Inception, Dichotomies, and Freedom
On How Language Threatens Liberty
To allude to Nolan’s masterpiece, all conversation is ‘inception’. It is because I brought up Inception that you are now thinking about the movie: I planted the idea in your mind. If you claim you are not being incepted, you are only saying that because I claimed that you were: you are making that claim because I put the idea of ‘being incepted’ into your mind. Now that I’ve spoken about inception, there’s ‘no exit’ from it — ‘l’enfer, c’est les bouches’.
You are not free to choose not to be incepted.
Your liberty ends along the borders of my words.
If I ask ‘are you worried?’, you must now be defined in terms of ‘worried’ or ‘not worried’. You are not free to avoid this dichotomy, and as Derrida warned, dichotomies threaten freedom and oversimply life. Before you simply ‘were’, but now you are ‘not worried’. Before you were worriless without the word ‘worriless’: worriless-ness was a non-characteristic of your previous state (as was everything else you ‘were not’, such as ‘garden-less’, ‘griefless’, etc.). However, once I ask ‘are you worried?’, worriless-ness becomes an ‘active non-characteristic’, for now you are thinking about your ‘worriless-ness’ rather than simply being (worriless). You must now actively engage with that non-characteristic of yourself: you must now think of yourself as ‘being worriless’ as opposed to or in comparison with ‘being worried’. With this thought, you may think ‘maybe I should be worried’, ‘maybe I’m being carless’, or ‘is he worried?’ — with a thought comes a network of thoughts. To return to the (relative) state of (simple) existence or (pure) being, you must now actively capture all of these thoughts and address them: you are not free to return to simply being without mentally fighting to return to where you ‘were’. Ironically, the very thought of thinking of one’s self as ‘being worriless’ as opposed to ‘being worried’ may suddenly cause you to become worried. It will then seem to be the case that the right answer to the original question was ‘yes’, when that doesn’t really describe your initial state.
If to the question ‘are you worried?’ you answer ‘I’m not worried’, you are unintentionally lying, for before you were neither worried nor worriless: you simple ‘were’. However, humans cannot comprehend, speak about, or engage with (pure) being, for being can only be approached by humans within the confines of dichotomies. If a person says ‘I am rich’, the person, believing that the term ‘rich’ refers to his or her state, lies unintentionally, for the person isn’t ‘rich’: the person simply exists. The term ‘rich’ is a term that ‘points to’ that existence, but ‘rich ≠ existence’. It would be truer if the person said ‘I am’ rather than ‘I am rich’, even better if he said ‘I’, and best if he smiled.
To speak is rarely not an act of inception that creates dichotomies. Whether it be between the word ‘cup’ and the object-cup, happiness and sadness, a person or someone else, the idea of 1 and the word ‘one’ — language divides. Language leads to being only insomuch as it puts the idea of being into a person’s head to orientate that individual ‘toward’ being (especially if it then immediately deconstructs itself). The act of inception that is language, which inherently dichotomizes, is nothing worth noting normally, and normally doesn’t destabilize being for any notable amount of time. However, when language is judgmental or charged with emotions, like anxiety or hatred, the point must be noted and fully grasped to ultimately escape the dichotomizing prison — l’enfer.
If I tell you after you finish making a point that ‘you won the debate’, you will suddenly think of our conversation in terms of ‘debate-ness’. You may then reply ‘I was just talking’, irritated. With my words, I planted the thought of our conversation being a debate via ‘inception’, making you irritated. The irritation arises because you have been thrust, without consent, into a dichotomy: I have split you without permission. Despite what seems right, you shouldn’t define the previous exchange in terms of ‘not being a debate’; rather, you should simply accept it for what it ‘was’. Rather than (re)define it, you should remain open to it.¹
If you ask me to get your keys and ask ‘do you mind?’, I now think of myself as wanting to get your keys as opposed to not wanting to get them, versus simply doing it. This transforms how I see the act: I’m now thinking of it in dialectical terms of an ‘ ‘act I want to do’ versus an ‘act I don’t want to do’ ’, when before I may have simply done it without this added complexity (which brings with it an emotional dimension). It would have been better had you simply asked ‘will you get my keys?’, let me answer ‘yes’, and left it at that. If after I get your keys you say ‘sorry for asking you to do that’, I can then think of our exchange in terms of an apology versus ‘task complete’.
