Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Language Matters

"In a large community we choose our companions, [but] in a small community our companions are chosen for us. The man who lives in a small community knows more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences of men ... [for it is] a place where he can have a noisy argument [and still] be sociable ... [and] sociability, like all good things, is full of discomforts and dangers ...

"... A big society exists in order to form cliques ... to make a man comfortable [which is] to make him the opposite of sociable... to guard the solitary and sensitive individual from all experience of the bitter and bracing human compromises. It is, in the most literal sense of the words, a society for the prevention of Christian knowledge." Heretics, GK Chesterton, 1905

"Honor is a description of a particular kind of relationship between individual identity and communal authority ... [in which] the claims of the self are constantly reflected in the mirror of communal opinion, and those reflections are the building blocks of individual identity." The Sacred Mirror, Robert Elder, 2016
Out of John Brown's strong sinews the tall skyscrapers grow,
Out of his heart the chanting buildings rise,
The genie we have raised to rule the earth.
So, when the crowd gives tongue
Or fall in worship there,
Let them applaud the image or condemn
But keep your distance and your soul from them.
[And] if you at last must have a word to say,
Say neither, in their way,
"It is a deadly magic and accursed,"
Nor "It is blest," but only "It is here."
excerpted lines from John Brown's Body, Stephen Vincent Benet, 1928

During the American Revolution "post" implied a cursive hand-written parchment communication carrier by horse and rider over rough roads to exchange important, but by no means comprehensive,  information. Townhalls, churches and printing presses were the only forms of broadcasting ... but their spatial and temporal constraints did not matter because MOST of the knowledge a person needed to live life had been passed along for generations ... was carried secure in the mind and heart ... and was remarkably constant and common across the generations and communities [just in case you forgot something].

By the time of the Civil War, honor was still on the minds of the South. But it had become a worthless relic to some Northerners like Big Jim Fisk who, when he defaulted on his massive debts after the collapse of his grand scheme to corner the gold market, said "Nothing lost save honor." After all, the telegraph was "etherealizing" the word and railroads were spanning the continent ... and there was money to be made. As John Brown's body lay smoldering in the grave, ancient agrarian living was giving way to modern urban dwelling.

And then came the wars which covered the whole world while reducing much of it to rubble. But the technology to fight them gave rise to increasingly sophisticated forms of photography, analog broadcasting networks, digital computers ... until today we have the worldwide web ... the internet with vast clouds of information, massive data and surveillance centers, instantaneous information searches and increasingly complex and vulnerable social and cellular networks.

And yet ... in the face of all this "progress" ... some are turning back and looking for something that was lost ... unsure even what to call it ... wholeness ... civility ... polity ... kindness ... grace?

Has technological change been good for mankind's communities and communications? Or has "dis-communication" and incoherence become the new normal in the modern [now digital] age? If so, what can be done? And what is the future of politeness in our politics?  Is our way of life and the modes we use to communicate poisoning what's left of our conversation?

If some of these questions [or ones like them] have crossed your mind from time to time ... or even if this is the first time you have thought about them ... we hope you will join us soon as the New Symposium Society spends an October evening with a fantastic panel in a VERY wide ranging discussion titled Language Matters.

When, Where and a Flyer

Tuesday, Oct 15,  7:00 to 8:45 pm at Friends University ... Room 100 of William Penn Hall.  Click FLYER above and [if we have it] you will get a flyer which you can print and post appropriately to alert others about the upcoming meeting.

Panelists and Moderator 👥

Please welcome our generous and accomplished panelists and moderator. Click a name to see a bio [if we have it]. And remember, they have busy lives so we do NOT require them to provide a position statement or suggested readings in advance ... but if they do, we have provided links to those materials following their name/bio below ... and we encourage you to review these links to get to know our panelists and moderator better.

Suzanne Tobias - journalist
Steve Howard - digital advisor
Bill Coleman - linguist
John Brungardt -  philosopher
Russell Fox - moderator

The Evening's Format

The first half of the evening will consist of each panelist presenting an 8-10 minute opening position statement. In the second half of the evening, the audience will help our panelists by asking questions.

