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Language we trick ourselves with

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I'd like to start a list of language -- words, phrases, etc -- that we (that is, English speakers, but I'm open to suggestions in other languages) use in everyday speech without really considering how meaningless what we're saying actually is, or how wrong it actually is. Turns of phrase and confused definitions that leave us befuddled without even realizing it.

 

 

 

 

Most evolved

 

and

 

Survival of the fittest

 

 

Examples that have started to bug me recently come from a misunderstanding of evolution. People say something like,

 

"We humans are the most evolved species, we're supposed to be better than this."

or

"We humans are the most evolved species, we're better than the other animals."

 

 

Or they talk of the "survival of the fittest":

 

"It's Darwinism, yo. Survival of the fittest. Stronger is better!"

or

"Humans are the smartest. Survival of the fittest. We're the fittest, and we're winning!"

 

 

Evolution is a constant process, and is basically random. It is not an intentional, "progressive", linear process. It's not a race; there is no finish line, no prize for a winner. We can talk of the "most evolved" species, but that would only involve talking about the species with the longest evolutionary history -- it has nothing to do with how well-adapted a species is to its environment. A shark is incredibly well-adapted to its environment, much more so than a human, but has seen relatively little evolutionary change compared to humans and our ancestors. Many species are remarkably ill-adapted to their environments; they die out and we barely know of their existence, though they may have been "very evolved".

 

And still, people use these phrases in a certain way and really believe that they mean something. So many people truly believe:

 

[a] that humans are further along in some kind of evolutionary race than all other species

 

that we are therefore "better" than all other species, destined for cosmological greatness

 

[c] that there is a function of life called "Survival of the Fittest" that means if you are bigger and/or smarter than someone or something else, you have an obligation to kill and maim it, or create harmful technology to exploit it

 

It really is a misconception as damaging as fundamentalist beliefs about God and Damnation.

 

 

 

 

I'd like to create a kind of reference list of this kind of misuse of language -- instances where we trick ourselves, on a large scale, into believing something because we haven't understood a concept properly, or because our language is insufficient. And I'd like people to explain themselves, at least as thoroughly as I have done above.

 

I hope that everyone can in this way learn a little about the great effect language can have on the way we see the world without us necessarily realizing it, and that we can through this understanding all improve our communication skills and perhaps even come to a better overall understanding of the world we live in.

 

The reason I've put this in WWW is that I would like to keep posts to well-considered examples and strict discussion of examples, and be able to remove (hide) posts/examples (and ensuing discussions) that are not properly considered.

 

Cheers

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I know this isn't what you're asking for but I think everything uttered in the present continuous form (I am doing) is false and a good source of befuddlement.

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My take on this is that my conceptual awareness, like everything else on this planet, involves yin and yang forces in continual and dynamic interaction. , Reality and illusion form such a pair within this framing; 'reality' being the yang aspect of my awareness and 'illusion' the yin aspect. 

 

Concepts that are were once real for me have now become illusions, and vice versa. 

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I have problems with the entire  language that underpins the framing of contemporary social theory. This virtually unquestioned paradigm is  based on the anthropocentric ideals of humanism that arose from Enlightenment thinking and has served us well. But whilst society has evolved, the theory has not, so it now fails to describe the reality of our increasingly globalised society. The language has become false, and is misleading in many ways. For instance, it tricks us into believing we humans are in control of shaping human destiny.

 

My own observations of how society actually operates have been vastly deepened and greatly enlarged by reading the theories of German sociologist Niklas Luhmann.  (I'd like to think a modern Zhuang Zhou would concur with this perspective.)

 

Keeping in mind my above post that all concepts are a combination of reality and illusion, here’s an excerpt from The Radical Luhmann by Hans-Georg Moeller in support of my current reality……

 

ECOLOGICAL EVOLUTION A CHALLENGE TO SOCIAL CREATIONISM

 

Relatively speaking, one of the less conspicuous radical aspects of Luhmann's theory is his application of the theory of evolution to sociology. This may seem a somewhat strange point to make, given that the theory of evolution is no longer considered all that scandalous, at least outside of North American fundamentalist Protestant circles. The same may be the case with respect to biology, but Luhmann's use of evolutionary theory for a theory of society is, I believe, quite provocative. Although Luhmann is not a social Darwinist and has little in common with Herbert Spencer, his evolutionary approach is nevertheless at odds with the dominant liberal and humanist views on society, which can often be understood historically as secularized successors of Christian ideas.' Luhmann's theory radically breaks with anthropocentric views of society, just as Darwin broke with the Christian idea of the human being as the "crown of creation" Thus, Luhmann's radical evolutionary view of society (which was decisively shaped by the post-Darwinian evolutionary biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela) when viewed from mainstream humanist post-Christian social theory, has the potential to be as offensive as Darwin's biological theory once was.

 

Evolution, for Luhmann, emerges as the complex coevolution of system-environment relations. In Darwin's vocabulary, evolution is the evolution of species that constitute environments for one another. An ecosystem indicates the coexistence of a great variety of life-systems without a center or a general steering mechanism. Within an ecosystem, all subsystems coevolve. A change in one subsystem, let's say a change in the oxygen level of the water in a lake, "perturbs" the plants in the lake and triggers evolutionary changes in them. This also triggers evolutionary changes in the fish. These evolutionary changes will again have an effect on the chemistry of the water, and so on. All of these things happen simultaneously. Coevolution means there are permanent feedback mechanisms between a multiplicity of simultaneously evolving systems. Changes trigger changes that trigger changes and so on.

 

Such a basic evolutionary model contradicts the central idea of creationism, namely, the primacy of an external or initial act of creation or (intelligent) design. A coevolutionary ecosystem is self-generating and self-contained and not designed or based on any specific a priori input. The difference between a theory of evolution and creationism parallels the difference between a theory of immanence on the one side and theories of transcendence or transcendental theories on the other. While current social theories are no longer transcendent and commonly do not speak about divine origins of social phenomena, they are often transcendental theories, to use the Kantian term—and thus represent, so to speak, a kind of secular social creationism.

