The Marxism of Spell Check

As a prelude to my main point, imagine groups of earnest Utah and Idaho Mormon farmers sent to school and college for the first time in their family’s history. This particular group, you should be imagining, is bright, though intellectually inexperienced. They do very well at the small colleges springing up or gaining root in Utah and Idaho in the early 1900s and decide to attend law school. They apply to all the big shot schools: Harvard, Columbia, Penn (this is the early 1900s after all).

They are rejected by all, and instead go to local law schools or no law school at all and take the apprenticeship track into practice. As a direct consequence, very few Mormons enter law at its highest levels in the early 1900s and current LDS law school groups are forced to hunt for LDS law luminaries because the only ones that come to mind are J. Reuben Clark, Rex. E. Lee, and Dallin H. Oaks. And only J. Reuben Clark came from the early 1900s, gaining his LL.B. from Columbia Law School in 1906.

Then, the universe aligns and the LSAT is born. Now the sons and daughters of the earnest group of Mormons leave the farm, head to school, do well, take the LSAT, do well again, and apply to all the big law schools: Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Stanford, Chicago. Except now they get in and they get in in fairly large numbers. It is obvious that what has changed in this over-simplified retelling of the past is the LSAT: a common denominator where small-town western Mormons can be fairly judged against metropolitan polished establishment.

Now transition with me to the LSAT of the Internet. Spell check on the computer works much the same way. All walks of life are able to mix over the Internet, through chat rooms, email, and especially blogs. The proletariat are aided in overcoming social barriers by the power of the spell check and anonymous, mass, free email providers like hotmail, yahoo, and gmail. The computer will automatically remedy both spelling and grammar errors before a comment is pasted into the blog comment section, allowing ideas to meet ideas without the road block of class. Is the advent of spell check across the Internet aether bringing a Marxist revolution? Well, no. But it is allowing social classes to mix more readily and easily. Especially in that it allows people to hide their social class, up to a certain point, and mingle with the big time (to a certain point).

Should we be worried about this new form of Marxism within our midst? Will it breakdown our moral values as did Communism? Perhaps. The dangerous fruits of Internet social mixing have been evidenced (often in the form of pedophile and unsuspecting tween). Yet, the power of this new medium is intoxicating and the power of the spell check is invigorating. It is anonymity mixed with a paired down, automatic Rex Harrison, and all of us can benefit in this age of mass technology.

Comments

  1. a random John says:

    Spell check hasn’t helped my vocabulary, which to me is just as much of an indicator of class as proper spelling, and might become even more important in this era of artificially good spelling. Also, I don’t use it (or preview) when posting on the internet, though I know that I should do both, because I can’t spell to save my life and I can’t post without a fragmented sentence.

  2. HL Rogers says:

    random,
    Maybe that’s because you feel like you have the pedigree to ignore the more mundane rules that set apart class. A classic response by the bourgeois youth is to mimic the proletariat.

  3. HL Rogers says:

    or at least certain trappings of the proletariat: thus bad spelling and grammar to show that rules don’t apply to you as you are better than such social hoop jumping.

    Just a thought

  4. Brilliant, H.L.! Fun stuff. Every day, I´m afraid to get online because I might be forced to unwittingly rub shoulders with the unwashed masses. I mean, I always want to know when I´m hanging out with someone poorer than me so that I can feel proud of my charitable acts. And I want to know when I´m spending time with my social betters so that I can feel a touch of power and the thrill of momentary access to a better life. But spell check deprives me of all of that!

  5. oh intern…. marxism? Mat and I shed tears for you.

  6. HL Rogers says:

    Such is the fate of the doomed capitalists.

    Sitting comfortability in your skyscaper temples to your capitalist religion while we, the working masses, support you on our backs. We shall rise together and fight back with the spell cheque!!

  7. a random John says:

    HL,
    It isn’t pedigree, as if I had one. It is laziness, through and through. However I got a laugh out of this whole thing, so bravo!

  8. HL Rogers says:

    As to 6: sitting comfortably (just another proleteriat mistake)

  9. Julie in Austin says:

    Nah, we’ll still be able to identify the lower classes threw there confusion over bazaar and bizarre, or it’s and it, for example.

