What does it mean for you?

Eli Szein
16 November 2020

We forget about the power of words. From a broad perspective, Harari reminds us of it in his books, when he says that thanks to the linguistic fictions we create, humans can cooperate with strangers. We share beliefs like money, the state, corporations, and so many more.

The generative aspect of language, as many linguists ponder, tells us that language generates reality. They are not magic wands that with words make things appear or events occur. It more subtle: the interpretations and beliefs that we have are our world.

The philosopher Laclau talks about empty signifiers. Words that can mean different things throughout history. Ever since Saussure, the form of a word (the letters put together) is studied as something different from its signified sense, its content, its meaning. Like a box and the jewelry it contains, like hardware and software, like a book and the text. In this way, the word “justice” for example, has historical and geographical meanings, according to the different contexts. Who decides what it means?

There isn’t an Adam that may point at things and name them. There are systems of linguistic consensus: flexible and dynamic. The social aspect is resolved in arenas of language and power. Complex. That which is technical helps us with the pragmatic consensus that create the rules of the game.

And the individual aspect? Can we talk about empty signifiers as a way to understand the others? I want to say. That “justice” may mean something to me and that justice may mean something different to you and to her, and to him, and to us, and to all of you. And that we don’t take it for granted. Event within the same political, social and family context, we have learned different definitions of justice, from an intellectual perspective, as well as from the body and our emotions.

All of this entails accepting that different definitions co-exist and that we co-create them, and at the same time they define us as the different people we are.

Therefore, let’s start asking ourselves what the meaning of something is for us. And asking each other what that means to each of of. Undoubtedly, those conversations will become new realities. A different connection.

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