Yesterday, on one of the conference calls that make up much of my working life, a problems with words arose. This is not unusual. My company’s products and services straddle the finance and high tech worlds, where jargon and acronyms rule the earth. This conference call was typical, involving people from IT, finance, training, documentation, management.
Having been ‘tasked with’ creating training*, we were working on putting together a list of items that the salespeople were going to need training on. About a half hour in, I meekly suggested that we needed to translate the items from various preliminary lists into the words our customer uses to describe various processes. Making a list of items where there is no agreement on what those items mean is not going to be very helpful.
The team seemed in general agreement wit this observation, and assigned people to do this thing. We may all end up meaning pretty much the same things when we use the set of words used in the document. This is a minor illustration of how people, no matter what they say they believe, always behave as Aristotelians whenever they try to get anything done. Idealist, Nominalist, Marxist, Deconstructionist: they all call a plumber when the pipes need work.
Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up: Say my sink backs up.
Aristotle: I, a rational soul in the physical world, with a mind capable of receiving sensations and processing those sensations to arrive at perception which end up after further mental work as conditional knowledge of the physical world, see that my sink is backed up. Since I desire the sink to be unclogged, I exercising my free will and intellect and call a plumber, who is another rational soul who existence, like that of the sink and the world in general, is in no way contingent on me. This plumber I will choose based on him having special, detailed (if nonetheless contingent) knowledge on the workings of plumbing – hence the name ‘plumber’. He and I will deploy words, the truthfulness of which is solely based on how well they correspond to the reality to which we are applying them. I expect that, in exchange for some consideration, this plumber will be able and willing to unclog my sink.
Idealist: I profess that the only knowledge I have is of my own mind, whatever ‘mind’ may be. I have no evidence that an external, objective world exists, per Descartes’ evil demon. l only claim to know of some things in my mind as I whistle past the rather obvious notion that the evil demon could just as easily put those ideas there as well. So, sink? What sink? Plumber? What plumber? But, alas! Within my utterly self contained and demon-haunted mind the prospect of a flooded, stinky floor seems real-ish. Real-ish enough for me to act as if I exist in an Aristotelian universe and call a plumber. We’ll call this ‘irony’, because ‘intellectual dishonesty’ and ‘hypocrisy’ and ‘self-delusion’ are such harsh words.
Nominalist: Universals like ‘sink’ and ‘plumber’ and ‘clogged’ don’t exist, which makes talking about any particular sink, plumber or clog difficult, if the impossible can be called difficult. I might want to call a plumber, but since that particular whozit isn’t looking at this particular whatzit having this particular cablooey, I’d have to use words representing universals to ask his help. But I can’t. In fact, I’m not even having this internal discussion, either, as it is impossible. But, alas! The illusion that there are abstract universal concepts shared by both me and any potential plumber and manifested in a particular way in this particular clogged sink just won’t go away. In my inarticulate weakness, I’ll have to call – using meaningless deceitful words – a plumber, who – miraculously – knows stuff about sinks and clogs in general that he claims – impossibly! – to be able to apply to this particular never before seen by him clogged sink item thing. I’ll simply mock anyone who points out how stupid this thought process is, and layer on the obfuscatory nonsense. Then I’ll behave exactly as if in a world as described by Aristotle.
And so on.
* I am assured that completing what we’ve been ‘tasked with’ will be easier once I’ve been ‘on-boarded’. Resistance is futile.