In the Spirit of Collegial Inquiry...

updated: 1 Aug 99

Gender-laden Language, Renaissance Women, and the Ponderous Future

Part Two

Adapted from our discussions of February '99

FT:   Last weekend while visiting the American Museum of Natural History located in Manhattan, NYC, I happened upon a distant relative while touring the Hall of Evolution. It was none other than "Lucy" herself!

I was awe-struck as I gazed upon this partial skeleton of one of our most famous ancestors. Happening upon "her" was especially exciting as I had not known that "she" was a "resident" of this museum.

How strange it seems, considering her humble beginnings, that she's now living in the Big Apple!

LDL:   How fortunate you are to have the opportunity! I know I would enjoy seeing her if the opportunity ever comes to Arizona.

There is a big debate on the origins of humanity! I had pretty much thought it all settled! However, it seems Africa as our point of origin is not a surety. Asia is in solid contention. There is evidence that suggests humankind was alive and well in Australia 150,000 years ago, and even slighter suggestive evidence it might have been there over a million years ago. Awesome if true!

Personally, I can buy the 150,000 year date, there is more than one piece of evidence, but the date of over 1,000,000 years ago is suggested solely by fire burns detected through soil samples. Pretty flimsy! Why is that apparently so important to our place of origin? If human life existed in Australia 150,000 years ago then it is thought to have come from Asia, not Africa!

This, of course, isn't my field of main interest! All I can do is give you the gist of the story!

For me, it generates the possibility that many things could have happened in the formation of homo sapiens! What did happen to the seven or so distinct forms of homo erectus co-existing prior to our arrival on the scene? Did they really all die out, kill one another off until only one was left? Apparently, it is thought, interbreeding would have been possible between these proto-people ... it would seem more logical, to me at any rate, that the blood of each of them courses through our veins. Even if they did war with one another! Perhaps, I wax too romantic! But I wonder ...

I wonder too: one million years in the future ... will all the races we know today have merged into one single race, the human race? Will we be spoken of as the many different races, and nationalities, for that matter, that came before homo (whatever)?

This cartoon was constructed from bits and pieces of remarks on Colloquy ... and who says nothing important is being done here! Names have been withheld to protect the not so innocent ... {GriN!}

I think the truth on this matter is simple ... it should never be taken as an insult if someone uses the generic term "man", but also it should not be taken as insult if someone requests the use of the more generic term "person", or even, goddess forbid, "woman!"

EM: Laura asks, "Are there subtle and not so subtle attacks on the self-esteem of young males, females, and gender blends as they are growing up?" [and states:] "All of us can get along better if we understand how some things we do make the other feel denigrated."

What is it that we are addressing? Perhaps at the most elemental level, the purpose and meaning of life, if any. Humans exist, want to continue to exist, the same as any other life form including germs and alligators, and in the process experience self-expression, preferably in ways that bring approval from those whom they most esteem (care about). Survival, procreation, and expression. In the process, we have stratification. In the process of stratification our egos are soothed or bruised, very often on a daily basis.

The mechanics of stratification is the unequal, or disproportionate allocation or distribution of the assets of any society. An integral part of this process is the acquisition and deployment of power, who shall tell whom what to do, and who has to do it?

In discussion, whenever anyone uses "we", I always wonder who is this "we" or alternately "they" who is wanted or expected to do something about what the promulgator sees as a condition to be remedied? My first response is most often, "Please leave me out of your "we", and I'd rather not be included in "they" either. I think that this we that is addressed is basically mythological, sort of a vague prayer to who knows what, rather than any real appeal for support in advocating a cause. There is much more I could say, and with the slightest encouragement, probably will, but I will forbear for the moment.

LDL:   Eric and all, [The sense of] "we" and "us", in my post was very apparent! I was speaking to those human beings who have some desire or interest in determining better methods of dealing with one another, lessening the bruising and stratification Eric speaks of, and particularly with other people who we have no close ties to other than the common interest of getting along!

If that offends anyone, I make no apology! The "we" and "us" certainly don't include anyone who wishes to go their own way, nor do they include people on a self-destructive, or sociologically destructive path! So, you are certainly exempted, if that is your wish!

If appreciating other people and communicating that appreciation is a vague prayer, than I neither understand the meaning of "vague", nor "prayer!" Nor do I advocate a cause ... I have lived my life quite successfully, and with immense happiness, by this methodology! I have a life blended into the mainstream! Quite an accomplishment, I think, in a world that seems entirely negative to those like me! Certainly, I view my life as a success and offer some of the perspectives that allowed it to be so! That seems to distress you ... is that true? If so, why?

