Sunday, January 22, 2006

Makin' up words

Did you ever make up any good words or expressions? I made up 3 that I like:

1) Obvuto - Has to do with truth value. An obvuto statement is a statement that is true and useful as long as you appreciate the extent to which it may actually be misleading. For example: "Karate is the art of breaking boards with your bare hands." Most karate practitioners would cringe at that definition, but as a way to explain what karate is to people who have a limited exposure to such things, it can be effective. How useful such a statement is depends on whether the listener understands that the statement is obvuto.

I really like the word, but to tell the truth I don't use it in conversation much. Not unless we're talking about words we made up. :)

2) Smell-deaf - I figure I am about 65% to 70% smell deaf. My wife can smell just about anything. She takes great pride in her acuity of smell. But she is grossed out a lot. (Not by me, of course!) When she was pregnant with our daughter her sensitivity of smell went through the ceiling. She couldn't stand the smell of anything. Almost made a basket case of me trying to arrange the universe of smellery to not offend her. Personally, I get the impression that having a keen sense of smell is mostly a disadvantage unless you live in the wild.

I couldn't find a quick word or phrase that applies to the notion of having a poor sense of smell, so I made up smell deaf. Most people seem to know what I am talking about immediately.

3) Smell frequencies - Somethings I can smell just fine. But I sometimes seem to pick up only certain smell frequencies. My wife once brought home some little white flowers. I think she called them paperwhites. Anyway, she sat them in the living room and went on and on about how nice they smelled. I just ignored them. But awhile later I started smelling burnt rubber. I was a bit alarmed and told my wife that I could smell an wire burning somewhere. She just looked at me funny and said she didn't smell anything. That was weird. I ran around the house in a panic expecting to find an appliance overheating. I ran around and around sniffing everywhere, like that smell-deaf bloodhound (or whatever he is) in Disney's Aristocats. Finally, I sniffed and snuffed my way back to the coffee table in front of the sofa where I was sitting in the first place. To my surprise it was the paperwhites. To me, they smelled just like burning rubber or plastic. To my wife they smelled fragrant and sweet. That's when it dawned on me that I was probably only picking up certain smell frequencies, but not the all same ones my wife was getting.

I have tossed this expression into conversations from time to time. I usually get a comically puzzled reaction. I suppose people who know me might just take it in stride with all the other things I say. I suspect they think I am usually tuned in to a different frequency most of the time. :)

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Them vs. Us

One of the stupidity holes we seem to stumble into over and over again--often not even understanding that we are in a hole--is the "them versus us" trap. It appears to me that it is partly hardwired into our noggins, but it seems like we overdo the distinctions between the "them" and the "us".

This was something I have thought of blogging about in the past, but never got around to. But recently, The Language Guy did a post called The Last Bastion of PC Prejudice and it got me thinking about this topic again.

His post was only partly related to this topic, but in it he talks about how our prejudices can be exercised against other groups by making politically correct (sounding) statements disparaging how others speak. In short, this provides a polite (sounding) mechanism for attacking another social class or ethnic group.

His discussion reminded me about a thought I have often had about how we instinctively--is it really an instinct?--divide the world into them and us. And, more specifically, how in some cases we seem to have certain common indexes for making the decision about who is them and who is us. And language is one of those indexes.

Look at it this way. Let's suppose that we evolved this tendency in order to survive in our cave man days. Now I don't have any idea if that is actually what happened, but let's say it is for argument's sake. Let's say we needed a way to differentiate between groups whose collective DNA we want to help preserve and groups whose DNA we should be hostile to. Well, if we don't have common indexes, then differentiating becomes very haphazard.

