Continuum

Before mounting our high horse to tilt against this tedious expression, we are duty-bound to tip our hat to the people who first dragged it into the civic realm. Those who tried, late in the 20th century, to create a “continuum of care” for people in profound need-the isolated frail elderly, chronically homeless or mentally ill people, abandoned or runaway children-did the world too great a service to justify quarreling over their choice of terminology.

They argued convincingly that people with many chronic needs should get a more prolonged and seamless kind of help than was available from typically discrete, short-term programs. They are still struggling to make their case, which has been warmly greeted by theorists but only grudgingly accommodated by government and philanthropy.

But meanwhile, oh, what has become of their word! Now every activity that lasts longer than a day and connects ever-so-glancingly with any other activity is officially a CONTINUUM, and wants to be discussed in the reverent tones reserved for things with Latin names. Ever since Einstein gave us a space-time continuum, we have had to bear the encroachment of exotics like school-to-work continua, perinatal continua, the Left-Right political continuum (what does that leave out, exactly?), and the labor-management continuum. In the advancing postmodern ooze, very few things have rigid borders any more (everything has parameters, but almost nothing owns up to perimeters). Consequently, everything sooner or later runs into everything else. VoilĂ ! Continua all around!

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