Details and Transcript

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Timestamps

  • 00:00 - Introduction

  • 01:07 - Segment 1: Cuttlefish (Short Story)

  • 10:21 - Segment 2: The Origin of "First World" (Metaphor History)

  • 20:08 - Segment 3: Political Correctness (Communication Topic)

  • 32:53 - Segment 4: Talk With Tiffany Lee (Guest Interview)

References

Theme Music​

Transcript

To my zealous family and friends. Near and far. Old and new. This is Kevin Mercurio on the mic. And welcome to the 36th episode of the Metaphorigins Podcast.

 

To show support if you like this sort of content, it’s very simple, please take 5 seconds to rate and subscribe to the podcast on Apple or Spotify or Google Podcasts or whatever platform you are listening to this on. It truly helps small, independent podcasts reach new people and grow the show with minimal effort. You can always leave a small review as well, and follow @metaphorigins on Instagram, that’s @metaphorigins, where I will be posting all of my updates, as well as on my personal website: kjbmercurio.com/metaphorigins. As always, I will hold another draw on my 40th episode for… You know, even with this break, I have not thought of what outstanding swaggerific prize to give out yet. But stayed tuned for more information on this extra cool… thing-a-ma-bob, whatever it ends up being!

 

Okay. So for today’s episode, I will be talking about a term that I hear less frequently these days, but nevertheless got me curious about it’s usage during times of privilege.

 

And we have liftoff. Literally. You have been invited by residents of the nearest solar system to ours. A member of the Alpha Centauri Star System, the red dwarf Proxima Centauri is the closest star to Earth’s sun, about 4.25 light years away. You giggle at this fact, that light years represent a unit of distance, rather than a more intuitive unit of time. The pilot looks towards you but then focuses back on activating the hyperdrive.

 

Your company, BlueSpace Virgin, has been defying odds in the space race over the last three decades. Scientists have finally unified gravity with quantum mechanics, leading to a monumental acceleration of technologies that can acutely warp spacetime in a predictable way. Explained in your first press conference as CEO of the company, using the fabric analogy, you demonstrated that shortcuts could be created between vast distances of space, thereby linking human civilization to resourceful regions of the observable universe.

 

BlueSpace Virgin’s hyperdrive technology, which expands on warping spacetime to also incorporate acceleration through fabricated shortcuts, allowed convoys to reach the solar system energetically fuelled by Proxima Centauri. What would normally take about 160,000 Earth years takes 4 years, where travellers on your cruise shuttles have access to Michelin Star restaurants, cinemas, nightclubs, waterparks, exercise facilities, office space, even a simulated rainforest. Housing over 600,000 people over the journey, cruise ships have been equated to flying countries, with medical centres, media controversies, even a self-governing status quo along with cruise elections.

 

Currently you are on cruise ship number 456, named Cuttlefish. Over the four years, you conduct business deals on the ship’s renowned office centre, able to broadcast and transmit information to the Alpha Centauri Star System, as well as Earth, using your patented technology of quantum enchantment. You are getting ready for Proxima Centauri’s huge 100 year anniversary of governance, celebrated on all 3 of the systems’ goldilocks planets. Upon arrival, there will be a quick tour showcasing each of the planets, and then travellers will be allowed drop off at each of the planet’s interstellar vacuum ports.

 

The cruise’s siren starts blaring on the intercoms, signifying that the shuttle has entered the solar system’s vacuum space and that all travellers on board must return to their rooms. This also signals the start of the introductory tour, as many members, including yourself, are just seeing the system for the first time. A remarkable feat of human ambition has built upon itself for hundreds of years, leading to this moment. How humans have changed, clearly, as look how far we have come.

 

You hear a musical note warning of an announcement, similar to the start of a statement in an airport terminal on Earth. The pilot clears their throat and begins the introductory tour.

 

“Hello. This is the pilot speaking. This is an announcement to all travellers of cruise ship number 456, Cuttlefish. It’s been four years since I last spoke with you, and today, right now, I speak with you once more to mark the end of our long journey. We made it. As mentioned previously, all crew members of the Cuttlefish wish to thank all those who chose to cruise with us, and of course the fantastic VIPs of whose sponsorships of this flight made it all possible. One such VIP which we would all like to give special thanks, is the CEO of BlueSpace Virgin, whose family dictated the course of human history in space over the last few centuries. They’re also my boss, so a bit of ass-kissing couldn’t hurt.” With that line, you hear some laughter in the pilot’s cockpit, and smile to yourself in your on-board suite.

