Jeremy Pierce: March 2010 Archives



The 321st Christian Carnival is up at who am I?.

When we were about to leave for church on Sunday, we had to turn the TV off in the middle of an episode of something Ethan was watching. I told him I'd record the West Coast version when it played three hours later, but it's hard for him to pull away from anything he's started.

As we rounded the corner, instead of doing a usual temper tantrum he closed his eyes, bowed his head, and said in his fully frustrated about-to-lose-it voice, "God, please rewind the day!"

I don't know if he was seriously bringing his problem before God or if this was an autistic scripting incident substituting his concern for one in whatever TV show script he was acting out. This is the first time he's done this rather than just crying out to the sun to go back (to give him more time before bedtime) or to the rain to stop.

But it was no use trying to explain to him that it wouldn't work. If God rewound the day, the part of the show Ethan had already watched would be playing, and then he'd be watching it again and stopping at the same point so we could go to church, all without remembering that he'd watched it already, and then he'd say the same thing, "God, please rewind the day!"

What we think we want isn't always what we want, and if we got it we'd discover that it wasn't really what we had wanted. The kind of impossibility involved in his desire is on a level he can't understand. But why should we think something similar isn't true with some of the things we want, even demand, or some of the things that we'd expect should happen if an all-powerful, omniscient God has a plan for how events in our lives will unfold?

The 321st Christian Carnival will be hosted this coming Wednesday at who am i?. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see the Christian Carnival archive.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:

The Duplication Problem

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This is the 56th post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. The last post began looking at the psychological account of personal identity. This post presents a further objection against the psychological account: the problem of duplication.

The psychological view claims that someone is the same person as an earlier person when there's sufficient continuity between the two in terms of memory, personality, beliefs, desires, and character traits. The duplication problem 

Suppose God creates a person in the afterlife who has memories duplicating mine. Is it me? God's choice of those memories is because they were mine at death, so there's a dependence on my memories. Is that enough, or is this an imposter? Could I look forward to being this person? Or is this is just a duplicate, not me?

To make the problem more vivid, consider the story of William Riker, from the sixth season Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Second Chances". Lieutenant Riker was attempting to transport off a planet with difficult atmospheric conditions. Because of the risk of not getting through, the transporter technician decided to run two beams from the transporter, in case one didn't get through or in case information needed to be compiled from both beams to reconstruct the full signal. These extra measures were intended to insure Riker's survival. It turned out they did something entirely different, because on beam successfully made it back to the ship, and Riker was rematerialized there (it seems), but the other beam was reflected back to the planet, where Riker was also rematerialized there (it seems).

The Riker who made it back to the ship lived for years, continuing his career in Starfleet and eventually becoming Commander William Riker, first officer on the Enterprise-D. The Riker who ended up back on the station had to wait years before the Enterprise-D showed up in this episode and rescued him, since no one had known he was there. From the moment there were two of them, you could no longer assume that either was the original. After all, nothing makes either seem like a better candidate for being the original. Both originated from beams that was exactly the same, from a process that seems as if it would ensure survival of Riker if only one beam had succeeded in rematerializing him. According to the psychological view, all you need is a resulting person who has all the right psychological characteristics. Either version of Riker would have met that criterion, and thus either Riker (if he were the only one) would have been the same Riker as the original, as long as the other hadn't existed, according to the psychological view.

But with two of them, the psychological view has a problem. We have two thinking things. Each has a different body; each thinks "I'm Riker, the guy who did ... beforehand". But that can't be right, because these guys aren't the same as each other . So is this kind of knowledge of who we are as firm as it seems to be? They can't both be the original. Let's assign them distinguishing names to make it clear what's going on here. We'll call the original guy Riker. Commander Riker returning to the planet is Will. Lieutenant Riker, who had been stuck on the planet all these years, is Tom (based on Riker's middle name, which the planet-version goes on to take to distinguish him from the other one).

