Two Recent English Language Use Changes: Invention and Omission

These two changes show how republicanism and atheism are slowly beginning to impact language use.


426799067_55027d4244_zSince the General Election on June 8, 2017, and the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower Fire, I have been listening to and watching media broadcasts more than usual, and have noticed two significant changes in language use.

One change is limited to a very specific occasion, though it has been growing in popularity over the years.  It is quite consciously deliberate and requires a degree of determination, even courage, on behalf of the speaker.  The other change is usually less obvious, though it too requires a slight degree of determination (if less planning than the other one).  The second one has been around for a lot longer and is growing in popularity (and acceptability).

Continue reading “Two Recent English Language Use Changes: Invention and Omission”

On Tyranny

Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

33917107Although a short book, this is a very important read.  Timothy Snyder is an American historian who is able to pull together lessons from history on how to recognise and resist dictatorships and facism.  Some reviewers feel that it is essential reading for all Americans.  I disagree.  I think it would be good if people of all nations could read it and learn from it.

Because it is a short book I don’t want to rob the author of his thunder by outlining all the content.  However, just to give you a flavour of what it contains, I will summarise the chapter that had most resonance for me – Chapter 10 Believe in Truth.

Synder states that submission to tyranny happens when you renounce the difference between what you hear and see and what is actually the case.  He then goes on to outline four ways in which truth has died in various societies, and how it is dying in America as you read this.

Continue reading “On Tyranny”

The Spinoza Problem

On one level, it was a book about two very different influential figures separated by three hundred years. It was interesting to learn about seventeenth century Jewish life in Amsterdam, and about Hitler’s rise to power in Germany. However, two factors gave the writing much more significance and impact.

51ks87xytml-_sx320_bo1204203200_This book has much to commend it, despite the ending which I found disappointing.

As I read the book I was thinking of giving it a five star rating, and the phrase that kept coming into my head was “a very satisfying read”. I had initially purchased the book on the strength of having previously read Yalom’s psychotherapy books, and another of his novels (which has what must be the most unattractive title for many readers – When Nietszche Wept). That novel, and his professional books, convinced me that the author could write very accessible prose on potentially challenging subjects, and that he was able to create characters with real psychological depth.

This book was satisfying on so many levels. It was written after the author was inspired by a visit to the Spinoza museum in Rijnsburg where he learned that Alfred Rosenberg (the intellectual force behind much of the Nazi anti-semitism) had deliberately and personally stolen the library of the Jewish philosopher.  Continue reading “The Spinoza Problem”

Towards Solving the Trump Mystery

While is may sometimes be true that personality is more important than policy, it isn’t always so.

FullSizeRenderOn 12 February 1999, Bill Clinton survived his impeachment, despite having lied under oath and having committed “sexual acts” with a junior member of staff – things which would have resulted in the departure of most politicians.  In chapter 10 of his book, Lessons from the Top, Gavin Esler describes how, at the time, the Senate majority leader, the Republican Trent Lott was utterly bewildered:

There are only a couple of things in my career that I still have not been able to understand. One is the fact that the American people apparently continued to support Clinton through the whole thing, knowing what he did, knowing what he said, knowing how he demeaned the office … I still think history needs to try to  explain why the American people thought that was all okay.

I felt something of the same confusion over Trump’s election.   Continue reading “Towards Solving the Trump Mystery”

Triple Abuse in Education

Schools where there is a variety of religious views (including those with none) provide the means where children can come in contact with differences on a regular basis and learn that there is more to human beings than the presence or absence of a religious creed.

510750075_eeee488cd6_zThe British Government’s recent decision to allow full religious discrimination in school admissions, and the view of the Scottish Government that sixth formers are not allowed to withdraw themselves from religious observances in schools, are abusive and dangerous in at least three ways.

Abusive to Society

One of the ways in which human beings learn to change their views is not particularly through rational argument (though that sometimes can happen), but through prolonged exposure to, and contact with difference.  Many of us can testify how having to work for a long period with someone different (for example, from a different race, a different culture, or a different sexuality) has helped us identify our previously unacknowledged prejudice, and helped us modify our opinions.   Continue reading “Triple Abuse in Education”

Don’t Put The Ceiling Back!

If the re-introduction of Grammar Schools is to happen (and I genuinely hope it won’t) there needs to be much more attention paid to the blunted legacy it will leave for the majority who will “fail”.

426799067_55027d4244_zAt the age of 11 my parents received a letter saying that I was “borderline”.  I didn’t quite understand what it meant, but I vaguely realised that I hadn’t passed the 11-plus examination.  On the other hand, I hadn’t failed it either.  I had fallen into the band of normal statistical error which meant that I could have passed or failed, and so to be sure, I needed to take another examination.

Weeks of cramming verbal reasoning, arithmetic, and spelling with my teacher aunt followed.  Then I sat another examination, and eventually learned that I had passed.  I would be going to the local Grammar School with four others from my class of 30.

Normally no-one from my primary school on a Council Estate passed, so 1964 was a record year!  Continue reading “Don’t Put The Ceiling Back!”

Is UK Democracy Under Threat?

Unless I’m mistaken, there is no electoral commission crying foul, no independent observers saying that the election result cannot be trusted because on 23 June, 2016, Britain was a failed or corrupt state that could not be trusted to deliver a free and fair vote.

510750075_eeee488cd6_zI have argued elsewhere that the present outpouring of emotion from the recent referendum losing side is, in one sense, to be expected. It is part of the normal grief process.  (See Post Brexit Grief is Normal.)  However, the more calls there are for the decision to be set aside and for a second referendum, the more I become concerned about the threat to the democratic system which Britain used to be proud of.  Perhaps the potential weakening, even loss of democracy, is even more important than the loss of the EU membership, and even more important than the threatened loss of Scotland from the United Kingdom.

The arguments for setting aside the results just don’t stand up. Continue reading “Is UK Democracy Under Threat?”