Being a member of society requires behaving in specific ways and performing specific actions. By doing so, you and I reaffirm not only, that our society actually exists, but also, that you and I (the individual entities) belong to this society. As members of society, we also do certain things that exclude other individuals. Now, this may read as more antagonistic or cynical than I intend. Ultimately, it is the excluding and ‘othering process’ that validates a culture’s solidarity and solidarity is a necessary condition for the existence of the social phenomena.
THE CONTEXT OF THIS DISCUSSION IS EVERYTHING, AND THE PRESENTED ARGUMENTS SHOULD NOT BE SEEN AS SUPPORT FOR ANY GROUP OR ETHOS THAT PROMOTES THE EXCLUSION OF OTHERS. DIFFERENT DOES NOT EQUAL WRONG OR VIOLENT. IN FACT, THE MORE EXPOSURE TO OTHERS YOU EXPERIENCE, THE MORE YOU COME TO KNOW YOURSELF AND THE MORE YOU ENRICH YOUR CREATIVITY.
To know your society, you must know what is not your society.
Has anyone ever asked you what something was or what something was like or how it could be best described?
And, did you ever hear yourself say, “it would probably be easier to tell you what this what not!.”
Empathizer: So, I know what a hipster is, but what is a shoe-gazing, bird watcher?
Whiner: He’s not your stereotypical hipster douche wearing a lady’s scarf and a sports coat over torn jeans and t-shirts. He’s not an arty, magic realist steam punk kinda of hipster either.
Empathizer: Ooh Ooh, is it that heavy set hipster guy that has unruly hair and full mustache, beard, and neck beard? You know, the ones that wear the light blue denim jacket that was his grandfather’s and a pair of navy jeans that have been steam ironed, with some arty (but mostly comic strip looking) ironic T-shirt. Like a bright yellow shirt that has “you’re brilliant at everything you never tried” embossed over the knitted applique of a beret-wearing, cigarette smoking, French Mongoose standing in front of the Eiffel Tower?
Whiner: Oh oh, almost, but this kind of hipster is not fat, he’s usually real lanky, always wears white t-shirts like he doesn’t care, but he still spends just as long as the sorority girl does to get ready to go out on the town. Can grow, like, a five o’clock shadow but barely muster a lady’s mustachio- like, we’re talking early menopausal mustache fuzz at best here.
Now that I imagine ‘not good,’ (or now that I can imagine what is not a shoe-gazing, bird watching hipster) I find myself with pieces comprising the concept ‘good’-good & not good.
Why must I include ‘not good’ in my conception of ‘good’? Because, it is only by virtue of the existence of things that are not ‘good, by which I can conceptualize ‘good.’ If there is nothing that is not ‘good’; if everything is ‘good’, why would I need the concept ‘good’ at all? Could a concept ‘good’ even exist in those circumstances?
“Bad’ is simply the negation of ‘good.’ If I know if something is ‘good,” I know if something is “not good.’ I know this concept is meaningful, because other members of my culture agree and see the differences too. Because we agree that things can be described as ‘good’ we express meaning when we talk to one other about ‘good’ things. We communicate information and understand.
So, we can take a step further and say
Bad = Not Good
Good = Not Bad
Or, on a larger scale, we could imagine:
GOOD = good + not good GOOD=bad + not bad
BAD = good + not good BAD = good + not good
The words in capital letters represent that entire meaningful content (epiphenomenon)connoted by the concept of ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ The words in lowercase letters represent the pieces of that totality that is represented by the capitalized words. So from ‘good’ we can produce two concepts: good and bad. Each term meanings requires the existence of what the other term represents.
“That was good!”
“What does ‘good’ mean?”
I could try to describe it to the inquirer by describing times and things that are good, but that means that I can imagine things and times that are not good. By remembering the variation in emotional reaction to ‘good’ or ‘bad’ stimuli, I am able to ‘decide’ if something is ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ I am also able to understand, through metaphor and simile, what others mean when they describe something as good.
But such a black and white, either/or, mutually exclusive, definition of the terms, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ can only exist in the abstract, intangible form, at the collective or social level. We, as actual individuals, not abstract, averaged, idealized hypotheticals, cannot define the terms so concretely. Whereas society may only see in black and white, we atoms of a society, at the very least and to varying degrees, see some grey in between.
So, what makes a concept meaningful things carrying encoded information to some audience? The thing being expressed must be a thing/experience/etc recognized by the audience. It must be something the audience can point out in contrast to those things that are not the same thing. So meaning requires knowing what is and is not the knowledge in questions’s object. To know what ‘fat’ is I can show you fat and not-fat in way that you identify as typical or true.
So a concept is composed of those things that is and those thing from which it is distinguishable.
So then, does that mean that meaningful concepts refer to the total of everything that is ‘that thing’ and everything that is ‘not that thing?” No. For a concept to be meaningful, it is the degree and variance in tension of those things that are and those things that are not the concept which bestows meaning on any given concept.
When you name something as a good thing, my consciousness relies on the tension of good versus not good in order to infer your intended meaning. The meaning produced is greater than the sum of its parts. A concept we consider meaningful is not simply the total of what it is and what it is not. If I understand your intended meaning, it is because the code you used to express meaning (the word ‘good’ in this instance) resonates with the tension maintaining my understanding of the concept good. That tension exists by virtue of my ability to distinguish between other instances of things I believe to be good and not good.