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Language and Reality: How the Left Uses Ambiguity to Frame Issues

 

A couple of weeks ago, I had an in-class discussion with one of my students regarding the limits of language. I asked the student, point blank, if language merely described reality or if language could create reality. It’s a slippery subject, and the young man in question took considerable time before answering that he believed that language could only describe reality, not create it.

I pressed him further. “Suppose, young man, I said something about you that was truly hurtful, something that wounded you to your very core. Would those words not create a chemical state of being in your mind? Would these words not create a series of endorphins pulsing through your brain that we colloquially refer to as anger? Would I not, in some way, have created a reality in your mind?”

“No,” He countered, “I’m the one who chose to feel those emotions. Just because I got mad doesn’t mean that you created my anger. My emotions are things I create–not you.” I could have wept at the clarity of his logic. Zeno would be proud.

That young man did what so many of us simply cannot: he clearly stated that language is good for describing reality, but it cannot create reality. Our cultural failure to make this distinction has cost us dearly, mostly because of the radical left’s willingness to use the slippery relationship between language and reality to their benefit.

The left’s favorite bit of language manipulation is the inventing (or repurposing) of words and phrases that function as vague, nefarious placeholders for their grand political ambitions. (Think of them as linguistic Trojan Horses). The idea is to introduce a concept into mainstream thought using a word and phrases that, quite literally, have no fixed meaning. In fact, the more nebulous the term the better. Once this word or phrase becomes embedded in public discourse, it becomes the vehicle for a host of far-left progressive agendas. The lack of a concrete meaning makes the appropriated word or phrase ideal for whatever is currently in vogue with the left.

The most notable example of this technique is the infamous “social justice,” a word phrase that literally means whatever the hell you want it to mean. The social justice movement is in one way bone-jarringly idiotic. How can so many people latch on to a phrase that has no concrete meaning? In another way, the fact that progressives have been able to infect so many universities, public schools, and well-meaning people with the social justice virus is a marvel of political engineering.

We see leftists use this tactic in the gun control debate as they constantly press for bans on sinister “assault weapons”. The fact that the term has no concrete meaning is a benefit, not a hindrance, to the left. No one seems to know what they are, but they do “know” that they’re deadly and need to be banned. Such subjectivity in terminology is essential to the left, especially when they seek to expand their reach after “assault weapon” bans are put into law.

In yet another example of lingual dexterity, progressives have managed to play both sides of the fence when it comes to the word “gender.” On one hand, they have stayed true to their critical theory roots, that there is no objective reality, only social constructs. Any attempt to marry the reality of biology to ideas about gender is met with immediate accusations of bigotry. This is all well and good until the subject turns to gender inequality, then gender becomes as concrete as the Hoover Dam. The next time someone accuses you of getting a job because of white male privilege, tell them that you identified as a female Polynesian during the interview, see how that goes for you.

Those of us on the right would do well to recognize the inherent dangers of living in an Orwellian world of doublespeak, a place where there is no objective reality, only the machinations of progressives committed to their own Sorelian myths.

There are 54 comments.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  1. Contributor

    Terrific post!

    • #1
    • March 25, 2018 at 8:46 pm
    • 5 likes
  2. Member

    M. Brandon Godbey: The lack of a concrete meaning makes the appropriated word or phrase ideal for whatever is currently in vogue with the left.

    It also makes it ideal for us to use against them.

    • #2
    • March 25, 2018 at 8:48 pm
    • 4 likes
  3. Moderator

    M. Brandon Godbey:
    I pressed him further. “Suppose, young man, I said something about you that was truly hurtful, something that wounded you to your very core. Would those words not create a chemical state of being in your mind? Would these words not create a series of endorphins pulsing through your brain that we colloquially refer to as anger? Would I not, in some way, have created a reality in your mind?”

    “No,” He countered, “I’m the one who chose to feel those emotions. Just because I got made doesn’t mean that you created my anger. My emotions are things I create–not you.”

    We choose what to do with our emotions, but there’s considerable evidence we don’t get to choose our perceptions, including the emotional ones. Of course it’s important to exert the control we have, but a lot of times, the behavior of “not getting angry” doesn’t mean you don’t feel anger, it means you do what you can to not make the anger you feel a priority. Our control over our emotions is not too different from our control over our pain – not a matter of straightforward choice, but habits indirectly established.

