Monday, May 11, 2009


My step father, a dear man, once liberal Catholic, turned Christ Unity, began, after 9/11, to drink the Kool Aid of Fox News, was over the other day and was telling me some terrible thing Obama was going to do. He was reporting to me, as far as he was concerned, facts. Of course, being a liberal/progressive sort of person,* his facts were in diametrical contradiction to the facts I hear from my news outlets. This parallel universe is very familiar to me. It fascinates me. I t got me thinking about how with language barriers (another thing I am familiar with because I have two houses and renters with which I cannot communicate -- because I can’t speak Spanish) we have a situation where there are different words for the same meaning. But with political/philosophical barriers, the problem is that there are different meanings for the same words. With different languages, as long as you can discover the word for the object you are trying to identify, you can usually reach an understanding. But with meaning barriers, there is no object to agree upon. No object to ground the divergent conceptions and create a place from which to understand each other. For instance: My step father and I both have the word socialism in our vocabularies. For me the word socialism means a system of government that is oriented around people as opposed to money. I think of places like Sweden and Norway where the health care is good and the government takes care of people . But for my step father, the word means something akin to communism AKA-Stalinism. It conjures notions of totalitarianism in cold places like Siberia. Same word, different meaning. Language barriers are relatively simple to deal with. You need a good interpreter, or a grasp of the other language. But meaning barriers present a whole other complication. When words in the same language have different meanings to different people, a chasm opens up that can be far more difficult to bridge than any created by unfamiliar languages. Who is studied in the art of interpretation of meanings? Who can stand between the speakers of words and make sense of the layers and subtleties of meanings each word is ascribed? Is it any wonder we are at odds with each other?

*actually, I am liberal progressive with respects to public policy and international affairs, but tend to be conservative socially which means I am far more restrictive a gatekeeper of the exposure my children get than most conservatives I know.

2 comments:

John Hayes said...

Well put-- I run into this a lot living in Idaho. Folks who I like overall have such a different view of how the world operates. Good post.

Linda Pendleton said...

Good thoughts and interesting you mentioned the word socialism as I have noticed the same thing in differences of meaning.

It often seems to be people buying into fear generated by the media, rather than investigating issues on their own.