I found something besides motion, or activity, which can be universally applied to all people, places and things, or rather in this case, to all relationships between people, place and things. That something is inequality. There is no such thing as equality, in any way, shape or form, in terms of objective height, or weight, or ability, even in terms of what we subjectively value, only greater or lesser inequality. A thought. Perhaps words like equality and inactivity should be stricken from the English language, perhaps they're constricting our thought, and deluding many of us into thinking there is more, or less going on than there actually is, or can these words still have a use, and could it be fair to say, these things are equal, or relatively equal? I wonder what impact it would have on our collective psyche, if we expelled equality from the English language forever, and we could only say, we are not very unequal, you and I, yes, we are only a little unequal.
Would the removal of words like same, equal, inactivity and rest, cause us to be more anxious, bitter, and hostile toward one another, and would this hostility be warranted and welcome, since it is based on a more accurate approximation of reality. Perhaps the word justice should be removed as well, since there are only varrying degrees of injustice. Now, words like big and small, good and bad, are also misleading, perhaps more misleading than the aforementioned words, equality and the like, as they denote absolutes, and as most of here are aware, as far as the eye can see, and the ear can hear, and the mind can interpret, absolutes are nowhere apparent in nature, nothing is absolutely tall, or taller than everything else, and I'm sick of having to qualify these words to retards like Plato, who can't think outside the confines of our archaic language, or who postualate an alternate realm of absolutes, no one has ever encountered before, so they can keep their primitive conceptual and linguistic frame work.
"Inequality" or diversity is implied in activity. Not even you are the same with yourself a month or a year ago. Constant change means constant shifts due to (inter)action.
What retains a Becoming as a unity is memory. Genes are a kind of codified memory: the sum of all previous nurturing, also called nature. Experience is another. A first-hand encoding. Knowledge is another. A second-hand encoding adopted and incorporated into first-hand activities, same way genetic encoding is.
Perhaps we should do away with words like tall and short, ugly and beautiful, and keeper words like taller and shorter, and make new words like beautifuller, so we would always have to finish the sentence with, she is beautifuller than my wife, or she is uglier than most, or he is taller than most, or he is shorter than me. Is humanity, or at least some portion of it, moving beyond language, knowing and understanding, seeing and hearing more than words can express, should our language evolve with us, as our civilisation and culture is dramatically changing, should our language not follow, perhaps it is time for a philosophically linguistic overhaul, rather descending into further madness with the introduction of ebonics into our linguistic milleu. Words like universe and God too, I think are holding us back, as it is absurd, ludicrous to talk of everything and nothing, as humanity has not, nor are we even capable of, contacting and comprehending all that is, so perhaps they too, should be removed.
Or, perhaps, something less drastic. Simply to consider words metaphors, or symbols, or artistic devices. Language is an art-form. Even everyday language should be considered as such.
Saying someone is tall does not mean you consider him the tallest creature in existence....yet when we use terms like power we sometimes mean omnipotence, and when we use the term beauty we mean perfect symmetry and when we use the term unity we mean a complete one and when we use the word thing we mean something static and unchanging.
It is somwhat meaningless to talk of everything, as everything as different, and it is meaningless to speak of all times, spaces and things, except to point that they are all different than one. We are, or should be moving to an age of greater complexity and sophistication, and I'm affraid our language may be holding us back. Words like God or ghost shouldn't even be in the dictionary, it give these ridiculous concepts creedance, instead, their status should be relegated to that of slang words, and then with the language, perhaps the concepts will follow shortly thereafter, they will be extricated from human consciousness. There is no bad, out there, so there should be no, this is bad, or this person is bad, or that action is bad, rather, we should say, that person is bading me, or perhaps we need a new suffix, like badek, or we could say badfull, like way say painful, we don't say this thing is pain, as nearly all, except primitive, anthropomorphic, animistic scum, recognise that pain is in the mind.
It would seem eyesinthedark has a difficult time reading text.
The radical reinvention of the English language he proposes is easily made unnecessary if one simply changes how one thinks of language. For instance, if one thinks that a word is a real absolute and not an artificially constructed simplification only existing in his mind, then he is a moron; if one sees language as not being literal but merely figurative, artistic, then one need not go through all the trouble of changing language so that a few imbeciles do not fall into the trap of believing that the word God signifies the existence of a real absolute Being or that the word tree signifies an unchanging, static, thing and not a dynamic, ephemeral, process.
Should we reinvent painting so that humans with the minds of children do not mistaken the images, the representations, for the real?
The English language has been reinvented many times, to make it more flexible, and versatile, perhaps another reinvention is an order, not for my sake, but for the sake of many idiots, who abuse language and thought.
Koans eh, hwadu, I'm not familiar with such things.
Koans eh, hwadu, I'm not familiar with such things.
Its somewhat similar to one of Satyr's random thoughts:
"Two people may experience the same phenomenon, like a movie or a musical piece or a traumatic event or a common event, and still understand it on different levels and remember it as such – why? Because experience is not enough. If it were, then similar education would produce uniform minds…and it DOES NOT!!! One’s acuity and perceptual abilities play a far more decisive role in understanding, as the phenomenon is sometimes but a mere stimuli that churns within the consciousness what is already there. The supposition that experiences are enough, takes it for granted that all who experience the same thing experience it on the same level. The presupposition is one, again, founded on equalitarianism and the usual self-placating post-modern[ism]." 
The same structure of language cannot evoke the same equal understanding or experience. And conversely, even if lang. were altered to allow for a wider differentiating pathos, those whose powers of discrimination are weak, will brutalize/commonal-ize the experience no matter how much you make the language structure rich to express heightened/inequal feelings.
"A human being may well ask an animal: “Why do you not speak to me of your happiness but only stand and gaze at me?” And the animal would like to answer, and say: “The reason is I always forget what I was going to say”— but then he forgot this answer too, and stayed silent: so that the human being was left wondering. — Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations
Since Aristotle infamously defined man as a “speaking animal” (zoon logon echon), language has often been employed by philosophers to trace the demarcation line distinguishing the animal from the human. In an ironic gesture, Nietzsche suggests that language might not simply be the human’s privilege over animals that are presumed to be speechless, but rather the symptom of his compulsion to express himself, his having “forgotten how to be silent” (108), or better, his having forgotten how to forget. It is not language as such, Nietzsche tells us, that distinguishes men from animals, but the use humans make of it. It is the human’s ex-pression — his propensity to speak in order to extract himself from life (which The Genealogy of Morals describes as a stream of forgetfulness) and, as a result, to negate his animal nature — that makes him a specific kind of animal: “the animal with red cheeks” (Zarathustra 112), “the animal with the right to make promises” (The Genealogy of Morals 57), “the animal not yet properly adapted to his environment” (Beyond Good and Evil 62). The human’s supposed superiority is thus not inherent in his exceptional or divine nature; rather, it is merely an aftereffect of a language that “overnames” (überbenennt), to borrow Walter Benjamin’s terminology, and thereby grants the human the illusion of “being above the animals.”
Spectatorial Distance. Nietzsche’s bestiary is so unique within Western philosophy that it cannot be reduced to a simple metaphoric system. Zarathustra’s tutelary companions – the eagle and the serpent, “the proudest animal under the sun and the wisest animal under the sun” (53) — are endowed with undeniable allegorical prestige; doubtless, the “amen”-able donkey and the glazed cows have not been chosen for legendary brightness; and, to be sure, the lion licking Zarathustra’s tears should be read as announcing the impending accomplishment of the prophet’s last prediction. Zarathustra’s animals are burdened with a lot of figurative baggage. They are not observed by the honed gaze of the naturalist but are seen from an allegorical distance. As in a safari, the reader walks among the animals and yet is isolated from them. Like the flâneur who sees “the city as hunting ground,” the reader “feels himself viewed by all” yet simultaneously “utterly undiscoverable” (Benjamin, Arcades 420).
My friends, your friend has heard a satirical saying: ‘Just look at Zarathustra! Does he not go among us as if among animals?’ But it is better said like this: ‘The acknowledging one goes among men as among animals.’ (112*; emphasis in original)
We could gloss the two sentences thus:
1. Zarathustra goes among men as he would if men were animals (but they are not, this is pure speculation). 2. The acknowledging one goes among men as he would if men were animals (and they may well be).
Zarathustra — if he is the acknowledging one in question — is not animalizing men in order to debase them; on the contrary, he calls into question the discursive grounds on which the ontological barrier that separates human from animal has been established. Language has long been thought to be the decisive criterion justifying this classic partition. Nietzsche seems to agree, but he operates a subtle, if radical twist by suggesting that the difference might not result so much from the animal’s speechlessness, but rather from the unacknowledged illusion produced by a moralizing and petrifying usage of “our” human language.
In the preface to the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche asks his reader to reassess the logical connectors that articulate “our” systems of value: “do our ideas, our values, our yeas and nays, our ifs and buts grow out of us with the necessity with which a tree bears fruit—related and each with an affinity to each, and evidence of one will, one health, one soil, one sun” (16; emphasis in original).
Human language, with its immoderate use of “as ifs” (i.e. of speculations unbounded “by conceivability”) has lost touch with its animal self. This may be how Nietzsche’s famous aphorism describing “the internalization of man” should be understood:
"…thus began the gravest and uncanniest illness, from which humanity has not yet recovered, man’s suffering of man, of himself—the result of a forcible sundering from his animal past, as it were a leap and plunge into new surroundings and conditions of existence, a declaration of war against the old instincts upon which his strength, joy and terribleness had rested hitherto.
Let us add at once that, on the other hand, the existence on earth of an animal soul turned against itself, taking sides against itself, was something so new, profound, unheard of, enigmatic, contradictory, and pregnant with a future, that the aspect of the earth was essentially altered. Indeed, divine spectators were needed to do justice to the spectacle that thus began and the end of which is not yet in sight — a spectacle too subtle, too marvelous, too paradoxical to be played senselessly unobserved on some ludicrous planet!" (Genealogy 85; emphasis in original)
The human seems to be in denial, refusing to recognize his kinship with non-human animals, inventing “new conditions of existence” that ironically appear to be unconditional. Nietzsche reveals the scopic nature of humanist egotism: requiring a witness whose grandeur is worthy of his narcissism, man invents transcendental omniscient spectators characterized by their inconceivableness and their irreducible remoteness."
When a language is not organicized by its own internal necessities in its links with its past, its yeas and nays, it tends to petrify into words and concepts so remote and inconceivable that anyone can 'share equaly' in it... like 'God'...
Hence the famous zen koan has the master uttering the non-sensicial 'Mu' when the disciple asks him 'Does a dog have Buddha nature?'.
Zarathustra’s Philosafari: "A human being may well ask an animal: “Why do you not speak to me of your happiness but only stand and gaze at me?” And the animal would like to answer, and say: “The reason is I always forget what I was going to say”— but then he forgot this answer too, and stayed silent: so that the human being was left wondering. — Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations
"The strange family resemblance of all Indian, Greek, and German philosophizing is explained easily enough. Where there is affinity of languages, it cannot fail, owing to the common philosophy of grammar–I mean, owing to the unconscious domination and guidance by similar grammatical functions–that everything is prepared at the outset for a similar development and sequence of philosophical systems; just as the way seems barred against certain other possibilities of world-interpretation. It is highly probable that philosophers within the domain of the Ural-Altaic languages (where the concept of the subject is least developed) look otherwise “into the world,” and will be found on paths of thought different from those of the Indo-Germanic peoples and the Muslims: the spell of certain grammatical functions is ultimately also the spell of physiological valuations and racial conditions." [N., BGE; 20]
If language evolved for communication, how come most people can't understand what most other people are saying?
FOR ANYONE interested in languages, the north-eastern coastal region of Papua New Guinea is like a well-stocked sweet shop. Korak speakers live right next to Brem speakers, who are just up the coast from Wanambre speakers, and so on. I once met a man from that area and asked him whether it is true that a different language is spoken every few kilometres. "Oh no," he replied, "they are far closer together than that."
Around the world today, some 7000 distinct languages are spoken. That's 7000 different ways of saying "good morning" or "it looks like rain" - more languages in one species of mammal than there are mammalian species. What's more, these 7000 languages probably make up just a fraction of those ever spoken in our history. To put human linguistic diversity into perspective, you could take a gorilla or chimpanzee from its troop and plop it down anywhere these species are found, and it would know how to communicate. You could repeat this with donkeys, crickets or goldfish and get the same outcome.
This highlights an intriguing paradox at the heart of human communication. If language evolved to allow us to exchange information, how come most people cannot understand what most other people are saying? This perennial question was famously addressed in the Old Testament story of the Tower of Babel, which tells of how humans developed the conceit that they could use their shared language to cooperate in the building of a tower that would take them to heaven. God, angered at this attempt to usurp his power, destroyed the tower and to ensure it would not be rebuilt he scattered the people and confused them by giving them different languages. The myth leads to the amusing irony that our separate languages exist to prevent us from communicating. The surprise is that this might not be far from the truth.
