Saturday, March 1, 2014

Justice’s invisibility (the psyche's invisibility) [unfinished]

     Plato’s great dialogue, Republic*, is said to be about the virtue of justice—being just. The participants in the conversation—Socrates, along with Polemarchus, Glaucon, Adeimantus, and the others—seek a definition. In Book I of Republic, the sophist Thracymachus angrily interrupts the conversation, providing his famous definition according to which just conduct is nothing more than “the interest of the stronger.” The view has been variously interrupted. I rather like the interpretation according to which, for Thracymachus, morality is the successful hoodwinking of the poor and weak by the strong and advantaged. (Very much like contemporary American society.)
     Socrates engages in dialogue with Thracymachus and, in the end, embarrasses the latter, who is made to acknowledge the failure of his definition, if that’s what it is. But some of the participants, especially Glaucon, are dissatisfied, and so they launch into an elaborate challenge to Socrates to reveal that “being just” is desirable to the just person, not only for its consequences—avoiding trouble, a good reputation, etc.—but especially in itself. That is, just as the joy one feels in hearing one’s favorite music or eating one’s favorite meal is desirable “in itself,” being just is thus desirable and to an extreme extent such that the tortured just man is better off than the unjust man with power and luxury and, somehow, a great and enjoyable reputation for being just.
     I want to draw attention to some assumptions in this discussion regarding the nature of justice and the psyche (soul). One might suppose that “being just” is a pattern of behavior, and, indeed, for much of the Republic’s discussion, it is. For instance, it is a pattern of behavior in the account of justice ascribed by Glaucon to the many, according to which justice is peaceful and respectful conduct agreed upon with all others, not because it is in any way attractive, but because, though unattractive, participation in the agreement is the only means of avoiding continual insecurity and harm.
     At the beginning of Book II, Socrates and the others do not seem to view justice as a pattern of behavior. What is “being just” if it is not a pattern of honest and respectful conduct? Well, it is that quality of self such that that conduct is natural to it. It is that feature of the psyche—an arrangement or configuration (or ?) reliably producing just conduct.
     Might this be an inclination or tendency and nothing more? –I have in mind here any state of affairs or condition of self—its nature is otherwise irrelevant—that yields this pattern. It would contrast with a “something” that alone produces this pattern of behavior, a something whose nature we keenly desire to understand—and this seems to be the thinking of Socrates’ crew.
     But why? What if the something were, say, an aversion to elderberries? If this is the end of the trail, then surely we have somehow lost our way.
     Perhaps one assumes here that the something is nothing like an aversion to elderberries. It is more like a formula or directive or notion that, once apprehended, is received with satisfaction and joy—an intellectual MacGuffin. Socrates’ MacGuffin—the three parts of the soul sticking to their proper work—strikes me as being about as satisfying as an aversion to elderberries. When I behold the spectacle of a person invariably conducting him- or herself with justice, I am impressed; when I behold the supposed spectacle of a soul whose parts work—well, I guess that could be like exploring a shiny, new Porsche, a thing that dazzles in its mechanistic elegance and perfection. But Socrates never opens the hood, as far as I’m concerned. What is “the reason” if it itself does not have desires and passions? How can “the reason” direct the soul unless it itself has desires and passions that yield goals?
     The Book II discussion of justice assumes that “being just” is a condition of the soul (psyche), and it is more than just the soul’s disposition to act justly. (It’s this elderberry/parts business.) The discussion also seems to assume that the soul is opaque to oneself—or at least hard to discern—and that is the assumption to which I now wish to draw attention:
[Glaucon tells Socrates:] Thrasymachus seems to me, like a snake, to have been charmed by your voice sooner than he ought to have been; but to my mind the nature of justice and injustice have not yet been made clear. Setting aside their rewards and results, I want to know what they are in themselves, and how they inwardly work in the soul….
. . .
[Adeimantus tells Socrates:] The cause of all this, Socrates, was indicated by us at the beginning of the argument, when my brother [Glaucon] and I told you how astonished we were to find that of all the professing panegyrists of justice … no one has ever blamed injustice or praised justice except with a view to the glories, honours, and benefits which flow from them. No one has ever adequately described either in verse or prose the true essential nature of either of them abiding in the soul, and invisible to any human or divine eye; or shown that of all the things of a man's soul which he has within him, justice is the greatest good, and injustice the greatest evil. … I speak in this vehement manner, as I must frankly confess to you, because I want to hear from you the opposite side; and I would ask you to show not only the superiority which justice has over injustice, but what effect they have on the possessor of them which makes the one to be a good and the other an evil to him. And please, as Glaucon requested of you, to exclude reputations…. Now as you have admitted that justice is one of that highest class of goods which are desired indeed for their results, but in a far greater degree for their own sakes—like sight or hearing or knowledge or health, or any other real and natural and not merely conventional good—I would ask you in your praise of justice to regard one point only: I mean the essential good and evil which justice and injustice work in the possessors of them. Let others praise justice and censure injustice, magnifying the rewards and honours of the one and abusing the other…. And therefore, I say, not only prove to us that justice is better than injustice, but show what they either of them do to the possessor of them, which makes the one to be a good and the other an evil, whether seen or unseen by gods and men.
     Socrates and the others are proceeding, it seems, on the assumption that, if “being just” is what it’s cracked up to be, it must be desirable, and very much so, in itself to he who “has” it (if that is how we should put it). But no one has ever identified that desirability. Why?
     The answer seems to be that justice, as a quality of soul, “is invisible to any human or divine eye….” –And that, I suppose, is because the soul itself is “invisible,” or largely so. Perhaps it is more obscured than invisible. I shall refer, then, to the assumption of the invisibility of the soul (IOS). Alternatively, we might refer instead to the assumption of the obscurity of the soul (OOS).
     When Socrates takes up the challenge, he seems to emphasize the obscurity/invisibility of the soul:
   I told them, what I really thought, that the enquiry would be of a serious nature, and would require very good eyes. Seeing then, I said, that we are no great wits, I think that we had better adopt a method which I may illustrate thus; suppose that a short-sighted person had been asked by some one to read small letters from a distance; and it occurred to some one else that they might be found in another place which was larger and in which the letters were larger—if they were the same and he could read the larger letters first, and then proceed to the lesser—this would have been thought a rare piece of good fortune. Very true, said Adeimantus; but how does the illustration apply to our enquiry?
   I will tell you, I replied; justice, which is the subject of our enquiry, is, as you know, sometimes spoken of as the virtue of an individual, and sometimes as the virtue of a State.
   True, he replied.
   And is not a State larger than an individual?
   It is.
   Then in the larger the quantity of justice is likely to be larger and more easily discernible.
     The soul—or at least the soul qua just/unjust—is hard to discern. It is hard to discern somewhat like distant letters are hard to discern visually. And this, I suppose, is why no one has ever sung justice’s praises as a state of the soul; it has simply never been discerned.
     I’ve always been bothered by the “small letters/large letters” analogy. If one sought to read the distant letters and discovered that the same letters could be viewed more closely, why would one bother to attempt to read the distant letters again upon having read the closer ones? (The translations I have examined all seem to have Socrates portray an effort, in the end, to go back to trying to see those distant letters.)
     Perhaps I’m reading too much into the analogy.
     Problems arise, too, in making sense of the indirect State/Soul strategy that Socrates and the others agree to follow, for there is a prima facie problem with it. The group will construct the ideal State and then attempt to identify justice, the greatest virtue, there. Upon doing so, they are “fortunate,” as they now prepare to discern justice in the soul.
     But how are they fortunate?
     Well, one might suppose, they are fortunate because they have already discerned justice, and, having done so, they will more readily recognize it as they view the soul. But that would be to assume the correctness of their definition of State Justice. In fact, however, the participants to the conversation treat that definition of justice derived from their construction of the Republic as a hypothesis to be confirmed by turning, now, to another instance: the just soul. But, of course, confirmation can occur only if their examination of Soul Justice does not depend on their definition of State Justice, for otherwise they are caught in a circle. Isn’t there a contradiction in embracing a strategy of “confirmation” (confirming the definition of State Justice by finding Soul Justice) while embracing a strategy of “guidance,” as one seeks Soul Justice? Confirmation can only occur if finding Soul Justice does not depend on the previous definition of State Justice. But the whole point of constructing the ideal state was to make it easier to discern Soul Justice, and it can make that project easier only insofar as their definition of State Justice is correct—not a mere hypothesis to be confirmed.
     Now, in fact, Socrates and the others proceed into the soul to find justice there with what they regard as a hypothesis of the definition of justice. And then, when they seem to find that the soul, like the state, has three parts, they seem to feel that they have achieved confirmation…. [to be completed]