    I could have wept at the clarity of his logic. Zeno would be proud.

    That young man did what so many of us simply cannot: he clearly stated that language is good for describing reality, but it cannot create reality. Our cultural failure to make this distinction has cost us dearly, mostly because of the radical left’s willingness to use the slippery relationship between language and reality to their benefit.

    Language creates models of reality (it’s not the only thing that does, thankfully, but humans are by and large narrative creatures). We can’t directly perceive reality itself, only our models of it, and very often, it’s practical to treat these models as if they were reality.

    It may not be virtuous for leftists to exploit this, but it is practical.

    • #3
    • March 25, 2018 at 9:06 pm
    • 6 likes
  4. Thatcher

    M. Brandon Godbey:
    “social justice”, a word phrase that literally means whatever the hell you want it to mean.

    “assault weapons”. The fact that the term has no concrete meaning is a benefit, not a hindrance, to the left.

    Two new additions to the Lexicon.

    • #4
    • March 26, 2018 at 2:52 am
    • 1 like
  5. Reagan
    iWe

    M. Brandon Godbey: he clearly stated that language is good for describing reality, but it cannot create reality.

    I disagree most strenuously. A glass that is half full or half empty can also accurately be described as a projectile weapon or a watering hole for voles. It can be described in an infinite number of ways, each of which is “true”. But the amazing thing is that the language we use to describe the glass most directly leads to our decision of what to do with it. If we call it a weapon, we are more likely to throw it. If we call it a glass of water, we are more likely to drink it.

    G-d made the world with words, and our creative reflection of that divinely-infused power is that our words, too, are often the most powerful tool we have – a tool that changes and shapes all that we know and understand.

    In every way that we can measure, words do create. If we call someone smart or stupid or beautiful or ugly, we change our perceptions and the perceptions of all who have heard our words. If we declare that today is a holy Sabbath, then it becomes a Sabbath for us, even if we are on a desert island and lost track of time.

    Underlying physical “reality” is the least important, useful or interesting facet of the world. It is instead the ephemeral tools of language, merest wisps of physical reality, that create the reality that matters most profoundly to mankind. Ideas, concepts, ideals, and even logic itself has little or no physical component. It is our language and words that give ideas their existence, and the spread of these ideas that make them powerful.

     

    • #5
    • March 26, 2018 at 4:22 am
    • 7 likes
  6. Moderator
    She

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    Language creates models of reality (it’s not the only thing that does, thankfully, but humans are by and large narrative creatures). We can’t directly perceive reality itself, only our models of it, and very often, it’s practical to treat these models as if they were reality.

    OK, I’m going to use some language here to create a model of reality as I believe it exists in my house:

    Over the past couple of years, I’ve done some work on the electrical circuits in my home, and some of that work has been inside the main breaker box where the electrical service comes into the house.

    Now, although I can flip the big switch that turns off power to the dozen or so circuits which reside in this box, and I can then work safely on each one of them, I cannot turn off the power running through the more massive wires coming from the telephone pole, under the driveway, up the outside wall, through the meter, and into the house. Only the electric company can do that. So, in the top third of the box, our 220-volt service from the electric company is always live. And a length of those wires is uninsulated, exposed, hot, metal.

    This makes me very nervous, because my perception of the reality here has always been that if I accidentally touch those wires, or drop a screw which allows a bridge to form across them, that will probably be the last thing I do in this world. So I’m very careful. Because it’s hard for me to believe that the model of reality I’ve just described doesn’t describe, well, reality. Somewhat in the manner of the model of reality that I describe when I say that if I leave my hand on a red-hot burner on my stove top for more than a nanosecond, I’m going to end up with a terrible injury. I’ve always thought believing that I was somehow specially exempted from the laws of nature indicated an unholy degree of hubris, and a denial of, well, again, reality.

    But, I’m reassured after reading your comment. And I’m thinking that all I need to do is perceive a different model of reality here, and perhaps all these problems I’ve been manufacturing for myself all my life will go away.

