Language Flails, Truth Fails

Technology creates inequality.

Technology removes inequality.

Both of these statements are, practically speaking, true. The first is really hard to argue against. Even a simple pencil gives one human more power than another. Not to mention what the internet, cars, AI, etc. can provide.

But… technology that is accessible to all levels the playing field. For just one example, I can think of the software engineers I have worked with from around the world who came from poverty but who knew how to hussle and learn, had access to a computer, and once they had their CS degree (and not even that sometimes) they were off to the races. These are people who grew up in section-8 housing, but programming let them find a way into another social class. I have known a dozen of them, and they are often outstanding engineers.

So maybe if two things that are counterposed can be true, the difficulty lies in the assumption that logic, following the rules of language, is flawed. Or that it is useful to make categorical statements using language.

And here is the thing about language that most philosophical and political debate misses: it doesn’t point at a single truth. Syllogisms are pure intellectual garbage. The truth of our messy world just cannot be modelled accurately with words, or even simple ideas like equality. Certainly not with dictates from the Bronze Age.

So, how do we move forward as a species, with so much hinging on the bad tech of language?

One way I would not recommend is what the phenomenologists tried to do: try to make the observation of reality and consciousness into something objective outside language. They failed. We can’t do that, at least not do it and then talk about it. It’s like a weaving a basket out of water. And even if you get to some simple truths that way, the complicated moral ones will elude you.

No, we do not need a new language of truth. We need a new experience of truth, a new understanding. A new way to access, store, and query our thoughts.

Or, do we just let go of truth completely and wing it?

That unfortunately seems to be the way the world is turning, at least in the political and social spheres. But as the truth recedes new generations are swinging back hard to searching for simple answers, and along the way a whole lot of people will get things wrong about human induced climate change, and a lot of unvaccinated kids will be dead.

Science needs to step up its game and stop worrying about collecting and assessing people’s opinions, and start worrying about changing opinions. With the future of the species on the line, giving voice to climate deniers, anti-vaxxers and flat-earthers is akin to forming a fiddling committee while Rome incinerates.

The truth isn’t what language or any abstract symbol system tells us. It’s what we are willing to fight and argue for.

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