 Back to obscurity of the soul…. [Where I’m going with this is a point about the Free Will debate based on a point made by Plato and that we would seem to have to agree with….]

 *I’m using Jowett’s translation of The Republic.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Scenes from a mob movie (the absurd fire)

     In my Intro course lectures on Free Will, I sometimes imagine a world in which “action events” randomly occur, just as—or so I’m told—electrons suddenly and inexplicably change their energy states down there in atom land. “Why did that happen?”, we ask, only to be told “there is no why. “That’s just the way it is, universe-wise. Shuddup.”
     The point is that such actions, if they were to occur, wouldn’t be “free” any more than a coerced action (“Gimme your money or your life!”) would be free. These action events are absurd, not free.
     On the other hand, I kind of appreciate absurdity, at least up to a point.
     Lately, here at good ol’ IVC, it’s become the land of absurd fire—i.e., the land of getting fired—mysteriously, opaquely, and so on. Perhaps not for those who are actually getting fired—well, we just don’t know about them—but certainly for everyone else, looking and wondering WTF just happened.
     But, of course, these firings are highly non-random. There’s definitely a “why,” but, in this case, we just don’t know what it is. And it’s not because the universe is being weird again; it’s because certain people are determined to keep the cause obscure. Darryl C, we’re told, is required to maintain silence. No doubt the same is true for Helen L.
     But wait a minute. It just won’t do—will it?—this business of harsh things happening to people and then deliberately turning these events, for all observers, into pseudo-action events or electron firings. Among human beings—moral, decent creatures—such brute factual absurdity is at least disconcerting, morally. In the moral universe, we need to know what happens to people, and why it happens to them, so we can know that what's happening to them isn’t wrong.
     The absurd fire. Why do people do such things? And what are the grounds for complaint about them?
     Part of the answer comes up in a piece that appeared two days ago in the NYT: Fired? Speak No Evil. It’s about an editor who is suddenly fired and is told to sign a document—or else no severance:
     What brings me up short is clause No. 12: No Disparagement. “You agree,” it reads, “that you will never make any negative or disparaging statements (orally or in writing) about the Company or its stockholders, directors, officers, employees, products, services or business practices, except as required by law.” If I don’t agree to this nondisparagement clause, I will not receive my severance — in this case, the equivalent of two weeks of pay. Two weeks? Must be hard times out in San Francisco, or otherwise why the dirt parachute — and by the way, is that the sort of remark I won’t be allowed to make if I sign clause No. 12?
. . .
     ...[A]s quaint as this may seem, giving up the right to speak and write freely, even if that means speaking or writing negatively, strikes me as the unholiest of deals for a writer and an editor to accept. Though such clauses don’t technically violate the First Amendment — I’d be explicitly agreeing to forfeit my right to speak freely if I signed clause No. 12 — such a contract has a paralyzing effect on the dissemination of the truth, with all of truth’s caustically cleansing powers. To disparage is but one tool in a writer’s kit, but it’s an essential one. That a company would offer money for my silence, which is what this boils down to — well, I’ve seen many a mob movie about exactly that exchange.
     The increased prevalence of nondisparagement agreements is part of a corporate culture of risk management that would have us say nothing if we can’t say anything nice. And yet it occurs to me that if a company isn’t strong enough to be reproached, then it simply isn’t strong enough, period.
     Mind you, I’m not looking to disparage Byliner. The company has made a few mistakes in my view (firing me perhaps being a relatively minor one), but what fledgling enterprise does not screw up from time to time during its shakedown phase? It’s not that I necessarily want to disparage, but I want the freedom to do so, to be able to criticize, to attack, to carp, to excoriate, if need be. I want to tell the truth, even if it isn’t pretty.
     That’s why I won’t sign clause No. 12. Byliner can keep the money. I’ll keep my self-respect.
     Darryl and Helen aren’t editors or writers, and so I’m not suggesting that they have no self-respect. Just no job.
     But the action, the coercion for silence, demanded by a mob, is about the same.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

This is your college on drugs

From Dissent the Blog:


assume - to suppose to be the case, without proof: you're afraid of what people are going to assume about me | [ with clause ] : it is reasonable to assume that such changes have significant social effects | [ with obj. and infinitive ] : they were assumed to be foreign.*
1. Today's visit by students of the California Corporate College caused the predictable parking snafus. One could see students (et al.) anxiously prowling the lots. A colleague explained that she was a half hour late for her class, owing to the fubar. [Note: college administration seems to have declared war on instruction at Irvine Valley College, now regularly creating parking snafus for the sake of questionable events such as this one, thereby causing students--and instructors--to be late for class, etc.]

2. At about 11:40, I wandered over to the IVC PAC and entered. The "California Corporate College" event was in full swing, and the hall was pretty full. Somebody was yammerin'.      I've got nothin'.
3. I assume that the sun will rise in the morning. Does that make me an "ass"? Don't think so. 
     Note: someone who does not make that assumption is mentally ill.
     And suppose that someone really said that "it is reasonable to assume that such changes have significant social effects"? (See def. above.) Only an ass would insist that it is unreasonable to make that assumption.

