Friday, December 20, 2019

#354 / False Equivalencies

I continue to have problems with the word "is," as that word is often used in social, political, and economic commentary. Linguistically speaking, the word "is" identifies an "equality" of some kind, often by way of an identification of an essential characteristic, or a description of a reality that brooks no contradiction. For instance: 

  • He is a man. Or, she is a woman.
  • He is selfish.
  • Our economy is fundamentally oligarchic.

It is impossible to function without a word that tells what is real (and that, therefore, alerts us to what is not). The statements above, as examples of how "is" is often used, can help steer us towards an understanding of what is "real" and "true." However, these statements (again as examples of many similar ones) are far from determinative. 

Walt Whitman would have understood, perfectly, for instance, modern discussions of gender identity - to pick out the first of my examples. As Whitman tells us, in his famous stanza from Song of Myself

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

When the word "is" is taken to articulate an uncontradicted reality, and thus to state an equivalency that we are asked to accept as the entire truth, the word "is" is almost always betraying us. 

Not only do we, and all things, "contain multitudes," including contrdictions that are essential to whatever actually "is," it is also true that what exists now, and what "is," in this exact moment, is not what will exist after we act, after we do some new thing that can change the world. 

That, particularly, is where I continue to have lots of problems with the word "is." Just because we can, with some significant precision, discover and describe what "is," right now, we often fool ourselves into thinking that this current reality states accurately what "is," inevitably, and that when something "is," right now, we know from that fact what will always and inevitably be the case. 

That is not true, however, because we each possess the gift of human freedom, and that means that we can create, as if by conjuration, something totally new, something never known or seen before. 

Ojal√° that we not forget this! On this truth hangs the fate of our human civilization.

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