Sunday, October 30, 2011

Peace and Rehabilitation

In a couple of weeks I'll be doing a lot of panels for a local writer's conference. The usual stuff-- violence and bad guys. But they also put me on a panel on 'Peace'. I've been on that one before, with some of the same people. It puzzles me.

Peace is an interesting ideal, depending on how you define it. Like a lot of ideals, it's squishy enough that you can have other ideals directly opposed to your stated ends and throw enough words into the justification to miss the point.

The thing that gets me about peace activists is that peace is not a thing. It is the absence of another thing. Depending on how you define it, the absence of war or violence or conflict. Depending on how you define those, 'peace' ranges from a difficult improbability to an absurd impossibility. In any case where you are looking at an absence, you must look at the thing you want to remove.

You can't effectively work for peace without taking a good hard look at war or violence or conflict (or all three, depending on your definition). And not a knee-jerk, disapproving look, either. A good hard look at why, if something is so bad, it is so prevalent. Why, if something must be fixed, it is so endemic in the natural world.

It is exactly like any other group attempting to censor or ban any other thing. Prohibition was an ideal, largely put forward by self-righteous teetotalers. People talk about violence, it seems to me, the way that they talked about sex in the fifties. They don't. Most talk around it. If you have anything to say from experience, you are marginalized.

It kills dialogue. More to the point, it kills progress. Medicine advances as we learn more about disease. We solve problems by studying problems, not by meditating on an imaginary, problem-free end state. I guess, in a way, that is the defining difference between a peace-maker and a peace activist.

Couple of caveats. We all do this. If you consider yourself on any side of a line: conservative/liberal; atheist/christian/pagan; Cougars/Huskies; RBSD/traditional... and you cannot explain, with compassion and understanding ,why the other side may very well be right; if you've always been sure; if you've never felt that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach that you could be entirely wrong... then you are doing this. You are holding a belief (and rationalizing and reinforcing it) not because you are right, but because of a tribal identity. You are doing the same thing that you denigrate people on the other side for doing.

Also, this is not about peace or peace activists. I actually want to talk about criminals and rehabilitation. Not really about crime, but that may come up. That was all just a long preamble.

So let's get crime out of the way first. Not enough people look at it right. Crime fighting is an ideal, just like peace. And we won't make progress until we take a good hard look at why crime is prevalent. Which means acknowledging that it works. It satisfies needs. It's not just that there is little opportunity for honest employment in certain areas. There are damn few jobs, much less entry-level jobs, where you can make thousands of dollars a week, get automatic deference and an instant family.

Crime fighting is an attempt, instead of lowering the rewards of the criminal lifestyle, to raise the risks. Catch 'em, book 'em, hard time. You have to take a look, a hard look at whether that is a risk or even a punishment in this subculture... or just the way rugby players think about the occasional injury. I don't think surveys will help... but I recall the young man about to be transported to prison for the first time at the tender age of eighteen. He was excited. In his family, doing time in prison was the rite of passage to manhood. Jail didn't count.

And this is where we get to criminals. We look at them from our point of view and our world. Most of the things that make a career criminal would be and are profoundly dysfunctional in polite society. So we look at our world and us and the criminal and try to 'fix' what is 'broken'.

There is nothing broken. For the most part (possible mental illness and stuff aside) the serious criminal is not incomplete. There is no pathology. He is perfectly adapted for his world. The things that we think of as normal and good, the things we try to instill when we rehabilitate, might be profoundly dangerous behaviors when he goes back to his old haunts and sees his old friends.

We pretend we are fixing a person, but in reality we are trying to reshape him into a person that makes us more comfortable. Altering a human for our purposes, not his. In the process making him more likely to die in his natural environment and he damn well knows it.

The few people I know who have truly rehabilitated themselves, started by deciding they wanted to live in the non-criminal world. That's rare. If you become an adult in almost any environment, that becomes your comfort zone. That world makes sense. You know the rules. The eighteen-year-old mentioned above knew the rules for prison far better than he would ever know the rules for college.

Despite the fact the stakes are higher in the criminal culture than in college, he felt safer (we all do) in the place where he knew the rules. Where he could blend in and knew how to behave.

Same as if someone insisted on teaching you the proper way to dine and converse based on diplomatic functions. It's not going to help you and will hurt you at your bowling league's nacho feed.

