Ontology Schmontology

I get annoyed when people start talking about Ontology!

How Things Are. In their Very Being.

I got annoyed in school when Heidegger did it. I got annoyed in school when my office mate who was “a Phenomenologist” did it. And I get annoyed these days when people on the internet do it, like pastors who are gearing up to preach sermon series on Ontology derived from the first verse of Genesis in the Bible which supposedly tells us all about Ontology.

Oh, and while they’re at it, why Postmodernism is the latest demonic power of the air. Because it attacks Ontology. How Things Are. In their Very Being.

I don’t get annoyed because I don’t think there’s a distinction between telling the truth and telling lies. There is a distinction, and we ought to respect it. If I ate the last marshmallow, I should own up to that. And saying I didn’t would be a lie. I’m not so postmodern that I’m post truth-telling.

[Although while we’re at that: so, when you complain about post-modernism, what are you saying? That you’re for truth, except when you’re not? Because otherwise, how do you deal with the post-modern insight into the nature of language etc. that’s … you know … true?]

I don’t get annoyed because I want “reality is socially constructed” to mean that individuals can effectively make their individual reality whatever they want it to be whenever they want it to be that.

It seems to me that anyone with an ounce of life experience knows it doesn’t mean that, at any rate. No one who shops at Walmart, for instance, thinks they can just walk into Walmart and say “my socially constructed reality is that I don’t need to pay for things.” Or rather, I suppose, they can do that, but we all know they won’t walk out of the store with that plastic storage container, either.

But then, I suppose, that isn’t the behavior people are fighting over.

I don’t even get annoyed because I’m against having words and concepts that have enough of an agreed-upon meaning that people can communicate with them. I like the idea of communication. I like the idea of mutual intelligibility among humans. I share the dream of a common language.

I get annoyed because I think: so, how exactly are you going to get yourself into a position to talk about Ontology?

How are you going to get yourself into that pristine, non-socially-conditioned, non-linguistically-conditioned, non-traditioned, non-contingent, non-finite, non-humanly-embodied, non-spatio-temporal, non-existential position? Past all your thus-conditioned blind spots? Eh?

This I’ve gotta see.

Except of course, I won’t. Because even assuming you can get yourself into that position, there won’t be anyone there to humanly communicate with. Certainly not I, who am clearly not in that position.

God, maybe?

So – are you telling me you want to be God?

I get it. But I thought we’d agreed that was a bad idea.

And besides – that meta-existential place may be where God lives, but it doesn’t seem to be how God communicates. Not with us humans, at any rate.

So, it seems to me, if the problematic human language we have available to us, which does not support conversations about Ontology very well, is good enough for God, it will have to be good enough for us.

Especially since we have no other language. At least, not this side of the eschaton.

And we will just need to continue to recognize that the words and concepts we have to work with and communicate with are provisional, and open to change and negotiation. Enough to leave room for error, but also for learning.

Just as our grasp of Reality is provisional, and open to change and negotiation. Enough to leave room for disagreement, and conflict, but also for learning, and imagination, and maybe even progress, if there is such a thing. Locally, at least, and relatively.

And stop talking about stuff when we don’t know what we’re talking about. Like Ontology.

Sheesh.

OK, I think that’s about it, for now.

Image: “Facepalms of the Divine,” Tim Green from Bradford, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

5 responses to “Ontology Schmontology”

  1. One of my favorite sayings came from this woman who told a guy, “Stop, there’s way too many syllables in your theology!” Made me laugh, but I’ve taken it to heart myself. Far too many people hide behind big words and intellectual notions completely devoid of the heart and in the end they really say nothing at all.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Do you know what the advantage is of being a test tube baby?

    The answer to that question when we finish this comment!

    In your post, you say the following (among other things):

    “No one who shops at Walmart, for instance, thinks they can just walk into Walmart and say “my socially constructed reality is that I don’t need to pay for things.” Or rather, I suppose, they can do that, but we all know they won’t walk out of the store with that plastic storage container, either.

    But then, I suppose, that isn’t the behavior people are fighting over.”

    I feel ya. I do. But you are so old. Sorry, but you really gotta keep up.

    Walmart can’t possibly be our measure of the solidity that does not move. Right now, or at least before suppertime last night, there was a rule and a shared expectation that you can’t walk into walmart and simply claim these items are yours and walk out without paying.

    BUT

    That little bedrock institution of shared fact is about to come up for review, and you had better learn how to adjust your everyday language, expectations, morals, and what the heck you think is funny, because my second grade daughter’s feelings will be hurt if you laugh at that, and the Supreme Court will hear the case!

    Anyway…

    It’s so hard to live between my ideals and your chaos. The problem with HELL (and they don’t put this in the brochures, but it’s the bedrock bottom ontological truth of the matter anyway) is the NEIGHBORS. You gotta hate ‘m! Sometime go listen to Guns N’ Roses’s song Right Next Door to Hell. You’ll realize immediately the poor lady Axl is singing about lives right next door to hell, alright!

    Anyway, just my two bits. (Oh, and I am not siding with the ontologists here either! I really think the second amendment should be tempered with good and wise – ahem – common sense.)

    And so…

    The advantage to being a test tube baby is…

    Drumroll please

    You get a womb with a view!

    Liked by 1 person

    • LOL. I know, I AM old. Officially. And today is my birthday, even.

      And yet, I am actually very postmodern. For which I don’t apologize, although I do get defensive about it every so often.

      Oh, no, I am not suggesting Walmart is a measure of “solidity that does not move.” Not at all.

      It seems clear to me that a good deal of our reality is, as a matter of fact, “socially constructed.” Paying for stuff in stores is, for the moment, part of that. But we could imagine alternative realities, where it wouldn’t be. We might even be able to construct those, socially, if we could get enough people on board with that. [Politics, that.] Not that I’m working on that at all.

      It also seems clear to me that language and meaning are not stable. That’s a postmodern insight that seems, pretty obviously, true.

      It also seems true to me that we (humans, this is) can grasp that there might BE some “absolute truth” in Reality, but that we are not in a very good position to ever ARTICULATE what that might be. Or perceive it.

      I really think we need to leave the whole absolute truth thing up to God. But, in the realm of humanly knowable things, where we humans live, we can have faith that it lies in the direction we have from Jesus Christ. Whom we grasp – well enough, I think – by faith.

      Not so much by our clear and distinct purchase on “absolute truth.” This is where I think some people – the ones who like to talk about Ontology – get confused. Confused between certainty, which is one thing, and the feeling of certainty people can have by faith, which is something different.

      Back to social construction, insofar as our reality is socially constructed, I feel we ought to work together on socially constructing a better one. Sadly, however, there is a lot of disagreement these days about what “better” would look like.

      Presumably, we humans could – it lies within the realm of possibility – manage to work through the conflicts we have around that, and make something better happen. In actuality, though? This side of the eschaton? … well, as William Sloane Coffin said, “I’m not optimistic … but I’m always very hopeful.”

      Like

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