And for those of you who are inclined to get some questions out in the open for consideration BEFORE the evening's meeting ... feel free to join the liberales ... and blog your COMMENTS and REPLIES below as needed/wished to build some trains of thought for us.

Suggested Readings

"The Significance of Language as a Tool of Communication", Anca Sirbu, Naval Academy Scientific Bulletin, Volume XVIII – 2015 – Issue 2
"Research has revealed the fact that the blind develop their intellectual propensities better than the deaf. Although deprived of their sight, they can hear, which enables them to acquire language, by means of which they can “see” better than with their own eyes. The  deaf, on the other hand, compelled to silence, hence unable to access language freely, develop more difficultly on an intellectual level and do not attain all the instruments of  a complex abstract thinking process."
"Save Your City: How Toxic Culture Kills Community & What to Do about It", Diane Kalen-Sukra
[interviewed on  Global News]
"The causes or triggers of incivility in the face of disagreement seem to come from one or more of the following four factors:
  • a lack of skills in healthy debate, productive political discourse, and constructive disagreement;
  • a feeling that incivility is justified when you have been aggrieved;
  • the existence of a toxic culture encouraging others to get their own way through uncivil methods; and
  • a loss of shared vision or sense that we are in this alone, rather than in this together."
"Technology can have positive and negative impact on social interactions", Human Kinetics
"Perhaps overcoming a sense of isolation is one of the greatest features of online communities and virtual worlds."
"Reaching Out", Henri Nouwen, 1975
"The spiritual life is that constant movement between three poles of
  • loneliness and solitude - our relationship with ourself,
  • hostility and hospitality - our relationship to others and
  • illusion and prayer - our relationship with God.
The more we come to the painful confession of our loneliness, hostility and illusions, the more we are able to see solitude, hospitality and prayer as part of the vision of our life."
"What Are the Symptoms of Autism?", Autism Speaks
"Autism involves social communication challenges. Children and adults with autism have difficulty with verbal and non-verbal communication. For example, they may not understand or appropriately use:
  • Spoken language (around a third of people with autism are nonverbal)
  • Gestures
  • Eye contact
  • Facial expressions
  • Tone of voice
  • Expressions not meant to be taken literally."
"There Is a New Link Between Screen-Time and Autism", Richard E. Cytowic M.D., Psychology Today, 2017
"A child psychiatrist asked parents [of autistic children] to take them away from screens for a while, to go outside more and engage in outdoor activities, read books together, talk face-to-face, and simply play. He wanted affected children to engage in more day-to-day social interactions given that socialization is the primary challenge for anyone on the autism spectrum. Could pulling them away from their screens of solitude relieve some of the symptoms? Yes, he reports, symptoms resolved, leading the doctor to identify something entirely new: what he calls Virtual Autism, or autism induced by screens."
"We Are All Ahmarists Now", Michael Warren Davis, Crisis Magazine, Sep 10 2019
[follow up "You Can’t Separate Politics and Theology", Emile A. Doak,  Sep 10, 2019]
"Civility isn’t a synonym for charity — quite often, the demands of charity compel us to be positively uncivil. ... Whatever our political creed—whether we’re left-wing or right-wing, liberal or illiberal—this is wrongheaded, and dangerously so. ... Indeed, 'Civility' strikes me as one of those silly pseudo-virtues you could buy for a nickel in the 19th century. It’s part of that cloyingly bourgeois moral code adopted by the Victorians, which stood the old Christian morality on its head. ...
"There’s a political crisis in these nations once blessed to be known as Christendom; there’s no doubt about that. ... [But] before we can begin to address the political crisis, we must address the crisis of alienation.... Christians feel alienated from atheists. Progressives feel alienated from conservatives. Northerners feel alienated from Southerners. Workers feel alienated from employers. Blacks feel alienated from whites. Smartphone addiction, social media, hook-up apps, and pornography are only driving us further apart. We live in something very much like the Grey Town in C.S. Lewis’s Great Divorce: each of us dwells in our own private Hell, stewing in our own arrogance, fear, distrust, loneliness, hatred."