    Now, there are things that are arguable, and about which we can create models in our head, for which we can say we each have our own different “truth,” that there are “two sides” to, and that there is some ambiguity over. We may say that we are modeling reality, and that we like to treat our models as if they are reality itself.

    But, sooner or later, the real thing has a nasty habit of showing up, and it’s best to be prepared for when it does.

    • #6
    • March 26, 2018 at 4:25 am
    • 12 likes
  7. Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    We choose what to do with our emotions, but there’s considerable evidence we don’t get to choose our perceptions, including the emotional ones.

    This is of course the Determinist view of things. I adhere strongly to the belief that we are Volitional and therefore, respectfully disagree. I believe Determinism can lead only to the complete lack of personal responsibility for one’s actions if followed to it’s logical conclusion and is the root of much of the disastrously inappropriate action in our ‘Justice’ system today. 
    It has a certain appeal to many as it obviously diminishes responsibility for reactions to unpleasant circumstances, however if followed to its logical end, it erodes civilization to a degree that becomes unsustainable IMO. 
    I do not wish to be understood to say that positive reactions are always appropriate; if circumstances are sufficiently adverse it is reasonable to work to mitigate them to the degree possible, either by self-correcting, removing oneself from a situation or even seeking to affect the behavior of others as much as is possible and appropriate. But sometimes accepting the limits of what one can accomplish and either learning how to co-exist or maybe avoid a bad situation or person(s) becomes the best that can be had. In that case, it is no longer wise to dwell on the anger which may have been an appropriate response during an earlier phase as that will only eat away whatever ‘happiness’ or equilibrium could be had absent an unnecessary focus on one’s angst. 
    At every stage, each response is fully within the control of the responder and as such is the responsibility of each. You cannot ‘make me mad’. You can only seek to provoke me, how I respond is within my power to choose. I do, however become extremely unpleasant if/when I so choose, so I usually choose to see the humor in most situations, it’s just better for my own well-being, I’ve found. My humor has more often diffused a bad situation than not which is the third reason I use it, after 1) entertainment of self and others and 2) seeking to diffuse the hurtful impact of making a point. 
    It has been my observation that those who believe their emotions are outside of their own cognition have much shorter fuses that those who believe otherwise. A completely understandable outcome, I think. 
    I don’t say any of this to denigrate emotions, I like emotions, usually. I just think they make poor cognitive tools and often get in the way of presenting reasoned arguments. 

    • #7
    • March 26, 2018 at 4:32 am
    • 4 likes
  8. Reagan
    iWe

    She (View Comment):
    Because it’s hard for me to believe that the model of reality I’ve just described doesn’t describe, well, reality.

    What you have described is utilitarian “reality” – the same thing that engineers use to make useful machines that work. It matters not one whit whether or not the underlying physics understanding, what platonic philosophers would call “Reality” is correct or not.

    Similarly, it does not matter if the earth rotates around the earth or the other way around. From a practical perspective, we can describe the center of the world to be at any point in the universe – and the math can use that center to make accurate predictions.

    Hens in a chicken coop establish a pecking order, and the lowest hen often is so convinced by the perceptions the other chickens have, that she ends up pecking herself.

    My point is that once we have established what is usefully true, the rest is perception.

    • #8
    • March 26, 2018 at 5:26 am
    • 2 likes
  9. Moderator
    She

    iWe (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):
    Because it’s hard for me to believe that the model of reality I’ve just described doesn’t describe, well, reality.

    What you have described is utilitarian “reality” – the same thing that engineers use to make useful machines that work. It matters not one whit whether or not the underlying physics understanding, what platonic philosophers would call “Reality” is correct or not.

    Similarly, it does not matter if the earth rotates around the earth or the other way around. From a practical perspective, we can describe the center of the world to be at any point in the universe – and the math can use that center to make accurate predictions.

    Hens in a chicken coop establish a pecking order, and the lowest hen often is so convinced by the perceptions the other chickens have, that she ends up pecking herself.

    My point is that once we have established what is usefully true, the rest is perception.

    I would agree that, other than what is actually true, the rest is perception. But my “slider” indicating where that boundary is may be in a different place than it is for others. That’s my perception, anyway.