 

Unfortunately, in English academic language, the foundational Kantian distinction between transzendent and transzendental is mostly ignored and the terms "transcendent" and "transcendental" are often used synonymously or interchangeably. Kant, however, used the term transzendental in particular to distinguish his philosophy from previous transcendent metaphysics. For him, transzendent meant "beyond experience" (God, for instance, is transzendent), whereas transzendental referred to whatever precedes experience in the sense of being the (or a) "condition of the possibility of experience.  Transzendental is what is a priori in this sense, namely what is prior to or "pure of" anything empirical. Many contemporary social theories are, though certainly not transcendent, still, in a post-Kantian sense, transcendental theories of society. As such, they are still essentially incompatible with a radical evolutionary theory of society that is radically immanent and leaves no room for any a priori social principles.

 

Modern and contemporary social theories, like those of Hobbes, Rousseau, Habermas, and Rawls, can be called "transcendental" They, at least hypothetically, think that society either is or should be founded on some sort of a priori mechanism or basis for intrasocial consensus such as a contract, a commitment to reason, or a definition of fairness. Society is assumed to have access to something that is not itself social but an a priori condition for society to function well. Society, according to these models, can only be enacted properly if it adheres to certain principles. These principles are most commonly believed to be civil principles, that is, they are related to specifically human characteristics such as human nature, free will, human rationality, human rights, and so on. In this way, these transcendental theories of society are also inherently humanist, or, more precisely, anthropocentric. Luhmann's theory of society, like Darwin's theory of evolution, is not.

 

One profound difference between creationism and a theory of evolution is the idea of a plan. Creation is not random or involuntary; it involves intentionality. It involves action and agency. This agency can be transcendent or transcendental. In the first case the agent is of divine nature, that is, a God; in the second, agency is this-worldly. Evolutionary theory, however, denies both sacred and secular agency. An ecosystem cannot intentionally evolve. It neither enacts God's will nor freely determines how to develop itself. Luhmann's social theory has been criticized, in precisely this context, as being "metabiological" by Habermas,' because it follows evolutionary biology in denying not only transcendent, but also transcendental agency and intentionality. This is what makes Luhmann as scandalous in social theory today as Darwin's theory was in the context of nineteenth-century biology. Humans are no longer capable of their own development, but are simply an element within highly complex system-environment entanglements. To take evolution seriously means to take the notion of environment seriously, and therefore to undermine the concepts of intentionality, planning, and free will. None of the post-Kantian transcendental and anthropocentric social theories can be truly ecological so long as they ascribe the capabilities of design and agency to a privileged species.

 

Conventional transcendental social theories are incompatible with radically ecological and evolutionary social theories such as Luhmann's. While many progressive and, to a certain extent, leftist (at least in their own view), social theoreticians, like Habermas, take great pains to come up with nonhierarchical or egalitarian visions of society that eliminate structures of domination, they cannot be classified as noncentrist thinkers. Typically, these theorists affirm the central role of politics (or the economy, or both together) in society. If society is, in a post-Kantian sense, to rationally determine its own future, then there has to be a central planning agency for directing this development. This agency, as is the case for Habermas, may well be supposed to be democratic, that is, collective, nonrepressive, and nonauthoritarian, but it nevertheless has to have some sort of social centrality. It must have some authority over law, the economy, education, religion, and so on in order to ensure that society progresses in the right way. Luhmann, the evolutionary theoretician, goes against such a centrist vision. Instead, he "develops a polycentric (and accordingly polycontextural) theory in an acentrically conceived world and society".

 

An ecosystem has no center. Evolution does not follow any guidelines or directives given by any of its subsystems. Subsystems are not egalitarian or democratic in the sense that each system has a the right to make a contribution in determining where evolution goes. Subsystems may compete for survival, and, in the long run, most of them will simply dissolve since they cannot plan their own future or the future of the whole. There is no institution inherent in evolutionary processes that a system may appeal to, or, for instance, complain to that its extinction is unjust, unfair, or irrational. A social theory that takes evolution seriously will therefore not only disappoint, but most likely offend those social theorists who think that even if such institutions may not yet exist or may not yet be perfect, they should at least be aspired to. Evolutionary theory, however, does not allow for such aspirations.

 

Modern social theories rooted in the Enlightenment hope that society can elucidate itself in a twofold sense; it has the ability to see itself more clearly and gain, at least potentially, a more or less complete understanding of itself, and it can work toward making itself brighter, that is, happier and better in a moral or pragmatic way, or both. An evolutionary theory is, in a sense, a counter-Enlightenment theory, since it theoretically excludes both of these achievements. A thoroughly immanent ecosystem, be it biological, mental, or social, does not, so to speak, include its own light switch. As Luhmann pointed out regularly, an observing system can, paradoxically, often see only what it cannot see—and what others cannot see. It can detect the blind spots of other systems and thereby draw some conclusions about its own. A perfect illumination is theoretically impossible. Light and darkness, metaphorically speaking (and alluding to Daoism), constitute each other in an evolutionary context. The very condition of seeing something is not to see everything. The ability to observe, paradoxically, also implies limitations, and thus inabilities, of observation.

 

The partial blindness that comes with evolution also implies a certain ethical and pragmatic blindness. Since it is impossible to see everything, it is also impossible to see what is good for all. An ecosystem that cannot know itself and that cannot know its future also cannot know what it should ultimately hope for. How can today's species know what will be good for future species? A bright future for one species implies necessarily, according to Darwin's theory, a dark future for others. The application of such a view on social theory must be deeply disconcerting for any sociologist or philosopher who shares the Enlightenment vision of a self-illuminating society.

 

A major Enlightenment narrative immediately connected with the program of self-illumination was the belief in progress., Enlightenment as a process of human self-illumination is, both cognitively and practically, quite necessarily, geared toward improvement. The natural sciences provide us with more knowledge; new technologies enhance our capacities and productivity, and increase our material well-being. The social sciences, it was hoped, would provide us with expertise in social engineering so that we would be able to rationalize and optimize our political and economic life. Education was consequently seen as the means to lead ourselves out of our "self-inflicted immaturity"—to use the famous Kantian expression. Thinkers like Hegel, Marx, and the French positivists (Comte and others) subsequently came up with some of the grand nineteenth-century descriptions of a historical march to the light—of inevitable progress toward greater human self-realization — in the double meaning of this term, that is, both epistemologically and existentially.

