This note is a reflection I got after reading Crispy Chicken’s wonderful article about Literalism that you can read here: https://crispy.substack.com/p/my-struggle-with-literalism. It’s very good and worth a read. Thanks to Amir for linking this to me.
I have a problem communicating a very specific problem that I have right now. Not necessarily in the practical communicating part, but in communicating them to my friends in a way that doesn’t make me sound like an absolute dickwad privileged fuck. Here’s the conundrum:
- I am, at the moment, intensely lonely.
- I am surrounded by friends and family that I like.
- I like myself.
This is a problem, because most of the time the answer for the loneliness problem is that you should either make friends and meet them a lot, or to learn to love yourself within that loneliness. Therefore why am I still lonely you ask? Don’t I have friends who are willing to hang out with me? Don’t I have family who I’m close to? Don’t I like myself? Heck, I’m writing this in a Wingstop near my house with a friend, who am I to talk about being lonely???
There’s a currently running hypothesis in my brain right now. Using the Internal Family System (IFS) pov there exist a part of me, the romantic and sexual part of me, that have been trying their best to exist and live and thrive that just haven’t succeeded. I call it the ice prince, a homage to the Disney princess Elsa, and it’s prickly bitter frigid coldness hurts itself and everyone arounds it. And yet, a subtle yet loud voice screams in the back of my head is screaming “PRIVILEGED FUCK”.
Privilege is one hell of a drug
Or at least, the concept of it is.
My parents, like Crispy’s, cared a lot about the concept of honesty. They taught me that being honest is important in keeping the soul clean, and that being honest, or at the very least not lying, makes things easier for everyone involved. Where we differ was how my parents, from a very young age, told me that words does not always contain truth. Most of the time not out of malice or deception, but out of sloth, out of convenience, out of ignorance. There was always a factor of power. A factor of needs. Another way to frame it is that the things left unsaid is almost always more important than the things that are said.
Why? Because words are not the only way to communicate, and it is actually the one with the least truthful one. Compared to actions (esp. laku in Javanese culture), words does not have to corelate to the real world, and that is both it’s strength and it’s weakness. It’s untetheredness to reality allows us to think and discuss the abstract, to take things out of it’s natural context and send it forward to a future, to take people away from their current reality to another.
This however was not a deterrence against literalism. It was more of a “there is more than meets the eye, look between the lines” warning. I learned the concept of “rules as written” and “rules as intended” from table-top roleplaying games (TTRPGs) that fits perfectly for this. When you communicate though words, there are the literal meaning and there are intended meaning, what you should do is learn how to read both of them. Use this call to ask for the truth, to be able to take things literally and not-literally to have a better understanding of the world.
I became sorta good at thinking. I wasn’t always as rigorous in my thinking as someone who was more literal would, but more than how most people around me would. I asked more questions than my peers would but only so far before the more “is this really what they intended to say” part of me stops me. My search for the truth was never about the truth, it was more about “does this truth feel right and good for everyone involved?”. Sure, I would LOVE if we could uncover the truth, but… the truth is only good if it leads toward a Good. Right now I can’t tell you what that Good or Right is. Well, I’ve never been able to articulate it properly, but I used to know. That is until I learned about post-modern philosophy, and personally when I’ve learned about privilege.
Post-modernism, as far as I’m concerned, is the idea that there is no truth and therefore no good because everything is intersubjective and nothing is objective, a direct move away from modernism thoughts that believe that there are objective things, including ethics. I agree, it fits a lot of my preconceived notions of reality, that a lot of things are consensus, even our foundational laws of physics. Sure they’re extremely robust, but our definition of them are a consensus reached by people through the scientific method, which we believe to be able to point to the closest possible truth.
Privilege, however, fucked my brains out, because it is a brainworm that frames the world in a very specific way that is kinda true and yet it’s not actually helping me do anything in life. Crispy’s thought about him being ultrasuspectible to memes was what prompted me to write this, because I am also untrasuspectible to memes. The privilege meme seems to have caught in my brain, and it hurts. The thought that maybe I am part of the privileged class, and that everything that is wrong in the world is because of people like me, and that my inability to use this privilege to make the world better makes me a terrible person. And that there is no salvation for people with privilege, other than to burn themself to the ground for the good of others.
Now this shouldn’t happen, because I don’t take things too literally… right? Well, looks like the part of me that thinks about intent have this… uh… bug(?) or feature(?) that assumes that everyone is good. I know, I know, very naive of me, but I think it’s the one thing that I don’t want to let go. And that causes me to not be able to let go of this brainworm called privilege, because I do think that the people who are saying it is saying it in good faith… it’s just that things are more nuanced than that, and that the complete truth doesn’t always result in net good.
I don’t know.
Still working on it.