So we've got Tom and Will. Can they both be the original? Each has as much right to that claim as the other. However, assume they both are the original. Tom is Riker, and Will is also Riker. But Tom is not Will. How can Tom be the same guy that Will is without Tom being Will? Will and Tom are two separate individuals. If it's true of both of them that they're the same guy as Riker, then they're the same guy as each other, and we already know that's false.

There are a couple crazy things a psychological theorist might say to avoid this contradiction. One proposal would be to say that there were always two people in the Riker case, and they were present in the same body all along, thinking the same thoughts as each other, both doing everything the original body did. Then when the split occurred, each one went his separate way. This does seem crazy, though. What made one of them go one way and the other the other way? Why wouldn't both go to both new bodies, creating the same problem again? Also, if there would only have been one without the accident, then how does the mere existence of a duplicate in the future make there be two beings in the same body earlier? That's a funny causal relationship. The future duplication makes there have been two all along.

Another crazy view that a psychological theorist might hold to avoid the contradiction is that there never ends up being two. Riker still exists as one person. He just has two bodies from that point on. It's not that there are two of him. There's only one of him. But he has two bodies, two brains, four arms, and a bi-located existence. He's just as present in each place where he exists, and he might be running in one body while sitting down in the other body. He might be thinking Captain Picard is a jerk with one brain while thinking Captain Picard is not a jerk with the other brain. He might be thinking with one of his brains that the guy with the other body is a jerk, not realizing that in such an instance he's thinking of himself as a jerk, since the guy that he's thinking about is himself. There's actually no contradiction here. It's a coherent view. It's not as if he'd be both sitting and not sitting when one body is sitting and the other standing. After all, in that situation one body is sitting, so he is sitting. He's not not sitting. He's just standing too while he's sitting. It's not a contradiction unless you can generate something of the form "P and not-P", and you can't do that with this view. But the view is indeed crazy. There obviously seem to be two people after the transporter accident.

A third crazy view to avoid the contradiction while maintaining the psychological view seems less crazy when you first consider it, but I actually think it's more crazy. What you say is that there would normally have been a continuing Riker if the transporter had worked to materialize one Riker (in either place), but given that there are two of them he ceases to exist, and now there are two people who think they're Riker, but neither really is. This seems less crazy than the above two crazy views. After all, neither Tom nor Will can claim to have a better right to being the original guy, and they can't both be him, so it must be that neither is Riker. Riker is dead. That seems like the right thing to conclude, after looking at the arguments I've already discussed.

However, there's a serious problem remaining. Someone holding a psychological view should want to maintain that with an ordinary use of a transporter the original person does survive. It's only in these weird cases of duplication that you kill the person. But why would the same exact occurrence produce a surviving person most of the time, but then kill the person in these weird cases? The only difference in these weird cases is that some other occurrence, completely outside the causal path of the transporter, occurs. If you just had one transporter beam successful, say Tom's, then Tom would be Riker. If you just had the other successful, then Will would be Riker. But if both success, Riker dies. The exact operation that makes him survive kills him if this additional occurrence takes place in addition to the operation that would otherwise make him survive. If the events within the original transporter beam should make him survive, how can the appearance of an additional transporter beam invalidate that survival? And how can it be that any beam would count as survival if any of the others would invalidate the survival? If you're going to say that more than one beam prevents survival, why should it occur with just one beam? You're better off saying that you don't survive with this kind of transporter to begin with, and thus every time anyone on the show steps into a transporter and gets disintegrated, someone else appears on the other end of the beam. But then the psychological account would be wrong. So it seems the duplication problem is areal difficulty for the psychological account. Anything it has the resources to say to avoid the problem results in a pretty crazy view.