    Hens in a chicken coop establish a pecking order, and the lowest hen often is so convinced by the perceptions the other chickens have, that she ends up pecking herself.

    Well, I suppose that’s one way to look at it. Not having intimate knowledge of the hen brain, though, I’m not sure that’s actually true. The idea that she was capable of ratiocinating her way to her humiliation and self-harming activity seems a bit of a stretch to me. But then, I think it’s a bit of a stretch when a human being imagines himself to be at the bottom of the some sort of pecking order and resorts to the same sort of behavior. Cannot help thinking that there is something else going on besides rational thought when that happens.

    I guess I’m generally in favor of “perception” as long as it is rational, sane, and, well, generally true.

    • #9
    • March 26, 2018 at 5:49 am
    • 2 likes
  10. Moderator

    OkieSailor (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    We choose what to do with our emotions, but there’s considerable evidence we don’t get to choose our perceptions, including the emotional ones.

    This is of course the Determinist view of things.

    No, no it is not. You took my words out of context, @okiesailor: please reread what I actually said:

    I said we choose what to do with our emotions, which is volitional. Quoting myself,

    We choose what to do with our emotions, but there’s considerable evidence we don’t get to choose our perceptions, including the emotional ones. Of course it’s important to exert the control we have, but a lot of times, the behavior of “not getting angry” doesn’t mean you don’t feel anger, it means you do what you can to not make the anger you feel a priority. Our control over our emotions is not too different from our control over our pain – not a matter of straightforward choice, but habits indirectly established.

    There, does that clear things up?

    It has been my observation that those who believe their emotions are outside of their own cognition have much shorter fuses that those who believe otherwise. A completely understandable outcome, I think.

    And in order to earn a longer fuse for myself, I had to learn that my emotions aren’t completely volitional.

    I never had a particularly short fuse, actually, but it tended to get short in certain physical states. Learning that, during these states, I’m simply going to have useless emotions, that trying to get rid of them is a waste of energy, and I’m better off accepting them because acceptance actually makes ignoring them easier, has been important to my keeping a long fuse (some would say my fuse is too long, but that’s a story for another time).

    • #10
    • March 26, 2018 at 5:57 am
    • 2 likes
  11. Member

    iWe (View Comment):
    My point is that once we have established what is usefully true, the rest is perception.

    And whether we like it or not, in many instances in life, and for all practical purposes, perception is reality. How others perceive us, whether accurately or not, determines how they deal with us (and vice versa).

    This is a thought-provoking post. I would love to know more about @mbrandongodbey ‘s class. (A High School English class where kids are encouraged to think for themselves? – What a concept.)

    The primary point made is one I think we all can agree with: The Left controls the language in this country and they wield it to do considerable damage and little good. 

     

    • #11
    • March 26, 2018 at 6:11 am
    • 7 likes
  12. Moderator

    She (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    Language creates models of reality (it’s not the only thing that does, thankfully, but humans are by and large narrative creatures). We can’t directly perceive reality itself, only our models of it, and very often, it’s practical to treat these models as if they were reality.

    OK, I’m going to use some language here to create a model of reality as I believe it exists in my house:

    Perhaps what I mean by “model of reality” might be clearer if I use as an example the most pervasive non-linguistic model of reality healthy humans typically experience:

    The human visual system.

    Our visual system is adapted to give us a useful model of the world, rather than see what is “really there”. For that reason, there are all sorts of subtle effects we “see” which a camera (or any device which simply registered photons rather than trying to impose a top-down model on them) doesn’t (these days, you can program a camera to impose certain top-down models during photography, like facial recognition, so even cameras aren’t, strictly speaking, immune).

    Our visual system is generally a reliable-enough model that we can usually assume that “seeing is believing”, and treat what we see as if it were “really there”. Optical illusions, though, are evidence of our visual system’s modeling power, of the fact that what we see isn’t just the photons hitting our retina, but our brain imposing top-down models on the information it receives from our eyes.

    Our hearing system is susceptible to some auditory illusions for the same reason. All perception is a “handshake” between bottom-up sensory input and our brain’s top-down models, in fact.