There is another factor in rehabilitating successful criminals that is hard to get over. They know they were raised in a dangerous environment. They believe, with justification, that many of the people trying to fix them would have died in that environment.

Tell me truly, have you ever changed anyone who already thought that he was smarter and better than you?

Raised in an environment where reading and manipulating people are far more valuable skills than getting along, the average criminal is better at reading and manipulating the people trying to 'help' or 'fix' than all but the best therapists. When you have consistently conned PhDs and psychiatrists, the best that civilized training can produce, it's natural to feel superior.

And this ties back to violence and peace-- it is hard to convince someone who sees violence as a tool that the peaceful way is better when he knows that he can have you, the product of a peaceful (and in his eyes weak) world on your knees begging to give him what he wants. He can't help but see that as the weak trying to make everyone else weak to feel safer. Rabbits trying to talk coyotes into giving up their teeth.

There are definite drawbacks to the criminal life. Many die young. Those that don't have no one to care for them as they age, except the prison system. There are profound drawbacks to the lifestyle. The criminal just doesn't look at the drawbacks-- in the exact same way that none of us look at ours.

36 comments:

kungfupreacherman said...

A very insightful article. I am a priest that longs for peace - the absence of violence and not just physical violence.

But I also see a world full of violence - with violence stamped right through the core. So if this world is to get to be more peaceful, that fact needs acknowleding and dealing with.

I've just finished your book, "Meditations on Violence". I need to let the words perculate down for a while. But, again you are trying to say an unpleasant truth that people, including me do not want to hear. In this case it is the fact that my Wing Chun alone, will not protect me from a violent attacker.

I hope you book event goes well.

Travis said...

I'd say that the rigor with which you define problems probably has a lot to do with why they put you on the 'peace' panel (or at least why they invite you back).

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

A very insghtful post.

Maija said...

I have a student who has been in and out of rehab since the age of 13. Lives on permanent disability either at home or, when he falls off the wagon which is pretty regularly, on the street amongst a fair bit of violence.
I'm sad for him that he's not cut out to 'fit in', as life is certainly a struggle every day, but that kid is an amazing survivor, and if the s*#t ever hit the fan, or there was a colossal natural disaster, I bet he'd do just fine and deal with it better than most, so how can one say his skill set is without merit?

On the one hand I feel sad for him, on another I respect and admire his tenacity to survive ... on another I don't trust him as far as I can throw him, and on another I really like him and wish him well.

Perhaps wishing for 'peace' is another way of wishing for trust. In the same way that all of us can drive on the highways if we all follow the rules ... we wish for a covenant between us and our neighbors to treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves, so we can all live together.

I'm sure criminals expect to be treated how they treat others, so on some level they also have a set of rules to live by that makes life predictable .. but continual violence can also be exhausting (the yearning for peace becomes much more intense post war for instance), so perhaps as there will always be a certain percentage of violence in a peacable society (because it works), so peace will also be the eventual outcome of a very violent one (because it works) ... to then spawn more violence as peace grows ... etc etc etc?

Jim said...

Quick thought, based on this paragraph:
Raised in an environment where reading and manipulating people are far more valuable skills than getting along, the average criminal is better at reading and manipulating the people trying to 'help' or 'fix' than all but the best therapists. When you have consistently conned PhDs and psychiatrists, the best that civilized training can produce, it's natural to feel superior.

Does it matter the background the criminal comes from? For example, I work in a suburban jurisdiction; would a criminal from my jurisdiction be different from a criminal from, say Compton in LA? Or their chances to sincerely rehabilitate?

(And, in a weird coincidence... the verification word I've got here is "penall"... containing penal, with an extra l)

Beyond that -- lots to think about in this post.

Scott said...

Hmmm...from my experience working with teens who are on the edge of a criminal life I'd offer them three things:
1. Really Challenge them! (and make it fun)
2. Offer them skills which they will recognize as valuable. (If you presume they are living the best way they know how--then those skills are amoral, they can be used for good or evil)
3. Give them substantial responsibility and an opportunity to fail, and a second and third chance.
---
Those three things have an awesome 50% chance of working! Hardly any institution is willing to take the risk on even one of these, much less all three.

Lise Steenerson said...

"We pretend we are fixing a person, but in reality we are trying to reshape him into a person that makes us more comfortable. Altering a human for our purposes, not his. In the process making him more likely to die in his natural environment and he damn well knows it."
Very wise words my friend.

