Term Chaos is Just Chaos

Submitted by Robert Felt on February 15, 2007 - 10:33am.

Term Chaos is Just Chaos

Introduction: The Yin and Yang of Academic Freedom.

Years ago I would say that Chinese medicine was "guerrilla warfare" against the establishment. I deliberately chose those words because they had a revolutionary tone, a Thomas Paine tone, to grab attention, to make people think. When I had someone's attention, I would explain that anyone who was cured by a medicine rooted in the idea that we are intimately linked to our social and physical environment would find it much harder to believe that their life and health were divorced from the welfare of their fellow humans and the biosphere itself. In other words, I saw Chinese medicine as a way to reach people about the importance of their social and environmental behaviors. The Chinese medicine that captivated me was part of the social and political ideals that perfused my early adulthood and the lessons I had learned in the exercise of political dissent.

I still use "guerrilla warfare" in some contexts, although much less frequently now that the prototypical struggles of "the 60s" --- voting rights, civil rights, and American imperialism --- have been largely forgotten. The period has been redefined by the corporate media as a "dirty hippie" era. Today, with fear of terrorism used to justify the social and political dominance of our corporate economic and political elites, the idea of dissent has been vilified as disloyalty despite its deep, deep roots in western cultures and an American political consensus of which we were once proud.

When I read Mr. Given's A.A.O.M. nomenclature piece on academic freedom,[1] I was already both personally and politically committed to not infringing on scholars, not infringing on anyone. (Which is why I am an advocate for open standards.) I instinctively assume that the minority will get the majority of infringement. Anyone paying attention to what corporatist "accountability" has done to American Public Education with its closed, assembly-line standards and narrowly-focused testing regimens, understands just how damaging outside infringement can be. Yet, for me, whose interest in Chinese medicine is centered on promoting its broad availability, the absence of the responsibility aspect of academic freedom -- openness and peer review - in Mr. Given's speech is bothersome. Since Mr. Givens is speaking for a field authority, C.C.A.O.M., it is not enough to say:

The specifics of scholarship, including the study and translation of classical and modern texts are best left to the individual scholars working in the field.[2]

Unless, as the same source as Mr. Given's used, the Association of American University Professors, states:

A fundamental premise of academic freedom is that decisions concerning the quality of scholarship and teaching are to be made by reference to the standards of the academic profession, as interpreted and applied by the community of scholars who are qualified by expertise and training to establish such standards.[3]

The principle of academic freedom applies to all, both scholars making claims and those who wish to examine those claims Academic Freedom is not a Carte Blanche to say what you will but a principle of academic organization that is combined with tenure because academia recognizes that there is no academic freedom where there are economic penalties for dissent. There are many ways to penalize dissent from the status quo.

The responsibility to provide the evidence for your claims cannot be separated from your freedom to make them. To separate the two is to establish authority, or personality, as the dominant guarantee of validity. A demand for evidence is not an infringement on your rights but an opportunity to make your case, provided you can support your claims before a community of scholars "qualified by expertise and training to establish such standards." If this sounds familiar, it is. It is exactly the stipulation we (Paradigm Publications) have always made for participation in various term database ideas.

Wanting to spread the influence of CM in our own societies does not mean that we cannot recognize or respect the accomplishments of those societies. The coupling of academic freedom (or the notion of free speech in politics) with open access to alternate opinion, protection for dissent, open legal, scientific and academic definitions of what constitutes evidence, are genuine accomplishments of western culture (even with their failures). In my opinion, we are better off in a society where ideas must withstand scrutiny than in one where we must do what our elites decide. Respect for the full traditions of academic freedom and responsibility will not retard Chinese medicine's development but enhance it. Thus, as personally attuned as I am to the dangers of infringement, I am likewise attuned to the value of dissent. A Chinese medical culture in which things are true because "so-and-so" declares them to be does none but "so-and-so" any good. As much as I admire the elements of meritocracy in Confucian social order, I am not interested in having an emperor of CM.

I thought that the A.A.O.M. term meeting this past October was a great idea. Taken as a whole, it was well conceived and well done. But, there were several propositions put forward that were unsupported. As noted in the preceding paragraphs, academic freedom depends on scholars' responsibility to expose their work and their logic to their peers. Establishing standards does not limit academic freedom but promotes it by insuring full, free and open scrutiny. It is not enough to say that "it is not in the interest of the profession to infringe upon the basic academic freedom of scholars within these institutions" unless one also recognizes that it not in the interest of the profession to infringe upon scholars by establishing any scholar's work as free from scrutiny.

A rather dramatic example of this issue occurred as almost the literal "last word" of the A.A.O.M. Nomenclature conference when Dr. Benksy dismissed the long-term expert consensus described in Marnae Ergil's excellent paper on translation principles as simply "wrong." This is Dr. Bensky's prerogative, and his right within the concept of academic freedom, but doing also involves a responsibility to fairly address that consensus. With a single word he set himself against the outcome of work by generations of scholars who are as worthy of our attention as Dr. Bensky. Whatever infringement on academic freedom anyone believes to be implicit in standards, how can it be more damaging to our freedom as thinkers, or to our progress as a profession, than to vest authority in individuals who are not held accountable for their opinions?