This problem can arise without futuristic technology, also. Go back to Locke's original example. He wanted to say that God could make someone in the afterlife be me just by giving the person my memories. A more robust psychological view would include other psychological properties than just memories, but anyone holding the psychological view could say the same thing. But what if God creates two duplicates of me? They can't both be me, because they begin to have different thoughts and be in different places. But how could you pick one over the other unless one appears first? What if both occur at once? How could facts like the existence of a duplicate or when it was created affect whether the other is me, anyway? Shouldn't it just be facts about the one that determine if it's me? The psychological view, then, fails to determine whether some proposed candidate for being me really is me, unless you're willing to say something that, upon closer examination, seems intolerable.

In the next post, I'll move on to the bodily view, the first biological account of personal identity that I'll be covering.


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321 Mar 31 Who Am I?
322 Apr 7 Fish and Cans
324 Apr 21 Other Food
326 May 5 Crossroads
This is the 55th post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. The last post looked at dualist accounts of personal identity. This post begins discussing the psychological account of personal identity.

Remember that an account of personal identity seeks to explain what it is about me that makes me continue to be me over time and through change. There must be something that grounds my continuation as me despite the fact that various things change over time. Psychological views begin with the insight that, when you wake up in the morning, you know who you are without looking at yourself or seeing if anything is physically the same compared with yesterday.

Like dualists, those who hold psychological views think it's coherent to imagine the possibility of waking up in some other body. But they don't want to insist that personal identity has to do with an immaterial soul. Some of them don't want to believe in such things to begin with, and others prefer to remain silent on the issue so that their theory of personal identity doesn't require taking a stand on that issue. What makes me me is the same whether materialism is true or false.

In particular, pychological views rely on things like memory, personality, beliefs, desires, and character traits to continue from your previous set of memory, personality, beliefs, desires, and character traits, with perhaps some change but not a very drastic change. Some continuity of these properties must be present for the person to continue.

The earliest version of the psychological account, in fact from the earliest explicit discussion of personal identity that I even know of, is John Locke's memory account of personal identity. Locke claimed that memory alone is enough to make someone me, and without memories of my doing something, God couldn't hold me responsible in the afterlife for having done it, since it wasn't me who did it.

But Locke's view faces several problems. One is that we do think of amnesiacs as people who can't remember things that they themselves did. It doesn't seem as if we generally take people to be a new person just because they can't remember having done something.

Another is that there seem to be possible ways of having memories of something that shouldn't have anything to do with being the person who did the things those memories seem to be of. In other words, there are fake memories. If memory determines the continuation of the same person, we need to agree on what counts as a genuine memory. Consider someone implanting memories into my brain (by hypnotism, neuroscience, or some other method we can't as easily think of). I didn't do the thing I seem to remember. So memory alone can't make me the person who did it. What if we had the technology to remove from my brain all memories I've got, replacing them with all of Michael Jordan's? Which is the real Michael Jordan? Obviously the original is. But why is he the original and not whoever is there in my body? It's circular to base your account of personal identity on memory and then to explain which one is the original person based on which one has the original memories. If you define the person in terms of memories, you can't also define the memories in terms of some prior notion of which person is the original. Personal identity was defined in terms of memory, and now real memory is defined in terms of who the original person is. We haven't explained anything.

One way to fix the memory account is to say that what makes a memory genuine is that it's caused in the right sort of way. Fake memories are not caused in the right way, not caused by the events remembered but, e.g., by a hypnotist faking it. Real memories are caused in the right way, i.e. by the events themselves as they occurred. Then personhood is defined in terms of real memories (and so ultimately in terms of being caused in the right way. This is no longer circular.

However, does it solve the problem? What method of being caused in the right way results in my surviving death? When you copy memories from Michael Jordan, and put them into my brain, it seems as if they're being caused by the events in question (as opposed to, say, making up memories of something that never happened). You need some criterion for when such memory-creation from real events is sufficient to make the person be the original and when it isn't. Perhaps that's not an insurmountable problem, but it will be tricky to do this kind of thing without generating a circular account. You can't base your response on anything that has any assumption of which person is the original. I don't have a lot of hope for this, but that might be due to my deep-seated intuition that this account gets things backwards. The reason the memories in my brain aren't real memories, is because I didn't do the things they seem to be about. Michael Jordan did, and I'm not him. The tendency to try to define real memories in terms of the person doing them seems to me to be natural, because that probably is at least part of what explains which memories are genuine. But that means the psychological account is wrong, since it gets the order reversed.