"Tell me truly, have you ever changed anyone who already thought that he was smarter and better than you?"
You can't change others. You can only change yourself

Anonymous said...

I think you've mistaken "peace" for something passive. Peace isn't just the absence of violence, any more than violence is just the absence of peace. They each have their own internal dynamics, which you've had more cause to explore re violence. (Kudos BTW - I'm impressed by your stuff).

Peace is a type of relationship with those (and the environment) around you, just as you've described that violence is. It's endemic just as violence is - but nothing like so prevalent, unfortunately.

Kai Jones said...

The Peace panel again, really? I mean, it was entertaining but...maybe the other panel members have spent the intervening time trying to rebut your arguments? That would at least be novel.

Peace can't be imposed except through force. People can choose it, but then it's unstable because they can also unchoose it anytime violence is the more effective strategy.

Maybe peace is a choice about how to pursue conflict. I can have a conflict with another person and resolve it through words, or through non-violent actions. It's not a goal, it's a tool. I would have picked a different name then--I would have picked "negotiation" as the opposite of violence instead of "peace." Peace is static and the real world is never static.

The rest of this post-of course I have thoughts about escaping and about being smarter than others. The first thing you have to have in order to escape is the ability to imagine a different way of life being possible. You have to have models for that other life, models whose lives are better than anything achievable in your current life. Being self-aware, being mindful...these things are hard to achieve when you are struggling for survival. Then the trick to gaining knowledge from someone less smart than you think you are is to choose to perceive them as a local expert. They put a lot of points into area knowledge (gamer in me)--that makes it worthwhile to pay attention to them.

Anonymous said...

Rory says: "Also, this is not about peace or peace activists. I actually want to talk about crimiRnals and rehabilitation." Solve the problem by getting off the "Peace Panel". You can substitute the word "Politics" for "Peace". Get off the Politics Panel.

Rory says: "Crime fighting is an ideal, just like peace." Really? Overdosing on comic books? I thought reducing crime was about the Law. The legalistic view is not as romantic a notion.

As for adaptation, that is a very insightful view into the criminal mind. However, a grizzly bear has the nature of a grizzly and adapts well to its environment, as does the shark, etc. Do we really want to think in terms of protected eco-systems for criminals? We are missing the main point of why we have prisons in the first place. We cage criminals to protect society, not to rehabilitate them. Think more in terms of crime prevention. Some of us support capital punishment not because we want to "punish", but because it puts the offender permanently out of circulation.

Charles James said...

One word, "WoW!"

Jim said...

An interestingly timed article from Yahoo: http://news.yahoo.com/reformed-skinhead-endures-agony-remove-tattoos-162205881.html

It tells how one of the biggest names in the white supremacist movement reformed, and what he went through to get his tattoos removed.

Now, I'll admit that I'm personally kind of skeptical about real change in this type of case. It's kind of like religious conversion... It's not too often you find somebody truly making a dramatic conversion that's 180 degrees from where they were. But it can happen... Maybe it's my professional background coming through -- but one part of me wonders just what motivated him. As Rory said -- criminals aren't generally "broken people." They're people adapted to a particular environment and society, just like most of us. But that's adaptation that goes on very early in life -- and it doesn't change easily. The general rule of thumb that I've come across in studies and in experience is that most people who will reform will do so after their first significant encounter with law enforcement. (Note that the definition of significant can vary person to person; a cop taking the kid home to parents may be enough in one case, while others need to actually be locked up for a night or two.) Of those that don't reform, a portion of them will when caught a second time. If they go to the third? They're going to stay crooks. It's part of how they respond to the world.

Rory said...

Preacherman (Nigel?) Thanks. I get working for ideals. Less positive with squishy ideals and when wishing is substituted for working...

Maija- absolutely respect your refusal to look at it as a one dimensional problem. It isn't.

Jim- Long talk over a beer. Does the definition of criminal behavior change between cultures? Is the cultural line always where the official line is? Do kids become criminals in one area because they have learned a particular definition of success and in another area are rebelling because they know it is safe?

Scott- And the hard part is having people from the pro-social culture who can recognize which skills are useful in both.

Anon1- Can you give me or point to this definition of peace that doesn't center around an absence of conflict?

Kai- Absolutely. I think that kids need to see people who are tougher, smarter AND more successful while being honorable. And they have to see that happiness. Some of these kids have no role model for that.

