Challenging Ideological Shibboleths

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PostThu Sep 27, 2012 2:57 pm » by Harbin

Very often, well all of the time, conversation is wrought with all manner of pitfalls. There is the intent of the speaker, the intent of the listener, cultural standards and expectations and old and current memes that float in the conversational ether that may or may not have influence on any exchange at any particular time.

This being so, I would like to study the phenomenon of common ideological shibboleths. Arm yourselves !

Challenging Ideological Shibboleths

A Shibboleth is a distinguishing password, custom, principle, or belief which identifies its speaker as being a member, or not, of a particular group.

The word itself is Hebrew in origin and literally means the part of a plant containing grains but it’s modern usage has its roots in the Bible, Book of Judges.

Chapter 12 - ”Gilead then cut Ephraim off from the fords of the Jordan, and whenever Ephraimite fugitives said, ‘Let me cross,’ the men of Gilead would ask, ‘Are you an Ephraimite?’ If he said, ‘No,’ they then said, ‘Very well, say “Shibboleth”.’ If anyone said, “Sibboleth”, because he could not pronounce it, then they would seize him and kill him by the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites fell on this occasion.”

The Ephraimites, unlike the Gileadites, had no pronounced sound ‘Sh’ (as in ‘ship’) in their language and without a life time’s practice they were unable to replicate the sound and avoid being identified.

Since that first recorded example from over three thousand years ago, Shibboleths have been fairly common. During the Second World War US troops would distinguish their fellow Americans from German infiltrators by challenging a strangers knowledge of baseball.

The term ‘Shibboleth’ has, over time, developed a broader meaning in the modern lexicon. It can refer to a view which if expressed identifies the person who expresses it which a particular political party or ideology.

Pro life = Conservative, Pro Choice = Liberal,

For nationalisation = Socialist, For privatisation = Capitalist.

Shibboleths can be as obvious as the above or as subtle as your choice of newspaper.

My full views on ideologies can be read here, ‘On Heraclitus and Against Ideology.’

I find ideologies stupid, different situations call for different approaches and to be constrained by ideological packages of policies is ridiculous.

Political parties love Shibboleths, they appeal to the grass roots of the party many of whom have given up thinking independently long ago, as a consequence those political parties also stop thinking.

And that is dangerous for our politics.

It is a shibboleth common to all, who’ve been brought up in a western democracy, that supporting banks, no matter what, is essential to our way of life and that no sacrifice is too great.

We fear what we don’t know and cling to the familiar. But life will go on if the banks go bust. The economy, after some disruption, will find it’s level, and we’d have expunged the parasites who dominate our society.

Parasites who, through bought influence, take every opportunity, in the media, to reinforce that shibboleth in the minds of the people.

In my own view, ideological Shibboleths should always be challenged, even if after doing so you continue to agree with them.

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