is a moral tale, and it had an enormous impact on moviemaking (and on the Mob, interestingly enough), but the more real-to-life version is more like “Goodfellas” or “The Sopranos”; mundane, messy, and filled with horrific and nasty things.   There is one scene in the movie, however, which captures a hint of the “war is a racket” mentality:

Michael Corleone:I’m working for my father now Kay. He’s been sick, very sick.

Kay Adams:But you’re not like him Michael. I thought you weren’t going to become a man like your father. That’s what you told me.
Michael Corleone: My father is no different than any other powerful man, any man who is responsible for other people, like a senator or a president.
Kay Adams:You know how naive you sound?
Michael Corleone:Why?
Kay Adams: Senators and presidents don’t have men killed.
Michael Corleone: Oh. Who’s being naive, Kay?

This last line sums up a great deal of truth, and is one of the most illuminating quotes from the film. Powerful people do get others killed, either directly or indirectly, and it is naive to think otherwise.   Because of Westphalian sovereignty and the monopoly of violence, the people who do these things (the “pezzonovante”, the “.90 calibers”, the “big shots”) rarely are punished for these actions.   Various transgressions, such as the drumming up of support for the Iraq war under false pretenses, and then executing an illegal invasion might be opposed by the international community, but nothing happens to those who commit their nation to the warpath.

Questions:

  • “The Godfather” and “Goodfellas” are both fascinating and well regarded films, and tell of either idealized or graphically realistic versions of a particular subculture.  What pair of films do the same for art, war, sport, or academia?
  • There are many films which show the horrors of war; which ones show the behind-the-scenes machinations which lead to these atrocities?
  • “The Godfather” had a huge impact on Hollywood, but ironically, on the Mob as well.   Are there any films that have changed, guided, or influenced the subculture that they’ve tried to portray?   Could this effect be used for good?
  • After our high tech and interconnected society starts to falter (either quickly or slowly), the chance of violence to affect us personally will probably go up significantly. It may only be then when people start to realize how that violence is not trivial, and is not something you’d wish on anyone. The nature of the modern world, where things such as violence, hunger, and pollution have been mostly abstracted away, disconnects us from reality.  Is it possible to prepare for these eventualities, and reconnect with reality?  Can it be done without experiencing them directly?

 

 

 

 

Unassailable

SmedleyButler.jpeg.jpeg

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smedley_Butler#/media/File:SmedleyButler.jpeg (Public Domain)

The above is a picture of General Smedley Butler, USMC.   If you haven’t heard of his amazing story, definitely take a look.   What should raise your eyebrows isn’t that he was a two-time Medal of Honor winner, but that he came out firmly against war and the use of force in his classic War is a Racket.

It seems odd, that someone who has studied (and participated in war) should come out so strongly against it, but it is folks like these who need to be listened to the most.   These aren’t armchair pacifists or hawks, but people who have ‘walked the walk’ and have learned about the world the hard way.   At some point, they realize the hypocrisy and insanity of their own world, and speak out against it.

Rich people who warn against inequality and realize that torches and pitchforks may be coming; former white supremacists who preach peace and understanding; master teachers who show how modern school is built to control populations; former gang members who come out against the endless cycle of violence; military folks with long service records who caution against military “adventures” abroad; bankers and investment advisors who try and tell us how unsustainable the market has become.  In my view, these folks are generally unassailable, because their message is based in a reality that most of us won’t (or wouldn’t) want to experience.  By speaking out, they usually give up a great deal of fortune, fame, and fawning praise, to only be scolded and told to shut up.

Questions:

  • Who are some other more unassailable critics who have come out against the core beliefs of their own worlds?
  • Who in your own field has impeccable credentials, but speaks out against the central tenets of your profession?
  • Many of these folks would have been fine if they had just kept their mouths shut and collected a paycheck.  What makes someone “turn” on their own career and/or fellow practitioners of their art?

 

 

 

 

 

Leaving a shelf empty

Boltless_Shelving_175kg_1800x900x450_(Blue).jpg

commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Boltless_Shelving_175kg_1800x900x450_(Blue).jpg (CC-BY SA 4.)