 

The pilot continues. “Customary to these long voyages, as many of you are just seeing this remarkable advancement of human civilization for the first time, is the introductory tour. We are lucky in that each of the planets are now aligned along their orbits, giving us clear sequential views before disembarking on our own ways. We have just passed Proxima Centauri on the shuttle’s left, and therefore please, for those of you residing on the left or on the viewing decks, do continue to wear your radiation glasses for the remainder of this cruise.”

 

“Now, we are passing First World, also known as Proxima B, or the planet in the habitable zone closest to the star. It is also often called the 51st state depending on who you ask, as the first arrivals were astronauts of the United States. Now, this planet is certainly not the largest, but being closest to the system’s energy source has its benefits. Revolutionary technologies have been developed to capture as much starlight as possible, as you can probably see, those large flattened solar cells that look like planet wings. These cells are easily able to sustain the residents of First World’s energy consumption, and therefore this planet is very lucrative and houses many high-ranking VIPs.”

 

After a few minutes, you hear the musical note as the pilot returns. “Now, we are passing Second World, also known as Proxima C. This planet is also often called the Republic depending on who you ask, as the first arrivals here were cosmonauts of Russia. The planet is a bit larger than First World, and often battles with the planet due to First World’s usage of solar energy capture that shields starlight whenever planetary orbits are aligned. These conflicts lead to standoffs in the cold Parliamentary In-between, or that large space station bordering their vacuum space, where negotiations are made between the two worlds. Novel technologies of starlight capture, like solar cell projectiles that run farther along the planet’s orbit, help Second World obtain energy during the months that they are shrouded by First World’s shadow. Otherwise, many high-ranking VIPs still reside here.”

 

More moments go by before you hear the musical note for the pilot’s final announcement. “Now, we are passing Third World, also known as Proxima X. This planet is also often called the Global South depending on who you ask, as the first arrivals were exploronauts of developing nations on Earth. The planet is by far the biggest of the three, but being the farthest away from the star makes it difficult to obtain energy. Most of the time, First World or Second World governments licence their technologies to Third World, however this only meets the necessary energy demands by Third World residents. Third World has looked to innovate away from solar cell usage, often using less cleaner energy sources that are frowned upon by it’s neighbouring planets. With the largest population and unique environment, residing on Third World is the most affordable.”

 

You hear a loud noise and the shuttle shakes, seemingly drifting off it’s trajectory. You look at your window and see a shower of comets racing passed, so close that, if the 6 meter thick transparent carbon fibre material weren’t restricting, you could reach out and grab their beautiful tails.

 

Hey. You turn around, expecting to see someone. However, you are alone in your suite, and there’s a wall behind you. HEY. The person yells this time, and you look all around you but see no one. HEY! This time they scream so loudly that you flinch your hands to cover your face and knock off the virtual reality headset.

 

“Finally”, your boss says, shaking their head, “I said to test the Metaverse equipment for 5 minutes, not 5 hours. Put the toy down and send me your report.”

 

“Right away,” you say, disappointedly, and look out your window at the polluted skyline.

 

Okay, the whole Metaverse announcements by companies like Facebook and Microsoft have me really questioning what the future will be like. This pandemic really accelerated technologies in this regard, so why should we do anything in the outside world when we can do everything in the comfort of our own homes? Anyway, this story helps introduce a concept used most frequently during a time when we all almost rocketed ourselves to oblivion. So why do we remark on planetary problems when we realize incredibly superficial issues?

 

What’s the origin to the expression, “First World”?

 

*Theme Music*

 

Most of this information was obtained from various articles discussing the origins to this expression. All sources will be mentioned in the description.