 

The nineteenth century has been qualified as the century of historicism. This not only indicates a focus on the inherent historicity and dynamics of life, but also a belief in the possibility of a science of history. History could finally be understood by those who make it. Marx is probably the prime example for such an attempt to identify the laws of history which, in the past, had shaped social developments unbeknownst to those who actually constituted or performed them. It was believed that an adequate analysis of the historical movement would enable humankind to actually make history rather than simply be moved forward through it. Instead of merely interpreting history, a historically informed social science would enable us to enact change rather than be merely subjected to it. In this sense, liberation for Marx also meant historical liberation: rather than being determined and dominated by history, humankind would now be able to determine and dominate it. Progress came to mean not only a development toward a better state but also, and perhaps even more important, a self-conscious motion. Progress thus meant to deliberately and actively move forward, to go on, by one's own will and in the direction that one set out beforehand.

 

The Enlightenment narrative of historical progress was soon questioned. Nietzsche replaced history with genealogy. Nietzsche, as well as many of the leading theorists of the twentieth century who were substantially influenced by him (one may think of Freud and Foucault in particular), was less optimistic about the idea of progress. On the one hand, these thinkers fully acknowledged the idea that what we are is an effect of what we have been—Wesen ist, was gewesen ist, as Hegel succinctly put it., On the other hand, they did not really share the belief in the possibility of rationally improving the course of history. Simply put, genealogy may be defined as history minus progress. To understand our heritage does not necessarily mean that we can change or control it. Genetic engineering may in fact, from the perspective of a genealogy, turn out to be as futile as attempts at social engineering. Just as it is highly questionable how improved genetically modified food actually is, it is questionable how much improvement was brought about by the experiments in transforming historical knowledge into social progress.

 

In this sense, Luhmann's theory of social evolution fundamentally differs both from the historicist social theories of the nineteenth century and from Darwin's biological theory of evolution. For Darwin, in line with his historicist contemporaries, biological evolution was a story of progress. Evolution meant "survival of the fittest;' and to be fit, as in contemporary popular usage, connoted being good, or at least better than the unfit. Similarly, natural selection meant the selection of the better over the worse. Darwin explicitly pointed out how "immeasurably superior" natural selection was, compared with "man's feeble efforts" to perfect living organisms over time.' This meant, for Darwin, that nature was even more concerned with bringing about biological advancement than, let us say, human horse breeders. Given this focus on improvement through selection, Herbert Spencer's social theory has rightly been labeled "social Darwinism" since it also conceives of evolution as progress, as a development toward the better.

 

Luhmann is not a social Darwinist in this sense. Social evolution for him, like biological evolution for post-Darwinist biologists, is not to be automatically equated with social progress., Functional differentiation is an effect of social evolution, but it is not in any general way "better" than stratified or segmentary differentiation. Evolution is not teleological. Its partial blindness does not allow it to take aim. Furthermore, the lack of a central force or a socially progressive element (such as, for Marx, the proletariat, with the Communist Party as its avant-garde) makes it impossible to anticipate any specific course that history may take.

 

Post-Darwinian ecological evolutionary theory, in both biology and sociology, is genealogical rather than historicist. It tries to understand its "genes”, or its inherent heritage, and does not continue the Enlightenment narrative of progress. It refrains from scientifically evaluating species according to their respective merits and does not rank social systems or social structures. This does not mean a postulation on the equality of all biological or social systems; it means refraining from constructing a narrative based on value judgments. Not making value judgments also means not proclaiming that all systems are equally valid.

 

For a post-Darwinian ecological evolutionary theory, be it biological or sociological, development is contingent rather than necessary. But contingency is an ambiguous term. It means to exist despite other alternatives having been equally possible, and to come into existence as a result of previously existing conditions in the sense of being contingent upon. It implies, on the one hand, the coexistence of a plurality of options or alternatives without hierarchical order, and, on the other hand, a nonarbitrary connection between what is and what has been. That there are horses is a contingent result of biological evolution in the sense that the emergence of other species or the extinction of the horse species would have been equally thinkable, given the extreme variety of evolutionary possibilities at all times. But it also means that the current existence of the horse species can be traced genealogically to a very specific evolutionary development that actually took place. Luhmann often stresses the unlikelihood of whatever is actually brought into existence by evolution, given all of the innumerable developments that might have taken place instead. This takes nothing away from the important role that everything that did evolve has within evolution. That horses came into existence was not evolutionarily necessary. Now that there are horses, they influence further evolutionary developments and thereby limit evolutionary possibilities. That something like stocks and bonds came into existence in social reality was not historically necessary. However, now that there are stocks and bonds, further economic, and thus social, evolution is contingent upon their existence.

 

Luhmannian ecological genealogy combines historical awareness with nondogmatic pluralism. In an evolutionary context, the notion of contingency affirms both historical heritage and the openness to the future. It implies both a confirmation of the relevance of the actual and recognition of its aleatory character. Everything might have come about differently, but now that the die has been cast there is no going back. And the options for the way forward are, although not predetermined, relatively limited by what is now the case.

 

Historicist theoreticians of progress share, unlike evolutionary genealogists, some of the teleological fantasies of the secular creationists. If there is, at least potentially, a plan for the course of history, and if we can both know and guide, or at least accelerate, this course, then radical contingency is unacceptable. For creationists and historicists, the course of history has a specific and necessary meaning and not only a contingent sense. That history has a meaning is to say that there is some thread that runs through it, that it somehow unfolds as a plan, that it has a discernible design and is therefore determined to lead somewhere. Evolutionary genealogy recognizes or observes that evolution makes sense, but this making of sense is an immanent evolutionary construct, a dynamic process of continual reinvention.