I see the same problem is implicit in Craig Mitchel's clever obfuscation of Kevin Ergil's insightful question as to how the "Term Chaos Theory" (the idea that inconsistent term use is a didactic positive) would work in a school that was not teaching Chinese. Clearly, Craig was on-the-spot before his mentor and peers. Clearly, the questions addressed to the "term chaos" proponents were meant to emphasize problems with that idea. However, these were fair questions that deserved answers. No one is challenging the right of Dr. Bensky and his colleagues to do whatever they please. Rather, we are arguing what course the field as a whole should take. If the Term Chaos Theory is applicable only in the special case of S.I.O.M., how can it be offered as a genuine alternative to standards? If it is applicable to all, then let us see the evidence for it. Again, authority must be invested in principle not in individuals.

What I hope to have set the ground work for with this post is a thorough examination of claims made at the conference for which there has been neither adequate questioning nor evidence presented. Taken together, the reduction of open approaches to transmission, particularly source-oriented, standards-based translation to a one-word for one-word stricture, the claim that an ineffable depth is destroyed by standards, and the claim that inconsistency in conceptual education is a positive value, are arguments in favor of a one-sided freedom. I will be analyzing these claims in following posts in this series.

Update: The next in this series is Part 1, Where the Infringement Hides

[1] See: Conference Binder , page 125 of the pdf file.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Academic Bill of Rights


Submitted by Ken Rose on February 17, 2007 - 4:01pm.
Is there an origin of term chaos? One of the questions that I’ve tried to find an answer to for several years now lies at what may well be the root of the term chaos phenomenon. Both Dan Bensky and Ted Kaptchuk hold degrees from The Macau Institute of Chinese Medicine. According to Dan in that very discussion on CHA to which Bob makes reference, the school came into existence shortly before he and Ted arrived in 1973 and went out of existence shortly after they left in 1975 with their degrees. Or were they diplomas? Or were they doctorates? What is written on those pieces of paper? This was the question I posed in the post that preceded my being banned from CHA. The notion of being "qualified by expertise and training to establish such standards" (of academic freedom) suggests that training standards themselves are of non trivial importance in the whole matter of academic freedom. Of course they are. And of course it matters whether the word “diploma” or the word “doctorate” is written on the pieces of paper that Dan and Ted took home with them when their respective sojourns in Macau had come to an end. What does the “D” stand for in the “OMD” that appears after the names Bensky and Kaptchuk? Socrates said that to use words wrongly is not only a fault itself, it also corrupts the soul. Certainly it corrupts the use of words to use highly meaningful terms (including their abbreviations) like “diploma” and “doctorate” interchangeably. If one is qualified by expertise and training to establish standards of academic freedom, then we had better at least know with as much certainty as possible what the basis of one’s qualifications actually is. Jung commented long after Socrates that the mere use of words is futile unless you know what they stand for. Perhaps if the whole field knew and acknowledged and understood what the “d” in question stands for, the origins of term chaos might be more well understood.
Submitted by Zev Rosenberg on February 15, 2007 - 10:19pm.
Bob, As a co-panelist at the AAOM conference in Phoenix, I was most taken by the 'politically correct' diatribe that had more invested in entrenched positions rather than a dialogue based on principles of discourse. You'll remember that I also pointed out to Mr. Givens that the responsibility of an educational organization is to develop the playing field and a set of rules to play by, not just give academics control of the content of translation. If any 'academic' can set their own criteria of translation, without any credentialing, the quality of translated Chinese medical materials will remain impossibly poor. I was also surprised to see translators who largely developed their skills through the resources provided by Nigel Wiseman and Feng Ye rejecting this influence with arguments that provided no true alternative terminologically speaking. It is possible to produce high quality translations with a good to excellent knowledge of medical Chinese language. But I have enough common sense to know that no academic subject can stand on its own without dictionaries and glossaries. If there is going to be an argument for terminological chaos, an interesting one indeed, someone will have to bite the bullet and produce terminological glosses and dictionaries to support it. Otherwise, it remains in the realm of interesting ideas only. Z'ev Rosenberg
Submitted by Robert Felt on February 16, 2007 - 9:23am.


In the next installments of this piece I plan on dealing with the term chaos idea at several different levels. However, I see the term chaos argument at root as just an extension of the "Chinese medicine has no terminology" position. So, to see glosses and dictionaries develop from it would be very surprising. In Nigel's response to the "Working Methodology" paper he describes the Eastland's Gloss late arrival as a response to the international movement toward standards. I agree.

Nigel and Fenge Ye are not "popular" persons in the sense that they devote a lot of time to talking to students and being available in the West. But, they have been more generous with their time, money and help than anyone I can think of. It is natural that people will take that help and move on to puruse their own interests. But, overall, in the retrospect of the field's history they will be seen as people who planted a lot of seeds, some of which produced great fruit.

Robert L. Felt,

Publisher Paradigm Publications