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  • Straight Outta Political Correctness

    vendredi 08 avril 2016
    Iva Apostolova

    According to a few English dictionaries, a (politically) correct definition of political correctness runs along these lines: it is the avoidance of forms of expression or action perceived as excluding, insulting, or marginalizing groups or individuals who have been systematically socially disadvantaged or discriminated against in the past. So far so good. But how far should we take political correctness?

    I certainly appreciate not being forced to associate with the rather labor intensive work any administrative or academic assistant does, with women in short skirts, high heels, and mostly serving coffee to self-important men. I am also grateful for not having to provide my ‘maiden name’ on official government forms. The name given to me by my parents is the only name I have, regardless of who I choose to live with, under what conditions, and for how long. But does calling me ‘economically challenged’ make me less poor in my eyes or those of the world? I sincerely doubt that.

    As a self-proclaimed Austinian (as in the British philosopher of language, John Austin), I of all people understand the infinitely complex relationship between word definition and word use, on the one hand, and language, in general, and cultural, social, religious, and ethical norms, on the other. Linguistic expressions come and go all the time. The more widely spoken a language is, the more dynamic and nuanced the use of its words over time. So how does political correctness fit in all of this?

    What might help is thinking in terms of ‘rigid’ and ‘soft’ boundaries of word use. The n and the b words, for example, would fall within rigid boundaries and so, when used in the public space, they are to be invariably interpreted as racial and gender insults, and thus, penalized. But even then, one has to be aware of all the undercurrents which deem exceptions to the rule, and which may, one day, turn the rule itself into an exception.  In 2007, the New York City Council tried to ban the usage of the b word citing its “deeply sexist and hateful” connotation. The ban never came to fruition, partially because of the growing influence of the hip-hop/rap culture which has reclaimed the uses of the n and b words as forms of empowerment. Remember Nicki MInaj’s iconic remix of PTAF’s Boss Ass Bitch?

    At the same time, we might observe turning ‘policeman’ into ‘police officer’ or ‘mailman’ into ‘mail person’, presents us with a soft boundary of usage to indicate the present day gender diversity in what were traditionally male dominated professions. Soft boundaries are less contentious compared to rigid boundaries. No matter how soft or rigid the use of words is, however, when speaking, we always perform what Austin called locutionary acts. Like every act, speech acts have intention, execution, and consequence, and should be viewed within their proper context.

    What political correctness, when overused, threatens to do is eliminate the context as well as the intention of speech as important factors in interpreting the meaning of verbal expressions. The awareness of the rich nuances hidden in every word which political correctness brings to the table shouldn’t, however, turn into a mine field often facilitated and fueled by social media where any expression of opinion is being instantaneously trolled and thrashed.

    When a musician performing at a local school was asked to ‘rewrite’ the lyrics of John Lennon’s classic Imagine to omit ‘hell’, ‘heaven’ and ‘religion’, among other words, you know there’s something wrong with this picture…

     

  • As You Head into Party …. ah, ahem … Reading Week

    vendredi 12 février 2016

    I spent over a decade enrolled as a univeristy student. Though it was by-and-large a valuable experience, it was the odd time that I truly applied myself. The following is not coming from a place of: “Do this because it’s what I did and it worked for me”. But more from a place of: “I wish someone would have said this to me early on and that I have had the gumption to follow it”.

    These are my top 5 reasons why you should take advantage of this study week (and for the rest of your university career) to … well … study.

    Don’t waste your money

    As a student at DUC, your tuition is more affordable than any other university in Ontario. But you’re still spending thousands of dollars. By doing the assigned readings and investing yourself in your studies, you’re getting your money’s worth. Make the $ you spend count.

    Don’t waste your time

    From the world of business we learn that the opportunity cost of an activity (i.e. going to university) is the next best alternative use of the resource. The time you spend enrolled in a program could have been put toward any number of Great Things. You chose to devote yourself to a university studies. The value you’re placing on education is evidently quite high: Great! Now it's time to make it count.

    It’s time well spent

    What happens as you go through the process, as you start to understand better what you’re reading and put your thoughts in order, is that you walk away with some very marketable skills. The skills gained from training in philosophy or theology are unique and sought after. Don’t underestimate the value of applying yourself to your education. It can pay off in life and in work.

    You want to

    As we hear in the first sentence of Aristotle’s Metaphysics,  “All men by nature desire to know.” When the papers are piling up and the winter seems to be endless drudgery, it’s hard to remember that you actually enjoy it. The spirit thirsts; and somewhere, buried in those 40 word-long sentences from Kant, or under some unending list of objections and replies to objections from Aquinas, we find that nugger which we are looking for. The line that makes the light go on and the soul say “Ahhh!”. It sometimes seems a twisted form of self-punishment. But if you’re persistent, somewhere in the slugfest is knowledge that will satisfy. 

    We need you to

    People become firefighters and paramedics because they care about saving lives. People become priests and evangelists because they want to save souls.

    Why bother with the study of philosophy or theology?

    Applying yourself to what the scholastics called “the Highest Sciences” gives you:

    Training and formation to be able to delve into the big questions.

    A framework to help others think through those questions.

    And the ability to build community and society based on sounder principles.

    Why study philosophy or theology?

    We need you to.

    It’s not just about you and a quest for your own enlightenment or a paycheck, we all benefit from you digging deep, barring down and understanding better. You gain prudence and wisdom. Whereever life takes you, you'll be able to shed light on how we can live better together.

     

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