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March 18th 2014 17:57
Some sketchy thoughts…

What is offence? An answer might start with the idea that if I take offence, I'm angry and perhaps want to hurt you. This wouldn't mean that “taking offence” is identical with “getting angry”, but clearly the two are related.

To define and distinguish further, one might consider instances of offence without anger, and instances of anger without offence.

For my own part, I suspect offence often has either a values/beliefs dimension or a social/power dimension, whereas anger can be "just anger". I think a cat or a dog or even a swarm of bees can be said to get angry, but can't really take offence.


Can you be “offended and humiliated” without being angry? Not sure…


In terms of what triggers offence, it seems that people can be offended at mere suggestions. For instance, if you suggest to me that I enjoy sex with men, that might inspire me to violence. But it's not just anger -- there is a values/beliefs dimension, and there is a social/power dimension (if in some social contexts I fail to retaliate to an imputation of homosexuality, my status is diminished).

Social standing and pride – how does “offended” relate to “insulted”? Well, I suspect that insult is a type of offence. I can be offended at Australia’s treatment of cows / refugees / East Timor, etc – but this doesn’t mean I’m insulted. There is no personal attack.

Unless I take it personally. Unless I view Australia as part of me, or her actions as redounding to me.


All the varied situations that people take offence. For instance:

-- offended at imputations -- can be true or untrue -- that I'm gay, that my mother is a goat, that my country is weak, that my religion is false
-- offended at behaviour (rude manners, insensitivity, racism, bad driving) -- eg road rage -- apparently connected with a desire to "teach them a lesson", an urge to educate, to bring them into line, and everyone else watching into line, with my view of how people ought to behave, and to establish for my own piece of mind that I was behaving correctly
-- offended when someone shoves me (personal insult, attack)
-- offended offended when people use certain words, like "nigger" -- either through conditioned reaction to the word, or linked to urge to educate.

In response to the variety of situations, you could either:

-- (1) try to find what they all have in common, which is what I've been limping towards in the first part of this post; or

-- (2) give up, and say that there's nothing that all the various usages have in common -- or that a better analysis would discard the word in favour of finer distinctions.

People of course play the same games with many philosophical terms -- like suggesting that the "pleasure" of a concert is quite different from the "pleasure" of a marriage, so that you can't compare them directly or quantify the comparison. Or suggesting that words for mental states are "folk psychology" that should be replaced with scientific categorisation.


The two elves

March 18th 2014 17:23
The youngest spoke first.

“Saint Nicholas,” he said, keen to please, “let me tell you of the things I’ve seen. I return to you from a far-off land. You have not been there for many years. You would find it much changed. The whole country is a forest of buildings, and for so long have the buildings blocked out the sky that many no longer believe in it. They instead regard talk of sun and stars as charming fictions, and few care to see for themselves.

“I perched high up in the city, and for 100 years watched it without blinking. In the first decade, I saw a boy steal a book of astronomy from his father’s library. He gave it to girl to impress her at Christmas. In the second decade I saw the boy marry the girl. And in the third decade I saw the boy weeping over her, that she’d passed away and had never with her own eyes seen the sky.

“The book lay long forgotten in a drawer. So, years later, when the boy himself had faded from memory, I took it and brought it here.”

The eldest spoke next.

“Ah, Saint Nicholas, my legs are too frail to carry me, but my eyes grow clearer. I need only to sit here and gaze in the fire to see the forms of past and present dancing -- born and reborn and reborn again.

“The truth is that that boy has known that girl many times before, and will know her many times to come, pursuing endlessly. In some lives he marries her. In others she rejects him. But in no lifetime is his happiness with her more than fleeting.

“And all because, one winter long ago, a Christmas before there were Christmases, she smiled at him across the snow, and he never forgot it.”


Loch Ness and skiing

March 17th 2014 00:09
I was watching a Fox Sports program on extreme skiing recently.

At a particular point, a character noted that an unski’d slope is a very rare thing these days.


What I hope for when I look at a painting or a sunset is to feel something transcendent, something beyond words.

Just an inkling, a trace...


