Archive for May, 2009

Me, Myself, and I

May 22, 2009

     We all have our linguistic pet peeves. Well, those of us do who have more than a casual affaire with language.

     Here’s mine: the virtual extinction of the word “me,” and its (teeth-jarringly incorrect) replacement by “myself.” People now use “myself” almost exclusively, instead of “me”, to refer to themselves. Example: “The waiter brought food to John and myself.”

     Here’s a simple rule of thumb: if a sentence would sound OK using “me,” then “me” is correct and “myself” is wrong. It’s just that simple. “The waiter brought food to John and me.”

     I suspect that this ubiquitous and seemingly bizarre substitution of “myself” for “me” has a sociological cause. We’ve grown up with the phrase “me generation” ringing in our ears, and are intimidated by it to the point of imagining that any reference to “me” is narcissistically outré. Using “myself” is not so blatantly me-ish. Thus do some people seem incapable of uttering the word “me.”

     Then there’s that age-old grammatical tripper-upper, “I.” I think we’ve been confuzzled by grade school grammar teachers telling us that “John and me went home” is wrong, and it should be “John and I went home.” That’s true; but it does not mean “I” is always correct in place of “me.” People, trying, they believe, to be grammatically correct, say things like “the teacher smacked John and I.” Ouch. “She smacked John and myself” is also wrong. She smacked John and me.

     If a modern Patrick Henry were speaking, he’d probably say, “I know not what course others may take, but as for myself, give myself liberty or give myself death.”


May 13, 2009

     Rene Descartes had the best opening line in the history of philosophy: cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am). That was his starting point for constructing a philosophy – the one thing he could be sure about was that he was cogitating.

    I have a different starting point. Mine is to ask: what matters? Why does it matter? What does mattering mean? After all, if something doesn’t matter, then why think about it at all?

    The three questions turn out to be really one question, with one answer. What matters, ultimately, is what sentient beings feel. It matters because there just isn’t anything else that could matter. If there were no sentient beings to experience joy or suffering, then whether or not the universe even exists wouldn’t matter. Because for something to matter, there has to be someone to whom it matters. Otherwise the concept of “mattering” makes no sense. “Mattering” means mattering to someone.

    By “sentient beings,” I mean beings with consciousness – self-awareness, with the capability to experience feelings, such as suffering or joy, to know they are being experienced, and to respond to the feelings. The prime example is a human being. It would include some other higher animals (say, elephants) as well, that experience such feelings. It would not include clams, insects, or trees. And certainly not rocks or rivers or planets (sorry, “Gaia” people, the Earth is not sentient).

    Some people have big cosmic beliefs. Okay; believe what you like. But nothing there can matter to human beings unless, in some way, it has an effect upon feelings that take place in human minds. If it doesn’t, then even if the belief is true, it’s an irrelevance.

    The foregoing gives us the foundation point for a philosophy that matters: everything is judged by its effects upon human feelings, whether positive or negative, conducive to suffering or joy. What we do affects human feelings, our own and those of others. This is the way in which our lives matter, and have meaning.

    There is nothing else.


May 4, 2009

     This is an optimistic blog, but even optimists must recognize problems in the world. The pessimist will just accept them. Only by crying “Shame!” can we hope to make the world better. Here are a few (among many) recent ones:

• During Russia’s Chechnya War (one long atrocity), Col. Yuri Budanov saw a teenaged Chechen girl he fancied and had her brought to him. Next day her raped body was found. Remarkably, this was one crime too far, and Budanov was actually prosecuted and imprisoned. But then he was let out early, in January. Stanislav Markelov, 34, a Russian civil rights lawyer, held a press conference to protest. Exiting, Markelov was gunned down in the street. Anastasia Baburova, a human rights activist accompanying Markelov, ran after the killer. She too was shot dead.


This is not an isolated incident in Putinist Russia.


• Rohingya tribespeople in Myanmar, brutalized by that vile regime, have been escaping to Thailand. Thailand doesn’t welcome them. Recently, Thai troops put one large group of them out to sea in a boat with no engine.


• Thailand’s supposedly beloved King Bhumibol supposedly protects democracy. In fact he connives behind the scenes with coupsters and other anti-democratic forces. One calls itself the “People’s Alliance for Democracy,” which shut down the airport last fall. Two elected governments have been brought down lately by these elements. Those governments were backed by Thaksin Shinawatra, whose own government was similarly ousted in a 2006 coup. Thaksin is no angel, but, unusually, he made promises to Thailand’s poorer people which he actually kept, which is why his lot have widespread popular support and win elections. The PAD can’t accept that; it should be called the “People’s Alliance Against Democracy.” Its bloody-minded anti-democratic tactics, suborned by the King, are making Thailand ungovernable. Meantime, Thailand rigorously enforces laws banning any insult to the King, using them as a pretext for locking up scads of people.

Optimist’s note: the King is 82. And nobody even pretends the heir-apparent is loved.


• A national Martin Luther King memorial is being built on Washington’s Mall. Jonathan Turley in the LA Times (here’s a LINK) writes that the King family has extracted an $800,000 payment from the Memorial Foundation for the use of King’s image. The family also demands payments for any re-broadcast of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Turley writes, “King gave that speech to a nation.” And that when King himself received the Nobel Peace Prize, he gave the money to charity, because he was adamantly opposed to any appearance of profiting from his work.