 

From a genealogical evolutionary process, development is neither a priori nor teleologically determined. "Sense,” as a linguistic alternative to the term "meaning,” is made, while something has a meaning. In an ecosystem consisting of complex system-environment relations, sense is not singular. The system does not have a meaning, nor does it have any intention of pursuing a certain direction. What makes sense for one species does not necessarily make sense for another, and the evolutionary direction that the development of one species or biological system takes does not correspond to the direction of other species or systems in its environment. Human beings, for instance, have on average become a lot taller in recent centuries. This does not imply that other species became taller as well, or that evolution is generally aimed at tallness. Nevertheless, I am sure that the increased height of human beings will have perturbed the various subsystems within the human body and triggered certain evolutionary developments that biologists might be able to trace and make sense of. While there is no general meaning of having gotten taller (e.g., approaching a perfect human height), this change will help biologists make sense of a number of evolutionary changes in the human body (e.g., in the muscular system). It can even help sociologists explain how sociological change occurs, such as the production of longer beds. While a social systems theorist might make sense of an increasing variety in furniture size, Marxists may detect the meaning of this development in an ever-expanding capitalist economy, and liberals may see it as an indication of the liberation of consumer choice.

 

Traditional historicist attempts to define the trajectory of historical progress are, from an evolutionary perspective, comparable to biological attempts to define the trajectory of "progress" in human height. Biologically, it is uncommon to conceive of increased human body height as advancement toward an evolutionary goal. The idea of improving and purifying the biological development of human life was in fact one of the sociobiological experiments infamously conducted in twentieth-century Europe. Such a biopolitical project is certainly not compatible with an ecological post-Darwinian view of evolution. Ecological evolutionary theory avoids evaluations of what is desirable and what is not. It does not identify a developmental direction and it certainly does not try to give advice on how to help evolution move forward. From an Enlightenment perspective, this attitude may be criticized as a lack of engagement, but so far the concrete results of attempts to help either biological or social evolution reach its respective goals a little quicker have not been without their problems.

 

If, as Habermas has done, one labels Luhmann's social theory as “metabiological," then it should also be added, in order to avoid misunderstandings, that this means "metaevolutionary" and not "metacreationist.” While social theorists like Habermas worked on the unfinished "project of Enlightenment" and its secularized creationist ideals, Luhmann subscribed to a radically different paradigm, namely the paradigm of ecological evolution.

Edited by Yueya
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I know this isn't what you're asking for but I think everything uttered in the present continuous form (I am doing) is false and a good source of befuddlement.

Consider a bedrock of Western philosophy: I think therefore I am

 

But in "Eastern" truth, there is no I or am...only "I" and "am."  So, the entire phrase is incredibly misleading, as is the entire culture founded upon it...

Edited by gendao
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The way systems actually work and the way we talk about how systems work are completely at odds. Cause-effect reductions, which underpin virtually all human thought, are at (or near) the very base of all psycho-linguistic errors. I frequent a "metabiological" lens on reality and I find it undermines the structural hypotheses on which (modern) human perception is built. I think a systems-approach to science and society will eventually supersede the "rationalist" paradigm we live in today, which superseded the "mytho-poetic" paradigms that preceded it. I don't think the irrationalities of past human thinking will ever leave us, no matter how advanced our hypotheses on reality - I think they're part of the structure of the psyche. But conscious thought will no longer adhere to superstitious or rationalist limitations. As for phrases and terminology, look for the connection between psycho-emotional expressions and anthropocentrism. The very nature of most of our psychology and emotionality is contingent on anthropocentric principles, rather than an updated systems approach that accounts for chemistry, biology, electricity, and the trillions of micro-processes that account for any singular event of consciousness. Socio-political thinking is also, almost without exception, contingent on a psycho-anthropocentric evaluation of reality. I don't understand it myself, but our capacity for consensus seems to give these lower developments a reality of their own, which, although subject to undermining intellectually, can't actually be destabilized or changed, as they don't actually subsist on a localized platform. Even if current social and linguistic models appear to contradict reality, their substructure is the same centerless nexus that underlies all material processes.

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I'd like to start a list of language -- words, phrases, etc -- that we (that is, English speakers, but I'm open to suggestions in other languages) use in everyday speech without really considering how meaningless what we're saying actually is, or how wrong it actually is. 

 

 

This is my fav pet peeve. People just dont know what they are actually saying. A sure sign of that is an incomplete or a unspecific sentence.

 

"It would be good if...." Good for whom exactly?. 

 

Closer to the subjects of this forum is the martial arts befuddlement. It goes like this:

 

"A good martial artist should be able to fight using his art"

 

Fight, Carl!

 

The poor befuddled fella who says 'fight' has no mental stamina to try and finish this sentence specifying whom exactly the MA player should fight.

 

A 80 year old grandma? Mike Tyson? Several people or just one? Larger, smaller?

 

Should it be no holds barred? Life or death real fight? A friendly sparring? What would a win or loss prove?

 

Whats interesting about this notion that it is so self-evident at first blush. "Martial Arts=fighting" ...Duhhh!  On closer consideration it is one of the silliest things ever uttered with certainty.

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Consider a bedrock of Western philosophy: I think therefore I am

 

But in "Eastern" truth, there is no I or am...only "I" and "am."  So, the entire phrase is incredibly misleading, as is the entire culture founded upon it...

 

I think it was Sartre who took exception to this bedrock phrase and reworded as:

 

I think therefore I am a thinking thing.

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I checked this a few days ago and have been unsure how to respond... I knew this was a complex topic but hadn't anticipated quite so many insightful, dense responses on the first page! Maybe best if we just take a few examples to expand upon for now.

 

 

I know this isn't what you're asking for but I think everything uttered in the present continuous form (I am doing) is false and a good source of befuddlement.

 

I think it is along the lines of what I was asking for. If we're getting confused by the language we use.

 

Can you explain why the present continuous is so confusing?

 

 

 

Consider a bedrock of Western philosophy: I think therefore I am

 

But in "Eastern" truth, there is no I or am...only "I" and "am."  So, the entire phrase is incredibly misleading, as is the entire culture founded upon it...

 

Yes. I'd not considered this before. Since Philosophy class in school and until recently, I've accepted the Cogito almost unquestioningly. It just seemed to make sense...but it is still based on presumption

 

 

 

As for phrases and terminology, look for the connection between psycho-emotional expressions and anthropocentrism. The very nature of most of our psychology and emotionality is contingent on anthropocentric principles, rather than an updated systems approach that accounts for chemistry, biology, electricity, and the trillions of micro-processes that account for any singular event of consciousness.

 

I love what you've said. Is there any chance you could give a couple of concrete examples? I realize that we can't hope to list every single piece of language that can be misleading, but recognizing a few specific examples here might be helpful in enabling us to recognize more on our own.. to help us be more aware of our own potential 'misuse' of language..?