  10. HL, seems like you squished three posts into one here. Commenting on each: (1) Yes, standardized testing is a boon to the oppressed. (2) I don’t think the Internet really mixes US classes because I don’t think we really have social classes. All Americans are rich peasants under the classical model. Everyone wears blue jeans, eats hamburgers, and listens to rock and roll (or one of its bizarre descendants). (3) I don’t think chat or text messaging are elevating written discourse; I think they are mostly degrading it to match verbal speech. and if u dont ugree u probly dont have teenajurs yet. Blogs seem to work in the opposite direction. Who knows, blogs may save civilizayshun sumday. Fahrenheit 2577 here we come.

  11. john fowles says:

    prolly.

  12. You think too much.

  13. “2) I don’t think the Internet really mixes US classes because I don’t think we really have social classes. All Americans are rich peasants under the classical model. Everyone wears blue jeans, eats hamburgers, and listens to rock and roll (or one of its bizarre descendants).”

    I laughed when I saw this. I can’t tell if this post is a joke or not, but I guess I thought the same thing until I lived on the East Coast. Growing up in the West, I never saw the effects of having defined social classes, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have them in the U.S.

    And think of the Mormon “elite” – the sons and daughters of GA’s, the Marriotts, the Huntsmans, the Coveys, etc. I had a friend who dated the child of one of these Mormon powerhouse dynasties, and it became very clear to him when he met the parents that he was not “one of them”. The relationship didn’t last very long after that.

  14. HL Rogers says:

    Aimme: I’m confused. Is that directed toward me. If so I have rather definitive proof that you’re wrong. If directed toward Dave I also have definitive proof that you’re wrong (just look at his blog).

    While, I intended to create a little laughter around I also think there is a serious issue here. Is the bloggernacle an opportunity for different types of Mormons across the world to interact or is there the same divisions in it as in the real world where certain people don’t feel like they will be taken seriously, like they can add intelligently to the dialogue etc?

    I think the bloggernacle has an incredible ability to allow different Mormons to rub shoulders. For example, I’m forced to read at least some of what Adam Greenwood and Geoff B. say and they in turn are forced to read some of what Julie and others say. Often such dialogue disapears after you leave a college setting. Additionally, I love being able to interact with people like Jim Faulconer and Brandie Siegfried through the bloggernacle (opportunities I probably wouldn’t have otherwise).

    Marxist revolution, maybe not, indeed. But I do think it is a powerful tool for some very interesting dialogue and the removal of some otherwise high barriers.

  15. HL, your last comment makes perfect sense and I agree. I prolly misunderstood some of what you were getting at in your original post.

    I think I understand Aimee’s “you think too much” remark, but I’m not sure I understand your response.

  16. a random John says:

    While we’re at it, someone should mention the elitism going on over on the suddenly German-only thread at the Kulturblog. Isn’t English the lingua-franca (ha!) of the church and the internet?

  17. HL – As far as bringing people together from all walks of life and backgrounds – I don’t think the bloggernacle does that very well. I’d venture a guess that most people on the bloggernacle are white, college-educated and middle class.

  18. john fowles says:

    HL wrote If directed toward Dave I also have definitive proof that you’re wrong (just look at his blog).

    I would think that Dave’s blog shows that he does think too much, or at least he thinks enough about what he writes and analyzes. But I don’t think that Aimee was referring to Dave with that.

  19. john fowles says:

    I’m good with a switch to German. Das wäre mindestens eine vernünftige Entwicklung.

  20. HL Rogers says:

    My comment re Dave’s blog was intended tongue in cheek. Looking at his blog it becomes obvious that he both 1. thinks too much and 2. thinks too well.

  21. The Internet also puts at a disadvantage those who cannot create a coherent sentence. I’m thinking of a specific family member who is brilliant in person, but when forced to reduce his argument to writing, he comes across as quite odd.

    Then, of course, there are bibliophiles like me who think they sound a lot smarter in print than in real life. If I met y’all in person, I’d probably just fade into the woodwork and listen.

  22. john fowles says:

    Of course, I should clarify that the sudden German bout at Kulturblog was not a legitimate switch to German as it appears to be the work of one of the horrible online translators.

  23. a random John says:

    john f,

    Only the bourgeois would know that the German isn’t up to snuff. Or care!

  24. HL Rogers says:

    Warum Sie meinen Pfosten mit solchem hohem plagend sind, züchten Sie
    snobbery! Ich bin das Proletariat

  25. john fowles says:

    spoken like a stanford man

  26. a random John says:

    I knew I never should have brought that up.

