Language: December 2005 Archives

If and When

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Sometimes people will be unsure of something they think might happen. They will then say "if and when it happens, we need to be prepared" or some such thing. I have never understood what this is supposed to mean. If they just said, "when it happens...", then they would have been assuming that it would happen, when it might not happen. My guess is that somehow, to avoid that impression, someone started saying "if and when...", and then they were sure to have covered all their bases. The only problem with this is that you can do that simply by saying "if it happens...", because that allows for both possibilities -- its happening and its not happening. So were the people who first started using this odd conjunction simply unaware of that?

What's worse is that they made it a conjunction rather than a disjunction. If they thought of 'if' and 'when' as two distinct possible introductory connectives, then they should have said "if or when...", but that's not what people say. What is 'if and when' even supposed to mean, then? I think it just means the same thing as 'if'. I think it also means the same thing as 'if or when'. It's a strange sort of redundancy, though, because it's not analyzable in terms of its components as 'if or when' would be (though that's redundant also, just a more easily analyzable redundancy). So what's going on here? When annoying expressions are as commonly used as this one, it's a great relief when someone can explain them in a way that makes them much less annoying, but no one's ever done that with this one. Is there something I'm missing?

Thinking in Proverbs

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"A fool's tongue is long enough to cut his own throat." -- Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15 (2004), p.102.

Waltke is summarizing a bunch of statements from Proverbs on wise use of words, and right in the middle of his summaries (usually followed by a bunch of verse references) he has this one proverb of his own (with no verse references). I guess when you write a 1200+ page commentary on the book of Proverbs, you begin to think in proverbial form. I have to say that it's quite an image.

There's a slightly cheesy but still funny passage two pages later that doesn't fit the same description, but I thought I'd include it while I'm quoting Waltke:

As these means of obtaining wealth show, it is a matter of character, not of method. Proverbs is a "how to be book," not a "how to" book. Solomon is a better theologian than Frank Sinatra: Sinatra sang, "Do-be, do-be, do"; Solomon sings, "Be-do; be-do; be."

Discrimination as Hate

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The Syracuse University Daily Orange has an interesting article about the LGBT group making a list of bathrooms that would be more favorable for transgendered people [registration probably required], particularly so that they know which bathrooms are single-occupant and which have offensive graffiti. I don't want to get into the general issue of why this is or isn't a good idea or what we should think about the transgender phenomenon as a whole. I've commented on some aspects of those things previously. (It's not clear in the article, but I don't think anyone here is advocating making all bathrooms co-ed, since that would surely make many more people uncomfortable going to the bathroom than the current situation.)

What struck me as very strange, though, was a quote from a student:

The directory is a good idea because people should not feel nervous about going to the bathroom," said Sarabeth Schoeneck, an undeclared sophomore in the College of Human Services and Health Professions. "SU claims to be "no place for hate, and people being discriminated against in the restrooms is a form of hate," she said.

This seems to me to be a huge mistake. I think I have a pretty clear idea of what hate is, and I think I could give plenty of examples of when discrimination stems from hate, but the mere fact of discrimination is simply not hate. Sometimes discrimination occurs unintentionally. Sometimes it's from something like residual racism, where someone might have an immediate response of fear or discomfort because of someone else's race even if they rationally cannot stand the fact that they have such a response and really try to overcome it. Yet it might unconsciously affect some of their decisions and actions. Anyone who thinks that sort of discrimination is hate is morally insensitive.

What's even worse is confusing institutional discrimination with hate. Many authority positions are occupied disproportionally by white males, and white males tend to have disproportionally white male friends, both for largely innocent reasons with respect to their own choices. Given these realities, the practice of favoring people you know in hiring has a disproportionate effect on racial and gender lines. Those who aren't white males will tend to be less likely to be hired. That's a simple statistical fact, and this one practice will offer resistance to overcoming discrimination. So an institution or an overwhelming tendency in society can promote discrimination without any intentional discrimination. That seems to me to be exactly the sort of discrimination you might call this. How, then, is it hate? I think we're just so unaccustomed to seeing real hate in these matters that we have to invent it to have something to talk about. What's ironic is that most people making claims like this wouldn't know real hate if it bit them on the leg, and yet it's pretty common in academia. But hatred of those whom it's politically correct to hate doesn't count as hatred, while mindless processes and attitudes people are desperately trying to overcome do.

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