Magnum Opus Definitions


World view – this is the essence of this essay. I deliberately looked up world view neither in my reference books nor on line; I wanted to approach this with as fresh a view as possible. Rather than define it here I will discuss my own world view as asked to do by Jim*, but I will try to differentiate it from several related faculties. We all have discussed our world view in college bull sessions but labeled it Weltanschaung, in German, so as to appear more sophisticated.

Perspective – more often, when we talk about issues and differ in our views, the starting point is our perspective on things. Our perspective derives from our experience. An example of perspective, the most obvious one in this discussion, is the fact that David, a White man, has a Black daughter and I, a White man, have a Black wife and family. Those facts affect my perspective but I do not agree that they effect or create my world view.

Narrative – as a counselor I was aware of the narratives individuals create for themselves or, as we used to say, the tapes that play in their heads. However, in this discussion I have in mind cultural narratives, the way we explain ourselves to ourselves, most importantly, and also how we explain matters outside our purview such as other cultures, other countries, the physical world, the world we suppose lies beyond this one, and so forth. Those are narratives and they occur in religion, in art, in popular lore, and are often invented for special purposes as when a politician sells us on a particular policy by invoking a narrative, a story.

Paradigm – these tell us how to do things in routines and patterns, like red means stop and green means go. Should those be reversed, we must change our paradigm. Our paradigms may blind us to change that must be adapted to.

Culture – this includes everything human and differentiates us from everything else; only humans have culture. This word has changed meaning recently, as recently as in my early lifetime and therefore some holdovers from earlier meanings or the use of other words to designate what we now call cultural practices lead to confusion. As a youngster, I heard culture used to refer to what we now call High Culture and the habits and customs of non-Western peoples were called customs and mores. This latter meaning was early on distinguished as “anthropological culture” and caught on so quickly that now we even talk of “the culture of the organization or of the school”, meaning the tenor and tone found there.

Ethnicity – one thing I learned in exploring some of Moynihan’s ideas was that he and Nathan Glazer introduced this term to distinguish European immigrants from each other, so we had the Italian ethnic group and the Serbian and the Swedish and the Greek and so on. I recall a rather dramatic event I initiated one year at a human relations camp where “culture night” was comprised of only Asians, Blacks, Jews, Hispanics, and Native Americans while “the White kids” looked on. I balked at that and asked if I could gin up some interest in European ethnic pride among the amorphous and more numerous “White kids”. A flowering of ethnic pride shot up, with kids singing songs in Greek, dancing to Serbian folk music, telling stories in Swedish, and on and on. One girl’s presentation, a girl who had denied any ethnic identity at all, was on how she hated the way her Croatian and German sides of the family fought bitterly at every gathering and she loved America because she could drop all of that. We also had the Heinz 57 group who had no idea of their ethnic heritage and their cultural presentation was to crawl under a huge blanket and pretend to procreate a mixed-up breed of people to be known as Americans (these kids were all 16 so that was their favorite part). The whole thing was a great success.

Racism – the term that will require the most nuanced definition and even a history of its use going far beyond what I’ve given for culture. Subsumed under it will be terms properly combined with it, such as segregation, prejudice, discrimination, pride, power, identity politics, and so on.

Liberals – an approach to governance that emphasizes pragmatism and a willingness to overturn tradition and authority when they interfere with the practical matters of commerce, governance, and military necessity. The word meant “generous” in its Latin incarnation and is still used in a benign sense of open and free and focused on progress. The last half century has seen the word associated with a political orientation going back to the New Deal and sealed with the turn of the Democratic Party to support of civil rights for African-Americans.

Conservative/conservative – the capitalized word will designate the broadest use of the word while the small c word will refer to the so-called Movement Conservatism of Buckley, Rossiter, Kirk, and others who began modern conservatism in the reaction to the New Deal. The champion of small c conservatism was Barry Goldwater, succeeded by Ronald Reagan. The trajectory of that movement into what we see today and the fruits of that movement in the Trump phenomenon will be traced with special emphasis on the movement’s use of coded racial appeals to win votes. Opinions will be offered, you can be assured, as to who bears the responsibility for the hatred and resentment given full-throated endorsement by Donald Trump – and he is not alone in voicing vile sentiments designed to pull in suffering and despairing Americans. The mention made in the Personal segment of the rising mortality rate of White Americans in certain demographic categories is salient in this discussion, because if we lose sight of the pool of anger, fear, and resentment fed by a growing opportunity gap for all Americans except those at the top, we will descend into hatred ourselves, a feeling I know all too well.

Some space will be given over to a Conservative world view because as the Liberal pundit E.J. Dionne said recently, a healthy Conservatism is valued for its curb on Liberal excesses, its nourishment of tradition, and its skepticism as to our ability to mold human nature. This last strand of Conservatism will pop up in my own world view.

Opinion – what we come up with when we reflect on matters, usually guided by our world view and perspective but based as much as possible on fact.

Fact – the elusive elementary particle we hope to have in our arsenal as we sally forth to express our opinions. We hope our perspective is based on facts and that our world view is consonant with the facts. But the screaming debates over the role of religious doctrine in our classrooms and patriotism in our foreign policy reveal a massive divide, one that has grown so that even something as simple as whether Barack Obama was born in the U.S. has become a litmus test not only for a true conservative but for a true American.

Note on “Progressive” – to me, Progressive refers to the movement at the turn of the last century. Anyone who took a course in American history knows that the movement was fractured and many shards were quite ugly. The only thing I might say my self-label, Liberal, has in common with Progressivism is the assertion that at times, when appropriate, government can be of great assistance in “providing for the general welfare”  as the Constitution has it. Otherwise, I reject for myself the label Progressive. Moreover, I qualify my Liberalism by the label Liberal Democrat, i.e.  the platform of the Democratic Party, so as to distinguish myself from that extinct animal, the liberal Republican.


For issues less central to our discussion, definitions and nuances will be introduced at the most apt place.


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