A Veritable Babel of Babble…………..12/29/2011

December by

Language is such a double-edged sword. It can inform or confuse, clarify or obfuscate. The economic, political, professional and social environments we have created are failing in so many ways to meet our expectations. The gratuitous diversity of their languages plays no small part in this.

The understood objective of each is to meet our needs: Food, shelter, material well-being and personal fulfillment. The latter speaks not just of what come along with intelligence and a capacity for spiritual awareness but of a corresponding need to have both be manifest in our lives if we are to be fully human.

So how are we doing on that count? Does a lifetime of indebtedness serve us well? How about the ever-speedier converting of biological diversity to monoculture, of declining resources to waste, of limited and finite resources to food production for a population that grows seemingly without limit?

How are we doing on the utilization of human resources? How much of a contribution can the poor, the uneducated, the criminalized contribute to their own potential well-being and that of the whole? And what the hell has language, the purported subject of this piece, got to do with all of that.

As far as widely utilizing individual capacity goes we are doing extremely poorly. The only trickle-down effect of a system accommodating self-conceived notions of success on the part of the greedy and arguably sociopathic turns out to be the vast majority, to one extent or another, being pissed on.

Keeping the current systems and values in place, are the language bandits.  Heading them up is the advertising industry, overwhelmingly purveyors of lies, dedicated to generating need (the illusion of it will do) under the guise of seeking to satisfy it.

We’ve just been through Christmas with the usual inverted drivel obligating us, guilting us into a rush of buying to prop up a consumer economy dependent on our capitulation. Theirs is the language of excitement, selling fulfillment by portraying us as unfulfilled.

It’s big annual boost comes from pounding home that dissatisfaction in us, that neediness, at precisely the time of year dedicated in spirit to what we are most justifiably grateful for and satisfied with: family, friends, a level, in the West at least, of material well-being previous generations could have not dreamed of.

I don’t believe for one moment that the majority using or employed in producing advertising are fundamentally morally or ethically bankrupt. The master-manipulators who formed and shaped this industry are a different matter. They have been overwhelmingly successful in co-opting writers, artists, sociologists and psychologists simply by providing them with employment, which our incarnation of civilization fails to. The combination of necessity and on the job training in the creation of illusion makes it inevitable that those employed in this industry will delude themselves as to the value of their work.

One could go on of course, but this is an article not a book. If you need convincing, pull a copy of ‘Toxic Waste is Good For You’ out of the library, hold your nose and read as far as you can stand to. I made it about half way before becoming too nauseated to read further about the extent and depth of the contamination our civilization suffers at the hands of this ‘industry’.

How about economics in our time? Want to know what a derivative is? From the root word ‘derive’ it means simply ‘to take’. It is indeed at heart merely a device for taking money or assets already milked of at least one commission and packaging it with other people’s money or assets to be sold to generate yet another. It does not and never was intended to benefit in any way the providers of the original funds or assets. A derivative is, in that way, a mechanism designed to accommodate and even legitimize breach of trust.

Are you confused by the language of finance and inclined to trust ‘advisors’ to sort it all out for you? Let me suggest this: If the language is confusing it serves only those who can then make an exclusive claim to comprehending it. I put single quotes around ‘industry’ because as currently operating there is nothing industrial about finance, in the sense of producing a reliable, long-lasting, useful end product. Complexity in financial instruments is innately untrustworthy. It should be made illegal.

Remember how grade three girls used to freak us boys out with ‘secret languages’ with which they’d communicate while casting meaningful little glances our way then bursting into giggles. Wall Street, when it comes down to it, are doing some serious giggling these days at the expense of taxpayers and mortgage holders.

This sector is by no means alone in using language to create ‘consumer’ dependence and the status for themselves of sole interpreters. Off the top of my head I can’t think of a profession that does not. Want to read a book that articulates example after example of this? John Ralston Saul’s ‘Voltaire’s Bastards’ might reveal to you not just the author’s in-depth knowledge and understanding of this phenomenon, but your own deep sense of it. It catalyzed this song:

[audio:http://www.johnmarian.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Pulsus-Paradoxus-.mp3|titles=Pulsus Paradoxus]

‘Pulsus’ sprang into existence one evening as the love of my life studied to requalify as a Registered Nurse. Idly picking up one of her texts, I scanned a paragraph or two and came across the phrase ‘pulsus paradoxus.’ The little Latin I knew suggested a definition that a question to my lady pretty-much confirmed. Dance around it merrily listing symptoms, as a medical linguist might, it still simply refers to is a pulse behaving in a way that can’t be explained.

And hey, I’m entirely sympathetic to the profession on this. After all what patient wants to hear their doctor say, “Jeez, what the ‘f……’ is going on here.”

The amazing thing is that we communicate as well as we do. On top of deliberately or culturally-created linguistic impediments, we all, from the get-go, learn our ‘common’ languages in circumstances and with nuances particular and unique to the unfolding of our individual infant lives. As a result we, at best, communicate in approximations.

So, why the title for this rather long post?  You can google ‘Tower of Babel’ for more but, briefly, the reference is to the biblical tale of once-unilingual humanity setting out to build a tower to reach the heavens, ostensibly (love that word) to celebrate the glory of God. He, however (not my gender assignment) took umbrage at the presumption of the developers of the day and caused the single language of those involved in the project to become many. For good measure he scattered the language groups around the planet. So the story goes.

I’m not personally drawn to a focus on the Bible, given how diversely its passages are interpreted and how perversely they have often been acted upon. However, the story does resonate for me when today’s engineers compete to build ever-higher towers at the edge of vast deserts: What a bizarre waste of human capacity and of planetary resources needed like never before and sure to be more so in the future: What a testament to the present-day self-delusive egotism of the sort that supposedly drew the wrath of God in the tale of Babel.

We human beings have ‘challenges’ galore these days and might do better at confronting them and perhaps even doing something about them if we go back, for starters, to accepting that they really are deep-seated ‘problems.’ What we are dealing with could use the gravitas.

We have capacity, all kinds of it. We are simply tripping over math that assigns value where it is not justified. Develop unrealized capacity in the poor and the uneducated and enough of us might become knowledgeable and sane and realistic enough to know that, among other things we have to dial back our population growth and, given a badly shrunken resource base, do it substantially and expeditiously.

That would mean using our accomplishments not to generate individual wealth and accolades (bizarre in a population of mortals) but to delight in them for their own sake, as gifts if you like, that we could choose to see as coming to us all through the catalyst of individuals. We could celebrate the creativity of teachers, engineers, academics, inventors, scientists and artists as attributes of our species, not as vehicles for personal wealth or status.

Too idealistic? Well, how are we doing without such an ideal or set of them as a functioning foundation?

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