April 25, 2005

 

“Who’s they’re?” *

The other day I met the infamous who’s—in a major newspaper, of all places. Who’s doesn’t get around nearly as much as it’s does, but that makes it all the more scary when you do run into him. Who's and it's are close relatives, by the way, as they are both rooted in an inability to understand what the apostrophe is and what it does. I had got quite used to meeting it’s, even in supposedly professionally edited publications. But who’s? I had not seen who’s outside of e-mails and such that I had assumed had been written by particularly illiterate individuals—that is, until our fateful meeting yesterday.

When I think back, it seems I began to meet it’s in the early 1980s. I don’t recall having seen him in the ‘70s at all, or at any time before that. So what phenomenon of the early 1980s paralleled the birth of the new illiteracy, possibly pointing to its origin? I have no ready answer to that question, but that does seem to be the time when a large majority of American voters voted for Reagan. And Thatcher and Clark, both Conservatives, had just been elected in the UK and Canada, respectively. Hmm… And, before I go any further, I want to stress that I am not at all referring to dyslexic or intellectually challenged people. Such people can’t help making mistakes. I am talking about "normal" people who can learn the correct way of writing certain words, but who won’t. All I can say is that, in my experience, illiteracisms such as these words (what else can one call them?) do seem to be associated with a certain kind of mentality. It is the mentality that never tries to acquire a deep and clear understanding of the world around it. Rather, it lives with myths and legends handed down to it from its forebears, never bothering to get a clear understanding of even those myths and legends, let alone to question them.

As a public service, then, and hopeful that my meager endeavour may help usher in a new Age of Enlightenment…LOL…here is a list of some of these illiteracisms, along with corrections thereto:

1/ It’s: This abbreviation has two possible meanings, and those are its only possible meanings. You noticed I just wrote "its only possible meanings"? That is because it would have been wrong to say "it’s only possible meanings". Why? Because, as I said, it’s has two meanings, and two meanings only. It can be an abbreviation for “it is” or for “it has.” It has no other common meanings or usages.

2/ Who’s: Again, who’s can mean one of two things, and only two things: “who is” or “who has.” When you write “Who’s blog is this?” you actually mean to say “Whose blog is this?” Yes, whose, NOT who’s. Remember that.

3/ They’re / their / there (as well as your/you're): Here we run into a veritable forest of illiteracisms. It seems entire populations of English speaking people are unaware that these are three completely different words, as evidenced by the fact that they use them interchangeably on a daily basis (one of them is two words, by the way). I won’t go into the details of what each of them means, as it would probably be a futile effort. If an adult didn’t learn their differing meanings while still in school, it’s too late to begin now. I have to end this post on a pessimistic note. People who don’t know, and won’t find out, the difference between “they’re” and “their” will surely never learn to look beneath the lies that their governments tell them.

* The title of this post refers to the way some people would write "Who's there?"

April 20, 2005

 

Another “American” Pope

Another sign of the end of “true” religiosity that was discussed in the comments to my last post is the selection of yet another pope on apparently purely political grounds. One indication of this is the fact that for the second time in a row, after a gap of five hundred years, a non-Italian has been selected as pope. When a five-hundred year old tradition is broken twice in a row, especially by an intrinsically conservative institution such as the Catholic Church, you know something fishy is going on. Pope John Paul II’s primary credential was his anti-communism. He was put on St. Peter’s throne in order to fight for American interests in Eastern Europe, and to make sure the Cold War ends with the US as the undisputed and undisputable winner. He performed his mission in an admirable manner, surpassing all expectations. Benedict XVI’s qualifications, on the other hand, make him suitable for the new phase of the American Empire. Like all Bush appointees, he has impeccable ultra-Right credentials. In the 1960’s he abandoned liberalism in horror on realizing the risk of real freedom inherent in democratic institutions. He probably has a dual mission. One, to turn a blind eye to US atrocities around the world. John Paul II, admittedly, was not quite perfect in the art of turning a blind eye. Second, to re-interpret every atrocity as a good thing. The idea with John Paul II’s selection was that he would fight, on the “spiritual” field, the battle that was on the verge of being lost on the political field. Benedict XVI may have a similar mission, as Europe’s relationship of vassalage to the US has been subject to political and economic threats. The conclave of cardinals that chooses the Pope has become obsolete. From now on, the task should be assigned to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee. The Nobel people are much more experienced in the art of selecting winners on the basis of political expediency, as opposed to merit, justice … or peace.

April 12, 2005

 

The transformed role of religion

Let’s put metaphysical and eschatological considerations aside for a moment, and ask a simple question: Exactly what is religion—exactly today? Exactly what function does it play in today’s world, and whose interests does it serve? To avoid unnecessary complexity, I’ll limit myself to Christianity, though, in my opinion, these ideas, with some modifications, probably apply to other religions as well.

I don’t think it is difficult to see that (a) religion today does not play the role that it played in the Middle Ages; and (b) religion today does not play the role that it played in the nineteenth century.

It is impossible to imagine the medieval period while leaving out religion. Religion was an integral element of the medieval order of things that made the continued existence of the then-existing socio-political system possible.

Religion had a much-reduced function in the nineteenth-century European society, primarily because of the social and intellectual advancements of the Enlightenment period. Society no longer depended on it for its sheer existence. Rather, it gained a supporting role, if you will. It became the comforter of the exploited masses of the Industrial Revolution, or, as Marx put it in a passage that is rarely quoted in full, and is, therefore, frequently misunderstood:

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

That was religion’s function then. Today, in the Western industrial or “post-industrial” countries, religion is no longer an opiate. The poor suffering classes that needed "opiates" have largely disappeared in the rich countries. Religion is now something different. Our pain and suffering today, when they exist, are primarily of the mind. And it is our minds that search desperately for release from their new burdens. We seek release from the knowledge that, despite two centuries of rapid progress, humanity has only succeeded in turning itself into a new assortment of barbarians. Humanity has miserably failed to solve the social problem. Neighbour hates neighbour, and the human species is destroying its own environmental conditions of existence. The nineteenth-century’s physical torments have been replaced by the twenty-first-century’s mental torments. And the new torments are at least as unbearable as the old ones.

What does a person do when faced with unbearable circumstances? The person tries to regress, psychologically, to an earlier, more primitive, more idyllic, state of consciousness. In other words, the person’s mentality regresses to that of a child. Under such conditions, we reach for false values, because society has failed to provide us with real ones.

As illustrations, I will refer to two recent events with religious overtones.

In the Terri Schiavo case, a kind of mass psychosis seemed to overtake a segment of American society. Thousands of people kept insisting on treating a dead body as though it were a living human being. They were play acting, in almost exactly the same way that children do. And their play acting, while it lasted, was as real to them as children's is to them.

During the weeks before and after the Pope’s death, the whole world seemed to be in the grip of mass psychosis. Oblivious of his actual legacy of reactionary values that have brought misery and death to millions, people chose to concentrate, like children, on "his message of peace." They chose to see him as a father figure, blameless and strong.

Today, religion is the lollipop of the people.

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