The origins of language are difficult to pin down. Anatomical evidence from fossils suggests that the ability to speak arose in our ancestors some time between 1.6 million and 600,000 years ago (New Scientist, 24 March, p 34). However, indisputable evidence that this speech was conveying complex ideas comes only with the cultural sophistication and symbolism associated with modern humans. They emerged in Africa perhaps 200,000 to 160,000 years ago, and by 60,000 years ago had migrated out of the continent - eventually to occupy nearly every region of the world. We should expect new languages to arise as people spread out and occupy new lands because as soon as groups become isolated from one another their languages begin to drift apart and adapt to local needs (New Scientist, 10 December 2011, p 34). But the real puzzle is that the greatest diversity of human societies and languages arises not where people are most spread out, but where they are most closely packed together.
Papua New Guinea is a classic case. That relatively small land mass - only slightly larger than California - is home to between 800 and 1000 distinct languages, or around 15 per cent of all languages spoken on the planet. This linguistic diversity is not the result of migration and physical isolation of different populations. Instead, people living in close quarters seem to have chosen to separate into many distinct societies, leading lives so separate that they have become incapable of talking to one another. Why?
Thinking about this, I was struck by an uncanny parallel between linguistic and biological diversity. A well-known phenomenon in ecology called Rapoport's rule states that the greatest diversity of biological species is found near to the equator, with numbers tailing off as you approach the poles. Could this be true for languages too? To test the idea, anthropologist Ruth Mace from University College London and I looked at the distribution of around 500 Native American tribes before the arrival of Europeans and used this to plot the number of different language groups per unit area at each degree of latitude (Nature, vol 428, p 275). It turned out that the distribution matched Rapoport's rule remarkably well (see diagram).
The congruity of biological species and cultures with distinct languages is probably not an accident. To survive the harsh polar landscape, species must range far and wide, leaving little opportunity for new ones to arise. The same is true of human groups in the far northern regions. They too must cover wide geographical areas to find sufficient food, and this tends to blend languages and cultures. At the other end of the spectrum, just as the bountiful, sun-drenched tropics are a cradle of biological speciation, so this rich environment has allowed humans to thrive and splinter into a profusion of societies.
Of course that still leaves the question of why people would want to form into so many distinct groups. For the myriad biological species in the tropics, there are advantages to being different because it allows each to adapt to its own ecological niche. But humans all occupy the same niche, and splitting into distinct cultural and linguistic groups actually brings disadvantages, such as slowing the movement of ideas, technologies and people. It also makes societies more vulnerable to risks and plain bad luck. So why not have one large group with a shared language?
An answer to this question is emerging with the realisation that human history has been characterised by continual battles. Ever since our ancestors walked out of Africa, beginning around 60,000 years ago, people have been in conflict over territory and resources. In my book Wired for Culture (Norton/Penguin, 2012) I describe how, as a consequence, we have acquired a suite of traits that help our own particular group to outcompete the others. Two traits that stand out are "groupishness" - affiliating with people with whom you share a distinct identity - and xenophobia, demonising those outside your group and holding parochial views towards them. In this context, languages act as powerful social anchors of our tribal identity. How we speak is a continual auditory reminder of who we are and, equally as important, who we are not. Anyone who can speak your particular dialect is a walking, talking advertisement for the values and cultural history you share. What's more, where different groups live in close proximity, distinct languages are an effective way to prevent eavesdropping or the loss of important information to a competitor.
In support of this idea, I have found anthropological accounts of tribes deciding to change their language, with immediate effect, for no other reason than to distinguish themselves from neighbouring groups. For example, a group of Selepet speakers in Papua New Guinea changed its word for "no" from bia to bune to be distinct from other Selepet speakers in a nearby village. Another group reversed all its masculine and feminine nouns - the word for he became she, man became woman, mother became father, and so on. One can only sympathise with anyone who had been away hunting for a few days when the changes occurred.
The use of language as identity is not confined to Papua New Guinea. People everywhere use language to monitor who is a member of their "tribe". We have an acute, and sometimes obsessive, awareness of how those around us speak, and we continually adapt language to mark out our particular group from others. In a striking parallel to the Selepet examples, many of the peculiar spellings that differentiate American English from British - such as the tendency to drop the "u" in words like colour - arose almost overnight when Noah Webster produced the first American Dictionary of the English Language at the start of the 19th century. He insisted that: "As an independent nation, our honor [sic] requires us to have a system of our own, in language as well as government."
Use of language to define group identity is not a new phenomenon. To examine how languages have diversified over the course of human history, my colleagues and I drew up family trees for three large language groups - Indo-European languages, the Bantu languages of Africa, and Polynesian languages from Oceania (Science, vol 319, p 588). These "phylogenies", which trace the history of each group back to a common ancestor, reveal the number of times a contemporary language has split or "divorced" from related languages. We found that some languages have a history of many divorces, others far fewer.
When languages split, they often experience short episodes during which they change rapidly. The same thing happens during biological evolution, where it is known as punctuational evolution (Science, vol 314, p 119). So the more divorces a language has had, the more its vocabulary differs from its ancestral language. Our analysis does not say why one language splits into two. Migration and isolation of groups is one explanation, but it also seems clear that bursts of linguistic change have occurred at least in part to allow speakers to assert their own identities. There really has been a war of words going on.
So what of the future? The world we live in today is very different from the one our ancestors inhabited. For most of our history, people would have encountered only their own cultural group and immediate neighbours. Globalisation and electronic communication mean we have become far more connected and culturally homogenised, making the benefits of being understood more apparent. The result is a mass extinction of languages to rival the great biological extinctions in Earth's past.
Although contemporary languages continue to evolve and diverge from one another, the rate of loss of minority languages now greatly exceeds the emergence of new languages. Between 30 and 50 languagesare disappearing every year as the young people of small tribal societies adopt majority languages. As a percentage of the total, this rate of loss equals or exceeds the decline in biological species diversity through loss of habitat and climate change. Already a mere 15 of the Earth's 7000 languages account for about per cent of the world's speakers, and most languages have very few speakers.
Still, this homogenisation of languages and cultures is happening at a far slower pace than it could, and that is because of the powerful psychological role language plays in marking out our cultural territories and identities. One consequence of this is that languages resist "contamination" from other languages, with speakers often treating the arrival of foreign words with a degree of suspicion - witness the British and French grumblings about so-called Americanisms. Another factor is the role played by nationalistic agendas in efforts to save dying languages, which can result in policies such as compulsory Welsh lessons for schoolchildren up to the age of 16 in Wales.
This resistance to change leaves plenty of time for linguistic diversity to pop up. Various street and hip-hop dialects, for example, are central to the identity of specific groups, while mass communication allows them easily to reach their natural constituencies. Another interesting example is Globish, a pared-down form of English that uses just 1000 or so words and simplified language structures. It has spontaneously evolved among people who travel extensively, such as diplomats and international business people. Amusingly, native English speakers can be disadvantaged around Globish because they use words and grammar that others cannot understand.
In the long run, though, it seems virtually inevitable that a single language will replace all others. In evolutionary terms, when otherwise equally good solutions to a problem compete, one of them tends to win out. We see this in the near worldwide standardisation of ways of telling time, measuring weights and distance, CD and DVD formats, railway gauges, and the voltages and frequencies of electricity supplies. It may take a very long time, but languages seem destined to go the same way - all are equally good vehicles of communication, so one will eventually replace the others. Which one will it be?
Today, around 1.2 billion people - about 1 in 6 of us - speak Mandarin. Next come Spanish and English with about 400 million speakers each, and Bengali and Hindi follow close behind. On these counts Mandarin might look like the favourite in the race to be the world's language. However, vastly more people learn English as a second language than any other. Years ago, in a remote part of Tanzania, I was stopped while attempting to speak Swahili to a local person who held up his hand and said: "My English is better than your Swahili". English is already the worldwide lingua franca, so if I had to put money on one language eventually to replace all others, this would be it.
In the ongoing war of words, casualties are inevitable. As languages become extinct we are not simply losing different ways of saying "good morning", but the cultural diversity that has arisen around our thousands of distinct tribal societies. Each language plays a powerful role in establishing a cultural identity - it is the internal voice that carries the memories, thoughts, hopes and fears of a particular group of people. Lose the language and you lose that too.
Nevertheless, I suspect a monolinguistic future may not be as bad as doomsayers have suggested. There is a widely held belief that the language you speak determines the way you think, so that a loss of linguistic diversity is also a loss of unique styles of thought. I don't believe that. Our languages determine the words we use but they do not limit the concepts we can understand and perceive. Besides, we might draw another, more positive, moral from the story of Babel: with everyone speaking the same language, humanity can more easily cooperate to achieve something monumental. Indeed, in today's world it is the countries with the least linguistic diversity that have achieved the most prosperity.
THE United States and Britain are two countries "divided by a common language", George Bernard Shaw allegedly quipped.
This statement, amusingly paradoxical on the face of it, might be more accurate than it seems. On "War of words: The language paradox explained", evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel argues that languages proliferate to differentiate competing groups.
If so, a shared tongue is not what the transatlantic rivals would have wanted. Sure enough, they quickly diverged; some of the differences between US and British spellings seem to have arisen as part of a knowing attempt to widen the gulf.
So perhaps it was Shaw's fellow wit Oscar Wilde who got closer to the mark when he observed in his 1887 story The Canterville Ghost that "we have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language".
Essence: Another term for nature, past, sum of all nurturing. Another term for spirit, soul.
A word must refer to reality for it to be useful and realistic. In other words it must refer to nature, or sensually perceived reality, which is the ongoing (inter)activity, of the manifestation of this essence/nature/sum of all nurturing/past. The more referential points, using sensual stimuli, such a word has - reflecting the mental abstraction it symbolizes - all the more useful, in reality, it is. The less referential points it has, the more detached from reality the abstraction, it symbolizes, is. It is a fantastic word...and if taken literally, it becomes nihilistic, as it contradicts the sensually perceived.
For example the concept of "equality" is nihilistic if taken literally rather than a as a useful social myth, because it is contradicted by sensually perceived reality and it depends on a simplification and selective, imprecise, appreciation of the phenomena being compared and evaluated as being equal. Furthermore, the term equality presupposes a static, immutable, thing, which is then measured, known completely, and judged to be absolutely the same as an other.
The age of rationality has taken away the spiritual by confusing the symbol, the representation of the mental abstraction, created by gathering and simplifying sensual data, for the phenomenon itself. Geometry, math, the foundations of modern science, are both mental methods of assimilating, representing and simplifying/generalizing, sensual data.
They are, a priori methods of interpreting the phenomenon. The disagreement between Newtonian and Quantum Physics is a result of this error, of accepting the symbol literally, rather than artistically. There is no point, no particle, no start/end, no here, now, no Being.
There is only process, exhibiting patterns of fluidity, (inter)acting.
The concept of existing must be redefined, not using Parmenidean thinking but Heralitean. The Laws of Identity should also be rethought.
The idea that A=A is self-evident once A is taken for granted, as an absolute Thing, rather than a symbol in the brain, which has no precise reference outside of it. Heraclitean contradictions make sense only when you alter your understanding of what existence means. no Being, but Becoming. No thing, but a manifestation of the past, intepreted as a object/objective by eliminating all dimensions the mind cannot integrate into a cohesive unity; an abstraction, a mental singularity.
The circle I a three-dimensional representation of the four-dimensional sphere. It is the most stable shape in a vacuum and so roundness becomes a symbol for stability, and attractive.
The roundness of the female breast, buttocks, being an example of how spherical perfection attracts as being a consequence of natural beauty and health. Roundness is also associated with robustness, voluptuous energies bursting with possibilities.
My spelling French is worse than in Greek. I can communicate, living in a francophone Canadian province, but I am not fluent enough to discuss philosophy.
Pas un problème. Merci beaucoup
I am the opposite. In a country with no spoken French. Have to resort to seeing French films, listening to French news and having a meal with the other French students, trying to speak in French only. I have a long way to go, but it is all good. Je l'aime!
Zarathustra’s Philosafari: "A human being may well ask an animal: “Why do you not speak to me of your happiness but only stand and gaze at me?” And the animal would like to answer, and say: “The reason is I always forget what I was going to say”— but then he forgot this answer too, and stayed silent: so that the human being was left wondering. — Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations
(Backs my thinking that grammar belongs to the feminine, and voice to the masc....)
