Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Reading List

Many of you are probably busy following the rapidly accelerating developments in the denouement of Anglicanism. I've been reading about it too, but I'm not going to write about it here – not today, anyway. So if you're looking for a break from stories about realignments, boundary crossings, gay bishops, canon law, and speculation about what the Archbishop of Canterbury might have said to his wife at breakfast this morning, you've come to the right place! Here are some things I've been reading that have nothing to do with the Anglican meltdown, along with my own mini-rants on these subjects.

In the Australian on-line newpaper, The Age, David Campbell challenges the careless English that pollutes our electronic world. I have always disputed the notion that the standards of grammar and spelling should be relaxed in electronic communications. E-mail is real communication. If you can't be bothered to use capital letters and punctuation and look up the proper spellings of words, don't be surprised if your readers don't expend the effort required to decipher and interpret it. (Unless, of course, they're your employees, in which case you can expect them to waste hours deciphering what it would have taken you two extra minutes to write properly.) One kind of error that Campbell attacks is confusion between sound-alike words. Two errors of this kind that I see far too often are the use of "illusive" for "elusive" and "adverse" for "averse." When someone uses a sound-alike word, it makes me strongly suspect that they are ignorant of the meanings of both the word they intended to use and the one they actually used. They are just parroting something they heard without understanding it.

Laurie Goodstein, writing in The New York Times, reports that prison libraries are being systematically purged of books on religion. The Bureau of Prisons has decided the standardize its libraries by limiting their holdings to only 150 books in each of 20 religious categories. This was done without broad input, so the lists are narrowly biased toward certain theological or denominational positions. The prisons are trying to eliminate works that might provoke intolerant or violent behavior in their readers – a reasonable motive for prison officials. But this method is backwards. Instead of simply banning potentially dangerous books, they are effectively banning all books that were not on the "favorites" list of their arbitrarily chosen anonymous book pickers. This is the sort of folly that inevitably results from an attitude toward religion that is implicit in much of our government and society today: that some religions are bad, but because this knowledge is politically incorrect we are not allowed to acknowledge it or act on it. Therefore, instead of condemning a religion that is evil or anti-social, the government must find some artifical pretext for dealing with it – and in the process it must equally inconvenience all other religions in the name of equal treatment. The only winners in this game are secularists, who are happy to see all religions inconvenienced.

Finally, in another New York Times article, Nicholas Wade explores the work of moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who outlines the biology of natural law. Haidt "identified five components of morality that were common to most cultures. Some concerned the protection of individuals, others the ties that bind a group together. Of the moral systems that protect individuals, one is concerned with preventing harm to the person and the other with reciprocity and fairness. Less familiar are the three systems that promote behaviors developed for strengthening the group. These are loyalty to the in-group, respect for authority and hierarchy, and a sense of purity or sanctity." All of these dimensions of morality are part of our human nature. Our liberal society, however, has de-emphasized the group dimensions of morality and focused nearly exclusively on the individual dimensions. Liberals have systematically lowered people's moral thresholds regarding the group-oriented elements of morality, just as totalitarians have systematically lowered people's moral thresholds regarding the rights of individuals. Those of us who truly respect human nature cannot acquiesce to either sort of reductionism.

Thanks to Stephen for sending me the first and second articles and to Bill for the third.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's no secret that bad, downright lazy English is rampant in the workplace.

One particularly grating example of careless speech I've noticed lately is that of substituting "flush out" for "flesh out," e.g.: "I'd like to flush out our thinking on this issue a little bit."

I have no idea how this started, or where. I don't recall hearing it before a year ago or so, and now I notice people saying it in the workplace all the time.

Even worse: the use of the word "office" as a verb! "Pete offices next to Susan; I'll ask him to flush this out when I see him this afternoon."