Let's say for example, that we have 4 cavemen, Fred and Barney who are part of the Bedrock community, and Og and Zog who are members of the Cave Bear Clan. If there is no common index for determining who is a member of us and who is a member of them, then it all becomes very haphazard, and social groupings become difficult to manage. Let's say, for example, that Barney differentiates us-ness vs. them-ness based on toe shape, and Fred bases his distinctions on beer preferences. In such a case, Fred and Barney would have a hard time determining who to be nice to and who to be hostile to. Fred and Barney would have a devil of a time coordinating hostilities because they couldn't be sure who is friend and who is foe. More importantly, since they don't share any common indexes to determine who is us and who is them, they would be completely unable to even maintain a distinct social group. If Og and Zog, by contrast, did maintain a common set of markers, then their social grouping would have an edge over that of Fred and Barney.

One thought that I find interesting is that it may not even matter too much what their indexes are, as long as they have common ones.

What all this has to do with the Language Guy's post is that, I suspect, we do have these common indexes, and language is one of the key ones. Of course, looks and grooming behaviors would be another. If language is a key index in determining them-ness vs. us-ness, then it seems likely that part of the reason we behave the way the Language Guy describes is that we have a special propensity to think that way.

Of course, it could be argued that I am providing a justification for such behavior as he describes (in his post) by suggesting that it is hardwired. Well, I suppose a person could interpret things that way, but the truth is, I do not condone prejudice. Rather, I am trying to fight it. Starting with myself. I am fighting it by trying to understand it.

I am not actually claiming that it is hardwired. More that it's softwired. I am suggesting that we may have a strong tendency to make distinctions, based largely on specific indexes, such as language and appearances, to treat some people as us, and to treat others as them. And we do this even when the basis for that distinction is not germain to the defence of the real needs of any important social groupings. In other words, we tend to treat others like outsiders, and with hostility, for really stupid reasons.

I am suggesting that we do this partly instinctively--without realizing--but we shouldn't. We needn't. It is part of our stupidity that we do this. It is a recognizable error that we can catch ourselves doing. Even if our instincts tend to lead us in this direction, our higher brains, our sense of decency, should steer us right again.

I wanted to give some examples, but as I often do, I have droned on without carefully planning my exit strategy. And it is now almost midnight so I just have to bring this to an unceremonious and abrupt end.

So in closing, let's just forget that I'm us and you're them. For tonight and tomorrow, let there only be us -- and you're included.

Spread the word.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Going deeper

I intended my last post as a tongue-in-cheek piece, and I hope that is how it was taken. But there is a truth in it that it goes deeper than just the overt message about boys meeting girls (and vice versa).

We people are so blinded by beauty that we rely on the beautiful to tell us how to be attractive. But if you really want to learn about being attractive, ask a plain person with a track record. Attractiveness is inside us.

But even this is just an allegory. (Did I use that word correctly?)

The real message goes much deeper. It's about life. It's about the stupid way we look at things. It's about what we need to do differently. It's about knowing where to get our guidance in life. It's about knowing how to find our true strengths.

The message is simple.

If you are not naturally well endowed in some way--and this does not only apply to physical beauty--then you can still aspire to bring better things into your life. But there is no point looking to the naturally well endowed to be your guides. The best way to get help is to look to others like yourself to be your guide. The ones with a track record. They can help you find your strength within.

If I were going to learn how to play poker. I would not try to learn it from somebody who won because they were dealt a winning hand. I would look to somebody who gets mediocre hands, then continues to play and win. There is a better bet that they know what they are doing.

I remember a gentleman where I was working several years ago who made a huge profit playing the stock market. He ended up making several tens of thousands of dollars. Pretty soon, he was the toast of the water fountain. People were going to him for advice. And he was happy to offer his opinions. At least 3 of his colleagues decided he was the man, and invested based on his recommendations. They all lost. Now they don't go near the stock market. Just as well. A little while later, I found out that the winner guy had lost his investment, too. Apparently, he didn't cash out on time. Ah, well. C'est la guerre!

It's all the same thing. They went to a handsome man to tell them how attract girls. And, as usual, the handsome guy had all kinds of advice. But he didn't know squat.

They probably should have gone to a plain guy.

Not just any plain guy.

A plain guy with a track record for success.

Or a plain girl.

Spread the word.

[Note: I made a small change to the text above in order to avoid unintentionally saying something hurtful. The substance of my message has not been changed.]