You poor dope. I'm the LAST person you should be asking. I throw commas around like confetti!
I read the Pinker article. And I agree. For instance, what does the phrase "Death with dignity' really mean? Do I want to die with dignity? Hell, no! I want to die without prolonged suffering. When my time comes they can dress me in a clown suit and hit me in the face with a pie, so long as they pull the plug immediately afterward.
'Respect' is another misunderstood concept. If someone threatens me with a knife, do I respect him for that? No. I can be cognizant of the danger and still consider him a jerk all at the same time. If a total stranger wants instant respect from me, they'll be disappointed. I'll be courteous to them and if they respond in kind then everything will be hunky-dory. If I get to know them better and find that they are compassionate and open-minded people, then they will have earned my respect.
Let's talk about 'Heroism'. A woman is driving down the street and notices smoke coming from the windows of a house. She dials 911 and reports the fire. That night on News 12, she's hailed as a hero. Why? Because she took the trouble to stop her car and dial her cellphone? (What kind of a monster would she be if she hadn't bothered?) It rather cheapens the concept of heroism, don't you think? In order to be a hero, you need to take a significant risk, to do the thing you fear, because you know it's the right thing to do. The people that died in the WTC were victims, just like the ten (or 20 or 50) thousand who just died in the earthquake in China; just like the hundreds of thousands who died in the tsunami, just like the poor Burmese who are dying as I write this. (I'm sure that there must have been many individual acts of heroism that we'll never know about, but you don't become a hero merely by dying. Or dialing.)
Richard Dawkins talks about how indiscriminately the word 'Miracle' is tossed around. He specifically cites the instance of the 13 coal miners who were trapped in a cave-in. After several days, a report was released that said the miners were alive and would soon be rescued. The banner headline on all the newspapers was "Miracle Miners Found Alive" or something to that effect. And then it was discovered that all but one of the miners had actually not survived. That God guy, he's such a prankster.
Didn't I start this by talking about commas? How did I get here? "My brains hurts." - Zaphod Beeblebrox