"Recent psychoacoustic research, especially that of the French otorhinolaryngologist and psycholinguist Alfred Tomatis and his school, has attempted a suggestive explanation of the unusual selectivity of the human ear that manifests itself in the siren effect. Not only do these investigations in the human auditory sense and it’s evolution show beyond doubt that unborn children can already hear extremely well because of the ear’s early development – possibly from the embryonic stage onwards, and certainly in the second half of pregnancy; in addition, there are impressive observations showing that this early listening ability does not result in the fetus being passively at the mercy of the mother’s sonic inner life, or the water-filtered voices and noises of the outside world. Rather, the fetal ear already develops the ability to find it’s bearings in the ever-present, invasive sonic environment actively through independent, lively listening and non-listening. As Tomatis untiringly emphasizes, the child’s stay in the womb would be unbearable without the specific ability not to listen and to mute large areas of noices, as the mother’s heartbeat and digestive sounds, heard in such close proximity, would be like the noise from a 24-hour building site or lively barroom conversation. If the child did not learn to avert it’s ears at an early stage, it would be ravaged by permanent noise torture." [Bubbles]
"The child’s state as the object of the mother’s expectations is conveyed by the audio-vocal means to the fetal ear, which, upon hearing the greeting sound, unlocks itself completely and takes up the sonorous invitation. By adopting a posture of listening, the happy and active ear devotes itself to the words of welcome. In this sense, devotion is the subject-forming act par excellence, for devoting oneself means rousing oneself into the necessary state of alertness to open up to the sound that concerns you. (…) From the subject’s earliest beginnings, the ray of intentionality with which it “relates” itself to something given has an echo character. Only because it is intended by the mother’s voice can it intend the enlivening voice itself. The audio-vocal pact creates a two-way traffic in a ray; enlivening forces are answered with a rising of the self to liveliness." [ib.]
"Because it is able to listen, the fetal ear can selectively highlight the mothers affirming voice amid the constant intrauterine noise. In this gesture the incipent subject experiences a euphoriant stimulation; according to Tomatis, it is the overtones of the mother’s soprano voice in particular that offer an irresistible stimulus of joy. To make these claims plausible, Tomatis interpreted the mother’s entire body as a musical instrument – albeit one that does not serve to play a piece to the listener, but rather brings about the original tuning of the ear. The transmission of high and extremely high frequencies in the soft, sound-swallowing bodily milieu is enabled, according to Tomatis, by the unusual conductivity and resonant quality of the skeleton; the mothers pelvis in particular is supposedly capable of conveying the subtlest high frequency vibrations of the mother’s voice to the child’s ear like the back of a cello. This ear listens at the mothers pelvic floor and spine as a curious visitor listens at a door behind which he suspects delightful presents. What the little guest cannot yet know is that this listening is its own reward, and that seeking to reach the other side would be futile. The joy of anticipation already contains the wealth of the enjoyable." [ib.]
"“This shows that humans emerge without exception from a vocal matriarchy: this is the psychological reason for the siren effect. But while Homer’s Sirens produce sweet obituaries, the mother’s siren voice is anticipatory: it prophesizes a sounding fate for the child. In listening to it the fetal hero embarks on his own odyssey. The irreplaceable voice utters an immediately self-fulfilling prophecy: “you are welcome” or “you are not welcome”. Thus the mother’s vocal frequency becomes a Last Judgment shifted back to the beginning of life." [ib.]
Language refers to the mental abstraction, the interpretation, the perception – noumenon. The mental abstraction refers to the phenomenon, which is perceived partially and known incompletely. Flux renders the phenomenon unknowable, in an absolute sense. The noumenon symbolizing the continuing reinterpretation is static, coded, formalized, ritualized, by simplifying/generalizing, and by utilizing ambiguity. The phenomenon can only be perceived if it is dynamic, if it continuously changes and so is other than itself.
Consciousness is a discrimination, based on patterns. Patterns are consistent, repetitive, (inter)actions. The mind juxtaposes perceptions, in a linear fashion (past>future), creating what we call movement, and we measure using dimensions (time being one of them). The perception of divergence in this continuous juxtaposition is what we call consciousness. Even phenomena that appear static are constantly altering in relation to the observer and other phenomena. If there was no fluidity in the seemingly static we would not perceive anything.
Non-Fluidity is another way of describing the opposite of the experienced, the existent. Our senses may not be able to pick up on the minutia of fluctuations occurring, or perceive what exactly the pattern is, but that it perceives a phenomenon, in relation to itself, means that change is occurring on a level the organism cannot focus upon, cannot bring into clarity. The perception of other, of this unknowable phenomenon (the apparent), presupposes a separation, a distinction, a distance, a division. Synthesis presupposes antithesis. For a similarity to be perceived in the pattern of fluidity we call phenomenon, a divergence must precede. Similarity is what is added onto difference, once difference is achieved, even if it is not perceived or recognized. A similarity, unity, is an integration of abstractions where difference is ignored, or taken for granted.
Discrimination is the process of becoming conscious. The integration of what is other than into groupings along the lines of shared patterns is part of the mind's later synthesis of abstractions into categories. The category "human", for example, is one founded on similar physical traits, and behavioural consistencies, produced by a reproductive symbiosis, resulting in uniformity of potentials, we describe as human traits, or species traits. The concept of human is a reproductive one. What multiplicities are produced via this reproductive (inter)activity, must be uniformly distributed, in time/space, otherwise a splintering will occur... a divergence.
Sex is how traits are reaffirmed and reintegrated back into the genetic code and male/female are the specialized forms of sexual behavior that facilitate this process – making it efficient by focusing characteristics/traits to meet a reproductive role.
The category human, along with its sub-categories of male/female, don to only (inter)act internally, within the categories reproductive, creative, procreative premises, but also outwardly, in relation to the world. The category, and its sub-categories reaffirm, and reintegrate, activities/behaviors, that replicate its dynamics in relation to the otherness we call World, or Reality. Reality is indifferent to the internal structures and (inter)activities (relationships) of the category. The human species, as far as we know, is the only species which can interfere, manipulate, the affects, relationship of the category and what is outside the category's premises, outside its dynamics – indifferent to them. As the intervention increases the effect of the world upon these internal structures, the internal dynamics, decreases, or alters in intensity, but it never goes away, it is never totally erased. This alters, with unforeseeable, consequences, the traits being distributed within the category, referring to the population group, and so it also alters the male/female dynamics, as these have been shaped before this intervention created this cocooning, this detaching. I call this artificial, as opposed to natural.
Within these manmade settings, these artifices can be produced, and can be maintained, by the constant effort of its synergy, its shared myth. The SuperOrganism is born. A mental abstraction that would have no reference point in nature, such as justice, equality, humanity as a spiritual non-biological concept, and so on, can now attain relevance within the requirements of internal dynamics. They now refer not to phenomena, but to noumena (the noetic) attempting to become phenomena...by imposing themselves upon the participants, spreading as would a genetic mutation within the population.
This is the reverse movement I have connected to the more honest definition of Nihilism. It imposes a behavior based on an abstraction that has no reference to anything phenomenal, apparent, and it may also be contrary to what is apparent, as in the multiplicity of divergence. The participants may continue to exist within this solipsistic self-referential dynamism, if the world itself is kept at a distance... if this artificial cocoon remain distinct from reality itself. The internal structures are now engaged in (inter)actions that may contradict, or ignore, the indifferent world of Flux. Male/Female loses meaning within this artificial environment. Any designation referring to a hierarchy, a type, outside the artifice's context is detrimental to the harmony of this artifice.
The separation is never absolute, it is never completed (perfect), and so try as it may, the emergent organism, in this case the emergent SuperOrganism is continuously threatened by an indifferent world, and by a past that cannot be fully dismissed, forgotten, nullified, distanced from. The abstractions may have relevance within the artifice's contexts but remain meaningless outside of its promises, and the enforced behaviors (thinking included) imposed upon its participants. As a defensive tactic the SuperOrganism imposes a strict control over knowledge, and its interpretation, and might, if it is fully Nihilistic, reverse the meaning of words, such as "Nihilism" itself, or accuse reality of being an illusion, a construct, so as to hide its own methodologies.
A good example would be the concept of eugenics. Nihilistic social structures, often calling themselves "open" or "Democratic", accuse others of eugenics when it is practicing a subtle form of it – not genetic natural selection, but mimetic social selection. The association of certain words with particular feelings, images, is part of the methodology. Anyone threatening, or exposing this structure, for what it is, will be considered a cancer, a disease, a dysfunctional component, Freud's "discontents," labeled with emotionally laden words, referring, via pop-culture, and historical interpretations, to "negative", on an organic level, sensations.
The interesting part of the entire phenomenon of gene and meme, intertwining, is the collateral effects it produces, mostly unintentionally, and unexpectedly.
For example, the unifying promise of memetic uniformity creates the circumstance of its own instability, just as male-on-male power struggles having produced techniques/technologies, made masculinity increasingly obsolete. The struggle to compensate for physical weakness, with intellectual virility, resulted in the products of this compensation being used by weakness that was excluded from the conflict itself.
Reducing the concept humanity to an idea(l), by detaching it (dimensionally), from the time/space continuum, may result in a momentary sense of liberation, and uniformity, but it also leads to an ensuing internal fragmentation along those same memetic fault-lines. If Humanity was merely an idea, and humans too complex to categorize, then how can one system encompass the multiple variants uncontrolled reproduction can produce, now free from natural controls, and how can one or a few ideas represent the complexity which man is, supposedly?
The consequence is not dissimilar form the paradoxes Zeno discovered, nor the one later to confront Christianity, and Judaism, as Heisman explored in his Suicide Note. In the Christian case suicide had to be made into a sin, for it to not become a reasonable choice for those fanatical believers not able to wait for Judgment Day. For the Jews the consequence of the meek finding power through their meekness, could only be temporarily dealt with by the adaptive outcrops of Christianity and Islam.
The fragmentation there took on three direction: Spiritual, Cultural, and Political Zionism. Meekness having become strength, through quantities, and with the identity of the chosen, by God to suffer, when enjoying excess here on earth, had to adapt further. Marxism was the first stage of this adaptation. Secular Humanism the next, also included in the first. Liberalism is secular humanism in the political arena.
A fascinating example of what I am talking about is the United States of America. Having lost its raison d'etre in the Soviet Union it searches for a "threat", an "evil", comparable to remain viable and to preserve its identity. This is a mirroring of the Jewish dilemma. Throughout its current monopoly on power it still uses the same victim reasoning to justify its imposition of will upon the weaker ones. No matter how powerful the U.S. is, like the Jews finding identity in meekness, as the chosen ones, it still speaks as if it were still the victim, or on behalf of the victims, which it has now become a self-appointed, de facto, representative of.
Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language -- so the argument runs -- must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes. Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible.
Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.
These five passages have not been picked out because they are especially bad -- I could have quoted far worse if I had chosen -- but because they illustrate various of the mental vices from which we now suffer. They are a little below the average, but are fairly representative examples. I number them so that I can refer back to them when necessary:
1. I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien [sic] to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate. - Professor Harold Laski (Essay in Freedom of Expression)
2. Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate, or put at a loss for bewilder. - Professor Lancelot Hogben (Interglossia )
3. On the one side we have the free personality: by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity? - Essay on psychology in Politics (New York)
4. All the "best people" from the gentlemen's clubs, and all the frantic fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror at the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian organizations, and rouse the agitated petty-bourgeoise to chauvinistic fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the crisis. - Communist pamphlet
5. If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may be sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion's roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream -- as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as "standard English." When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o'clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school-ma'amish arch braying of blameless bashful mewing maidens! - Letter in Tribune
Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse. I list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose construction is habitually dodged:
Dying metaphors. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically "dead" (e.g. iron resolution ) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes on, take up the cudgel for, toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, Achilles' heel, swan song, hotbed . Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a "rift," for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.
Operators or verbal false limbs. These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. Characteristic phrases are render inoperative, militate against, make contact with, be subjected to, give rise to, give grounds for, have the effect of, play a leading part (role) in, make itself felt, take effect, exhibit a tendency to, serve the purpose of, etc., etc. The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as break, stop, spoil, mend, kill, a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purpose verb such as prove, serve, form, play, render. In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining).
The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and deformations, and the banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases as with respect to, having regard to, the fact that, by dint of, in view of, in the interests of, on the hypothesis that; and the ends of sentences are saved by anticlimax by such resounding commonplaces as greatly to be desired, cannot be left out of account, a development to be expected in the near future, deserving of serious consideration, brought to a satisfactory conclusion, and so on and so forth.
Pretentious diction. Words like phenomenon, element, individual (as noun), objective, categorical, effective, virtual, basic, primary, promote, constitute, exhibit, exploit, utilize, eliminate, liquidate, are used to dress up a simple statement and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgements. Adjectives like epoch-making, epic, historic, unforgettable, triumphant, age-old, inevitable, inexorable, veritable, are used to dignify the sordid process of international politics, while writing that aims at glorifying war usually takes on an archaic colour, its characteristic words being: realm, throne, chariot, mailed fist, trident, sword, shield, buckler, banner, jackboot, clarion. Foreign words and expressions such as cul de sac, ancien regime, deus ex machina, mutatis mutandis, status quo, gleichschaltung, weltanschauung , are used to give an air of culture and elegance.
Except for the useful abbreviations i.e., e.g. and etc., there is no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in the English language. Bad writers, and especially scientific, political, and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones, and unnecessary words like expedite, ameliorate, predict, extraneous, deracinated, clandestine, subaqueous, and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon numbers. The jargon peculiar to Marxist writing (hyena, hangman, cannibal, petty bourgeois, these gentry, lackey, flunkey, mad dog, White Guard, etc.) consists largely of words translated from Russian, German, or French; but the normal way of coining a new word is to use a Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix and, where necessary, the size formation. It is often easier to make up words of this kind (deregionalize, impermissible, extramarital, non-fragmentary and so forth) than to think up the English words that will cover one's meaning. The result, in general, is an increase in slovenliness and vagueness.
