Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Lying in Virtuality

August 7, 2010

Talk!! Just writing the word down is a contradiction. But what a seductive contradiction.

Even in the parlance of the street, the contradiction is clear. “You talk the talk! But can you walk the walk?”

Philosophy is talk about talk. It is talk about the difference between “talking the talk” and “walking the walk”. In philosophy, all you can do is talk about it. In the actual world, you can shut up and walk away. But then, there is nothing left to say. The ones who get their power from talking are left speechless.

I just got up and walked away- to get a glass of water. You couldn’t know this without my telling you because we are not sharing real space and time. We are only virtually together.
I am here in my now and you are somewhere else in the future of my now. In a non-literate world, one without written words, we could only communicate when sharing space and time. Gradually, mechanisms developed for communicating across time and ultimately space, leading to written words. So now we can pretend we are sharing space and time and experience. That pretending creates a “virtual” world, a world of essences derived from walk-world but is still only in the talk-world.

In this virtual world, we also lie to each other. Of course, people can be deceptive face to face, but they can also be discovered or suspected. We can also be honest, face to face. But the written word is always a lie. That may seem a strong thing to say, so let me follow up on it a little.

“I just got up and walked away..” I wrote several lines above here. While that was a true statement, it was not the whole story. It was not everything I did or thought. It did not place my action in any kind of meaningful frame of reference. I left that all up to you. If I had set about to fill all that in, I would still be writing about the glass of water! To completely exhaust the subject, I would need to write forever for after I finished writing about the glass of water I would have to write about the writing about the glass of water and… Let’s not go there. Only computers are stupid enough to chase their own tails into logical oblivion.

So I employ my own internal editor to decide what to write and what not to write. Now, I am an honest fellow and altruistic in the extreme. So in the editing that I do while I am writing this for you, you can be assured that I am not forwarding my own personal agenda or lust for social prominence, or any other kind of lust. Trust me on this one!

One can communicate the real world only in a limited way. You can throw a stone only so far. But one can communicate virtually a great deal more. Even so, what is left out of the communication is greater than what is included. How the communication is shaped is determined by the internal editor of the communicator. That editor is subject to the conscious and unconscious impulses of the human being doing the communicating. Like all other human beings, the communicator lives in social setting that is, one way or another, a dominance hierarchy. Our communication skills have been shaped and honed not just to send signals about our environment, but also to facilitate our struggles for our desired place within that hierarchy.

Whenever we speak or write, we have as part of our agenda how that speaking or writing affects our struggles within the social hierarchy. And it is so much easier to lie when I don’t have to look you in the face! Trust me on this one!

I’m not sure all of this hangs together very well. Maybe you have something to say?


No defenders of “Truth”?

March 7, 2010

I am not terribly surprised. But it is surprising. “Truth” is a very popular word. You can say the most awful thing about some one and should you be queried why, the most common defense is “It’s the Truth!” Scientists claim it. Relgionists claim it. But no one will defend it?

I have raised the question that one should be careful in the use of language, suggesting that some easily and commonly made word conversions, like nominalizations, are correctly critisizable on the basis of whether or not they map something that actually happens in the world. Here is a another opinion:

“Once the human intellect creates  symbols from reality, those symbols or words can be manipulated and catalogued to increase our understanding of reality. “(The Trivium: The liberal arts of logic, grammar and rhetoric : Sister Miriam Joseph  (Paul Dry Books Edition 2002)) p.24

I think this statement is true, but I’m sure it is not the whole story.

Unfortunately, when you try to tell the whole story, the language begins to bend around on itself, like the proverbial snake biting its own tail. We can find our way out of the confusion with a map.

In fact, that is where I got started in this whole business, talking about maps with students in the classroom. First, draw a map of how to get from home to school. Then go on to written messages versus maps, visual and verbal problem solving, right brain and left brain, algebra and geometry, grammar and vocabulary of maps. It took two class periods altogether. Toward the end I would ask who drew a perfect map. Usually no response. Sometimes “What do you mean by perfect?”

My response: If it solves the problem of instructing someone how to get to your place, it is perfect. Now several people volunteer that their maps were perfect in that sense. But still imperfect in two basic ways: uniformity of scale, and suppression of detail. So I point out that the utility of the map for solving a real world problem is directly dependent on those very distortions. A map that was free of all distortions and that fully recorded every detail of existence, were it possible to construct such a map, such a map would be useless for guiding the person to your place. It would be like pushing them out the door and saying Try!

So is the map true? Most student said yes. If it solved the problem, it was true.

The ethical question comes up when you ask “What if you made this map and somebody used it and got lost because of some distortion you put on the map, and suffered harm because of getting lost. Whose fault is it? Now there is some debate

But if the map were the Truth, there is no debate. It’s the traveler’s fault for getting lost.

A map, which is a statement in visual language, can be true. A statement in verbal language can be true. The word “true” is an adjective, and as such, in my limited understanding of such matters, in the jargon of Aristotelian thought, is an accident that is a property of a substance, like the blue color of the mineral azurite. The nominalization of the adjective to the noun, “Truth”, brings forth a substance, something that exists in and of itself.

But would Aristotle approve of this switching from accident to substance? In conversation with a knowledgeable friend, I was reminded that nominalization was introduced into English by the Norman Invasion (1066 CE).  Before that, the Anglo-Saxons who were uttering the forerunners of English had no such word as truth! No wonder they lost.

Which brings up the always underlying historical question:”When did it come to be the way it is now?” Could Aristotle conceivably approve the moving of an idea from one kind of Platonic entity (accident) to another (substance)?

The substance , being substance, can be possessed by some, and not by others. Those that possess it are exalted in power and held blameless for the execution of that power, no matter how hurtful. Those that do not possess it are debased and held responsible for their own misery.

One could become cynical about it all. I prefer to remain a skeptical optimist. I am skeptical of all maps, visual, verbal, mathematical, whatever, knowing that they can only imperfectly capture the actuality of the existent world. I am optimistic that the human community will continue its quest to create ever more precise and subtle maps to solve the problems that bear down on us in our actual existence.

The virtual world created by words has enthralled us for millenia.

Once upon a time....

But somewhere there is a baby crying.

Enough of this eclectic plagiodoxic rambling!