One of the major implications of this notion of language as reality is that language and therefore reality is ephemeral. Once we have spoken, the reality that was created when we spoke, is no longer present. Even if we say the same words, they are spoken in a different context, hence have somewhat different meaning. Thus, even when our “speaking” comes in the form of written words or in the form of other images (visual, tactile, etc.) these words or images will have different meaning. Meaning will shift depending on who hears them, what the setting is in which the communication takes place, and which words or images have preceded and will follow these efforts at communication. According to the postmodernists, therefore, reality is a shifting phenomenon that is subject to change and uncertainty. An entire field of study (hermeneutics) has emerged in recent years to bring some order and meaning to this very confusing state of affairs.
Globalization and Segmentalism
According to the postmodernists, our world is becoming progressively more global, while it is also becoming progressively more segmented and differentiated. Though many of the postmodernist theorists spoke of this contradictory trend in our world at least thirty years ago, it is remarkable how contemporary this perspective seems to be, given the developments in Europe, the Mid-East (and elsewhere in the world) over the past decade. While European countries are moving, in a globalizing manner, toward a unified common market and community, we also see the movement (particularly in the face of immigration from war-torn countries) toward increased nationalism and factionalism among specific national, ethnic and racial groups. In the Mid-East we see a similar sense of we versus they, with religious differences even within a single faith bringing about dangerous splits between countries and communities within a single country.
From one perspective, globalism thrives. We are increasingly successful in saying a few things that are universal for all people. Walter Truett Anderson suggests that the following list of “ordinary ideas” are held by most people in the world (or at least in the Western world):[ii]
- That there is a human species, all of its members biologically capable of interbreeding with all the others, but not with members of different species.
- That the world is divided up into nation-states.
- That there are such things as atomic weapons, and that a global atomic war is possible.
- That there are many different religions, and that some people do not take any of them very seriously.
- That societies change and keep changing.