Pedra, Papel e Tesoura

29 de agosto de 2020

Some advice from Augustine, part 2.

You have seen this before and now you will see it again. As I finished reading Augustine’s next book, it’s time to show what I learned by reading it. This time, it’s Christian Doctrine. Despite its name, it is a hermeneutics and oratory manual, albeit oriented towards students and preachers. I try to focus more on hermeneutics and oratory, since, if you want to learn about Christ, there are already churches for that. Nevertheless, the issue of Christianity is inescapable, so every now and then I end up talking about it.

Whenever necessary, use other knowledge you have, including philosophy, science and common sense, to interpret a text you are reading. Some people have a talent for interpreting a text, but that talent is not universal, so there are people who need to learn how to interpret a text.

It is a common mistake to think that anyone can understand any text, that it would be enough to read it to understand. Some texts are written with the assumption that the reader already knows some things that the writer is exposing. For example: the economy segment of Jornal Nacional. Those who do not understand economy would not understand, no matter how many time William Bonner repeats it, how the rise or fall in GDP affects the lives of each citizen. Particularly among the poorest, for whom it does not matter if GDP is growing or falling, because it does not change the fact that there is no food at home. Some are hopeful when they see a GDP increase, but make no mistake: gross domestic product is the sum of the wealth produced in the country, and Brazil is an unequal country. If you are poor, you cannot expect much from GDP, because, even if Brazil was producing more wealth (high GDP), you will probably not even see the color of that wealth. Anyone who watches the economy segment of the JN without knowing this ends up thinking that a high GDP will make everyone rich tomorrow. Is not it. A high GDP may well benefit only those who are already rich.

Therefore, knowledge is needed to correctly interpret information. The more knowledge you have, the more texts you will understand. This is also true in the appreciation of the Holy Bible. For Augustine, to understand the Bible correctly, you may need knowledge of history or geography (for historical passages), and even science or certain professions (for metaphorical passages). For example: cornerstone, an expression used to describe the importance of Jesus. If you are not an architect or at least a bricklayer, you probably don’t know how important the angle of a construction is. The comparison between the importance of this element and Jesus is, then, lost. Thus, interpreting a text may require prior training in the elements to which the text refers.

There are two arts related to the text: interpretation (understanding what is written) and exposure (explaining what is written to someone else).

Aristotle wrote in his Metaphysics, if I’m not mistaken, that the proof that someone really learned something is their ability to teach what they’ve learned. I concede. But it is true that many people learn something very well and cannot teach what they have learned. Because teaching is, in itself, an art. Maybe that’s why some courses have different degrees for research and teaching…

Understanding what is written requires that you work only with your skill. Explaining what is written requires that you work with your listener’s level of understanding. If you are speaking to people with a lower cultural level, you will have to dose the words you use and be willing to clarify obscure terms. Furthermore, if the subject is important and your listener has other concerns in his head, you will have to use artifices to keep the subject’s attention. It follows that teaching is more difficult than learning.

Love of neighbor obeys the criterion of … proximity!

Some people resent being unable to do anything for those who suffer in other states or countries. But if you only think about it, you will forget that there are people in your city or even your family who need urgent help as well. We must do good to anyone who is within reach, without resenting for not being able to help people who are very distant from us, whether physically, emotionally or financially. Do good to anyone you can do. For others, pray.

If you are writing a book, make sure it is not tedious.

For Augustine, the Bible is an extremely stimulating book because of its metaphorical language, which keeps the reader coming back to it, trying to understand what was said. It is as if the allure of the Bible is to invite the reader to create his own theories about what is being said. This reinterpretation factor has not been exhausted until today and many people create biblical theories to this day. This effect is felt to a lesser extent by fans of series in which the viewer struggles to understand even what is not being said, such as Lost and Manifest. Part of the appeal of these works is to lead the person to theorize. This is not a privilege of books and series, because you can also see it in games, like Deltarune. The authors of these works understood that a good product is one that leads consumers to transcend it, to compare their theories with those of others, which stimulates the communities.

There are other ways to make a book (or series or game) more stimulating, but the best ways to do it are those that lead the reader to return to the work and read again. If you create allures to get the reader back to reading, even after he finished reading it once or twice, your work will be popular.

