Monday, November 28, 2005

Crisis is NOT danger + opportunity

For some reason it makes me very happy to learn that the cliche that the Chinese term for 'crisis' is made up of the characters for 'danger' and 'opportunity' is wrong and based on a gross misunderstanding.
The explication of the Chinese word for crisis as made up of two components signifying danger and opportunity is due partly to wishful thinking, but mainly to a fundamental misunderstanding about how terms are formed in Mandarin and other Sinitic languages. ...

The third, and fatal, misapprehension is the author's definition of jī [机] as "opportunity." While it is true that wēijī [危机] does indeed mean "crisis" and that the wēi syllable of wēijī does convey the notion of "danger," the jī syllable of wēijī most definitely does not signify "opportunity." ... The jī of wēijī, in fact, means something like "incipient moment; crucial point (when something begins or changes)." Thus, a wēijī is indeed a genuine crisis, a dangerous moment, a time when things start to go awry.
Take that, pseudo-intellectual Orientalist nonsense!


Anonymous Alejandro said...

But then, whwt will we do with Homer's inmortal "Crisitunity"?

12/01/2005 01:44:00 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Hilarious! I love the made-up words on The Simpsons... ("You know, I never heard the word 'embiggens' before I moved to Springfield." "I don't know why not - it's a perfectly cromulent word!")

The genius of the "crisitunity" joke is that Lisa is the perfect example of the kind of person who would fall for pseudointellectual Orientalist nonsense... people who are really smart in most ways but have these blind spots for things that sound like "the wisdom of the East" and so on.

12/01/2005 03:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Alan said...

Well, I'm not so sure your point is an especially strong one. While it is likely that the interpretation you critique is orientalist there is a notable correlation between uncertainty (incipient moment -- immanence) and opportunity. In line with a more traditionally Greek reading of crisis, the meaning is that of a situation where a patient will either recover or die -- a situation where what people/doctors do matters more than any other. In Marxist thought, particularly in its Gramscian moments, economic, political and social crisis points are those moments when movement, party and individual actions/choices are most important... where both the danger of barbarism and the prospect of socialism lie immanent, incipient, in the crisis. Thus, the crisis represents an opportunity for meaningful action. Simply because the worlds of business and self-improvement have mis/appropriated the chinese symbol in a manner which utterly elides questions of immanence doesn't mean that their failure to connect opportunity to incipient moments is all that far off.

5/24/2006 04:23:00 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Sure, I wasn't criticizing the idea per se that a crisis can also be an opportunity (one could also refer to the Seldon "crises" in Isaac Asimov's Foundation books which are themselves Marxism-influenced), just the silliness of the claim that this stems from the structure of the Chinese language and the attendant implication that this cliche contains some sort of deep mystical Eastern wisdom.

5/29/2006 09:24:00 PM  
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