Thursday, October 07, 2004

I Feel Great. And informed.

"Informed," said Derek.


"Informed and content."

As part of the batterer intervention program, we all have to check out and tell the group how we're feeling. The oldtimers--more than six weeks--seem to quickly catch on that "informed" and "content" are two completely acceptable yet semantically empty words. The words aren't even listed on page twenty seven of their manual; page twenty-seven is a cheat sheet of emotion words. To some, this treatise of a single page is far greater than the great books of faith or knowledge. To others, it's just page twenty seven of the "fucking manual" for the course that they're court mandated to attend.


So what, exactly, does informed mean? The guys in group ably demonstrate how the word conveys very litte. I suppose that "informed" means having recieved information. Do the guys mean that they have recieved information as the faithful recieve communion? "Take this and eat. This is the flesh and blood of literary genre consecrated in the sanctity of Saint Guttenberg." I doubt it. The OED, however, suggests that an early--and awkward--meaning of informed was: "of faith." More recent years has seen the meaning shift to "Instructed; having knowledge of or acquaintance with facts; educated, enlightened, intelligent."

Informed: acquaintance with facts.

"Hello. My name is George and this is my third week. I'm not yet familiar with group norms but I have met this charming fellow beside me: Mr. Facts. I am now informed... and content."

So informed is a throwaway term. Perhaps it's the state of having "knowledge" or "information". Are these terms similarly bankrupt? It would be a shame to demonstrate the futility of defining information. It seems that the favourite sport of certain colleagues is tilting against this inestimable (and perhaps wind driven) foe by asking the question: "What is information?"

It's nothing.

"This was my fourth week and I'll be back next week."

"How are you feeling."

"Informed. And loved."

Loved? So what does love mean? The OED coughs up a fairly lucid description: "In senses of the vb.; in attributive use now chiefly poet., exc. with prefixed adv. as dearly-loved, much-loved; ordinarily superseded by BELOVED." Huh? How about this one: "In royal and feudal documents, prefixed to personal names or designations; equivalent to the ‘trusty and well-beloved’ of English charters. Often with plural ending. " I'm quite certain that if asked, the guys in group would be unable to produce either of these definitions. Yet, we are all quite clear on having some idea about what love is. And we're not poets.

Perhaps we can argue that our understanding of information is fundamentally different from our understanding of love. They're both the stuff of emotion but whereas we eschew defining love we strive to break information into quanta and render it to our devices. A critic may say that this quantified perspective is a product of our post-modern times, a result of our obsession with cybernetics and information theory. In the olden days (when?!), we focussed on continuity rather than bits. Shakespeare, however, seemed to use a fairly quantitative focus as he struggled to define love:

"Love goes toward love, as schoolboys from their books; / But love from love, toward school with heavy looks. / " [Romeo and Juliet (1595) act 2, sc. 2, l. 156]

[Ed. Upon reflection, this doesn't seem nearly as quantitative as I first read it to be. Too late to rewrite!]

I've never heard this description in group. Like I said, we're not poets.

"I feel great."

Great. So what does great mean? Absolutely nothing and we have no problem identifying that it means nothing. It's just a filler description shaped by the language games of conversational interchange. Instead we look to the activities behind the person's identification of a great feeling or we examine their thoughts or--if sufficiently suspicious--we wonder about what chemicals they are on. We ponder at what is resulted in their state of "great". We do not, however, attempt to define the quanta of great that infuse their being!

Instead of trying to define information we should understand the state of being informed: it's processes and its results.

I'm not sure that this piece of writing has taken me where I wanted it to. Close enough.


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