Meaningless words. In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning. Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader. When one critic writes, "The outstanding feature of Mr. X's work is its living quality," while another writes, "The immediately striking thing about Mr. X's work is its peculiar deadness," the reader accepts this as a simple difference opinion. If words like black and white were involved, instead of the jargon words dead and living, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way.
Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies "something not desirable." The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Petain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.
Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. This time it must of its nature be an imaginary one. I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:
I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
Here it is in modern English: Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.
This is a parody, but not a very gross one. Exhibit (3) above, for instance, contains several patches of the same kind of English. It will be seen that I have not made a full translation. The beginning and ending of the sentence follow the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations -- race, battle, bread -- dissolve into the vague phrases "success or failure in competitive activities." This had to be so, because no modern writer of the kind I am discussing -- no one capable of using phrases like "objective considerations of contemporary phenomena" -- would ever tabulate his thoughts in that precise and detailed way. The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness. Now analyze these two sentences a little more closely. The first contains forty-nine words but only sixty syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains thirty-eight words of ninety syllables: eighteen of those words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek. The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one phrase ("time and chance") that could be called vague.
The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its ninety syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English. I do not want to exaggerate. This kind of writing is not yet universal, and outcrops of simplicity will occur here and there in the worst-written page. Still, if you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from Ecclesiastes.
As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier -- even quicker, once you have the habit -- to say In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that than to say I think. If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don't have to hunt about for the words; you also don't have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious. When you are composing in a hurry -- when you are dictating to a stenographer, for instance, or making a public speech -- it is natural to fall into a pretentious, Latinized style.
Tags like a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind or a conclusion to which all of us would readily assent will save many a sentence from coming down with a bump. By using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself. This is the significance of mixed metaphors. The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash -- as in The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot -- it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking. Look again at the examples I gave at the beginning of this essay.
Professor Laski (1) uses five negatives in fifty three words. One of these is superfluous, making nonsense of the whole passage, and in addition there is the slip -- alien for akin -- making further nonsense, and several avoidable pieces of clumsiness which increase the general vagueness. Professor Hogben (2) plays ducks and drakes with a battery which is able to write prescriptions, and, while disapproving of the everyday phrase put up with, is unwilling to look egregious up in the dictionary and see what it means; (3), if one takes an uncharitable attitude towards it, is simply meaningless: probably one could work out its intended meaning by reading the whole of the article in which it occurs. In (4), the writer knows more or less what he wants to say, but an accumulation of stale phrases chokes him like tea leaves blocking a sink. In (5), words and meaning have almost parted company. People who write in this manner usually have a general emotional meaning -- they dislike one thing and want to express solidarity with another -- but they are not interested in the detail of what they are saying. A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:
1. What am I trying to say?
2. What words will express it?
3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
And he will probably ask himself two more:
1. Could I put it more shortly?
2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?
But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you -- even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent -- and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.
In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a "party line." Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestos, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases -- bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder -- one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker's spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved, as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favourable to political conformity.
In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.
Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, "I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so." Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:
While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.
The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as "keeping out of politics." All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find -- this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify -- that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.
But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient. Phrases like a not unjustifiable assumption, leaves much to be desired, would serve no good purpose, a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind, are a continuous temptation, a packet of aspirins always at one's elbow. Look back through this essay, and for certain you will find that I have again and again committed the very faults I am protesting against. By this morning's post I have received a pamphlet dealing with conditions in Germany. The author tells me that he "felt impelled" to write it. I open it at random, and here is almost the first sentence I see:
"[The Allies] have an opportunity not only of achieving a radical transformation of Germany's social and political structure in such a way as to avoid a nationalistic reaction in Germany itself, but at the same time of laying the foundations of a co-operative and unified Europe." You see, he "feels impelled" to write -- feels, presumably, that he has something new to say -- and yet his words, like cavalry horses answering the bugle, group themselves automatically into the familiar dreary pattern. This invasion of one's mind by ready-made phrases (lay the foundations, achieve a radical transformation) can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one's brain.
I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this would argue, if they produced an argument at all, that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development by any direct tinkering with words and constructions. So far as the general tone or spirit of a language goes, this may be true, but it is not true in detail. Silly words and expressions have often disappeared, not through any evolutionary process but owing to the conscious action of a minority. Two recent examples were explore every avenue and leave no stone unturned, which were killed by the jeers of a few journalists. There is a long list of flyblown metaphors which could similarly be got rid of if enough people would interest themselves in the job; and it should also be possible to laugh the not un- formation out of existence, to reduce the amount of Latin and Greek in the average sentence, to drive out foreign phrases and strayed scientific words, and, in general, to make pretentiousness unfashionable. But all these are minor points. The defence of the English language implies more than this, and perhaps it is best to start by saying what it does not imply.
To begin with it has nothing to do with archaism, with the salvaging of obsolete words and turns of speech, or with the setting up of a "standard English" which must never be departed from. On the contrary, it is especially concerned with the scrapping of every word or idiom which has outworn its usefulness. It has nothing to do with correct grammar and syntax, which are of no importance so long as one makes one's meaning clear, or with the avoidance of Americanisms, or with having what is called a "good prose style." On the other hand, it is not concerned with fake simplicity and the attempt to make written English colloquial. Nor does it even imply in every case preferring the Saxon word to the Latin one, though it does imply using the fewest and shortest words that will cover one's meaning.
What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualising you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one's meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterward one can choose -- not simply accept -- the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impressions one's words are likely to make on another person. This last effort of the mind cuts out all stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally. But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:
1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous. These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. One could keep all of them and still write bad English, but one could not write the kind of stuff that I quoted in those five specimens at the beginning of this article.
I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought. Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism. Since you don't know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognise that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself.
Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase -- some jackboot, Achilles' heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse -- into the dustbin, where it belongs."
"The overthrow of grammar coincided with the acceptance of the equivalent of creative writing in social behaviour. As nice points of grammar were mockingly dismissed as pedantic and irrelevant, so was punctiliousness in such matters as honest)!, responsibility, propert)!, gratitude, apology and so on." [John Rae, Observer, 7 February 1982]
"If you allow standards to slip to the stage where good English is no better than bad English, where people turn up filthy at school ... all these things tend to cause people to have no standards at all, and once you lose standards then there's no imperative to stay out of crime." [Norman Tebbit, Radio 4, 1985]
"In a keynote address on language planning which he delivered to an international conference of applied linguists in 1993, the distinguished scholarJ.V Neustupny began by asserting that 'language management' - a broader term than 'language planning', and one whose range of reference is comparable in many respects with my own 'verbal hygiene' - was an activity as old as human history9 He also suggested that one of its most important motivations was to adjust linguistic norms to prevailing socioeconomic conditions.
Postmodern forms of language management are having significant effects in the shape of what Norman Fairclough (1992) has called the 'technologization of language'. Fairclough argues that as advanced capitalist economies increasingly shift from manufacturing to service industries, and as manufacturing itself is reorganized in line with new global imperatives, large numbers ofworkers who would once have been treated simply as 'hands' are being redefined as linguistic actors needing specific training in 'communication skills'. Thus 'links are being set up between research into existing language practices, redesign of language practices to improve their "effectiveness", and training of personnel in new language practices' (Fairclough 1992: 5).
This verbal hygiene of the corporation represents a new kind of linguistic authority and social control. Nor is communication training confined to the workplace: many of its techniques and theoretical underpinnings are drawn from discourses of therapy and applied social science, and it is also prominent in 'self-help' activities designed to enhance 'personal effectiveness' in all areas of life. The delivery of a presidential address to the nation on television and the conduct of a family dinner-table conversation can equally be made accountable to notions of 'communication skills' and subjected to verbal hygiene intervention.
In the classic formulation of Einar Haugen (1972), language standardization has two main goals which, taken together, serve the overall objective of enhancing commu- nication: maximal elaboration of function (a standard language should be usable for every purpose) and minimal variation in form (a standard language is codified to ensure uniformity in grammar, spelling, pronunciation, etc).
The myth of 'falling standards' is resorted to in cases like this one in order to save the ingrained but unwarranted beliefthat accurate spelling is the norm, while spelling mistakes are an aberration. The source of this delusion is our constant exposure to published printed text, a form of language from which errors have been removed by editing - that is, by the addition of an extra stage of production during which trained specialist professionals explicitly check every word. The demand for absolute linguistic uniformity which professionals claim they are responding to may indeed exist, but it would never have arisen without the example of their own products; and only those products can be relied upon to satisfy it.
It is not difficult to see that this situation has certain advantages for the professionals. It ensures that their skills will continue to be valued in the trade, but at the same time it creates new opportunities for that trade. When professional standards become everyone's standards, whether in the realm of home-cooking, interior decoration or writing, a market opens up for products packaging craft skills for amateurs.
The development of software for checking spelling, grammar and even 'style' does not diminish the authority of verbal hygiene norms - on the contrary - but it does alter the role of professional verbal hygienists. Even now, with conformity to house style a matter of a few keystrokes courtesy of a word processor's 'search and replace' function, authors are doing more of their own editing than was the case ten years ago. Perhaps copy editors will follow the scribes, printers and compositors of thefast, deskilled and finally made redundant by technological advances.1 On the other hand, it is noticeable that the 'authentic' ability to spell, not just without the aid o( spellcheck programs but even without the aid of a dictiona~ continues to be valued. There are, perhaps, reasons for this that have less to do with utility than morality;
We can distinguish two main approaches to wrItIng the history of standard English: one 'traditional' (stressing social consensus) and the other 'revisionist' (stressing social conflict). In the traditional account, the impetus for the standardizing of English is located in the dialectal diversity that followed the period of Anglo-Norman rule in England. The Conquest of 1066 had disrupted Anglo-Saxon traditions by imposing French as the language of 'high' domains such as law and administration. Writing in English did not cease, but it was curtailed and made marginal, and when English re-emerged in domains that French had occupied there was concern that the language was too variable to serve the commu- nicative needs of a more centralized state. One dialect had therefore to be selected as a standard for written communication across different English regions and its norms codified to ensure it would be used with enough consistency to make it functional as a lingua franca. The dialect chosen for this purpose was the south-eastern Midland variety used by the Court and mercantile class around London.
Revisionist historians do not dispute the sequence of events in the traditional account, but they emphasize that standardization served a particular set of class interests: those of the economically and politically dominant south-easterners whose dialect was, not coincidentally; selected to be the standard, while other people's dialects were reduced to the level of patois. Standardization was not simply a response of the whole society to some common, objective 'communicational need'. It was the authoritarian creation of a small and self-serving elite. Historians such as Dick Leith (1983) and Tony Crowley (1989) stress that the process has continued, through the agency of educational institutions and mass media, to maintain oppressive class relations in Britain.
It seems then that there are two answers to the question, 'whose interests did standardization serve?'. Traditional histories say it served the interests of society as a whole, by enhancing communicative efficiency and promoting national unity; whereas revisionist histories say it served the interests of a dominant class by reinforcing their cultural, economic and political privilege. One or other of these accounts will explain most things about standardization in English, but arguably not all. There are aspects of the process that do not seem to have much to do with either the overt (communicational) goals of standardization, or its covert (social) goals, and which are more convincingly explained in relation to the more specific interests of people who made a living from linguistic production: craft professionals.
Printed text would eventually become the most pervasive source of standard English norms, setting a defacto standard for all written texts. The influence of this professionally maintained standard would in turn create a demand for textbooks and manuals through which individuals might be helped to achieve the same standards in their own writing: dictionaries of hard words and later of all words, grammars and style guides, and eventually products such as 'Spell well at any age'. Toda), the professionals themselves turn to the same authorities for guidance as they formulate and reformulate the conventions of published printed text. The reference compilers for their part, aided by new technolog)', amass vast corpora of published printed text with which to update their reference works at increasingly short intervals. It is an endless circle, turned by commercial interest - and today it revolves at an ever-increasing speed.
One cannot in principle make an absolute distinction between describing and prescribing, and this argument does not apply only to lexicography: Dictionaries, however, do particularly invite questions about the nature of their authority; because that authority is so visible and so fetishized. Dictionaries are big business in a way that linguistics monographs and even grammar books are not; one consequence of this is competition between them, and advertising which foregrounds their status as commodities. On the other hand, dictionaries enjoy a strange and privileged status as cultural monuments. For example, the publication of a new edition of the Shorter Oxford Dictionary in September 1993 was a media event: the dictionary was reviewed in every quality news-paper, in several cases by someone ostentatiously distinguished, for all the world as if the Shorter Oxford had been a work of literature in its own right; or as though it was the English language itself that the reviewer had been asked to assess.