Freedom within dialectics is free in some regards and not in others. When someone asks ‘are you worried?’, you are free to capture your thoughts and return to a state of (simple) existence, but you aren’t free to return to that state without doing anything. You are free to choose to embrace the dichotomy and accept worriless-ness as opposed to (simply) existing, but you are not free to choose whether or not that dichotomy is incepted into you in the first place. The very fact that to speak always risks the freedom of being is one reason why wisdom is heavily associated with knowing when and how to talk. Of course, the one who asks ‘are you worried?’ would only do so if the person believed that the question was worth asking at the time. Yet, recognizing the gravity of words (and how they inherently divide beings from purity/freedom whenever they are uttered) will help one think twice before asking questions. Whether or not it is indeed worth asking will ultimately be up to the person.
Since all speech seems to create dichotomies, listening is very hard. It is hard to think about what a person is saying beyond the dichotomies those words fashion, for words and even thoughts are inherently dichotomizing. Irritations, misunderstandings, losses of freedom, etc. that are the result of dichotomizes are magnified if dichotomizes are embraced. If for example a person accepts the dichotomy of ‘right and wrong’ rather than simply ‘the truth’, the person will either think of themselves as ‘right’, which may give rise to arrogance, or ‘wrong’, which may give rise to self-degradation. Also, an embraced dichotomy preserves the loss of liberty and separation from being. If there is always a right and wrong, ‘truth’ (of being) will be in jeopardy: if at no point ‘right’ stands alone, ‘right’ never converges with existence (into ‘truth’), and ‘right’ is rendered arbitrary. Lastly, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are words that carry emotional weight, and whenever the dichotomy of ‘right and wrong’ is thrust down upon a conversation, it becomes more difficult to listen and for the conversation to deconstruct itself back into being. Though the construction of a wall down the middle of a country doesn’t necessitate its division, it makes unity harder. At the same time, without walls and borders, it can be hard to tell who is who and who is unified.
Fear is a reason humans stray from being, and words are a vehicle through which worries are made tangible. Words are also through which the world, you, and I are made tangible; without words, ‘thing-ness’ would be indefinable. Words, like free will, are a blessing and a burden. Without the necessary ‘fall’ brought on by words, being would be indefinable from nothingness. Yet, with words, humans are able to press upon the world emotions like fear and anxiety which, unto the world, lack reality. There is nothing to fear about a snake insomuch as it is a snake: the fear emerges when a person thinks or says ‘it’s a snake!’, for such an act triggers an individual’s consciousness to associate ‘snake’ with ‘poison, danger, etc.’. Fear, worry, and discrimination arise within people, not the world: they are ‘non-being(s)’. Because of words, humans can orientate themselves toward non-being, but because of words, there is a (meaningful) difference between non-being and being, making the embrace of being good. The more a person can control his or her tongue to resist the urge to voice fears, worries, and various discriminations, the more humans shall exist in (simple) existence, transcendent of dichotomies.
True thought deconstructs itself as it is thought.
True conversation deconstructs itself as it is said.
Though dichotomy-based thinking threatens freedom, the worst is arguably discrimination. Often resulting from insecurity, worry, and/or fear, discrimination is a dichotomy based on variables outside an agent’s control. If I think I am better than you because my great grandfather was a President, I am discriminating. If I am at a disadvantage to you in my mind because I am Chinese, I am also discriminating. Whether or not this discrimination has any bearing on reality isn’t the interest of this paper, though it should be noted that dialogues on race, genes, bloodlines, etc. should return humanity to (simple) existence, in which dichotomies like ‘young as opposed to old’, ‘Chinese as opposed to Japanese’, etc. are transcended.