If you do not know the original language in which a work was written, your best bet is to compare the different translations of the text, instead of choosing a single translation, if what you want is to approach the original meaning.

As a matter of fact, there is a problem in the Christian religion which is the standardization of the Holy Bible. There are Protestant canons (66 segments, including books and letters), Catholic canons (74 segments) and Orthodox canons (up to 81 segments). Even if there was a canonical standardization, there is no agreement on which textual sources to use. There is the traditional text (composed of the Masoretic text and the text received from Erasmus) and the critical texts (historically more reliable copies, but which can contradict each other). This feud exists because the original texts of the Bible no longer exist. All we have are copies dating from different periods.

Furthermore, even if we had the originals, I don’t know anyone who can read Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek, which are the languages ​​in which the sacred texts were written. Besides, the Hebrew of that time had no vowels so the pronunciation of some proper names is lost. So, we would have to rely on translations. And then we have another problem: the translation method. Most Almeida’s translate by formal equivalence (each word must be translated by an equivalent word from the same grammatical class), while almost all other translations use dynamic equivalence (each sentence is translated by an equivalent one). All of these problems lead to the conclusion that, to arrive at what the original authors wanted to say, the believer cannot spend his life reading only one translation of the Bible. When you finish reading, give that copy to someone else and get another one, from another translator. The same is true for any book whose original language you are not familiar with.

A man does not create truths, but only discovers them.

“Truth” is a statement that is in accordance with objective reality (outside the subject). To conceive a truth, it is necessary to verify something. That thing creates the truth in me and I can then communicate it. If the truth depends on an observation of something coming from outside me, it follows that I do not create truths, but I discover them in the world. When the universe, the world, nature or anything outside of me contradicts what I think, it is because what I think is not true. If a person says something to me that is contradicted by these elements, it is because that person is lying to me. The invented truth is a lie. Only what is discovered, not made up, is true.

The truth must be accepted wherever it is found.

The problem for many today, particularly for young people, is to reject someone’s ideas without appraising them, because that person, at some point, professed a belief considered aberrant. “Ah, I won’t even bother to listen to a misogynist”, even if the guy isn’t one. But have you ever wondered if this misogynist suddenly says something right and with which you could agree? You will not know. And if you know, you’ll prefer to ignore it. After all, he is “a misogynist”. This is not a good thing, folks. The fact that a person spoke nonsense at some point does not indicate that said person will never say anything of value. If that were so, no one would study Schopenhauer today, or Nietzsche, two extremely influential philosophers, but who did not have very fair opinions about women. If that were so, no one would study Freud or Albert Moll, because both stated that children are sexual beings (which is not “bullshit”, since it is true, but it is scandalous to say it). If that were so, no one would study Marx, because he is a communist, or Bakunin, because he is an anarchist.

If someone, at any time, somewhere, says something that I don’t agree with, that’s fine; the guy is human and all humans make mistakes from time to time. This does not mean that I have to exclude the subject from my life entirely. Similarly, if a monstrous person says something right at least once, I have to accept that what he said is true, even if he is an execrable person. This does not mean that a person should accept everything that is said to them, but that, when a person gets in contact with a new idea, the person has to judge if it’s valuable or not, on a case-by-case basis. Of all the ideas you hear, you must stick to what is acceptable and ignore what is unacceptable.

This reminds me of an incident on Twitter, in which two “MAPs” (minor-attracted person) were discussing O’Carroll’s book, Paedophilia: the Radical Case . During their conversation, a “normal” guy arrives and asks what the hell are they talking about. The MAPs explain what the book is about and the normie says “if a pedophile wrote it, then I better not read it.” If he had to debate the book, he would assume that the author is wrong without having read what is written. But with what authority can a person speak of what he has never read? It is like hating Daikatana. It’s easy to find someone who hates Daikatana, but it is difficult to find who has played Daikatana.

The fact that the Holy Bible sometimes uses literal language and sometimes uses metaphors is exploited by those who use the scripture to justify their hatred. Nobody is perfect.

