Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Alternative Views

By Hugo Pooley, AIB





How often does one find that an individual, a class, nay a whole society… holds that there is only one right way to do a certain thing? TINA, There Is No Alternative, as Maggie Thatcher used to say. The tea must be poured into the cup before the milk (or perhaps conversely). Men cannot wear skirts; their shoes must be black; socks must be worn with sandals. No se debe nunca cortar la tortilla con cuchillo. My country, right or wrong. Financial institutions shall certify details of transactions for submission to the taxman…

And the funny thing – one learns as one travels – is that each place´s only right way is different to the others! Tax rules are a particularly rich area of illustrations.

In Swift´s “Gulliver´s Travels”, the Big-Endian/Little-Endian controversy - between those in favour of breaking boiled eggs at one end or the other - reflects British quarrels over religion.

When you grow up - for example – as a little Brit on that “small island” permeated with the spirit of good old subject-verb-object - the missionary position of word orders - and a healthy distrust of all things continental. And then start to learn French at school and are introduced to the concept of noun genders. To such a candid soul there is nothing intrinsically feminine about a door or a shoe: imagine the turmoil these continental revelations unleash in the fervid imagination of a 12-year-old! Mind already slightly broadened.

Then comes, say, the study of German: masculine, feminine and neutral; verb at the end of the sentence… WTF! Later Spanish, with two alternative words for – concepts of – the verb ´to be´, and a sentence can be arranged in almost any order… more like a grammatical Kama Sutra. Then perhaps Portuguese: hey, we´ll just swallow half the sounds and are telling you it´s perfectly reasonable to insert a particle, such as an object, in the middle of a verb, between its stem and ending: dar-to-ia.

Not to mention the weird and wonderful phenomena at play in more exotic languages… The end result has to be considerable mind expansion. In such a way that one begins to perceive that The Other may have a point, there may after all be more than one way to skin a cat: there´s no intrinsic reason why the salt cellar should be the one with a single hole in the cap, maybe gay marriage could be acceptable, perhaps it´s good to eat with one´s hands, why not mark the conservative-voting constituencies in red not blue, indeed perhaps a different electoral system would be fairer?

Mind thus blown… I don´t know if there are many intolerant left-wing bigots in our beloved profession, but submit that pursuant to the considerations above, there are not many closed-minded right-wing ones.




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