4. Insisting that one does not "assume" any such thing would make one an ass. If not an ass, at least a liar. 
     "I am aware that it is at least possible that the sun will not rise. And so I don't really assume it." —Here we have someone who is used to changing words' meanings to save a foolish idea. —A liar or self-deceiver.

5. It's pretty clear, I think, that the truth about assuming is as follows: the phenomenon of assuming comprises a range of cases from the reasonable (and, in truth, more than reasonable) to the unreasonable (foolish or even mad). Hence, some assumptions are foolish (i.e., ass-making) and some are not. It depends on the case.
     Why overstate the case, declaring all assumptions to be foolish? Just what is the matter with you?


6. It's like the familiar blatherage that "you can be anything you want to be." Well, no. Obviously not. Sure, there are some who need to be encouraged to try to do or achieve things. Yes, there are some who falsely or foolishly underestimate what is achievable as a goal. Be that as it may, it does not justify such idiotic blatherage as "you can be anything you want to be."

7. In this country, when we plan an event, we tend to turn it into a circus. Fighting cancer, for us, is no sober enterprise; it's pink ribbons and "races" for cures. And when we seek to correct an error, we overcorrect and create a new error:
Your vote counts. (Sure, they count it. But it doesn't "count" in the sense of having a bearing on the outcome.) You can be anything you want to be. (Well, no. Yes, quite possibly, you have underestimated the opportunities available to you. But it takes strength to aim high and miss. The miss could send you spiraling downward. Do these idiots have a slogan for spiraling depressives too?) There are no limits to what you can achieve! (Ditto.) This is your brain on drugs. (C'mon. Kinda depends on the drug, doesn't it? And what about that martini in your hand, asshole?) Celebrate yourself! (I should celebrate myself? What if I'm a lout? A lazy ass? A Tea Partier?)
     
*My Mac's dictionary

Sunday, July 28, 2013

When Uncle Ted said he shot the fuzzy bear

Comic and comedian
[comic, n.] 
...A comic actor; = comedian....
. . .
1961 J. McCabe Mr. Laurel & Mr. Hardy (1962) i. 38 ‘Stan,’ he said, ‘why do you want to be a comic?’  
Oxford English Dictionary
     Whenever you enter into a dispute about the meaning of a word or phrase, you’ve entered a mine field. That’s partly because a word, even one approached as appearing in a snapshot of the present (as opposed to: as a thing traveling across time), doesn’t exist in one community but in many overlapping communities.
     And then there are philosophical issues that enter the picture. Sheesh.
     It’s easy to make a case that the noun “comic” and the noun “comedian” are synonyms. In making that case, however, you rely on standards that are clunky and insensitive: dictionaries and the like, things that require so much work that their issue is sporadic and occasional. There just isn’t the manpower to keep on top of swiftly moving subtleties, on so many fronts, in usage. (For instance, see the OED's definition of "begging the question" below.)
   
     CONSERVATIVES. People disagree about how to conceive the meaning of a word. Some tend to tie meanings down to some alleged essence: the “original” meaning or some “official” act of standardization by authorities. That approach isn’t always wrong (in my opinion), though (again, in my opinion), it usually is.
     That’s what I think anyway. More about that later.
     "Conservatives," in this narrow sense, are, of course, more liable to insist on the "correct" meaning of a term of phrase. If words have essences, and given that word meanings tend to change, well, then, obviously, there will be divergences from those essences and thus reasons to squawk.

     FREE-FLOATERS. In general, I’m happy to view meanings as detachable from any such essential basis. I certainly see the point of conservatism—insisting on a particular "real" meaning or distinction in the face of drift (or inadvertent invention) among the hoi polloi. For instance, there’s a good reason for maintaining the distinction between, say, “inferring” and “implying” when many others routinely obliterate the distinction.* And there's a good reason to maintain use of the word "phenomenon" to refer to any observable event—even as every element of popular culture (it seems) persists in using it to refer to the paranormal.
     Typically, in these struggles, the conservatives eventually loose to the masses, overwhelmed by shear usage. When that happens, continued conservatism is just silly.
     Take the “misuse” of the phrase “begging the question.” True, current usage is obliterating a valuable customary*meaning, thereby making the English language less rich and expressive. But the new usage is by now so familiar and widely accepted that, with few exceptions (e.g., my classroom), it is pointless to keep insisting on “the correct meaning.”

     RIGID DESIGNATION. When I was a philosophy student, a battle raged over how best to understand proper names. Are they disguised descriptions or are they “rigid designators”? That is, when I speak of Socrates, am I essentially referring to the teacher of Plato? (That’s a description, a "sense.") If so, then it would be nonsensical to suggest that Socrates never knew Plato. Necessarily, the "teacher of Plato" knew Plato.
     Alternatively, might it be that, in truth, “Socrates” refers (because it originally referred) to some humble, unreflective fisherman and, owing to a confusion, we’ve ended up referring often to this peasant, erroneously supposing that he was a great and influential philosopher (who taught the likes of Plato)? Here, the term is causally linked to the person originally "christened" with it, and thus no description is essentially tied to it. Accordingly, it is coherent (albeit controversial) to suggest that Socrates never knew Plato.
     This view may seem crazy but, in some instances, it seems correct.
The "fuzzy" look
     What would the “rigid designator” view (or at least its spirit) look like when applied to ordinary terms (common nouns, adjectives, etc.)? Well, just as “Socrates” has always referred to the original Socrates, even if, by now, our understanding of this individual is largely mistaken, term X—(say) the adjective “fuzzy”—originally was a particular description, and, though we may have drifted over time from that original description, the “actual” and "true" meaning is that original description.
     That's an absurd view. Suppose that, originally, “fuzzy” was used to say that a thing had spikes. But language changes, and now we have something else in mind by "fuzzy." Surely it would be a mistake to insist that, when Uncle Ted said he shot the fuzzy bear, he was “really” saying was that he shot a spiky bear. –No, he was saying (and he was "really" saying) that he shot that other kind of bear, the fuzzy kind. That the term "fuzzy" once meant "spiky" is simply irrelevant. The meaning of a term is what people mean by it, not what people long ago meant by it.
     (Of course, some scholarly communities comprise those who use terms fully cognizant of [at least some of] their histories. For them, subtly, word histories somewhat intrude on meaning—i.e., what they mean by words now. They play with words, gently sounding their histories, like strings on a guitar.)

