“That is Your Reality” and Other Silly Expressions

The 2020/21 school year has ended. Exams have been checked and grades have been posted. I finally have time to write about some issues that have been on my mind for the past year.

No Nonsense Allowed

As readers of this blog know, nothing gets under my skin more than illogical, irrational, and unclear assertions presented as axiomatic truths. I do not like it when this type of speech is used to discuss any subject area or to communicate any message. It offends my aesthetic sense.  However, when such nonsense appears in theological or moral contexts, it awakens my prophetic ire. In my very first post on this blog on August 08, 2013, I made this clear when I said:

I really don’t like...

Dishonesty, hypocrisy, double-speak, self-deception, narcissism, cynicism, misrepresentation, confusion, ignorance, humbug, obfuscation, deception and other intellectual and moral vices.

I really like…

Clarity in thinking, precision in speaking, honesty, truth, common sense, intellectual humility, thoughtfulness and fairness.

So, at least for the first part of the summer I plan to unmask, deconstruct, and poke a bit of fun at some of the humbug, ignorance, and obfuscation that has plagued us for the past year.

“That is Your Reality”

Many expressions current in popular culture drive me crazy but none more than “that is your reality” or some variation thereof, such as “that is your narrative.” Like all catchy expressions, it contains a grain of truth. But it is the effect of combining that grain of truth with a bucket full of nonsense that gets to me. In any proper use of language, the words “real” and “reality” refer to the way things are in themselves apart from perceptual distortions, imaginary constructions, or wishes. Reality serves as the objective standard, the judge, and the reference point for all fact and truth claims.

All assertions are judgments about what is or is not. A judgment always takes the form X is Y. Hence to refute someone’s judgment that “X is Y” by dismissing it with “that is your reality” fractures language and insults logic! Instead of agreeing with the judgment or asserting the contradictory judgment, “Not[X is Y”], it says, “For you but not for me [X is Y].” What does that mean?

Is this just another way of saying, “That is just your opinion, so I am free to ignore it”? I think this is the effect. You get to dismiss the force of an argument without going to the trouble of refuting it. Strictly speaking, to assert that a judgment is an opinion is to assert that the judgment in question is supported only by probable arguments about which reasonable people could disagree. This is a sophisticated distinction. I doubt that most people rise to this level of logical sophistication. Most people use the word “opinion” to mean no more than a subjective preference, unexamined prejudice, or unformed impression.

Reality as Metaphor and Ideology

But why use the word “reality” in the current expression “That is your reality”? I can think of two possibilities. (1) Perhaps this expression is designed to escape the force of an argument without insulting the person making the argument. You can acknowledge the other person’s rationality, sincerity, and their subjective certainty without accepting the objective truth of their judgment. In this case you are using the word “reality” metaphorically to signify the practical certainty with which the other person holds the belief in question. For them it seems so real that they are willing to act on this basis. You are acknowledging their certainty as a sincere driving force in their lives. Still, it seems a bit condescending to soften your rejection of their judgment with a verbal pat on the head.

But there is another less benign possibility. (2) The expression could be a popular derivative of the postmodern theory that reality, truth, knowledge, good, and beautiful are merely conceptual instruments of oppression invented by the dominant class or race or gender to gain and maintain their dominance. According to postmodern theory, those who have power and privilege determine what is taught as real, true, and known. And these concepts by definition demand submission of mind and body. But these definitions are merely ideologies whose sole purpose is to express and preserve the power interests of the dominant class, racial, or gender.

When a thoroughgoing postmodern thinker says to you “That is your reality” they are charging you with living according to an order of moral and aesthetic values and assumed truths designed and constructed to reinforce your position of power and privilege. This order seems real to you because it tells you what you want to hear, and it tells you what you want to hear because you and people like you wrote the script to fit yourselves. And it is so persuasive that you think your own propaganda perfectly reflects reality, the way things are apart from perceptual distortions, imaginary constructions, or wishes

Why Silly?

Why, then, does my title label the expression “That is your reality” as silly? The word silly applies to judgments or behavior that sets forth absurdities so obvious that they evoke riotous laughter. Using the word “reality” metaphorically to mean “illusion” with a straight face is indeed silly to the point of the farcical. But using the word “reality” to mean an “illusion constructed for an evil purpose” presses irony into the service of sarcasm. And sarcasm unlike irony aims to destroy rather than instruct. It’s too serious, to be silly.

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