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Author Topic: Varelse
pooka
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I realized the other thread on favorite insights had gotten sort of stuck on this topic, so I thought it might be good to start a new one.

Some people have claimed they believe no human is varelse. But I think they are putting a non-existent definition on the word. I need to read the trilogy again because I have no idea where to find stuff, but here is a start:
quote:

[Jane]
If they are varelse, Ender, then let the bugger use up their habitat, and it will mean no more to you than the displacement of anthills or cattle herds to make way for a cities.

"They are Ramen" said Ender.
"You don't know that."
"Yes I do-- your simulation, that was not torture."
"Oh?" Jane again showed the simulation of Pipo's body just before the moment of his death. "Then I must not understand the word."

So if you really believe no humans are varelse, then how do you react to the allegations of torture at Abu Ghraib, or some of the allegations of the breakdown of civilization that came out of New Orleans? People raping children, causing police to blow their own brains out? If simply torturing someone for no reason makes one varelse, are there not many such people?

If you claim there are no varelse, then you claim that if we really understood the prison guard, we would know that the pain he inflicted on others was not torture but... what?

P.S. Keep in mind that there is discussion in the books as well of the human race being Varelse for having committed the Xenocide. Thus my point that to see another as Varelse is to accept that you are Varelse.

I hope it's okay to mention Tom and Dag here. You may both say you don't believe any human is varelse, but I think you have opposite reasons for doing so. I think Tom has said in the past that he doesn't believe humans are inherently bad, whereas Dagonee (again, I think) believes mankind is fallen. I believe in the fallen nature of mankind as well.

[ October 14, 2005, 10:39 AM: Message edited by: pooka ]

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TomDavidson
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quote:

then you claim that if we really understood the prison guard, we would know that the pain he inflicted on others was not torture but... what?

Sickness. And he should be healed and removed from power or a position where he can do harm until he is healed. His motivation to harm has a root, and that root can in almost all cases be comprehended and corrected.

Note that simply torturing someone for no reason is not what the guards at Abu Ghraib did. They had reasons, and those reasons can be understood.

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Celebrindal
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I think there is a different defenittion for varelse than what you are using. The way I understood it, varelse are inteligent and have their own reasons for what they do, but we can't talk to them to try to disuade them or get them to question their reasoning. If I understood your definition correctly, varelse for the mindless fun of it; that falls under the "Beast" category. If my memory of the books serves. Please correct me if I am wrong.
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pooka
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But understanding someone's reason is not the same as being able to communicate to them and help them get over it.

I mean, what about the idea that child molesters are not treatable?

When the Piggies tortured one of their own, the Xenologers found it disturbing. I think, at that point, it may have made them Ramen. When they tortured the human (and I don't suppose the reasonlessness was presumed, but yes, reasons known only to them) it is a problem. When they explained that they were attempting to honor Pipo, things get really disturbing.

It is much like the quote from one Imam that clitorectomy "does honor to the woman".

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TomDavidson
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quote:

When they explained that they were attempting to honor Pipo, things get really disturbing.

It gets disturbing, but actually less varelse. [Smile]

Someone you understand completely but still has to be opposed is not in fact varelse; this philosophy does not attempt to tell you who your enemies should be, as I see it.

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Survivor
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That's why I don't think the distinction is useful in real life. It only claims to tell us how alien an entity is, not whether its life is valuable.
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pooka
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Are you using varelse as an adjective? Should that be varelsey? [Wink]

And yeah, it's not about who must be my enemy, or I could hardly call a toddler varelse. I mean, if they are like cattle or ants you only kill them if there is a need, or they are tasty looking.

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TomDavidson
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quote:

It only claims to tell us how alien an entity is, not whether its life is valuable.

I am willing to take as a given the assumption that all life is valuable.
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WntrMute
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Varelsish.
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tern
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But how valuable? Would it be reasonable to consider the life of a varelse entity less than one considered a framling?
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TomDavidson
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This is one of those questions you're really going to have to answer for yourself, since it boils down to "is all life equally valuable?"