     SEMI-CONSERVATIVES (SEMI-FREE-FLOATERS). I think that one could justify taking a semi-conservative view. Perhaps it’s like this: words (and phrases, etc.) tend to change in meaning over time, a phenomenon that (at least sometimes or to a degree) parallels natural selection, “improving” the language. But the process can also be insidious. Useful meanings (e.g., “begging the question”—as the phrase was used fifty years ago) are sometimes gradually erased in favor of a minor (or a non-) enrichment of the language. At such times, there's a net loss for the language. Under these circumstances, for the sake of maximal communication, especially within, say, some specialist group (philosophers, logicians), it would make sense to attempt to hold the line at least for a while (for the sake of clear and effective communication), to insist on the “traditional” meaning (i.e., the meaning they've recognized for a while, whether or not it was the "original" meaning). I used to do that in my philosophy classes. I was quite the traditionalist, word-wise.
     Suppose that one has lost the battle with regard to the "ordinary meaning" of the term. Suppose that efforts to preserve the once-traditional meaning of "begging the question" (BTQ) as "the" meaning are a failure. Virtually no one, outside a special group, recognizes the once-traditional meaning. The special group would of course preserve this (now) specialized meaning, though it would not insist on that meaning outside the narrow group.
     This appears to be the fate of the term "begging the question." What was once simply "the meaning" of BTQ becomes the meaning of BTQ only as a technical term. Meanwhile, owing to an error that became viral, a (non-technical) meaning of BTQ ("the" meaning in broader society) has been established.
     It’s still true, I think, that, among educated speakers, “infer” does not mean “imply,” and that’s a good thing, though it does separate people into the "educated" and the "uneducated." As college instructors, we engage in such segregations every day. As educators, we're part of a crew that participates in the enterprise of preserving the language and maintaining its power. Some publishers and publications, I think, view themselves as part of this crew. They do what they can as "Meaning Police." That's not always conservative. The MPs, while preserving the useful, can also admire innovation.
     Alas, as preservers of the useful (etc.), they are only slowing the inevitable. In time, of course, "infer" will simply mean "imply." The educated elite (if that group continues to exist) will probably have to throw in the towel and speak and mean like everyone else. To do otherwise would be ridiculous.

* * *
[beg
6. To take for granted without warrant; esp. in to beg the question : to take for granted the matter in dispute, to assume without proof. . . . 1788 T. Reid Aristotle's Logic v. §3. 118 Begging the question is when the thing to be proved is assumed in the premises.
Oxford English Dictionary; note: this is the only meaning OED recognizes. 
beg the question 1 : to pass over or ignore a question by assuming it to be established or settled 2 : to elicit a question logically as a reaction or response
Merriam-Webster Dictionary
* * *

     Earlier, I suggested that one can make a “conservative” case for the synonymity of the nouns “comic” and “comedian.” Dictionaries will tend to support this position.
     I don't want to get into the weeds about the latter point. I'm thinking of a particular dispute.
     Yesterday, my mother, my sister, and I were discussing the old Ed Sullivan Show, a popular program that lasted until about 1970. Mom said that she watched some old episodes. She referred to the old "comics" on that show. She referred to one in particular, a woman.
     "Joan Rivers?" I asked.
     "Yes, she was one of them. But there was another one."
     We attempted to identify the comic. I mentioned all of the female comics I could think of from the 50s and 60s: Phyllis Diller, Totie Fields, et al. Mom wasn't thinking of any of those, she said. Eventually, knowing that my mother can use words eccentrically (for her, English is a second language), I decided to mention some comedians.
     "Are you thinking of someone like, say, Carol Burnett? Lucille Ball?" I asked.
     I added: "of course, they aren't really comics."
     Uh-oh.
     My mother looked at me blankly. My sister joined in this. "Of course they're comics!" said sis.
     No, I said. Burnett was a comedian all right, but she's wasn't a comic. Neither was Lucy.
     They were uncomprehending, or simply unconvinced. Luckily, the conversation ended there.
     So that's the dispute.

* * *
Uncle Ted and friend
     It’s easy to find people—estimable people—who insist that there is an important difference between the term “comic” and the term “comedian.” Comics are one group, comedians are a somewhat different group.
     Are they wrong and the lexicographers right?
     Here’s an example from someone from the world of stand-up comedy:
     A comic is a comedian; a comedian isn’t necessarily a comic. It’s the square and the rectangle argument (for nerds who remember geometry AND read this blog).
     This entry is dedicated to defining and understanding the differences between a comic, which is short for stand-up comic, and a comedian, who performs comical material.
     Stand-up comedy is the art of standing on stage and performing material to elicit laughs from the crowd.
. . .
     “Comedian” is a much broader term. A comedian is someone who performs comedic material in order to elicit laughs. This can be accomplished through acting in movies. Examples of movie actors who are comedians would be Bill Murray or Tom Hanks. It can be accomplished through funny songs, such as done by artists Weird Al Yankovic or Dr. Demento. A comedian can host a variety show, like Conan O’Brien or David Letterman. It can be established through a radio show, like Howard Stern. Comedians can also perform team improvisation/“improv”, like on “Who’s Line is it Anyway?” It can even be accomplished by doing stand-up comedy. Here’s where the square/rectangle argument comes into play.
       You’re considered a comedian if you’re doing any performance that gets a laugh, including stand-up comedy. However, you are ONLY considered a comic if you do stand-up comedy.
. . .
     …[S]tand-up comics develop unique skills in order to prep and deal with the live-audience environment. While being a comedian also involves a lot of skill and practice, the difference is dependent on having a cast, a script, and, often, being able to reshoot/re-do scenes that don’t work the first time. Ultimately, as a stand-up comic, if you fail on stage, the only person you have to blame is yourself. The flip side of this, of course, is that when you succeed on stage, the only person responsible and deserving of praise, adulation, and the great things that come with success is yourself. (Comic vs. comedian: what's the difference?)
     Here’s another example from someone outside the world of stand-up comedy (and even outside of the English speaking world!):
     Every comic — now a term exclusively reserved for stand-up — has had to face boos, catcalls, hecklers and even legal notices. (Comic Vs Comedian.)
     I think that these people are part of a community (or, in the second case, have significant exposure to such a community) where a particular distinction between “comic” (a kind of comedian) and “comedian” (the more general term) has come to exist and to be important. Without doubt, in their world, this difference in meanings exists.
     And the likes of me—we've tapped into that community's conversation, have to an extent adopted its language. My guess is that the larger society is gradually doing the same.
     But who knows.
     Does that make this usage correct and the approved “dictionary” usage incorrect? Well, yes and no. There are settings where I’d have to agree—"yes, for you people (scholars at Oxford?), 'comic' and 'comedian' are synonyms. There's no good reason why you should adopt this newer usage—though, of course, you should be aware of it, if you're going to listen to and communicate with those who are tapped into popular culture." (If they're Oxford dons, that's not likely to be the case.)
     But I would say that, being a non-conservative about such matters.