 

It’s Saturday night. You and your roommate are in the kitchen as your stomachs loudly start to groan. Hungry, you walk over to the fridge and open it, revealing various fruits and vegetables, some yogurt, whole wheat bread, and a couple cans of Coke Zero. “I don’t know what to eat,” you might say. Or how about another scenario. You had just bought a Bugatti last week (as one normally would) and was so excited to drive it today, only to realize that it’s raining and now you can’t decide whether to drive your Lamborghini or Range Rover to the Michelin Star restaurant. Although one clearly exemplifies exaggerated hyperbole (at least to anyone listening to this podcast, no offense), both of these examples identifies a problem that when thought more about, are arguably just as silly.

 

These redundant problems are short-lived, sure, bit epitomize the very essence of a consumerism society. In fact, the former example, of having food yet not knowing what to eat when hungry, is so prevalent in my own daily life that I was appalled at how easily the example came to me. In no place where life necessities are scarce and paramount to everyday survival does this problem emerge. Even more grotesque is the solution that one does not even need to eat the food they actually have, but could instead use widespread technology to order food at the restaurant chain across the street and have it delivered to you in less time than watching an episode of Netflix’s Squid Game.

 

And in each of those circumstances, a thought that often arises, at least in my head, is the notion that these are “first world” problems. Begrudgingly, I use to say that a lot whenever I’m given a choice that, in reality, does not matter. Which sneaker pair to wear with my attire, which colour guitar to practice music with, which brand of toothpaste to get at the supermarket. These daily decisions are forks on a road with sidewalks, safety lights and clear signage. They are choices that, no matter which you choose, lead to having protected feet, the opportunity to practice music and have proper dental hygiene. Choices that come from a state of privilege.

 

Privilege is something we hear about much more as of late. Privilege in places you work, privilege in the neighbourhoods you live, privilege in the colour of your skin or the gender you identify with. These are definitely ongoing societal discussions that must be made to further civilization in the progressive front. And yes, I would fully agree that the understanding of privilege in its most basic sense needs more widespread awareness within individual societies or nations. But I’m talking more about geographical privilege, the kind that is given to you solely based on where, rather than what, you are born.

 

This privilege is the type that is embodied in today’s term, First World, which had more to do with geopolitics than the industrialization and economic stability that it often gets associated with. As mentioned in World Atlas, First World stems from the Three World Model that emerged after the Second World War and start of the Cold War. During this time, the United States and its Allies, also known as the West, were one of the two global superpowers that the world looked to after such cataclysm. Mentioned on Investopedia, these nations shared socio-political beliefs of democracy and capitalism, delegated valuable terms such as property and stability, highly literate and believed in the rule of law. Countries excluding the US that would fall under first world designation include Great Britain, France, Canada, Australia and Japan.

 

On the other hand were nations designated as Second World, which prior to the 1990s included the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, Cuba and Vietnam. Germany at the time was divided into East and West Germany, where the former aligned their interests with Second World socio-political ideologies and the West aligned with First World ideals (building a wall to separate the two). Second World nations exercised a much more centralized form of government, mainly socialism and communism like Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China. 

 

There’s also a Third World designation, which writer Evan Andrews on History.com writes “encompassed all the other countries that were not actively aligned with either side in the Cold War. These were often impoverished former European colonies, and included nearly all the nations of Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia.” This term, at least at the time, would also include neutral countries like Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Ireland and Austria, who had well-developed economies. Even Saudi Arabia, a country juxtaposed with pictures of wealth in the Arabian Peninsula, would also be classified as a Third World country. Therefore, this Three World Model of First, Second or Third nations are certainly outdated, and is politically (and perhaps modernly) incorrect.

 

That got me wondering, how does the globalized world classify nations respectfully? In a 2015 NPR article, writer Marc Silver discusses the usage of Third World and spoke with academics, economists, policy coordinators and media experts on this topic. To summarize, many are rightfully against the Three-World Model and have opted to use language such as developed or developing countries. Dr. Shose Kessi, a social psychologist at the University of Cape Town, even hates this dichotomy, stating, “the developed-developing relationship in many ways replaces the colonizer-colonized relationship. The idea of development is a way for rich countries to control and exploit the poor. You can see this through the development industry where billions of dollars are spent but very little gets achieved.” These days, the World Health Organization uses terms like low, middle, high income countries, and media outlets just name the countries they wish to talk about.