“In 2003, the BBC sponsored a full search of the Loch using 600 separate sonar beams and satellite tracking. The search had enough resolution to pick up a small buoy. No animal of any substantial size was found whatsoever and despite high hopes, the scientists involved in the expedition admitted that this essentially proved the Loch Ness monster was only a myth.” – Wikipedia

So, no, I don’t believe really believe there’s a mysterious large fish population in Loch Ness in Scotland. If someone asked me to put money on the existence of such creatures, I wouldn’t take that bet.

However, "I want to believe". I want to believe that maybe there used to be Loch Ness monsters, even if they exist no longer -- or that, once upon a time, a solitary dinosaur, the last of its species, thawed out of ice and went for a swim.

I also want to believe in the Bermuda Triangle and Bigfoot, though I don’t really believe in them either.


It’s somehow better to live in a world where there are mysteries still to uncover. It’s somehow better to live in a world where there are mountains left to ski.

The unknown opens up the possibility that science, or our current knowledge of the world, isn’t the be-all and end-all; and, when you peer through that particular crack, you see gods and demons and fairies and vampires, and all manner of fascinating freaks.


The lure of these things, the want to believe. Like faint music at the back of your mind -- always there, threatening to waken once more.

One little push, and all of our science and supposed knowledge goes out the window. We surrender to madness and trembling around a campfire.


At the end of the movie Adaptation, Spike Jonze shows a rock floating in space – Earth in the future. All of humanity’s frenzy -- it burnt, and was gone.

As Stanley Kubrick comments in Barry Lyndon, “History’s indifferent curtain drops on us all”.

Mystery, mythology, God – at least these offer some respite from void, some comfort that maybe, just maybe, it all meant something…


Dan O'Day and the Art of the Accidental

September 2nd 2013 20:19
A quick thought...

There are many image conventions -- the rule of thirds; having foreground, middle-ground, background in a picture; directing perspective lines towards subjects of interest; having the brighter in the background and the darker in the foreground; framing subjects with other objects, and so forth

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I'm often a little ticked when people hold up "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" as the answer to all our moral problems. I'm ticked because it just seems to me glib and simplistic.

For one problem, consider something like the US and UK government spying on their citizens, where the government justification involves an appeal to utilitarianism and the greatest good. Well, how does the golden rule resolve the conflict of values -- security on the one hand vs privacy and freedom from domination on the other

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Three quick thoughts.

Firstly, is outsourcing labour obviously a bad thing for Australian happiness

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God in a photograph

May 8th 2013 00:04
I'm not a religious person, but I used to approach art with veneration. So, the equivalent of a church for me was a movie theatre or an art gallery.

But I don't know now that there's anything spiritual, ultimately, about art. I reason: the spiritual is timeless and universal, but art is about the "human, all-too-human" -- about pressing buttons to elicit emotions, about culturally specific patterns. And rather than being grand and mysterious, art's effects often seem explicable in terms of psychology, biology, evolutionary theory, etc

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Quick note on madness

March 19th 2013 20:00
Best way into this whole can of worms is to look at some debatable "mental illnesses". Homosexuality, pedophilia. Are these, or are these not, mental illnesses?

And once you ask that question, you're led on to further questions, one of which is trifling, but troubling. Are "mental illnesses" misnamed in the first place? A bodily illness is usually (but not always) something like a virus getting into your body and replicating. You can classify the illness by its cause, it has defined phases, and you can relate it to biology -- you can see it under a microscope. Many (but not all) mental illnesses, in contrast -- you don't classify by cause, but by symptoms; there aren't defined phases; and you can't relate purely to biology, but have to also talk about behaviour, society, environment and even things like feelings and thoughts

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Genetic guilt

January 23rd 2013 09:19
Last year of high school, and qualification for any university course depended on what mark you got from a set of final exams; the previous 12 years didn't matter.

An acquaintance said, with just a hint of bitterness, "You guys --" meaning you guys who score well -- "are lucky. You can easily get the marks you need

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A dozen notes and quotes #16

January 18th 2013 19:07
Poor ants stuck in an old cobweb. The spider had long since died, so their death did nobody any good.


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