I suspect most people will say "no," once they realize that "all life" includes things like cows. So what becomes important is to determine what, then, elevates some lifeform to the status of a person -- i.e. someone with an inherent right to life.

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Survivor
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Microbes also count as life. Life, in and of itself, isn't valuable at all. And yet, certain microbes have value when alive which is lost if they die. Certain other life forms may have value only when killed, or perhaps have negative value if left alive.

And being varelse or whatever has nothing to do with it. When we decide which microbes/plants/animals to kill and which to cultivate, we don't ask which is more alien or less like a human. We ask which life has positive value to us.

Consider the case of men on death row. Do we regard the pleas of someone that appeals on the basis of high intelligence, a through understanding of our moral repugnance for his crime, and great communication ability? No, we actually do the opposite.

Oh, there is the tendancy to condemn those we find different from ourselves, but we consciously identify that impulse as evil, even if we follow it occasionally. But the impulse to devalue that which is different from ourselves is not an argument that it is right to do so.

The assumption that anything different from what we consider to be "human" is therefore less valuable can only be based on chauvinistic feelings about species, it cannot be supported logically.

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tern
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quote:
The assumption that anything different from what we consider to be "human" is therefore less valuable can only be based on chauvinistic feelings about species, it cannot be supported logically.
So if I consider a cow less valuable than a human, that's a chauvinistic attitude and illogical?
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TomDavidson
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quote:

Do we regard the pleas of someone that appeals on the basis of high intelligence, a through understanding of our moral repugnance for his crime, and great communication ability? No, we actually do the opposite.

Statistics would indicate that you're wrong on this point.
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Survivor
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quote:
Oh, there is the tendancy to condemn those we find different from ourselves, but we consciously identify that impulse as evil, even if we follow it occasionally.

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Somnium
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All life is equally valuable, but you also have to realize life cannot exist without death.

The reason no humans cannot be varelse is because communication is possible. Humans might refuse to communicate, might speak another language, might be mute, but there still can be communication between them, for good or for naught.

However, the definition of varelse is something with which we cannot communicate with in any know manner.

As for the whole child molester thing, these terms are supposed to be taken at a more general level, not on a person to person basis.

Also, regarding the moslims spoken of above, we can communicate with them. Although violence might occur due to disagreeing about various things, it IS possible to come to an understanding(Even though at times, it seems like us and them are too damn ignorant and prideful to do so).

Anyways, human life is not more valuable than others. We should respect life, because well, without the other forms of life our own 'precious' human life could not be sustained. I'm not saying we should bow down and pray to cows(I have no problem if you choose to do so however [Razz] ), but we really shouldn't be so careless in our treatment of other forms of life.

The sad truth is, if all our destruction of the environment leads towards an ecological disaster, it will be the almighty cockroaches that live on, not us [Wink]

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archon
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This is slightly off-topic, but I went and saw the movie A History of Violence and I think it fits this discussion well. Varelse and all.
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Somnium
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What is it about? The name alone catches my interest. Oh, and by the way, truly insane people are varelse, only exception for humans imo, but out of pity, compassion, and hope for cures luckily they aren't massacred!
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archon
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Without spoiling too much about the movie, it's about the thin line that separates civilized behavior from what's considered uncivilized.

I should have mentioned this in my original post, but be forewarned that it's extremely graphic with its violence... so if that's not your thing, then you might want to steer clear.

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pooka
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See, I can say that someone who believes human life is not more valuable than other life is, to me, varelse. I don't mean to take issue with you personally, I just find that to be a frightening paradigm.
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TomDavidson
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quote:

See, I can say that someone who believes human life is not more valuable than other life is, to me, varelse.