Anon2- Not sure what problem you are referring to, in your first para. It's not being on the panel.
Of course crime-fighting is an ideal. Do you believe for a second that any politician who pushes it has a vague idea of the nuts and bolts of what it would entail? And Law (Rule of Law), especially capitalized, is one of the original noble ideals... but it is an ideal.
Last, no one except you appears to be thinking in terms of protected ecosystems. To put it another way, 'When idealists try to rehabilitate it is a lot like teaching a grizzly to dance.The grizzly won't do it because it doesn't serve the grizzly."

Jim- I don't see people raised in the lifestyle who are much affected by jail time. Near-death, death of a running buddy and having a daughter appear to be the three most powerful motivators, IME.

The rest, Thanks.

Anonymous said...

A definition of peace which doesn't simply equate to an absence of conflict?

Hmmm.

I think that conceptions too binary. Peace, if it's real peace, builds something positive. It provides a context for growth. The simple absence of active violence isn't necessarily peace - it could as easily be an armed and uneasy truce.

Peace is no more static than any other kind of growth - a tree is only static when it's dead.

As martial artists, we often tell ourselves that we learn a violent art because we want the capacity to protect something, someone. Our life, someone else's. A set of ideas we find valuable. Or paradoxically, Peace. Those things we want to protect are intrinsically valuable ... they're not the absence of something else. A void, named only as the opposite of a thing with *actual* reality.

You've experienced peace, just as you've experienced violence. And you know that one - either one - isn't simply the absence of the other. Just as you know that love isn't the absence of hate.

Mac said...

Peace is consistency and comfort. If there is little change in a person's daily routines, then the consistency rule is followed. If the person feels (mostly) comfortable, then this rule is followed.

A homeless drunk, a serial killer, a mother of 6, a lumber jack, a (shudder) peace activist (a term that doesn't fit the rules), a cop - as long as they feel comfortable, they will not change; as long as their actions have consistent consequences, they will not change.

The necessary component for change is catastrophe, the third 'dark' component of peace.

Terry said...

Wow, deep post. I do see a glaring point missing from the conversation, the criminals view.
As a criminal,I kept doing criminal acts until it didn't get me what I wanted anymore. Police like to say rehab doesn't work (in general), and in general they are right. The reason? You cannot rehab someone in a place they need the skill set you are trying to get rid of to survive everyday. I am constantly amazed that this point is so easily overlooked by "smart" people trying to "solve" this problem. Plus, the kind of socialization and training a child growing into a criminal goes through is deep and early. It takes a major life event to short circuit it enough to make a change possible.
On a different note, peace and violence are not the same, but they are different sides of the same coin. Neither one will ever go away. One will be dominant until the other is needed, as it has been through history.
I want to keep writing, but I need to go get married today.
Just a different point of view.

karrde said...

I think that kids need to see people who are tougher, smarter AND more successful while being honorable. And they have to see that happiness. Some of these kids have no role model for that.

Rory: your comments remind me of something I read many years ago, on another blog. (Took a moment to find...the blogger is Grim, posting here. I think it's his most popular post, even though it is now more than 7 years old.)

The genesis for his train of thought was discussion of an old sensei opening a martial-arts studio. A reporter asked the sensei if martial arts was "all about fighting."

The sensei replied, "No, it is about social harmony."

That statement developed a train of thought about the difference between protective violence and predatory violence, and the respect that young people have for old people.

One problem for social harmony is the fact that the average young men has little fear for the physical prowess of older men.

An older man (sensei, Policeman, Drill Instructor...or caporegime, gang leader, hardened thug) who has the ability to overpower a young man also has the ability to train the young man. He can turn the young man into a copy of himself.

The big distinction I took away from that article was the distinction between predatory and protective. Both have the capability of violence.

But I also remembered the difference between a powerful young man and a dangerous old man.

Terry said...

Karrde,
That was one of my life changing events. Meeting a dangerous, old man who is honorable and taught me what I wasn't trying to learn.

Rob Lyman said...

I don't have any deep thoughts, but I've been turning this over in my mind since yesterday and it occurs to me that this is a major source of police/public friction.

