Perspectives on the Insurgency #2: Nicholas is not part of the solution

This is part #2 in a sequence of exchanges between myself and Jennifer Edeburn , on the appropriateness of complaints against Quora. It builds on the Salon and the Neighbourhood Gang analogy, and do go back and read that post if you haven’t already.


Gangs like this always have a couple of people who seem better than the rest, who are polite to the waitstaff and don’t participate in the undesirable behaviors. You can’t always figure out why they are even hanging out with these people to begin with. That’s you, and that’s one of the places where this analogy falls apart, because I do understand your concerns and why you participate. I admit to some disappointment, though, because I don’t see evidence that you *distinguish*. I’m sure it’s quite possible that it’s there and I don’t see it because I am (obviously!) not privy to everything you do on the site, but keep in mind that what is available for me to see is the same thing that is available for everyone to see and what is not, is not.

I upvoted your answer on the RAQ question [Nick Nicholas’ answer to Why was the blog Rage Against Quora deleted (noticed on January 24, 2017)?] partly as a nod to the fact that you were careful to express that while you had concerns you did not agree with the methods used by others, and that you had enough respect not to piss on the carpet in Tatiana’s house — and I think it is notable that you used that description, so similar to my analogy. And then you upvoted another answer on the same post that was nothing but derogatory towards moderation, and that I felt likely crossed the lines of BNBR! Please do me a favor; go back and read that answer, really read it. Then pretend that some newbie follows you because you appear in the interesting people strip, and then that content shows up in their feed because you upvoted it. That’s what you want them to see in their first week? That answer is going to convince them that this is a place of civil discourse, a salon for considered discussion and argument?

(Aside: I really like your description of Quora as a salon).

Please do not get me wrong; I agree that Quora has many failings. I am not suggesting that they should not be discussed — I think they should be discussed, and I respect that what drives you is a desire to discuss them with the hope of making Quora a better place. I do not sense that this is what drives most of the rest of the members of the movement, although I strongly suspect that may simply be that I haven’t observed it in the tone of their comments, and their motives are similar to yours. I think, though, that you have more power than you may see to influence it in a constructive direction.

I feel that I have not been particularly constructive in my criticisms above, only pointing out the problems but not offering any solutions; the only constructive thing I have possibly done is made you aware of how at least one “outsider” (me) views this whole mess. Apologies for that.

My response:

About tactics used by others and the RAQ post: I have concluded that Scott was not in the wrong (and I certainly did not intend to throw him under the bus!) I did concede that some might think that.

To the substance of your message:

I do not distinguish. That’s the remark that smarted, because it’s true. And I have a responsibility to distinguish publicly, both as a moral agent, and as someone providing a forum for The Insurgency. Even if I am not an asshole, I have corporate responsibility in at least some sense for those who are.

I know why I don’t distinguish, and the reasons for that are going to be the subject of the next two posts. It’s about group loyalty and ideological loyalty. These have their place, but these also have their limits, and we’ll be going into that.

Jennifer’s criticism defuses the obvious retort, which is that I’m not accountable for what others do. Well, true. But it is incumbent on me to give a good example of conduct—especially since for me this is more about personal morality than bringing about change, anyway. And it is also incumbent on me—here’s the hard bit—to call out bad behaviour in others.

So I fully accept that. Just as well, because I reject what comes next 🙂 — but let me explain my thinking, and you tell me if it stands up.

Do I want a user to see grousing and venom on their first week on Quora? No, they should see what is good with the place long before what is bad. Quora is not a forum for complaining about moderation, it is a forum for exchanging knowledge and insight. The complaining about moderation is just a lagniappe. 🙂 And after all, if they don’t see enough in the community worth defending and sticking up for, they’re not going to bother defending and sticking up for to begin with.

Do I want a user to see grousing and venom from me on their first week on Quora, just because they liked my somnulent goatee on the Recommended Quorans slider? No, for the same reason. I’d like to think the bots would take care of that by picking what they feed, but if I trusted the bots, I’d have a lot less to complain about.

