Language, Numbers, and the Right to Be Different

The nice thing about universities is that there are many different disciplines (liberal, medical, engineering, and other) that can be explored.  I spent a little time modifying the code on my day sculptor program to include an initial hat event so that every day a new hat can be randomly selected from a list of interesting ones that I put in my metaphorical closet.  I then try to reorganize the individually selected events (sometimes more or less successfully) around this theme.  One of my favorite themes is anthropologist/explorer.  I love that hat because it is the one that allows me to “not adapt”.  I get to be different and still have social value.  I get to question the world around me.

So, the next day, I got to put on my anthropology hat, and go to a couple of different talks.  The first one in the linguistics department focused on the relationship between language and numbers.  It began with a study of 2 different isolated languages and cultures (one in Northwestern Bolivia and the other one in Papua New Guinea) that had binary counting systems, that is they had words for one, two, and many, so six would be two and two and two, and five would be one and two and two.

The linguist who did the field work asked the question: what was the first thing that humans counted?  I thought it was a great question.

A little later in the evening I would participate in a discussion at the Free Thinker’s Library of Noam Chomsky’s book “On Anarchism”.  A lot of discussion about exactly what that word meant, whether “a system without laws” is an oxymoron, i.e. ism doesn’t belong with anarchy, and whether nonviolent anarchy could peacefully coexist with government, and if so, under what conditions?

What is the difference between an anarchist and an outlaw?  One person argued that democracy was anarchism.  Another interesting point that was debated was the function of government in the context of oligarchy – the precise size that was needed to counteract the influence of large powerful special interests.  In the latter case, the government might act as a sort of “big friend for hire” to the anarchist, or individual, needed in order to avoid unregulated bullying on the way to school and back by other more powerful people.

The point where I agree with Chomsky is that anarch-“ism” has the possibility of being a legitimate path to maximum self-realization.  I don’t think that it is the only possible path for most people though.  And, I think that the concept of currency use (which is a regulated process by most governments) requires thoughtful justification by a practicing anarchist.  In my view, government is by definition going to be oppressive to some people (and some forms of government will be more oppressive than others).  Therefore there is a moral argument against oppression which argues in favor of tolerating the anarchist position.  In order for the anarchist to be peacefully tolerated by government, it may be necessary for his/her influence to be small, and therefore that growth would be regulated, or monitored and restrained from the governmental point of view.  The reason for this scaling would be to limit influence to the scale of the individual. So, this angle eventually led to a discussion on group dynamics in the context of anarchy.  Is leadership required for a group?  How does qualification come into the question of assignment of power?  Should the leadership position distinguish its point of view from any individual in the group, and if so, how?  That is, “point of view” projected onto group leader has different properties from “point of view” projected onto individual.  Once again, we are back to the question of structure, and whether “group leader” is compatible with anarchy.  This led to questions regarding whether employee-owned companies were expressions of anarchy.

I’m going to tentatively argue that the true anarchist however, does not define him/herself either with or against any government, rather adopting a position of indifference provided that boundaries with respect to force are intact.  It is in such a case not an ism (that is a system that has a set of obligations to and from others), and becomes a healthier systemic accommodation to oppression than revolution, allowing possible eventual realignment with governmental interests dynamically as these governmental interests may change.

One differential that has to be discussed is between libertarianism and anarchy, also possibly anarchy and nihilism.

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