    • #12
    • March 26, 2018 at 6:19 am
    • 1 like
  13. Moderator
    She

    Songwriter (View Comment):

    And whether we like it or not, in many instances in life, and for all practical purposes, perception is reality.

    I agree that perception is often perceived as reality; however, I think surrendering one’s own rational sense to this point of view is damaging and counterproductive. Perception is not reality.

    People who are called “perceptive” are generally held to have extraordinary understanding and insight, and, I would suggest, a greater hold on reality than those who lack the quality. 

    But, in this day and age, “perception,” I think, has come to mean “any thought that flies through my brain, no matter how undistinguished. unworthy, or ridiculous.” Thus, we have white people who perceive themselves as black, men who perceive that they are women, adults who perceive themselves as children, and young people who perception is that they have acquired the wisdom of the ages overnight. 

    And, for every one of these ridiculous “perceptions,” I can show you instances of the world acquiescing to, and abetting, the absurd, and sometimes lunatical perception these people have of their own reality. Responding to “perception” as if it’s “reality” is not necessarily a good thing, and it shouldn’t be encouraged as a matter of course just because “that’s the way things are.”

     

    • #13
    • March 26, 2018 at 6:32 am
    • 1 like
  14. Moderator

    She (View Comment):

     

    Hens in a chicken coop establish a pecking order, and the lowest hen often is so convinced by the perceptions the other chickens have, that she ends up pecking herself.

    Well, I suppose that’s one way to look at it. Not having intimate knowledge of the hen brain, though, I’m not sure that’s actually true. The idea that she was capable of ratiocinating her way to her humiliation and self-harming activity seems a bit of a stretch to me. But then, I think it’s a bit of a stretch when a human being imagines himself to be at the bottom of the some sort of pecking order and resorts to the same sort of behavior. Cannot help thinking that there is something else going on besides rational thought when that happens.

    What you’re saying, then, is that a person stuck in such perceptions ought to think to himself,

    She (View Comment):
    And I’m thinking that all I need to do is perceive a different model of reality here, and perhaps all these problems I’ve been manufacturing for myself all my life will go away.

    We all recognize the power of perception when perception goes awry: all people tend to agree that bad perception is, in fact, perception rather than reality. Well, so is good perception. It’s just that when perception is good, we can treat perception as if it were reality.

    • #14
    • March 26, 2018 at 6:36 am
    • 1 like
  15. Moderator

    There is no such thing as escape from our mental models, just better and worse models.

    • #15
    • March 26, 2018 at 6:38 am
    • 5 likes
  16. Moderator
    She

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    Language creates models of reality (it’s not the only thing that does, thankfully, but humans are by and large narrative creatures). We can’t directly perceive reality itself, only our models of it, and very often, it’s practical to treat these models as if they were reality.

    OK, I’m going to use some language here to create a model of reality as I believe it exists in my house:

    Perhaps what I mean by “model of reality” might be clearer if I use as an example the most pervasive non-linguistic model of reality healthy humans typically experience:

    The human visual system.

    Our visual system is adapted to give us a useful model of the world, rather than see what is “really there”. For that reason, there are all sorts of subtle effects we “see” which a camera (or any device which simply registered photons rather than trying to impose a top-down model on them) doesn’t (these days, you can program a camera to impose certain top-down models during photography, like facial recognition, so even cameras aren’t, strictly speaking, immune).

    Our visual system is generally a reliable-enough model that we can usually assume that “seeing is believing”, and treat what we see as if it were “really there”. Optical illusions, though, are evidence of our visual system’s modeling power, of the fact that what we see isn’t just the photons hitting our retina, but our brain imposing top-down models on the information it receives from our eyes.

    Our hearing system is susceptible to some auditory illusions for the same reason. All perception is a “handshake” between bottom-up sensory input and our brain’s top-down models, in fact.

    Yes, the human brain (and any brain, really) is a marvelous organ, and it is interesting, instructive, and enlightening to ponder its capabilities and its occasional tricksiness. Sometimes, though, the realities and urgencies of life get in the way, and it is, in my humble opinion, best just to get on with it (life), even when, perhaps, one does not have all the information, or sometimes the ability, to intellectualize and parse everything out first. In that case, its helpful to have a pretty good sense of what’s “real” and what isn’t, as a touchstone before one touches the hot wire.

