Monday, February 17, 2003

The Value of Words and Heroes

The debate I mentioned before has gotten even worse. It all started with a simple enough question: What is theme? It's a very good question. One that brought forth quite a few good answers. And the original thread even made me realize my own definition of theme. Then it morphed into, for lack of a better phrasing, the "proper" motivations behind writing. Holly said that writers don't save lives, that they just sit on their butts and basically tell lies for a living. Certainly one way of looking at it. The only way? Is there ever only one way? Lord, I hope not. At any rate, someone had the audacity to disagree and state his life had been saved many a time by books. Holly's response? A writer can't say to themselves that they're saving lives at peril of becoming a fathead and an appalling excuse for a human being. I'm just wondering, then, why she thinks a nurse or cop or paramedic can say it without those results.

Suffice to say, the flames were fanned at this point in the thread. One poster had the infernal notion of respectfully disagreeing - unbelievable, I know - with Holly and saying that he wrote books to change the world and make a difference. Noble. Misguided and/or wrong? Maybe, if he didn't make sure he said he wanted to and believed he could change the world but just said that he would change the world with his books. But Holly told him (among other things) not to mistake the value of what he does (as a writer) with the value of life-risking jobs. For one thing, I never remembered this poster saying his job as a writer was more valuable than the job of a paramedic. I do remember him saying that he believed he could change the world and perhaps save lives with his works. And maybe he will. Maybe two years from now, a decade from now, someone will read his book and it will inspire people to greatness, to stop a war, to make a breakthrough in medical science that cures Alzheimer's. You could also say, of course, that maybe he'll write the next _Communist Manifesto_ and be responsible for the deaths of thousands. But can't you also say that of paramedics and nurses and doctors and cops? That they may save from death the next Hitler?

My big beef is that Holly forced the title of hero onto this poor poster, misinterpreting (I hope not purposefully) everything the poster had said. And after forcing said title on him, she then proceeded to berate him for claiming it. My favorite, though, was when she said that she'd talked with "writers like [this poster]," who thought they were God's gift and such and how annoying/wrong/deluded is that. Blah, blah, blah. Here's where I get to spout on my love of irony. She's judged a class of people as arrogant for thinking they can save the world with their writing. Yet she doesn't see the arrogance in saying, "I'm right, and you're just fucking wrong." To disagree with an opinion is fine. To think someone is arrogant is fine. To outright tell someone that he is a pathetic excuse for a human being because he believes his writing can/has the potential to change the world and save lives is crossing the line. And breaking one of her own damn rules for the site. I like her own example, too. She says you can say, "That is stupid." But you can't say, "You are a stupid person." I thought this example should continue to read "...for believing this stupid idea." Either way, Holly has most certainly crossed a line. And she's refusing to apologize or censure herself.

What's more, she's wearing her posts and her opinions of the poor poster mentioned above as a badge of honor, of defending our language against abuse and tyranny. We are evil Politically Correct Nazis who want to defoul our language by allowing a word to *gasp* apply to more than one situation. What's the point of personal interpretation if "victim" can only mean one thing? What's the point of reading for context if "survivor" can mean only one thing? What's the point of writing if "hero" can only describe those who sacrifice their lives for others directly and regularly? Let's take the word "love," shall we? Love means a multitude of things. And each definition of love varies from person to person. When someone says, "No, 'love' can only describe the emotion you feel in X,Y, and Z circumstances" - that minute is when I know that our language has truly been oppressed, that it has truly been overrun with tyrants.

How 'bout another example? Take the word "opinion." Opinion means, according to Webster's New World Dictionary: "1. a belief not based on certainty or knowledge but on what seems true or probable; judgment. 2. an evaluation, estimation, etc. 3. the formal judgment of an expert." Based on what seems to be true. If I read this correctly, an opinion can never be 100% accurate or 100% wrong. So how my view of the word hero and such can be just "fucking wrong" is beyond me. By the way, I firmly believe that we are only experts in our own lives and experiences. So I feel you can only pass judgment on yourself, never anyone else, and certainly never on their opinions.

Also, I was under the impression that language was a fluid thing. That it adapted, evolved, adjusted with society. Many words that we use today likely once had far stronger means that we have now "made weak" by associating them with things that they were never meant to touch. Shall we research this, mourn every diluted word, and refuse to use these words in no other way but their original intent? Ridiculous. Instead, our language, is even stronger for this "dilution." We can make the description of someone who risks their lives for the lives of others better than just "hero" now. Today's language allows us to provide a better label in "true hero."

I feel like asking what other issues Holly has the absolute right of. I need to know this so that way I don't have the insolence to disagree with her on these matters and get attacked for having a dissenting opinion. Plus, she being the mother hen of the site, I'd like to know what topics or usages of words I should steer clear of lest she decide she thinks I've broken a rule and will boot me. Now, I honestly don't know her well enough to know if she would stoop to such childishness. But she did tell the poster from before a resounding "No, thanks," when the poster asked if Holly would but get to know him before deciding he was apalling, pathetic, and the author of drivel.

Value is a terrible word. It is loaded. It is subjective, yet it is often forced into objectivity in so many ways to make society "work." To place a value on one job over another seems to carry with it a value judgement on the holder of the job. I think putting values on people and positions is just wrong. To say that the value of a nurse is greater than the value of a writer is arrogant and self-serving (especially when we realize that the person who said this was at one point a nurse). I was once a scientist studying bacteria that could degrade some of the toxic filth man produced to protect his meager creations. That sort of research could eventually lead to breakthroughs in pollution control and reversal. Did I consider that a noble pursuit? Hell, yeah! Do I think any less of research now that I've left it? No. Do I think that a nurse has more value than a scientist in any field? No. They have different values. The benefits of a nurse are more direct and immediate. The benefits of a scientist will never be direct and immediate. But the actions of people in both positions could ultimately save the same or even skewed numbers of lives. So is the value of a job based on the immediacy of human gratification? Bull shit, if you ask me. I also taught high school for a quarter. Teaching was described (by other teachers, I'll grant you) as the most noblest of professions. I saw teachers put the lives of their students above their own - not necassarily in a direct physical way, but above nonetheless. Teachers directly shape the future of our society. Should we value them more or less than nurses? Good God, no. Should we say teaching is less noble just because the results of this profession take forever to realize, if they are realized at all? NO!!!!!!! Their value is different, but just as important. Now I work as a secretary so I can write. My first inclination was to think that assisting in an office and even writing were less noble pursuits than teaching and science and as such worth less. I realized I was wrong. The value of a profession is always what the professional brings to it. And since not a single person on this earth is truly capable of knowing all that a professional brings to their profession, then how can we possibly judge the value of the professional or the profession?

*breathes deep* I think I'm done for now.

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