Words Like Water…

Where is Truth?

FCC Thomfollery 2“Free market” is an idea often associated with labels like “Libertarians” and “Republicans”. However, thinking rationally about the concept (rather than merely reacting to it) should cause no one to grab up the children and head for shelter when such ideas are floated within public discourse. Trading freely represents an extension of the same freedom most of us want to believe in (if only for ourselves…and maybe for our loved ones). But do these notions about “free” this and “free” that actually present true freedom or something else?

There has been much talk (by Ajit Pai—Chair of the Federal Communication Commission-FCC—along with others) in the last year or so regarding notions about a “free Internet” coupled with those same voices advocating the abolition of net neutrality rules.  The freedom proposed by Mr. Pai and others translates to proposals that suggest “businesses” should be free to conduct themselves on the Internet in a free fashion, in accordance with a truly free market.  Many (this site among them) questioned what this corporate-tinted “free” Internet notion is meant to achieve. A recent court ruling has shed further light on this issue regarding just who this so-called “free market” is actually serving and just how this notion of the “free market” is being defined by both the FCC and the U.S. judicial system.

The U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that a given geographic area with only one Internet service provider (ISP) can be considered “competitive”. (Read the full story here).  After reading the article, you might come away aghast at the echoes of Newspeak such legal pronouncements seem to reflect.  Furthermore, apparently certain businesses–along with the rest of us–are not liking what the FCC and the courts are doing.   Of course, nothing is ever that straight forward…not usually.  It is possible that a ruling like the one mentioned above might be grounded in more than just politics (which is not to say that the decision was not driven by politics or ideology).

blind-justice-NOT BIGIf you have ever served on a jury, you will understand that what appears on the surface to be “true” is not always the case once all the details are understood, misconstrued and once the letter of the law is applied to the situation (which is to say once the judge clarifies the nature of “the law” which generates the rationale and requirements for and the limits of the court decision).  Even certain resistance to net neutrality itself can be supported when approached from a certain logical perspective. The problem is that all these possibilities are based in what might be called “purist” notions of the verbal structures that represent them. The idea of a “free market”, while a reasonable, even desirable ideal falls far short of its base concept when the machinations of businesses and corporations “interpret” rules and deftly navigate through judicial loop holes that create markets that are anything but free. One could convincingly argue that the apparent intent of the FCC is to create as much freedom within the structure of the Internet in order to give large telecom companies the greatest degree of flexibility to pursue their profit-driven interests.  Free market? Free Internet?  What do those words even mean?

Beyond Words

Consider this issue from a much broader and more philosophically profound point of view. Where is the truth in the verbal darts we hurl into public discourse—darts designed to maim and kill (or at least shame and denigrate) our “opponents”? Where is the truth in those honeypots of rhetorical deception used against us—lures designed to draw our opinions toward support of ideas laced with so much poison we would never support them if we understood their true intent?  With so much at stake in the current age, particularly in the United States, can we continue to be so lax in our use and endurance of verbal utterances which fail miserably as tokens of “truth”?

word meaningUsing words as stand-ins for truth is like substituting water for chocolate**. The valuable substance we seek is not only poorly represented, but, in large measure, absent altogether if not turned on its head. Hearing, perceiving, recognizing and understanding words requires considerably more work than assuming we understand the verbal utterance of a speaker or a proposal. Getting “chocolate” so to speak is our responsibility.  While a degree of honest rhetoric might be an ideal we hope for and even expect, arriving at “truth”, particularly in this current dispensation of ideological distortion must be an instance by instance work in progress. We must be diligent to understand what we are hearing and act on that understanding.  Similarly, we must be ever mindful that the words we use can go astray in the best of circumstance.   Not easy tasks, for sure.  Not easy, but required.

However, such diligence is only required if we are actually seeking truth.  If our goal is not at all truth but a narrowly defined set of intentions, words can “mean” anything we choose as long as they paint the appropriate Machiavellian portrait of ourselves in which we desire to revel. On the one hand, behaving in such a manner, we become egocentric predators who seek to prey on anyone gullible enough to “bend the knee” to our ideas and intentions.  On the other hand, in the passive version of this aggressive perspective, we become folks of the 99 cent variety—folks easily taken in by the assumption that 99 cents is significantly less than one dollar, those who accept lies as commonplace, those easily swayed by surface value expressions, who seek the ease and simplicity of the lie over the complex demands of active, conscious apprehension of truth. Most of us recognize those folks…and they mostly be us.

Believing thus, words and phrases like “free market”, “competition”, “free Internet”, and, even “freedom” can come to mean whatever manner of illusion we have been told they mean. When we find ourselves in a situation in which words are turned into lies—lies which find utterance by merely speaking the words—our ability to communicate not only suffers but runs the risk of disappearing entirely. Instead of taking any given word and infusing it with an excess of ideological content, we should be moving in the opposite direction.  We should be looking deeper into the more profound significance of the words we use and how they illuminate (rather than obfuscate) the nature of the reality we share.

By Any Other Name

youequallove logoIn the early 2000’s, we had the privilege of working with a pioneer in the realm of grass roots transformative language use.  T. Klinkhamer, a brilliant language theorist proposed that many if not all of our current disagreements can be traced to our misunderstandings of the true meaning of words (and our continual misuse of them).  Advocating the development of more fundamental means of communication based on more ancient (which, in this context infer more “holistic”) definitions of words and their “meanings” Ms. Klinkhamer undertook a multi-year study of ancient languages, tracing their roots to modern languages. The organizational result of these proposals has become youequallove.org. This organization seeks to promote mutually positive behavior toward one another, especially among children. If we can build a more “wholesome” understanding of reality—a more inclusive understanding of ourselves (like chocolate?)—and to instill that level of holism into the minds of children, we can eventually transcend our tendencies to undo ourselves. Language and our use/abuse of it is a place to start.

EveryDayLife can be a struggle to survive an incessant onslaught of uncertainty.  But EveryDayLife can also become an ever present quest for deeper understanding, not just of words but of the nature of communication between us and between ourselves and the reality we create daily. Truth-seeking communication which works at choosing words and fashioning meaning can be a magic elixir of healing and illumination, particularly when liberally applied.  Rather than assumption or even condemnation, a simple phrase like “what do you mean by that?” followed by a willingness to listen—really listen—can make the difference between a brief encounter with an apparent adversary and a heuristic, if momentary, encounter with a potential ally.  Taking the time to listen, we sometimes meet (and can respond to) the actually person behind the words we hear. Magic is everywhere we make it.

**This phrase is drawn from the Laura Esquivel novel and subsequent award-winning Mexican movie “Like Water for Chocolate” (1992).