Do I want a user to see grousing and venom from someone else just because I upvoted them? Well, here I disagree. This has actually come up in a quite different context, as I spoke to in Nick Nicholas’ answer to Are you more careful about what you upvote/comment on answers because your followers will see it in their feed? . There are answers I give anonymously, because I’m aware that some in my audience would take offence at them. But I have decided that constraining my upvotes is a step too far.

I am quite slapdash about my upvotes, and I award them out of individual loyalty, group loyalty, amusement, intellectual appreciation, and on very rare occasion randomness. I award upvotes to see more of the upvoted material on my feed, and to let people know I’ve read them. Upvotes don’t always connote to me that I agree with everything they said. Even when they do, they don’t always connote to me that I agree with how they said it. And even when they do that, they don’t always connote that I hold them up as an exemplar for the rest of the community.

Others on that question think differently about their upvotes. I respect their perspectives, I get them, I just don’t share them. My Quora Feed is still primarily about me.

I’ve had a good exchange on this topic in PM with McKayla Kennedy (or, as I like to think of her, the angel on my shoulder). You can see McKayla’s approach to the issue at McKayla Kennedy’s answer to Are you more careful about what you upvote/comment on answers because your followers will see it in their feed? . This was how I encapsulated mine to her:

I will put my name with an upvote to something prurient. I will not put my name to something stupid, or hateful. I’ve been challenged on my upvotes of Quora criticism which is hateful, as being motivated by me partaking in mob mentality. I want to think very long and hard about that, because they may be right.

(Why yes, Jennifer, I have been discussing this exchange with other people!)

I think I will keep upvoting as I have done, for my own ill-thought out and selfish purposes. But ACTION: I think that makes it all the more incumbent on me to identify outright hateful (or worse, stupid) responses, and withhold my upvote from them, just as I withhold my upvote from responses in politics or religion that I may find politically agreeable, but morally or intellectually lacking. And ACTION: it is all the more important for me to call out publicly what I think can go wrong in Insurgency tactics, even when I don’t muster the courage to say that to an individual’s face.

Why is Iran one of the most hated countries?

I love questions about Iran, Anon. I actually know very little about Iran, and much of what I do know is through people right here on Quora. But I know enough about the neighborhood, as their neighbours’ neighbour, that I can make intelligent guesses.

They may be very far from correct guesses, of course. But you did choose to A2A me.

In this answer, I will try to be fair. I have my own ideology and opinions, and they will become clear. But neither Iranians nor Americans are my enemy.

The West is under American hegemony. Now, hegemony is not necessarily a bad thing (although I do need to read a lot more about what Gramsci originally meant by it). Hegemony involves a way of thinking that gets adopted by the many, and that benefits a privileged group. That doesn’t mean that the privileged group is wrong. And that doesn’t mean that the many aren’t sincere in their agreement with the privileged group. Whatever Gramsci says.

Some of the American hegemony’s ideology include secular government, constraint on mob justice, distancing from terrorism (a notion the US has not been very consistent about), acceptance of American dominance, and social freedoms.

The Iranian theocracy has over the years done several things that run counter to this ideology. Again, just because they are challenging a hegemon does not make them right: sometimes Goliath is the good guy after all. And conversely, just because their government rejects Western ideas of what a good country is, doesn’t automatically make them a Bad Country. Ideologically, however, America and Iran are opposed.

That is enough to make Iran call America the Great Satan, and the US to reciprocate the demonisation.

There were a few other factors that cemented the perception of Iran as part of the so-called Axis of Evil.

  • The humiliation of America with the hostage crisis.
  • Proxy conflicts with America in Lebanon and the Iran-Iraq war.
  • The interregnum between the Soviet Union and modern day Russia and China, and for that matter Al Qaeda and ISIS, when Iran was seen as the major Challenger to the American World Order.
  • The challenge Iran poses to Israel, which is always a factor in how the US, if not Europe, views regional players.
  • Conspicuous challenges to the Western model of social liberalism, including the veil and the fatwa against Salman Rushdie.
  • Of course, the fact that both demographically and militarily, as well as by virtue of geography, Iran is well positioned to be a thorn in America’s strategic interests.
  • Fear of Islam as a challenge to the West overall.

