A fascinating study was conducted some years ago, which demonstrated that when people were being lied to, they experienced greater levels of stress, depression, paranoia and a host of other ill effects – even when they didn’t actually know for sure about the lying. We’re very sensitive animals.
We also tend to use language sloppily – most especially by casually saying that something “IS” something else – that is, definitely and in all cases possesses the characteristic which we then describe. We’re almost always generalizing too far, leaving people and cases out – but as a culture, we haven’t got the habit of mental modesty required to recognize this – and thus live in a much stupider and less amusing universe than we might, if we did.
What the world is is what it is. What people are is what they are.
What words, descriptions and theories are, is quite unlike either of those – at best, a synthesis of some imagination on our parts, some ideas we have gathered from learning, rumour and experience, and a bit of emotion, which directs us to suggest that our words represent reality.
For an emotional (or indeed sometimes a very practical) purpose!
This is an insight that the writer cannot avoid, that many others never see quite so glaringly clearly. Dialogue will drive you crazy until you realize it is only ever and always functional. We say we’re talking about reality itself, but what we’re actually expressing are our needs, experiences and emotions. Which is no problem at all, as long as this difference is recognized by everyone, all of the time. But of course – it almost never is.
What happens in a fight or war? People get angrier, a host of seething neurochemicals bathe our brains, and our emotional responses become less patient and understanding. We harden-up, stop listening, retreat to what always used to work for us before – whether or not it is relevant.
I have only one piece of treasured wisdom from Wittgenstein – but it’s an absolute powerhouse beauty – even though it was originally just an angry note he scribbled in the margin of a book he was reading.
“Don’t think of the meaning, think of the use!”
This one cuts through a hundred varieties of popular BS quickly and efficiently – because we suddenly realize that every time we advance an idea that pushes us further away from conditions for solution – we AREN’T talking about reality after all (shocker!) and may even be letting our need for emotional justification, lead us to damage our treasured cause.
Here’s why I’m done with the culture war – because both sides have finally adopted a fundamentally infantile position – so addicted to their defining meanings, that they are blind to their hurtful misuse. Each looking to win a victory against the will of the other (that is, damage the idea of democracy) rather than coming together to wipe out corporate corruption of politics and the undermining of social cohesion, and thus perhaps save civilization itself (a rather obvious and overdue unifying mass-movement cause, no?)
Plenty of dangerous actors around – not trying to be naive here – but it’s builders and creators who win out in the end, not critics.
Democracy is about citizens recognizing their individual responsibility to do the work of persuading the citizens around them – so their cause does become popular will – not delegating power to a sports-team aristocracy who will satisfyingly demonize and defeat our despised opponents for us. Might feel fun for awhile – but no one stays ‘trounced’ forever – and they are guaranteed to come back mad, if they were forced out or silenced.
Which means that we’ve all got plenty of work before us. Big stuff.
Best done clearheaded, with fewest lies, obfuscations, simplifications, dismissals, contempts, and other loaded mental framings – guaranteed to keep our already stressed-out brains pickled in unreason, long-term.