 

Whoa. This became a history lesson. What’s the point of this podcast again? Right. The origin of the term. Who or what is the term First World attributed to? Most sources state that the term, along with the Three World Model, was first quoted by French Demographer Alfred Sauvy in a 1952 article published in L’Observateur titled, “Three Worlds, One Planet.” Nations Online mentions that this article certainly coined the term Third World, where the article ended “comparing the Third World with the Third Estate: Ce tiers monde ignore, exploite, meprise, comme le tiers Etat: This ignored third world, exploited, scorned like the third estate.”

 

I write this segment a bit aggravated, and perhaps you were able to tell. Terms that were thought to be innocent throughout a majority of my life were not only derogatory but also just clubhouse drama built around geopolitics. Surely there are better methods to label nations that don’t isolate those or present a global hierarchy, but maybe there is just no getting around that aspect of human nature. Whether you find yourself in a developed or developing, a low to middle income or high income, a first, second, third or newly added fourth world country, I hope that from the bottom of my heart we will prevail as one global effort to tackle the problems humankind faces, problems such as global warming, poverty and disease, so that perhaps one day we can all look into our full refrigerators and proclaim together, “I don’t know what to eat.”

 

*Theme Music*

For my communications segment, I would like to talk about a concept so tangled within society that it has become both an ally to cancel culture, yet also somehow an opponent to freedom of speech. And that topic is political correctness.

 

Now, this topic is something most would argue being a taboo subject for any conversation outside of social sciences classroom, in that political correctness and the greater web of ideas it touches are about as logically and culturally complex as the origin of the universe. Yet, how many of us have bared witness to the deserved or underserved fall of high profile individuals over an off-hand remark, a callous tweet or status update, an insensitive picture resurfaced from the polaroid era? The speed at which information can be shared among the global community is applauded during moments of problem-solving and social connectivity, but it’s uniformity has also become a battleground for judgement and impulsivity. We trust, despite not being there, that what we read from news outlets and checkmarked members of platforms are interpretations and assess them by the amount of similar members who engage.

 

We observe this time and time again, and I need not list those who have, in the words of journalist Jon Ronson, “been publicly shamed”. Shamed so bad that they lost their jobs, their family and friends, and sometimes their own lives. I aim not to be sympathetic to those who undoubtedly are instigators of public discourse, those who’s personality stems from a language of hate and divisiveness through unscrupulous strategizing. I also aim not to discourage that what you say out loud in speech or writing should be thought about, and thought hard about, before being expressed. As listeners of this communications podcast (for hopefully more than this episode) will know, language is one of the most powerful weapons we have. Therefore, I must be careful through clarification during this segment.

 

And the topic in question doesn’t just touch on social faux-pas. It is deep rooted in our politics (hence the name), along with civil rights movements that push societal norms towards a more progressive, a more inclusive community. It aims to shed light on the underrepresented and, at the same time, the privileged, which is typically a cemented power dynamic that only recent years have proven to be shifting ever so slowly. I say that, but many of you can look toward world superpowers and see both the environmental and ideological climate are regressing to times we don’t want it to regress to. The easiest example is of course the 2016 US election, in which a demagogue was elected President of the “Free World” (a term that I suppose makes sense if juxtaposed to other global superpowers). Sadly, today’s concept was not only adopted by polarizing conservatives as an obstacle to free expression, but Trump shot down this obstacle on a New York Street and nobody could stop him. To quote writer Moira Weigel in a 2016 Guardian article titled “Political Correctness: how the right invented a phantom enemy”, “Trump did not simply criticise the idea of political correctness – he actually said and did the kind of outrageous things that PC culture supposedly prohibited. The first wave of conservative critics of political correctness claimed they were defending the status quo, but Trump’s mission was to destroy it.”

 

But this episode is not about Trump, nor any of the individuals that have been targeted by PC social justice warriors out for blood. Moreover, I would like this episode to be a more abstract conversation about the original intentions of political correctness in contrast to the real consequences that we see today. Of course, I am by no means an expert on this topic as I step outside the comfort of biology (oh how I love the simplistic social dynamic of growing cells in culture media), and so I invite all of you who have listened to this segment in full to reach out to me for a continued expansion of these ideas. This podcast, as I’ve mentioned in the past, is a platform for me to organize and discuss my thoughts on topics that years of smarter people have dedicated their lives to elaborating on.

