Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Knowing about Knowing In A Post-Truth Society

A Post-Valentine Meandering for the Happy Planet

I'm reading Gregory Bateson today in-between taking out the garbage, washing laundry, nursing a bum knee, and having lunch with my ever-fascinating Mr. Keys. Just another day in paradise on the Happy Planet. And I mean that in the best way, not the snarky way. Yesterday I worked all day but blogrolled later in the evening, and read some of Bateson's, Steps To an Ecology of Mind in the "off" moments. The emerging theme from the readings off-line and on these days seems for me to be about the meta-subject of truth, and how we go about knowing about truth, and how we go about knowing about knowing. It's been a subject of intense interest to me for many years... knowing about knowing. It was only in my 40s that I learned it had a name: Epistemology. And Bateson was in his lifetime not only a pioneer, but he lived life as an epistemological experiment. He was my age or older before he understood the implications of all he had learned in his amazing polymath journey.

Within the "Steps" book (an awesome collection of his works) is a section called "The Metalogues", fictionalized conversations between Bateson and a daughter. I'm not convinced that they are completely fictionalized, given that his daughter is Mary Catherine Bateson, child of Greg and his wife Margaret Mead. Mary is ... well, Mary is another in a long line of magnificent minds, a noted cultural anthropologist in her own right. She's very much her mother's and her father's daughter.

There's no way to do justice to the metalogues on a blog, so you'll have to find yourself a copy of "Steps To An Ecology of Mind". Those are only a portion of the collection, and well worth the hunt for the hours and days of reading (if you're at all like me) that you'll find inside... just a bit of the father/daughter dialogues (1948) here:
Daughter has asked Father why Frenchmen wave their hands and arms around when they speak. ;-) The dialogue is a long one, but ends like this:

"D: Daddy, when they teach us French at school, why don't they teach us to wave our hands?

F: I don't know. I'm sure I don't know. That is probably one of the reasons why people find learning languages so difficult.

* * *

F: Anyhow, it is all nonsense. I mean, the notion that language is made of words is all nonsense--and when I said that gestures could not be translated into "mere words," I was talking nonsense, because there is no such thing as "mere words." And all the syntax and grammar and all that stuff is nonsense. It's all based on the idea that "mere" words exist--and there are none.

D: But, Daddy ...

F: I tell you--we have to start all over again from the beginning and assume that language is the first and foremost a system of gestures and tones of voice--and words were invented later. Much later. And after that they invented schoolmasters.

D: Daddy?

F: Yes.

D: Would it be a good thing if people gave up words and went back to only using gestures?

F: Hmm. I don't know. Of course we would not be able to have any conversations like this. We could only bark, or mew, and wave our arms about, and laugh and grunt and weep. But it might be fun--it would make life a sort of ballet--with dancers making their own music."

So, this is my Bury the Lede Ballet for you today. I've been reading Bateson, and then I found these:

Media for a Post-Truth Society, by Eric Alterman, found via Michael Miller at Public Domain Progress ... all the while remembering the recent Bill Moyer's piece: There Is No Tomorrow ... and adding just a pinch of Fafblog -- The Hard Way of the Homeland Security Frontiersman

I've given you not only my heart, but my head (such as it is). Will you still respect me in the morning? ;-)