Readers will have different opinions about which of these concerns are merited and which are not. Alert readers will be aware that some of those challenges are more acute in Saudi Arabia than in Iran.

If history had played out slightly differently, and America had made some better informed decisions early on, Iran could have been an arms length ally of America, instead of Saudi Arabia. And if that had happened, even with Iran a theocracy, I doubt it would rank as high up on the list of hated countries as some now place it.

What was Nick Nicholas’ process to translate Hamlet into Klingon?

I thank you for the question, ’erIq qaDye qaH! I’ll answer a bit more broadly than your details ask, but I may get a big vague; it was after all 20 years ago.

I learned Klingon in 1994. I had enough arrogance and free time, that I knew I’d be the one to write the Holy Grail of Klingon, the translation of Hamlet. So I set out preparing for it.

I started with 9 Shakespearean sonnets (…), then worked my way up to Much Ado About Nothing (…). By the time I’d pummelled Much Ado out, I was ready to tackle Hamlet.

And I then did something uncharacteristic of me. I made sure I would not have the Holy Grail to myself. I solicited the help of someone I thought I could work well with, and who also had enough arrogance and free time: Andrew Strader, then a high school student in Columbus OH. I agreed with him that I’d do the verse and he’d do the prose. (I then had to teach him how to recognise the prose. 🙂 I also solicited two expert Klingonists, Will Martin and Mark Shoulson, to proofread the text and improve it. I had arrogance enough not to, and enough of a sense of responsibility to anyway.

The translation is pretty straight. References to Renaissance artefacts are swapped out with Space Age artefacts, where there are no equivalents in the Klingon dictionary. Earth nations are replaced with Star Trek races. So the “sledded Polacks” that Hamlet Sr fought in I.i are replaced with “the Kinshaya in their armoured vehicles”. All such instances were noted in endnotes; indeed, they are the bulk of the endnotes. And since very few people who bought the book read Klingon, they are the bulk of what most people read.

But I really did try not to do too much violence to the argument of the text; we did not change the text, just individual words. The dialogue was not made more brusque or anti-intellectual; in fact the foreword revels in this: the civility of Elsinore and the self-doubts of Khamlet makes the play come across to Klingons as a Kafkaesque nightmare, and a sad commentary on the degradation of Klingon morals.

We never felt at liberty to create new words. The Klingon movement does reward outstanding Klingonists with a new word from the language creator; and I did request a word I needed sorely for Much Ado. The word I asked for, with a twinkle in my eye, was cousin. Marc Okrand, being a linguist after all, had a twinkle in his eye right back: we both knew of the insane variety of kinship systems that “cousin” can invoke cross-linguistically.

We did feel at some liberty to coin compounds. Not all the compounds were felicitous; my coinage of QoQDIr “music skin” for “drum” has been mentioned by Mark Shoulson as an example of How Not To Do Things. By the time of the second edition of Khamlet in 2000, the vocabulary had expanded a little (including animals and musical instruments), so the more egregious of these coinages could be dispensed with. Okrand’s The Klingon Way had also come out by then, and its proverbial expressions were a big help in making Khamlet’s Klingon sound more culturally grounded.

I got gazumped on publishing Khamlet; a splinter group published their Hamlet first. (It wouldn’t be a conlang without a splinter group, after all.) De mortuis nil nisi bonum (Obituary: Glen Proechel). But… his translation did take all the shortcuts and liberties mine avoided.

I haven’t revisited our translation since 2000. I remember, back when I first encountered Zamenhof’s Hamlet (his own proof that Esperanto was a real language, 7 years after creating it), thinking that it flowed well, and was arresting stylistically—but that it had none of the subtlety of Shakespeare’s English: that in such a young language, there was something fairy-tale about the rendering. (Newell’s rendering, decades later, was maybe more scholarly and sophisticated, but certainly nowhere near as poetic.)

