Words, Meaning, and Social Media
“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil….” - Isaiah 5:20
Words, the basis of language. As Ayn Rand described them, a code of symbols that convert concepts into concretes. Language, the structuring of those words so that theoretical or purely mental ideas become tangibles. Ethereal thoughts residing in our hearts, minds and souls thereby take on a substance that may be considered and responded to. We are thus able to communicate our deepest thoughts and feelings. Though they are second generation forms of expression, they are our common method of relating to each other.
In the pre-Christian era, words and language were utilized in the search for truth and meaning. That search set the stage for and culminated in the Christian Era with the entry of The Word, The Truth, into the world. It became flesh, dwelt among us to guide us, and thereby attested to the truth. [John 1:1-14]. From the Greeks and Romans down through the Christian Era, words were meant to reflect The Truth.
But The Truth is now threatened by secular humanism which says that mankind by itself determines truth. In fact, a 2014 Huffington Post article summarizes it this way:
Define your truth...If you stop and listen and feel your inner-self, you will become aware of the truths that lie within you…Define your truth and roll with it [emphasis added].
A quick internet search reveals many philosophical results which amount to this: while fact is reality and cannot be disputed, truth is based upon your own reasoning. Hence, truth is tautological. As love is love, truth is now truth - it has no definition, so you may define it as you wish. In the absence of real meaning, this almost sounds like a narcissist promoting nihilism.
Isaiah’s warning rings aloud. Humanism is disconnecting words and language from The Truth. Centuries of searching for it, followed by its revelation for our salvation, are now being abandoned on the throne of “me”. Prideful and self-destructive, its effects are ruinous for interpersonal relationships.
Before the digital age, we conveyed our thoughts, feelings, and our search for meaning by crafting them in writing and engaging in live conversations. These required exchanges, time, and consideration. The written word allowed the reader to put it aside and consider it again later. Voice conversation permitted the parties to gauge inflection and, if face-to-face, body language as well. Mere words and language were enhanced by these additional and more subtle methods of communication. The digital age however encourages quick-hit electronic communication through the limited characters of texting, tweeting, snap-chatting and short blog entries. Emojis and a new shorthand have replaced real words; speed and brevity have become the methods of “effective” communication. Depth and nuance are fading.
Rene Girard highlighted our tendency to scapegoat. Societies or groups of people project onto one person or a group of people - they assign blame to him/her/them. You can fill in the blank for who he/her/them may be at any given time. It is the secular equivalent really of condemning another, and we know The Word’s admonition against that. [Luke 6:37]
The current quest for brevity has spawned the most recent iteration of scapegoating, hash-tagging. The easiest way to get your point across is to abbreviate it - label it, brand it, demonize and marginalize it. We are no longer mere Americans but hyphenated Americans - parsed by race, gender, income, religion, political views etc. E Pluribus Unum, The Melting Pot, is dissolving into a balkanized citizenry. Social media “conversations”, the new way to communicate, are often referred to as “feuds” or “wars”. The Truth is getting lost from view in this frenzied swirl.
Look back for a moment: we began with the fall, man’s pride leading to separation from
God and each other. Millenia went by during the search to regain truth and meaning. In the fullness of time, Truth was revealed, the Word became flesh and was given to us. One might think that after such a long search, mankind would embrace it and hold on for dear life. But instead we are cycling back to the same original sin of pride. My truth is attempting to supplant or drown out The Truth and it is dividing us. Pride is leading us into lust as Fr. Robert McTeigue, SJ, describes it: the craving of and seeking for that which my pride has decided is true and good.
But remember and take heart. When The Truth came into the world, He often invited
people to sit, listen and ponder. To take time to soak it in. Mary pondered throughout her life as
Truth’s earthly mother. Martha’s sister chose the better portion by sitting and pondering The
Truth in her presence. And The Truth often met the disciples out in the dangerous waters to
teach them - on a boat with a deep and steady draft. He didn’t teach them on a raft that was
shallow and destined to sink in the frenzied swirl of a storm. Truth has real depth and cannot be
reduced to a mere hash-tag.
Armed with The Truth, we can each change the lines of communication. Before posting,
commenting or engaging, dig deeper and think about why. Is it really from lust, the craving to
show how smart I am? Or how offended I am? Am I merely lashing out or scapegoating total
strangers? Am I flailing in the deep waters because I’m thinking superficially? It’s time to get
back into the steady, slower boat and listen again to The Truth.