In the next post, I'll present an even more disturbing problem for the psychological view: the duplication problem.

Christian Carnival CCCXX

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The 320th Christian Carnival is up at And She Went Out...

I received an email this week from someone who criticized some conservative responses to a Democratic talking point about the health insurance debate. Politicians often like to draw attention to real examples of people struggling with some issue in order to pull on the heart strings of their constituents, which can (a) serve to illustrate that there really is a problem, a problem their own proposal is supposed to address and (b) provide an emotionally-moving draw to get people to care about it more and perhaps mobilize them to help get it done.

I found an insightful analysis of this sort of thing in Aristotle's treatment of emotions in the Rhetoric. Aristotle points out at one point that this is perfectly fine, in the cases where (a) is basically true. Adding the emotional component is a good thing when you can draw the person in to something they already ought to be doing. On the other hand, when (a) involves some kind of false analogy, misleading facts about the case, or a proposal that wouldn't help or would cause other problems that the case obscures by distracting people away from them, then the emotional element is manipulation rather than illustration, deception toward the wrong result rather than motivation toward moral action.

Where you stand on such a question depends ultimately on whether you agree with President Obama's agenda and the health insurance proposals that Democrats have been putting forward. It's understandable that those who disagree are going to see such emotional appeals as mere emotional appeals that don't have any basis in the facts, and they'll try to find ways that the use of such cases by Democrats involve some kind of error or false statement. So should it be surprising if people like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Michelle Malkin dismiss an example of someone President Obama uses in this way? It shouldn't be, and you shouldn't attribute their motivations to anything other than their opposition to his proposal, because that's the simplest explanation, and it makes perfect sense given their views. This should be so even if you find their views loathsome, as many do.

[I should say, for the record, that I think it's crazy to put Michelle Malkin in the same category as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. She's purely a pundit. They're as much entertainers as political influencers, and they're both offensive in a much greater way than she could ever hope to be. She's much more inclined to focus on arguments than they are, and they're much more inclined to make fun of people.]

The email I received made a very different sort of claim. The author pointed out that the family in this particular case was black. That was the basis of his conclusion that they would not have made the same arguments if the family in question had been white. Actually, what he said is that they wouldn't have criticized a white southern family's situation in the same way. I'm not sure where the evidence for that is, and whether it's true is actually irrelevant. I'm pretty sure all three of them have criticized things this president has said about white people's cases, and there's no reason to think they wouldn't have in this case if it had been a different sort of family.

In any case, it was President Obama who chose this case, not them, and they were responding to it in exactly the way you'd expect given how I described the issue above, when I hadn't yet said anything about race. I have no idea about the details of this case, and I have no idea whether what any of them said is true. But I think it's terribly unreasonable to assume that this is purely because of race when those three have consistently criticized the President's statements about this issue in ways that make it utterly clear and public what their motivation is for such criticism. It has nothing to do with race. It's an ideological disagreement.



The 320th Christian Carnival will be hosted this coming Wednesday at And She Went Out.... The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see the Christian Carnival archive.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:

For Zion's Sake

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For Zion's sake I will not be still, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her righteousness goes forth like brightness, and her salvation is like a burning torch [Isaiah 62:1, John Oswalt's translation (p.576)]

John Oswalt, in his commentary on Isaiah, says of this verse:

However it might appear, God insists that he will be at work unceasingly for Zion's sake. The emphatic position of this phrase Underlines a significant point. As important as God's name is, he is not delivering Jerusalem for himself, for the sake of his reputation, but for the love of his people. (Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 400-66, p.578)

Then he adds this footnote:

The other side of the position is given in Ezek. 36:19-27, where God makes plain that he is not delivering Israel because of anything it has done to deserve such deliverance. The deliverance is strictly an expression of his own holiness.

