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Jack Smith

Starting out the New Year with a shot of inspiration from a Santa Monica think tank's quote-a-month calendar

January 01, 1986|Jack Smith

Another year begins, and I begin it with a look through the Rand calendar for 1986, in search of inspiration.

For years the calendar published by the Santa Monica think tank has introduced each month of the new year with an inspirational quotation from some great writer, thinker, poet, scientist or patriot.

The theme for 1986 is freedom of thought and speech, which is our most precious heritage as Americans, and one which, secure as it may seem, and widely practiced, is always in imminent danger of being limited or lost.

For January, the calendar quotes Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963, in which he defends civil disobedience:

"I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty . . . to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law. . . ."

For February it quotes Alan Barth on the "secret weapon" of a democracy: "The resolution of policy through challenge and criticism and debate . . . is the real secret weapon of a democracy. The lack of it is the fatal defect of a dictatorship. . . . Free men--if they exercise their freedom--have a means of correcting their mistakes. But if they suppress dissent by calling it disloyal, they rob themselves of their greatest asset."

For April it quotes James Thurber on the plague of gobbledygook, buzz words and obfuscatory language that infests the language:

"Great big blocky words and phrases bumble off our tongues and presses every day. In four weeks of . . . listening and reading . . . I have come up with a staggering list, full of sound and fury, dignifying nothing: 'automation,' 'roadability,' 'motivational cognition,' 'fractionalization,' 'varietism,' 'redesegregation,' 'additive,' 'concertization. . . .'

"The colloquial deformity 'knowledgeable,' which should have been clubbed to death years ago, when it first began crawling about . . . has gained new life in recent months. It is a dented derby of a word, often found in the scrawny company of such battered straw hats as 'do-gooder,' 'know-how,' 'update,' 'uptake' and others so ugly and strange I can't decipher them in my notes. . . ."

As the reader may note, most of the crawly creatures that Thurber would have liked to see clubbed to death have survived and prospered, while such useful words as gay , flaunt , fortuitous , podium and fulsome have been lost through misappropriation or misapprehension of meaning.

For May, we have a quotation from Spinoza on biased history, for every journalist: "It is very rare for men to relate an event simply as it happened, without adding any element of their own judgment. When they see or hear anything new, they are, unless strictly on their guard, so occupied with their own preconceived opinions that they perceive something quite different from the plain facts seen or heard, especially if (they are) interested in their happening in a given way. Thus men relate in chronicles and histories their own opinions rather than the actual events. . . . The same event is so differently related by two men of different opinions that is seems like two separate occurrences. . . ."

For June we hear one of Winston Churchill's great clarion calls to his people in World War II: "The destiny of mankind is not decided by material computation. When great causes are on the move in the world . . . we learn that we are spirits, not animals, and that something is going on in space and time, and beyond space and time, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty."

Elmer Davis is quoted for July on the virtue of disagreement: "This nation was conceived in liberty and dedicated to the principle--among others--that honest men may honestly disagree; that if they all say what they think, a majority of the people will be able to distinguish truth from error; that in the competition of the marketplace of ideas, the sounder ideas will in the long run win out."

For August, Demosthenes is quoted on skepticism: "There are all kinds of devices invented for the protection and preservation of countries: defensive barriers, forts, trenches, and the like. All these are the work of human hands aided by money. But prudent minds have as a natural gift one safeguard which is the common possession of all, and this applies especially to the dealings of democracies with dictatorships. What is this safeguard? Skepticism. This you must preserve. This you must retain. If you can keep this, you need fear no harm."

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