The Problem of Language and Need

There are many times in public discourse that a difference in the understanding in terms results in the misunderstanding between parties, best captured when Kemmis states that the lack of common ground is “to a certain extent, a problem of language” (page 23). I hope to build upon this problem of language, as Kemmis calls it, and observe how it has developed in modern times.

The aforementioned dilemma of language is now a phenomenon grown far more vitriolic. We live in times where competing parties go so far as to REFUSE to agree on a common understanding of language, fundamentally different than Kemmis’ original concern. What is so confounding about this is that both parties know that the are operating on different understandings of the same terms, yet they remain entrenched in what is only the first battle towards forming a coherent public discourse. Saddest of all is that they are all but forgetting that the war they are waging not against each other, but instead against oppression, poverty, negligence, incompetence; against all that contributes to human suffering.

Thus, in forgetting this war against suffering, many individuals prefer to battle it out over the fluid terms that define society. Some such words are: justice, racism, safety, duty, etc. These terms used to be uniting, now they foster contempt. In our readings of the Anti-Federalists and Federalists, in the Civic Republicans and Classical Liberals, we see authors seeking to define word on their terms, but they also accept the definitions of others in discussing the term. This allows for the author to discuss the implications that come with either definition in excoriating detail that allows the reader to contemplate whether such a definition and the consequences that accompany it actually reduces (or is likely to reduce) human suffering.

This all is demonstrative of the ever-rotting foundations Kemmis describes as necessary for healthy public discourse: standards of excellence and rigorous objectivity. Our media is increasingly characterized by the “politics of alienation,” and opportunities for “practical education of the politics of cooperation” in civil society are still minimal. While Americans do participate in civil organizations at high rates, we do so at our choosing, never having to “learn that we need each other” as Kemmis asserts is necessary.  Implicit in this argument of “learn[ing] that we need each other,” is that we do need each other in the first place. Our media, our civil society, our technology; they all tell us that we do not need one another, that we can lead successful, independent lives. They create flexibility in our need, flexibility that is perceived as an absence.

Absence, however is a falsehood, our need for one another is still there. We can afford to refuse to agree on language with our peers, we can refuse to see the common ground between us all. We can afford it more than ever before because most of us have a home, a car, and food on the table. But for how long is this sufficient? How long until the luxury (if one can call it that) of refuting our community is too much?

**To avoid irony, and perhaps hypocrisy, I ask that the reader of this piece take everything as is. Do not dispute the language that composes my argument, confront my argument itself.**

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2 Responses to The Problem of Language and Need

  1. Satchel Wells says:

    While far from being a popular solution, I feel that mandatory civil/community service may help educate the public about the benefits of having a strong sense of community so that we as a society learn that we need each other. By having mandatory voting or other forms of participation in civics, people become immersed in ways to participate in the community and having a positive impact while also holding onto the independence. I believe that this could be a practical way to educate the American populace while also improving our civic system in general by increasing participation.
    Your final question asking how long will the luxury of our amazing society will last at this current rate definitely stayed with me, I feel that drastic or new ideas are needed to take the steps needed to save and improve our way of life and by mandatory civic participation through incentivization we can educate our future and current citizens on the benefits of participating within the community.

  2. monicaybarra says:

    In regards to the topic of language and the different ways in which people define certain terms, I believe that it is not necessary for people to agree on each others definitions, but they should at least take into consideration the other party’s definition. The strengths in the antifederalist and federalist reading lie in the fact that they aren’t per say just pointing fingers at one another and saying i’m right and you’re wrong, they’re taking each others arguments and building off of the others weaknesses. Therefore, the person with the better evidence to support their side, wins.
    In today’s society, everything is seen through a clouded lens. People often let their personal biases get in the way of having a factual conversation. I think there would be more progress if we indeed realized that we do need one another. We do not always have to agree all the time, and that’s the great thing about living in a community with so many different views and opinions because we can all build off of one another and think of things in different perspectives.
    The absence that is present in today’s society I believe is being felt now more than ever, and I think it’s up to the younger generations to get more involved and more educated and reshape the way that we as a community build off of one another.

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