Here is that passage:

I dispersed them among the nations, and they were scattered through the countries; I judged them according to their conduct and their actions. And wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, 'These are the LORD's people, and yet they had to leave his land.' I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone.

"Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.

" 'For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. [Ezekiel 36:19-27, TNIV]

Here are three views that someone might hold to try to fit these texts together:

A. God does things for the sake of his glory, and God does things for the sake of his people (or those he will bring into his people). But these motivations are distinct (but at times simultaneous), and neither is wholly reducible to the other.

B. God does things for the sake of his glory, but all this means is that he acts based on his character and promotes what's good. The reason God promotes what's good is for the sake of others. So God's doing things for the sake of his glory is explainable in terms of God's doing things for the sake of others, which is the more primary and ultimate motivation for God.

C. God does things for the sake of others, but the reason God's love is important is because it demonstrates the perfection of God, the most perfect being. It's always good to promote good, and promoting the most perfect is better than anything else you might do. So God does things for the good of others because God does everything for the sake of his glory, and doing things for others does that.

The 319th Christian Carnival is up at Thinking Christian.

Wiley/Blackwell finally has a page for The Ultimate Harry Potter and Philosophy: Hogwarts for Muggles, to which I'm one of the contributors. (Why do I want to say "of which" there instead of "to which"? That doesn't seem grammatical, but it sounds better.) Amazon also has a page for it now.

There's still no picture, and I have no idea what this is going to look like. I wasn't all that impressed with the X-Men one's cover, but I guess they couldn't get copyright permission to depict anyone from the X-Men on the cover, and without that what can you do but have a cool way of writing the title and trying to do something interesting with the cover scheme? The Open Court volume on Harry Potter had a picture of a castle with a snow owl, and I'm guessing Wiley/Blackwell will come up with something else generic that doesn't violate copyright.

It says it won't be out until September, but the editor tells me they're actually shooting for July. Either way, it will be out in advance of the seventh movie, which I'm much happier about than I was about their original plan, which was to put it out concurrent with the eighth movie in 2011. This thing has been done for quite a while already and has just been sitting around waiting for the publisher to find it appropriate to release it. It could have been done in time for the sixth movie if they'd wanted to do that.

I'm looking forward to reading the other pieces in this one even more than I was with the X-Men one that also included a piece by me. I read the whole Open Court volume, and there were only a few duds there. I've gotten most of the way through the Narnia one, and the same is true of that one. I was disappointed in a lot more of the X-Men ones, for different reasons in different cases. I haven't read anything in this one but mine (and one that got pulled for legal reasons that I can't say anything else about here), but I've seen the email addresses of the other contributors, and I've been able to deduce who quite a few of them are, several of them very good philosophers who undoubtedly have interesting things to say.

My piece has been retitled "Destiny in the Wizarding World", which I think is superior to my own title, which was "Destiny in Harry Potter". I'm much more satisfied with the final state of this chapter than I was with the X-Men one, which I thought had been worsened by the removal of the most interesting discussions of race and even in one place the weakening of my argument due to crucial bits taken out (it even reads as fallacious to me now). There was a whole section I'd added at the editors' insistence that the series editor removed without discussion. This one, on the other hand, was, I think, noticeably improved at every stage of editing. So I'm looking forward to holding it in my hands and reading all the pieces.

The 105th Philosophers' Carnival is up at

[Note: This is part of a larger project reviewing commentaries on each book of the Bible. Follow the links from that post for more information on the series, including explanations of what I mean by some of the terms and abbreviations in this post. This is not an exhaustive list, just the commentaries that I think are most worth paying attention to.]

Galatians is both well-served and not well-served in terms of commentaries. On the one hand, the commentaries that are on the market right now complement each other well, with some commentary or other existing for any particular focus or strength you might want in a Galatians commentary. The problem is that no one commentary seems to my mind to do enough of those things well for me to have an easy first choice, and most of my favorite commentaries on this book have serious shortcomings. I suspect that will be remedied once several of the forthcoming works on Galatians are complete (especially Carson and Moo, but several others in the list will add expertise and skills not well enough represented among the existing commentaries to satisfy me; see my list of forthcoming commentaries on Galatians below the published ones).

