You can say anything

| Forum Editor

Would YOU give away one point of your GPA to tack on the end of your slacking roommate’s?

Of course you wouldn’t. How can you argue that? But wait—if you’re the 100 percent of people who say “No” to that statement, you’re suddenly a part of the Republican Party. That seems odd.

And, how about this: “Conservatives give MORE money to charity than Liberals, per capita” (see the comment from Caitlin on “The impossibility of hope” in the debate issue). Well hey, that’s a fact. They see it as a personal responsibility, not a governmental one—not only that, but they actually “think it is better to PERSONALLY donate the money, see where it is going and choose a cause that they think is just” (my emphasis). Conservatives actually care more about other people than liberals do.

Now let’s get real. People with lower incomes obviously start disadvantaged and can end up poor no matter how hard they work—your financial situation is a function partially of hard work, sure, but it’s also a function of where you started, how much support you got and pure luck. And GPA is a system made specifically to measure your merit. Food, shelter and comfort, on the other hand, were, in fact, not God’s way of separating the lazy from the industrious.

And of course conservatives give more money than liberals—they HAVE more money than liberals. But it doesn’t really mean their minds are on helping people any more often. How many conservatives were working with me this summer at United Way of America? Few.
Now, bashing right-wing folks isn’t my purpose in this column. Caitlin has some great points, about how the government does a poor job of doing good things with the money it gets through taxes (it puts them into random “programs” instead of into consolidated, efficient efforts) and how I was being unfair ripping conservative ideology as totally illegitimate (though I disagree that all conservatives have charity toward others as their utmost goal).

My purpose, rather, is to point out that you can take a minor, minor pearl of reality and convert it into a statement and even an argument that says whatever you want and that makes sense. My purpose is to point out that you can “say” anything.

This intellectual fellow, Roland Barthes, writes in his own silly autobiographical project that writing “subjects [him] to a severe exclusion,” because his language is not the “popular” language we see on TV and because his belief in “the inconsistency of the subject, his atopia” actually “makes all lyricism untenable.” Suddenly, “[w]riting is a dry, ascetic pleasure, anything but effusive.” Suddenly, writing is just the opposite of what we always thought it was. Hm.

And, naturally, he’s right. “Right,” that is. He uses a bunch of words, twists around some concepts—he becomes accurate. His statement is real. But what we thought originally was real too. And it still is. We’ve got two totally contradictory concepts, both accurate.

Every day, night, whatever, we see the same deal from presidential candidates. They say something—and it’s the case. Then the other guy says something—well, you have to believe that too (assuming you’re a neutral observer, of course). You can “say” anything. You can make anything make sense.

Most of us have relied on language our whole lives to get us to some really important places. It’s sad to think that we can just sit down and make distinctions upon distinctions, and they can all be right.

“Listen,” I might say, “this article is representative of my disillusionment with the world and with people’s unwillingness to try to actually represent reality—I’m done with language ever being reliable.” Or I could say, “I’m just mad at this Barthes character for trying to ruin an institution on which I so heavily rely.”

They’re both true. Am I over it?