Sunday, November 13, 2016

Inhalt über Form

Today a visiting member of the Stake Presidency began his talk with the statement "Inhalt über Form." That was the subject of his talk: Content over Form. He pointed out that the gospel was designed to free us from the focus on the form rather than the content. He mentioned the concern in the early Christian church over whether an individual was circumcised or not. He went on to discuss how sometimes we think that if things do not go exactly according to the handbook then we get upset. Those people, he said, might be focusing on the form above the content. He made a number of other good points, but I will not go into them.

I see the same issue sometimes in academia. For example, some universities or university departments consider only where a faculty member published, not whether the content was any good. If one were to publish utter gibberish in a top tier journal, these universities would consider that meritorious because who cares about the content, the form is all that matters. The consequent of this is that I regularly get solicitations from journals to publish in them where the journal exists only for the purpose of inflating the resumes of faculty members who are under such pressure.

The so-called tone of something is also a form over content matter. No one seems to be able to define tone or point to any objective criteria for detecting it. Psychologists point out that individuals are terrible at detecting the intended tone of written communications. Their experiments show that coin-flipping is about as accurate in identifying the intended tone of a written communication as humans are. Focusing on the tone can serve as a means of dismissing the content.

Jesus pointed out that focusing on form was a means of dismissing the content of the message:
Τίνι δὲ ὁμοιώσω τὴν γενεὰν ταύτην; ὁμοία ἐστὶν παιδίοις καθημένοις ἐν ταῖς ἀγοραῖς καὶ προσφωνοῦντα τοῖς ἑτέροις αὐτῶν
καὶ λέγουσιν, ηὐλήσαμεν ὑμῖν καὶ οὐκ ὠρχήσασθε· ἐθρηνήσαμεν ὑμῖν, καὶ οὐκ ἐκόψασθε.
ἦλθεν γὰρ Ἰωάννης μήτε ἐσθίων μήτε πίνων, καὶ λέγουσιν, Δαιμόνιον ἔχει·
ἦλθεν ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐσθίων καὶ πίνων, καὶ λέγουσιν, Ἰδοὺ ἄνθρωπος φάγος καὶ οἰνοπότης, τελωνῶν φίλος καὶ ἁμαρτωλῶν. καὶ ἐδικαιώθη ἡ σοφία ἀπὸ τῶν ἔργων αὐτῆς.

What shall I liken this generation to? It is like children sitting in the market place calling to their companions
and saying, "We piped but you did not dance; we cried and you did not mourn."
For John came neither wining nor dining and they say, "He has a devil."
The Son of Man came wining and dining and they say, "Look, the man is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of extortioners and sinners." But wisdom is vindicated by her works.

(Matthew 11:16–19)
Inhalt über Form.