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Friday, February 3, 2017

Is It Better To Problematize a Catastrophe, Or Catastrophize a Problem?



Rebecca Schuman wants us to "Stop Problematizing Academic Jargon."

In her characteristically tongue-in-cheek style, Schuman acknowledges that ridiculing pointy-headed intellectuals for their pointy-headed speech patterns is terrific fun. Schuman is no stranger to this game.

And yet, she makes the compelling case that complicated words do the work of untangling complicated problems.
The humanities are also full of difficult concepts—insignificant crap, like the meaning of life—which is why we should acknowledge their need for specialized vocabulary. Difficult concepts sometimes call for big words. Deconstruction is hard. Heidegger is hard. Nietzsche, bless his giant moustache, is hard.
So leave the theorizing theories of theorists alone! We need a laboratory of ideas. Much of this stuff is obscure to even an educated outsider. But we never know how these ideas might trickle down and find their way into broader understandings of who we are and how we experience the world.

I'm with Schuman on this one. I say this even though I am not, by any means, a laboratory thinker. Not even close. If my writing seems confusing or jargony, that is result of my craptastic writing. No deeper complexity here. Just craposity.

But I do confess that the verb-forming suffix -ize is a favorite of mine. I can problematize with the best of them. My reproblematizing needs some work, though. Still, when I concretize something, it gets seriously concrete!

Lately, I've been doing a bit more catastrophizing--which I discovered is a thing. After hearing the word used (where else) on NPR, I consulted Dr. Google. The first result (now there's some deep research) explains...
Catastrophizing is an irrational thought a lot of us have in believing that something is far worse than it actually is. Catastrophizing can generally can take two forms. 
The first of these is making a catastrophe out of a situation. For instance, if you’re a salesperson and haven’t made a sale in awhile, you may believe you are a complete and utter failure and you will lose your job. In reality, it may only be a temporary situation, and there are things that you can do to change this situation. . . . 
The second kind of Catastrophizing is closely linked to the first, but it is more mental and more future oriented.This kind of Catastrophizing occurs when we look to the future and anticipate all the things that are going to go wrong. We then create a reality around those thoughts (e.g. “It’s bound to all go wrong for me…”). Because we believe something will go wrong, we make it go wrong.

It would seem that this word has caught fire over the past few months... because, you know... the Catastrophist-in-Chief. Witness the Huffington Post...
 As Trump continues his cacophony of catastrophizing and his onslaught against reason and reason, the danger is that his behavior and outlandish policies become normalized. 
(Bonus points for the "normalizing.")

The word can be used in the other direction, aimed at the president's detractors. Consider...
 In the face of a lot of what he called “catastrophizing” about the “very volatile time for the country” known as the presidential transition, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper offers a simple message: “It’ll be OK.”
So yea, nothing to see here. Catastrophe-free zone. Just move on.

Still, according to one expert, "catastrophizing" is entirely natural when our anxieties are peaking.
We think about the worst case scenarios. Our thoughts get twisted up and aren't as balanced as we would like...We have to be careful not to think the world is going to end because Donald Trump is in power.
OK, so let's just problematize our sense of catastrophe. Or catastrophize our problems. Hold on, I need to consult Dr. Google.

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