Three Perverted Words: Honorable – Independent – Actuarial

Politicians tearing up contracts hardly makes them honorable just as Consultants offering up advice they were paid for hardly makes them independent and whenever the word ‘actuarial’ appears in a report (as in actuarial value of assets) it often means ‘phony’.  This did not bother me so much until I got to do some thinking during a five hour car ride as my companion droned on*.

The perversions of ‘independent’ and ‘actuarial’ are fairly obvious but, after some thought, it was that ‘honorable’ word that bothered me the most.

In the US Congress and, I assume, all state legislative bodies the members seem to agree to call each other ‘honorable’ though the methods they may have employed to get themselves into those bodies (taking bribes disguised as campaign contributions) and a good amount of their actions (repaying bribes disguised as legislation for the public good) can hardly be considered honorable in any sense of the word.

For years I gave politicians a pass on the use of this word on the premise that if they called each other honorable the dictionary definition might take.  After all, how badly could they reinterpret a word like ‘honorable’ for their own ends?  And if someone called you ‘smart’ or ‘honest’ or ‘compassionate’ over and over again wouldn’t you make some attempt to live up to your salutation?

Then it hit me.  If the intention was to influence behavior then why wouldn’t you have convicted felons calling each other ‘honorable’ too?  The Honorable Bernard Madoff or the Honorable Charles Manson or the Honorable Harrison A. Williams (a continuation) would then have something to aspire to as well.




* Alan Arkin reading from what I thought would be his autobiography but turned out to be mostly about his improvisational acting style with about three hours of examples from his workshops.  David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell was a better book that I read when I arrived as it was loaded with interesting, if not entirely acceptable, concepts.  Some excerpts (from the Gladwell book, that is):

There is a set of advantages that have to do with material resources, and there is a set that have to do with the absence of material resources – and the reason underdogs win as often as they do is that the latter is sometimes every bit the equal of the former.  pages 24-5

a smaller classroom translates to a better outcome only if teachers change their teaching style when given a lower workload.  And what the evidence suggests is that in this midrange, teachers don’t necessarily do that.  They just work less. pages 55-6

The inverted U-curvereminds us that there is a point at which money and resources stop making our lives better and start making them worse. page 68

What matters, in determinig the likelihood of getting a science degree, is not just how smart you are.  It’s how smart you feel relative to the other people in your classroom. page 84

Sacks isn’t stupid.  She’s really, really smart.  But Brown University made her feel stupid – and if she truly wanted to graduate with a science degree, the best thing for her to do would have been to go down a notch to Maryland.  No sane person would say that the solution to her problems would be for her to go to an even more competitive school like Stanford or MIT.  Yet when it comes to affirmative action, that’s exactly what we do. pages 92-3

what is learned out of necessity is inevitably more powerful than the learning that comes easily. page 113

Dyslexics compensate for their disability by developing other skills that – at times – can prove highly advantageous.  Being bombed or orphaned can be a near-miss experience and leave you devastated.  Or it can be a remote miss and leave you stronger.  These are David’s opportunities: the occasions in which difficulties, paradoxically, turn out to be desirable.  The lesson of the trickster tales is the third desirable difficulty: the unexpected freedom that comes from having nothing to lose.  The trickster gets to break the rules. pages 172-3

What they did is not “right,” just as it is not “right to send children up against police dogs.  But we need to remember that our definition of what is right is, as often as not, simply the way that people in positions of privilege close the door on those on the outside. page 190

When people in authority want the rest of us to behave, it matters – first and foremost – how they behave.  This is called the “principle of legitimacy” page 207

One response to this post.

  1. Wow. Interesting!! 🙂 Keep writing!!!

    I hope you have a beautiful day. 🙂 🙂 🙂


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