     *We can distinguish at least two different kinds of case: (1) There exists an established meaning (of X) and then, somehow, a new meaning crops up and competes with it (such seems to be the case with "begging the question"). Here, we're inclined to speak of "error" or perhaps neologism; (2) there are two distinct communities and one meaning (of X) is embraced by one community while another meaning (of X) is embraced by the other. I suspect that the "infer/imply" situation involves the second kind of case. The "educated" have their meaning; the uneducated have theirs. Neither error nor neologism is involved. Consider also the situation with regard to the distinction between inductive and deductive arguments—conceived differently between philosophers/logicians, on the one hand, and rhetoricians, on the other. (No, philosophers and logicians do not define a "deductive" argument as going from the general to the particular.) I have found that many philosophers/logicians are not shy about placing this particular meaning difference in a third category, related to the first: (3) changes (improvements) are made by the proper authorities in defining X but, unfortunately, some group persists in using the outdated meaning. See for example the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which asserts: "It is worth noting that some dictionaries and texts improperly define 'deduction' as reasoning from the general to specific and define 'induction' as reasoning from the specific to the general. These definitions are outdated and inaccurate."

     **Customs can exist in isolation, of course. The logician's use of the word "valid" has long been customary in philosophy/logic, but that custom is unknown to most speakers of the English language. As near a I can tell, the phrase "begging the question" long had its home in the fields of logic (etc.) and rhetoric. At about mid-century, however, persons outside those fields picked up the phrase, misunderstanding its meaning, giving it a new meaning. The new meaning spread like wildfire and is about to choke out the old one entirely. Now, there are very few places where I can say that a speaker or writer has "begged the question" (as logicians understand this) and be understood.

SEE ALSO:
The deductive/inductive distinction
Realism vs. nominalism
Essentialism
The meaning of "argument" (rhetorical, logical)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

On parental units

A tiny iron angel
     Today, Saturday, I went down to the folks for lunch, as per usual (on Saturdays). When I entered the house, they seemed to look at me oddly. Ma got up and then sat down and said, “Well, I’m ready.”
     “For what?” I asked.
     “For going out to lunch!”
     I had a quizzical look (I suppose). So she said:
     “Remember? You talked to me about the possibility of going out to lunch! I told you that Annie had asked about it. We all agreed that we’d go out today!”
     Well, much of this was true, but it occurred on Thursday, not yesterday. And, sure enough, I took ‘em all out to lunch—down in San Juan Capistrano, yesterday. We had a nice time.
     But nobody said anything about going out to lunch today, Saturday.
     My dad then said, “Well, see, I don’t remember it that way at all. I Hope you’re right, Dietsche.” That’s his pet name for mom. “But I don’t think you are. You are confusing days.”
     At some point, I said, “Well, we can go out. That sounds good!”
     They wanted me to weigh in on this controversy about what had been said. I made a minimal effort to explain that any arrangements we had made concerned going to lunch yesterday, not today.
     Mom has an odd quality of being silent and profoundly stubborn. She seemed to think we were all wrong and she was right. Somehow, we were all confused.
     “Well then, let’s go out to lunch,” I said. I was happy to do that, though it appeared that Pa wasn’t available. That typical for Saturdays.

Yet another
     I said: “I’ll go put on some shoes. I’ll be right back.” My mom said OK, chirpily.
     I drove down to Annie’s place. I asked her if she thought “we” were going to lunch. She obviously had heard nothing about that. She referred to a conversation she had had with Ma on Thursday. But that was about lunch on Friday—yesterday.
     She also explained that she had to go to work in an hour. I drove off. I put on my shoes, changed my shirt. I went back to Ma and Pa’s.
     When she came out to the car, Ma got into the back seat. I said, “Why don’t you sit in front?” She said, “No, I want to sit with Annie.”
     “Annie can’t make it,” I told her.
     “Oh.”
     “But that’s OK. We’ll just go to lunch, just the two of us.” OK, she said.
     I drove down the canyon, toward the plano, acting like everything was just swell. It was an odd sight: I sat in front; Ma sat in back.
     We managed to get to BJs all right and we got a nice booth. I ordered an appetizer and helped Ma with her order. I could tell that she was looking for her “usual” but couldn’t find it. So when the waitress came by, I asked about the availability of the “fish and chips.” Oh sure, said the girl. All was well.
     We had a very pleasant conversation, discussing many things. We spoke especially about Stettin, Germany (now in Poland, near the border), which I knew she’d like. I explained my love of old places and old artifacts. I revealed my sense of the sadness of contemporary Stettin—that it had once been a very wonderful and elegant city, and all of that was destroyed, not only through the destruction of most of its buildings, but the killing and banishment of its population and replacing it with strangers who had no feel for the place (not that I blame them for that; they were victims of a similar kind).
     She seemed to like all that, as I knew she would. I noted what was special about old Stettin, which can still be discerned in what remains of the city. She commenced talking about Stettin, and Berlin too, and how special these cities once were. She launched into a dissertation about the special German of these cities. She recited a little ditty the point of which was to ridicule the denizens of those cities and their big city ways.
     This went on. We were having a good time.
     As we drove home, I asked about the odd recent Bugsy episode. Evidently, the little guy took a big bite into Pa as he was trying to sleep. “Why would he do that?” I asked. I suspected—but didn’t say—that there must have been more to the story than that. Cats don’t just up and bite their owners. Especially Bugsy.
     That inspired a curious revelation. Ma explained that she “doesn’t like it” when Pa yells at Bugsy the way he does sometimes. She seemed to say that “he just doesn’t get it” when it comes to animals. Yes, he truly loves them, but he doesn’t understand them and sometimes he does things, and she can just see something coming, but Pa doesn’t have a clue.
     I didn’t want to pile on, but I did suggest that Pa has always tended to anthropomorphize animals outrageously. I mentioned his “war” on gophers. “It’s as though these gophers were malicious; that’s how he talks about ‘em. He doesn’t seem to understand that they’re just gophers being gophers.”
     Ma said that that is what she was trying to say. Pa—and his father and mother and sister—were odd in some ways. “There was something missing” in all of them, she said. They just wouldn’t “get” certain things.
One of two cat bookends
     She’s right. There is something missing there. I’m especially clear about Pa. I have no doubt at all that he loves the critters (and people) that he loves. I think he’d do anything for them. But he also has displayed an odd, and sometimes distressing, insensitivity. Annie has some of that too. She’ll grab her cat (TigerAnn), stick her inside her jacket, and then assert that “she loves this.” Well, no cat loves that. And it’s clear that TigerAnn in particular doesn’t like it. But you can’t tell Annie. She won’t listen. It’s amazing.
     Pa’s like that.
     Ma broadened the point. The Bauer deficit, whatever it is, concerns more than the treatment of animals. I won’t go into it. I’m not sure I could even explain.
     So there we were, having a very good conversation, communicating about interesting and important (if somewhat distressing) things. Ma exhibited sensitivity and intelligence. She had insights. She noticed something that most people don’t see; and she could communicate that point effectively.
     I dropped her off. Soon, I ran into my dad, who was puttering around near my place.
     I parked and got out of my car, I wandered over toward where he was working, knowing that he’d want to talk to me about Ma.
     “I’m very worried,” he said.
     “About Ma’s memory?” –That’s what I said. That's my dad's category, not mine. I don’t think I’d make the point about Ma by zeroing in on memory. She’s been seriously goofy lately—but no goofier than he often is. She’s often been maddeningly inarticulate and mentally lazy. Drives me nuts. But she hasn’t been goofy. But lately, she’s been goofy all right.
     “She needs to take those memory pills. I take ‘em. She ought to take ‘em!”
     He was referring to the pills he takes to “ward off” dementia. A while back, we had a bit of an intervention, the upshot of which was that Ma took Pa to Dr. Eastman to get him checked out—for dementia. We did this as sensitively as possible. Ma had been vacillating between denial and consternation—she tends to do that. But, at long last, she got Pa to get tested. Unfortunately, Dr. Eastman, a family friend, dropped the ball. It appears that the informal tests that Pa was given revealed a level of mental dysfunction that was on the border between “normal” (for an eighty-year-old) and, well, not normal. At one point, he was asked to move the hands of a clock to 1:45 (or whatever), and he just couldn’t do it. His performance was spotty.
     Eastman, I guess, decided to put the best face on the whole situation and explained that the results of the tests put my father in the “normal” range (barely), but that it would be a good idea for him to take a certain drug that keeps a person in that twilight zone before serious dysfunction—delaying the descent into, well, dementia.
     Naturally, as is his custom, Pa has interpreted (and reinterpreted and reinterpreted) Eastman’s words in a manner that has by now left him declaring that, according to the good doctor, he has a “clean bill of mental health.” Nonsense.
     So, today, as he muttered dark worries about Ma, he alluded to his own alleged “good memory” and he insisted that it was time for Ma to get on those drugs.
     I didn’t disagree. I didn’t say anything. I was vaguely agreeable.
     “I’m scared to death,” said Pop. (He can be overly dramatic. Not sure if this was an instance.)
     “About Ma’s mental state?”
     “Yes, and our growing old.”
Cat bookend #2
     I didn’t take the opportunity to discuss the wider problem of mental health for the two of them. I focused on Ma.
     “We’ll keep a close eye on her,” I said. “We’ll watch her carefully. But let’s not get upset yet. We’ll just do the best we can.”
     And that was about it. I walked into my house.
     It’s an odd situation. Pa is at his best these days when he’s taking care of Ma. He can be very lucid, even wise, with regard to her. But he’s also by far the hardest of the two to deal with on a day-to-day basis. He can be very deluded, confused, addled. He occasionally denies that he’s losing his rational faculties—and yet he occasionally reveals that he understands that that is occurring.
     And yet I am vaguely cheered by this curious day. I suspect that Ma’s new wackiness is temporary, a product perhaps of her unconscious, unrecognized horror at losing her sister (a week or two ago). Or maybe it's a product of her worries about her kids (I won’t get into that).
     My folks: they both can be very smart, even wise. I’ll take these patches of clarity, mix them with my own concerns and machinations, and carefully move forward “with them.” 
     It will be OK.  
     (April 6, 2013)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Pulling into Nazareth (On "Magic Moments")

