THE SHIP OF THESEUS

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.

— George Orwell

As much as I hate giving Marxism credence for anything, so much in contemporary society forces me to credit as sound and pragmatically true both the Marxist disenchantment of morality and ethics concluding they are simply ruling class ideology and the socialist Upton Sinclair’s disenchantment of aesthetics as “all art is propaganda. It is universally and inescapably propaganda; sometimes unconsciously, but often deliberately, propaganda.” The zero sum wordgame that is patrician parlor game philosophy by sleight-of-hand wording has managed to take the analytic concept of social construct and change it to social and language deconstruction. Patrician academia and intelligentsia, solely through a will to power despite never having to take apart and rebuild anything except for rearranging verbiage for purely aesthetic reasons, continue to view themselves as individual mechanics viewing the social construct engine that is contemporary society as something they need to take apart and then reassemble in their image in order to “produce real progress”. The reality of individuality, perception, and any resulting social construct of contemporary society of which we are conscious and of which we can speak are that they are one-engine, and we do not view either from outside but we are it. There are no “illusions of trust”, there is either genuine pragmatic trust or there is no trust. We can no more deconstruct society, contemporary or otherwise, and its language than an engine can take itself apart — that is without destroying itself with nothing and no one remaining to reassemble it. No more can there be spoken “individual perception” than there can be a private language. Or better yet, to paraphrase the poetic propaganda of Delmore Schwartz, contemporary society is not that of a fire in which we burn, but we are the fire. This pragmatic reality should enchant morality and ethics with more than just ruling class ideology, but it never will.

 
The analytic concept of a social construct was fairly simple before post-modernism got a hold of it. Its simplicity is one reason post-modernism was able to grab onto it and turn it to entertaining fiction. Philosophy has argued knowledge as a pragmatic social construct since the Ancient Greeks. Science was grudgingly forced to accept pragmatic truth with the advent of quantum mechanics though it is still putting up a fight. The unfortunate epistemological reality is that sense perception is unavoidably intertwined with theory expressed by language that is itself laden with theory. Thus language often decides what facts we experience, observe, and use. As Albert Einstein stated, “whether you can observe a thing or not depends on the theory which you use. It is the theory which decides what can be observed.” Better yet is the description of Ludwig Wittgenstein: “the limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”

 
Simple enough. However, these conclusions are in no way equivalent to concluding that language is reality; that deconstructing language is equivalent to deconstructing reality; or that the more words we throw into the world pot the larger the limits of the pot. No, as with any real pot, the words simply overflow. In the pot of language, they simply overflow into an aesthetic world in which meaningless words are the reality. For example, nominally, one can change a word such as “small pox” to “butterfly bumps”, “God’s Will”, and a multiple of other names to make its reality more aesthetically pleasing and this aesthetic truth may make it easier to die of it, but such nominal change does not in any way change the reality of small pox or stop it from killing you. At the other end of the pot, empirically, one can do all the scientific experimentation possible on one’s or anyone’s visual field in all possible worlds viewed but in none of them will one ever find the inner limit or the point from which its contents are seen because the existential observer or individual consciousness is it; without the consciousness of the observer there is no visual field. The meaning of words and wordgames are not simply their use but their usefulness to that use in the activity of life.