I don’t think the verdict on my Khamlet should be anywhere near as generous. The Klingon vocabulary is much more blunt than 1894 Esperanto’s. The Klingon iambic pentameter I used has no finesse, and a lot of clumsy suffixes to pad out the metre. I used crude puns and assonances rather than any genuine wit. I don’t think it flowed that well.

But of course, I’m a harsh critic of myself. Maybe it wasn’t that bad. And whether or not it was that bad, I’ll tell you what, it was a hell of a lot of fun.

What does the “S” above the ICXC mean?

It’s not an S, per se; you’ll usually see it as just a bar, or a semicircle. Zeibura S. Kathau unearthed an instance that looked like a capital omega. It’s an abbreviation marker: Ι͞Ϲ Χ͞Ϲ is an abbreviation of IHϹΟΥΣ ΧΡΙϹΤΟϹ. The convention is particularly prevalent for Nomina sacra, divine names and titles.

Here’s Wikipedia’s illustration from the Codex Vaticanus of the Bible (4th century), with Ι͞Υ (IHϹΟΥ = of Jesus) and Θ͞Υ (ΘΕΟΥ = of God):

What are some examples of onomatopoeia in your language?

Modern Greek.

I’m going to list indeclinable, straight iconic words, as opposed to the far larger set of inflected words with an onomatopoeic etymology (like zuzuni for bug or platsurizo for to splash).

  • bam bang, dan ding dong, apsu < Turkish hapşu sound of sneezing, kix cough, xrats scratch, drin ring ring, ksu shoo, prits blowing raspberry, ɣlu glug glug, sut shoosh, psit psst, ftu spit
  • ɣav bark bark, njau meow, tsiu cheep cheep, kokoko cluck cluck, kokoriko cock-a-doodle-doo

Modern Greek also has a quite elaborate baby talk register partly based on onomatopoea. (In fact, Tsakonian has its own distinct set of baby talk words!)

  • mam eat, dziz fire/danger, pipi pee, kaka poo, nani sleep, tsa peek-a-boo, nini baby, ata < Italian strata walkies, tutu car

Is the employment of rhetorical tropes dishonest?

You come to me highly recommended, Melinda Gwin, by the Magister, with a very ticklish question. You ask me a question that the Magister has already answered exhaustively, and morally, and Stageritically. What then may I say? Τί σοι προσοίσω, δέσποινα;—What shall I offer thee, lady? (Though you may not be that familiar with Comnenan Byzantine poetry: cf. Theodore Prodromos, Ptochoprodromos I 1…)

Of course the Magister is right that metaphor and other such devices are inherent in our conceptualisation of the world (and not just in language). I’ve read my Lakoff! But that’s not where you were going with this.

Of course the Magister is right that morality inheres in the agent, and not the vehicle. Words are a tool, just like guns are; and not that I have much sympathy with the NRA, but words don’t kill people, people kill people. Sometimes, employing words.

Yet I don’t think that’s where you were going with this either.

I’ll go around the way I suspect this question was intended. Of course, it doesn’t matter how you intended it, Melinda, I’m going to answer it according to my suspicion.

The ideal behind this question I suspect, which is not that absurd or unreasonable an ideal, is that there is dispassionate reason and logic and cost/benefit analysis underlying an argument—which gets distorted by the introduction of emotion into the argument. And that whether that emotion is used for good or evil, it misleads the persuadee. They are not making their own evaluation of what is to be done, working through the arguments and evidence presented them; they are being swayed by beautiful words.

And not having read the Stagirite, or, well, anyone, it occurs to me that, on the one hand, there are illusions about this. Dispassionate analysis is a construct, and evidence can be selectively presented. Emotive appeals help one empathise with the options being laid out, and the heart does have a role in decision making. Appealing to logic instead of reason can itself be a distortion and partisan. The preference for logic and away from emotion is itself a bias that favours a particular kind of arguer and a particular kind of argument.

