Barry SCHWARTZ (Barijo ŜVARC) (chemoelectric) wrote,

A quick lesson in general semantics

I implore the reader to meditate upon the following. The reader who congratulates herself for already knowing this stuff needs it more badly than he for whom it is new.

An editorial in the New Hampshire Union Leader:

As the extent of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation became clearer on Tuesday — millions without power, tens of thousands homeless, a death toll unknowable because rescue crews can’t reach some regions — President Bush carried on with his plans to speak in San Diego, as if nothing important had happened the day before.

Katrina already is measured as one of the worst storms in American history. And yet, President Bush decided that his plans to commemorate the 60th anniversary of VJ Day with a speech were more pressing than responding to the carnage.

A better leader would have flown straight to the disaster zone and announced the immediate mobilization of every available resource to rescue the stranded, find and bury the dead, and keep the survivors fed, clothed, sheltered and free of disease.

The cool, confident, intuitive leadership Bush exhibited in his first term, particularly in the months immediately following Sept. 11, 2001, has vanished. In its place is a diffident detachment unsuitable for the leader of a nation facing war, natural disaster and economic uncertainty.

Wherever the old George W. Bush went, we sure wish we had him back.

The editors are confusing different orders of abstractions. Correct evaluation would work as follows.

Bush reveals himself as diffidently detached. This is an interesting new observation for us. Let's include it in our knowledge and re-evaluate Bush in light of the totality of our knowledge to date. Whoa! That's exactly how Bush behaved on 9/11! That's what Michael Moore was showing in his movie! We must retract our former praise for Bush, on account of this new information about his diffidence and detachment.

What actually happened is the editors decided a few years ago that George W. Bush was cool, confident, and intuitive. Today they saw that he was diffidently detached. That new observation was colored by the previous inference that Bush was cool, confident, and intuitive, leading to a preposterous conclusion: Bush wasn't revealing what was his true character all along, but rather he changed.

For Alfred Korzybski's original discussion, with a diagram, go to and peruse around page 44 of Time-Binding: The General Theory (second paper), or even better read the PDF of Chapter XXVII of Science and Sanity, starting at page 444 (or read from the printed book, if you have one or wish to get one).

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