 

 

 

A sure sign of that is an incomplete or a unspecific sentence.

 

"It would be good if...." Good for whom exactly?.

 

For sure. This connects to something else that bothers me which I'll try and explain in another post.

 

 

 

 

Yueya.. I just don't know where to start! That Moeller/Luhmann extract is so dense with discussable material...

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As I become more sensitive I find myself triggered more by subtle things that don't add up in conversation. Phrases, sayings, word choices I've been accustomed to and used myself many times, but now have reached a depth where any gaps between these constructs are easily felt, even when not understood.

 

This poses a challenge, as I have changed, not my environment. Thus it is my challenge to refine my sensitivity to adapt to my new environmental perception.

 

Often I find myself triggered when people say "do you mind helping me with x." The question seems straight forward - do you mind, or don't you mind? However the expectation of the asker, which can be heard through their vocal nuance, only really gives "no" as an easy answer. The asker usually isn't really checking in to see if you are interested, to see if you really mind or not - they're asking you to help, and answering "no" isn't really "no I don't mind" but "yes I'll help you." And if you do say "yes I mind" then that is received as a unplanned roadblock, and instead of just expressing a feeling, one creates an obstacle to the other's expectation.

 

This odd little trap can use other phrases too - often when people ask "can you help me with this" they are expecting you to either help them or not - they aren't asking if you can, they're asking if you will.

 

Through studying Non Violent Communication it has been stressed how important it is to first genuinely check in with someone to see how they feel about something before expecting them to make plans to do something. For many this extra step seems unnecessary - and it may indeed be unnecessary for people who are in sync with their communication. But when there is awkwardness or gaps in connectivity, it is best to take care with presenting expectations or assumptions. People will generally go along with it, but over time little things add up.

 

I've started asking my friends to ask "will I" instead of "can I", since that is usually what they mean, and this way I don't stumble over the gap in their expectations. This can be asked of those you are close with, but those you aren't close with probably won't understand. So in the end it is really a matter of building a bridge between someone's words and their intent.

 

Also:

 

'For Hood's sake,' the foreigner muttered. 'What's wrong with words?'
'With words,' said Redmask, turning away, 'meanings change.'
'Well,' Anaster Toc said, following as Redmask made his way back to his army's camp, 'that is precisely the point. That's their value — their ability to adapt -'
'Grow corrupt, you mean. The Letheri are masters at corrupting words, their meanings. They call war peace, they call tyranny liberty. On which side of the shadow you stand decides a word's meaning. Words are the weapons used by those who see others with contempt. A contempt which only deepens when they see how those others are deceived and made into fools because they choose to believe. Because in their naivety they thought the meaning of a word was fixed, immune to abuse.'

 

As ever, what is written can be rewritten, re-interpreted, even unwritten. What rises will fall. Rising, falling, rising again.

Edited by Daeluin
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maybe I need to explain...

 

The anglo-saxon culture as incorporated money in its language in a way that is perverse to me.

 

For instance in others languages (e.g. latin based languages) free can be translated in 2 separate ways : free of charge or more like free of constraints/open etc.

 

Same thing with "to pay" you can pay someone some money to do something or you can pay attention to something.

 

To look like a million $, is kind of climax for me.

 

But you got 9 ways to say how a piece of metal sounds !

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maybe I need to explain...

 

The anglo-saxon culture as incorporated money in its language in a way that is perverse to me.

 

For instance in others languages (e.g. latin based languages) free can be translated in 2 separate ways : free of charge or more like free of constraints/open etc.

 

Same thing with "to pay" you can pay someone some money to do something or you can pay attention to something.

 

To look like a million $, is kind of climax for me.

 

But you got 9 ways to say how a piece of metal sounds !

English is more nimble and more nuanced than it may seem.

 

The association you notice is with personal energy rather than money. The word "free" is therefore indicative of the transformation of energy, too. "Free" as in "of charge" or "free from commitment" reflect the cost in one or more than one form of energy at the same time. Free can be a verb, an adjective or an adverb (seems like it can be a noun, too, but I can't think of an example. In either the cost or obligation (or restraint) contexts, there are half a dozen or so alternate expressions which convey the same core intent but perhaps with varying flavors.

 

Same applies to the words "pay" and "cost" -- think of them as associated with personal energy rather than being rooted to "money" and you get a clearer picture.

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Free can be a verb, an adjective or an adverb (seems like it can be a noun, too, but I can't think of an example. In either the cost or obligation (or restraint) contexts, there are half a dozen or so alternate expressions which convey the same core intent but perhaps with varying flavors.

 

Dear Brian, I give you an opportunity to give learn a great English lesson but... are you saying that when a native English speaker say "to free a slave" he actualy means "to liberate a slave"  but he uses the word that is mostly used to describe utilization of money  ?

Because I call that tricky...

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I think at the core freedom means free from cost, free to change without restriction.

 

So something that is free from monetary cost is free to change hands without monetary limits, but still may have other, non-monetary costs.

 

In open source software (linux, etc), a distinction is often made between "free as in speech" and "free as in beer", in attempt to point out the difference between software you are free to download and install and software you are free to change.

 

Though even freedom of speech these days isn't without associated costs. Change will always create ripples, until we refine to a very high level.

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Dear Brian, I give you an opportunity to give learn a great English lesson but... are you saying that when a native English speaker say "to free a slave" he actualy means "to liberate a slave"  but he uses the word that is mostly used to describe utilization of money  ?

Because I call that tricky...

What I mean is that your assumption that the word "free" is "mostly used to describe utilization of money" is incorrect. "Free" means both "gratis" ("gratia") and "libre" -- this can cause some confusion when the reader thinks "money" but the ambiguity vanishes when one thinks "energy" instead, and realizes that money is just a convenient medium of exchange. Exchange of what? Exchange of the perceived value of personal energy.

 

So, when you say "to free a slave," there are several levels of communication going on at once. You are liberating a person from bondage, you are returning to that person control over his or her personal energy, you are surrendering (or causing the surrender of, depending on whether you owned the slave or someone else did) any value the owner had invested in that slave, you are releasing that person's will, and probably a few more.

