Language, truth and reality

Winston Smith wrote in his diary, Freedom is the freedom to say that 2+2=4. That means there is a shared reality, where we all know that 2+2=4, and each person has the freedom to state it. Someone riposted no, freedom is the freedom to say 2+2=5. Powerful people state what reality is, for example We have always been at war with Eastasia, and the rest of us have to go along with that.

People on the moderate left tend to believe in reality humans can investigate, where, say, climate catastrophe is being caused by anthropogenic CO2 emissions, and Mr Trump is wilfully denying that, but who knows what Trump believes? He really might believe something because it is in his interests to do so.

When I was a child there were nine planets, and there are now, as far as I know: but Pluto has been redefined as a dwarf planet and Konstantin Batygin’s planet nine has been hypothesised but not observed. I could not assess the weight of Batygin’s evidence, and I could not say whether there is some agreed need to observe it before declaring it exists though there appears to be. When I was a child, a kilobyte was 1024 bytes, and now it is 1000. 1024 bytes is now a kibibyte.

A sacked writer about taxation issues, echoing Winston, wants the freedom to say “Sex is real”. Of course it is, but not all the implications she wants to make from that follow. I don’t name her because her power comes from her notoriety and I call it notoriety rather than fame because I disapprove of her. Here I am, trying to mould reality with the words I use. I say “Trans women are women” and you agree with me, and freedom and human diversity and flourishing are enhanced, and she and her ilk say “transwomen are men” and they are not disagreeing with us, they are using language differently. It is a power struggle not a search for truth.

Michel Foucault said, We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms: it ‘excludes’, it ‘represses’, it ‘censors’, it ‘abstracts’, it ‘masks’, it ‘conceals’. In fact power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth.

You wanted to tell me something was going to happen that I would find difficult. You called me up and asked me not to tell anyone, and I said I was minded to promise but would not do so yet. You explained slowly and carefully why, and I agreed that was brave and possibly the right thing to do. I then promised, and started trying to explain something (I hope my allusions here are sufficiently nebulous not to have broken that promise). I was concerned I might be telling you things I had told you before, and I wanted to tell quickly a lot of information, and I became incoherent. A sentence might make sense by itself but not with the one before or after, then the sentences broke down. I don’t know what I said.

Richard Rohr says the myths of heroic sacrifice or redemptive suffering can prevent us from rebounding from rock bottom. I don’t know what keeps me here. Possibly the prejudice of others, possibly some error in me, wrongful desires or misperceptions. Evolution says that if we are more likely to reproduce if we don’t see reality, then we won’t see reality.

I felt that I wanted to play the Chopin A major prelude, and wondered if it would be too much work, my wrist and finger strength, my dexterity having faded, even the brain structures necessary having atrophied with lack of use. (The plastic brain is another truth new since my childhood.) It is beautiful. Those leaps in the left hand when the first melody comes back fortissimo are difficult. Could I learn it again? Could I apply myself, which would mean trusting myself?

I have difficulty knowing what I want, especially when it makes no sense to me.

I wanted to write, just now, thinking this would get me somewhere. I was weeping while hand-washing my towels. I thought, and the thought seemed like a huge revelation, if I can realise when I am incoherent possibly I could realise when I was resisting the world, rather than acting to change it?

And, perhaps, if I stopped trying so hard to mould reality, I could see it?

After, I read in Richard Rohr: Humility is the truth. That is to say, humility is the capacity to accept whatever happens, peacefully. Then you can decide whether God is calling you simply to accept the situation, or to do something to improve or correct it. Humility is a constant and permanent disposition that puts one in tune with the universe and with whatever is happening in the present moment.

4 thoughts on “Language, truth and reality

  1. Of course, 2+2 could equal 10 (base 4) or 11 (base 3). It is a common agreement that we count in base 10, although that hasn’t always been so and English has remnants of that, never mind looking at other languages or cultures.

    When we state “always” it doesn’t mean forever, merely what seems to be that long. As the use of the word “unique” has changed, it now seems it means “unusual”, language is not set in meaning. Dictionaries record usage, rather the dictating meaning. “Life imprisonment” typically means 25 years, which is indeed a huge section of most people’s expected life span, but far from the whole of it.

    Sex is indeed real, but is not a binary as anti-trans protesters would like it to be. The assumptions that follow from it however, are entirely social constructs and as such, can be re-written by society over time. And as with changing language usage, complaining about it doesn’t stop anyone doing it. Those that do tend to look like King Canute attempting to stop the tide.

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    • “Sex is real” as a slogan reinforces in those who chant it the idea that it is common sense that no trans woman should be in any women’s space. Nuanced argument, appeals for empathy, considering consequences, all bounce off the stubborn assertion. A bit like “Get Brexit Done”.

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