Language betrays us. It is the menu to the meal that is reality. But its betrayal is contingent on our insistence that it be other than it is. When we insist that the map be the territory, that the word be the thing, then we are fooled and foolish.
But language betrays us another way as well. It conditions our thinking and leads us to see things that aren’t there.
For example, “It is raining.” We say this often enough, but what does it mean? What is the “it” that is raining? There is no “it,” there is only raining. Or when we say, “It is nice out.” Again, what is this “it?”
The “it” is what Alan Watts calls a linguistic ghost. Its function is to maintain the illusion that there is something constant in the universe, something other than what is happening. “It” is raining, “it” is snowing, “it” is breezy. The it is what matters, and it is permanent, constant. But there is no “it,” there is nothing constant. There are no nouns in nature, only gerunds; only raining, snowing, clearing, shining, etc.
Or take the phrase, “You’ve got to straighten yourself out.” What a horrible idea! Go out into nature and see if you can find anything that is really straight. You can’t. There isn’t anything straight at all. Everything is crooked. To straighten yourself out is to be completely unnatural.
And then there is “Pull yourself together.” Even if you could be asunder, who is the “you” that could pull you together? The implication is that you are other than the you that is asunder, but if that is so, then why bother with the sundered you at all?
Religion falls for this trap all the time. We are urged to empty ourselves, to surrender ourselves, to humble ourselves, etc. Yet who is the self that is to do these things? Can the self empty itself? The logic is lacking. The self can pretend to be empty, but a truly empty self would be selfless and, even if the self could suicide itself, once gone, it would be incapable of knowing it was selfless.
Our reality is so tied up with words that they easily manipulate us. Blasphemies of any sort are simply crimes against words. You are convicted of saying some words that other words say should not be said. And you can die for this. How odd!
Is there a way out of this trap? I think so. Practice silence. Learn to be at home in wordlessness. Then when you speak or when you listen you will see the game for what it is: the endless echo of second-hand chatter.