And then it happened
It took me by surprise
I knew that you felt it too
By the look in your eyes*
     I call ‘em “magic moments” (MMs). That’s a trite phrase, I suppose, but when I talk about them, which is almost never, that’s the phrase I use.
     I just looked up the word “magic.” The adjective can refer to “a quality that makes something seem removed from everyday life, esp. in a way that gives delight.”** Well, that’s pretty much what I have in mind.
     I’ve always had MMs—though maybe not as often as I do nowadays. I love ‘em, of course, though I tend to keep them to myself. (For the purposes of this essay, I’ll leave aside the MMs of romance. They seem to require special treatment.)

My sister and me, Vancouver, B.C., c. 1959
     FLEETING MEMORIES OF CHILDHOOD. Some of my MMs seem to be randomly-occurring, tenuous memories of moments from childhood. When they occur, it is as if I have been transported back to, say, 1962, sitting in my mother’s car (the passenger seat, next to mom) as she drives my sister to summer school. The school building is in the country, away from the city, and it is old, large, and intriguing (and I never go inside). Something lovely plays on the radio in that old car—a 1950 Buick? I am transfixed, there, in 1962. I want this moment to last.
     Was the experience, fifty years ago, “magical”? Or is it magical only now, when experienced anew, by this elderly fellow? I suspect that the original moment was some kind of magical, though that magic is now largely lost. And the memory, now, I suspect, owes at least some if its “magic” to a yearning for that moment and world in 1962—something lost or nearly so.

     NOT A SCENE, BUT A WORLD. Some magic moments concern ignorance and imagination, things in great supply among children. As I recall, as a child, I would encounter a scene—something described in a book or story or portrayed on a movie or TV screen—and my mind would somehow fill in the vast undescribed and undetermined of the scene’s “world” with a kind of vague, largely unspecified wonderfulness. The result: a Wonderful World. And a place beyond reach, probably.
     When I was very young, scenes of the Old West could be like that—not always, but sometimes, when the right image or sound or even smell entered my consciousness.
     It’s 1959 and I’m living with my family on a quiet street in Vancouver, BC (see photo above). No doubt, it’s raining. My folks have bought a plastic model of a Conestoga wagon. It sits there in the corner of the living room, on an end table near a couch. I stare at it and imagine a vaguely wonderful world, where the sun always shines and all things are exotic and interesting. That world is somehow gone, and that is sad and beautiful.
     People who chronically experience such thrall are sometimes called “romantics.” Romantics, of course, are people with “romantic” ideas:

romantic, adj.:
  • inclined toward or suggestive of the feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love
  • of, characterized by, or suggestive of an idealized view of reality**
     I knew nothing about the excitement of love in 1959 (I was four years old). But, otherwise, “excitement” and “mystery” are on the money. Idealized? Well, yes. That Wonderful World was surely better than the one I was in. 

     ONE SUCH WORLD, IN A BOOK. I recall that, as a young school child, I was introduced, at some point, to a richly illustrated reader about a small group of boys and girls, living in the country, a fecund place with trails and forests and hills. Looking at those pages, my imagination was wildly actuated, and I was transported to the world (it seemed) of that book. I now remember virtually nothing about that reader, and the world, but I do remember being utterly transfixed by its illustrations. I know I wanted to be in that world, though I understood, too, that it was a fantasy.
     Once in a while, I’ll see an illustration—typically, in an old children’s book—that reminds me of the old images and world of that book. My senses, or quasi-senses, are piqued; it is as though I hear the faint plucking on the strings of some distant, harp. I cannot quite hear the sound, but I feel the plucking. I try to find it, to focus upon it, the sound, in my mind. But the best I can do is maintain that faint plucking of unheard sounds. It dies away. It's gone.

