Thursday, February 16, 2012

Language - Purity of Thought; Purity of Word: I

I just posted a short piece on Kaleidoscope about hearing someone say, "There are no absolutes in this life." It is a self-contradictory statement, for the speaker is stating an absolute. There is little purity of thought in language today; that is, we don't actually think about what we say outside the moment in which we speak. That is one reason why our leaders, in all arenas, think nothing of saying one thing at 10:00 AM and saying its opposite at 1:00 PM. That's why we don't think anything of it either - language has become the coin of expediency, serving utilitarian ends - the way we use language to achieve our goals doesn't matter - language is a tool, pure and simple.

When someone makes a statement to me at work and I ask, "What do you mean when you say that?", I nearly always get a surprised look. It's much the same look I get when I say something to one of my staff and then ask, "Do you understand what I mean by that?" Usually I'll get "yes" as an answer, and then I'll say, "Okay, tell me what I mean." Then I'll get the surprised look - often they will not have understood what I said - they will not have followed the logic of my statement because they are unaccustomed to thinking in systemic frameworks - everything is "in the moment".

Enjoying "the moment" and "living in the moment" are two different things. People take "living in the moment" to the extreme of living without broader context, therefore the experience of the moment is unrelated to a broader framework, never mind considering the transcendent. God has given us all things to enjoy, and in that sense enjoying a moment, even a difficult moment, can (and should) be sacramental, it can be a means of receiving God's mercy and grace. 

But society has gone from living in the moment to living in the nano second and words are robbed and denuded of their meaning and etymology (the roots of words may matter more now than ever because we use them rootlessly and we live rootlessly). 

 As I thought about an illustration of "living in the moment" I thought of animals, especially dogs, for it is said that animals "live in the moment". While there is some truth to that, it is not the whole truth and so it is not a good illustration, at least not in one sense; but in another sense perhaps it is, for my dogs have a sense of context and a sense of the past - I'm not sure about a sense of the future - but they have some measure of sense of the past. I know this because I've observed dogs relate people and things to past experiences, call it what you want, instinct or cognitive memory, call it what you want; they do have a sense of the past - they remember. Our society does not remember - it no longer remembers 50 years ago, or 30 years ago, or 10 years ago, let alone last year or 6 months ago. Oh we may have film and video and books about the past, but cognitively we don't incorporate the past into our thinking and decision-making; people who lived through the Depression remembered the past and it informed their present and future; people who lived through tough economic cycles from the 1970's forward appear to have not remembered much at all as evidenced by our current economic climate.And what better example could we find of "living in the existential moment" than world political and economic leaders of all parties during this century? (I use the word "leaders" lightly).

My dogs have context for their lives; it is their family (human and canine), their home, and their yard. They relate activities to this context, when someone or something comes within their context that may not belong there they know it. My dogs have a sense of "place" a sense of belonging. They probably have more instinctual framework for life than society has cognitive framework for life - after all, how can a society with a 20-second attention span have a substantive cognitive framework?

All of this affects language, and reduces language to a utilitarian tool without meaning beyond the moment - just look at advertising and "spin" and political rhetoric. Language is profaned to the point that much communication is profanity with or without four-letter words. The gift of systemic thought and language, for the two are inseparable (the Greek word logos captures this unity), sets humankind apart in creation and is a facet of our original creation in the image of God; the promiscuous use of this gift debases society, families, children, the church and synagogue and mosque. 

"There are no absolutes in this life." How many people, listening to or reading that statement, would have actually heard it?

to be continued...


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