One of the tricks of not accumulating too much stuff in any portion of your life is to ‘leave a shelf empty’.  Like a gas, “stuff usually fills the place available for its retention,” so deliberately deciding to leave some places empty allows for temporary imports of artifacts, in the ebb and flow of your life.   It’s not a perfect thing, but it does tend to help keep an eye on the tendency to accumulate and fill up your home/office/shop with things and “valuable” stuff.   This doesn’t mean you can’t fill up the shelves from time to time; the trick is to keep the average amount of stuff at X%, where X isn’t over 100.

The reasoning for this is obvious; you can handle natural variations in inputs and outputs as life proceeds.  Likewise, it is good to keep some cash on hand in a separate bank account, or try to keep a bit more than one-quarter tank of gas in the car.  When you live always on the edge of your limits, no matter what they are, and for whatever good intentions you have, situations can come up which can sink the entire enterprise of your life.  At the least, they can make existence really miserable for yourself and others.   This is essentially engineering a bit of resiliency in your world.   Also, if you are living to the edge of your limits, the chance that you can help others in a crisis is also diminished considerably.  That’s the real hard and unfortunate part, and essence of this post.

This all bounced around my head when hearing that the temporary protected status of over 250,000 Salvadorans was being revoked at the end of 2019.  This status was awarded in 2001, and TPS status can be renewed between six and eighteen months at a time.

As much as I try to keep up on the news, it was surprising to me.  I know the US did let people in during crises, but to renew temporary protected status for a particular group of people for over fifteen years seems quite problematical, on many levels.   In reading up on the TPS Wikipedia entry, it maintains that “temporary protected status does not provide a path to permanent resident status (green card) or United States citizenship.”  So, if you are here temporarily, there really isn’t a way to stay here legally once the “temporary” status is lifted.   These folks bought houses, got long term jobs, had kids (who were now US citizens), and essentially were integrated into American life, but legally, were only here temporarily.

And, here in lies a bit of the “full shelf” problem, and some issues of cause and effect.  Lots of crises happen around the world, and it is natural that we should want to help folks.  What is a bit damning is that some of these crises around the world are caused by our own country, and Central America is no exception.   The original reason why the folks from El Salvador came to this country is because of the 2001 earthquakes, but it may be that the dismal response of the government is what caused the local response to be so horrible.  If you may recall, our involvement with El Salvador goes back a long way, and if they couldn’t get their act together, part of it might be due to the mess we created.

Stuff like this reminds of me of the reason why being generous/giving foreign aid can be in our own best interests.   Having poor countries anywhere (where the rule of law is far more absent, people live in serious physical want, and dictators run free) eventually boomerangs on us.   In some ways, it is like the Buddhist bit about “selfish unselfishness.”  If you want to end the cycle of rebirth, (or at least give yourself a better shot at not having unpleasant events happen to you – karma isn’t perfect, fair, or understandable), the best selfish thing you can do for yourself is be relatively… unselfish!

There are some countries that have serious political problems that we can’t fix easily.  My own guess is that countries closer to us are easier to help, and we’ve got a far freer hand to ameliorate suffering locally than do so halfway around the world.   Taking in more folks closer to home seems like a reasonable thing.   Concurrently, we’ve got to address some of these deeper issues.  How much money have we put into fixing El Salvador?   Salvadorans are sending a lot of money from the US back to El Salvador; wouldn’t it be better if they were back there, in a more stable, safe, and prosperous country, sending money to the United States in trade?  What if, in the not-so-distant future, we were to need help from these countries?   When another crisis erupts in the world, will there be pushback against TPS for other refugees/immigrants?

There aren’t any easy answers to any of these issues; as always, they are at their core more predicaments than problems.   Alleviating suffering is a good thing, but we’ve got to do something about the root causes of that suffering.  In order to keep a few ’empty shelves’, we can’t let our generosity be stretched to the limit, or else when the next crises erupts, we won’t be able to help, either due to political or reality based reasons.  In the long run, we’ll probably do more good.

Questions:

  • What can we do to prevent this sort of mess in the future?
  • What is the limit of any countries’ generosity?
  • How many people should any country take in as refugees or under a “temporarily protected” label?   How do you calculate this criteria?  If the number is X million, what happens if the number is 1.5 X, 2 X or 5 X?
  • Immigration reform is a big can of worms, but how would we “keep a shelf or two free,” so that we could help new folks come in when they need immediate refuge?
  • How can we “fix” countries we’ve “broken?”
  • What is the calculus for accepting refugees, permanently or temporarily, especially when we’ve created their refugee status?