I do think F.F. Bruce's NIGTC is one of the better commentaries out there. It's getting dated, especially given the New Perspective on Paul that Bruce doesn't spend a lot of time interacting with, since it was pretty much brand new during the final years he was working on this volume. Bruce tends to be stronger on historical and language, especially on smaller details, and weaker on theology and broader structure. (Carson gives two examples of weaker areas: law/grace and old/new covenants.) Bruce defends the traditional Protestant approach that the New Perspective responds to, even if he doesn't spend a lot of time tackling the claims of particular proponents of the NPP. He argues for an early date and a South Galatian location, and he gives one of the most convincing accounts I've seen of how Galatians and Acts fit together, defending the historicity of both. Complementarians will be annoyed at his insistence on egalitarianism in Gal 3:28, which even a good number of egalitarians recognize as being about gospel equality rather than about what the implications of gospel equality are in marriage and in church governance. Most of the commentary isn't so ideologically-driven, however, and this is currently the first place I look on this book. I'm just not as inclined to look in only one place as I might be on other books.

Gordon Fee's recent commentary in the Pentecostal Commentaries series is very good. Fee has an outstanding reputation as a commentator, for good reason. He's one of the most respected Pauline scholars of our day, and he's especially pastorally-minded. One element Fee contributes that doesn't occur quite as much in the other commentaries I've spent a lot of time in is in the overall flow of thought of the epistle. He's constantly considering smaller passages in the light of the general train of thought Paul has over the course of the letter, and he's particularly good at the kind of structural issues that Bruce tends to be weaker on.

He's also theologically stronger than Bruce, especially on the matters he's spent the most time thinking about, which includes christology and pneumatology. Galatians is particularly important on the Holy Spirit, so it's nice to have Fee on this book for that alone. On historical issues, I'm less convinced by Fee's reconstruction of events than I am of Bruce's, but he himself doesn't seem as confident of his approach as some do. He does insist on the historicity of both Galatians and Acts, unlike some who depart from the more traditional approach represented in Bruce. On New Perspective issues, he strikes me as trying to maintain a moderating approach between the traditional Protestant view and the New Perspective. I tend to think he's moderated too much away from the traditional approach. Given my criticism of Bruce on Gal 3:28, I should say that Fee does not make the same mistake, even though he's strongly committed to egalitarianism. He rightly insists that egalitarians who try to extend its use to issues beyond the gospel itself are going beyond what the text says.

Given that this is from a series many people might not be familiar with, it's worth pointing out that this isn't intended to be an exhaustive commentary series, with lots of technical exegetical details, but it's also not just an applicational commentary or something like that. Fee himself might bemoan the fact that Pentecostals aren't as well-represented in biblical studies as he'd like, and Pentecostals sometimes have a bad reputation of focusing mostly on application at the expense of careful exegesis. But potential readers shouldn't let those facts discourage them from purchasing or reading this commentary. Fee does include most of the major issues that should come up in exegetical discussion, just not with exhaustive coverage of every option or with the level of detail you'll find in a more academic commentary.

Wood for the Trees

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In the U.K., people often speak of losing the big picture because of the details by saying that someone can't see the wood for the trees. Usually in the U.S., we say "forest for the trees". It's long occurred to me that the U.K. way of saying it conveys exactly the opposite here as it does across the pond.

In the U.K., a natural way to refer to a wooded area is to call it "the wood". That means the wood is a level up from the trees in terms of big picture vs. details. But in the U.S. you would never say "the wood" unless you meant the material that makes up the bulk of the tree's matter. To refer to a wooded area, you'd call it "the woods". So when you compare the wood with the trees in the U.S., you're actually talking about the tree and what it's made out of rather than a bunch of trees and the forest they comprise. That means the wood as heard in the U.S. is smaller and more detailed than the trees. The trees are a level up in terms of details vs. big picture.