Really? Or are they utlanning who, while holding an opinion you may not agree with, do not directly threaten your way of life?
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pooka
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Where does it say a Varelse must pose a direct threat to my way of life?
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TomDavidson
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I think included in the definition of varelse is the assumption that they are not willing to let bygones be bygones; they believe, or it is otherwise self-evident, that the two of you cannot co-exist. Someone you do not understand and yet is willing to leave you alone, as I understand it, is raman.
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pooka
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So you don't think there exist any humans who fit that description? Or is that simply one parameter?
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TomDavidson
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I think there are a few humans who fit that description. The number is, however, vanishingly small.

It's also worth noting that you can live your life so that fewer people with whom you cannot communicate must oppose you, thus reducing the total number of potential varelse.

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pooka
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You do spark an interesting train of thought, which is M. Scott Peck's definition of evil as someone who is unable to consider the possibility that they might be wrong. Similar is C. Terry Warner's principle of Self-Deception, wherein one adopts a lie for the truth, effectively setting one's moral compass too near the engine block.

Needless to say, I do not find that population to be vanishingly small. I find myself within it on a regular basis.

Peck did not offer a solution, he recognized the paradox in saying that the only way not to be evil is to never be sure one is in the right. Warner at least offered the possibility of coming out of the self deception through choosing to see the truth of the humanity of others.

Now this is a general discussion of evil, which is related, but not the same as the designation of varelse. And considering that the truth has proven to be a somewhat subjective commodity in practice, I'm not sure how useful it is. The one truth Warner says is most applicable to our ills is the idea that other people are people and not objects.

This does not mean we therefore embrace them unconditionally (paraphrasing Warner). The one bit of Richard Bach's One that made any sense was the syllogism on how unconditional love is, in fact, indifference.

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TomDavidson
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quote:

Warner at least offered the possibility of coming out of the self deception through choosing to see the truth of the humanity of others.

And that is precisely why I find the hierarchy useful. [Smile] Because it reminds us that by choosing to identify someone else as varelse, we have chosen to reject their humanity. This may not in fact be the wrong thing to do, but it effectively ends the possibility of communication or co-existence.
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Survivor
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Where are you people getting this idea that coexistance with varelse is impossible? That is simply not part of the definition. Humans (and other presentients) coexist with varelse all the time.

Likewise, humans often cannot coexist with other humans, for the simple reason that they understand each other too well.

The ability to communicate and the ability to coexist don't have a marked correspondence, communication is one way to facilitate coexistance of sentients with potentially (but not necessarily) conflicting interests.

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TomDavidson
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quote:

communication is one way to facilitate coexistance of sentients with potentially (but not necessarily) conflicting interests

I'm curious. Barring the intervention of a third party, what would be another way?
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Somnium
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Thats the whole point, we have a winner: TomDavidson!
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TomDavidson
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So your whole point is that communication is the only way to facilitate the coexistence of sentients? Despite the fact that you just said that coexistence with varelse is not necessarily impossible?

Clearly I'm missing a step here.

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Survivor
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I didn't say anything like that. I said it is one way, not the only way. Consider animals. They are varelse. We coexist with them even though we only understand tiny amounts of their language (and that only recently). We have no idea whether they are sentient...or rather, we know that many of them are close to human sentience in various ways, but still haven't worked out how to talk to most of them. Many animals frequently commit isolated violence against humans, and humans regularly commit violence against animals.

Yet we coexist.

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pooka
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I forgot to mention how one enters a state of evilness/resistance(Warner's preferred term for resistance). It is when someone makes a choice on a nearly subconscious level not to help someone they feel they should. From the moment they do that, they must justify why their wrong choice was the right one. Evil in this sense is simply a meta-ethical tool, and not a judgement that is useful in any external sense. One sure way to know if you yourself are in a state of resistance is if one is accusing others of being resistant.

Though in the recently tried case where an adoptive mother made her child drink water until her brain swelled (killing the child), it is hard to say whether the woman was being evil or just really really stupid. She was convicted of some configuration of child abuse and murder.