 

I do see your point that the word has two meanings; many words in English do (I say "many words in English" rather than "many English words" because most of modern English is not of English origin). Actually, when viewed from an energetic viewpoint, this particular case largely dissolves, but one of the problems with using the English language is that it is fraught with words with meanings at odds with each other (sometimes spelled the same and sometimes not) and words which seem like they should have similar meanings but do not. The distinction between "overlook" and "oversee" is a prime example.

 

Honestly, though, most native English speakers have never bothered to become more than marginally functionally literate.

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What I mean is that your assumption that the word "free" is "mostly used to describe utilization of money" is incorrect. "Free" means both "gratis" ("gratia") and "libre" -- this can cause some confusion when the reader thinks "money" but the ambiguity vanishes when one thinks "energy" instead, and realizes that money is just a convenient medium of exchange. Exchange of what? Exchange of the perceived value of personal energy.

 

Ahah I understand you, and I think that's clever point of view, but it seems to me that's a very subjective point of view. So I hear you and you made me doubt. I give you that.

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Yueya, I suppose I have had so much trouble trying to respond to the Luhmann extract because it really answers everything it asks. There's not much left to say! However, to pick out a couple of concrete examples of language:

 

 

The Enlightenment narrative of historical progress was soon questioned. Nietzsche replaced history with genealogy. Nietzsche, as well as many of the leading theorists of the twentieth century who were substantially influenced by him (one may think of Freud and Foucault in particular), was less optimistic about the idea of progress. On the one hand, these thinkers fully acknowledged the idea that what we are is an effect of what we have been—Wesen ist, was gewesen ist, as Hegel succinctly put it. On the other hand, they did not really share the belief in the possibility of rationally improving the course of history. Simply put, genealogy may be defined as history minus progress. To understand our heritage does not necessarily mean that we can change or control it. Genetic engineering may in fact, from the perspective of a genealogy, turn out to be as futile as attempts at social engineering. Just as it is highly questionable how improved genetically modified food actually is, it is questionable how much improvement was brought about by the experiments in transforming historical knowledge into social progress.

 

The word "progress" has 2 basic meanings:

 

1. as a verb, to move forward; or, as a noun, forward movement

2. development towards a more advanced condition

(Google)

 

Number 1 makes sense: I want to cross the street, I take a step, I have progressed towards my destination, have made progress.

 

Number 2 needs to be broken down further. What is a "more advanced condition"?

 

advanced

far on or ahead in development or progress

 

When talking of evolution, we say that we are "more advanced" than chimpanzees, or pigs or birds, but surely something is "advanced" -- far on, ahead in development -- only insofar as it has a motive? Something to advance to? So what is advanced and advantageous for a human is likely entirely unhelpful for a flamingo. And besides, do we have a clear goal to advance towards? Where exactly are we going with all this development?

 

If we're advanced, we're ahead in progress; if we're progressing, we're developing towards advancement.

 

It's meaningless.

 

Of course, we can argue that life today is better than it was 200 years ago. Most would agree. We're living longer, everyone can vote, we have TV (and it is better than ever), etc. Cool. But we're living longer with diabetes, heart disease, and cancer; our votes are generally meaningless; TV and all other technology has come at the expense of clean sky and water, the stability of our environment; etc. So all this 'progress' has simply lead us into other problems, hasn't it? Yet we continue to believe that we're "making progress". That eventually, everything will be problem-free. (Of course, it will -- when we're dead.)

 

As well as recognizing this -- that progress, as it's often thought of, is really meaningless -- we should also see that we cannot take charge of our own evolution, that only the undivided power of the universe itself could actually be said to be "in control" (if anything can be). So even if we did have a clear goal, something solid and certain to progress towards, it would not be truly in our power to direct that progression.

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As well as recognizing this -- that progress, as it's often thought of, is really meaningless -- we should also see that we cannot take charge of our own evolution, that only the undivided power of the universe itself could actually be said to be "in control" (if anything can be). So even if we did have a clear goal, something solid and certain to progress towards, it would not be truly in our power to direct that progression.

 

Agreed. (At the same time I'm curious as to your recent seemingly contradictory thoughts expressed in your post on the Emperor thread. BTW I suspect that we all hold contradictory views within ourselves, that being the nature and dynamic of our human consciousness.) 

 

Here are some thoughts on progress from philosopher John Gray about his book Straw Dogs. (You’d be correct in assuming the title is a borrowing from Laozi.)………

 

Straw Dogs is an attack on the unthinking beliefs of thinking people. Today liberal humanism has the pervasive power that was once possessed by revealed religion. Humanists like to think they have a rational view of the world; but their core belief in progress is a superstition, further from the truth about the human animal than any of the world's religions.

 

Outside of science, progress is simply a myth. In some readers of Straw Dogs this observation seems to have produced a moral panic. Surely, they ask, no one can question the central article of faith of liberal societies? Without it, will we not despair? Like trembling Victorians terrified of losing their faith, these humanists cling to the moth-eaten brocade of progressive hope. Today religious believers are more freethinking. Driven to the margins of a culture in which science claims authority over all of human knowledge, they have had to cultivate a capacity for doubt. In contrast, secular believers – held fast by the conventional wisdom of the time – are in the grip of unexamined dogmas.

 

The prevailing secular worldview is a pastiche of current scientific orthodoxy and pious hopes. Darwin has shown that we are animals; but – as humanists never tire of preaching –how we live is 'up to us'. Unlike any other animal, we are told, we are free to live as we choose. Yet the idea of free will does not come from science. Its origins are in religion – not just any religion, but the Christian faith against which humanists rail so obsessively.

 

In the ancient world the Epicureans speculated about the possibility that some events may be uncaused; but the belief that humans are marked off from all other animals by having free will is a Christian inheritance. Darwin's theory would not have caused such a scandal had it been formulated in Hindu India, Taoist China or animist Africa. Equally, it is only in post-Christian cultures that philosophers labour so piously to reconcile scientific determinism with a belief in the unique capacity of humans to choose the way they live. The irony of evangelical Darwinism is that it uses science to support a view of humanity that comes from religion.