 
Some would argue that deconstruction is to words what algorithms are to numbers and that any deconstruction as with algorithms is only as good as the premises or assumptions that go into them. Problem is that algorithms do not care about what premises are used nor what conclusions are reached nor how. A radical feminist as well as a radical sexist can equally use an algorithm to find patterns in purchasing by women on amazon and get the same results if they use the same premises. If the results are not the same or do not add up, so to speak, they know their premises are different, can examine them to see the difference, and can do whatever is necessary to get the same or different results. There is no such thing as immoral or unethical numbers in either the premises, method, or conclusion of an algorithm; any decision as to whether algorithms, their premises, or their conclusions are immoral or unethical is based on normative decisions that are outside the algorithm. Deconstruction cares about the premises, the results, and the deconstruction; they must all be moral and ethical — whatever that means. A feminist and a sexist using deconstruction to perceive the buying choices of women on Amazon is a nonsensical concept because the usefulness of deconstruction of the buying choices of women on Amazon would be to show the effects of sexism. It would be probably considered sexist for a sexist to do deconstruction of the buying choices of women on Amazon because, supposedly, their only purpose would be to use women’s choices for a sexist purpose. Deconstruction at its best is the art of fiction and thus the propaganda of fiction. At its worse, it is simply propaganda. “All art is propaganda, but not all propaganda is art.” – George Orwell.

 
The easiest way to understand what is going on is not by spoken or written language that by logical necessity is discussed by spoken and written language thus creating the “this sentence is false” logic problem used by post-modernism to convolute reasoning and logic to magnify the problem instead of clarifying and understanding it. Rather, the clearer path I submit here is to contemplate perception by using two images used as thought experiments by the philosophers Ludwig Wittgenstein and Norwood Russell Hanson known as the Duck/Rabbit and the My Parisian Wife/Mother-in-Law:

duck-rabbit

2000px-My_Wife_and_My_Mother-In-Law_Hill.svg_-850x1172

 

The empirical reality of these two drawings is the same in all possible worlds in which they exist. The perception of them is not. If you have experience with ducks or rabbits and the English words for that experience, you will see either a duck or a rabbit in the above left-side image when the words “duck” or “rabbit” are spoken to you. If you only have experience with one or none, you will only see that one or none. If you have experience with some common published images of some early 20th Century aging Parisian women and the English words for that experience, you will see either a young Parisian woman or an older Parisian woman in the above right-side image when I speak the words “My Parisian Wife” or “Parisian Mother-in-Law” and so forth. In either case, it is the acts of the observer responding to the words spoken that give meaning to the words spoken. In the right-side image, I may have to add the words “view the chin as a nose” or something similar in order to get an observer to respond or act on the “Parisian Mother-in-Law” but it will still be you as the observer by your acts and responsive activity that gives meaning to “My Parisian Wife/Mother-in-Law”.

 
Are there any sense experience regarding these images for which social construct words do not exist or only exist in some language but not in our language thus limiting our reality? What we perceive of these images is a seamless fabric of sense experience and social construct language. As with all meaning, the meaning of these images or words created by the writer or artist is given by the observer. So, how does contemporary society seamlessly acting as both writers and observers produce “real progress” in the limits of the world of these images?

 
The patrician popular option is deconstruction of the Duck/Rabbit which here would mean deconstruction into a duck and into a rabbit — or into a duck and non-duck; rabbit and non-rabbit; or similar random and arbitrary distinction. Then, by deconstruction we would go on to convert the distinctions into words stating a dialectical opposition such as for example: from either a duckism or rabbitism perspective, we would respectively theorize about duckism or rabbitism concerns for duck rabbit equality; and then we investigate by deconstruction any rabbit-centricism or duck-centricism. We can also conduct the same type of deconstruction of the wife-ism and the mother-in-law-ism from the second image.

 
However, such deconstruction misses the entire point of this wordgame and its meaning. The duck/rabbit may seem to be a duck or may seem to be a rabbit or may seem to be whatever distinctions for which you have words but it is not; it is a Duck/Rabbit. The Parisian Wife/Mother-in-Law may also seem to be a Parisian wife or Mother-in-Law or may seem to be whatever distinctions for which you have words, but it is not; it is a Parisian Wife/Mother-in-Law. The artist drew them as a Duck/Rabbit and a Parisien Wife/Mother-in-Law. As Robert Di Niro said in The Deerhunter, “This is this. This ain’t something else. This is this”; in the real world, these images are this and not that. This is the only way we can know the intent of the artist, by what they drew. Deconstructing either of them to something they are not is not progress or a means to creating or progressing the present social constructs of these images into a new social construct reality. Such deconstruction only tells us at best what we already know but in many more words or, worse, creates ignorance of what we know using as many words as possible. If the artist wanted to construct a duck or a rabbit or just a wife and a mother-in-law, they could have done so. If your conclusion is that they could not have done so, than the path to progress is to construct what prevented the artist from doing so not from making a that into a this simply for aesthetic reasons. At best deconstruction of any language if done using the necessary formulaic verbiage serves as aesthetically pleasing fiction for submission to the Social Text and thus for self-promotion but would have no pragmatic value which is the only value that matters for social construct progress. Progress for most contemporary society observers means progress naturalized to science and thus something progresses if it not only works but works better.

