One of my philosophy seminars is called "Topics in Contemporary Philosophy." This is a vague title. The course deals with social constructivism, relativism, and deliberation, plus the political effects of these issues. The professor is a tall, broad English man who says things like "we English are real toppers" (whatever that means) and "imagine if I came to class naked one day. This would be a transgression of unspoken social rules. Imagine if I came to class wearing a ladies dress. You would probably think I was gender-fucking but I could probably get away with it." I like him, his sardonic jokes and straight delivery, the way he pauses to think about things said. He also makes snide jokes about first year undergrads and most people laugh heartily in a self-righteous and pretentious manner, poking each other in the ribs, sharing the secret of our obvious superiority. Fuuuuck.
Good things have been happening today. I feel pleased with life. I am thinking about social constructivism and Wittgenstein.
Most people associate social/moral constructivism with increased freedom. If nothing is objectively or universally true, then we are free to construct our own realities, engage in whatever language game we choose, play within discourses. Social constructivism is linked to relativism in that it seems to be a justification for relativism. "If this way of seeing the world is contingent on a particular socio-historical context, I am justified in believing that all knowledge is relative." But I disagree. The fact that "reality" is socially constructed limits us. According to Wittgenstein, language games that we unconsciously partake in are a "form of life." Language games are not free discourses, they create limits and structures within which discourse is possible (and only within this structure). Form implies limits, and language creates limits. So the games propagated by language or institutions are manipulated and in flux, yes, but this does not mean we are not constrained within the game as players who have learned rules and have a stake in maintaining them. We are either feeding into already-existing sources of power that are invested in enforcing the already-existing system, or we subvert this system in order to establish or support new sources or forms of power. We create systems in order to delineate 'us' from 'them;' to control what it means to be 'human,' even. And these games, like the multi-faceted, layered city Wittgenstein describes, do not allow us the freedom (and tyranny) of relativism. Why and how did language develop the way it did? Think of the infinite possibilities and alternatives that could have developed and think of the various forms of power that have manipulated the way that we speak, communicate, and thus, live in the world. I'm reminded of that kid in White Noise who is mute but cries all the time. Crying is the closest we have to a universal language, really, in terms of sound. There is a girl crying outside my window, big, weepy sobs. A man is trying to talk to her and she doesn't want to go with him. He sounds intimidating. She sounds desperate, animal.