Please feel free to wax prolific ... the negative side is always of interest to me! If nothing more than a path I choose not to follow, even as steadfastly as you, my friend, seem to reject any possibility of an improved harmony between peoples!

I, as I have made abundantly clear, am a skeptic (or paramythic) ... am I safe in assuming, from your frequently dark and negative posts, that you are a cynic? There is, as you know, an immense difference between the two positions!

JCC: Eric commentented, "this 'we' that is addressed is basically mythological, sort of a vague prayer to who knows what, rather than any real appeal for support in advocating a cause.

That seems to be the very essence of politics, attempts to identify oneself with the greater authority of "divine right", "popular will", "the dialectic of history" or whatever. Can't blame anyone for having some self-interest, whether enlightened or relatively less so. All human societies, ultimately, are dynamic balances of power ... to different degrees each a conspiracy to invent some set of rules, play by them, ever testing the limits. I do not know if our species will ever outgrow this game, but perhaps we can gradually become a little more civilized about it.

EM:   Hello Laura, you note, "I neither understand the meaning of "vague" or "prayer". Prayer is any sincere good wish, though humans dearly love to trick it out with formality. A "vague prayer"? That's a warm fuzzy one. What is faith? An emotional commitment to an abstraction. It is faith which forms the object or focus of the intentions of the communicant. Prayer in the public schools? Which prayer, and which school? Are not the schools of Saudi Arabia, Salt Lake City, Bangalore, and Peking (sorry, Beijing) public?

A bit farther along in your missive you state that you have a life blended into the mainstream, and feel this is quite an accomplishment, as well. I have a book manuscript, in long development, entitled "Out of the Mainstream", which I felt was a good summary of my own life experience. About a decade ago, I had one of numerous extended discussions with Julia along the lines that I had lived a completely compartmentalized life most of my adult life. I had been in AA since my age of 21, a cardinal principle there is that one remain anonymous.

My usual working career was in some sort of clerical capacity in various government agencies, where intelligence was neither wanted or admired, and I had learned almost in childhood to adopt whatever protective coloring worked best. My interest in chamber music, and the engaging in the performance of it, was of no interest to fellow workers, or AA friends, so that stayed separate. My membership in Mensa again remained most of the time a deep dark secret.

Here's something really strange: AA-ers who were Mensans would occasionally caution me to be careful never to reveal to anyone that they were Mensans! I wondered what was the greater social liability, to be alcoholic or have brains? To be both was almost overwhelming.

At the end of your rant, homily, Jeremiad, or polemic, as the case may be (very well done, too, I must admit, I do so enjoy them!), you offer me the paltry alternatives of being a skeptic or a cynic. I am vast, I contain multitudes ... thank you, Walt Whitman. You note my frequent dark and negative posts. I always thought they were merely practical, if not elemental. However, you do open a new line of thought, am I dark, negative, perhaps even brooding and foreboding? I am sentimentally Irish, there may be a strain of the poet and mystic filtering down through the millennia. A Druid lurks in the far distant past, I feel certain. The Druids were Irish, then they became Aryans, then they went to the mideast and screwed up the religions there real good, and we have a bunch of history. What is happening in Kabul is traceable to that diaspora, and it is a pitiful result. Tubal Cain was a worker in iron. Joshua never conquered the tribes armed with iron weapons ...

Having touched on poetry, let me labor it a bit. About four years ago, I published a small book of poetry done by some friends online. It was the usual contemporary piffle, but along with it I did a poem about the Knox Mine Disaster. It is an amateurish and woefully inept effort, but it did deal with the subject that has been of much local interest in the coal regions in recent weeks. I was pleased to have my poem published in various newspapers there, complete with a drawing my son did as an illustration, some years ago.

LDL:   I understand "vague", "prayer" and "vague prayer" without difficulty ... I merely pointed out that to diminish the value of appreciating one another for our accomplishments, rewarding one another for the good we do for each other, is a psychological technique and doesn't qualify as a vague prayer!

Yes, I am openly intelligent, openly creative, openly a male woman, openly in a triad, openly maintain a skeptical, anti-religious web site, openly participate in archery, the SCA, neighborhood community concerns, and more ... and, while obviously out of the mainstream, I function within the mainstream.

My life is largely integrated without selling myself out, without betrayal of personal integrity, without hiding what and who I am! Yes, is this remarkable? Only in that others could do the same but apparently most don't understand people well enough to succeed! However, I'm not alone! Here and there I run into other "out of the mainstream" people who manage to integrate into the mainstream. In general they, like myself, appreciate other people.

This suggests, and I am sorry for I mean no offense, that your unhappy experiences with other people, might have been lessened or even turned around. If what you say is correct ... "being anonymous since the age of 21" ... hasn't this isolated you from other people? It is difficult to learn how to deal with others, even with yourself, without socialization!