    • #16
    • March 26, 2018 at 6:42 am
    • Like
  17. Moderator

    She (View Comment):
    Sometimes, though, the realities and urgencies of life get in the way, and it is, in my humble opinion, best just to get on with it (life), even when, perhaps, one does not have all the information, or sometimes the ability, to intellectualize and parse everything out first. In that case, its helpful to have a pretty good sense of what’s “real” and what isn’t,

    As far as I can tell, my statement

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    We can’t directly perceive reality itself, only our models of it, and very often, it’s practical to treat these models as if they were reality.

    agrees with what you say:

    “best just to get on with it (life), even when, perhaps, one does not have all the information, or sometimes the ability, to intellectualize and parse everything out first” describes exactly the process of treating our models as if they were reality just to get on with things.

     

    • #17
    • March 26, 2018 at 7:12 am
    • Like
  18. Reagan
    iWe

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    Our visual system is adapted to give us a useful model of the world, rather than see what is “really there”.

    And if you check more closely, 99% of space is empty even if you see a table, and one is there for all practical purposes. Yet it is almost-entirely empty space.

    What is the signal and what is the noise? That depends on your perceptions, and the extent to which you consciously manipulate them.

    • #18
    • March 26, 2018 at 7:30 am
    • 1 like
  19. Member

    iWe (View Comment):
    Hens in a chicken coop establish a pecking order, and the lowest hen often is so convinced by the perceptions the other chickens have, that she ends up pecking herself.

    I didn’t know that. Gotta a study or two that shows that result.

    • #19
    • March 26, 2018 at 7:42 am
    • Like
  20. Reagan
    iWe

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):
    Hens in a chicken coop establish a pecking order, and the lowest hen often is so convinced by the perceptions the other chickens have, that she ends up pecking herself.

    I didn’t know that. Gotta a study or two that shows that result.

    I used to keep chickens. I watched it happen many times.

    • #20
    • March 26, 2018 at 7:57 am
    • 1 like
  21. Member

    iWe (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):
    Hens in a chicken coop establish a pecking order, and the lowest hen often is so convinced by the perceptions the other chickens have, that she ends up pecking herself.

    I didn’t know that. Gotta a study or two that shows that result.

    I used to keep chickens. I watched it happen many times.

    I used to keep chickens, too, and observed lots of dominance hierarchy behaviors. But sometimes I miss things. This wouldn’t be the first time.

    • #21
    • March 26, 2018 at 8:00 am
    • Like
  22. Member

    She (View Comment):
    But, in this day and age, “perception,” I think, has come to mean “any thought that flies through my brain, no matter how undistinguished. unworthy, or ridiculous.” Thus, we have white people who perceive themselves as black, men who perceive that they are women, adults who perceive themselves as children, and young people who perception is that they have acquired the wisdom of the ages overnight. 

    Great point.

    • #22
    • March 26, 2018 at 10:16 am
    • 1 like
  23. Thatcher

    Mr. Godbey,

    What you are accurately describing is a very serious issue to me. To describe how I feel about this let me make an analogy. Let us assume that the good enlightenment values of our constitution to be a wall against the true totalitarian barbarians like the Marxists and the Fascists. It turns out that our wall is very sturdy. It is easily the match for these kinds of blatant troublemakers. Their propaganda falls flat when people realize that they are amoral ruthless power-mad tyrants. Yet, how did they gain so much success in the first half of the 20th century and are still a menace even into the 21st century?

    Nihilism is like the enemy that tunnels under our wall defending us against the totalitarian. It undermines the wall’s great strength until it collapses. This can happen quickly but usually, it is a slow process. We often aren’t aware of this steady degradation of our defenses until it is too late. As the 19th century became the 20th century a wave of nihilistic philosophies took hold at the highest levels of Western society. Very rapidly they undermined confidence in liberal (classical liberal) institutions. I have often felt that WWI and the Armenian genocide were the first results of this nihilistic wave. However, our intellectual elites were still in denial in the 1920s and 1930s, and an even worse result occurs as our defensive wall was completely undermined leading to WWII and the Holocaust.