 

 

 

 

The names of things

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commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Thesauri#/media/File:Thesaurus.jpg CC-BY SA 3.0

Last weekend, the topic of naming children came up.    In theory, you should be able to name your children whatever you want to; however, there can potentially be real side effects that accompany your child’s name.   The one that was introduced to me a while ago was that the exact same resumes with only differing names that might belong to African-Americans had substantially less callbacks than ones with more common names such as John or Mary.   It’s the kind of study that is easy to replicate, and easy figure mathematically… and incredibly mind blowing.  It reminded me of an instructor (who was Jewish)  who said that names are very important; he told of us a discussion with his wife (in discussing possible baby names).   When she claimed, “it isn’t that important,” he wryly commented, and yes, completely in jest,  “What if we were to name our kid… Adolf?  One wonders if a study on more ‘revolutionary’ names like ‘Che’, ‘Fidel’, or ‘Mahatma’, more ‘preppy’ names like ‘Chip’ and ‘Ambrose’, or names like ‘Rand’ (associated with Rand Paul, or Ayn Rand, although her name was not the inspiration for his) would find.

Names are important, and it can be unfortunate that so much can be caught up in them.  Think of all the folks who were named Adolf, just before the Second World War broke out, and the impact that might have had on their lives and careers.  The name has take a nosedive, for sure, in baby namings.  A quick search on names of other infamous people from history turns up some striking statistics (who knew that there were actually people given the name Genghis?).

As noted before here, this naming problem was discussed most directly by (Saint) George Carlin, in his bit about euphemisms; most notably about soldiers and their stressful experiences in battle. In the Great War, it was called ‘shell shock’; in the Second World War, it became ‘battle fatigue’.  In Korea, ‘operational exhaustion’, and in Vietnam, ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’.   Euphemisms can dilute the meaning of really important things such as ‘shell shock.’  As Saint Carlin stated, maybe more vets would have gotten help if they had named their experience as ‘shell shock’ rather than a multi-syllable and hyphenated ‘disorder’.

Likewise, in the midst of an incredible cold snap throughout the United States, there are folks who bring up the term ‘global warming’, and simple minded jokes about how “we could sure use some more of it.”  Climate scientists have at least caught on, and begun using names like ‘climate change’ or ‘climate chaos’.  Although the long-term net effect might actually be warming, the term ‘global warming’ has stuck, and a lot of time has been spent backpedaling trying to get that term out of the ‘meme pool’ (analogous to the ‘gene pool’).

Given that we’ve got really gargantuan environmental, economic, and ecological crises on the horizon, what sort of names would be more appropriate, to alert people to their seriousness?   Terms like “irrational exuberance”, “negative outcomes”, “negative equity”, or “racially motivated” might mean the same thing as “crazy”, “bad”, “broke” or “bigoted”, but they tend to soften the edges a bit, and perhaps that isn’t a good thing.

We are faced with a lot of predicaments, not problems or ‘issues’.   How we face them depends a great deal on language, and we’ve all got to speak more directly.   It isn’t easy, since we tend to not to want to hurt people’s feelings, but speaking plainly (Dutch Uncleism!) could be a start.   It would great to find a Dutch uncle for America, but until then, we could start by being Dutch uncles and aunts more locally.     This doesn’t mean you should be cruel.  In my mind, a true Dutch uncle (or aunt) says what needs to be said out of real love and concern, and for the sake of not wasting time or resources.   A Dutch uncle or aunt should want you to succeed, or at the very least, make the most of what you’ve got.

Questions:

  • What other terms would you replace in our modern lexicon, that are destroying our ability to recognize problems?   What are some more classic ‘thoughtstopper’ or ‘gentle criticism’ (gentlecrit?) euphemisms, and their antidotes?
  • What current euphemisms are doing a great deal of damage, or hiding a lot of reality?
  • How do you change the use of a euphemism, to something more realistic?
  • There is an antonym for euphemism; it is called dysphemism, but this refers to a vulgar turn of phrase (axle grease instead of butter – I never heard of that!).  What is the in-between of euphemism and dysphemism?   Obtudoism?  Or is having such a word adding to the problem?!
  • My guess is that shorter words are generally less euphemistic, thoughts on that?