I wasn't offering you the choices of being cynic or skeptic, or paramythic ... I was asking if you were and allowing you to answer! Which you have done quite nicely! I am still primarily a paramythic skeptic ... I am neither vast nor one dimensional, although through knowing myself, I understand multitudes!

What I am talking about here is a psychological device, not prayer, not feel-goodism ... but a tool of manipulation that in the right hands can motivate others! There are other tools that go along with "appreciation", but appreciation is the one that seems primary!

Teddy Roosevelt understood, by his actions, some of the same techniques I use. Nothing new in them! "Speak softy, kindly, gently, with good intent ... and carry a big stick!" Another part of the technique is to make sure that other people want to accept your kind words ... because they know you are not a person one should upset!

EM: When I said I was anonymous since the age of 21, that comment was specific to observing one of the important principles of AA, which is anonymity. It means that I did not reveal my membership to anyone until I was very close to that person in some way, not that I hid myself personally from the whole world. As loony as it is, if anyone can be famous in AA, and it is possible, for many years I was famous, and in demand as a speaker at very large meetings.

I am a real party animal, and an inveterate joiner, I simply tried to make the point that I kept the various groups in my life pretty well apart most of the time. I knew hundreds of employees (and patients) in the government agency where I spent most of my working career, and I certainly knew, or knew of, most of the active classical musicians in Baltimore for many years.

When I say I was out of the mainstream, I mean that I was never a truly integrated person, as I have become to some extent in retirement. It does not mean that I was socially isolated in any slightest degree, then or now. I tend to be sort of a very quietly militant freethinker, which is to say what anyone thinks of prayer, for or against, is almost meaningless to me. I knew Trappist monks who spent many hours a day in prayer, and I knew Madalyn Murray, who made a huge ego trip out of inveighing against it. Between the two, I like the Trappist monks way better. The Trappists at least believed that what they were doing was making the world a better place, Madalyn was a pitifully plain-looking female with an ego as big as Everest. I think she hated God for not making her look like Pam Anderson.

LDL:   Well said ... what can I add? Perhaps, only this! One can learn to get along by almost any set of rules, and still be an individualist and non-conformist marching to their own drum!

WHK:   Maybe I've mentioned this before: Someone once postulated that the growth curve for accumulated knowledge is exponential, and grows asymptotic to infinity about the year 2011. - Coincidentally, the Aztec calendar (you know, those huge stone discs with the god's head in the center, tongue sticking out) is not perpetual... it ends in the year 2011!

Afterthought: it just occurred to me that those disks might be ancient floppies. What did their computers look like? {tongue firmly planted in cheek}

JCC:   This is congruent with the growth curve of archived documents. We may be headed for a Dilbert Apocalypse !! Check out Douglas Adams re primordial computers. {smile}

WAP:   Assuming this is true, which it could very well be, what happens then in the year 2011? We can't keep up with an exponential growth rate like that, which means that the growth rate must slow down, which means the mathematical model doesn't hold, i.e.- it is not truly an exponential curve, which means ...?

Barring unforeseen circumstances like computer implants (in the brain?), significantly increased longevity, or super-memory pills, there will still be a significant change coming in the next century in how we handle knowledge and technology.

JCC:   That seems to be already happening with development of expert systems and the like. For the typical human being it seems to be no more problem than coping with 100+ cable channels. People will tend to know a great deal in a specialized field, trying to keep on top of innovations. Others will dabble all over the spectrum of interests. Maybe a basic secondary school education is actually a lot less than it was a century ago ? In some areas this is certainly true, even though there is new information to absorb ... older stuff deemed "less important" gets squeezed out of the curriculum, probably more in line with politics and educational fads of the decade. The tremendous growth in knowledge seems really concentrated in esoteric technicalities. We just need to know the on/off switch for the applications, barring the marketing of a portable home cyclotron. Always wanted popcorn that glows in the dark ...

WHK:   All the talk about ridding language of gender-laden inferences becomes problematical when considering most non-English European languages. Unless, and until, male and female articles (e.g., "der" and "die" in German; "el" and "la" on Spanish, etc.) and associated suffixes are eliminated, there will be differentiation, whether to the liking of American PC advocates or not.

JCC:   Doubtless true, yet the tendency over times has been one of simplification of grammar. In German it is difficult as you say, because the gendered articles are a means of differentiating case, and necessary to making a sentence less mystical than the random passage from the Tao Teh Ching. I suspect that gender in this area is more analogous to "charm" and "color" defining quarks, and that the masculinity and femininity of various objects is so subtle as to be a trace value. If memory serves, even a ship is not a "she" in most of the European languages.