 
Real progress for social construct purposes can only be made by having new experience to associate with these images thus requiring new words to describe them empirically not just aesthetically. If we travel to another planet and see for the first time something we call a “gavagai” and then notice this “gavagai” looks the same as the Duck/Rabbit, the nominal use meaning of the Duck/Rabbit would remain the same but the sense experience usefulness of it would change to Gavagai or Duck/Rabbit/Gavagai. If historical records reveal Parisian women did not dress as drawn in the above image but only women from Venice did, the sense experience usefulness meaning of the image would remain the same but its nominal use will change to Venetian Wife/Mother-in-Law. Simply changing or multiplying the words associated with these images without changing any of the sense experience or pragmatic theory associated with them does not change their perception in anyway nor the limits of my world, it just clouds it. Why the need to cloud perception? None, other than a will-to-power need to enjoy the clouds, or more likely, because the clouds enforce the power of those generating clouds.

 
Going on to the words “individual perceptions”, when dealing with the “individual” or self-identity aspect of perception, for no other reason again but that of patrician lordliness, the social construct nature of meaning, words, and language for this set of words are suddenly dogmatically assumed to represent not social constructs but a thing-in-itself that individuals experience privately then discuss by translation into social construct language. Without doubt, the existential “I am” of the existential “I am therefore I think” exists before language and exists in all possible worlds in which it exists but it does not logically follow that this “I am” once expressed in language such as by “I am” is a thing-in-itself that is not given meaning by social construction like all other words and wordgames. As with all words, it is the observer who defines the meaning of “individual”, “self-identity”, and “I am”. For any language to express meanings concerned with “producing real progress” not just generating aesthetic verbiage, it must be concerned and express the meaning of truth defined pragmatically. In such language, regardless of how it may damage our egos, the reality is that if you want to find or express yourself or give meaning to the words “individual” and “self-identity”, the only way to do it is by letting others name you and give you your identity. Though this concept is usually contemplated by the abstraction of Wittgenstein’s Private Language Argument, we can see it at work in concrete form in contemporary society with the problem of Rachel Dolezal and the refusal of post-modernism to deconstruct her problem.

 
Rachel Dolezal is the former leader of the Spokane, Washington, NAACP chapter. She is the former leader because the NAACP discovered she was white: both parents were listed as Caucasian on her Montana birth certificate and all her known ancestors had a completely Caucasian descent of Eastern European origin. However, she “identified as black” and felt constrained by the “biological identity thrust upon her”; “[s]he said she had identified as black from the age of five but had the white identity ‘thrust’ upon her until she was strong enough to embrace her true self.” She attended and graduated from Howard University, and she eventually admitted she was born “white” but considered herself “black”. Clearly, she did not consider being “black” only a sense experience issue of skin color but a social construct that dialectically contradicted or opposed her private “perception” of who she was. Applying the same post-modern social construct reasoning of deconstruction that is applied to everything else from age to sexual identity, there is no reason why she should not be able to call herself black or any social construct founded upon skin color, but it is not going to happen now nor any time in the foreseeable future. It will not happen simply because the will-to-power aspect of the social construct that is post-modernism does not want her to do it. Will-to-power will always trump reason.

