The Problem with Language

My contribution to a LinkedIn discussion entitled, “Does Adherence to Rationality Lead to Atheism.”

Martin, I like your observations. By a recent remark, “all one has to do is to label that effort as creation science,” you pointed out the problem with language. We can label anything anyway we want, including the native people, for example. Once “suitably” labeled, we can then clear them from their homelands as if they were vermin, something we could never do if, on a regular basis, we had to look the children and their mothers in the eyes.

Our emotions possess us with the desire to serve our species, but only when applied to situations with which we are eminently familiar. The problem with language is, by “labels,” such as good and evil, we are inspired to act at a distance, so to speak. While we see language as our greatest gift, by enabling us to impose our will on situations with which we are not eminently familiar, it may well be the source of our greatest tribulations.

My view is based on the belief that the brain, human or otherwise, is programmed by evolution to produce the behavior required for the species to flourish. An example is in a mother’s love for her young. That love is an expression of evolution because only the genes of mothers who are possessed with the desire to care for their young are passed, by her offspring’s survival, to future generations. This principle applies, in one way or another, to all feelings, be they hunger, anger, love, likes, or dislikes.

Let’s assume that we could reprogram the brains of a species by modifying its genetic code such that, instead of love their young, mothers abhorred their young. That is an extreme example that no species, in which their young are born as dependents on their mothers, could survive. But, to whatever extent we “messed up” the programming that has been fine-tuned over millennia to optimize the species survivability, we would place the species at risk, and its members in various states of distress.

Were this observation being made about any species other than ours, virtually everyone who believes in evolution would concur. But no one would see it as applying to humans. Why? Because present human behavior is governed mostly by each individual’s designs on the distant future, not instinct. The problem is, we are not eminently familiar with the “good” future we have in mind. In our effort to realize it, we must impose our will on a domain—that is, the distant future—where it doesn’t belong. In other words, when controlling both the native people and our future, we are acting at a distance, something that only language—specifically the written word—allows. The outcome, therefore, is likely to be the same—the eventual destruction of our way of life, just as we annihilated theirs.

Though language cannot modify the genetic code that controls human emotions, it can repress their free expression to the point that the outcome is the same, which is to place our species at risk, and its members in various states of distress. How does language do this? Every written law is justified, not by our species’ needs, but by mankind’s desire to control the distant future to personal ends. In view of the number of laws on the books, we not only exist in a veritable labyrinth of emotional repression, but, by adaption, have become dependent on those laws—and thus on our spiritual repression—to survive.

So, while those laws were originally based on mankind’s attempt to control the distant future, they are now justified simply by our desire to be. Who can argue with that? No one who is in their right mind—and that’s what traps us in our present state of emotional repression.

That we are trapped is only part of the problem. The other is that we are like animals who have been raised in a cage, only our cages are emotional, not physical. Nonetheless, like the animal, we have no more of an idea how to survive if spiritually freed than would the animal if physically freed. So here we sit, with every law justified to the hilt, while life is increasingly being placed at risk, and we find ourselves in ever greater states of material and emotional distress.

Does this mean we must cease using language? No. It means that we must stop misusing it. But how? We do so by never putting a promise or a rule in writing and then, even more importantly, never establish a third party—that is, a chief, king, counsel, government, or some other “sovereign”—to enforce what is written. (Something to keep in mind: If you don’t do the first, then you never have to worry about the second.)

The consequence of enforced rules and promises is immediate spiritual repression, at which point humans cease functioning like humans—so much so that our behavior is no longer recognizable as that of a social species. Social species, such as elephants, lions, and Bonobo Chimps—our closest relatives in the wild—are typically matriarchal, and their members form extended families held together by mutually experienced material and emotional needs. Once subject to written rules and promises, however, our cultures are patriarchal, and our families are held together by legal decrees. While on one hand, we presume to be pair bonders, on the other hand, as subjects of legal systems, we react in masse—like a heard species—to any leadership, monetary, or conflict crisis that comes along.

The consequences of enforced rules and promises isn’t just immediate spiritual repression. The repression tends to be eternal. This is because, as noted, once having adapted to a culture ruled by legally imposed rules and promises, we become dependent on legal edicts to not only form families, but also to secure clothing, food, shelter and other material needs.

By eternal, I don’t mean forever. I mean as long as any species that has based social order on the written word and continues doing so, exists. Relative to evolutionary time, this can’t be long. How can any species long endure when, by enforcing rules and promises, it has lost intimacy with Nature—the ground of its being—and, by trusting sovereigns instead of life, exists in denial of the innate sensibilities that evolved over eons for the singular purpose of optimizing its survivability?

So, the practice of basing social order on the written word will in due time pass from this earth. The only question is: Will we ever again return to celebrating life by behaving like normal humans, that is, like members of a social species, and thereby prepare ourselves both spiritually and materially to survive its passing?

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