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General Semantics: Not Saying What You Did Not Say

"A definition is the start of an argument, not the end of one." - Neil Postman

"I said what I said. I did not say what I did not say." - Alfred Korzybski answering his critics who were confused about his new, non-Aristotelian system

Recently, I engaged in a verbal slanging match with an acquaintance of mine over a post on her blog. The post, which I will not repeat, I perceived to be grossly insensitive in a time of crisis. It soon became clear to me that in the heat of my heightened emotions, I had almost forgotten the teachings of GS; that words have no true meaning.

As Hayakawa explains:

"Anyone who has even given thought to the meanings of words are always shifting and changing in meaning...therefore some people believe we ought to agree on one meaning for each word and use it only with that may occur to them was simply cannot make people agree in this way. [...] Such an impasse is avoided when we start with a new premise altogether - one of the premises upon which modern linguistic thought is based: namely, that no word ever has exactly the same meaning twice."

During the course of many disagreements, many people may accuse or label the others' assertions as false, condescending, inflammatory etc., etc., while the other asserts the opposite. When arguing with words over words, both participants in the discussion can be right and wrong and neither simultaneously. (Especially when weaker minds yield to the dreaded ad hominem attack.) In a vacuum, both may walk away from the argument with "a win" if they believe their argument to be "true." Put spectators in front of them, and the person with the best display of rhetoric, the one who can convince the audience of their "correctness" will emerge the victor.

But it may irk some people to realize they can never be 100% right. It will further upset them to acknowledge that their words, no matter how well intentioned, once spoken or written, are literally out of the "mind" of the authors and are left to be evaluated by the eyes of the perceiver. Knowing first hand how one perception of text can be misinterpreted and condemned even though the intent and content was not the interpretation it had been given, more care or a willingness to accept the malleability and amorphous nature of words may lead to less misunderstandings in the future.

Writing in my blog earlier last year:

"As some of you already know, the territory (reality, etc.) is merely a space in which we project our beliefs and base our semantic reactions.

Therefore, my inference that an acquaintance of mine stopped dead in their tracks to avoid me [at a recent party] due to fear, hatred or courtesy is as unverifiable as the inferences that they may make about me."

Some may see this as an extension of my perceived "personal vendetta" against the author of the post in question, with whom I have had a falling out. While I may bleat to the heavens and say it is not true and I harbor no ill will toward the person and only disagreeing with what she said, it quickly seems nonsensical to refute something I cannot definitively prove and hope that rational thinking will prevail.

I can only say what I say and not say what I do not, but depending on what is said, I cannot tell you what it says. How one feels and one thinks after I have said it is up to them.

Introducing Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Joseph O'Connor and John Seymour, Element Publishing, 2002.
Language in Thought and Action: Fourth Edition, Samuel I. Hayakawa and Alan R. Hayakawa, Harvest, 1990
Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics, Alfred Korzybski, Institute of General Semantics, 1994, 5th edition.


It's What's Been Done

Complete and utter devastation. One can only stare blankly and ask why. I'll be donating to the Bushfire appeals. It's the least we can do.


Agency of Despair

"Looking for starlight
The lady made it alright
She was the lady
And I knew right from the start
Sweet lady starlight
Come on and make it tonight
You turn it on so easy
And the lady is my lady starlight"
- The Sweet - Lady Starlight

When the sun isn't battering me around with its hellish stare, i've been resigned to thinking; my most revered and reviled pastime these days. I wonder to myself; the end game of everlasting happiness and the absence of cares for the rest of my days - could it be sabotaged by my stupid mind and my propensity to want to go one better? Or could I merely spontaneously change using Watzlawick's wisdom:

"Dr. Watzlawick thought people author their own emotional setbacks by striving to fix themselves. He felt the solution was closer and simpler -- adjusting one's self-image to absorb new experiences. The patient looks outward and harmonizes his relationships with others, actively building knowledge and skill in a learning process called constructivism. Emotional health comes from growth, not from healing."

Thinking quietly to myself, I think I actually could. It might not lie here, and the task to reach such a seemingly unattainable goal might end in disaster, but I must try. I don't want to find my happiness because it will be easy. I want to find it where I know it will be, and try to attain it because it's hard to get. And I'll be there to get it soon, I promise. I've never wanted it so much in my entire life.


You and he were...buddies, weren't you?

Watching Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, a timeless cult classic which I thought I had seen to absolute death still cracks me up after watching three times in a row (once with "directors'" commentary.)

I had a good time at the Darkplace party last night; partying 'til 6am felt good again (even if I did take a break during a showing of The Lost Boys.)

I really hope I get one of the jobs i've applied for soon; however K-Rudd doesn't really fill me with confidence. Although I will take his/our money, just for the record.


Sweat and Fury

I'd probably write about how stifling the weather feels here, but it's way too hot to do anything right now.

Who wants to loan me money for a plane ticket to the States then?

Electric Six on vinyl sounds damn sweet. I just hope it doesn't melt before I can listen to them again.