Yes, yes, I took yesterday off from this dive. I’d been posting too much anyway, and I wanted some time to play with my dogs and cats, among other things. Speaking of dogs and cats and other things, let today be a break from news of the world and its many ills. First up, we have the incomparable antics of…Chowder the Skateboarding Bulldog!
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dog get so much happiness out of anything. Edible things included. Clearly, some obsessions can be harmless. Possibly even beneficial.
Chowder is considerably smaller than any of my three dogs, so I’m not about to go out and buy conventional skateboards for them. Maybe I could build three really large ones…naah. Silly idea. I live on too busy a street for that. Soon the C.S.O. would demand that I pave our backyard.
Hmm. Considering the state of my lawn, that might not be such a bad idea.
In response to this recent piece, a couple of my fiction readers have written to remind me that I have a disturbing penchant for writing heroes who are somewhat larger than life. Well, yes. I do tend toward protagonists who are a bit beyond the human norm, but give ‘em a break! With one exception, they’re not “super;” they’re just really, really capable and / or virtuous people. Individuals at the extreme edges of known human capability. Paragons. Anyway, I make sure to torment them appropriately.
The fad for superhero fiction is a response to a demand for heroes of any caliber. However, today’s writers and screenwriters have a problem with “normal” heroism. You see, they don’t believe in it. Having been “raised on antiheroes,” they can’t wrap their minds around the sort of “normal” heroism that runs into burning buildings or toward the sound of the guns. So they resort to creatures that cannot exist in reality: people equipped with powers and characteristics that render them specially capable of coping with extreme situations without great cost to them personally.
I can’t say this too often: If we want our children to believe in heroism and the virtues it exemplifies, their entertainments must show them heroes. But superheroes cannot and will not do the job. The reader / viewer looks at the superhero and says to himself, “That’s all very well for him, but regular people aren’t qualified for it.” Even minor children will react thus.
Frodo Baggins was a hero, not a superhero. Elwin Ransom was a hero, not a superhero. My favorite among Robert A. Heinlein’s protagonists, Lorenzo Smythe, was not a superhero but a hero…even if he had to be chivvied into it.
While we’re speaking of fictions, among the arts in which “reporters” and “journalists” must become proficient is the art of “putting the desired spin on things.” A story that tells a tale displeasing to the editorial staff can sometimes win their approval if “reported” in just the right way. This sometimes takes a careful choice of terms in the story itself. On other occasions, it requires the omission of certain unpleasant facts, in the hope that readers won’t notice their exclusion. And then, there are times when what really matters in the headline.
We have a case of the third sort before us today:
OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Execution dates have been set for seven death row inmates, after Oklahoma put capital punishment on pause for six years.
The Department of Corrections said it will be using the same three-drug cocktail used before the executions were put on hold. So far, no word how the protocol will be different this time.
Now, many editors are opposed to capital punishment, and would frown mightily on such a submission. But look at how Kenny “Wirecutter” Lane headlined it to appeal to the tastes of the editor whose heart bleeds for murderous thugs:
on Death Row
Let’s conclude with a moment of seriousness. After reading about this lunacy, which a number of other Web blatherers have mentioned, I pondered a challenge: to define the American culture. The critical word there is define. To define is to place boundaries on a named category of things. To define a category is not only to say what’s in it, but also to say what is not: i.e., what the definition would disqualify.
Some definitions merely say “This and that, and the other thing are in category X, but nothing else is.” That’s definition by enumeration or tabulation. For example, the category “powers of Congress” is defined by Article I Section 8 of the Constitution of the United States. The category “He-Man Woman-Haters Club” is defined by the current list of its members, though that list can change if the By-Laws permit others to join…or current members to leave or be expelled. The category “New York Rangers” as of today is defined by the roster of players the NHL has agreed may play for the Rangers in their next game…but that roster can change very swiftly indeed, under the NHL’s trading rules.
The more formal sort of definition is founded on Aristotle’s conceptions of genus and differentia. The genus of category X is an enveloping category – call it Y – to which the members of X must already belong. The differentia of X is that characteristic or combination of characteristics which distinguish members of X from those members of Y that are not members of X. This kind of definition has hard edges. It rigidly separates members of X from non-members, as is required by the operations of formal logic. In brief, you cannot reason about “things” unless you know exactly what “things” you’re talking about.
After some thought I decided that the American culture cannot be defined in either way – but then, neither can any other culture! Cultures are without enduring boundaries. There is no way to reach agreement on what’s in them and what isn’t. Large numbers of people may agree on what constitutes “Korean culture” today, but not necessarily everyone, and not necessarily for very long. As for fatuities such as “black culture,” or “Amerind culture,” such notions deserve nothing but a dismissive snort – especially today, when no one is prepared to define “black,” “Amerind,” or any other anthropological category.
Really, the secret here is that very few – perhaps none – of the terms people use routinely are susceptible to rigorous definition. So perhaps we ought to be a trifle more humble about our assertions than most of us are, most of the time. But that would mean agreeing that we’re all fallible – i.e., that we’ve been wrong in the past, we’ll be wrong in the future, and we could well be wrong right BLEEP!ing now. In fact, we probably are.