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Tag: writing

Moot or Mute point? A Mote’s Point.

A mute is someone who doesn’t speak, they are mute on the matter, indeed they are mute on every matter.

I mute the television when the ads come on. Likewise, a mute might also mute the television if the phone rang and they wanted to hear what the other person was saying, though in no way could they respond – making their answering the phone somewhat moot.

Moot

Adj. Without consequence. Of little significance.

We have:

  1. a moot idea, an idea that has no inherent usefulness;
  2. a moot desire, that does not necessitate fulfilment;
    Or more classically:
  3. a moot point, that has little bearing on matters.

A mute point, is always incorrect.

It is either the point made by a mute, in which case you’d write “a mute’s point”. This I suppose is in the world of possibility though unlikely in a rhetorical sense.

Or:

It is a point that is silenced, in which case you’d write “the point was silenced”. This expression however screams of the misunderstanding of moot. For, rhetorically speaking, points are not silenced so much as they are made moot.

Moot 2.0

Or course all of this is only half right. Or, at least, made right through common usage in the USA, Australia, and elsewhere.

The verb, to moot, past participle, mooted, its adjective moot, and noun, mootedness, all mean something quite different from the above.

The OED defines it as “subject to debate”.

We can best see this meaning when we say, the point was mooted, meaning the point was raised for discussion or argument. A moot point in this context is in fact a point that is debatable, open for question, and indeed has consequence and significance.

Why the two quiet opposite meanings?

The Free Dictionary describes how a moot was used in legal training to mean a mock judicial proceeding set up to examine a hypothetical case, and that over time the meaning of moot shifted from being the making of an argument to the making of a hypothetical argument, or an argument without consequence.

Indeed this not the first time the meaning has shifted. Previously a moot (from the Middle English Mot or mote) meant simply a gathering, or a meeting to discuss and argue. Moot, meaning to raise for debate, stems from this previous meaning, just as moot meaning without consequence stems from the meaning of a legal training moot, being mock and hypothetical.

We see then that context is crucial, so one might say:

The point was invariably moot when God stepped out of the clouds and told us the truth;

or equally,

I mooted the point as I wanted to hear all sides of the case;

or if one was writing historical horror fiction (set in England),

The moot had gathered these last five years, and though time had blunted their fear, they were still no closer to forgetting the horrors of that day.

A Mote

A mote is a small flec of dust. It can not be mooted in any sense of the word. Though it can get in the eye of a mute. In which case it is quite annoying.

References

The Free Dictionary. (2016). moot - definition of moot in freedictionary.com. The Free Dictionary. Retrieved from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/moot
Oxford Dictionary. (2016). moot - definition of moot in English | Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford Dictionary. Retrieved from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/moot

Reflections: Agency in The World Jones Made (Philip K. Dick)

Written in 1956 The World Jones Made shows some startling insight into a post apocalyptic 1950s America.

It asks a bold question. If a man can see his personal future as if it was his present, then when he acts is it because he decides to do so or because he was fated. What then is man? At the whim of an unrelenting universal nothing, or a driving force against that.In dramatic terms, agency – that is the action of the characters, their goals, desires, wants – is what drives a story. What keeps it for falling down on itself.

How then does Dick write a character seemingly at the whim of fate so they still have agency?

Jones talks about himself, not as if he knows the future but as if he lives in the future with a foot in the past. Reliving over again stuff he’s already lived as if his life force is displaced one year forward, and his body stuck in the present.

This is problematic. When Jones acts in the present he acts with full knowledge of the future, or at least the next year – in fact he acts only to fulfil what in his mind has already happened. Technically this is not a dramatic action. There is no character agency here, in the sense that a character decides they want something and then chases it.

Jones doesn’t feel like he lives in the present, instead he feels like he lives a year in the future on that edge where the unknown becomes known. As if Jones is a third party voyeur on his own life.

Jones (as voyeur on his future) then does not know what his future self is going to do at any moment to the next – he both becomes aware and lives it at the same time.  Interestingly at some point when his present self catchers up to this moment in time, his present self will have knowledge of the future and will therefore act accordingly, even if that action is merely to fulfil that knowledge of the future.

Jones then must always act as if with full knowledge of the next year of his life. The deeds and actions of his future self will only be those informed by the knowledge of the future his present self will have when he has finally caught up. When Jones peeks on his future, he’s watching a self with knowledge that he does not yet have. A self that will act with this knowledge a self that will act to fulfil a future not yet seen. This then is his agency. A self acting to fulfil an unknown future. Only for Jones this agency is external to his self. Yes, it’s an agency that drives Jones on to ultimate power, but it’s an agency that Jones has no control over. “I don’t know what to do. And the awful part is I don’t have any choice.” (39)

This external agency, out of grasp in some ethereal self, is both acting without any knowledge of the future, and living with full knowledge of the future.

Creating Drama.