 

Let’s, unsurprisingly, start with the origin of the term itself. Wikipedia describes political correctness as, “a term used to describe language, policies, or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to members of particular groups in society.” In a 2015 article published in the Conversation titled, “Political Correctness: Its Origins and the Backlash Against It”, Professor of Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University Dr. Clive Hamilton states that, “The term emerged in the west in the 1970s as a kind of self-parody used by activists in the various new social movements and the New Left more broadly. It was borrowed from the English translation of Chinese Communist texts, particularly those of the Cultural Revolution, seen by most in the New Left as doctrinaire and Orwellian […] As this form of language policing spread into the wider community it became a highly effective means of confronting the deep-rooted prejudices embedded in everyday words and expressions.”

 

These prejudices are something that society has suppressed for years. For myself, reflecting on the stereotypes I’ve uttered and unconscious biases I displayed over the course of my life is embarrassing. So imagine that at a global scale, with much more nefarious and even conscious intent. For example, during my undergraduate studies, I would laugh at the notion of “safe spaces”, an idea that generalized the notion that everybody should feel safe within the university campus. Of course this should be held to high regard, but the policy became a convoluted concept that allowed people to shutdown discussion if topics that came up were labelled “off-limits” to them. This would often include discussions that brought up arguments against the progressive norm, or even simply inquiring about topics about progressive norms. Now, instead of deriding those who feel uncomfortable, I empathize, for I have no idea the impact these topics have had on lives of people in my community. In a 2021 article published in The New Yorker titled “The Purpose of Political Correctness”, interviewee and columnist for the Guardian Nesrine Malik described the dynamic within modern liberal institutions like a university, ”…there are also more people in those liberal spaces that fall on the sharp end of the debates that people previously were quite indulgent of. There are more people of color. There are more people from immigrant backgrounds. There are more people who are gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer, and the progress that we have seen in liberal institutions in opening up their doors to people from different backgrounds means that there is now a conflict about agreed-upon red lines that existed in those places before those people came in. And so it’s also a discussion about how a society expands and includes new people in these spaces that are very influential and that manage and amplify national debates on quite controversial or quite sensitive issues.”

 

The realization that I am in a state of privilege whenever I enter a conversation about something that I have not truly experienced the consequences of is something I learned shamefully late in life. My ability to participate with chosen language is a freedom for which I exercise because I am comfortable doing that, and I cannot look down on my peers who, given the same freedom, choose not to execute because of justified concerns. In this case, political correctness could be used in a way that Vox writer Amanda Taub says, “is a term we use to dismiss ideas that make us uncomfortable”, and that by continuing to exercise my freedom by disregarding the emotions attached to it, the term, “is a way to say an issue has no value”. More importantly, and as a middle ground if you will, the act of forever ignoring the conversation is not a solution either. In a 2015 Vox article titled, “The truth about "political correctness" is that it doesn't actually exist”, she quotes outspoken liberal pundit Jonathan Chait saying, “Of course liberals are correct not only to oppose racism and sexism but to grasp (in a way conservatives generally do not) that these biases cast a nefarious and continuing shadow over nearly every facet of American life. Since race and gender biases are embedded in our social and familial habits, our economic patterns, and even our subconscious minds, they need to be fought with some level of consciousness. The mere absence of overt discrimination will not do.” Although I was not speaking directly about overt discrimination, this general concept of the obvious presentation of prejudice does not change the systemic polices and unconscious bias that hold the global community back.

 

Jesus Kev, is political correctness good or bad? Just TELL me. In full honesty, it’s difficult, mainly due to the fact that, well, there are no facts in this realm like perhaps most of us listening are so used to, and that many people including myself have opinions on the matter. Articles in The Atlantic and the Pew Research Centre have demonstrated that your opinion towards PC culture is heavily dependent on where you fit on our unmentioned status quo, your overall background and the type of government policies you support. It doesn’t help that the ideals that represent a polarizing concept are always the loudest at the extremes, in which PC proponents are branded as internet mobsters with excessive rules for punishment and PC opponents are labelled as the white, power-hungry patriarchy. Often most conversations with most people lie somewhere in the middle, and do say a lot about where organizations and individuals can implement real change. Mentioned in a 2006 article published in the Harvard Business Review, writers mention 5 principles that can be utilized for constructively engaging differences within these dynamics which I will summarize here: 1) To Pause, 2) To Connect, 3) To Question Yourself, 4) Get Genuine Support and 5) Shift Your Mindset. In other words, take time to empathize with your interlocutors and reflect internally about your own ideals and morals, whilst seeking advice if there are conflicting findings.

