The gospel of St. John, translated by King James, begins with the announcement: “In the beginning was the Word,” which is a glorious way of saying: “It all began with a word.” On the surface this may sound like little more than a nice piece of poetry, but within it is buried the simple but deep metaphysics of Idealism. Existence cannot really be said to have begun in any qualitative sense until there was the first named-thing.
It is unlikely that the first word uttered would have been an abstract concept like God, as St. John proposes. More likely it would have been a familiar object, or even more likely, the expression of a feeling; or an indicator you or me.
Language is our first musical relationship between the world and our perception of it. But did it begin musically? Perhaps not: perhaps language was first created graphically. Two lines intersecting representing a tree, the tree on the plain, where two hominoids would meet and wait to hunt the invisible beast.
This would have been a clearer beginning. In order to communicate the invisible, the invisible has to be recreated from memory and then turned into a representation of it. Rendered via some abstract – either graphically or through vocalisation. But, it’s not important which came first; the importance lies in the fact that eventually one always becomes the other – the graphic form must evolve into the vocal utterance and vice versa.
Of course, once the vocal abstraction was grasped by hominoid societies and developed to its full potential, it would nearly always be preferred to the graphic communication: it is simpler and more versatile through that simplicity.
Once language has been absorbed, minds can think and expand. It is our capacity for grasping complexity through the tool of language that makes us homo-sapiens human. But from where comes this need for complexity? Why do we bother? Isn’t the good life the simple one? Could complexity be a mistake? After all, this search for complexity was the very reason for our Fall from Paradise.
The religious notion we have that we must suffer for a nostalgia for the Paradise Lost, can be affirmed by psychology. Nevertheless, psychology would also argue that the nostalgia is more realistically our yearning to return to the perfect autocracy of the womb rather than some primordial memory of a Garden of Eden.
That is our human condition; buried in the word, and the complexity that word yearns to unveil.
Our nostalgia for simplicity, on the other hand, is a (non-Sapiens) animal one – the un-special part of us: the part without language; the non-Sapiens side of the homo sapiens.
The human being then is a dual being: both animal and Sapiens. The animal side yearns for a simple life of satisfied needs, whereas the Sapiens strives to unravel the complexity of reality in order to understand and preserve it. These two forces are, in practice, basically antagonistic to each other, even though there seems to be only one entity at work.
The struggle works on both the micro and macro-psychological levels. It is as much a battle between ego and Id as it is between Power and the People. On the personal level one may get bored and distressed by the lack of challenges in one’s life, or over-stressed and panicky by their over-abundance. In the socio-political realm, the will to simplicity and the quest for comfort is generated in order to create a passive herd of the animal class whilst the same Wealth-driven power that creates the herd, separates itself in an aristocratic way. By doing this, Wealth can appropriate the Sapiens ideal for itself; albeit through gross, anti-human segregation.
Meanwhile, words themselves become absorbed into the human struggle between simplicity and complexity. The forces of simplicity struggle, in a linguistic way, to make expression as minimally clear as possible. The lucidity and clarity of the slogan: if you can say it in a sentence, why write a chapter? If you can say it in word, why write a sentence?
Nevertheless, one can’t understand complexity by simply reducing it. An abstract of the complex does require a reduction of its complexity in order to become clear, but that reduction can never be an over-simplification of the complex nature, when by over-simplification we mean a loss of meaning via simplification.
The result of over-simplification is the creation of a perception of reality that does not quite make sense. Thus, we may live in a freedom-loving country and yet not feel particularly free at all. In the same way, one may marry the person one deeply loves only to shortly find out that they hardly love him or her at all. This radical shift in our perception of reality occurs not, as we immediately think, because conditions have profoundly changed, but rather because the words we defined our relationships with (in this case “freedom” and “love”) were never properly defined to start with.
In fact, if we follow Lacan’s chain of signification into that which does not exist, we find that neither of these terms really point to anything that exists either. They are therefore impossibilities, and because they are impossibilities we can only have the vaguest notion of them. To truly achieve clarity, we should abolish them. But instead, we do the opposite. We grab onto them as fulcrums from which we can form our own impossible fantasies around.
The impossibility of the Utopia is not one of praxis, it is a linguistic impossibility. If we want to create a better world, we have to choose our words more carefully. The word was vital for humanity and it is vital if there has to be any real human progress in the Big Arenas of the eradication of poverty and hunger; crime and war; and for real human to be made in health, creativity and technology.
Of course, the impossible desire is always functional, and it creates its own accidental results: some of which even seem to make the impossible seem real. For example, whilst one could argue that very mush been achieved in the name of “love” and “freedom”; our argument stems from the realisation that in fact so much has been overlooked, precisely because of that same obsession with the windmills of impossible fantasies.