Re: mindfulness and freedom

Hagbard Celine (
Wed, 09 Jul 1997 12:14:41 -0400

Joshua F. McMichael wrote:

> What's this mysterious 'E-Prime' problem that you and Hagbard keep
> bringing up?

E-Prime is English without the verb "to be" (is, are, was); more
specifically, without the "is of identity" ("John is a liar; Linda is a
lawyer; Edgar is stupid.").

E-Prime emerges from the tradition of General Semantics. The reason for
E-Prime is that the "is of identity" connotes an eternal Platonic
essence possessed by the thing that is said to "be" something. The "is
of identity" tends to blind both the speaker and the audience to many
important characteristics about the relationship between the person
being described and the quality or category being assigned to them. "Joe
is a racist": "Racism" is not a measurable quantity of an object like
mass or momentum; there is no "racism meter" we can point to a person
that will detect whether Joe has the "essence" of a "racist" in him.
"Racist" is a _name_ we give to an object based on our observations of
emergent phenomena like behavior; but the assignment of the label is in
our heads, not in physical reality. E-Prime, by restricting the use of
the "is of identity," makes explicit the fact that these are statements
about the state of our nervous system, not about the outside world.
E-Prime confines itself to observations and operational statements like
"Joe frequently makes statements that sound racist to me" or even "I
heard Joe say Angelo is a dirty wop."

Examples of English
sentences translated into E-Prime: ENGLISH: Marty is an asshole.
E-PRIME: Marty frequently says things that make me
angry. ENGLISH: Religious fanatics like David Koresh are dangerous.
(Makes the implicit assignment "David Koresh was a
religious fanatic.") E-PRIME: The government considered David Koresh,
whose followers believed he was God, a danger to
their authority. (Talks about who holds what beliefs.) ENGLISH: Natalie
Merchant's voice is the most beautiful in the world.
E-PRIME: I like Natalie Merchant's voice better than anyone else's.
ENGLISH: Natalie Merchant is a Commie dupe.
E-PRIME: Natalie Merchant has said she thinks private property is bad.
(An operational statement of an observable fact
regarding something somebody has said.) [dV/dt] #

> If it's something along the lines of, "Human perceptions are
> limited, therefore our abstractions, definitions, and philosophies are
> all based on incomplete and possibly false data and can't be trusted,"
> then it's not the E-Prime problem, but a problem that Plato introduced
> into philosophy a long time ago. It's the basis of skepticism, mysticism,
> subjectivism, and a whole host of other crippling mental concepts.

I see your point here. E-Prime does seem to flow out of a recognition
that human perceptions are limited and therefore we are correspondingly
unable to say something *is* anything with any any degree of accuracy.
However, what I think is more accurate is that E-Prime flows out of the
fuzzy logic camp moreso than any of classicist logicians. It recognizes
that there is no eternal Platonic essence

> Is it wrong
> or impossible for me to say, "Capitalism is a moral political system and
> communism isn't." or "A philosophy which morally sanctions the initiation
> of force is a bad philosophy and therefore inferior to those philosophies
> which prohibit the initiation of force."?

The point is that you've ascribed your own internalized feelings to both
systems for eternity. (Maybe a bad thing, maybe not.) But this
incorrectly assigns to each system an essence that seems intrinsic to
the reader but is in reality merely a statement about your state of
mind. Maybe this would be more clear, and less assailable: I like
capitalism over communism because communism morally sanctions the
initiation of force. This makes it clear that you are offering a
subjective opinion, no matter how true you think it is, and you've made
your point also with a reason for believing it.

If I were to say, "Communism is a good philosophy and capitalism is a
bad philosophy." Your first reaction might be, "That's nice. Go on."
Expecting more from such a baldly opinionated statement such as that.
E-Prime seems to avoid these formulary distractions and thereby tends to
focus debate on substance.

Yeah, but that's just semantics.


> It seems to me that you would
> say that this type of ranking is either bad or impossible (judging by
> your statement, " heirarchically rank human thought conjures the
> very shades of ideology I seek to avoid in the first place.")

But note how Kathryn worded it. It's clearly her own view, not