As stated before, the Holy Bible manifests itself literally and metaphorically, but it is not always clear when such transition occurs. This is exploited by religious leaders who want to use the Bible to justify actions that are condemned by the Bible itself. That’s how some people say they are pro-God and pro-gun with no shame on the face. “Love for enemies is metaphorical!” Ah, go flomp yourself, dude, it’s literal!

One could argue that love for enemies has to be metaphorical, because God hates sin. Can I not hate even sinners? No. After all, there is no man who does not sin. That includes you. This includes David (who committed adultery) and Solomon (who committed idolatry). Do you hate these people? Nobody is perfect. To use the fact that there are sinners as an excuse to exercise hatred is to add the sin of hypocrisy to the sin of wrath. It is, therefore, to sin twice.

The lie told in a pleasant, clear and convincing way is more easily accepted than a truth told in a boring, obscure and unpleasant way.

Amos Yee made a video dissing people who write like me. But I admit that I agree with what he said. I usually write in a way that is too technical and obscure for the general population. It makes my texts boring as hell. Nobody wants to read a boring or incomprehensible text. So, even when I say something that I consider to be true, I am not heard because I often write as an academic. If I’m gonna write like an academic, I should write a book, not a blog. That’s why I’m trying to write in simpler manner now…

It is because anyone can read what is posted on the Internet that the guys who create fake news strive to write at a level that lay people understand. Because that way they reach more people. It is impossible for them all to recognize that what the guy is saying is a lie. Thus, there will always be those who believe. If people who speak the truth do not try to write and speak in a clear, attractive and engaging way, the truth will always lag behind the lie. I’m trying to change the way I write… Please, tell me if I’m doing it right, will ya?

The mission of the writer is threefold: to instruct (with the fair exposure of the truth), to please (with the pleasurable use of words) and to convince (with the usefulness of what is said). The truth must be understandable, appreciable and convincing. The style should change throughout the text as needed.

When writing a text or speaking to an audience, the subject must keep in mind that he has three goals. The first is to speak clearly enough so that the audience knows what he is saying and understands him. It is the kind of goal that no one achieves at a Hegel convention. If the person doesn’t understand what you’re saying, they won’t be willing to spend their time listening to you. The second goal is to keep the person’s attention. In the times of Augustine, the speakers did this with flourished, beautiful speech, with poetic words and such. Today, we find that quite boring. There are better ways today to keep your audience’s attention. Humor, for example. Marx, in his German Ideology, often uses jokes to keep the reader’s attention. And really, if I have to read a seven-hundred-page treatise on political economy, I better at least be able to laugh while I read. That’s why Schopenhauer’s Parerga and Paralipomena are more popular than The World as Will and Representation, by the same author. Parerga look like a book of jokes written by Jair Bolsonaro, if Bolsonaro had two functional brain cells. It is as funny as it is politically incorrect.

The third goal is to convince the subject who reads the book or hears the speech to act the way you, as author, would like him to act, thus bringing about changes in society. This goal is awfully neglected, but I strive like a dog to accomplish it. Because it is no use for a person to know the truth about what is happening and not be able to act on it. The champion in this category is Leonardo Stoppa, who hosts Leo ao Quadrado with Leonardo Attuch, on TV 247. He says that Brazil is no longer a democracy, that the left has no unity, among other things with which I agree. But he gives no clues, no suggestions of what to do about it. That’s why I stopped watching that. That is why I agree with those who say that Stoppa does a disservice to the Brazilian left. Seeing such problems of such magnitude before us, we expect the weapons with which we will fight. When these weapons are not given to us, isn’t that despair-inducing? Isn’t it paralyzing? The person in such conditions feels defeated and resigns to “fate”.

When I wrote About Statutory Rape, available here, I tried to give tips to all citizens who read the work, so that each reader can mobilize, even if minimally, towards an age of consent reform. That being said, when writing a book or giving a speech, you have to say what the audience can do about the problem being exposed. The speech that exposes a truth, but does not tell the person what to do with said truth, is a defeated speech. Making the person change their behavior is a victory. Augustine recommends appealing to the listener’s emotions to more easily achieve that goal.

Given these three goals, the author of a text or speech must change his style according to the need of the moment. A good text achieves all three goals, but it does not have to use all three speech styles at the same time.

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