The cop does what he does because he lives in a world where doing that is necessary to survive. He may refuse to shake hands, be overly gruff, order hands removed from pockets, disbelieve truthful excuses ("I just forgot to pay for it!"), and demand that someone hang up a cell phone, etc. etc. He does all sorts of things that are shockingly rude to "nice, normal" people, because he spends so much time dealing with non-nice, non-normal people, for whom politeness and trust are weakness.

So, off-topic, but I wonder if there isn't some way to improve police-community relations with that knowledge.

Josh said...

Re: defining peace as more than an absence, I think your post itself gives a very good implicit definition. A peaceful community is one where its members have (and believe they have) effective ways of pursuing their goals that don't involve violence (for instance, commerce, entrepreneurship, mutual aid and cooperatives, etc.)

So "peace in the middle east" for instance means creating a cultural and socioeconomic state of affairs where Palestinians believe they can feed their families and have happy lives without killing Israelis and Israelis believe they can go about their daily lives safely without being surrounded by an army. Not an easy goal, but I think it's a relatively concrete goal.

So to your point about activists, saying "war is bad" is probably less effective than getting out there and building the various flavors of social institutions that create peaceful societies.

(Fantastic post, btw... been reading your blog for a while as a listener, I think it's really great).

malcolm said...

Don't Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America

Just heard about this book on the radio. Seems apropos to this post and quite possibly a good read.

http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Shoot-Fellowship-Violence-Inner-City/dp/1608192644

Anonymous said...

Second Anonymous here again. Sure enough, the semantics and fuzzy meanings make for a messy discussion. We end up with the “Peace that passeth all understanding” because of ambiguity and vagueness. Which one is the Peace Panel going to cover?

Peace defined by the Webster 7th Collegiate Dictionary:
1. “a state of tranquility or quiet:
a. “freedom from civil disturbance”
b. “a state of security or order within a community provided for by law or custom”
2. “freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions’ (inner peace)
3. “harmony in personal relations”
4. a: “state or period of mutual concord between governments”
b: “a pact or agreement to end hostilities between those who have been at war”


To Anonymous 1: Peace is not “static”? Really? “Rest in Peace” is found all through cemeteries on tombstones. Definition of Static: “2. of or relating to bodies at rest or forces in equilibrium”.
The truth be told, children in the United States are showing less respect for the elderly, less respect for their teachers, less respect for policemen and less respect for their own parents. The prison population is only a part of this cultural breakdown.

Rory said...

Anon2- Definitely. Defining terms should be the first thing...

which gets to the 'undefined' and implicit definitions of Josh and Anon 1. I have a rule of thumb-- "If you won't define your terms, you're trying to con me. If you can't define your terms you're conning yourself."

Seriously, Josh, if your thesis holds then peacefulness would be directly correlated with affluence, the rich would never kill or wage war... there's way more going on than that.

Terry- I'm so sorry I couldn't make it. I hope you had the best day ever and just the first of many, brother.

Josh K. said...

"In peace prepare for war, in war prepare for peace." - Sun Tzu

To me peace is the state you are in when not in conflict. It is not a good thing or bad thing its just a state of being.

Just as much evil has been committed in the name of peace as was ever committed in war.

Josh

Josh said...

Yeah, you're right that if I follow what I said all the way through it leaves out a lot of stuff. Was being too reductionist.

Do you think though that there are states of affairs -- call it "peace" or what you will -- that are stable situations worth working towards? If there are, what are some of the more important elements?

Anonymous said...

Anon1 here again.

Rory wrote: I have a rule of thumb-- "If you won't define your terms, you're trying to con me. If you can't define your terms you're conning yourself."

OK - Peace is the context in which the growth of relationship, culture, and civilization can occur.

That definition isn't static, and it goes back as far as Thucydides, who observed that Sparta was displaced by Athens because they didn't do their job creating peace. Power comes with obligations, he wrote - the biggest of which is providing a context for the growth of something other than violence. He was no pussy, or wide-eyed idealist.

It's the same thinking that underlies the thinking of such reprobate peaceniks as Machiaveilli, and Carl von Clausewitz. Both of whom are still taught at Westpoint.

For all three, peace isn't the *absence* of war; it's something *other* than war. Clausewits famously said that "war was the extension of politics by other means" ... but even for him violence wasn't the only real thing. It was one of the tools you used to achieve a "real" thing.

Part of what disturbs me about your notion that peace is simply the absence of violence ... is that it means that violence is the *only* "real" thing. That not only is violence/peace binary, but that violence is the #1, and peace the #0.

