Good morning, friends.
I want to share with you the concept Dan Dennett talks about called Use-mention Error. He developed the idea from the statements of Donald Heb. It’s simple; can you see the differences, here?:
1. “I believe in God.”
2. “I believe in ‘God’.”
Of course I believe in the concept “god” and even am aware of “God” as a real cognitive, linguistic and cultural phenomenon. I know ‘god’ and ‘God’ are words, too, but that’s not what most people mean when they assume I believe as they do (that their version of “God” exists) and they ask — baitingly — “Do you believe in God?”
As another example, people often say — as my friend Paul just has:
“Do you believe in Karma?”
This is probably a use-mention error. Paul likely assumes I understand Karma as he does. In that case, he is not making an error if he omits quotes around ‘Karma’ like this: “Karma”, but that assumption is likely going to corner a person and start the confusion, or worse, an argument — especially in the case of “God”. In sime parts of the world (embarrassingly and chillingly too many, actually), the wrong answer to that glaring use mention error can result in one’s death.
So Paul is using the word ‘Karma’ according to his perception of it. He should be mentioning the word, instead, and saying, ‘what do you think about ”Karma.”
The reason is, as with “God” it is not universally understood –or more accurately, it is not universally agreed upon — what ‘Karma’ is. In fact, most people I talk to or who use popular memes including ‘Karma,’ use it in a way that I feel is not correct at all.
“God,” ‘God’ and God:
Let’s back into the “Karma discussion” by backing up and mentioning the “God discussion,” first, as way of better understanding this.
People make use-mention errors all the time when they ask:
“Do you believe in God?”
The first questions that come into my mind when people do this are:
1. Which one (which god)?
2. Is there one?
3. How can I believe in something I don’t know exists?
4. What concepts define and describe your understanding of god?
5. How can we talk about this if I don’t know what you mean?
(Those are actually just a few variations on the many queations that coalesce in my mind when people ask that question.)
Karma is not best described by “what goes around comes around.”
Karma is the results of Dharma. Dharma is the natural way of things–or the “natural” way that comes out of the perturbed doings of things that we put in motion, adopt, do–which can result in “good” or “bad” outcomes in “the end.” (Therebreallybis no end; there is cause and effect. An ejd is a subjective event.)
In other words–and this will be over-simplified: what happens (or what you do), is Dharma; the actual (if they are actually caused by you or your deeds) — the results — are the corresponding Karma. Karma is the result or results; Dharma is the cause or causes.
Karma is not some magical force we build up or tap into, building or losing merit; many confused Buddhists have misunderstood it as such and thus taught it this way to others — or others misunderstood their Buddhist friends’ speech and actions in relation to Karma and have passed the ignorance along about it…. Or, more commonly, the limitations of language (or a combination of all three) have put ‘Karma’ incorrectly into the scheme of their “understanding” and the ‘public mind.’ This what I call “Pop Karma” like there is — I feel — a pop-god and pop-love, like pop-psychology.
©Carl Atteniese Jr., All
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