    Leland Stanford Junior University. Our motto: Die Luft der Freiheit weht

  27. Spelling ceased to be a class differentiator long ago. Indeed, good spelling is very much like legible signatures. Having a legible signature was a status symbol 200 years ago when people took classes in penmanship and many people couldn’t sign their name. Now having an illegible signature (like a doctor’s) is jokingly considered a status symbol. Now that everybody can spell, poor spelling skills indicate long term reliance on computer assisted spelling, and is likely to be jokingly referred to as a status symbol. I’ve certainly heard people joking (read: bragging) about how poorly they spell.

    Bertrand Russell once said that it is a waste of time to teach children to spell correctly. If standardization is the goal, then editors can be utilized to make sure that published works reflect uniform guidelines. But spelling as such serves little purpose. Shakespeare and Milton couldn’t spell. You and I can. Who cares?

    I know that it is customary to point out that Milton and Shakespeare spelled using the standards of their day. This is true, and it is exactly the point. The standards of their day were substantially less uniform than those of today.

  28. Spelling ceased to be a class differentiator long ago. Indeed, good spelling is very much like legible signatures. Having a legible signature was a status symbol 200 years ago when people took classes in penmanship and many people couldn’t sign their name. Now having an illegible signature (like a doctor’s) is jokingly considered a status symbol. Now that everybody can spell, poor spelling skills indicate long term reliance on computer assisted spelling, and is likely to be jokingly referred to as a status symbol. I’ve certainly heard people joking (read: bragging) about how poorly they spell.

    Bertrand Russell once said that it is a waste of time to teach children to spell correctly. If standardization is the goal, then editors can be utilized to make sure that published works reflect uniform guidelines. But spelling as such serves little purpose. Shakespeare and Milton couldn’t spell. You and I can. Who cares?

    I know that it is customary to point out that Milton and Shakespeare spelled using the standards of their day. This is true, and it is exactly the point. The standards of their day were substantially less uniform than those of today.

  29. First of all, you put Chicago way too far down that list. It should have been at the top.

    Second, who on earth would want to go to a Junior University when you could go to a real one?

  30. a random John says:

    Exactly my question! I think that this is how things go:

    1. BYU
    2. Universities
    3. Colleges
    4. Junior Universities
    5. Junior Colleges
    6. Cal

  31. Julie: … we’ll still be able to identify the lower classes threw there confusion over bazaar and bizarre…

    To say nothing of “through” and “threw”…

  32. How in the hell do you sign up for Gmail?

  33. All the polygamy stuff was starting to depress me and make me think of abandoning ship again. HL, you’ve saved the bloggernacle!

  34. a random John says:

    Christian,

    Send me an email and you will get yourself a magical invite to gmail.

  35. Bob Caswell says:

    I want to know why we still refer to HL Rogers as an intern when his posts consistently are better than most everything else I read in the Bloggernacle. HL, I may have no authority to do so (but who does?), but I hereby degree you a full-fledged bona fide By Common Consent master blogger. Congratulations, you didn’t even have to pass the ultimate test: shutting down Times and Seasons for at least six hours.

  36. Bob, don’t give HL a big head. He TOTALLY screwed up the last data entry job I gave him, and he makes miserable coffee. Bad intern!

  37. Bob Caswell says:

    Well, now that I know about the coffee problem that does change everything…

  38. Frank McIntyre says:

    A dyslexic rat could shut T&S down for 6 hours. A true test of character is to keep T&S up for a week.

    HL, isn’t spell check bad for Marxism because it forestalls the general strike? I mean, if you start having this class mix you are directly _fostering_ a lack of class consciousness, which is the Marxian whipping boy for why we never actually see the worldwide worker’s revolt. And without the revolt, one cannot achieve the worker’s paradise!

    I should add, in case it isn’t blindingly obvious, that I think Marxism is woefully inadequate as a behavioral theory.

  39. HL, I can see how standardized tests make the world more meritocratic, but I don’t see why a meritocratic society is more Marxist. The Bell Curve glowingly examined the tremendous impact of standardized tests, but the book wasn’t enthusiastically received in Marxist quarters. It seems to me that classes divided by luck of birth (family) are no less moral than classes divided by luck of birth (mental capacity); they are just less efficient.

  40. Another thing — America is the most meritocratic nation in history but is seldom considered history’s most Marxist culture.