And yet, there is something to what you’re asking. There is the notion of someone making their own mind up based on data, and shutting out external influences. Data is an influence, and influence is data: the dividing line between data and influence is not as clear as we hope.

Yet there is something to be said for an individual, calmly, sine ira et studio, working their way through the arguments put before them, and prioritising their own interests in coming to a conclusion. Someone else’s rhetorical devices are going to get in the way of you pursuing your own interests in that ratiocination, because they inevitably facilitate someone else’s interests. In a way that raw data (sometimes—sometimes) does not.

And the most important equipment a citizen can have is training in recognising rhetorical strategies (that, and statistics). Not so they cannot be moved and persuaded by rhetoric. But so that at least they can recognise it when they’re on the receiving end of it.

How did those unworthy Terran petaQ manage to plagiarize Shakespeare so many years before first contact?

Lucky you, OP, because I wrote the introduction to The Klingon Hamlet, and translated the verse of the play (or rather, in-universe, I was editorially involved in the Terran edition of the play Tragedy of Khamlet, Son of the Emperor of Kronos, by Wil’yam Shex’pir, and translated the introduction).

And the introduction pays glancing mention to this issue. If I may quote myself (or rather, in-universe, what I translated):

It is regrettable that, during the years when the Empire and Federation were at war—a war the Federation fought on the propaganda front even more keenly than on the battlefield—certain indivduals resorted to crude forgeries of Shex’pir, claiming him as a conveniently remote mediaeval Terran, a certain Willem Shekispeore, and hoping by this falsification of history to discredit the achievements of Klingon culture.

We will not dwell on this unfortunate episode, although we are dismayed by the fact that this belief persists amongst many in the Federation to this day. In this edition, we juxtapose the Klingon original with the most prevalent of the versions of “Amlet” purported to have been written by “Shekispeore”. We think that the quality of the two plays—on the one hand, the spontaneous, direct, vibrant verse of Khamlet, and on the other, the flacid, ponderous, convoluted meanderings of “Amlet”—speak for themselves. Those who persist in being Doubting Thomazeds would do well to consult the Central Federation Mediaeval Archival Database on the meagre, unconvincing amount of information extant on the existence of this Shekispeore, and compare it to the testimonials of the Declassified Approved-For-Aliens pre-Khitomer Personnel Rolls on Wil’yam Shex’pir.

It remains a fact, though, that these forgeries were as thorough as they were malicious: gigabytes of allegedly Industrial Age back-dated so-called Shekispeorian Criticism were fabricated, and the works disseminated as part of a well-organised campaign. This campaign appears to have succeeded far beyond its initiators’ anticipations. For better or for worse, works like Amlet, for all their crudity, have acquired a certain resonance amongst citizens of the Federation, and Terrans in particular. This is no doubt due to their pseudo-mediaevalist parochial appeal, which has rendered these incisive masterpieces of sociopolitical analysis into innocuous picturesque period pieces—a genre favoured on Terra (and Betazed) much more than on planets like Vulcan and the Human colonies.

And of course, the notion of a mass-scale falsification of historical records did not originate with me in 1996. There are Quora users right now, claiming that the bulk of our accounts of Ancient history passed down in mediaeval manuscripts are Carolingian falsifications.

Are ήρθε and ήλθε interchangeable? Is there a difference in meaning?

No difference in meaning.

ήλθε is the archaic form. ήρθε is the vernacular form, and represents a regular sound change in the modern language.

ήρθε is now the unmarked verb form. If you use ήλθε, you will come across as speaking in Puristic (Katharevousa); 100 years ago, that made you be educated, 50 years ago, that made you a conservative, and nowadays, it makes you an oddity.

There will be some verb compounds where the old ήλθε form makes more sense; certainly in the Katharevousa-derived verb κατήλθε στις εκλογές “he ran [“down-went”] for election”, the vernacular *κατήρθε would be absurd. On its own as a verb for “came”, though, it’s hard to justify in contemporary use.