 
No matter how Dolezale changes our sense experience of her and regardless of the existential purgatory in which she may in fact reside because of Despair and lack of Authenticity, she will never be perceived as Black. If she undergoes successful DNA engineering to actually make her skin the blackest of black (a technique that will no doubt be available in the near future), this will only turn any perception of her as a harmless eccentric to a racist putting on black face. She could trace her ancestry far enough back so as to find multiple slave ancestors of different race and ethnic backgrounds because we would all be able to find them in our ancestry if we wanted given the omnipresence of slavery in all history. However, such a tracing would make matters worse for her; she would then be perceived as a racist guilty of cultural misappropriation. Regardless of her individuality, her self-identity, or her life experience, she will always be perceived as White; she was born White and will die White — unless post-modernism or contemporary society allows her self-identity to be Black.

 
Abstractly, the fact that there is no private experience of which we can speak and no private language expressing it that can be translated into any social construct language is analyzed by Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Private Language Argument often exemplified by contemplation of the statement “only I know my pain”. It is existentially true that only you know the existential nature of your “I am”, but unfortunately the unpleasant self-effacing reality is that only others know your pain. “Pain” can only be given meaning by observable acts: screaming, clenched muscles or face, blood, ripped muscles, broken bones, taking aspirin, squeezing a ball or biting a bullet, a rising manometer resulting from the squeezing of an air ball; picking a number on a pain chart, and so forth. Though it is existentially true that one can give any or whatever existential meaning one wants to “pain” or any word for that matter, for this same existential reason it is also true that one cannot give any purely private meaning to “pain” or any word because there would be no way to differentiate correct or incorrect meaning — the concept of meaning would become nonsense just as in any wordgame in which contradictions are true everything is true or false however you want it; in a private language the word “meaning” becomes meaningless in anyway but aesthetically. In any imagined private language with private meanings, the concept of meaning would be nonsense because the solitary individual speaker of the private language of private experience would have no way to tell whether or not a word spoken at one time has the same meaning as that same word spoken at any other time. The same would be true of any speakers or observers of any language in which private meanings and a private language are real. Thus, it is not unfortunate but fortunate there is no such thing as a private language speaking about private sense experience, if there were, there would be no language just gibberish.

 
This leads to Wittgenstein’s famous conclusion “whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent”. I wish this would be an absolute truth so as to put some type of lid on post-modernism and its need to deconstruct everything by verbiage for no reason other than aesthetics and self-promotion, but fortunately for social construction purposes it is not. As even Wittgenstein described it, language is a “form of life”; it has words but by seamless necessity it also has action. We must be silent about that of which we cannot speak but we can still act with it and upon it. It is acts and the resulting struggles between different acts that give meaning to the new words we need to create to deal with the struggles. This leads me to the Ship of Theseus — also known as Theseus’s Paradox — a thought experiment exemplifying among much else the substantive difference between social constructs as they exist in reality and social deconstruction existing solely in the reality of patrician aesthetics and the associated ethics that result from each.

 
This Paradox goes back to ancient philosophers such as Heraclitus and Plato and is present in popular form in Greek legend. It goes as follows:

As a result of storms and other damage and decay, the crew made up of Theseus and the youth of Athens returning from Crete on the Ship of Theseus as it was named by its owner had to replace each plank and all other parts and pieces of the Ship of Theseus so that upon their return to Athens all of the pieces and parts of the Ship of Theseus that it had when it left Crete had been replaced. Is the Ship of Theseus that arrived in Athens still the Ship of Theseus that left Crete?

Centuries later, the philosopher Thomas Hobbes introduced further facts to this thought experiment to incite further contemplation:

The original planks and all other replaced parts and pieces were thrown overboard and floated onto a deserted island where a group of castaways reassembled everything into their original positions in the same design and built as the Ship of Theseus and sailed to Athens. Which ship, if either, is the original Ship of Theseus?