  41. HL Rogers says:

    Bob:
    I will now be naming my next child after you and endowing a schloarship at BYU in your name (kind of a mixed bag). As far as the coffee: I’m trying as hard as I can but when Steve gets up EVERY morning and gives me 40 things to do before 5am I end up mixing some things up. I mean I can only do so much. And writing a memo about sushi was the last straw.

    Matt:
    While I think you are correct about the effect of standardized tests, I think that is simply the failure of a classical Marxist theory. The classical Marxist would posit that such mixing would lead directly to reviolution. Once the worker sees the other side he will recognize the injustices, revolt, and turn the country into a workers paradise. In some ways this is what happened in Cambodia, or at least how the Khmer Rouge was explained by many radicals in the 70s and early 80s (of course you have to exchange “paradise” for “living hell” in the above sentence).

    I think a newer Marxist approach would posit that the mixture of the classes through standardized testing and spell check on the internet should lead to the gradual shift to a more just (worker’s centered) society. Where labor would be valued at its own cost instead of at the owner’s profit. I see little of that happening BUT I do see western Mormon industrial ideals seeping into ivy league institutions, wich I find interesting.

  42. john fowles says:

    of course you have to exchange “paradise” for “living hell” in the above sentence

    To my knowledge, that describes every Marxist state, not just Cambodia.

  43. HL, regarding Marx’s theory of the value of labor and the notion that it should be valued at cost: Marx dovetails nicely with Adam Smith in this regard (and makes many of the same mistakes). Smith pointed out that whenever we purchase a product, what we pay covers the entire production cycle of the product (e.g., when we buy a shirt, we’re paying for cotton harvesting, sewing, transportation, packaging, etc.). But Smith mistakenly concluded that the cost of the production cycle is what determines the price of the item on the open market. Marx knows that this is not, in fact, the case. But Marx did believe that this is how prices should get determined, particularly, prices for labor. Thus, according to both Marx and Smith, we should be willing to pay more for wheat grown in Alaska (since it costs more to grow there than in Kansas) and for automobiles made by untrained workers using broken machinery (since they cost more to make this way). Of course, the exact opposite is true (we aren’t willing to pay more). Thus both Smith and Marx have made basically the same error.

    I think it was PJ O’Rourke who said that communists think perdition is a good system run by bad people.

  44. Frank McIntyre says:

    Equilibrium wages are the outcome of the intersection of supply and demand. What is the shift in supply or demand that this New Marxism is postulating will bring about the more just society?

    Or is it postulating a classical Marxist view that there is an endless supply of unskilled workers who keep wages at subsistence?

    Is it postulating that labor markets are not competitive and so wages are below marginal product, and the change will come about by increasing the competitiveness of the labor market? Is this following from an increase in the number of entrepreneurs?

  45. Frank McIntyre says:

    Or perhaps, as AT points out, the New Marxists don’t have predictions about what _will_ happen, only a moral labor theory of value about what they think should happen.

  46. Frank, capitalism is bad because capitalists make money. Or is it, making is money is bad because it’s capitalist. I can never remember where in this circle Marx’s reasoning begins. At any rate, Marxists have little use for Ricardo’s supply and demand theory. And an endless supply of subsistence workers isn’t the only possible reason for an inelasticity of supply. It could also be due to the high transaction costs associated with obtaining new employment or starting a new career. Has anyone offered a Marxist critique of Monster.com?

  47. Frank McIntyre says:

    AT,

    The transaction cost is a specific kind of search model which leads to employers potentially having market power. Thus it would fit in readily with a critique based on non-competitive markets. But I am doubtful that the New Marxists see salvation coming through the rise of an entrepreneurial class increasing competition. If so, I may be a New Marxist and not know it!

    Also, this New Marxism seems to have given up on large chunks of classical Marxism, so as long as they’re at it, why not fess up to issues of supply and demand?

  48. Frank, I was mostly talking about the normative aspects of classical Marxism. You’re the economist. I’m just a dilettante, so you’re in a position to correct me if I’m wrong. My understanding of the positions the Marxists I know (including those with whom I attended BYU) is that they rely quite heavily on Marx’s ethical notions. Specifically, while most economists view the intersect of supply and demand as the an optimal situation, Marxists are unwilling to go that far. Specifically, I think that they’d argue that it leads to market failure in labor markets. In addition to the transaction costs associated with locating and securing a new job (nowadays it’s fairly easy to locate new jobs, so this is mostly the interview cycle) and the costs associated with starting over in a new career, there’s a stigma associated with changing jobs often. These two factors alone are enough of a deterrent to keep many workers from even looking. This, in turn, keeps their wages depressed. And by lowering average incomes, it could be taken to keep all wages depressed. Moreover, labor unions, trade organizations, and other groups that protect incumbent interests can create substantial barriers of entry, making it difficult for beginners to compete for employment (e.g., doctors have to survive years of low paying grunt work before they score any serious dough). This is aside from the fact that few seamstresses in China are able to apply to for jobs in the US, and this ensures that they won’t get American wages.