So if you say someone can't see the wood for the trees, I always do a double-take, because it always sounds to me, at least at the initial hearing, as if you're describing someone who can't see the details because of some rigid big-picture view that they can't get away from. I'm familiar enough with the expression now that I quickly adjust, but it's a very weird phenomenon. This expression first conveys to me the exact opposite of what it means.


The 318th Christian Carnival is up at

I've seen several references to this story that imply or assert that Sarah Palin is a hypocrite for being a very vocal critic of the Canadian health care system, when it turns out she used to go with her family across the border to receive services from Canadian medical professionals instead of those in Alaska. (See here for an example.)

But then I read the article. It turns out there are two huge facts obscured by such an analysis, and they're both whoppers.

1. This wasn't something she did with her family as an adult. This is something her parents did with her until she was six. Yes, people are calling Sarah Palin a hypocrite because of what her parents chose to do, while bringing her along, when she was in kindergarten. I guess if you've run out of ways to attack her involving her own kids, you turn to attacking her for what happened to her when she was a kid herself. I suppose this is hypocrisy by proxy. Find something someone else did that seems to conflict with what Palin is saying, and then call her a hypocrite for someone else doing what she thinks is problematic.

2. They lived during that period in a very rural town near the Canadian border. The closest city was across that border. Most people in very rural towns drive to the nearest city for some of their health care concerns. It just happened that they had to go to another country in this case. If Sarah Palin had lived in that town and taken her own children to Canada, that's perfectly consistent with saying the Canadian health care system is inferior to the American health care system, because no one thinks the American health care system is equally available in every small rural town. The closest thing that's of good enough quality might be in the Canadian system that does things in a way that's less ideal. Being less ideal than the American system is compatible with being the best thing in the area. So there's no inconsistency here anyway.

I noticed an argument here that Juneau, AK is just as close to Skagway, AK where they lived as Whitehorse, YT, where they occasionally sent someone for medical aid in emergencies. So I checked Mapquest. It took 6 hours to get to Juneau and 3 hours to get to Whitehorse.

Then the comments there indicate that you would usually go to Juneau by ferry in those days, and that takes several hours also, where the train ride to Whitehorse is only two. So it does seem that Skagway's closest city is Whitehorse, YT. Juneau has a slightly larger population but not enough to make a huge distinction. They're both big enough cities to have the emergency care facilities that her small town didn't.

Also, the Associated Press interviewed Chuck Heath, Palin's father, about this:

Palin's father said Monday they had little choice, given their location in Skagway. "There was no road out of there at that time," said retired teacher Chuck Heath, reached by phone in Wasilla. "The ferry schedule was very erratic. We had no doctor in Skagway. The plane schedule was very erratic. The winds dictated whether the planes could come in or not."
So it's hard to make the argument that even her parents' choice had anything to do with preferring Canadian health care to American health care, never mind that she herself is somehow a hypocrite because of what her parents did when she was in kindergarten or younger.

Update: There's also the following argument. Palin benefited from Canadian health care, so she shouldn't criticize it, much less fight to prevent the same thing from happening in the U.S. or advocate that Canadians should implement something else.

I sure hope those who support President Obama's proposed changes in U.S. health care don't offer such an argument, because it then makes them hypocrites for benefiting from the American system but then criticizing it. It's simply crazy to say that you can't criticize something you benefited from. Think about all the workers in developing countries who actually benefit from the jobs American corporations outsource but who still work in conditions that it's immoral to expect anyone to work in. It's perfectly fair to think those conditions are bad enough to want to change them, even if you're personally benefiting from them. You might even be grateful for the benefit you've received while pointing out that those who have helped you are still doing something wrong.