    I have often identified myself as a proponent of Kantian philosophy here on Ricochet. One of the most important reasons for this is that this kind of philosophy is an antidote to the pure nihilism that is so pervasive in today’s intellectual environment. Far from rigid, Kant identified a process when it came to doubt. At first, we are all dogmatists naively believing too literally. Next, we enter a skeptical phase where everything is questioned. Finally, we are ready for the critical phase. Having tested our beliefs with doubt we are ready to affirm the rock-solid fundamental beliefs that we will not yield from. Nihilism could be considered a case of arrested development where the person is perpetually hung up on skepticism.

    Thank you very much for this post.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #23
    • March 26, 2018 at 11:08 am
    • 4 likes
  24. Member
    M. Brandon Godbey Post author

    Songwriter (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):

    This is a thought-provoking post. I would love to know more about @mbrandongodbey ‘s class. (A High School English class where kids are encouraged to think for themselves? – What a concept.)

    I teach Introduction to Literature (ENG 161) and Rhetoric I & II (ENG 101 & 102). My school is a small high school in western Kentucky. It’s an excellent school, but we have our challenges. Around 2/3 of our kids live below the poverty line, and most of them are in government housing. Modern educational demographics tell us that poor kids are doomed to mediocrity–or worse. Our kids are the exception to that rule, often outperforming schools with far more resources. (Last year, for instance, we were ranked 7th out of 350 Kentucky schools in writing).

    If you want to know what its like in my class, look no further than our classroom principles:

    1. Treat all individuals with the dignity and respect afforded a fellow human being.
    2. Approach every challenge with the attitude of an individual prepared for success.
    3. Seek answers with curiosity and courage.
    4. Defend your ideas and values with imagination, intelligence, and grace.
    5. Respect your own ability, creativity, and capacity to learn.

    In my room, we value critical thinking and personal responsibility. I try to present a wide array of ideas to my kids and ask them to defend or rebuke these ideas. We use literature, art, technology, philosophy, and non-fiction to present these ideas. The goal is to get kids to engage the world with open eyes and an open mind. I think it is my duty to teach kids how to think, not what to think, so I encourage kids to defend their ideas, and I teach them the rhetorical skills to do so.

    I also teach kids to examine, even admire the way great writers present ideas. We study the great non-fiction writers of today and yesterday, trying to see how they construct arguments and turn phrases. For what it’s worth, my kids always seem to love the writing of Kevin D. Williamson (we read “The White Ghetto”, among other things). I’ll be the first one to tell you that, as a teacher, I’m spoiled. I have great kids that are willing to learn and put up with a guy who loses his mind every time someone begins a sentence with a pronoun. :)

    • #24
    • March 26, 2018 at 12:02 pm
    • 7 likes
  25. Member
    M. Brandon Godbey Post author

    iWe (View Comment):

    M. Brandon Godbey: he clearly stated that language is good for describing reality, but it cannot create reality.

    I disagree most strenuously. A glass that is half full or half empty can also accurately be described as a projectile weapon or a watering hole for voles. It can be described in an infinite number of ways, each of which is “true”. But the amazing thing is that the language we use to describe the glass most directly leads to our decision of what to do with it. If we call it a weapon, we are more likely to throw it. If we call it a glass of water, we are more likely to drink it. . .

    In every way that we can measure, words do create. If we call someone smart or stupid or beautiful or ugly, we change our perceptions and the perceptions of all who have heard our words. If we declare that today is a holy Sabbath, then it becomes a Sabbath for us, even if we are on a desert island and lost track of time.

    Underlying physical “reality” is the least important, useful or interesting facet of the world. It is instead the ephemeral tools of language, merest wisps of physical reality, that create the reality that matters most profoundly to mankind. Ideas, concepts, ideals, and even logic itself has little or no physical component. It is our language and words that give ideas their existence, and the spread of these ideas that make them powerful.

