Wednesday, October 17, 2007


My comments on the posts of the villagers who stop by get long sometimes, so, once again, I'm hanging a response to a comment (fsjl's final one on the "Wise Woman" post of October 7), here. We know different groups of people use words differently, even though they all speak the same language. A fave example is the word “bad,” which in African American Vernacular English means something different from it means in Canadian English. So when fsjl wonders what standards the young people he teaches have, maybe we should consider whether the word "standard" means to them what it means to him. A standard is (I think) a measure, a criterion of some kind, a benchmark used to judge. A standard applies when there is awareness and acceptance that it IS a measure, and when there is a sense of accumulating behaviour, the notion that the things that we do add up. (Caution: Even when repeated behaviours appear to signify a standard, they may not. Many people who refrain from eating pork can't tell you why they don't eat it, in which case I’d think it's a "style" or a "habit" (and a blind one), not a standard. If it’s done for religious reasons, or health reasons, or some other reason that the abstainer can name (they may be fond of pigs), then it becomes a standard. The standard in the pig-lovers case would be: “I don't eat animals that I'm fond of.”) But we should consider that some people may simply act, behave, do stuff each day, and repeat the stuff when the next day comes. If this is true, then perhaps those behaviours that fsjl’s students value - wanting "bling", consuming expensive items, using women just for sex – are just (blind?) habits and not measures of anything. When "those who should set the standard" have no standards, younger folks never get to see standard-based behaviour. We all know the best way to recognize a duck: if it acts like a duck, quacks like a duck, etc., etc. If institutions of learning lack standards, businessmen lack standards, governments lack standards, clergy lack standards (preach forgiveness, don't forgive: preach moderation, grab at money, etc., etc.), how are the young supposed to grasp the idea of "standard"? When we were growing up, my father fed us little sayings like: "Genius is the infinite capacity for taking pains;" "Anything worth doing is worth doing well." But he didn't only say those things, he did exactly (or almost exactly) as he said. And so I think I know a standard as well as I know a duck. More anon.


FSJL said...

I'd add 'using men just for sex' as well.

I was brought up by a father who believed that one had to do one's work and take pride in it. In many ways a small-minded man, but an honest and decent one withal. One thing I learned from him -- and took years to do so -- was that worth is measured in what you do not in what you wear or what you look like. As Pope said:

Worth makes the man, lack of it makes the fellow,
The rest is all but leather and prunella.

When my students tell me that someone like 'Fifty Cent' is admirable because of the visible wealth he has amassed, it, quite frankly, frightens me. It is, perhaps, why, when teaching Mencius (as I do in political theory), I have been tending to come down pretty heavily on his judgment that human beings, while fundamentally good, are easily mislead by superficial things.

clarabella said...

My bigger concern, in a way, is the lack of example. "Example better than precept..." is another saying from our growing up time. My friend Andrea, whom I have just re-found after 30 years, likes to say, "Good friend better than pocket money." It's a sort of anti-value, isn't it, in these days of bling, associates who can do stuff for you rather than friends who will love and look out for you, and so on and so on. But I fear we are antedeluvian, and it isn't a matter of age. To return to a subject you raised a while back that we havne't addressed yet: creepy older men were aggressing their students when I was in university, and no doubt still are. I say, and vehemently, a pox on all their houses.

FSJL said...

Pam: You would love to read Confucius, for 'example is better than precept' is a good summary of his moral teaching.

Some political theorists, these days, have been doing work on friendship (Preston King, for example), which rather worries me (Aristotle described the Greek polis just as it was disappearing; Hegel pointed out that the Owl of Minerva takes wing at dusk).

As for sexual harrassment of female students -- that was going on before your time or mine (see Martin Heidegger for example) -- it is an abomination and needs to be suppressed.

clarabella said...

I'm not optimistic about the suppression of sexual harassment of students. What amazes is it's often — what's the right word? Indulged in? Performed? Operated? – by men who you'd think would have their pick of willing women. Which suggests to me that it's less about sex and more about something else... Power? I don't know. Some old male lecturer seducing some poor young female (or male) student don't too sound like a power play to me, unless the chap needs young blood to make him perform, which would make it a very sick business. What about this exchange from MOONSTRUCK, one of my favourite movies: "Why do men chase women?" "Because they fear death." Maybe that hits the nail on the head?