 

How can one be against something that is the mantra of any discussion on diversity and inclusion? We, as a society, should be striving towards one where we all look around at the incredible amount of differences in our looks, personalities and cultures deeming that a normal phenomenon, at any stage of our careers, within any environment around the world. We can gift the term political correctness to either extreme, but then unfairly not give it’s origins any justice. In a 2018 essay published in the Economist by then MSc candidate in Global Health Julia Symons titled “Has political correctness gone too far?”, she answers that, “At best, the notion of political correctness having gone too far is intellectually dishonest; a fallacy similar to a straw-man argument or an ad hominem attack. At worst, it serves as a rallying cry to cover up the excesses of the most illiberal in our society.” This is echoed in a 2016 article published in Scientific American titled “The Personality of Political Correctness” in which PC proponent Maryann Ayim argues that, “If PC means minimizing sexual and racial harassment, discouraging homophobic, racist, and sexist discourse within educational settings, and curtailing policies which victimize oppressed groups, then political correctness is not merely correct, but morally obligatory as well”. 

 

Shutting down conversation in the name of political correctness from either side of the aisle will not change the systemic oppression the underrepresented have been pointing out for years. What’s promising, I believe, is that this debate which is hardly close to being settled is a phenomenon that arguably emerges within places where this is actively changing for the better. As mentioned, institutions have finally opened their doors for more inclusivity and thus, new members continue to be observant of where the next line regarding equality needs to be crossed. And again, language will be the weapon of choice for those expanding rights as well as those in power to dictate those rights. So, bottom line, be conscious of your words as it’s the correct thing to do, politically or apolitically.

 

*Theme Music*

For my sixth guest of the season, I’ll be interviewing a long-time friend who’s personal experience as an immigrant, educational background in worldly affairs and professional experience in a government environment has led to invaluable insights on language and rhetoric from a global perspective.

 

She is a Senior Policy Advisor at the Canada Border Services Agency. After immigrating from South Korea in Grade 6, she pursued a Bachelor of Arts degree at McGill, then a Master of International Affairs degree at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University. She has a great love for learning about different cultures and using her foreign language skills to make new friends, wherever possible. Aside from being a federal public servant, she is a huge Disney geek, a vocal feminist and visible minority advocate, and an obsessive pet mom to her two cats.

 

Please welcome the tremendously sharp, Tiffany Lee.

 

*Theme Music*

 

 

*INTERVIEW*

The ever changing dialogue around political correctness is something we shouldn’t be put off by, but rather engage with. When we see the response towards offence or towards being offended, should we not take a step back and determine whether we fully understand either point of view rather than injecting our own worldview into the matter? Deep talk. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed learning about worlds and politics. These larger topics outside of the general science I speak about grow from my interest in linguistics and origins of ideas, particularly those that can change based on life experience, culture and geography. In terms of updates, for those who have made to the episode end, I co-first authored a recent review published in the journal MDPI Cells about microRNA impact on gut permeability (super cool stuff, check it out!). Also just finished the major component for my teaching at Scholar’s Ireland, which was a blast. Because of the jammed packed schedule I now have, I will be changing my episode uploads to a biweekly format rather than a weekly one. But yes, thanks so much for listening, it really does truly mean a lot to me. Do remember to follow the podcast Instagram page for visual updates and sneak peaks, and of course, anyone following will be placed into the draw to win some Metaphorigins swag, whatever that ends up being, on my 40th episode and Season Four Finale. Rate, subscribe, share, message, megaphone this episode to your family and friends. Tune in to the next episode of the season, but until then, stay skeptical but curious.

 

*Theme Music*