Why? Why not the other way round? Even if things are binary (and I don't think they are), couldn't violence as logically be the void when peace is absent? Why is violence primary?

I suspect you'd say because you know violence is "real." You've experienced it.

I've got huge respect for your understanding of violent behaviour and dynamics - it's why I found and read your blog. And living with the "reality" of violence is what gives so much authority to what you write. You've rejected the fantasy that many others describe as violence, honing in on what *is*, instead.

I value such a "reality" based view. I value reality enough that I'll still dispute that violence is the *only* thing that's real. To me ... that doesn't jive with reality.

Travis said...

Anon 1-

In a bit of a rush so I hope I'm not too short with your arguments- I respect that there is some serious thought there and ideas worth considering but think you are reading too much into this 'definition' thing (a relative rarity, most people are not concerned enough with proper definitions). At some point any term has to be defined by it's opposite. If I say something is 'big' ultimately our understanding of it relies on knowing that it is 'not small' (regardlessnof the actual words chosen we need to the concept).

The reason why 'peace' is defined as the absence of violence is because it is a discussion on how to get peace; it's simply the starting place of this particular discussion.

Josh K. said...

Why do people continue to define peace as the absents of violence?

Is someone that is being bullied at "peace" if they don't resort to violene to resolve the conflict?

Violene is just a tool, maybe the ultimate tool or most permanent tool, we have at our disposal to end conflict.

Hmmm......

It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence."
- Mahatma Gandhi
Indian political and spiritual leader (1869 - 1948)
http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/2742.html

Anonymous said...

Anon2 here again.
To Josh K.: Please examine Rory's third paragraph where he
says: "...depending on how you define it, the absence of war or violence or conflict." If someone is being bullied, he has a conflict as you yourself have stated. Therefore, that someone cannot be "at peace".

Josh K. said...

Annon 2 -

The Questions were not for Rory, but for Travis
to think on and answer for himself.

Rory, this why I usualy name the person I'm asking a question of, even if they take it as a personal attack on self. Less confusion that way.

Maybe we needed to define or come up with a common definition of conflict, war and violence before we can have a meaningful discussion on "peace?"

Hmmm....

Josh K. said...

If we are defining things by opposites then maybe a better opposit for peace would be turmoil?

Violence is a action taken from a desision made, and is made against someone.

Hmmmm....

Travis said...

Josh- my comment wasn't really about peace and violence- it's about the nature definitions. If people insist on following a definition far enough every definition becomes either circular or a study in opposites. At some point define 'this' we have to accept that we know what 'that' is.

Josh K. said...

Travis -

Defining something by what it is not can go on forever.

Defining something by what it 'is' is finite.

Only bad definitions are circular.

Telling me what something is not, doesn't tell me what it is.

When you type the word 'Peace' are we talking a state of mind or lack of conflict which is an action. And one doesn't necessarily lead or cause or represent the other.

Also, peoples understand of are language is individualistic, to some degree.

Hmmmm.....

Travis said...

First, I don't think the 'state of mind' definition for 'peace' makes any sense in the current context.

"Only bad definitions are circular."

On the surface, sure but go further. Define "Big"? How are you going to do it with out expressing a contradictory idea or, eventually ending up back at some pre-existing concept of what is 'big'. Sure you can list a bunch of synonyms but is that really a definition? Somewhere the *idea* has to already exist in your head. Then it's an exercise of matching, 'oh, this word means that idea'. But that doesn't define something for someone witout the frame of reference and eventually you end up back at 'big is big'.

This seems silly because we all have tacitly agreed upon basic word meanings already but go try and explain how to find the area of a circle to a 3 year old. Without that 3 year old knowing (or learning) a number of ideas which we take for granted it is going to be a pretty hard task.

"Defining something by what it 'is' is finite. "

Doesn't that contain an inherent implication of what it isn't as well? And isn't that therefore, by your argument, also infinite?

No, seriously, how can a definition *NOT* cover what something isn't? When you define 'car' you need to distinguish from 'go-kart', 'dump-truck' and 'Sherman tank' right?

Travis said...

*Note I'm not saying the words of the definition need to include the negative implications but rather that the negative IDEA has to be contained with in the definition and therefore defining in terms of a 'lack' or, more commonly, 'opposite' is perfectly valid as a linguistic tool

Josh K. said...

Point taken.