Thursday, February 25, 2016
Language & Leaders
- Where have you been? I haven't seen you for a long time.
- For a month. I was in Thailand visiting that side of the family.
- I'm sure they took good care of you.
- If taking care of me means trying to kill me.
- You're joking.
- I'm not. The middle of my three half-brothers wrote me out of the blue after not being heard from for years, not since he was an adult in fact, asking me to come visit him. He'd found me on the internet. But when I got there, the story goes, the story he told me goes, his mother Ann, who he calls Queen Anne The Evil Queen, had paid his girl friend to move out. Moving out, the girl friend created a screaming and yelling scene, which caused the landlord to throw everyone out, me included, and then every man for himself, my brother explained, I would have to find my own place to live in Thailand with the no money I brought with me from L.A., he had his own problems. And, he said, forget about my other two half-brothers there. Queen Anne had forbid them from having anything to do with me on pain of disinheritance of her millions in cash, dozens of houses and twenty floor condominium building. To prove her seriousness six months ago Queen Anne had assembled all the plumbers and maids from the building and publically fired the middle brother from his menial job working as handy man, declaring: You see how I treat my own son? Think how I will treat you if you get out of line! The workers had already witnessed that son being fired before and sleeping with his two dogs on the street just around the corner as his mother The Queen drove past in her two hundred thousand dollar car.
- Why does she hate so much?
- On principle.
- What principle? You know, last time we talked you told me about the sixty cent beer at Trader Joes. I looked for you here at the Library the next night. I brought two beers for you.
- I should have stayed in L.A. and drank your beer.
- I have to go to work. Maybe see you later.
- Nice woman. She cleans here?
- Works for the university: a whole crew comes in every night at closing.
- You talk to everyone.
- You don't?
- I'm not sure I should even talk to you. Why does your family want to kill you? Like she said: What principle?
- You don't have to go?
- Not for the moment.
- Do you think it's possible that all our mistakes as human beings come out of the most fundamental thing we do as human beings?
- Which is?
- How we think. I don't mean practical considerations, technical skills of balancing circumstances, interests, contingencies, probabilities. Before all that comes into it the choice of which of only two fundamental kinds of thought sets us out on our way.
- Thinking isn't special to us human beings.
- That's true. Hierarchical thinking with the aid of language is.
- Hierarchical means one idea on top of another, rather than one idea simply following the other. In hierarchy the second idea talks about the first, the third idea about both the first and second, etc.
- Yes. Are you interested in these things?
- You know I am. When I can follow them.
- Animals think and communicate. Certain animals even appear to understand our language expressed by us to them. But no other species seems to be able to freely produce language, be able to add words to each other freely in new arrangements rather than in fixed patterns. Nevertheless I'm pretty sure other species can do it in their thoughts, deliberately remake their worlds first in thought, then in reality, like we do. But we do more than that.
- In addition to putting our thoughts of remaking the world in language, we do it hierarchically. This makes our behavior as humans distinct from all other users of language.
- Why does it matter?
- Only because of one thing: hierarchy involves the idea of the whole. The new words modify the whole set of preceding one or more words. And a relation to the whole, it turns out, call it a fate or logic of nature, is what being in good moral condition depends on.
- What is a good relation to the world?
- The relation we are in when we experience beauty, truth, sympathy, love, friendship. We also have the reverse experiences, a bad relation to the world, experience not feeling whole with the world, but rather apart with our power over the whole, or feeling the lack of that power.
- Go on.
- We don't naturally think in hierarchy. Ideas assemble, float towards each other, float away. Hierarchy is a more concise, more efficient way to assemble our thoughts, achieved at the cost of constraining relations between ideas and making communication and memory more difficult.
- Why do we use it then?
- Because we want more of those fundamental good feelings.
- Hierarchical language expresses those feeling?
- Before language does any expression of feelings, the right relation to the whole, the right use of hierarchy produces the feelings.
- What are the right and wrong uses of hierarchy?
- There is in France right now an anonymous collective* of writers, revolutionaries who explain democratic politics like this: when people get together they shouldn't discuss particular questions or choose between proposals. They should say to each other what appears to them to be the truth, fight each other, throw their ideas in battle with each other. And then, when they do this, something amazing happens. The world changes for them. They find, each separately finds, that for the first time in their lives as slaves to masters everyone without exception is listening. Each feels free in each other's company and sees that each feels free. They each discover their situation is new and discover they all have all made the same discovery. Together they come to the same conclusion that they all like this new situation. This new idea of shared discovery rises up out of their equality.
- The new idea, how they are living together, rises out of them all and sits above, hierarchically applying to the whole, expressing all of them together.
- Yes. The idea is received. Now take the opposite relation to the whole, acting directly on the whole so as to put into effect a preferred relation, preferred by the calculator, the leader. The leader looks for laws which govern relations between different qualities of that whole: when this quality comes first, that quality follows. When people are frightened, have that quality, they are more easily controlled, have that quality. The leader run experiments to get data about qualities, which data he then applies so as to secure his command position. Because the leader thinks he can do what he wants with the world he thinks he is acting hierarchically, but he is not. Hierarchy would allow the leader to rest in himself, to feel he is speaking securely, to feel secure, but he is not. Only the fragments of himself he's placed in relation to fragments of the world are secure. And that security is none too good, for the moment he stops grasping, reaching for more power, learning new relations of qualities in the world, his fragmentary awareness of self begins to fade. To maintain even a ghostly awareness of himself he has to keep going.
- People get together to talk freely, and that is the whole, on top of which, at the higher level, the world speaks to them, "You each see that you each see something new and good". That is successful hierarchy. But a leader's attempt to act on the whole world doesn't succeed because the leader is only manipulating parts of the world. The leader's action does not in fact apply to all the people equally. No hierarchical statement is involved. That is your claim? The hierarchy we humans want in our lives is the kind where the world speaks to us because we in fact have assembled ourselves into some kind of whole. Hierarchical language, incorporating a whole, allows us to rest. A leader's failure to speak hierarchically results in the "doing for the sake of doing" that in the past you've talked so much about. That's the bad relation we can see developing from a leader's failed attempt at hierarchy. It is only when we rest that we feel in a good relation to the world, and we rest only when we become aware that we are in the midst of a whole, when language tells us that. So the right fundamental relation to the whole that is expressed in language, and is thought under the guidance of language, allows rest. And while resting, truth is received from the world without our doing anything more. The world talks to us.
- That is what I'm saying.
- And you're saying that when we talk down to the world, when we as it were command the execution of a program on the world computer, we experiment on the world, raise ourselves alone above it. And in this state of affairs we think we have put ourselves hierarchically in control of the whole world, but our restlessness proves us wrong.
- It does.
- You've explained language. You've explained your family's restless pursuit of power and money. Do you think the cleaner's coming back with the two beers?
* 'To Our Friends', The Invisible Committee, 2014