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Johivin
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Few person are ever truly wrong in their own minds.
We do what we do because we feel it the right course of action.
It is the rest of society that decides whether or not our decisions are rational and logical.
No person ever truly believes they are wrong.
They may say so, but they are merely giving in. They don't truly believe they were wrong. That would give too much emphasis and to admit that one made a mistake.

In retrospect we may say we were wrong, after many days we may admit it to ourselves, but we do not commit actions because we believe it is wrong.

If you did something that you felt beforehand was wrong, you wouldn't do it.

Varelse, IMO, are creatures that are unable to cope with society. Socially, as any other way of thinking would be incorrect. Our society dictates our beliefs and feelings. Whether we accept society's rules or reject them, we are impacted by society in general. To say morally is to be ignorant of those whose morals and beliefs are different. To say religiously is also incorrect, as different religions ask different things.

To be certain, people are not evil, to themselves. A man like Adolph Hitler was not evil, in his own mind. He felt he was doing what was best for Germany and the world. Society judges him as 'evil', but had he been victorious, he would have been a savior. The man who united the world.

To reiterate,

People do what they believe is best and right. It may turn out wrong, socially, but at the moment they felt that it was right and correct.

Johivin Ryson.

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pooka
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quote:
Because it reminds us that by choosing to identify someone else as varelse, we have chosen to reject their humanity.
So the only way to truly be a member of humanity is to accept everyone else's humanity? Then what does humanity mean, in the end?

And, uh, since more than one person has brought up Nazis now, I'll make a general announcement that you might wish to google "Godwin's Law". Nevertheless, I will reply that I hold it not to be the case that everyone truly believes what they are doing is right. What about people who engage in addictive behavior that causes them pain, and which they know are hurting themselves, but they cannot seem to stop? It can be something as simple as overeating. Overeating is actually the ideal example because it's not like the average pot user who says his drug is not even addictive and laws against it are unjust.

What happens at this point in his thinking is that not only is his choice not wrong, but it is the only right choice. He must defy those powers that seek to repress the expression of joy that is pot.

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TomDavidson
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quote:

So the only way to truly be a member of humanity is to accept everyone else's humanity?

I'm not sure how you got that from what I said. [Smile]
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Peter
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Plikt:
quote:
"The Nordic langauge recongnixes four orders of foreignness. The first is the otherlander or utlänning, the stranger that we recognize as being a human of our world, but of another city or country. The second is the framling- Demosthenes merely drops the accent from the Nordic främling. This is the stranger that we recognize as human, but of another world. The third is raman, the stranger that we recognize as human, but of another species. The fourth is the true alien, the varelse, which includes all the animals, for with them no conversation is possible. They live, but we cannot guess what purposes or causes make them act. They might be intelligent, they might be self-aware, but we cannot know it."
Graff, I think hits it right on the head:
quote:
"They must talk to each other directly, Ender, mind to mind. What one thinks, another can also think; what one remembers, another can also remember. Why would they ever develop language? why would they ever learn to read and write? How would they know what reading and writing were if they saw them? Or signals? Or numbers? Or anything that we use to communicate? This isn't just a matter of translating from one language to another. . We used every means we could think of to communicate with them, but they don't ever have the machinery to know we're signaling. And maybe they've been trying to think to us, and they can't understand why we don't respond."
"So the whole war is because we can't talk to each other."
"If the other fellow can;t tell you his story, you can never be sure he isn't trying to kill you."

As many of us know ****POSSIBLE SPOILERS****** the buggers turned out to be raman after all, but they didn't know that at the time, there was no way of communicating.

As far as is known about humans today, we communicate using language, through words, none of us use thoughts. We can always communicate with other humans. Even though it may be difficult, it is possible.

So, In my opinion, no human is truely Varelse, framling, yes. Utlanning, yes. but not Varelse.

