September 3, 2010

what kind of threat?

Recently, we were talking about the situation in Iraq, and how the Iraqi politicians still haven't formed a government, five months after their elections.

I said that in the US system, we think that people who lose elections can just wait till the next election to try again. However, in Iraq, things are quite different, in that people who lose elections might have to go into exile to protect their lives. The phrase I used for this was "existential threat", as in, those politicians are afraid to compromise because they, perhaps correctly, perceive a loss as an existential threat. And when I said that, she let out a little inappropriate laugh.

So, later, I asked about that little laugh. I asked whether, in response to the phrase "existential threat", she had visualized a little man in a beret threatening to hit someone over the head with a baguette.

And, at that, she laughed so hard that she had to stop to catch her breath.

[Note: Yes, it's not funny if you have to explain it, but the point is that the word "existential" can refer to, um, existence, or to the philosophical school of existentialism, which might be best known for its proponents who are, yes, French.]

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