A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Ugliness of NetEnglish

Why do we who write on this marvelous invention of the weblog soil our common tongue with ugly and inappropriate words about what we do here?


We seem to be totally indifferent to the emotional resonance and overtones of English which has made it the glory of its poets and the constant but cruel love of its prose writers. They keep the flame of this alive in the entertainment arts. In the Star Trek mythos, for example, "Borg" is the epitome of inhuman unfreedom, a beehive where the bees are burdened with all the mechanical ironmongery of an opthomologist's consulting room.

"Blog" is equally as ugly, but we, certainly, are not. We are merely the same fallible and tragic human beings, writing in English, as Donne, Swift, Keats, or Henry James. Why turn our back on that heritage with a label on our form so ugly?

It is now in common usage, so, of course, I must endure the copyblot of it in my writing as in others. To do elsewise is to be too precious and persnickity for a direct writer of the English tongue. So I blog with the rest of us. But I don't have to like it, and I don't.


In more specific terms, a meme is a self-propagating unit of cultural evolution having some resemblance to the gene (the unit of genetics). The difference lies in the replicative potential and minimally required resources to replicate. Memes can represent parts of ideas, languages, elemental particles, tunes, designs, skills, moral and aesthetic values and anything else that is commonly learned and passed on to others as a unit. The study of evolutionary models of information transfer is called memetics.....In casual use, the term meme is sometimes used to mean any piece of information that is passed from one mind to another. (Wickipedia)

This neologism is not ugly, particularly. It would be wonderful delineating a fur pattern on a slithy tove or a mome rath, as we call a cat calico, tabby, or tortiseshell. But both the real definition and the derivation (from "memory" in Greek) are simply a lie. "Daffodils that come before the swallow dare," did not do itself. A particular man named Shakespeare did it. It has not propagated itself. Particular human beings have read it, referred to it, and quoted it, directly or indirectly.

"Meme" is a metaphor, which, in its proper place of a specific scientific field of study can function intelligibly as a model, because, in its proper context, responsible and intelligent scientists remain fully aware that you cannot ride in the elevator of a model of the Empire State Building.

In causal use it is a metaphor run wild, as so many do in English, and a dangerous one at that. Note that this last sentence is also a metaphor, but one under my intellectual control. The implication that our ideas somehow do themselves is an early step toward the inhuman unfreedom of the Borg.

Now I know why it is so tempting. The actual relation of language to the writer is a great and not wholly describable mystery; we can hint at only by describing it as like breeding of horses--Daffodils Which Come Before The Swallow Dare, sired by Shakespeare, out of English. Meme, in its casual use is a way of both acknowledging, and glossing over this mystery with pseudoscience.

It has also become an ugly term of abuse, in a blogosphere which resembles nothing so much as a continuous political pie fight where the custard cream has been replaced by chickenshit. I am, by the way, a seasoned writer of English and I claim the same right as Swift to use vulgarity and ugliness to describe vulgarity and ugliness, keeping is very rare for maximum literary effect, and, unlike its use in the writing of so many out there, it also is tightly under my control.

Any idea that you don't like is a "meme" which someone bad and bent (Democrats, Republicans, the Religious Right, the Bush-hating Left, whatever) has propagated and needs to be stamped out.

"Meme" itself deserves to be stamped out. It is a lie, it is not a legitimate part of the common tongue, it is destructive to the notion of freedom of ideas, and it terminally offends my taste. So you have not seen it in posts prior to this, and you will never see it here again without the prophylactic of inverted commas.

Would that my fellow bloggers were so choosy as I.


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