 

Sitting on the pier contemplating the Ship of Theseus gives much to contemplate and upon which to generate a library of aesthetic verbiage. No doubt such deconstruction would be valuable to the owner, the insurance company, and to the lawyers arguing over who ought to be the owners of which ship or over what ships ought to belong to whom or to anyone. The former contemplation has been going on among philosophers for a couple of millennia and no doubt will continue in the guise of post-modern deconstruction serving only to negate the philosophy of language progress made on contemplating this Paradox by repeating the same philosophical conclusions of the last two millennia but adding more and more words. The litigation will stop within a few years when the judge in the secrecy of the judicial chamber flips a coin to give the ships to one party or another and then issues a decision not mentioning the coin toss.

 
Instead of deconstruction that gives meaning to the Ship by what observers not on this Ship argue it seems to be, let us take it as it is and perceive the social construct Ship of Theseus as a “form of life” constructed by the society that is the crew — not as a construction by spectators on the pier or in the courthouse but by its crew. For the crew, regardless of which crew of which Ship, there is only one Ship of Theseus even though nominally and empirically there are two. For any given crew, it is this Ship and not that Ship that is the Ship of Theseus.

 
Foremost, the Ship is a construct of the struggles between the crew and the benign indifference and often outright antagonism of the sea and its universe to the crew’s existence. This struggle involved both mental and physical work involving everything from the complexities of mathematics and astronomy in the navigation and the art of judging wind and waves to the purely physical sweaty backbreaking work of dealing with leaks, decay, and seasickness; it involved both the panic of potential death and the mental drudgery of boredom and banal work. It involved every misery that life has to offer. In this struggle, identity of the crew was as oarsmen, boatswain mates, riggers, quartermaster, seamen, and swabs — identities all constructed by the crew or prior crews to win the struggle. We do not view our identity as a member of the crew as distinct from the identities of those who came before us in the struggle because we know our lives and identities were built on their lives; all riggers were and are riggers and so forth. If our Ship is to progress to a future Ship with a crew made up of seawomen, seapersons, oarspersons, machinists, quartermistresses, electricians, electronic technicians, or whatever new social construct identities are created to assure survival of the Ship, this future must also be constructed seamlessly upon the prior identities. At reunions, we hug and remember by ceremony those who came before us, both Honored Dead and dishonored dead; all are equal in death. We hope the best for those that follow us in life.

 
The social construct of the crew is not made up of “illusions of trust” but the actual pragmatic trust required for survival. To have deconstructed the Ship physically at sea would have meant death for all; to deconstruct the Ship by words would not mean death for the Ship but would for the crew. A crew made up of individuals speaking a private language of private identities is a crew speaking gibberish unable to create meaning for any wordgames including those required for struggle and thus is a crew that will not survive its struggle with the indifference of the universe and its sea trying to kill both. The crew’s survival depends on seamless social construction building the future on the past through the present. It is this social construction that would defeat Hume’s Power Paradox and allow the many of the plebeian crews to defeat the few patricians on the pier and in court enforcing their deconstruction upon the Ship to maintain their patrician power. As analytically described by the philosopher William James:

A social organism of any sort whatever, large or small, is what it is because each member proceeds to his own duty with a trust that the other members will simultaneously do theirs. Wherever a desired result is achieved by the cooperation of many independent persons, its existence as a fact is a pure consequence of the precursive faith in one another of those immediately concerned. A government, an army, a commercial system, a ship, a college, an athletic team, all exist on this condition, without which not only is nothing achieved, but nothing is even attempted. A whole train of passengers (individually brave enough) will be looted by a few highwaymen, simply because the latter can count on one another, while each passenger fears that if he makes a movement of resistance, he will be shot before any one else backs him up. If we believed that the whole carful would rise at once with us, we should each severally rise, and train robbing would never even be attempted. There are, then, cases where a fact cannot come at all unless a preliminary faith exists in its coming.

