Anyone who’s read my blog for the last few months (which i really guess is not so many people) would already be familiar with an old feud, a “two households, both alike in dignity” kind of affair, one of those dichotomies that has been going for a long time now, the clash of
realists VS post-modernists
I will admit that framing the issue like this is somehow biased, as realists in fact fight instrumentalists and post-modernists actually are after modernists. But the enmity is actually the same, in different areas.
But the curious is: they are both just afraid of language.
The realist guys, or the guys i call realists, are the ones who think thought can save us. What exactly they feel it has to save us from varies, mostly according to fashion and context. But anyway, they think there is Truth, it is pointless to wonder about anything that can’t be really directly known, and that even if some parts of our knowledge we take as “relative” those are only important or meaningful because we have a strong core of ideas that are indeed true and trusted.
Thus modernist architects sought mathematical quantities to all aspects of life-inside-buildings and believed architecture could be abridged into a technique of living. Thus rationalist physicists denied all tools that weren’t compatible with any kind of understanding of the world, like the co-existence of probabilities of the proverbial Schrödinger’s cat.
On the other hand, the anti-realists, which lack a name for every name they came up for themselves was so completely ridiculous, they think thought is something cool and sometimes useful but that it is utterly and completely incapable of touching the things that really matter. By that they mean that theories and complex explanation are worthless for the true life of people. They insist that truth is what you feel and live and experience and want and hope for directly.
Thus the architects amongst those guys will hope for collective participation on projects and the physicist amongst them will argue that it is not their job to understand the world but only to work out physics problems — two stances that seem actually opposed, but have in common the denial of the responsibility of the person over his own work!
Now you probably know that i do not side with any of them. More precisely, i think they are both right in their arguments and fundamentally childish in their attitudes.
And what makes me confident about such a harsh statement is their unjustified fear of language.
Realists insist that every idea must be logical, and they never realize that logics on it’s cradle was just a way to cripple language so as to hide it’s ambiguities. It constrains every statement to the form “this contains that, that is contained in this”. It refuses every part of language that is overtly creative and that makes wild connections between concepts and expression — forgetful that language is inherently based on wild connections, that communication is always imperfect and that, being based on inference, language’s value is not it’s precision but it’s richness. The ambiguity remains there.
Post-modernists in their turn use all those criticisms to justify their own fears, and insist that there is some sort of ultimate realm of final reality that is completely beyond language, be it life or feelings or experience or whatever they please at the moment. And, instead of embracing the complexity, they seek this final answer that, while messy, is still simple or simplistic. This life they take for ultimate truth is only another idol, instead of the capacity to act without idols. Another ideology, instead of reacting to your present context.
Needless to say, the word “Truth” in each of those discourses is something completely different. The only thing connecting them is that both ideologies treat something-they-call-Truth as a final arbiter, as a god if you will. It is the thing they believe in. It is the thing they will rest their fate in. And even more dangerous: it is the thing they refuse to let go.
Unhappily for both of them, language can’t work like that. Language can’t work with fixed meanings. «Rose» is a flower and a colour and a metaphor for the futility of names. And it is also a character in Lost that refuses to redshirt. When i say «Truth» i am not invoking a complete meaning that is already established, i am offering something to my listener, and he will infer from that lots of things, amongst them what i wanted to talk about, or at least something close enough, with some luck.
At the end of the day, nothing can save us. Neither the Truth of the realists (something like an ultimate Reality that seemingly has the obligation to remain constant in every point of the universe, though what authority has made it so is unclear), nor the Truth of the post-modernists (something like an ultimate value of experience, though they seem to forget that anything that is to be negotiated is ultimately not-fixed), neither can get rid of the ambiguity of language, and neither can get rid of the ambiguity of the world we live in.
And both have a pathological love for certainties, though they really really believe it is the other side that is refusing to let go of illusions.
I like to call myself a Relativist. But by that i only imply that every idea is negotiable.
You want to tell me that there is no truth? Well, explain what you mean! You are positive that there is truth? Come on, show me what you’ve got!
But let’s be smart about those things. Let’s have good examples. Let’s not take things for granted. Let’s accept when the other person does not think our “obvious” obvious. Let’s deal with ambiguity instead of hiding it.