    The Marxists I know have ridiculously destructive ways of solving these problems. They’ve given up arguing that they’ll produce more prosperity or happiness–they just assert a bunch of reasons why it is more ethical to institute steep protectionism and to regulate wages. I think it’s interesting, though, that the Marxist method for estimating the real value of wages (basically the amount of money the product of the labor brings in the marketplace) is pretty much the same as Adam Smith’s (incorrect) estimation.

  49. HL Rogers says:

    John Fowles (42). I agree and I think that brings up an interesting point. There seems to me to be some merit in differentiating between Lenin/Stalinist applications of Marxism in a political context, Marxist political theory, Marxist economic theory, and Marxist theory within literary/legal/other theory.

    What I mean is that while Marxism has shown itself to be an utter failure in political and pure economic contexts, and a horrific crime in Leninist/Stalinist contexts; it does seem, to me at least, to add some value to literary/legak/other theory.

    Meaning I think certain aspects of Marxist theory can inform the way we view how something was written or how a legal regime was formed and it can inform the way we look at labor disputes and social class issues.

  50. Frank McIntyre says:

    This sounds suspiciously like saying Marxist theory can be useful anywhere it cannot be empirically tested.

  51. HL Rogers says:

    I thought that was the point of literary theory: no way to empirically test theories, allowing for free reign!

    My point is more that Marxism can be useful once you remove much of what has been empirically shown to be false. What remains to a large extent is a social theory or set of tools allowing for discussions about why social classes often grate against each other. While Marx may have gotten much of the politics and economics wrong his encapsulation of proletariat angst rings true in certain respects.

  52. Frank McIntyre says:

    “his encapsulation of proletariat angst rings true in certain respects.”

    You mean that poor people would rather have money and resent the easy life of the rich? This probably is true, but does not require Marxism to tell us so!

  53. john fowles says:

    It might have some descriptive value, which is why literary types find it useful, when it comes to new historicist or post-structuralist approaches to interpretation of the creation and function of texts. But when it comes to unpacking the meaning of texts, I am still skeptical of its value.

  54. Jonathan Green says:

    John, Marxism is an extremely important tool for upacking the meaning of texts, provided they were written by Marxists.

  55. john fowles says:

    Excellent point, JG.

    On the other hand, it is . . . enlightening to read e.g. old East German literary analyses of Goethe or other writers. For example, a 1972 analysis of Goethe’s Egmont by a professor writing for one of East Germany’s intellectual Kollektive, claims that the play has proletariat meaning as intended by Goethe after he observed a battle in the 1780s. This is utter nonsense. Goethe was firmly a member of the aristocracy and would never have written in support of the proletariat rising up against such. In fact, he despised the French Revolution with a passion.

  56. HL Rogers says:

    But there John I think you are mixing up marxist analysis with communist propaganda (of course, the two are very related and often identical). Shouldn’t the east german professor’s analysis be filed away as communist proaganda from a state Kollective used to bolster the communist regime, rather than a marxist analysis of a text?

  57. john fowles says:

    Are you suggesting that there are indeed intellectually honest marxist analyses of texts?

  58. intellectually honest marxist analyses of texts

    John, depends what you mean. We can, after all, “liken all [books/plays/scripture] to ourselves”, whether or not the meaning we gain was the original intent of the writer.

  59. john fowles it is . . . enlightening to read e.g. old East German literary analyses of Goethe or other writers

    But haven’t you heard? If you use decontruction, you’re analysis needn’t have any basis at all in the intended meaning of text. These “East Germans” were the forefront of post-modernism.

  60. john fowles says:

    I don’t think that deconstruction was part of their project. HL is more on tract with his comment about blatant (and intellectually dishonest) propaganda.

  61. I stand corrected. In all the hoopla about Communism, I failed to notice that deconstructionists are not simply engaged in blatant (and intellectually dishonest) propaganda.

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