It is an Oxford dictionary and the point is not irrelevant: this product's major selling point is precisely its status as a national monument. The 'big' OED is treated to all intents and purposes as if it were synonymous with the English language: so weighty is its authority that recently a Canadian lawyer who had come across a typographical error in it ('dept' for 'debt') was moved to enquire anxiously of the Oxford lexicographers: 'do you consider there is any risk that "in dept" will now become acceptable usage, apparently being sanctioned by the most respected authority on our language?'. The co-editor of the OED replied that while on balance he considered this unlikely', since debt is spelt correctly 1,917 times in the dictionary, nevertheless it was not impossible: 'it must be touch and go!' (correspondence quoted in Cochrane 1993: 20).
Oxford is, in essence, presenting itself as Coke to other dictionaries' Pepsi ('the Real Thing') - a matter of image, not substance. Even where it does actually differ from rival products, the meaning of the difference depends less on what it is than on the qualities consumers attribute to the 'brand'.
In the best known of his essays on language, 'Politics and the English language' (1946), Orwell identified tendencies of the same kind, though not the same degree, in the actual public discourse of the period. In English as distinct from Newspeak, 'war is peace' would still be a contradiction in terms; but Orwell argued that if you replaced the transparent terms 'war' and 'peace' with euphemisms, vague circumlocutions and impenetrable technical jargon, the recipient of your message might not spot the contradiction.
Such clouding of meaning, Orwell felt, was an increasingly salient characteristic ofEnglish prose -less because ofany totalitarian conspiracy than because of muddled thinking and careless writing, any fashion for which was easily spread through mass communications media." [Deborah Cameron, Verbal Hygiene]
A Wittgensteinian Defense of Cultural Relativism Emily Heckel
Cultural relativism is an integral part of the field methodology for cultural anthropologists. The concept of cultural relativism grew from developments within the philosophy of language, particularly associated with figures such as Wittgenstein, Quine, Whorf, and Sapir. These philosophers all argue for some version of the concept that linguistic categories, encoded in thought, help create the shared cultural realities in which we live. This concept of linguistic relativism, famously articulated in the Sapir- Whorf hypothesis1, led to an emphasis in anthropology on the emic, or insider’s, perspective. Ethnography is the process of eliciting the meanings by which the host culture constructs reality and translating these into the discourse of the discipline in a final written product. Steven Pinker, along with other evolutionary psychologists and cognitive scientists, refers to any and all versions of this view as the Standard Social Science Model2 allowing him to defeat cultural relativism in one fell swoop (or so he thinks). Until a few years ago, the main critique of the ethnographic method came from the postmodern critique of science, which questions objectivity in the social sciences on both ethical and epistemological grounds. Recently, the critique of cultural relativism has come from evolutionary psychologists and anthropologists. Research in cognitive science and psychology points to an evolutionary cause for what has previously been deemed cultural behavior. Some, including Steven Pinker, believe that this research should lead us to give primacy to evolutionary causes and should undermine any version of cultural relativism.
Steven Pinker, an evolutionary psychologist, presents an important challenge to the relativist views of language and meaning that pervade cultural anthropology. Advances in evolutionary psychology and the mind sciences provide evidence for biological commonalities in humans that extend to commonalities in our linguistic abilities and thought processes. Pinker argues that language is different from other aspects of so-called cultural behavior because it is innate or instinctual. Children become advanced grammarians without formal instruction, demonstrating an ability to apply rules beyond their ability to articulate such rules. This happens universally in the same way, as Pinker puts it, that children learn to walk upright instead of crawl around on all fours.
Pinker argues that the universality of language entails universality in cognition. “People do not think in English or Chinese or Apache,” he says; “they think in a language of thought.” This language, which Pinker calls mentalese, may resemble all of these languages but it is probably richer than some and simpler than others.5 If cognition is shaped by a language of thought, then it is a biological property of all human beings, much the same as walking upright. Pinker is positing a language that is held prior to learned languages by all human beings and it is this innate language that shapes our cognition. If cognition is shaped not by the languages we know but by a universal language of thought, then relativism is undermined and this could have serious implications for anthropological theory and methodology.
Does the universality of language seriously undermine the Standard Social Science Model as Pinker claims? I argue that the evolutionary view of cognition is not necessarily incompatible with relativist views of meaning and values. Rather than take the Standard Social Science Model as one theory, as Pinker does, I will focus on Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language and culture. Wittgenstein’s position represents a more nuanced relativism that can account for aspects of Pinker’s language instinct while still arguing for some degree of cultural relativism. In the first section, I discuss the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis as a basis for cultural relativism before outlining the challenges that Pinker presents to relativism and cultural anthropology. I will then discuss Wittgenstein’s involvment in anthropology through the works of Stanley Cavell and anthropologist Veena Das and attempt a Wittgensteinian defense of cultural relativism.
The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is the basis for linguistic relativism as it is used in anthropology. Linguistic relativism has many different meanings and levels of interpretation. To understand this, I will return to the primary source that best sums up the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Benjamin Whorf’s article “Science and Linguistics” examines the way that language affects thought and how the structure of language affects cognition. Whorf is critical of natural logic, which states that language depends on laws of reason and logic that are the same for everyone and exist independently of us.6 This implies that any language can express the same thought, because all languages are essentially extensions of reasoning and logic7. Whorf proposes that, rather than describe universal systems of reasoning, language actually creates these systems and, in doing so, actually shapes our experience of the world.
Whorf begins with a thought experiment in which we imagine a world of people who only had the psychological ability to see the color blue.8 Since they have never seen any other color, the concept of different colors to these people would be meaningless. The only way for the category of color to have any meaning for them would be if they had “exceptional moments”9 of seeing other colors. This thought experiment show the fallacies that Whorf sees in natural logic. First, language is a part of the background and not the “critical consciousness”10 of the speaker, and is therefore like the color blue in the example. When we talk about logic, we naturally use concepts, grammar, and rules from our own language. We do not question these laws because we have not consciously compared them to any others. Second, discussions of natural logic normally occur between speakers of the same language. “Two speakers of English,” Whorf explains, “quickly reach a point of assent about the subject matter of their speech; they agree about what their language refers to.” It is not necessary for them to understand the linguistic processes that occur beneath the surface in order to agree on the rules that they share by virtue of both being speakers of English.
Whorf believes that the linguist is in a privileged position to study these phenomena and to expand their “base of reference”. It was the study of multiple languages and patterns that lead Whorf to look at a linguistic system as “not merely a reproducing instrument for voicing ideas but rather... a shaper of ideas” 13. We all live in the same world, but we “dissect nature along lines laid down by our native languages”14. This idea has many implications for the objectivism of modern science, because it implies that individuals are not free to come up with their own thoughts about the world, but that their thoughts are shaped by the linguistic world in which they live (5). This affects every speaker of a language and leaves no one impartial, though Whorf argues that the most impartial would be the linguist who was familiar with many different linguistic systems. Whorf uses examples from his study of the Hopi language to show that the worldviews in English and Hopi are very different.
The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, developed through Whorf’s article and through subsequent publications and influenced by his advisor, Edward Sapir, is a two-fold argument. First, humans are only able to think about objects, processes, and conditions that have language associated with them, which is what Whorf is getting at with his thought experiment of people who only see the color blue. This is called linguistic determinism. The other part of the Sapir- Whorf hypothesis, linguistic relativity, states that culture is largely determined by language, as evidence by the relationship between language and thought. Linguists and cultural anthropologists usually support a strong or weak interpretation of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. It is generally regarded as having some truth, but it presents some difficulties, as it is hard to completely support or refute it. Still, it has been a highly influential theory, particularly in the field of anthropology where it was lead to the development of methods in field research that emphasize cognitive categories in the brain that are unique to a particular culture and can be discovered through language.
The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in many ways revolutionized ways of thinking about language and categories, particularly for the social sciences. It has also been a very controversial idea. In recent years, research in the cognitive sciences has lead linguists, psychologists, and philosophers to explore the possibility of a universal language, implying that concepts and categories are shared cross-culturally. The argument that there is a universal language of thought, “mentalese,” that transcends different languages seems to be the antithesis of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, and there are some philosophers who vehemently argue against linguistic relativism based on this idea. I would like to explore the question of whether or not these two views about language and meaning are mutually opposed and irreconcilable. I will now turn to Pinker to present an evolutionary psychologist’s challenge to cultural relativism.
In The Language Instinct, Pinker lays out a revolutionary way of looking at language as an evolutionary mechanism. Pinker begins with Chomsky’s observation that children develop complex grammars without formal instruction and grow up with the ability to interpret sentences that they have never heard before.15 Pinker and Chomsky would both agree that children are innately equipped with a Universal Grammar16 that allows them to apply complex syntactic patterns from the speech of their parents. Pinker says, “complex language is universal because children actually reinvent it, generation after generation.”17 “... A three-year-old,” he says, “...is a grammatical genius, but is quite incompetent at the visual arts, religious iconography, traffic signs, and other staples of the semiotics curriculum.”18
According to Pinker, language is separate from what is commonly considered by anthropologists to be culturally learned behavior. In fact, Pinker argues that language is actually better explained in terms of evolution than in terms of culture. He says, “Language is no more a cultural invention than is upright posture.”19 Cultural anthropologists argue that language encodes cultural symbols and shapes the thoughts of an individual within a given cultural context. If language can be explained in terms of evolutionary behavior, as Pinker claims, then certain aspects of anthropological methodology are undermined.
Not only is language an evolutionary mechanism, but it is an evolutionary mechanism with a specific function: communication. Pinker argues, “Once you begin to look at language not as the ineffable essence of human uniqueness but as a biological adaptation to communicate information, it is no longer as tempting to see language as an insidious shaper of thought, and, we shall see, it is not.
If language is supposed to communicate information that is contained within one’s thoughts, then it follows that learned language (such as English or Japanese) cannot shape our thoughts, but it is mentalese that shapes language. Pinker says that mentalese “has symbols for concepts, and arrangements of symbols that correspond to who did what to whom.” I should note that mentalese not only operates according to a Universal Grammar, but that Pinker extends this to lexicon as well. We are able to communicate because our thoughts operate under a universal arrangement of symbols that is encoded in the mind of every language learner. Since language is just the means to the end of communication, Pinker asks why would language be so subjective?
In his chapter “Mentalese,” Pinker argues against the linguistic relativism proposed by the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. He even goes so far as to say that linguistic relativity is an example of what he calls “conventional absurdity: a statement that goes against all common sense but that everyone believes because they dimly recall having heard it somewhere.” Obviously there are reasons to critique Pinker’s unsympathetic portrayal of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, but first I would like to show why Pinker is so dismissive of this view. Pinker believes that people do not think in any particular language, but that they think in a “language of thought.”
Knowing a language, according to Pinker is “knowing how to translate mentalese into strings of words and vice versa.” This is a radically different view from linguistic relativism in that it posits a stage in language acquisition and speech that is at a level of symbolism and has nothing to do with the categories specific to any one language or culture. Mentalese is simpler than some aspects of language and more complex than others. Pinker describes how language is ambiguous, for example in newspaper headlines, but we are still able to interpret the correct meaning.24 For example, in the headline “Drunk Gets Nine Months in Violin Case,”25 most readers would understand that the word “case” does not refer to the case in which one keeps a violin. This illustrates one of the differences between mentalese and language; in English, “case” can have multiple meanings, whereas in mentalese, each meaning will constitute a different symbol.
Overall, Pinker presents some important challenges to linguistic relativism. He questions how relativism can account for our ability to translate one learned language into another, for the universality of language acquisition, and for the connection between language and biological universals that he observes through viewing language as an evolutionary mechanism . I find his arguments about mentalese to be convincing. Pinker argues that children have their own mentalese that allows for them to acquire increasingly complicated language and eventually develop more advanced mentalese as well. This is necessary, Pinker says, for language acquisition. How can linguistic relativism account for the fact that we are thinking about the world before we learn a language and during the learning process? How can children connect language with thought and meaning if thoughts are completely shaped by language? These are very real worries for linguistic relativism, at any level of moderation. By extension, they should be a concern for any field in which linguistic relativism is important, such as anthropology.
In the last chapter “Mind Design” Pinker discusses some philosophical implications of the universality of the language instinct and his theory of mentalese. It is clear that he is completely opposed to anything resembling the Sapir- Whorf hypothesis, because this goes against the goal of further researching biological and evolutionary universals about human nature and the mind that have been discovered. Pinker quotes philosopher and experimental psycholinguist Jerry Fodor, “I hate relativism,” he says at one point, “I hate relativism more than I hate anything else.”26 I believe that it is a mistake for Pinker to dismiss this viewpoint so vehemently. Does this merely illustrate that there is a polarizing divide in the philosophical community over language and thought? Is there any room for reconciling the two viewpoints, or of moderating them?
I will now turn to Wittgenstein and his relationship to anthropology to present a more nuanced view of cultural relativism. Though my defense of relativism could be applied more generally, I believe that the Wittgensteinian view is especially useful in that it can accommodate a certain naturalism or empiricism that not all forms of relativism can contain.