 

Some readers have seen Straw Dogs as an attempt to apply Darwinism to ethics and politics, but nowhere does it suggest that neo-Darwinian orthodoxy contains the final account of the human animal. Instead Darwinism is deployed strategically in order to break up the prevailing humanist worldview. Humanists turn to Darwin to support their shaky modern faith in progress; but there is no progress in the world he revealed. A truly naturalistic view of the world leaves no room for secular hope.

 

Among contemporary philosophers it is a matter of pride to be ignorant of theology. As a result, the Christian origins of secular humanism are rarely understood. Yet they were perfectly clear to its founders. In the early nineteenth century the French Positivists, Henri Saint-Simon and Auguste Comte, invented the Religion of Humanity, a vision of a universal civilization based on science that is the prototype for the political religions of the twentieth century. Through their impact on John Stuart Mill, they made liberalism the secular creed it is today. Through their deep influence on Karl Marx, they helped shape 'scientific socialism'. Ironically, for Saint-Simon and Comte were fierce critics of laissez-faire economics, they also, inspired the late twentieth century cult of the global free market. I have told this paradoxical and often farcical story in my book, Al Qaeda and What It Means To Be Modern.

 

Humanism is not science, but religion – the post-Christian faith that humans can make a world better than any in which they have so far lived. In pre-Christian Europe it was taken for granted that the future would be like the past. Knowledge and invention might advance, but ethics would remain much the same. History was a series of cycles, with no overall meaning.

 

Against this pagan view, Christians understood history as a story of sin and redemption. Humanism is the transformation of this Christian doctrine of salvation into a project of universal human emancipation. The idea of progress is a secular version of the Christian belief in providence. That is why among the ancient pagans it was unknown.

 

Belief in progress has another source. In science, the growth of knowledge is cumulative. But human life as a whole is not a cumulative activity; what is gained in one generation may be lost in the next. In science, knowledge is an unmixed good; in ethics and politics it is bad as well as good. Science increases human power – and magnifies the flaws in human nature. It enables us to live longer and have higher living standards than in the past. At the same time it allows us to wreak destruction – on each other and the Earth – on a larger scale than ever before.

 

The idea of progress rests on the belief that the growth of knowledge and the advance of the species go together – if not now, then in the long run. The biblical myth of the Fall of Man contains the forbidden truth. Knowledge does not make us free. It leaves us as we have always been, prey to every kind of folly. The same truth is found in Greek myth. The punishment of Prometheus, chained to a rock for stealing fire from the gods, was not unjust.

 

If the hope of progress is an illusion, how – it will be asked –are we to live? The question assumes that humans can live well only if they believe they have the power to remake the world. Yet most humans who have ever lived have not believed this – and a great many have had happy lives. The question assumes the aim of life is action; but this is a modern heresy. For Plato contemplation was the highest form of human activity. A similar view existed in ancient India. The aim of life was not to change the world. It was to see it rightly.

 

Today this is a subversive truth, for it entails the vanity of politics. Good politics is shabby and makeshift, but at the start of the twenty-first century the world is strewn with the grandiose ruins of failed utopias. With the Left moribund, the Right has become the home of the utopian imagination. Global communism has been followed by global capitalism. The two visions of the future have much in common. Both are hideous and fortunately chimerical.

 

 

Political action has come to be a surrogate for salvation; but no political project can deliver humanity from its natural condition. However radical, political programmes are expedients – modest devices for coping with recurring evils. Hegel writes somewhere that humanity will be content only when it lives in a world of its own making. In contrast, Straw Dogs argues for a shift from human solipsism. Humans cannot save the world, but this is no reason for despair. It does not need saving. Happily, humans will never live in a world of their own making.

Edited by Yueya
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Here's one I have a problem with:

 

"It's science"   or   "It's just science"

 

 

A while back I was walking with a friend. Passing through a wildflower meadow, I exclaimed something along the lines of:

 

"Look at the mud.. and then the grasses and flowers and bushes and trees. All sorts of colours and shapes and scents and incredible patterns, forming from a seemingly useless brown sludge mixed with some tiny seeds. How amazing!"

 

To which he replied, slightly confused by my wonder:

 

"Yeaahh... it's just science.."

 

The thing is, of course, it's not science. The scientific method helps us to intellectually understand/explain how life evolved, the wonders of genetic code, how seeds grow into plants etc etc, yes, but saying it like that -- "It's science", or "It's just science" -- seems to imply that 'science' is responsible for it. That we can thank 'science' for everything wonderful in the world, and really it's not all that special anyway, is it?

 

Of course, my friend knows that science didn't create the universe, that science is not responsible for inventing life. When I explained my point -- that it is nature itself, not science, that we can thank for the wonders of nature -- he agreed. Something like: "Well, yeah... but science is cool though." Yes, science is cool, and can be very helpful, but that language is misleading and I might even say slightly dangerous.

 

And I don't know if this is the fault of the English language, or people not having the concepts quite clear in their head in the first place. Some people really do worship science, praise it every day, ascribe every good thing in life to it. From this deceptive modern perspective, it's easy to see how people would start using language that places science at the centre of things, to the point that 'science' has insinuated itself into the position of Creator. On the other hand, it could be that it's easier linguistically to say "It's science" rather than "All of this can be explained using the scientific method", and that "It's science" then becomes the go-to response for a number of things that it doesn't really apply to.

 

Either way, the dismissiveness with which the sentence is usually uttered irks me. "It's just simple science, nothing to get excited about." Then what IS??

Edited by dustybeijing
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I think people find some sort of comfort in thinking that all the mysteries of the universe are explained by "science" and are therefore no longer mysterious. Never mind that they can't explain them and don't understand the scientific explanations -- or that "science" tends to merely make the step before "I don't know" more complicated -- the belief that there is some simple and rational scientific explanation for whatever it is excuses the individual from having to contemplate things they don't understand.

 

Personally, I like contemplating the things I don't understand.

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Here's one I have a problem with:

 

"It's science"   or   "It's just science"

 

 

A while back I was walking with a friend. Passing through a wildflower meadow, I exclaimed something along the lines of:

 

"Look at the mud.. and then the grasses and flowers and bushes and trees. All sorts of colours and shapes and scents and incredible patterns, forming from a seemingly useless brown sludge mixed with some tiny seeds. How amazing!"

 

To which he replied, slightly confused by my wonder:

 

"Yeaahh... it's just science.."

