Thursday, April 24, 2014

“Say what you mean and mean what you say”

While checking out the news, I found an interesting article by Neil Macdonald entitled, “Why politicians and academics don’t just say what they mean.”  Alongside its primary topic, stated in its title, the article also refers to a forthcoming book written by Harvard psychologist, Steven Pinker, titled, “The Sense of Style.”

In the article, Macdonald writes that in Pinker’s book, Pinker expresses no patience for those who say that complex, obscure language is useful and necessary when speaking to an expert audience.  Pinker also adds that meta-concepts (i.e. concepts about concepts) are like the layers of packaging that a consumer has to go through to get at a product.  Furthermore, Pinker calls the qualifiers that reporters use and editors would call journalistic caution—such as “apparently,” “evidently,” “rather,” “comparatively,” and “presumably”—“wads of fluff that imply that writers are not willing to stand behind what they are saying.

This describes to a tee the verbal garbage that many politicians and academics—especially lawyers—try to fill us up with/make us swallow.  I most enjoyed what is offered as Pinker’s diagnosis of this type of verbiage: “In explaining any human shortcoming, the first tool I reach for is Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”  In other words, many politicians and academics are just plain stupid!  Worse yet, if we believe those who continually throw that trash at us, the same applies to us!

All of this to say, we need to live by the adage: “Say what you mean and mean what you say.”  More importantly, we should hold our so-called leaders to that standard.  This world would surely be a better place if we did!  And if, by chance, this doesn’t work… Blame it on fast foods!

- B. J. T. Pepin

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Just the other day, someone mentioned to me that the subject matter of my posts was too negative for her liking.  In order to attract more readers, she suggested that I should be more positive.  Of course, this got me to thinking: Am I perhaps being too negative?  Should the topics be more positive in nature?

I couldn’t help myself but begin reflecting on the situation.  First, I thought about the programming on the television.  Then I considered the themes covered by magazines.  Afterwards, I turned toward the news headlines.  The main focus of our society quickly became evident…

Regarding TV, many of the most popular shows are based on a negative premise.  First, there are the reality shows.  The “lives of housewives” from this or that location show us what kind of mayhem they can and do cause.  The “group house” kinds of shows concentrate on nothing but people trying to “screw” each other—both figuratively and literally—in such a way that they get others kicked out of the house.  Then, there are the cop shows in their various forms, focusing on nothing but crime/murder.

If you take a quick look at the best-selling magazines, they too cover negative subjects.  “Movie Star W” is cheating on his wife with “Movie Star X,” while “Movie Star Y” has just hooked up with five-time divorced “Movie Star Z.”  Other magazines try and sell us the idea that we must go on this or that diet to lose x number of pounds so we can fit in the same bathing suit as “Ms. All-Star Super Model.”  And how about the article on how to tell if your wife or husband is cheating on you and how to go about busting them?

Turning to the daily newscasts, we see a similar pattern.  This politician has cheated taxpayers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars after having submitted fraudulent expense claims.  Over the course of his tenure, “Mr. Businessman” has embezzled millions of dollars from clients.  Yesterday, there was a 100-car pile-up that led to the death of six people.  This morning, a drunk and unlicensed driver fled the scene of an accident after jumping the curb and hitting a 10-year-old boy—and doctors state that the boy will now be in a wheel chair for the rest of his life.  What’s worse is that the unlicensed driver’s wife helped him elude the police after the fact!

Considering the above, it’s plain to see that what is covered by today’s media is nothing but negative in nature.  A different way to qualify this observation is to simply remember the oh-so-common saying that “bad news sells.”  I think that we have been programmed to see and seek out the negative in life!  For all intents and purposes, positivism is dead!  So, what am I left to say about this?  If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!  It’s either that, or you can…Blame it on fast foods!

- B. J. T. Pepin

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Social Creatures? Yah right!

Have you ever entered a boardroom or classroom several minutes earlier than the established start time, expecting to be the first one there, but found that someone else had arrived before you?  How about the reverse, with you showing up first?  In either scenario or other ones like these, what do you do?  Do you say “hi,” or do you just do your own thing, acting as if no one is there?

In my case, I typically extend a greeting to the other party/parties.  However, quite frequently, I get nothing but silence in return.  I have witnessed similar situations involving others; I’m not the only one that doesn’t get a response.  In fact, not only does no exchange take place, but I get the impression that people are purposely ignoring one another!  What’s up with that?!