Wittgenstein and Anthropology
Primarily a philosopher of language, mathematics, and logic, Wittgenstein was both influenced by and influenced anthropology. For example, it was negative reaction to Frazer’s Golden Bough that led Wittenstein to reexamine his views about culture and language. Wittgenstein finds Frazer’s explanation of magic and religion as “mistakes” to be highly unsatisfactory. In his Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough27, we can discern the outlines of his later views as presented in the Philosophical Investigations28. In general, Wittgenstein is critical of Frazer for judging the behavior of people in other cultures by his own societal standards. He says, “It never does seem plausible that people do all this out of sheer stupidity.”
Wittgenstein is particularly critical of Frazer for saying that magic and ritual are merely “false physics”30. He says, “What makes the character of ritual action is not any view or opinion, either right or wrong, although an opinion – a belief – itself can be ritualistic, or belong to a rite.”31 Wittgenstein compares the rituals that Frazer describes with rituals that he sees in his own culture; for example, breaking a bottle on a boat before sailing for good luck32. In comparing the rituals of one culture to those of his own, Wittgenstein shows that we within the multiplicity of language games in our own culture, we can see parallels across cultures. It would be inaccurate to equate the magician in one culture with the scientist in our own. It is more accurate to draw a parallel between a magician and a priest, or between two different folk beliefs. Wittgenstein says about studying other cultures, “We can only describe and say human life is like that,” implying that we should not attempt to look for explanations. However, he seems open to the idea that we can use language games with which we are familiar in order to understand similar language games in other cultures. This puts him in an interesting position of arguing against explanation, but with some openness to the possibility of understanding.
In Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein further develops this idea of language and behavior, which will influence anthropologists in the future. He famously compares a language system with a game.34 Wittgenstein argues that the rules of a “language game” are learned through practice, rather than seeking meaning through a comparison with some non-linguistic reality, and people follow different linguistic rules depending on what language game they are participating in at the time. When Wittgenstein says that it is a mistake to compare the magic of culture to the science of another, he seems to be equating a language game with the linguistic aspect of a culture. He says, “What we have in ancient rites is the practice of a highly cultivated gesture-game.”35 Wittgenstein does not ignore the possibility of biological commonalities between people, as we can see in his arguments about pain and crying, nor does he deny the instinctual ability of humans to acquire language. The very ability to distinguish between the discourse of magic and science implies that there must be aspects of both in our own culture. In trying to describe any universality and give it meaning, however, we run into a problem: It is impossible to give something value, meaning, or truth outside of a given system or language game.
Stanley Cavell, who writes about Wittgenstein as a philosopher of culture, focuses on Wittgenstein’s idea of forms of life. Cavell suggests that in applying Wittgenstein as a philosopher of culture, we distinguish between an ethnological or horizontal form of life and a vertical or “biological sense”.36 The “ethnological” form of life is related to our interaction in a cultural context, through words and other behavior, as participants in language games. The “biological sense” of forms of life relates to universal non- linguistic aspects of life, including our naturally given behavior and responses. The two senses of forms of life that Cavell posits are, of course, connected. Wittgenstein’s concept of pain includes the natural behaviors related to crying. Though perhaps Wittgenstein himself would not talk about these two separately, I have relied on Cavell’s distinction for this paper in order to emphasize that Wittgenstein posits a view that accounts for both universal, natural aspects of human life as well as subjective interpretations of this form of life through the shared language games in which we participate.
Anthropologist Veena Das points out that given the “certain air of obviousness with which notions of the everyday and voice are often spoken of in anthropological writing, I have been amazed at how difficult I found it to speak of these matters.” Das relates this idea of finding meaning in the everyday with Wittgenstein’s skepticism. Though Das does not endorse objectivity, her skepticism of the everyday and her awareness of the self-imposed boundaries of context and subjectivity offer a point from which to look closely at the world around her from a perspective that, if not objective, is grounded in something natural – the boundaries of being a subjective agent.
In studying a culture that has been affected by extreme and sudden violence and pain, Das observes a breakdown in the relationship between the forms of life surrounding her and the language game in which they previously were engaged in. She herself, like most of us, has not participated in these forms of life and a new language must be developed to speak of this. Because of the inextricable connection between pain and language, it is impossible for Das as an anthropologists to fully understand what her informants have experienced. However, it is through this lack of understanding that she finds a point from which to study. The point from which Das studies is completely different from the perspective of someone like Pinker, who studies objective symbolic categories. Das does not attempt to study at that level of analysis; instead, she acknowledges her inability to explain the behavior of others, and settles for a limited understanding.
I plan to come to the defense of the Wittgensteinian perspective as it manifests itself in anthropology, specifically through the work of Veena Das and Stanley Cavell. Although Wittgenstein is sometimes dismissed by linguists on the grounds that he writes before the Chomskyan revolution, Das has taken Wittgenstein’s ideas and applied them to her current work. Her book Life and Words38 details her theories and methods, as well as some ethnographic chapters, that uses Wittgenstein’s ideas about language, pain, and privacy. It seems that Wittgenstein’s project of bringing language back to the everyday is still relevant.
In the previous section, I have outline Wittgenstein as a philosopher of culture and shown that he is a relativist with naturalist leanings. Wittgenstein’s cultural relativism, it seems, can still account for biological commonalities. In fact, even the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which is often taken as an extremely relativist position, does not have to deny the existence of a natural world independent of human discourse. In “Science and Linguisics,” Whorf says, “We all live in the same world, but we “dissect nature along lines laid down by our native languages.”39 I assume that in “nature,” Whorf would include the biological aspect of the “human animal,” thereby accounting for biological commonalities.
I have shown that it is possible to account for some biological commonality in relativism. However, Pinker would not want to stop there. The crucial difference between Pinker’s views and the Standard Social Science Model is not, as Pinker believes, that the SSSM is incompatible with biological commonalities, or that it denies the existence of a natural world outside of human discourse. Pinker takes the discovery of biological commonalities in cognition a step further to say that, not only are the material workings of our minds universal, but our actual meanings and values are universal. I see no evidence for this.
Pinker argues that language is an evolutionary mechanism that humans developed in order to communicate. Pinker does not see, however, that evolutionary mechanisms are valueless. In order to extend his argument that language is universal to other aspects of human behavior, Pinker provides an exhaustive list, borrowed from Donald Brown in Human Universals, that people have in common cross- culturally. On the list are such abstract concepts as “law,” “rights”, and “property,” as well as practices such as “institutionalized marriage.” Just as every attempt to recreate mentalese has resembled the language of the creator, this list contains words that have connotations unique to Western culture, perhaps even the culture of the US. The very idea of “rights” is extremely difficult to communicate cross-culturally, presumably because this word as loaded with values and meanings that could not possibly be universal.
Relativism in a Wittgensteinian sense is not at all incompatible with the cognitivist project of discovering the inner workings of the human mind. Suppose that we did in fact discover a “language of thought” and tested it cross- culturally, proving that everyone in the world thinks with a Universal Grammar. What about this “language” makes it a language in any way that is comparable to how we normally view language? Wittgenstein argues that we can only interpret an utterance as a language if we can also interpret the speaker’s overall behavior. This is how Wittgenstein arrives at his famous line, “If a lion could talk, we could not understand him”40. Veena Das suggests that it is possible to relate to people in ways that appeal to different levels of understanding besides the surface meaning of a given language game, without appealing to some transcendental universal grammar that resides in each of us. We might also ask the question, if we have a universal grammar, why do we not understand each other better? We do not, after all, understand the innermost thoughts and motivations of even fellow participants in our most practiced language games.
This brings me to the next defense of a Wittgensteinian view of relativism. Pinker posits that language evolved for the specific purpose of communication. Again, if this is the purpose of language, why can we not communicate better than we do? Das talks about what she considers the difference between speech and voice. Speech, or utterance, is not all there is to language. In dealing with world-shattering violence, Das explains that people lose context to the point where the language game in which they operate no longer corresponds to the everyday reality in which they live. People then seek to recover this reality through everyday events and conversation, but as Das finds in her fieldwork, the speech, or words uttered, do not always correspond to the voice of her informants. Das finds just as much meaning in silences, secrets, and omissions, as she does in the language of her informants. These can find a place in Wittgenstein’s language game, but not in Pinker’s mentalese.
Not only is language not always effective for communication, but why should we give primacy to communication as the purpose of language? Pinker seems to posit a value on language that does not implicitly exist in all linguistic behavior. People learn to play games, tell jokes, and write meaningless poetry. What, evolutionarily, would motivate us to communicate in such ways? If direct communication is the purpose of language, then why do we not all speak in Aristotelian syllogisms? Whatever goes on in the inner workings of our brains when we speak does not seem to be directly related to the purpose of our linguistic behavior in practice.
This linguistic behavior is related to the larger cultural context of human behavior in a way that Pinker does not fully address. When Pinker says, “Language is no more a cultural invention than is upright posture” (18), he unwittingly leaves the connection of language to other learned behaviors open. Upright posture is not learned through cultural immersion, but the meaning of sitting upright at the dinner table is definitely a cultural symbol. As humans, why should we necessarily separate the two – evolution and culture – in our minds? Pinker describes a practice in one culture of building sand around infants in order to teach them to sit up straight. Clearly, in this culture, people do not make a distinction between what is natural and what is culture; neither is given primacy. In our culture, we see the same principle at work in Chomsky’s discussion of the prevalence of motherese. It is precisely because evolutionary behaviors are learned along with cultural behaviors that different cultural behaviors exist.
Language is no different from these other behaviors in the sense that it is both innate and learned culturally. Pinker says “Complex language is universal because children actually reinvent it, generation after generation.”41 The evolutionary mechanism that allows children to “reinvent” language is not incompatible but works alongside the cultural behavior that surrounds language learning. As children learn language, cultural symbols are encoded in a way that is also biological. These symbols have causal efficacy in the choices that people make because they govern their worldview. This worldview is not something that can be reduced to a universal grammar. The collective worldview, which acts in relation to the abstract rules that are applied in order to learn a language, is an essential component to understanding language. It governs both the subjects and the researcher who studies language and culture. Perhaps this is why the only attempts at recreating mentalese have resembled the language of the researcher.
For example, we cannot directly relate understanding to a state of mind or an abstract principle. Instead, understanding how to go on with a numerical series is demonstrated in the ability that we show to continue correctly with the series. In this argument, Wittgenstein seeks to refute a Cartesian idea that the understanding is hidden away in the privacy of the individual mind, not a modern idea about the cognitive nature of the mind. However, it can be applied to Pinker’s idea of mentalese. I do not think that Wittgenstein would reject the attempts that cognitive scientists make to study the mind, but would resist any attempt to equate the meaning of terms like “understand’ with brain states rather than human practices.
Knowing a language, according to Pinker is “knowing how to translate mentalese into strings of words and vice versa”. This is precisely where he departs from Wittgenstein. I do not know mentalese, and I don’t know anyone who does. There may be underlying mental processes associated with everything from witty banter to abstract concepts, but that does not mean that these mental processes are these concepts. Wittgenstein studies language as a part of the behavior of humans. When Wittgenstein suggested the impossibility of opening the black box of the human mind, he was referring primarily to the Cartesian mind. This could also be applied to the present-day research in cognitive science and the study of the biological processes associated with language. Even if we did discover a language of thought, this would not be a language that any of us know, and it would not correspond to the subjective way each of us sees the world. It would also not undermine the assertion that the way one behaves in the world is culturally dependent.
When Pinker says, “Language is no more a cultural invention than is upright posture”43, he is referring to only one aspect of language and behavior. Upright posture, in the sense of humans walking upright rather than crawling on all fours, is not cultural. However, the meaning that we give to upright posture is. The fact that that very phrase evokes for me the image of a strict parent instructing a child to sit up straight at the dinner table is a cultural fact, not an evolutionary fact. Language may be an evolutionary mechanism and, of course, biological commonalities in humans limit the scope of cultural diversity. However, we are equally limited by the linguistic system in which we operate because we do not consciously think in mentalese; we think in the linguistic system in which we were raised. We can point out biological commonalities, but we will always be limited in our communication of these commonalities by the imperfect languages that we speak." [[You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]]
"In some of his later writings and lectures Ludwig Wittgenstein makes several critiques of Freud and his theories. These critiques are mainly concerned with conceptual confusions in psychoanalysis. For Freud, the purpose of psychoanalysis is finding out the unconscious causes of certain neuroses in his patients. In other words, Freud makes causal claims in order to reach a solution to his patient's problems. Wittgenstein used psychoanalysis as an example of problems concerning a broader discussion of philosophy, such as the difference between reasons and causes, aesthetic explanations and causal explanations, and the nature of language (Bouveresse,1995: 1). This is not to say that Wittgenstein did not appreciate the works of Freud, but rather that he finds problems with the "grammar" that Freud uses to make claims about the unconscious and psychoanalysis. Wittgenstein criticizes Freud for making these scientific causal claims within psychoanalysis. He believes what Freud considers to be scientific is merely "speculation" (Bouveresse, 1995: 4). For Wittgenstein, Freud has discovered the reasons for certain neurosis, but he cannot claim to have found a cause. With psychoanalysis, Freud claims that he can discover the unconscious feelings present in an individual that cause certain physical states. Freud also claims that once he has discovered these causes, he can bring these feelings to the surface, trace them back to their historical origins, show how they have changed with time, and tell the individual how to deal with these problems. Wittgenstein believes that this method is useful in helping people, however he also believes that Freud has labeled the connections causal when they are, in fact reasons. The key to Wittgenstein's critique is the distinction that he makes between reasons and causes. For Wittgenstein, causal claims are hypotheses that are confirmed or denied through a number of agreeingscientific experiments. Reasons are characterized by their ability to be recognized by the agent as the actual reason for the action. In response to Wittgenstein's criticisms, Donald Davidson's account of reasons and causes is useful. In his essay Actions, Reasons, and Causes, Davidson defends the idea that some explanations of reasons must also be causal. In this essay, I will discuss Freud's theory of the psyche and psychoanalysis. I will then present Wittgenstein's criticisms of Freud.