(Parenthetically, for the intellectually curious, though pirate ships were all eventually defeated by the monopoly on violence that is the law, it is interesting reading to note and contemplate that pirate ship crews were actually the first pragmatically successful democracies in the West. See “The Invisible Hook, The Hidden Economics of Pirates”, Peter T. Leeson (Princeton University Press, 2009) )

 
Unfortunately, the Ship is also a social construct of the struggle between our social construct crew identities and our own existential struggle to survive within these struggles as a unique “I am” of which whereof we cannot speak. This latter struggle is always forgotten in the heat of the struggle with the universe and its sea but always returns with the calm. It is this struggle existing simultaneously with the struggle against the universe that leads necessarily to social construct identities of crew members as moral, immoral, ethical, unethical, and on to master-at-arms, gunner, sniper, and weaponeer. It is also this struggle that prevents the pragmatic reality of morality and ethics from being anything more than just ruling class ideology as Hume’s Power Paradox returns to do its magic. While the crew doubts and fights among themselves to establish their own identities of which we cannot speak, there will always be the few of the Orwellian Inner and Outer Parties who by the natural order of the physical and metaphysical universe will be able to take advantage of this latter struggle to create social constructs in their image for no other reason than because they can. At which point, they are no longer James’ “highwaymen” but the ethical Dorian Gray’s of all genders that make up the Powers-that-be of the ultimate ethics with a monopoly on violence called the law. “And the party on the left, is now the party on the right … Don’t get fooled again, no, no”. (Similar to being in a fight club, a clear sign of being in either Party is denying either Party exists.)

 
For those of us not in either Party and thus denied its social construct power of deconstruction to achieve power, how do we maintain, construct, and progress further the material progress that has created our Technological Society without getting fooled again into losing what little power we do have? For “producing real progress”, this is the question with which we must be enchanted and that we need to answer by social construction not by deconstruction.

 
One thing is for certain. The poser existentialists who out of fear of nihilism and motivated by a will to power, who need to be gods, and who have converted existentialism into a patrician parlor game deconstructing words by multiplying them into gibberish as if they were deconstructing reality to create a new reality are not the answer. Plebeians have made history and whatever historical progress there is in history has happened not by verbiage but by social construct pragmatic action in struggle. In the struggle they were unified not in an individual perception of reality but in a social construct perception of reality. All history is class struggle. Take out the class and the class struggle and history is over:

In that everyone wants equally much to be recognized by everyone, the fight for life will cease only with the recognition of all by all, which will mark the termination of history. The existence that Hegelian consciousness seeks to obtain is born in the hard-won glory of collective approval.
― Albert Camus

Post-modernism as patrician distortion of existentialism has already taken or is seeking to take away and destroy all options for plebeian unity based on family, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, community, neighborhood, and everything else that historically gave plebeians unity in their struggles with patricians. If it succeeds in deconstructing the struggle, there will be no progress because there will be no history. Deconstruction seeks to make plebeians into unisex, classless, homogeneous, culturally stagnant, one color, paper-cutouts of each other living solitary lives of temporary wage slavery jobs except for the handouts they get from Big Brother and perhaps for the companionship of a dog or cat. In return it does not even grant us the passionate hate and anger of a Meursault opening his heart to the benign indifference of the universe and wishing to share his passion with the crowd viewing his execution because they will all soon join him in death. No, rather, in return deconstruction gives us only the loving surrender of a Winston to the timeliness of power as an end itself accepted with a tear in one’s eye as one bullet enters the head for a peaceful, lonely, and passionless death.

 
There must be social construction not deconstruction to maintain both the struggle against the universe and the struggle that is history and progress in history. How to maintain both in a contemporary society whose patricians have lost sight of reality to live in the illusion of aesthetics so as to use their will to power to create a ruling class morality and ethics that seeks to deconstruct and thus destroy both the struggle and history is the open question. I do not have an answer at present but I am leaning toward nihilism.

 

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