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Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Power of Words


Post-modern deconstructualism is a school of thought championed by the 20th century linguist and French philosopher Derrida, and it has had a corrosive influence on the integrity of our culture, not of Western culture alone, but on the entirety of human culture.

Deconstructualism has undermined our ability to engage with the truth, at the highest levels of academia, and even at the most basic level of human discourse.

The proponents of this school of thought claim that language, the words we use to navigate the world and to interpret the meaning of our daily lives, that these constructions are completely inadequate in regards to elucidating the truth.

While there may be legitimate reason to critique the limits of language, the basic claim, that verbal discourse cannot capture truth undermines a person’s confidence in their own self, in the product of critical analysis, in scientific data, and in the social order.

We are living in this deconstructed world now, a world of sheer relativism and alternate realities, where the denial of science is readily employed in order to aid people, corporations and politicians in their pursuit of wealth, power, and the social agenda that they favor.  

Language is a tool, it provides a means of contextualizing our experience and framing our beliefs. Language is not merely a matter of art and subjectivism, of theatre and illusion, of persuasion and dissuasion, yes it can be employed to prevaricate and destroy, but we have also been used to map the stars, to peer into the micro-verse, to crack the code that split the atom, to map the genome and to plum the mysteries of the universe.

Differing language systems organize the experience of the individuals who use them in different ways.

By engaging with one another, through language, by translation and interpretation, we have developed the means to understand the beliefs and values of cultures other than our own.

Without language, we do not even have beliefs and values, right or wrong, to share and interpret.

This is not always an easy process, it is not intuitive, it is difficult, it can take years, even generations to work out the intricacies of meaning, tone, mood, person, gender, time, spatial orientation that are inherent in the narrative process of a language system that is different from our own. It can take years to understand the scope of the differences, and even more years to bridge the gap between one system and another.

These difficulties exist on a massive scale in regard to translations and interpretations between one language group and another, even when those language groups exist with the same language family, like the Indo-European root system that is fundamental to such diverse languages as English and Sanskrit, they are even further exacerbated when the languages are as different from one another as English is to Finish, Basque, Mandarin, or Algonquin.

These challenges are significant, and they are to be taken seriously, even when we are transliterating dialects within the same language, or moving a narrative from an oral tradition to one that is written.  

This is communication. Civilization depends on it. The fact that is has discernable limits, does not invalidate it.

Words are the instruments we use to describe the actuality of our own experience. They are vehicles conveying our interpretation of reality, and the value we ascribe to it.

Words are not the reality, they are emblematic of the reality.

We have no alternative but to trust them, otherwise the entire structure of civilization will collapse; law and commerce depend on the stability of language, science and medicine, engineering and manufacturing, even poetry depends on the stability of language.

The word love, is not love, it is a designation of love, it may convey love, it may also convey love’s opposite depending on the context it is set in, and the way in which it is used.

Such is the flexibility of language.

It is always a mistake to substitute the terms for the reality itself. The word love does not love, only loving does, but the words frame the experience, shape the memory, and allow us to tell its story.

Language provides us a means to talk about the things we feel, albeit, imperfectly

If we allow the words that form our beliefs to guide our actions, then we have a platform with actual referents on which we may analyze the repercussions of those actions.

We require this feedback.

The experience of those repercussions is the key to understanding the legitimacy of our beliefs, and the structure of language that supports them, articulates them, allows us to communicate them.

A valid argument is good, the clear expression of our thoughts and values is to be applauded when it coheres to the dictates of logic; that is is great, but they are meaningless without the input of our raw experience, action, and the feedback that results.

Say what you will about feeding the hungry, about how good it is and how rewarding, but nothing can substitute for the actual doing of it.

The word nourishment, does not nourish, just as the word love does not love.

Here in the world, we are able to distinguish the difference between what is hurtful and what is helpful. However, without language we are unable to get behind the surface of our actions, whether harmful or hurtful, we are unable to understand the intention that drives them, the intention by which harmful and hurtful actions and their consequences take on a moral dimension, becoming not just matters of pain and pleasure, of joy and sorrow, but of good and evil, of right and wrong, which is the difference between the harm that was intended, and the unfortunate accident that simply occurred, or the gift that was presented, and the fortune that was stumbled upon.

Without language we cannot organize the meaning of our experience, we cannot see in it all of the currents that contribute to it.

Language may at times obfuscate the truth, at times this might be done deliberately, but without language we cannot get to the truth at all.

Without language we understand nothing.

Post-modern thought, the work of Derrida and the other deconstrucualists have their place; semiotics, metonomy and linguistics provide important and necessary filters by which we may more perfectly understand the narrative construction of our experience, and to test the limits of that understanding. But, to the extent that they undermine the conventions that allow us to understand one another, that they undermine our appreciation for the truth itself, that they create safe places for what is false to be regarded in the same light as what is true, for 2 = 2 to equal 5, for up to be down, or the Earth to be flat.

They have gone beyond their usefulness.