     A WORLD THOUGHT, NOT SENSED. When I was young, the “worlds” of such moments could be “big”—such as the “Old West.” More often, however, they were relatively circumscribed: the smallish world of the imagined adventures of Daniel Boone (the wilderness of Kentucky) or, say, the valley of the farm of Lucas McCain (of the “Rifleman” TV series). The magic world could be a small thing.
     How odd it is to feel a world that one cannot quite sense, even with sense memories. One has more an idea of it. —The idea of a sensory world, sans any image or sound or feeling, like a photograph that is blank yet that demands that one listen intently to it, or a sound that one cannot help but stare at with eyes wide open. Strange, complex phantom-experiences. Dream-like, I suppose. And yet, the imagined world is somehow just a world, that is, in time and space to be lived in as one does every day.

     THAT "NEIGHBORHOOD" FEELING. I want to say that I stopped thinking about such worlds a long time ago.
     On the other hand, I love old artifacts and buildings. Always have. I even bought one once—a small, two-story house built in 1903, in a neighborhood in Old Towne Orange. Living in that house, I would often experience a kind of thrill—a magic moment—of a special world, somehow in the past, but also in the present. I later grew conscious of a more definite recurring "moment" that would punctuate my days: a special neighborhood feeling—a special sense of the quiet little community of people there, quietly living beyond those walls, somehow tied to these old homes with their old bricks, and narrow slats, and plumbing, and outmoded designs. To live there, it seemed, was to participate in an older way of life, something largely lost. My neighborhood feeling was slightly Tom Sawyerish and a more than a little Henry Aldrichish. 
     I moved out of that house fifteen years ago, but I recently had occasion to walk past it. It was night; I walked down Orange street, past my house, down the block; I then turned the corner, and then another corner.
     A cat followed. I called to it—and then I had the moment, a faint thing. It was that old “neighborhood” feeling, carried, it seemed, by Mr. Cat, with his fine neighborhood ways, who somehow stopped following. I looked for him. I tried to hang on to the magic, but it grew more faint. No cat.



       THE UNDYING DEEP MAGIC OF "THE WEIGHT." Songs can bring magic. I recall seeing the film “Easy Rider” as a teenager. At one point, the biker duo—"Captain America" and Billy—ride across vast landscapes accompanied by “The Weight,” the song by Bob Dylan’s backing band (eventually named simply The Band). I’m not sure, but I do believe that that song was magical to me from that moment on.
     Once again, in the song, we're in rural America, if not the Wild West, in a town called “Nazareth.”*** The singer enters the town—perhaps by car (he "pulls in")—with a mission (we eventually learn), but he runs into difficulty:
I pulled into Nazareth, I was feelin' about half past dead
I just need to find a place where I can lay my head
"Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?"
He just grinned and shook my hand, "No", was all he said

CHORUS: 
Take a load off Annie
Take a load for free
Take a load off Annie
And you put the load right on me
 
I picked up my bag and I went lookin' for a place to hide
When I saw Carmen and the Devil walkin' side by side
And I said, "Hey, Carmen, come on, let’s go downtown"
And she said, "Well, I gotta go, but my friend can stick around" 
(Chorus) 
Go down, Miss Moses, there's nothin' you can say
'Cause just ol' Luke and Luke's waitin' on the Judgment Day
"Well, Luke, my friend, what about young Anna Lee?"
He said, "Do me a favor, son, woncha stay an' keep Anna Lee company?" 
(Chorus) 
Crazy Chester followed me and he caught me in the fog
He said, "I will fix your rack[?], if you'll take Jack, my dog"
I said, "Wait a minute, Chester, you know I'm a peaceful man"
He said, "That's okay, boy, won't you feed him when you can?" 
(Chorus) 
Catch a Cannonball, now, to take me down the line
My bag is sinkin' low and I do believe it's time
To get back to Miss Annie, you know she's the only one
Who sent me here with her regards for everyone 
(Chorus)****
     I’m not sure how much of the scene painted by these lyrics was clear to me when the song first did its magic more than forty years ago (in those days, I never bothered to work out lyrics, preferring to respond to the aural/lyrical gestalt). I think I understood only vaguely what was going on. But the setting—an older and rural America with people named “Anna Lee” and “Crazy Chester” and “Luke”—was clear enough. So was the mission revealed at the end.
     Through the years, listening to, and loving, this song, I’m not sure I ever wanted really to be in Nazareth. I suppose I placed the town in some vaguely rural/small-town America, which is in many ways attractive to me, but I always understood the bleakness of the song's scene and the sense of frustration of the singer.
     Still, I’m sure I’ve always felt the usual MM longing when this song’s magic would hit me. Carried into this song’s special world, I want something. But what? (Or I've got something, and I seek to keep it, knowing it will slip away.) The place—Nazareth—is intriguing, and yet there’s trouble here. The singer is less-than-well-to-do, it seems, and he’s not having much luck in this odd town. A young woman—Annie—has sent her friend, the singer, with her regards (only that?) to friends in Nazareth. Why did she send the singer and not go herself? The singer knows at least one person in town—Carmen, who saddles him with "the devil"—but he seems like a stranger anyway, alone and unsettled and perhaps puzzled. And why the suggestion of violence in his encounter with Chester?
     Why does this man's difficulty doing a friend a favor have such resonance? His endeavor is vaguely attractive, traveling to this town in the night, there to leave his regards for a friend. His reactions to his odd encounters with Carmen and Chester and Luke are our reactions, of course: we understand his frustration, if not the particulars of his mission. We are told almost nothing about the town of "Nazareth." The song's names and allusions suggest the Bible Belt: rural, small town America, like the areas The Band often played in before and during their association with Dylan.
     At the song's end, the singer, perhaps dejected, tells us it's time to leave, and he catches a train back—to Annie, who remains a mystery.
     What's it all mean? Not sure. But the bare story, with its hints at tasks and promises and frustrations and fidelity, is powerfully compelling nevertheless. Like so much magic, it seems to depend on the vast undefined space that, somehow, is readily filled with our vague and unlocated stuff of wonderfulness. This magic is like a song, faintly heard, that is beautiful for as long as we can't quite grasp its melody and harmonies though we sense their lovely presence, somehow, in our mind's imaginings.

