Literalism defines and confines.
Here, literalists lose an icon. Moderate figurativists gain a chance.
Respect for any life lost is appropriate, even where fissures remain in its wake, or regrets based on one's personal or political interests color death's choice of time, place, manner. Here, the loss of the life of Justice Scalia is especially poignant because he is more than an icon. He dedicated his life purposefully, publicly, and over the long term to what he believed was the correct legal path for his job, but there is more.
Justice Scalia. Tribute, and comment, with disagreements on the value of literalism as dispositive of anything.
He also was fun, apparently: and a good, comfortable friend, even with those who opposed his formal views. He lived his beliefs, with one marriage, nine children, and some 36 grandchildren (and counting?), see http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/02/13/justice-scalia-found-dead-texas-ranch/80347474/#
1. Regret for his unbending literalism. Loss of the deep world of the figurative. Originalism to describe the mindset is inadequate, as evoking too much the specifically tricornered hat approach to history.
Formal grief, however, can include disagreement with choices made.
Here, disagree with Scalia's choice of literalism as the best tool for implementing the Constitution. Literalism anywhere, as with religious texts, political texts, ordinary communications among people, excludes too much of what communication can communicate. Recall the response recently to Madeleine Albright noting a special place in hell for women who do not support women, see http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/13/opinion/madeleine-albright-my-undiplomatic-moment.html. I suggest that a decade or two ago, those words would have been heard as intended, as figurative, a simple rhetorical exaggeration for effect, and not suggesting real damnation. Hyperbole, covered in most English courses at some time back then, was recognizable and appreciated. Dusting it off now, however, is met with horror by a population inundated with literalism as the One True Way to experience, express the world.
- Who with a current basic education sees what is really said in these old examples:
- My love is a red, red rose.
- No, your love isn't, says the literalist. You are a liar. Your love is flesh and blood. The literalist is unaware of metaphor.
- We left the White House dead broke, says the figurative speaker.
- No such thing, says the literalist. You had money so you weren't broke. You lie, says the literalist, unaware of hyperbole.
- Is it loss of education in our public, that makes the literal approach the default, the only tool for understanding and expression recognized out there.
- There is a more fully-dimensioned world of figurative approaches that add depth and nuance to meaning, and is worth exploring: a tradition stemming from our culture as far back as Greece and Rome and probably before.
- And who in the broad electorate can go further to identify the many more subtle uses of language, all valid, all traditional, see http://www.enkivillage.com/figure-of-speech.html
- Those who cannot recognize figures of speech for themselves are open to manipulation by the literalists, who coax them to cry lie instead of think; and so fall in line.
Justice is not literalism to be applied in any text or case with no recourse to equity or intent and purpose to solve a problem, not just punish; any more than a thinking religion is mere literalism as to old texts. A generation of over-incarcerating in the criminal justice system exemplifies the damage of over-literalism.
Literalism does not always work for the literalist, however.
- Literal nomination power: Literalism works against the literalists sometimes, when they do not like the result. Then they turn figurative, but not saying so.
- Where the Constitution is truly unambiguous, and the language provides for the president to nominate a successor to the supreme court, then it honors the memory of Justice Scalia to stand back while the President does so: The literalists cannot plausibly object. The President shall nominate, as President Obama has indicated he will pursuant to Constitutional authority; and whatever other branches do next in terms of confirmation or not is their Constitutionally answerable path.
- See Constitutional wording at FN 1.
3. Literalism and unbending definitions and labels.
Adherence to literalism dumbs down the electorate and foster dysfunctions in government.
Justice Scalia, did you see that? That literalism prevents effective governance, hinders solving of problems creatively, and fosters instead jockeying for power. Is that so, as well, in home and employment life where roles are made rigid. How many literalists dance on the head of a fixed role pin. Fixed rolling pin?
The trend ot literalism as to Scalia started years ago, see http://www.salem-news.com/articles/september152009/republican_literalism_kr_9-15-09.php
Start keeping track.See the effort to downplay and denigrate the non-literal. Yet, there are always ambiguities, latent and patent, that require interpretation, and those literalism would have us ignore, and interpret on mere belief that suits the interpreter..
4. Explore the impact of political Literalism v Figurativism.
- A literalist says the right to bear arms is absolute; but then goes on to define arms other than as in effect at the time written. So, literal gun rights depend on the figurative to make its case for arm everybody everywhere without restriction, mostly.
- A literalist says human life is sacred, but finds no text so stating. So the literalist has to turn to the figurative, to avoid these conundra:
- The same word, ruach, or breath, breath of life, is applied to the furred, finny and winged in creation, as well as the human. So is not all life sacred, partaking of ruach?
- And what makes human life sacred? Making something in the image of something else does not convey sacred attributes. I can make a pot in the shape of a shoe, but that step no shoe makes. Etc.
- Before there is breath, looking back to "life," what is it?
- There is no literal answer. Old ensoulment ideas recognized that.
- Ideology's problems are best addressed instead by making the desired behavior so positive an experience in all respects, that those of us capable of birth, for example, will indeed choose it. Period. No force, no compelling
- What? No punishments? no shaming? no destroying financial independence, or preventing it because she conceived? horrors, says the literalist, who nonetheless can find no rational basis for doing so.
- Just ease the path, make it desirable.
6. So, see how the fissure in the Republican party that was fostered by Justice Scalia, is now embraced by apparently all the candidates for highest office.
Literalism reduces the intelligence quotient, by limiting what is permissible to ask, is that so? How to test? The political landscape is become
a) an imagined unyielding principled far-right conservatism against
b) an imagined weak compromising gang of moderates.
The split divides the literates themselves in degree of literalism, with Justice Scalia's brand staking out an absolute stance for literalism against any non-literal, figurative interpretation of a communication, including the Constitution.
- Democrats? It appears that Democrats are mostly Figuratives. Consider a spectrum of possibilities before committing to one or another.
- There is room for figurative Republicans, then, kicked out of their own mainstream ranks, those capable of compromise, historic venerating the process of problem-solving rather than imposing Win for Me, to join in. Watch this space.
a. The Nine Nations of North America, by Joel Garreau 1981, see http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/07/03/where-do-borders-need-to-be-redrawn/nine-nations-of-north-america-30-years-later;
b. American Nations, by Colin Woodard 2011, see http://www.colinwoodard.com/americannations.html
c. The Accidental Superpower, by Peter Zeihan, http://zeihan.com/the-accidental-superpower/;
Add geopolitics to the mix, for optimism for a small portion of the planet, undeserved (we just happen to live where these resources are) but readily available, but can this happenstance withstand the turmoil globally.
FN 1: *** He [the President] shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by law. *** [emphasis supplied]