Friday, August 11, 2017

On the Urgent Need of Safe Spaces: for Truth

Great essay -- actually, a formal address -- in Pieper's Problems of Modern Faith, called The Abuse of Language and the Abuse of Power. The content is quite similar, if not identical, to his little book of the same name. Looks like either the talk was turned into a book, or vice versa.

Whatever the case may be, do not be deceived by the brevity, for in the words of the Aphorist, Prolixity is not an excess of words but a dearth of ideas. It actually made me see stars. As in the Aphorist's maxim that The collision with an intelligent book makes us see a thousand stars.

That's close to the truth, being that I highlighted nearly every sentence. Usually, when I highlight something, it's not in order to "remember" it in the usual way. Rather, it's because a star flashed into view. Actually, I've developed an informal system of notation with about five levels, depending upon the density of stars. The last level is dog-earing the page. That happens when I've collided with a supercluster.

The whole thing is both timely and timeless, which I suppose amounts to the same thing. Or at least what is timeless is always timely, even if what is timely is rarely timeless. At any rate, let's take out our telos-scopes and see if we can unpack some of the stars.

First of all, even the title is provocative: how is it even possible to abuse language? Language isn't alive. Or is it? And what can it possibly have to do with power, much less the abuse of it?

Pieper doesn't put it this way, but I believe language is indeed alive. It is a medium of life, much in the way of circulating blood. Quite simply, in the absence of language, there would be no way for mind and spirit to circulate. Obvious, no? Haven't you ever felt more alive after reading or hearing something? (Or more dead, depending.)

As we shall eventually see, this goes back to a triune structure of reality in which God eternally speaks the Word. And if you only look close enough, everything is composed of intelligible words. It is why we can understand the world, for it is not made of atoms or quarks or waves or particles, but of language. We are immersed in wordstuff, which is why existence is so endlessly fascinating. Or boring, depending upon the soul's level of literacy.

Pieper adverts to the misuse of language as "an eternal temptation which, throughout the course of history, man has been, and always will be, called upon to resist."

Interesting. Could our primordial calamity be related to language abuse? Something inside me says "yes." And what is the Crucifixion but -- literally -- the last word in abuse of the Word? It is the attempt to snuff it out entirely. For what is Truth, anyway?

That's a cynical question. No, it's worse than that, for it betrays the seduction of sophistry, the same sophistry that has been with us from the time of Plato right down to this morning's New York Times. What is academia but a Temple of Sophistry?

Which only emphasizes the power of its lure, a lure that can be traced back to Genesis 3. Jumping ahead a bit, here is how Pieper describes the original vision and purpose of the university. Try not to laugh. Or cry. Or be triggered:

[T]he concept 'academic' has... retained a common or identical feature over the course of time, a feature which, moreover, is easy to define. [Bear in mind this was written in 1964, when academia was far less woke than today.]

This feature is the fact that a 'zone of truth' is deliberately set aside in the midst of society, a hedged-in space to house the autonomous engagement with reality [!], in which people can inquire into, discuss, and assert the truth of things without let or hindrance; a domain expressly shielded from any conceivable attempts to use it as a means to achieve certain ends [!], and in which all concerns irrelevant to its true purpose, whether collective or personal, whether of political, economic or ideological import, must keep silent [!].

In short, the university is indeed supposed to be a safe space: for truth! Because if truth isn't safe, then none of us are.

How does truth decay begin? It must have to do with the detachment of language from reality. Note that this is not a bug of postmodernism, but a feature. For again, language is no longer about real things, but about language.

Thus, not only is postmodernism sealed in tautology and sophistry, but it is a statement about the permanent and ineradicable stupidity of man. In this context, exposure to the university can only arm and aggravate the stupidity, not ameliorate or cure it.

What is truth? "A person must not have progressed very far in his education if he has not discovered good reasons to justify the worst behavior. The evil which has been done in the world since Adam's time has been justified by means of good reasons."

Okay then. What is evil?

Evil on a wholesale level begins in corruption of the word; or better, corruption of the function of the word. Which is whatnow?

Two things, distinguishable but inseparable: knowledge and communication (of reality):

Its first achievement is the fact that reality becomes manifest through the word. One speaks in order to make known something real in the act of calling it by name in order, of course, to make it known to someone else.

This latter reminds me of something I learned in my psychoanalytic training which actually turns out to be true: that all language has a from --> to structure, even interior dialogue.

