Showing posts from July, 2015

Postmodern Shibboleths

The word “shibboleth” was the original shibboleth.  According to the Hebrew Bible after the people of Gilead had conquered Ephraim, the Gileadites began to exterminate the Ephramite survivors.  In order to determine who was an Ephramite, the soldiers of Gilead would demand that refugees pronounce the word “ shibbólet ” (part of a plant).  An Ephramite would be unable to pronounce the word the same way a Gileadite would because the Ephramite dialect lacked the necessary phoneme.   (Imagine asking a Francophone to pronounce an English word with a “th” in it, or an Anglophone to pronounce a French word with a “gn” in it, and you’ll get the idea.) In contemporary usage a “shibboleth” is a word or style or behaviour or custom which identifies you as being part of an in-group--or not.  Postmodern shibboleths are numerous.  If you encounter people who consistently say “discourse” when they mean “theme,”   “the signified” when they mean “the meaning,”  or “deconstruct” when they mean “ana

Binary Thinking Versus the Other Kind

I still remember from my first-year-undergraduate “Philosophy of Mind” course that the human brain is incapable of thinking, imagining or understanding one thing in isolation without bringing in another, a background, a difference, an opposite.   You  can test yourself by trying to think of just one thing.  The notion of a dialectic is based on the binary functioning of the mind; every concept contains its opposite:  the notion “long” requires “short,” “big” invokes “small.”  In an even more rudimentary fashion, in order to know a “thing,” you must be able to say what is “not that thing.” If you have ever found yourself in a debate with a postmodernist, chances are the postmodernist turned on you at some point to announce dismissively, “oh, that’s binary thinking!”  The postmodernist’s gambit is based on the assumption of binary thinking.  The bluff works because you find yourself thinking “Gee, there was must be a superior, more advanced form of thinking that isn’t binary.”  Is t