Make it so

Jean-Luc Picard used to end commands with that very phrase, incredibly simple yet utterly unbounded: O, that we could indeed “make it so” in real life.

Sometimes we do, quite accidentally, as Adam Gurri notes:

I bought John Searle’s The Construction of Social Reality. The title makes me wince a bit but I know that Searle is no postmodernist; he’s looking at something I think most people would agree is a real phenomena.

For instance, why did the word “Google” end up becoming a verb? How did that happen? It only works if enough people start treating it as a verb, but it’s not as though someone woke up one day and said “I’m going to start using Google as a verb, dammit!” It just sort of happened. Searle’s “social reality” consists of things such as the above example, where something is objectively true (Google is a verb) but only because everyone, for lack of a better word, agrees that it is. In fact it’s more subtle than that, because even if you want to disagree with it, you can’t overturn what’s been “decided”. Google (the company) may not want their name to be a verb, as it threatens their legal ability to keep the term trademarked. But whether or not they want it is irrelevant to the outcome.

Searle himself would be careful to distinguish “social reality” from “reality,” since the two do not actually overlap: there is objective reality, and there is the stuff that we’ve created, out of the whole cloth of social interaction, that supplements it. There’s a limit, though, to how much we can “make it so”: we can verb a proper noun, obviously, but we can’t go so far as to manufacture human rights by shifting the definitions thereof. Marko takes note of a current attempt to do exactly that (emphasis as in the original):

You cannot have a right to something that necessitates a financial obligation on someone else’s part.

When you look at our Bill of Rights, which enumerates (not “grants”) a bunch of rights, you won’t find a single Amendment in there that recognizes the right to receive a material commodity, free of charge or otherwise. In order for me to let you enjoy all the rights enumerated in that fine document, all that’s required of me is to leave you the hell alone, which doesn’t cost me a penny. Your rights to free speech, to free exercise of your religion, or to be free from unreasonable search and seizure do not make the slightest dent in my wallet or my schedule. The Second Amendment refers to a physical commodity (arms), but it only recognizes that you have the right to own a gun if you have the desire and means to acquire one, not the right to get one for free from the rest of us.

According to legend, Abraham Lincoln anticipated this very situation, five centuries before Captain Picard gave his first command from the bridge.

1 comment

  1. McGehee »

    26 July 2009 · 2:54 pm

    For the first time in a long time I actually have a new entry (Marko) for the blogroll. Thanks, Chaz.

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