Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Pretend Words

"The community ... the community ..." the newscaster keeps saying. What are they talking about?
I lived in a sort of community as a kid, I attended temporary sorts of communities at church camp, I was transplanted to a sort of community when I went to college, but then I was removed from community by the army: and have never lived in anything I'd agree was a community since.

"Community ... community." The newscaster is reading a script from Tampa. Are there any communities in Tampa? of the kind I grew up in? Perhaps, but I bet fewer and fewer, less and less: just as I bet any caveman, any peasant ripped from 12th-century France or the mountains of Cambodia a century ago, would have difficulty seeing what I thought was community in my Rockville Centre of the 1940s.

If we say "tree" we've communicated a class of thing to a number of people, without misleading anyone, even if someone might argue that the particular tree indicated is actually a shrub. If we're French, or Cambodian, or a caveman, it's pronounced differently. I'm not talking about language differences, words. The caveman would have the concept "tree" whether he called it tree, arbre, or iboo. If he was pre-linguistic, or post- but mute, he's still have the concept "tree": even if he's an Eskimo, lives on the ice, can't think when he last saw a tree.
And, he'd have the concept community. So does modern man: as we live in the thing less and less.

Everything becomes clearer if we realize how many of our words serve pretending rather than observing. If democracy were defined, clearly and simply, how many Martians freshly arriving from Mars for the first time would find that democracy fits the United States? If education were clearly and simply defined, how many Martians would imagine that that's what our schools are supposed to be for? If Christianity were clearly and simply defined, would any newbie from the Deneb star system guess that any member of your church was supposed to be a Christian?

First we cut down the forests, then we hang a woodland scene over the couch. First we kill the natives - human, animal, vegetable - and replace them with Eurasian types, cows for bison, Scots-Irish for Mohawk ... Then we make movies about noble savages.

There would be few humans alive if we hadn't learned to cooperate more often than to not cooperate and to learn it a long time ago. But the societies that invented literacy and wrote the books taught competition over cooperation, trying to rearrange us: succeeding. But we miss our real selves: and so we invent fantasies of love and charity. but they are not descriptions. Neither are they accurate labels. They're fantasies.

Some are wishful. Others are flagrant lies. Stalin's Communism was a flagrant lie.

Keep this in mind when you listen to our news. "There was a fire on Elm Street." I bet that's factual: whether or not there's a single Elm on Elm Street: that's still its name. But when the talk is about "leaders," or "charity," or "entertainment," or "teachers," or "heroes" ... Watch out.I scribbled this here but intend it for Knatz.com's Society section, subsection Reality. Additions and corrections will go there.

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