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Kerim’s Triptych for Sunday, October 29th, 2023

Kerim’s Triptych for Sunday, October 29th, 2023

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Item 1: Shooting the messenger

Zoé Ziani’s dissertation was never approved because she dared to challenge the research of a major scholar in the field:

After the defense, two members of the committee made it clear they would not sign off on my dissertation until I removed all traces of my criticism of CGK 2014. Neither commented on the content of my criticism. Instead, one committee member implied that a criticism is fundamentally incompatible with the professional norms of academic research. She wrote that “academic research is a like a conversation at a cocktail party”, and that my criticism was akin to me “storming in and shouting ‘you suck’ when you should be saying ‘I hear where you’re coming from but have you considered X’”. The other committee member called my criticism “inflammatory,” and lambasted me for adopting what he called a “self-righteous posture” that was “not appropriate.”

The story was the subject of a long New Yorker piece, but Ziani’s own account of what happened is much more succinct and focuses on how she came to doubt the study’s findings.

Item 2: Hoffman vs. Healthcare

In this excerpt from Thom Hartmann’s book, The Hidden History of American Healthcare: Why Sickness Bankrupts You and Makes Others Insanely Rich, he discusses the links between “scientific racism” and the fight against universal healthcare in the United States. Writing hateful stuff like the following:

“Instead of clamoring for aid and assistance from the white race, the negro himself should sternly refuse every offer of direct interference in his own evolution. The more difficult his upward struggle, the more enduring will be the qualities developed.”

With the backing of Prudential, he went on a nation wide tour from 1916-1920 to try to campaign against the idea of a single payer healthcare system, such as was being advocated by Bismarck.

Item 3: Reconsidering Whorf

Linguists like to point out that Whorf got a lot of things wrong about the Hopi language when he first proposed, along with his colleague Sapir, that the structure of language can impact how people in different cultures think and act. However, there has been a lot of recent research, like this new study on Murrinhpatha, that have shown he was on to something.

But the real reason I’m sharing this article isn’t so much because of the research as because the following quote nicely captures my own thinking on the topic:

Culture shapes language because what matters to a culture often becomes embedded in its language, sometimes as words and sometimes codified in its grammar. Yet it is also true that in varying ways a language may shape the attention and thoughts of its speakers. Language and culture form a feedback loop, or rather they form many, many feedback loops.

. . . There are much larger interconnected loops, too, that bind speakers throughout history. The things distant generations discussed may shape the structure of a speaker's language today, and that in turn may influence at the micro level how that speaker assesses the world and produces words to describe it.


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