Freud's General Theory of the Unconscious
In order to understand Wittgenstein's criticisms, it is important to understand Freudian thought and psychoanalysis. The basic principles of Freudian psychoanalytic thought are considered Hobbesian in some respects.Hobbes thought that human beings, at base level, were "savage brutes" and if their natural instincts were left untouched, they would naturally "murder, rape and pillage" (Glietman, 1999: 714). According to Hobbes, these natural instincts are suppressed in the distant past by human being's subordination to a greater social structure, such as the state. Freud also believed that human's basic instincts were raw, pleasure-seeking, and blind to the consequences of instant gratification. Freud however, these instincts were not curbed by one event in the distant past. Freud believed that the obstruction of these natural instincts occurred in every lifetime and "the social contract is renewed in the childhood of every generation" (Glietman, 1999: 714). Freud and Hobbes also differ in the way in which they believe the baser instincts to be suppressed. Freud believes that the first constrains on this basic behavior come from fear of direct social consequences, like physical punishment. This is somewhat similar to Hobbes, but Freud asserts that eventually children begin to recognize their wrong doings as bad and they abandon them for this reason rather than simply out of fear (Gleitman, 1999: 714).
What psychoanalysis studies is the suppression of these basic instincts. This suppression, for Freud, is constant and ongoing. According to Freud, the prohibited impulses can never be entirely put out of existence. They may be hidden or denied for lengths of time, but eventually they reassert themselves in different ways. For Freud, this suppression results in "constant conflict between the demands of instinct and the demands of society" (Gleitman, 1999: 715). Now, the unconscious comes into play. This conflict takes place within the human being's unconscious, most of the time, without them knowing. Because the inner conflict is unknown, it expresses itself in "thoughts and deeds that appear irrational" (Gleitman, 1999: 715).
Freud's division of the psyche illustrates how he believes that our thoughts and actions are determined. It is the interplay of the three forces and experiences in childhood that shapes the inner conflict. The conflict occurs without the individual's awareness (Gleitman, 1999: 718). It begins when the urges of the id are "pushed out of consciousness" (Gleitman, 1999: 718). These urges refuse to be repressed and therefore they find outlets, which produce additional, undesired defenses.
When looking at Wittgenstein's first published work the Tractatus Logico- Philosophicus in relation to Wittgenstein's next work Philosophical Investigations, it seems like more of an exercise. I say that the Tractatuswas an exercise because upon completing it, Wittgenstein realized that his system did not show how language is being used in everyday life. He constructed the picture theory of meaning and it claimed that propositions are a form of picture of the world. These propositions are made up of names placed in determinate relation to one another. Propositions represent a possible state of affairs as long as the names in the proposition stand for objects and the relationship of the names in the proposition represent a possible arrangement of the objects for which the names stand. His system however, did not offer an explanation of how our everyday language functions.
With the publication of the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein moved away from this strict system of language and introduced the concept of "language games" to show how language functions in the active practical lives of people. In section 7 of the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein introduces language games. He explains them as follows:
In the practice of the use of language one party calls out the words, the other acts on them. In instruction in the language the following process will occur: the learner names the objects; that is, he utters the word when the teacher points to the stone. —And there will be this still simpler exercise: the pupil repeats the words after the teacher --- both of these being processes resembling language. We can also think of the whole process of using words in as one of those games by means of which children learn their native language. I will call these games "language-games" and will sometimes speak of a primitive language as a language-game. And the process of naming the stones and of repeating the words after someone might also be called language-games. Think of much of the use of words in games like ring-a-ring-a- roses. I shall also call the whole, consisting of language and the actions into which it is woven, the "language-game". (Wittgenstein,1953: 5)
Wittgenstein realized in his strive to strictly explain language and how words represent certain objects, he removed language from the context that we use it everyday. If language is abstracted from the natural way that it is being used, (for the purpose of analysis and explanation) it looses its ability to represent (McGinn, 1997: 44). Instead of attempting to set up a theory to explain language, Wittgenstein wants to examine it in its spatial and temporal use (McGinn, 1997: 45). The meaning of all words are found in how they are being used and words are used in all different ways.
In order to show what he means by "language-game," Wittgenstein begins the Philosophical Investigations with a quote from Augustine. From this quote, Wittgenstein hopes to show the reader a particularmistaken picture of language. This picture is that, "every word has a meaning. This meaning is correlated with the word. It is the object for which the word stands" (Wittgenstein, 1953: 1). The problem with this picture, as Wittgenstein points out, is that it leaves no place for words like "the" and "five." These words do not have a concrete meaning, but rather their meaning lies in how they are being used. How these words are being used are their language games. For example, the language game of reasons is dialogical, whereas the language game of causes is empirical.
Wittgenstein's critique of Freud based on the notion that the language game of reasons is different than the language game of causes
Wittgenstein's criticisms are concerned Freud's confusion of the grammar of causes and the grammar of reasons. In The Blue Book, Wittgenstein explains the difference between reasons and causes. Wittgenstein says:
Suppose I pointed to a piece of paper and said to someone: "this color I call 'red'". Afterwards I give him the order: "now paint me a red patch". I then ask him: "why, in carrying out my order, did you paint just this color?" His answer could then be: "This color (pointing to the sample which I have given him) was called red; and the patch I have painted has, as you see, the color of the sample". He has now given me a reason for carrying out the order in the way he did. (Wittgenstein, 1969: 14)
In this example, the person gives their reason for doing the action by "showing a way which lead[s] to this action (Wittgenstein, 1969: 14). By showing a "way," the person is giving some of the considerations that one would go through when acting. Whereas reasons are known for Wittgenstein, causes can only be conjectured (Bouveresse,1995: 72). Let us say for example that the end of the chain of reasons has been reached and the question 'why' remains. The only answers (answers that are not a part of the chain of reasons) that can be given are hypotheses. Wittgenstein uses the following example:
If, to the question, "why did you paint just this color when I told you to paint a red patch?" you give the answer: "I have been shown a sample of this color and the word 'red' was pronounced to me at the same time; and therefore this color now always comes to my mind when I hear the word 'red'" you have given a cause for your action and not a reason. (Wittgenstein, 1969: 15)
When providing reasons, "no number of agreeing experience in necessary, and the statement of your reason is not a hypothesis" (Wittgenstein, 1969: 15).
Giving a reason can be done in several different ways. From the previous example, the man could describe the way he actually came to this specific color (by copying the example) or he could say that he had a "memory image" of the color from a color chart (Wittgenstein, 1969: 14). Furthermore, if the order in the example could not have been obeyed or understood without "previous teaching," the teaching could be considered the reason for the action. If the order is understood and obeyed, there is an assumed reason for this (Wittgenstein, 1969: 14). It is important to keep in mind that when one is giving reasons, he is giving justifications.
The language-game of reasons is different from that of causes because the language-game of causes is empirical. Since a cause is a hypothesis that is confirmed or denied through a number of experiences, the word cause is part of the scientific language-game (in other words, cause is used in the context of science). In order to illustrate the difference in the grammar of reasons and causes, Wittgenstein uses the following example:
The difference between the grammars of "reason" and "cause" is quite similar to that between the grammars of "motive" and "cause". Of the cause one can say that one can't know it but can onlyconjecture it. On the other hand one often says: "Surely I must know why I did it" talking of the motive. (Wittgenstein, 1969: 15)
Here, the double use of the word "why" leads us to confusion. When I ask "why," I am asking for justification or a cause (this is assuming that I did not specify if I wanted one or the other). The question that I am asking depends on whether I want to know what the person knows about herself or what she conjectures about a certain instance. One readily assumes that they know the motives of their actions. This is how reasons can be confused with causes (Wittgenstein, 1969: 15)
Wittgenstein specifically addresses this issue in Wittgenstein Lectures, Cambridge, 1932-1935. This text comes from the notes of Alice Ambrose and Margaret Macdonald (it is not written by Wittgenstein himself). In these lectures, Wittgenstein addresses the connection that Freud makes with the nature of a joke and laughing. Wittgenstein says:
Freud thinks it is part of the essential mechanism of a joke to conceal something, say, a desire to slander someone, and thereby to make it possible for the subconscious to express itself… When we laugh without knowing why, Freud claims that by psychoanalysis we can find out. I see a muddle here between a cause and a reason. Being clear why you laugh is not being clear about a cause"(Ambrose,ed., Macdonald, 1979: 39).
The problem here is the hypothetical use of the unconscious (Ambrose,ed., Macdonald, 1979: 39). If this were a causal connection, then the unconscious would be the hypothesized cause for the laughter. It would be impossible however, to confirm or deny the hypothesis. Wittgenstein says:
A cause is found experimentally… The difference between a reason and a cause is brought out as follows: the investigation of a reason entails as an essential part one's own agreement with it, whereas the investigation of a cause is carried out experimentally. (Ambrose,ed., Macdonald, 1979: 39)
In this example, Wittgenstein points out that the language of causes involves experiments and the language of reasons involves agreement.
Furthermore, Wittgenstein claims that the connection that Freud is making is more of an aesthetic connection and the psychoanalytic investigation is "analogous to an aesthetic investigation" (Ambrose,ed., Macdonald, 1979: 40). Wittgenstein explains, "For the correctness of an aesthetic analysis must be agreement of the person to whom the analysis is given" (Ambrose,ed., Macdonald, 1979: 40). With psychoanalysis, the correctness in determined by the same kind of agreement. Once again, we are now back in the language-game of reasons.
Freud is operating within the discipline of psychology, but with psychoanalysis, he branches off in a way that cannot be considered scientific. Wittgenstein says, "What Freud says about the subconscious sounds like a science, but in fact it is just a means of representation" (Ambrose,ed., Macdonald, 1979: 40). All of the theories that are at the base of psychoanalysis, such as the three different, conflicting parts of the psyche and the subconscious itself have never been proven. As Wittgenstein puts it, "New regions of the soul have not been discovered, as his [Freud] writings suggest." (Ambrose,ed., Macdonald, 1979: 40)"
The positive picture that Pinker gives of the workings of human cognition is believeable, even common-sensical. Everyday experience indicates that people have innate abilities ("modules") for many mental tasks like face recognition and verbal fluency, just as they do for physical tasks. Much of the book consists of fleshing out the wonderful details of the language module, with all its related skills such as the production and decoding of speech.
Pinker quite reasonably emphasizes commonalities rather than differences being innate. This is particularly important given that most of us only notice such innateness when we attempt to overcome God-given aptitudes (often our own) for certain tasks such as mathematics. The modules can be amusingly independent: there are mathematicians who are almost inarticulate, fluent writers who never pick up the pronunciation of foreign words, and so on. The hard-wiring of certain specific talents (and character traits) must be obvious to anyone who has had to teach or to raise a child. It also seems scientifically plausible that natural selection has played a large role in the formation of these skills. So who is he trying to debunk? See below.
The other foreground element in the picture is "mentalese", the inner language that cognitive scientists apparently imagine our thoughts are couched in. But I was disappointed that it was never made clear what is constructively gained by treating the non-linguistic aspects of our minds as secretly linguistic. Cognitive Science's predecessor Artificial Intelligence was famous for its unmet promises. By now there should be some empirical successes based on mentalese, but Pinker really only uses the theory in his critique of linguistic determinism. So, as with the innateness question, we are lead to the destructive side of "The language instinct".
The destructive Instinct
As I mentioned above, Pinker sorts the world into right and wrong. The wrong are:
The Standard Social Science Model (SSSM) , the "nurture not nature" ideology of the malleability of the mind. Pinker focusses particular criticism on anthropologists, whose minds are apparently so open that their brains fall out, and on linguistic determinism (the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis), which holds that people's world-view is partially determined by their language. Those who claim language is too special and complicated to have arisen by natural selection. He criticizes Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin for helping this viewpoint to spread. Those who agree that language is evolved by natural selection, but then infer that non-human animals must have this ability too. Pinker is specially scathing about the supposed acquisition of American Sign Language by chimpanzees. The language mavens who seek to impose artificial rules like not splitting infinitives. Even William Safire gets a dose of his own medicine. The villain always hiding in the shadows is the Standard Social Science Model (SSSM). In fact, it is such a cartoon character that one is left wondering whether Pinker has described it fairly. His quotation (page 406) of J. B. Watson's claim that he could raise any child to be any type of adult surely represents the antiquated extreme of such doctrine. It would be very interesting to hear how psychologists and anthropologists react to Pinker's characterization of their world-view, since to the uninitiated layman or physical scientist the SSSM seems hardly worth bothering with.