     * "This Magic Moment," by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, 1960. See here and here and here.
     ** All definitions from my Mac's dictionary
     *** Nazareth (Pennsylvania) is, among other things, the home of Martin Guitars. The only American member of the Band is its singer, Levon Helm, who hailed from Arkansas.
     **** By Robbie Robertson of the Band, 1968. See here.

The Band: four Canadians and an older guy, from Arkansas

Friday, November 23, 2012


From Austen's "Other Minds," p. 160

Friday, September 7, 2012

What's all this talk about RUBRICS?



     Lately, I've been carping about the ubiquitous (in academia) word "rubric." It's cringeworthy.
     Here's a slightly more developed version of my carpage:

The OED:
     I consulted the Oxford English Dictionary, which, of course, provides the history of words used in the English language.
     Evidently, in English, the word “rubric” was first used, circa 1400, to refer to a “direction in a liturgical book as to how a church service should be conducted…” (OED). Traditionally, these directions were written in red (the word seems to have derived from a French or Middle French word for ocher/ochre).
     That initial meaning quickly gave rise to a prominent new meaning of “rubric” as a “heading” of a section of any book—again, written in red. One hundred and fifty or so years later, the noun “rubric” referred to the heading of a statute in a legal code (the color dimension drops out). By the early 19th Century, the word was used to refer to a “descriptive heading; a designation, a category” (OED).
     Let’s call this the “heading/category” branch/saga of the word “rubric.”
     Also knocking around in recent centuries is/was a meaning of “rubric” such that it refers to an “established custom” or prescription—this strikes me as diverging significantly from the original textual meaning.
     Let’s call this the “rule/prescription” branch of the "rubric" saga.
     Also, “rubric” was used to refer to a “calendar of saints” or the names on such a calendar, written in red.
     Evidently, by the mid-20th Century, academics (only in England?) used the term as an “explanatory or prescriptive note introducing an examination paper” (OED). This appears to be a very specialized meaning. Interestingly, it seems to derive from “rubric’s” initial meaning as a “direction,” though the color and religious dimensions are absent.

Meanwhile, back in the colonies:
     My Mac’s dictionary* defines “rubric” as a “heading on a document,” but it also cites the original meaning (see above) and two more meanings: a “statement of purpose” and a “category.”
     Merriam-Webster's account of the word starts with the word’s initial meaning: “an authoritative rule; especially: a rule for conduct of a liturgical service….” But it also lists “the title of a statute,” a “category,” a “heading,” an “established rule,” and finally “a guide listing specific criteria for grading or scoring academic papers, projects, or tests.” More on the latter meaning momentarily.

     My own history with the word seems to have brought me in contact with the “category” and “heading” meanings. (“Gosh, doesn’t that investigation belong under the ‘natural philosophy’ rubric?”) Until recently, I had no idea the word is associated with the color red or that it initially referred to directions (in texts, in red) concerning religious rituals. The above lexicographic info does seem to explain why one might have my particular understanding of the word.

     Nowadays, some academics insist on using the word “rubric” or “rubrics” to refer to assessment tools. They're pretty unapologetic about this peculiar conduct of theirs. No doubt, such use of the word makes them feel special, but it tends to confuse the rest of us, including many academics. It seems clear that this particular usage is new and technical (in some benighted academic circles: education?) and, insofar as it is imposed on a wider audience, it is classic “jargon” (in the most negative sense of the word). Perhaps the usage derives from the 20th Century usage referred to by the OED: an “explanatory or prescriptive note introducing an examination paper.” But I doubt it. It is a long way from that meaning to the current educationist jargony meaning.

     Wikipedia has an interesting article about “Rubric (academic)”:
     In education terminology, scoring rubric means "a standard of performance for a defined population". The traditional meanings of the word Rubric stem from "a heading on a document (often written in red—from Latin, rubrica), or a direction for conducting church services". …[T]he term has long been used as medical labels for diseases and procedures. The bridge from medicine to education occurred through the construction of "Standardized Developmental Ratings." These were first defined for writing assessment in the mid-1970s and used to train raters for New York State's Regents Exam in Writing by the late 1970s….
. . .
     ...Rubric refers to decorative text or instructions in medieval documents that were penned in red ink. In modern education circles, rubrics have recently (and misleadingly) come to refer to an assessment tool. The first usage of the term in this new sense is from the mid 1990s, but scholarly articles from that time do not explain why the term was co-opted….
     I briefly investigated the history of this entry. In one of its original iterations, the article stated:
     In education jargon, the venerable word rubric has been misappropriated to mean "an assessment tool for communicating expectations of quality." Rubric actually means "a heading written or printed in red" (see main entry for rubric). We may hope that some other term will soon replace the fad for this misuse of rubric.
     In educationese, rubrics are supposed to support student self-reflection and self-assessment as well as communication between an assessor and those being assessed. In this new sense, a rubric is a set of criteria and standards typically linked to learning objectives. It is used to assess or communicate about product, performance, or process tasks. [Good God, my eyes are glazing over.]....
     Well, whatever.
 
The "technical term as superior" fallacy:
     Over the years, I have often encountered a particular fallacy that is available to those who learn the technical terms of a particular field or discipline. The fallacy is committed when one supposes that one’s technical meaning of word X is somehow the true and correct meaning of that word; accordingly, one supposes that that meaning eclipses (or should eclipse) the word’s ordinary meaning (what philosophers call the meanings of “natural language”).
     Utter nonsense. In general, the meanings of words in our language do not require repair or adjustment or replacement. (Admittedly, they do require discerning and informed use.) Technical meanings arise relative to particular disciplines and their particular agendas and issues. Thus, for example, there is a very good reason for the technical term “valid” in logic, just as (no doubt) there is a very good reason for the technical term “mass”** in physics. (I'll stick to logic, which is my field.)
     Even so, it would be absurd for logicians to advocate (to the broader community) abandoning the ordinary meaning(s) of “valid” in favor of this technical meaning. The most that can be said in favor of the latter meaning is that our language (as English speakers) would be enriched by adding yet another meaning of “valid,” namely, the logician’s technical meaning. But if we seek to continue to speak (and write) well, we need to keep those non-technical meanings in our quiver.
     It seems to me that it is exactly those fields that are least secure in their standing (in academia, or among intellectuals) that tend to produce “experts” who insist on imposing their technical meanings on the rest of the population. (SLOs, anyone?)
     Education people (or whoever you are): in English, “rubric” means “heading” or “category.” It does not mean “an assessment tool for communicating expectations of quality.”
     If you feel that everyone should adopt this particular technical meaning (shoving aside more venerable meanings), you need to make a case for that.
     Good luck with that.

*New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd Edition
**An argument is valid, in the logician’s technical sense, if, upon viewing the premises as true and the conclusion as false, a contradiction arises. Physics: "the quantity of matter that a body contains, as measured by its acceleration under a given force or by the force exerted on it by a gravitational field." --NOAD