Over the course of my life, in numerous books and other writings, I have come across statements that suggest that humans are “social creatures.”  To elaborate on this point, consider the following quote:  

“Human beings are social creatures.  We are social not just in the trivial sense that we like company, and not just in the obvious sense that we each depend on others.  We are social in a more elemental way: simply to exist as a normal human being requires interaction with other people.” -Atul Gawande

Given my experience, I get the impression that there is nothing “normal” of human beings!  I dare say that in today’s world, humans are far from being the social creatures that are described in the quote.  It believe that, in many ways, we are actually becoming antisocial creatures.  You don’t believe me?  Consider the following…

It is highly likely that we have “encounters,” in their various forms, with other people most every day of our lives.  However, in this day and age of technology, many folks go around with some type of electronic device (tablet or phone) “glued” to their hands.  Likewise, many others have earphones or earbuds stuck on or in their ears.  Some would argue that these devices serve to keep us connected to others.  Others would say that they serve as shields, devised to keep those who are right beside us at a distance.  I surmise that the more “technologically savvy” we become, the more we are distancing/separating ourselves from our neighbours.

So what are we to do about it?  I for one am behind an approach that leads to direct interaction and the need to make eye contact and exchange with one another.  Such an approach serves to make connections that bring us together.  So, get rid of those gadgets designed to control us and pay attention to the living creatures all around you!  Don’t let anything come between us!  But, if after showing the initiative no one else reciprocates, just do what I do: Blame it on fast foods.

- B. J. T. Pepin

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

"Tabula Rasa"

Given the content of this post, I believe that the title is “a propos” (i.e. fitting).  “What gives,” you ask?  Let’s see…

In Latin, tabula rasa means “blank slate.”  From an epistemological vantage point—a branch of philosophy that focuses on the nature and scope of knowledge—the theory contends that each of us is born without inherent mental content, including thoughts, concepts, memories, emotions, percepts, and intentions.  It suggests that our knowledge comes from experience and perception; in other words, it supposes that we become knowledgeable by means of “empirical familiarity” (i.e. knowledge that is developed through observation or experimentation).  Moreover, the familiarity with all of the things of the world that surround us allows for the development of universal concepts (i.e. ideas).  These ideas mature through a syllogistic method of reasoning—that is, a logical process where deductive reasoning (i.e. top-down logic) is used to reach conclusions.  Furthermore, supporters of the tabula rasa thesis have a preference for the "nurture" side of the “nature versus nurture debate,” believing that the physical and behavioural traits that differentiate one from another (as it relates to characteristics of one's personality, social and emotional behaviour, and intelligence) come from external influences.  

Now, I don’t know about you, but re-reading the paragraph above has given me a splitting headache!

“What does this have to do with the price of tea in China,” you ask?  Consider present-day kids: The vast majority of them have their eyes “glued” to some kind of screen from one of an innumerable selection of electronic devices.  I can’t help but ask: Where is the nurture side of the tabula rasa theory as it relates to the care for “our” children?  In fact, these devices are most often used to “babysit” the kids.  In essence, parents are forfeiting their parental responsibility to nurture their kids and are willingly placing the responsibility in the “hands” of a thing that is devoid of any attachment or good will toward the child.  The result is this: Rather than going out into the world to experience nature and in turn develop their own knowledge of the world under the guidance and tutelage of a loving parent, the kids are force-fed all of the various forms of garbage that exist in the video games that they play and on the webpages they surf!  In other words, rather than write some “good stuff” on the so-called blank slate that is the child’s mind, the parents are letting others decide what is being etched on those plates.  It’s no wonder why we have so many screwed-up and problem-ridden kids!  

Now, some would argue that many parents are screwed-up to begin with, and the electronic realm is the lesser of two evils.  I say that no matter what, the majority of counter arguments are nothing but cop-outs!  People are just looking for the easy way out rather than taking responsibility for themselves and for their children!  All parents should take their kids in hand and assume ownership of their rearing.  Parents should be setting the stage so that their children can become creative and find alternative ways to occupy themselves, especially focusing on the most productive means possible.  This will allow our kids to acquire useful knowledge and in turn become self-sufficient rather than be guided by the programs found on a computer for their entire lives.  Now is the time to doing something about the situation!  But, if after taking this approach you still wind up with screwed-up kids, simply do what I do: Blame it on fast foods.

- B. J. T. Pepin