Discrimination is an opposite of freedom. To define one’s self or another by what is outside the agent’s control is to belittle the freedom of that agent. If I am told, ‘your father is a great man’ and I think I am great consequently, I belittle my agency. I should be proud of my father, but I must be careful to keep that emotion from defining my identity.
If someone says ‘you’re white’, you must now think of yourself as white as opposed to Middle Eastern, Russian, etc.; before, you simply ‘were’. This is the reason why it is so difficult to answer a question like ‘what is whiteness?’: the answer should be inclusive yet there is an inherent dichotomy at the question’s center (and any answer to the question must divide a being from being). Of course, acknowledging whiteness or any race is valuable and even necessary to determine how and why a given people has garnered advantages, been mistreated, etc., but this practice will be of greater use if the dialogue ultimately deconstructs itself.² If the endeavor never does and if the dichotomy is preserved, it may have been better if the question was never raised. Colorblindness doesn’t seem to be the answer, but discussions of color that lead to dichotomies being undeniable, universal, and inescapable are problematic.³ All dialogues that preserve such associational complexes should probably end, regardless their intent. The solution is to encourage people to actually see reality (which includes racial realities), past all their associational filters.
Of all the tasks humans are responsible, seeing what’s in front of them is one of the hardest.
Joy and fulfillment in life are tied to what one can control and accepting what one cannot. I will not achieve joy and fulfillment by relishing in the accomplishments of those who share blood with me, nor will I ultimately lose joy and fulfillment because of the failures of loved ones. How I feel I have lived my life will likely be determined by whether I embrace liberty and to what degree. Avoiding dichotomies and especially discrimination is of the utmost importance in achieving liberty, as is speaking only when it orientates me toward being. This doesn’t mean I shouldn’t think or speak, only that I should do so aware that I am ‘fallen’ (or divided from being), which will keep me from embracing dichotomies. Recognizing my ‘fallen’ and split situation, I can know how, when, and why to speak, and in doing so, work to simplify life down to its un-alienating and joyful essence.
Of course, I cannot avoid inception, as I cannot avoid ‘falling’ into dichotomies. To speak is to be human, but to speak is to deviate from being. Humanity is an irony: all are ‘fallen’. However, dichotomies I couldn’t have avoided, such as those incepted into me, are not the ones that will ultimately be difficult to overcome or those by which I will ultimately judge the quality of my life. Rather, it is the dichotomies I could have avoided (which are self-imposed or that I impose on others) that I will likely regret and that will be difficult to live with. All can be forgiven, of course, but likely only if a person realizes his or her ‘fallenness’.
In closing, yes, I planted the idea of being incepted into your mind, along with ‘the dichotomy of words’: you would have never known about them had it not been for me bringing them up. Once you lived apart from this knowledge, yet this very realization that is intended to free you into being has brought about further inception and dichotomization. I have seized the opportunity to be ironic afforded to me by realizing the inceptive nature of language, and through it, caught you in a bind. But this is a bind you were always caught in: I simply pointed it out to you. I have taken your liberty so you may live free. So now, aware, blissful ignorance lost, it is up to you to decide what you will do. Hopefully, it is better not to know the way of being than to know it and on it, turn your back.⁴
¹A thought inspired by Gadamer and his Truth and Method.
²This isn’t to say that racial identities should be deconstructed: modern efforts to be ‘colorblind’ have followed this strategy with terrible results. To deconstruct a conversation isn’t to deconstruct a people, though conversation builds a people up. Differences must be acknowledged. The problems come when hierarchies are created between differences. To be ‘colorblind’ is to react against the human nature to fashion hierarchies, which, because it is reactionary, results in failure. Success initiates. Success can only come when humans acknowledge their tendency to create hierarchies between differences and change their nature to rather be ‘open’ to difference on its terms, rather than attempt to organize differences by a given organizer’s subjective standard of value. For more, see Homo Hierarchicus by Louis Dumont and the works of Gadamer.
³For more information, see The Economic and Politics of Race: An International Perspective by Thomas Sowell.
⁴An Allusion to Romans 7 and 2 Peter 2:21.