     

    You are correct that the glass of water can be described and used in a myriad of ways, but I posit that no matter what we call it or what we do with it, the glass of water does not change–our behaviors toward the glass of water change. What we call something (and what we do with that something) are indicators of how we change, not the object in question. You said it yourself: “. . .we change our perceptions and the perceptions of all who have heard our words.” You are correct, the change is in our perceptions; the object perceived, however, does not change.

    You are correct in your assertion that physical reality isn’t very interesting. It is, however, extremely important as a basis for rhetoric. Once you concede that reality is just a plaything to be manipulated by the silver-tongued, the horse is out of the barn. You have officially lost your foothold on physical existence.

     

    • #25
    • March 26, 2018 at 12:21 pm
    • 5 likes
  26. Moderator

    M. Brandon Godbey (View Comment):
    You are correct that the glass of water can be described and used in a myriad of ways, but I posit that no matter what we call it or what we do with it, the glass of water does not change–our behaviors toward the glass of water change. What we call something (and what we do with that something) are indicators of how we change, not the object in question.

    What you said in your original essay, though, was,

    M. Brandon Godbey: That young man did what so many of us simply cannot: he clearly stated that language is good for describing reality, but it cannot create reality.

    Alas, human behavior is part of reality, so, while the glass may not change, when the behavior of humans toward the glass changes, reality does change.

    • #26
    • March 26, 2018 at 12:55 pm
    • Like
  27. Moderator

    M. Brandon Godbey (View Comment):
    You are correct in your assertion that physical reality isn’t very interesting. It is, however, extremely important as a basis for rhetoric.

    I would like to think physical reality could be interesting in its own right, irrespective of how it might be exploited for rhetoric.

    • #27
    • March 26, 2018 at 12:57 pm
    • Like
  28. Thatcher

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    M. Brandon Godbey (View Comment):
    You are correct in your assertion that physical reality isn’t very interesting. It is, however, extremely important as a basis for rhetoric.

    I would like to think physical reality could be interesting in its own right, irrespective of how it might be exploited for rhetoric.

    Midge,

    Agreed.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #28
    • March 26, 2018 at 12:59 pm
    • Like
  29. Coolidge

    The linguistic mind shuffle is a tactic utilized by both sides. The word “Patriotism” is used by those on the Right to justify endless wars where there is not a single game plan for winning. But lo be tide the politician that ever suggests that there should be even a tiny limit to today’s massive current day spending on the nation’s defense. Many of those inside the corporate board rooms of the Defense Industry who have been utilizing this word have no ability whatsoever to actually do anything patriotic. When it came to Vietnam, their offspring went to the Ivy league, while the offspring of normal folks went off to serve in the rice paddies of Vietnam. These days, defense expendiures focus on bits, bytes and programming, so while we are spared the $ 640 toilet seat and the eighteen bolts for $ 4,000, we are paying for computer programs that do God knows what. Plus we probably wouldn’t sleep at night if we knew how far removed the programming is from the intended purpose. (Shades of the recent Uber death come to mind, except on a larger and more drone-like application.)

    Current day use of this mind shuffle offers us such expressions as “Dreamers.” For those of us who thought the expression “Save the Children” would now only be used in film parodies, it seems another epidemic of this expression’s over use is upon us. (Well, at least until the gubment has all the guns.)

    And it is very true that social justice has no specific meaning. Nor has it any limits. Which is why dogs and cats inside rescue kennels in Los Angeles area are fed vegan diets.

    • #29
    • March 26, 2018 at 3:27 pm
    • 1 like
  30. Coolidge

    M. Brandon Godbey (View Comment):
    M. Brandon Godbey Post author

    Songwriter (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):

    This is a thought-provoking post. I would love to know more about @mbrandongodbey ‘s class. (A High School English class where kids are encouraged to think for themselves? – What a concept.)

    I teach Introduction to Literature (ENG 161) and Rhetoric I & II (ENG 101 & 102). My school is a small high school in western Kentucky…

    My reaction to your comment is to hit the ‘Like’ button 50 or more times!!! Thank you for your entire piece (another 100 likes). After reading it, I looked up Sorelianism and spent the next hour or so moving from there to syndicalists to Nietzsche to libertarian socialism… Quite a trip through history. Thanks again

    • #30
    • March 26, 2018 at 6:07 pm
    • 1 like
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