This goes back to Bion's idea that communication begins with the mother-infant dyad, which is the most primordial level of interpersonal exchange. It eventually evolves into proper speech, but any number of things can go wrong along the way, such that the person becomes more or less capable of communicating his interior world in the form of speech.

People who cannot do this end up splitting, repressing, or projecting it (for it still exists, only in an unglishable and therefore externalized form). These primitive unwords become flesh. In a bad way. (For unspeakable truths can also become flesh in a good way, as in love; or, love is the way they are communicated.)

In other words, they become leftists, wordlessly communing with fellow leftists who are likewise incapable of articulating WTF is wrong with themselves.

Take, I don't know, Lena Dunham, who is persecuted by imaginary airline attendants who express reservations about the left's obsession with normalizing aberrant and confused sexual identity. If you ask her WTF is wrong with her, she will not be able to point to something inside, but rather, express alarm at something she has projected into you, you alt-right fascist! In short, you are her unspeakably badword made flesh. No wonder she's alarmed, for there are no safe spaces inside her head.

To be continued...


julie said...

In short, the university is indeed supposed to be a safe space: for truth! Because if truth isn't safe, then none of us are.

Lord, that is tragic. Like when you hear about a church that has all of its crosses removed to be more inclusive of non-Christians.

julie said...

How does truth decay begin? It must have to do with the detachment of language from reality.

Again and again, it seems that when people don't understand something important, it is because they don't understand the meaning of a word, particularly when it has changed over time or even come to mean its own opposite.

Gagdad Bob said...

As Dávila says, the left is not so much an ideology as a lexicographical strategy. So true it's painful. The abuse of people begins in the abuse of meanings.

julie said...

One of the reasons a simplified spelling system for English would be disastrous. In any given written word, there is a rich history which would be obliterated if we switched to a pure sound-based spelling system. And of course, it ends up looking incredibly stupid as well.

Gagdad Bob said...

What an excellent point. A whole archeology of words would be bleached out of existence. A primordial dimension of direct experience with reality would be lost forever.

julie said...

It would be the ultimate dismemberment of the English language. And word play would be severely curtailed, as well. Come to think of it, play is another one of those things the left tries to regulate out of existence...

Gagdad Bob said...

At Prager U, How College Made Me a Conservative. You can learn a lot from lies!

ted said...

...Except if you're Lena Dunham.

Gagdad Bob said...

It works both ways. It's either going to wake you up to the madness or make you a victim of it. Kill you or make you stronger.

Anonymous said...

News from the Institute.

Our AI project has hit a snag. Multhi-Gowanis #1 has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. "Gigi," as we call her, is 4 years old. She does not interact normally with others. She has not met developmental milestones as expected. Her parents, doctors Mandeep Multhi and Naomi Gowanis, are deeply saddened but vow to work tirelessly to improve her symptoms.

Gigi will join our commodities investment team so at least has gainful employment guaranteed for 80 years although not more than 100 years (per our Ethics policy). Gigi has furnished us with a few good forecasts already, despite her impaired interpersonal skills.

I mention this in connection with the post, as it points out how vital acquisition of language is, for people as well as advanced computers.

Anonymous said...

Surely the greatest misuse of language must be naming natural disasters as acts of God. Acts which if performed by humans are called evil should not be attributed to the force for good. When it's the beast or devil in a human that he allows to influence his actions to manifest evil, the same source should be attributed to natural disasters. As it stands you have Muslim extremists performing acts of evil believing they are performing acts of God.

Gagdad Bob said...

Sometimes Roy Masters can be rather kooky, other times it's like reading my own mind.

"Right. What's the difference?"

I heard that!

julie said...

Interesting lecture. It fits nicely with today's first reading:

At the mountain of God, Horeb,
Elijah came to a cave where he took shelter.
Then the LORD said to him,
"Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD;
the LORD will be passing by."
A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains
and crushing rocks before the LORD—
but the LORD was not in the wind.
After the wind there was an earthquake—
but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake there was fire—
but the LORD was not in the fire.
After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.
When he heard this,
Elijah hid his face in his cloak
and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.

Van Harvey said...

"How does truth decay begin? It must have to do with the detachment of language from reality. Note that this is not a bug of postmodernism, but a feature. For again, language is no longer about real things, but about language."

And isn't that process of detaching word, from reality, the very seed that the serpent first used their words to plant in the garden, with Eve?

"The Abuse of Language and the Abuse of Power." Is beyond a favourite, it's yet to have been placed onto the bookshelf.

Van Harvey said...

"... it depends upon what the meaning of 'is', isss..."