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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Language As Tool And Trap

Here is another compulsive act of futility, another linguistic construction project to add a few more walls to our mental prison: efforts at explanation and clarity so often end up being just as confining as the originating confusions.
Language is a trap – and yet it is the pivotal means by which we expand our options beyond the limitations of the Living System of Order.  Almost any arrangement of words, that meet the basic requirements of syntactical order, can be imbued with behavioral/biological consequences; even non-sense collections of language-like sounds can be so infused given sufficient reinforced repetition.  One need only listen to a random selection of AM radio or eavesdrop on conversations in a coffee shop to realize the arbitrariness with which our language constructs the walls, fences and ditches of our understanding.

The first great danger is that we will assume that language can define the full expanse of our reality; the second great danger is that we will assume that it cannot inform our understanding at all, leaving us, in all appearances, without any device or devices to take on the challenges so obviously before us: the challenges are real beyond language, demanding solutions beyond rhetoric and yet we are left only with language as the means to bring together a sufficiency of organized action to meet them.

And thus, I find myself at a computer keyboard pushing buttons in the essentially vain (both senses) effort to pour the abstraction of Consciousness Order waters onto the concrete reality of Living Order fires: pouring imaginary confetti mixed with imaginary brickbats onto an imaginary parade of war heroes and zombies; it feels a bit like trying to teach algebra to a puppy (that actually knows as much algebra and calculus as it will ever need already. Just watch it catch a Frisbee!).

Well, clearly we humans don’t know all that we need to know.  And this is in main-part because we are trying to know about how to live in the world by how we think about the world.  To put it as bluntly as possible: thinking and its tool, language, did not evolve/adapt to replace living, only to supplement the primary informational impacts of living.  Thinking and language have long since run out beyond the cliff edge like the cartoon coyote (Roadrunner cartoons… an essential metaphor for modern life) and are “running” and “climbing” on the air, suspended only by the ignorance of falling.

So much for my display of angst!  What is to be done?

First and foremost, nothing.  There are 7 billion people on the earth and only some few millions are ready to take on the problem in a meaningful way.  Another several million, the power elites, are positioned to take over, or have taken over, the present distortions for their personal benefit; they have no interest in weakening the vast ignorance rooted in the impunity with which they live.  Hundreds of millions of people might, given a reasonable opportunity, adopt and adapt to ways of life more compatible with the Living Order, but this would require large changes in the metaphors that organize our lives; that is, adopting metaphors that use thinking and language to give up thinking and language as our first organizing principles, but the primary means to control the metaphors is, not without intention, firmly in the hands of the power elites.

Second and second-most, a lot.  There is so much to do!  Getting living right for yourself is the necessary step for getting living right for the larger community; and to do that it is necessary to figuratively (and perhaps literally) step out of the existing communities of experience and expectation (present metaphors).  This is especially true for the organizing functions of status systems.

We, humans, are a primate-pattern animal.  Our social systems come out of the genetics of primate community structure (this is an obvious conclusion of chimp, gorilla and baboon ethology).  Does your computer ever need a hug? Does a Mercedes ‘feel’ better about itself than a Kia?  Does a kitchen appliance blush with pride at a compliment?  The reality is that our primary nature is as a status-based community animal.  Social status systems evolved to organize the community for effective functioning in the ecology; motives of status are as much a part of us as fingers and thumbs.

But social systems have come to be given detail by the metaphors assigned by our stories about ourselves; this is the consequence of our Consciousness Order, a layer of activity laid over the form of our biology like a coat of paint, capable of obscuring inherent form while in no way changing it.

A focus on the details of the many injustices, inequities, crimes and maladaptive misbehaviors that surround us can offer no relief without an underlying change in how we view social status.  In a monumental perversity, we have come to accord high-value status to those who steal the most from the Great Many. 

In a community of equity (not the same as everyone having equal amounts of all production regardless of contribution) and transparency, it is obvious to all participants who is contributing, what and how much; it is also clear who is stealing or attempting to steal from the contributions of others.  It is natural in such a community to have social patterns of status built on cooperation and contributions to social stability and sustenance as well as on displays of power, bravery and possessions.

We will not, of course, as a society or as a species, make such changes; our imaginings are more real than the reality within which and to which we must readapt if we are to continue being a part of the Living Order.  But, that the large collections of us will not recognize and adopt salutary status systems is no reason not to create, value and live in such status systems either personally or within ad hoc communities.

As much as we may wish to avoid the recognition, our situation is simplicity itself.  The world’s billions and the world’s dominating elites cannot and will not lead collected humanity toward ways of living within the limits of ecological necessity [1]; in fact, the world’s billions will collectively demand an unattainable bit more for each and everyone (many with justification and some without) and the power elites will demand continued access to vast excess, imperiously condemning everyone else to servitude and deprivation. 

All that is actually left for those who see the world with some depth and clarity is to construct their own social systems using the larger dominating structures as the “eco-social-systems” within, or upon, which they must live.  This is not the most desirable choice – it is simply the only choice. 

I’m not suggesting lives of quiet desperation, rather lives of deliberate and proud social difference; an active as well as passive rejection of social status systems that give support and value to the theft of labor and the other social contributions made by the vast majority of humanity.  What we call being ‘rich’ can be seen as the crime it is, and more importantly, those who are rich can be socially condemned as accessories before or after the fact as we would anyone else who is part of a criminal conspiracy [2]. 

Most of society is so marinated in the madness of material accumulation, so devoted to the status system and social/economic organizing designs of money wealth, that freeing one’s self from the powerful web of influences is difficult.   Rejecting what “everyone else” believes to be true requires both excellent reasons and personal strength.   I can’t speak to personal strength – that is guided and attained in many ways – but the excellent reasons are piling up fast. 

These reasons are broadly of two types: the failures of our specieshood, that is, the alienation of our biology, with the resulting physical and mental illnesses, by our socially created distortions of reality, and, secondly, the destruction of environment endangering the whole living enterprise as it is presently functioning.  The former creates a creature uprooted from the living earth and arrogant in its powers of destruction and the latter sets the stage for the future of the extant ecological order.

[1] There must be a structural ‘engine’ of change of sufficient range and scope integrated into the existing social order, an ‘engine’ capable of responding to the relevant informational inputs that presage both the necessity and direction of change; there is no such ‘engine.’  The democratic, egalitarian social council of elders – the archetype of decision making for the human community – is a completely compromised design in the present world.  We are left with only raw evolutionary biology as the inevitable uncompromising change machine.

[2] Many social systems have engaged in actions that were eventually realized as immoral and criminal.  Piracy and robbery have often been considered “normal” economic activity by peoples living on trade routes.  Chattel slavery was considered perfectly correct by most Americans only a few generations ago.  The economic and political elites of today are like the slave owners of the past in their attitudes toward those over which they have power; they are like the pirates of the recent past who considered their robberies and murders as the “natural right” of people “smart” enough to get away with them.  How to accomplish such a transition of attitude without the excesses of the French Revolution will be one of the conundrums of the near future.

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