The 318th Christian Carnival will be hosted tomorrow at RodneyOlsen.netThe Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see the Christian Carnival archive.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:


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I previously posted my worries about the glossary entry for the word 'gay' in Elizabeth Meyer's Gender, Bullying, and Harassment. I'm worried about the following entry also, for several reasons:

Heterosexism: A bias toward heterosexuality that denigrates and devalues GLB people. Also, the presumption that heterosexuality is superior to homosexuality or prejudice, bias, or discrimination based on these things.

The first thing to notice is that this is a disjunctive definition. It lists three different things, any of which it will count as heterosexism. This isn't problematic in itself. There are plenty of words that can apply to a number of different things. Some of them are due to plain old ambiguity, e.g. the word 'bank' can mean a financial institution or the sandy shoreline alongside a river. More often a term can refer to several phenomena that all fit under the same category.

What might generate more of a problem is when a term is defined to refer to a number of different phenomena that are sufficiently different and should not be confused with each other. This isn't necessarily a problem, though. For instance, there are plenty of things the word 'homicide' can refer to, and they've of a pretty diverse sort. A homicide could be a cold-blooded, premeditated murder, or it could be an unplanned violent killing in the heat of an argument. It could be criminal but accidental manslaughter, or it could be excusable self-defense. In all cases, someone has been killed, and thus it counts as a homicide, which etymologically and in actual contemporary usage simply means the killing of a person by someone else.

Where it becomes more problematic is if the word you choose to use for this is loaded in such a way that its very usage carries the sense that anything it applies to is equally wrong. This is a new enough term that I think it's fair to say that people who are using it as Meyer does are in fact in the process of coining the term and determining its meaning by how it's used. The fact that it's deliberately a parallel with words like 'sexism' and 'racism' is important here. I suspect Meyer, and those whose consensus she wants to represent in her glossary of how such terms are used, wants all three things she lists to be seen as serious as racism and sexism are. The problem is that a case can be made that they're not. Let's separate the different meanings.

A: A bias toward heterosexuality that denigrates and devalues GLB people
B: the presumption that heterosexuality is superior to homosexuality
C: prejudice, bias, or discrimination based on these things.

It seems to me that anyone satisfying meaning A is engaging in pure evil, but meanings B and C can range over a wide enough range of things that they don't belong in the same category at all. Some of that wide range is clearly morally problematic (perhaps stemming from something like what meaning A is getting at). Some of it is simply a matter of empirical discovery, but some of it involves moral judgment.


The 317th Christian Carnival is up at Jevlir Caravansary.

Consider a man named Jim in the 1960s who does what people sometimes call "passing for white". His family is black, but there's enough white ancestry for him to appear white. Someone looking at him without knowing his family would think he's white. He talks in a way that no one would know his family is black. His employers would never discriminate against him because of his being black, even if they normally did such a thing, because they wouldn't know that he is black.

Jim decides to apply for college late in life, after the civil rights era is long over. There's a checkbox to indicate if he is black, which will be used for affirmative action purposes. Some people think affirmative action is immoral, and some people think it's immoral to ask or report one's race. Ignore those issues for this example, since what I want to get at is a different issue, and I don't want those as distractions. Assuming people should normally report their race accurately on such forms, should he check the box indicating that he is black? If you think he is black-passing-as-white, but you think he shouldn't check the box, exactly why is that (because it seems as if such an action constitutes a lie)?

Now consider a man in our day named Tom who has three white grandparents. His fourth grandparent is Jim. So he has two great-grandparents who are indisputably black and a grandparent who many people would consider black-passing-as-white. But Tom grew up in a white suburb in a family considered by everyone around them to be white, and almost no one he comes into contact with ever learns of or suspects that he has pretty recent black ancestors.

Tom applies for college. Again, ignoring issues about the moral status of affirmative action and assuming people should normally report the race on such forms, should Tom check the box indicating that he is black, knowing that it will qualify him for affirmative action? If not, but Jim should, what is the difference between the two that justifies a different moral result? If you think they both should not check it, is it for the same reason in both cases?


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