And so to linguistic determinism and mentalese. Linguistic determinism states that thought is shaped by language. Pinker has a good time ridiculing the wackier versions of this idea, such as Whorf's suggestion that the Hopi have no conception of time proceeding smoothly between past, present, and future. And Yes, obviously there is such a thing as thinking one thing and saying another. But there is something weird about his confident assertions that
(1) thought is independent of language (or other communicative behavior) but is actually couched in its own internal language, mentalese;
(2) knowing a language is knowing how to translate mentalese into strings of words and vice versa, so linguistic determinism can be restated as claiming that our mentalese is (or is similar to?) our language.
The first assertion is unsettling because mentalese lacks one of the defining properties of a language: it cannot be used for communication. It might be better to call it a "coding" or "representation". And it may very well be one component in a good model of human cognition. But, as I will explain, I had a hard time seeing its relevance to larger philosophical questions. Pinker does not mention it, but there is a vigorous debate over the status of mentalese (see the Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy or this article by Larry Kaye).
The second assertion, apart from any reservations one might have about the relevance of mentalese, relies on ambiguity about the claims of linguistic determinism. Pinker mentions three possibilities:
(a) identicality: language determines thought precisely, word-for-word;
(b) concept determinism: language determines what we can think (Orwell's Newspeak);
(c) linguistic relativity:the form of our language merely influences what we tend to believe.
Pinker then unleashes a somewhat indiscriminate assault on all three. He treats concept determinism and linguistic relativity as if they were just as absurd as identicality, and presents mentalese as the long-awaited refutation of all of them. It seemed to me, however, that mentalese was irrelevant. Identicality is a straw man, killed off by his polemical asides without the heavy artillery of mentalese. Concept determinism is wrong for more general reasons that I'll describe below. Linguistic relativity emerges largely unscathed, mainly because Pinker sidesteps it: he does not mention any study of the correlation between peoples' beliefs and their language, but puts forward a "clinching experiment" that shows that physiology rather than language is the dominant influence on the learning of new color words.
One gets the sense by the end of the chapter that in trying to create and then discredit a sharp formulation of linguistic determinism, Pinker has overlooked its deeper incoherence. Identicality is obviously wrong. Linguistic relativity is a catch-all that without more specifics is too vague to discuss. And as for concept determinism, it doesn't even seem to make sense. How do you study a person's concepts apart from through their speech or other communicative behavior? So even if you find some interesting correlation, how do you decide if language has determined thought or vice versa?
Language and thought: two sides of the same coin
Thoughts have to be communicable to count as thoughts. After all, what sort of thoughts could not be expressed in language or behavior? Are they thoughts at all? How are they distinguished from emotions that cannot be expressed, or demonic possessions that cannot be expressed? This is exactly the point that underlies the Turing test: the sophistication of someone's thoughts is defined by what they can, under the fairest conditions, communicate. We can imagine a thought that is not communicated, or that is not expressed in language, but we cannot imagine one that could not be communicated. When you are not sure how to express youself, that means you have a half-formed thought, or a vague thought, not a crisply-defined thought that somehow defies expression.
At the beginning of chapter 3, Pinker trots out Wittgenstein's remark that a dog cannot think "perhaps it will rain tomorrow" as an example of a philosophical claim that animals lack consciousness. He lumps this in with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, and later dismisses the whole package as "wrong, all wrong", styling cognitive science as the defender of common sense (that thought is independent of language). There is indeed something wrong here. Consciousness is a separate can of worms from the language-thought relationship. And common sense tells us that doggie thoughts are as complicated as doggie communication skills, no more and no less. Thought is not identical to language, but the two are closely related by their very definition. Ironically, Pinker shows us that cognitive scientists feel the same way: because they are unable to discuss raw thought, they immediately imagine it as being couched in a fictional language, mentalese.
With this in mind, it is interesting to look at the examples that Pinker uses to argue for the primacy of thought over language. For most thought (and certainly most interesting thought) the medium of communication is language. But more primitive behavior can communicate very simple thoughts. This is what is happening in the example of a baby looking surprised when it sees one object suddenly turn into two. Pinker seems to imply that the baby is not just thinking "Wow!", but something more sophisticated, such as "I assume that things don't split into two like that, but this sense data is inconsistent with my assumption. I must look more closely." These sentences may be related to what is in a good cognitive science model of the baby's behavior, but to say the baby is actually thinking this is silly. We could just as well claim that a falling stone is thinking about Newton's law of gravitation, or, in the case of a particularly clever stone, Einstein's.
The same is true for measurements of physical phenomena that are not related to communication at all, such as some change of blood flow in the brain, or a Chomskian "trace" in a sentence. The fact that humans build languages in certain ways does not show that they think things like "Hmm, this is a topic-prominent language, so I'd better put the question word at the end." It is even worse to say that these abilities constitute knowledge, since for someone to be said to have knowledge of something they must be able to not only communicate it but also justify it. Cognitive scientists like to call this "tacit knowledge", as if it were a type of knowledge. But this terminology comes from the same stable as "involuntary choice".
To sum up, it is perfectly reasonable to construct a model of the human mind, using whatever kind of mechanisms successfully reproduce human behavior. To make such a model work would be a great achievement, and I would have loved to hear more about progress in this direction. But why over-reach by claiming that those mechanisms (as currently hypothesized) have an exotic reality as tacit knowledge and secret thoughts in a private language that we never knew we knew? It is as bad as a neurophysiologist telling us that thoughts are "really just chemical reactions", or a physicist telling us that our eyes tacitly know the theorems of optics because they can form an image on the retina." [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]
Language, Deconstruction, and Political Correctness
Language, at its best, always reveals meanings beyond that of a literal set of interpretations.
You can tell you are dealing with a stunted mind when they insist on a reliance on the dictionary to de-fine the terms they are using in an argument. Especially when that argument makes a risky statement about reality, or gets complex.
Deconstruction mutilates language, and by extension communication, by using a myopic, functionalist, kind of reasoning property of language against the whole of language. It uses this functionalism disingenuously, to crush out the significance from awareness the subtleties in linguistic expression that support and have carried through time by means of flowing multi and inter-contextually applied interpretations of sense data, which manifest as specific sets of applied words-meanings within a present time. It is built through and always refers back to the past. Its changes occur in many ways, either quickly, some meanings linger and change slowly as a whole, some words assume the same shell and surface meanings but its subtle content slowly changes, some disappear from lexicon and its meanings are forgotten; etc.
This stands in contrast to a static direct-correspondence conception of language. This model is inferior because it fails to account for change within language and the evolution of ideas over time. It is a common oversimplification, which has its uses, but is often treated as the whole picture.
This simplification is one reason why the masses, who consciously understand and apply only a direct-correspondence model of language in a direct, functionalistic way, are so easily led on by its premises. Deconstruction uses a machinic brutal interpretive technique/energy to cut down on communications potential.
Instead of seeing language as a flow of meanings, changing away in gradual and variegated drifts to fit altering interpersonal, intersubjective, inner and outer contexts, it sees language as merely the product of a text.
Its techniques, while pointing out limited truths, still operate as tricks, as intended by its founders. Some examples include when it points out the binary opposition construction in meanings of words that breaks down over time, or when it points out that no one word or word conception has ever meant or applied to the same thing over time or within a time. This is treated as if this damned language and communication, when languages' ability to renew and enrich itself along with uncertainty and ambiguity is actually the enduring strength of language. It inserts the presupposition that communication 'ought' to be more than a tool, it must be in some sense self-organizaedly, other-contextually Accurate, or else its potential is negated in advance.
It is the stupidity, inexperience, weakness and irresoluteness of the masses that allowed this trick to work to the extent it has.
Due to its machinic nature, which exclusively focuses on creatively employing merely a brute power of language itself (in a Leftist Knowledge=Power way), Political Correctness, growing out of deconstruction, unmistakably arises as a product of Modernity. It is a nihilistic strategy that artistically cuts out language-meanings according to a certain range of criteria and ham-handedly applies and enforces newer/separate language meanings which contain only an immediate, shallow basis in the past. It does not 'give' enough weight to the energies that persist and are only changing too slowly in relation to the speed the ideology would like. They are artificial.
The new, artificial words' interpretation and application are dependent upon, and enforced through those institutions, and philosophical and political currents that benefit from it. The 'space' required to maintain the publics compliance with the doctrine is extreme. This results in partially cutting out many natural parts of interaction by limiting the usage of words and meanings and the associated behaviors/reactions to certain interpretations of phenomena deemed unacceptable. The composition of many societal assemblages we see around us today( personal, inter-personal, social, cultural, scientific, institutional, technological, etc.) are all changing drastically in relation to this, in clear visible ways, and subtle ways.
This has happened because language is no longer used primarily to communicate in betwixt small-scale interactions, like a tribal unit. Rather, a larger scale-context is always superimposed on the background today, so the meanings and words change and leak in to accommodate this, in spite of resistance. The energy in communication makes a shift towards use primarily in facilitating the harmonious cooperation and collaboration between often (already-generalized) and heterogenous groups (units) of larger scale mass institutions that compose societies. Language becomes an artificially based means of facilitating the process of Femininzation.
Language-meanings are rendered more and more generalized and functional-only in their applied meanings, spurred by an alliance between the technocratic functionalists of global capitalism and the academic influences of modern day political correctness.
Control language, the symbolism of the noumenon, and you can manipulate all phenomena that share in this noetic symbolism. In other words, control language, and what imagery, feelings automatically emerge in the brains of those that use it, and you can direct their behavior, without them realizing it.
Political-correctness is an attempt to restrict language use, leaving only the sanctioned definitions.
I've described, elsewhere, how words, and by extension the noumena (abstractions) they represent, are being detached from the phenomenal world (interactive, fluctuating apparent). This detachment is a detachment from the past...and by past we mean nature as the sum of all nurturing. Seductive, and easy. Once accomplished the word becomes a vehicle of escaping reality rather than engaging with it.
I proposed the very term nihilism as a good example of what I am saying. Here, the nil is associated with the absence of human constructs, such as meaning, purpose, morality, values. The positive is what provides these manmade constructs.
The positivity of a world void of these human mental abstractions, as a necessity for these construct to come-about is presented as a negative, rather than as a positive. This is the inversion stage, where human ideals are the positive, even when they deny and reject the world, and the absence of ideals, which allows for their emergence, is a negative.
The noetic universe becomes the human positive one - the humane one, whereas the apparent world, full of uncertainty, indifferent to human cares and woes, unaffected by human contrivances that do not take it into account, becomes the denied negative. So, race, sex, homosexuality, become noetic idea(l)s, with little or no reference to past/nature, and so pure nouemnon: easy to dismiss, manipulate, forget. Not manifestations of the past, which is never left behind, but as another idea to be redefined, or rejected on the grounds that it does not fit into a desirable, immanent future.
Take organs. Manifestations of a nature, a past, appearing, and participating in what we call an organism. They have a function, as they are the end-result of functionality.
But when turned into pure noumenon, as the entire human body is (the apparent), each organ can be redefined, and ascribed a different function. so, an anus can now become a sexual organ, and a vagina a hedonistic plaything. Like children with toys.
I also used Fixed, and his Value Ontology delusions, or repackaging of Judeo-Christian nihilism, as another example of what I am talking about.
Here the word "value" is detached from its references to phenomena, and converted (translated), into an ontology (thing) preceding, or underlying phenomena. The process is redefined as a substance, or a particle, or some other term referring to an abstracted absolute. The term no longer describes how consciousness discriminates (judges), evaluating the utility of otherness in relation to a goal, an idea(l), an object/objective, but it produces judgment. Other Nihilistic dogmas have used other words in a similar manner: love, god, universe, whole, consciousness, spirit, soul, one, and so on.
The seduction of nihilism, or this positive variant (as I call it), masculine nihilism, is that it frees the desperate, the cowardly, the weak, from a world that does not yield to human hopes and needs and expectations as easily as they thought it might, or it "ought to". Once the mind is "liberated" from the determinations of the body - notice how the dualism is overcome with a towards the noumenon which can manufacture singularities - it can frolic in noetic time/space, without a care. All this possible when there is a protective institution, force, present to protect the mind from itself, while in this delusional condition.
Why? Because such a mind is easier to control, and once ti has become accustomed to this condition it is unable to return to reality which seems harsh and unforgiving to it. It has become dependent. Addiction follows similar steps. The pusher gives for free, and then extracts blood at will from the addict.
The God is word and word is god, is not accidental. Secular humanists have replaced God with another term: 1, for instance. Same thing.