 

The thing is, of course, it's not science. The scientific method helps us to intellectually understand/explain how life evolved, the wonders of genetic code, how seeds grow into plants etc etc, yes, but saying it like that -- "It's science", or "It's just science" -- seems to imply that 'science' is responsible for it. That we can thank 'science' for everything wonderful in the world, and really it's not all that special anyway, is it?

 

Of course, my friend knows that science didn't create the universe, that science is not responsible for inventing life. When I explained my point -- that it is nature itself, not science, that we can thank for the wonders of nature -- he agreed. Something like: "Well, yeah... but science is cool though." Yes, science is cool, and can be very helpful, but that language is misleading and I might even say slightly dangerous.

 

And I don't know if this is the fault of the English language, or people not having the concepts quite clear in their head in the first place. Some people really do worship science, praise it every day, ascribe every good thing in life to it. From this deceptive modern perspective, it's easy to see how people would start using language that places science at the centre of things, to the point that 'science' has insinuated itself into the position of Creator. On the other hand, it could be that it's easier linguistically to say "It's science" rather than "All of this can be explained using the scientific method", and that "It's science" then becomes the go-to response for a number of things that it doesn't really apply to.

 

Either way, the dismissiveness with which the sentence is usually uttered irks me. "It's just simple science, nothing to get excited about." Then what IS??

 

Very well said. There are many people that don't really understand exactly what "science" is, or even what it actually says. Science is, like you said, nothing more than a methodology of learning trends and developing theories about how our nature seems to work. One cannot confuse nature itself with a simple method of study, as this leads to many misconceptions about what scientific principles actually say about nature and the universe.

 

What bothers me even more is the misunderstanding with what mathematics actually is. I'll ask someone if they understand what mathematics is, and I'd be more willing than not to bet that the first thing out of their mouth is, "Well, math is a science that..." No, this is incorrect, math is not the purest science; it's not even a science at all. Mathematics is a language, based in principles of logic. If you want to argue where logical principles come from, read some literature on epistemology. Math does nothing more than give us a means to explain and model physical (and non-physical) systems in a way that we can understand. It doesn't really have any connection to nature at all.

 

"But math seems to predict nature so well," you might say. This is true, within reason, but here's the thing: math can model things that don't fit our universe as well. It's a blank slate for us to work with, and we make it useful by adding rules to it and seeing if those rules tend to line up with the tendencies of nature. Without rules, math is formless and infinite, but this is not useful in any way.

 

2 + 2 = 4 has no more meaning than the meaning which we assign it. Even the concept of 2 is more complex than most people would realize. That is why I've become so interested in epistemology, the study of knowledge, what we can "know" and how we come to "know" it. But I seem to be going off on a tangent now, so I'll stop here.

Edited by Unlearner
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Language is constantly changing. I've often heard people bemoan the misuse of certain words, complaining that people don't know "proper English" anymore and that it'll all be lost soon. I'm sure people have been complaining in this way for as long as there's been language. And of course, yes: in order for language to be of any use, it needs rules, continuity; but at the same time, all of the world's modern languages are a result of centuries of people mixing and playing with and, often, misusing language. Living languages become rich with meaning precisely because they are fluid.

 

What bothers me more than this 'misuse' of language is the use of outdated and meaningless language. A word exists, so we think it must mean something, and that this meaning must be valid.

 

 

From Google:

 

Race1: a competition between runners, horses, vehicles, etc. to see which is the fastest in covering a set course.

 

Race2: each of the major divisions of humankind, having distinct physical characteristics.

 

 

Obviously there was a point at which a majority of humans genuinely believed that other humans from far-flung places, with different skin tones and different facial features etc, were actually a different category of animal, not classifiable as "human", or at least not as the same kind of human. Now, though, it is obvious that this is nonsense. We're obviously not all the same, but we are just as obviously not able to be divided into distinct groups. There are no major divisions. We all share in a continuously changing web of characteristics; like a very complicated, multi-dimensional colour wheel.

 

If common sense isn't enough for anyone to understand this, here is a study that illustrates why the idea of race is nonsense:

 

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC515312/

 

I know that there is some racist sentiment among some on TDB, so please be clear: anyone who wishes to comment in this discussion must fully grasp and appreciate that there are no major divisions between us; there is no such thing as 'race'. Any responses deviating from this understanding will be removed.

 

 

A problem I see is that this word, "race", though basically meaningless and (in comparison to our deeper understanding of humanity) very much outdated, is still in very common use.

 

The fact that there are still many social divisions between perceived "races" fuels the notion that there are major and insurmountable genetic differences between people of.. different geographical ancestries? But this isn't the only problem; at the same time, the fact that the word "race" is a part of our everyday language, and that we seem to have few other ways to talk of differences between people, perpetuates the social belief that "race" is a legitimate concept, when deep down we all know that it's not.

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Vaguely listening to the news earlier, in particular a segment about Cilla Black's funeral, I was struck by the superfluous use of the word "star".

 

"The international star Cilla Black..."

"The star's funeral..."

"Many other stars will be in attendance..."

"What do you think Cilla would have thought about all these stars at her funeral?"

... etc

 

 

A person stars in a movie, or other performance, and is the star.

Someone who does well at starring in things becomes a more general star, or maybe even... a superstar. Impressive.

If you meet one of these people, you might get star-struck. Beware...

 

By the by, the word  明星 mingxing  in Chinese literally means "bright star" and is used in exactly the same way to refer to celebrities as the noun "star" in English.

 

 

Not sure what to think about all this. None of my friends have any desire to be famous, but many people I know are interested in celebrity culture, and I know that a portion of the worldwide population are quite obsessed with celebrity -- being one, or knowing all about them.

 

People have been infatuated with celebrity for centuries; nothing new here. I am certain that people would still be very taken with it all if we didn't have such an excessive word for "person who excels at being in the spotlight". But I do wonder if a slightly less radical word would help keep things in perspective.

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Have to admit, I'd never even heard of Cilla Black until that post...

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No, I wouldn't imagine many Americans have, but she is a household name in the UK.

 

Though the reporter did refer to her as "international star"... which only goes to show the esteem in which certain "stars" are held, the pride we have in our nations' chosen ones. Whole news segments are dedicated to the funeral services of people who used to sing quite well....

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