DEAR JON LETTERS
A Post-Spelling World
And why truth is still important.
by Dear Jon
June 21, 2005
ACTUAL LETTER TO DEAR JON:
Do u evr get questions that r written in txt msg? Do u think txt msgs add 2 peepol not knowing how 2 spell 2day?
C U L8R
No, I do not use text messaging systems. The main problem with trends like this one you are reinforcing is not that people lack knowledge of spelling but instead that people no longer believe that spelling is useful.
12 years ago in another environment I suggested that our culture has become "post-literate." A post-literate society exploits technological progress in terms of lifestyle, while incorporating a nihilistic philosophy that rejects the premise that progress is even possible. "Progress," write the professor on his palm-pilot for live feed to his virtual classroom of on-line students, "is the illusion of rationalism." Not that his words are expected to have any meaning, since, in a post-literate society, coherent communication is an illusion of rationalism.
So we have young adults text messaging each other in short-hand, each one convinced that the palm pilot they hold is just a toy with no productive use, because productivity is an illusion of rationalism. A post-literate society, therefore, is a society which enjoys all the material benefits of progress, while treating the premise of progress itself with suspicion.
Very few individuals really believe that incoherence and chaos is the way to live. Most are willing to submit to the illusion of progress by holding a job so that they can enjoy the material benefits. However, no transcendence can be attached. Life is about collecting and enjoying toys, which is the purpose and goal of work. Any search for deeper realities is vain. So why bother with literature its metaphors can illustrate meaning? Why bother with history when the rational premises of "causes" having "effects" are treated with suspicion? Why bother reading anything at all except our text messages?
The difference between a post-literate and pre-literate society is that there is hope for a pre-literate society's redemption. Most societies in which infant mortality is epidemic and average life expectancy is 45 years, are open to adopting and employing the tools of other societies which greatly enhance the newborn's chances and which lengthen life into the eighties. Such societies call this "progress," and they send their promising young adults to Germany, England, Canada, and the USA, to study engineering and medicine.
Of course, infant survival and life expectancy are objective measures, and there is no such thing as objectivity in a post-literate society. So while our young people play Zombie Death IV, the cream of China and Nigeria is studying the Aristotelean premises of medical science. Good for the Chinese and the Nigerians, in whom humanity may still find hope. I am looking forward to their rise to prominence in all matters scientific and intellectual by the time I retire. It is quite likely that the Chinese will be establishing a human presence on the moon and beyond. Meanwhile, Americans living into our nineties will be arguing with each other about, first, how it is that progress is an illusion, and second, the causes for the demise of America's global clout.
Sincerely, Dear Jon
That first bit is not completely dry thanks to my usual sardonic approach. However, for those of you who want to go a little deeper, here are some bonus paragraphs. Don't keep reading if you are expecting something funny.
There are three terms which I am going to attempt to describe, so that we can arrive at some kind of coherent communication. These words are: Post-Modern, which is original with someone thirty or forty years ago whom I do not have time to look up; Post-Contemporary, which is original with Dear Jon; and Post-Literate, which as far as I know is also original with Dear Jon.
Post-Modern: Encompassing all that is Post-Contemporary and Post-Literate, it is the self-critical intellectual milieu out of which the Partial Observer springs. The premise of Post-Modern thought is that no finite person is able to describe a whole, discrete truth in words that would make the description apply in all times and places.
Scientific and mathematical principles influence post-modernism. Sub-atomic relationships have demonstrated to physicists that reality is a NOT more than an IS, and certain effects are observed that are seemingly absent of cause.
That articulations of reality are inherently limited can be proven. Each person's forward motion in time can shown on a line. This line will show an infinite number of intersections in which events are shared with other people. For example:
Dear Jon: 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973…..
These years are shared by millions of Americans. In 1969 Nixon was inaugurated, and the Apollo Mission landed astronauts on the moon for the first time, and troop levels were cut in Vietnam. And also, Dear Jon was born. It can be stated objectively that Nixon was inaugurated as President, but as that reality intersected with millions of lives it meant concretely different experiences of reality. For Humphrey voters it was bad news. For Chinese communists looking for international legitimacy it was great news. For me it hardly mattered at all.
Because no two people occupy the same space and same consciousness at the same time, events can be shared but the experience of reality cannot be shared. Each person has a point of view. Some points of view account for events that are shared by others; the event can be attested. If the Green Bay Packers lose a play-off game, that is an event that intersects millions of live. Everyone agrees that they lost. But their story of that loss is unique to each person.
Some experiences of reality are concocted by events that have happened in no place except one's imagination. Depending on its degree those who build their realities out of imagined events are considered mentally ill.
This is why legal systems interested in justice fashion juries with many voices: Twelve opinions are relied on to determine responsibility for an event after hearing arguments which present distinct and parallel versions of that event.
Post-Literate: The post-literate person, however, is what others might term a "radical" post-modernist. Moving beyond suspicion of one's own ability to articulate truth, this is the person who assumes that, since one person's words fail to describe a universal reality, there is no reality to describe. The logical leap is made that since experience cannot be shared, neither can events. If the mass consciousness makes a statement through its media voice about the Green Bay Packers losing a football game, that statement pertains only to memory, and there is no distinction in the brain's function between memory and imagination, so who knows or cares whether a football game was played?
The post-literate person is one who assumes that since life is a meaningless network of illusions, one might as well amuse oneself. History is boring and pointless, unless reading such rationalized myth turns your crank. Other people like to snow-board while jamming to their portable MP3's. Whatever.
The post-contemporary person is the one who agrees with the premise of post-modernism, but does not leap to the conclusion that reality is therefore indescribable. Instead, the post-contemporary person seeks to engage many voices past and present, minority and majority, enfranchised and marginalized, through a variety of media, in order to obtain an appreciation for the complexity of any one event. The post-contemporary person listens to swing, classic rock, baroque, hip hop, and country. The post-contemporary watches corny old black-and-white musicals and corny new CGI action-adventures.
The post-contemporary person a voracious reader, and is probably too busy reading to be much involved in text messaging.
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