Monday, September 28, 2009

US caste system and why dictionaries matter

Two comments I made elsewhere that I may expand on someday:

1. At metafilter: Ten Dollars an Hour, buzzman said, "I can not discourage enough a belief that if you are born poor you will remain poor. What kind of image is that for people to read and believe in? A veritible caste system via reasearch?

I answered, "We do have a caste system in the US. It begins with inferior schools and worse health care for the 40% who own none of the US's wealth. Its markers include bad teeth and dialects that are mocked on television."

2. At whatever: A General Observation, John Scalzi said, "The Internet does seem to be full of people whose knowledge of complex concepts appears limited to a dictionary definition. Some of them seem to be proud of that."

I answered, "When the Bush regime says something is “extreme interrogation” and not “torture,” I’m not happy. Yes, definitions evolve, but the motives of those who reject dictionary definitions should always be questioned."


  1. 'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'

    'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

    'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master -- that's all.'

    Alice was too much puzzled to say anything; so after a minute Humpty Dumpty begain again. 'They've a temper, some of them -- particularly verbs: they're the proudest -- adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs -- however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!'

  2. Does your answer to #1 imply a desire for education vouchers?

  3. serial, impenetrability indeed!

    Joel, I think we need a federal system instead of the current state kludge--Japan and western Europe have models we could adopt. Not the least advantage would be to get Texas out of the job of censoring textbooks.

  4. I totally disagree. First, it wouldn't get Texas out of meddling with textbooks; they'd still have the population and votes to sway things. Second, I don't like the idea of eliminating parental participation in their children's education, which a federal system would do.

  5. Joel, you think parents don't participate in other countries?

    If a federal committee chose the text books, Texan bigots could home school or go to private schools, as they chose, but they would lose their power to dictate what the US's students read.

  6. Joel, my first was a bit hasty. Local implementation is going to vary, whether you have a state or a federal system. Parents continue to matter.

  7. I'm not sure how much parents would continue to matter. Local school board members have to listen to me; my vote matters to them. But in a federal system, my vote is 1/700,000th of my Congressman's concern, and he is 1/435th of the House vote. This incredible dilution is why Congress had to pass a taxpayer's bill of rights to constrain the IRS, even though theoretically the IRS is subject to Congressional oversight, just as one example.