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Survivor
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Which is why it makes no difference. No human in this world can live without consenting to the use of ultimate force against human enemies, even if that person is unwilling to see this simple fact.

And to permit the use of ultimate force simply because the target is Varelse...it's your own damn fault you don't understand that person, isn't it? An ant will never understand a human, not because of any fault in humans (though there are many), but because the ant is too stupid.

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Peter
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But we will never understand the ant either. And that's not because we are too stupid, it's because we have different forms of communication.

That's what I'm saying, as long as there is possibility of communication, then they are not Varelse. But rather Utlanning or Framling.

The Buggers were Varelse because until Ender found a way to communicate at the end of EG, there was no way to communicate with them. He invented(more or less) a way to breach the communication barrier. And even then, anyone but Ender had trouble communicating. They could do it, yes, but it was not easy, and not as clear as when they were with or speaking through Ender.

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Survivor
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I'm just going to point out that we can study and understand individual ants much better than we can currently understand individual humans.

Not to hammer on the Hive Queens too much, but they made a grave error by not destroying Eros when it became clear that humans were going to take it from them. It wasn't their last error, but it was the one that cost them the most. They failed to understand something very basic about humans, our ability to learn by imitation without communication. And it cost them dearly. If they had rigged Eros to blow, there could have been peaceful coexistance, though probably not real cooperation, for centuries. Perhaps long enough for them to figure humanity out without getting nearly their whole race destroyed.

Communication is overrated. The best forms of cooperation happen without it. Coexistance doesn't need it at all. That's why I can't accept making the dividing line between those with whom you can communicate and those with whom you cannot a moral threshhold.

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Jebu
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quote:
It seems like, according to my understanding, you're confusing "antagonist" with "villain". A better three-word definition of antagonist, as I understand it, is "provider of conflict."
Ah.. I'm not actually confusing them, the point was that there isn't a corresponding word for antagonist in Finnish. The word 'villain' didn't come to my mind when writing the last post. In fact, we don't even have a good translation for villain either, it's more like 'a bad guy'.

The word 'antagonist' is artificial. It only exist inside stories, be they in books or films or whatever. There aren't any antagonists walking around in real life. You could call someone your personal antagonist, I suppose, but it would be more like a figure of speech, or irony.

I'm not sure if the word is needed anyway. It may be easier to refer to a character in a story by saying 'the antagonist', but apart from that, I it may create more problems than it solves.

It's probably inevitable that human beings develop such words, though. We sort out and categorize information continuously. We create hierarchies and stereotypes. We create word pairs of synonymes and of opposites. We create artificial labels with vague definitions.

That's just how we are.

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Survivor
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Actually, it has other meanings. For instance, it is commonly used in medicine to describe opposing muscles, drug/receptor pairs, and so forth. We use the word "antagonize" meaning "to make an enemy (transitive, but I'm not sure how to put that). For all of that, the term isn't vague, it is fairly precise compared to terms like "opponent" "enemy" "villain" and such.

I can't help but feel this whole conversation about whether the word "antagonist" means anything somehow got cross-posted from another thread.

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pooka
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Threads sure get buried faster around here. I was talking to a co-working the other day. She is the administrator of the Non-profit where I work, and she moved here for Italy several decades ago but was just back there this summer for a visit. I was mentioning the riots in France and she said she suspects they will spread into Italy because the Middle Eastern and African immigrants there are being chemically castrated. At first I assumed this was to control their population growth, but she said it is because the immigrants see any woman who goes about in what we consider normal clothes to be a prostitute. I'm wondering what the "There are no Varelse" faction makes of this predicament.
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TomDavidson
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I think that's a perfect example, actually, of people who are clearly not varelse having an opinion you can understand, if not agree with.
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Scott R
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>>she said it is because the immigrants see any woman who goes about in what we consider normal clothes to be a prostitute.<<

Okay, that's just plain ol' BS. I knew lots of African and Muslim men in Italy, and they did not think this.

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