March 9, 2019

Food for Thought

This is called “Crack Pie,” because, I assume, its texture is crackly and it’s as addictive as crack. It’s a catchy name.

Last night, I was having a philosophical discussion at a loud bar/dancehall about language with someone I met there. He was lamenting about how loosely language is used today especially in politics and the media. He is critical of those who use language to manipulate others, but I shared my view that the whole point of language is to manipulate others. He then defined “manipulation” as making others do something against their will. But how often are we manipulated into doing something that we consciously oppose? Most cases of manipulation happen unconsciously. I countered.

The word “manipulate” can be used for inanimate objects like “manipulate a machine.” It means to make something or someone serve your purpose. From this point of view, the fundamental purpose of language is manipulation. Making someone do something against his will would be “coercion”

Why did Milk Bar name this pie “Crack Pie” instead of simply describing what it is? Because “toasted oat pie” doesn’t sound so interesting. As customers, some of us enjoy their manipulation of language to sell more of their pie. Through language, all of us to varying degrees manipulate others to serve our purpose. Think, for instance, of how we describe ourselves on business cards. These exchanges are enjoyable and annoying at the same time. It’s not possible to remove this ambivalence from language.

Philosophy, at the end of the day, is a game of semantics. This may paint the picture of philosophy as something superficial but much of our suffering and unnecessary conflicts are semantic in nature. One way that such conflicts arise is that, instead of trying to understand what someone means by a particular word in that particular context, we expect him to conform to the generalized definitions. Acceptance of looseness in language, I believe, is the key to conflict resolution.

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