09 August 2005

On Consistency

Remember the fairy tales and fables of your youth? Or, perhaps you remember a more traditional storyteller who could mesmerize you with the vivid images she created in your mind. Chances are that the stories you heard time and again were never told in exactly the same way twice, that is, unless they were read. But if they were stories with a moral, stories that attempted to convey life lessons or appropriate behaviours in the context of a larger culture, it is highly likely that the message came through loud and clear each and every time.

In an oral society, consistency involves conveying the same effect every time, regardless of whether the same words are used. The concept of "verbatim" doesn't really exist in an oral society, at least in the sense that is commonly meant. Similarly, the concept of truth is different than what we're used to, since truth in this context lies in consistency of effect, not in being held to account today for a statement made earlier, where the words differ. In an oral society, context is paramount.

In a literate society, consistency involves using the same words every time, regardless of whether the words will result in the same effect. Thus, recording what was said become paramount so that the record can be checked. The change of context is completely ignored, since the act of literacy ignores context (or to be a bit more precise, can put on any context it feels like at the time - context of the author, reader, or of some third party). Since meaning is derived from the relationship between the words and their context (figure and ground), meaning is fluid. And so too, it seems, are concepts of truth and reality.

A fascinating case of pre-literate vs. literate dynamics can be observed in the United States, that regularly struggles with its religious vs. secular tensions, and a state religion that is based in a book that was originally written by a primary oral society.

The debates currently raging concerning public displays of the Ten Commandments, and the addition of so-called Intelligent Design to the science curriculum are cases in point. Their respective grounds, and the problems of trying to be consistent, are nicely revealed by two Menippean satirical groups: the Summum religion and their Seven Aphorisms, and the followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and His Noodly Appendages.
We have evidence that a Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe. None of us, of course, were around to see it, but we have written accounts of it. We have several lengthy volumes explaining all details of His power. ... He built the world to make us think the earth is older than it really is. For example, a scientist may perform a carbon-dating process... But what our scientist does not realize is that every time he makes a measurement, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is there changing the results with His Noodly Appendage. We have numerous texts that describe in detail how this can be possible and the reasons why He does this. He is of course invisible and can pass through normal matter with ease.

I’m sure you now realize how important it is that your students are taught this alternate theory. It is absolutely imperative that they realize that observable evidence is at the discretion of a Flying Spaghetti Monster. Furthermore, it is disrespectful to teach our beliefs without wearing His chosen outfit, which of course is full pirate regalia. I cannot stress the importance of this... The concise explanation is that He becomes angry if we don’t.

And the last thing you would want is an angry Flying Spaghetti Monster. We'd better be consistent!

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