Saturday, June 17, 2017

Hate Mail

If you think that "futile classicism",  archaic, cumbrous, and ineffective", "the canons of reputability under the law of conspicuous waste," etc.  were meant as supporting the virtue of "conventional spelling of the English language." that only proves one thing, that you never read the rest of the book it comes at the end of.  Here's a link, I should have given one yesterday.

The passage understood in terms of Veblen's theory of conspicuous consumption and the reputability of the useless as a means of proving those with such a refined sense have the wealth to waste their time on it, rather renders those "who are possessed of  a developed sense of the true and beautiful" ridiculous not virtuous.  Insisting that his observation that "its acquisition consumes much time and effort" is an endorsement of its place in a "blameless scholastic life" only proves you're not a very astute reader.  Diligence in acquiring a useless skill and the rewarding of that kind of senseless waste of time is central to his theory.

I think the reason there was an absurd fashion of the "H. L. Mencken said" variety instead of a "Thorstein Veblen said" one c. the 1980s, the "Reagan era" is that he was a more subtle, more dryly sarcastic and more of an intellectual mocker than Mencken and he wasn't as easily read on a mid-brow level. It, like Reagan being elected, was a sign of intellectual decay.

That's the kind of thing that comes with the stupid idea that using a 4th grade vocabulary and sentence structure instead of a more adult one is a virtue.   The other day I read an article by a scribbler who was dismayed to find out that when he put his prose through some computer analytical whats-it, that he wrote on an 8th grade level instead of the 4th grade level of his hero, Ernest Hemingway.   What does it tell you about the intellectual culture that thinks its a mark of shame to write for the 8th grade mind instead of the 4th grade mind?  Imagine if he'd written for high school seniors - the ones who learned to read to grade level, if such there still are in any numbers - he might have opened a vein instead of written a confession.  I wonder if he dumbed his confession down to his target audience.

By the way, there's nothing wrong with writing books for 4th graders, but writing that way for adults is insulting and the writing, generally, boring with ideas that are to be expected, unchallenging, bereft of content.  I've never been able to take Hemingway.  His writing has only moved me to close his books and look for something interesting, instead.

I think a language culture that doesn't reform the ridiculous anachronisms out of its spelling system is a sign of a culture that elevates the frivolous over the serious.  Veblen diagnosed the one that maintains the conventional spelling of the English language and its origins, spot on.  It's one which puts such decisions in a class advantaged establishment like the Brits have as part of their class system.   An American democracy, which cannot exist except on the basis of equality and equal access to ideas and expression, doesn't have the luxury of maintaining an underclass who are considered lesser because they are kept in a condition where they don't have the time to master a ridiculous spelling system or the wealth to hire a secretary so they can pretend they have.

There are languages where, I've read, they don't have spelling bees.  They don't have them because they reformed their standard spelling to be easy to master and it's not a remarkable thing when someone can spell a word they know how to pronounce with reasonable expectations of accuracy, That's not the case with Engish.

I expect that's breaking down because, with the internet, with messaging, with texting, young people are going to lose their inhibitions about writing, writing for communication, not as a means of displaying a minor skill or time spent learning a banal convention. I would guess that the average, not that bright 8th grader writes more in texts and messages than the even brighter 8th grader wrote fifty years ago.  I would guess that by the time the average texting teenager reaches 20 they've already written more words, expressed themselves, had a chance to learn to express themselves better than those in my generation who were champion spellers with what was taken as beautiful and dutifully learned palmer cursive.   What effect that will have on the future of writing, I don't know.  I think that it would help if they had writers who wrote up instead of down at them.  TV and the movies aren't any help at all.  Not in America.

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