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Posts Tagged ‘theory’

I occasionally mix up words and their meanings, in part because I’m drawn to words that roll off the tongue and in part because my brain lacks optimal agility. But I try hard not to use words carelessly or thoughtlessly and I’m careful not to toss off bon mots without making sure I have a handle on what they actually mean. In the world of politics, however, all is fair, which doesn’t make it any easier to ignore the twisting and turning, the skewing and screwing of the meanings of certain words for the twin purposes of inspiring fear and misrepresenting the views of those unknown people known as the Others.

Who are these “Others”? What words can possibly describe a group, let alone their beliefs, which poses such a clear threat to our very way of life?  Ladies and gentlemen, I have met the enemy and he is apparently me. I am such an Other. I’m also a United States citizen and I’ve had it up to here with insults and aspersions and yes, I’m ready to fight back. Hand me a dictionary.  CA7XFZKMCAPQHZ2YCAA3QKOQCAEK026ZCA91YWSYCADB339QCALURQF8CAKSMRQCCAE1WP27CALZF82ECAUEL6XOCAEXMAGICAPCK0N9CA539OOSCAV1I7VECAWK10YWCAfighter

Herewith, a selective list of the most inexcusably misused words and phrases that are currently being fired off like weapons of mass deception. Believe me, I’ve barely begun:

 1.  liberal: showing or characterized by broad-mindedness; having political or social views favoring reform and progress. These are good views to have, American views, one might say. Furthermore, there is no evidence that liberals are less moral, less family-oriented or less about the American way of life.   

2.     socialism (see also socialist): A system of government that aims to prevent the concentration of wealth within a small segment of society, either by complete nationalization of the means of production and distribution or, as is far more common in contemporary society, selective nationalization of key industries while maintaining private ownership of capital and private business enterprise. People, we do NOT live in a socialist country and we’re not likely to. Government oversight is not a bad thing. It’s not always good either; I’m not keen about endless snooping disguised as protection from terrorism. But all this ranting about losing your “freedom”; what are we talking about? Freedom to openly carry a gun? You got it, at least in some states. Freedom from taxes? How would you like your vaunted terrorism protection provided to you? Or your roads paved? How about the freedom to live in this country without giving a crap about the effect your way of life has on other people? Yeah, I thought you’d like that one. If I were you, I’d pay more attention to privacy issues. But that’s another argument.  

3.      moral: (see also immoral); of or pertaining to matters of right and wrong. Believe it or not, the world is becoming more moral over time — slowly, imperceptibly and selectively throughout the world. For example, many people (although regrettably, not all) see slavery and genocide as wrong. It still seems necessary to remind the fine citizens of this country that people who don’t agree with them aren’t necessarily immoral. Neither are atheists or agnostics. Neither is the concept of social justice, never mind Glenn Beck. 

4.      elite: a group or class of persons enjoying superior intellectual, social, political, or economic status. Okay, I can see where this would inspire envy and anger, especially when it appears to be deliberately exclusionary. But then why do we exempt athletes, lucky reality show stars, or outrageously overpaid political commentators?  Why don’t we focus on the word’s secondary meaning, i.e. “best in class”? That’d give us all something to aspire to. 

5.      theory: a well-substantiated and plausible explanation of a phenomena. Scientific theories are generally accepted as true, unless and until new evidence is discovered that alters the accepted explanation. Scientific theories aren’t like conspiracy theories, and evolution isn’t just “one of several explanations.” 

6.    secular: wordly, temporal, not overtly religious (see also “humanist), i.e. someone who does not believe religion is required in order to “provide for the common good” or “promote the general welfare” of a society. Secularists may be atheist, agnostic, freethinkers, private religious, or spiritual; but not necessarily, as Newt Gingrich likes to say, “godless.” And yet, they do believe church and state need to stay very separate. I am proud to say that yes, I am a secular person and this is my country, too. 

7.      Constitution (of the United States): the foundation and source of the legal authority underlying the existence of the United States of America and the federal government of the United States. Three points to consider: a) it’s a legal document and subject to amendment and interpretation b) it does not appear to have been written in order to create and preserve a Christian nation but rather to protect a potentially persecuted minority 3) before anyone is accused of subverting the Constitution, the accuser should have read the Constitution.      

      I pride myself on being a reasonable, open-minded person who is more than willing to listen to the complaints and concerns of my fellow citizens. I share some of those concerns, especially as I begin to fill out my census form and consider how the information will be used. But I’ve been feeling under attack recently and I don’t like it. I’m getting a little edgy, not so much afraid as irritated. And you do not want to irritate me; I might wallop you with my Webster’s.  Websters2

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While we recover from the fallout of New York’s Senate appointment, while we try to change channels faster than Illinois Governor Ron Blagojevich can appear on them, while we wait for the President’s new cabinet appointees (and the Senator from Minnesota) to be confirmed and seated, while we curse the snow and sleet, the higher property taxes, the cuts in service and mid-winter misery in general, let us now stop to sing the praises of science.

I wasn’t a science kid. I didn’t watch Mr. Wizard on Saturday mornings or beg my folks for a home chemistry set. I preferred language and music to theorems and equations. A generally good student, my only truly bad grade was in freshman college earth science. It wasn’t until I was well into adulthood that I began to realize just how much I value the process by which science and scientists seek to learn what is true.

“The scientific method is something all of us use all of the time. In fact, engaging in the basic activities that make up the scientific method — being curious, asking questions, seeking answers — is a natural part of being human.” So says the author of an article on the subject on a wonderful site called “How Stuff Works.”  Put in such accessible terms, it makes sense. Yet in the last decade, science has been regarded in certain circles as an authoritarian, unyielding,  unfeeling practice that stubbornly asserts it has incontrovertible answers to everything. One reason may be related to a widespread misunderstanding about the word “theory”.  As Wikipedia  points out,  “In everyday language a theory means a hunch or speculation… In science, the word theory refers to a comprehensive explanation of an important feature of nature supported by facts gathered over time.”  By mixing up the two meanings and by ignoring the process by which scientific theories are developed, it’s easy to decide science is guesswork dressed up to look like fact.

The fact is , good science – like good thinking – is open-minded. Sure, we might say we know something for certain, based on provable and testable information; for example, we’re pretty sure the world is round at this point. But the value of science isn’t in its insistence it has every answer, only that it has a method for looking and a willingness to reconsider earlier positions. As Dennis Overbye pointed out in the Science section of yesterday’s New York Times,“Science is not a monument of received Truth but something people do to look for truth.” Overbye went on to point out the parallels between science and democracy, both of them “willing to embrace debate and respect one another…”

How cool is that?

I doubt I’ll ever memorize the periodic tables or the geological ages of the earth but I have taken to reading more articles about earth science, life sciences and physical sciences. I’m interested in whether science finds a cure for cancer or arthritis or whether certain foods can positively alter brain chemistry, especially in the dead of winter. Mostly, though, I say hooray for President Obama’s promise to restore science to its rightful place. I certainly want to support debate, discussion, and inquiry – in short, any process that celebrates the pursuit of answers rather than the certainty anyone has them all.

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