Applications to nouns of person are another matter, however, in setting up assumptions in context of culture. Even Esperanto, as a product of its century, is plagued somewhat with a suffix of gender... one for the feminine but none for the masculine. Well, in English some new constructions as "letter carrier" really do make more sense than "mailman". Can't begrudge a few extra syllables when mumbling is so easy. Take it from an ex-"Balmeryen".

JMC:   It's funny how the French have eliminated the gender references in their rest rooms (much to my ex-wifes chagrin).  Of course they hang their urinals on the outside of buildings.  When this country goes that far, I guess the PC-ers will be content.

LDL:   Hee hee ... well it would be an improvement over what we have now, at least here in Arizona! I've seen cowboys and indians use the side of a building quite often ... only there are no urinals hung there!

I am told there was a time when the whole world thought the sun and the universe revolved around the earth ... slowly we are evolving into a world where people recognize that we are not the center of the universe! Turkey, as Julia points out, is possibly the only gender free language and they are no great shakes on women's rights, so that isn't much help! Things will change ... they must, that is the nature of life, the universe, and everything!

EM:   Hello Julia, Laura, and everyone. Gee, there are lots of interesting ideas here to examine this weekend. We have the endless war of the sexes for openers. Are women subordinate, how much, why, and how bad is it (or good, depending on circumstances and viewpoint)? The worst place I could possibly imagine right now is Kabul and the Taliban. Why confine the discussion to which gender is dominant, when, and for how long? We are discussing power and social stratification.

Power, in human interactions, at the most basic level, is who tells who what to do, and who has to do it. I realize that in any opinion I offer here, it is incapable of any sort of proof or verification, so please don't demand quantification of what is happening right now with 265 million people in the United States as to their subjective emotional states of feeling dominated or dominating, and in what realm.

I think the teaching field, K-12, is female-dominated, the military is male-dominated. The highest levels of finance are male-dominated, though I suspect that women hold or control more actual wealth than do men. Gender differences as expressed in language mean little if a low level male clerk is confronting a female governmental department head who has been in the job for several decades.

The unemployed high school dropout with a gun or knife in his/her hand has vast power when confronting another unarmed citizen. The same threatening person, in an academic, governmental, or religious setting, may be as helpless as a small child. Power has many forms, many circumstances. When we are, or feel, powerless, to keep from being demeaned or humiliated, it matters little whether the person controlling us is male or female.

The idea of a potential crew for space exploration has been touched upon. What would be the better makeup of the crew for a permanent voyage into space? I can't think of any combination of humans as know them at present that might be successful. Julia posits that there will be (might be) some humans so idealistic as to devote or sacrifice their lives in such a venture. I doubt this, without the possibility of reward, real or imagined, I do not think humans would be willing to say goodbye to the Earth forever.

Young males may be induced to sacrifice their lives for causes which they have been persuaded will bring them great approval from those whom they most value. Example, the young Moslem in battle, who upon losing his life will go straight to paradise. There he will receive seventy beautiful virgins for his amusement forevermore. A teenage erotic fantasy made real. The Japanese Kamikaze pilots of WWII had the belt of a thousand stitches, each stitch made by a woman who symbolically linked her life with that of the pilot who was certain to lose his. The same teenage fantasy in a different form.

I imagine that male or female clones could be created, and genetically engineered to be non-competitive, who might be sent, (not volunteering) on a one way space voyage. There is an ethical question here, there always is, would this be any different than the legendary Atlantean manufacture of "things" part animal, part human, to serve the more advanced (higher status, higher on the hierarchy) humans of the time?

What experience have we so far with space ship crews? Precious little, a handful of people who have spent some weeks or months in orbit, always with the expected return to Earth upon completion of a time-bound assignment.

We can also regard the crew of the starship Enterprise, an imaginary grouping, which has held a huge hold on the imagination and thinking of many bright people. There were no children or elderly. No one was grossly obese. The group was limited to the child-bearing, or sexually active, age group. There were no class differences in evidence, nor any outward sign of religious belief. There was a racially and sexually diverse composition, but no clear great disparity of intellect.

Spock was more noted for lack of emotion contributing to clarity of analysis, rather than profound depth of intelligence or accumulation of knowledge. There was no political or economic system detectible, nor a regard for the cost of any contemplated action. There was a vague, one-size-fits-all military hierarchy of the crew. There was a recognition of power, and that there were other life forms capable of doing harm to humans, i.e. the Klingons.

Perhaps, most remarkable, there was no use of alcohol, drugs, or other use of products or the engagement of activities that humans use to relieve boredom, tedium, or the sense of inadequacy. I enjoyed Star Trek quite a lot as a younger person, but it never seemed to me to be a real example in the least of what actual space exploration would be like.

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