Saturday, December 13, 2008

Too Bad For You

Sometimes the history of a word can tell us a lot. Take “decimate” for instance. Originally, designating the Roman practice of punishing mutinous troops by killing every tenth member of a legion, the word is now generally accepted (albeit by only 61 percent of the usage panel for the American Heritage Dictionary) as indicating the killing of a large portion of a group. On this one, I’m with the minority of the panel. The punishment and the word were meant to convey the devastation experienced by the whole group when “only” a tenth of the population was punished. Now, when decimation brings to mind wiping out a majority or a plurality of a group, rather than a tenth, strict decimation may seem not so bad—and that’s very bad.

What brings this to mind is Mona Charen’s December 9th blogpost, “Stampede Psychology,” in which she chides the nation as a whole for overreacting to the current economic crisis. Observes Mona:
Yes, there have been 1.9 million jobs lost since the start of the recession last year. And that's not good. But that still leaves 93.3 percent of us employed. Close to 10 percent of homeowners have either missed a house payment or are in foreclosure, according to the Los Angeles Times. That's bad obviously. But 90 percent of us are not in danger of losing our homes. . . .

The economy is not as bad as our behavior indicates it should be.
Or as one legionary said to another, “What are you crying about? They left 90 percent of us alive."

Panic is never an appropriate response to a crisis. And of course losing a job or a house is not losing one's life (by the way an even smaller percentage of the usage panel accepts decimation for use when destruction other than killing is meant.)

But for Charen to minimize the effect on the whole of a nation of a near seven percent unemployment rate (that’s 10.3 million people in case you’re counting) and the fact that 2.25 million homeowners will face foreclosure this year alone, amounts to a moral deficiency. But such is the callousness of capitalism.

HT to silveradept.

1 comment:

silveradept said...

If 90 percent is acceptable, maybe we can put the top ten percent of salary-makers in each industry out of their jobs and see how well the rest of us do with their money freed up. With top management gone, maybe the other 90 percent could drive the economy. Wait for the hue and cry that happens there, when suddenly that ten percent that's out of jobs and houses are the people with the money...