Disconnection, The Fallacy of

The use of disconnected language to convey connected meaning.

Social capital—with its network of linkages, loyalties and commonalities which make a society—depends on conversation as its primary expression. There is an intense significance about the activity of simply talking to each other: as John Milton remarked, its absence—being “yoked to a mute and spiritless mate”—is the worst of violences to the yearning soul; deprive children of stories, writes the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, and you leave them anxious stutterers in their actions as in their words. The three defining conditions of a living community, he suggests, are:D38

1. a narrative of its own, lived and updated by the lives of the present;

2. intelligibility (its ability to understand itself sufficiently to accept its institutions and traditions, or at least to encounter them); and

3. accountability (an acceptance of the obligation to justice, truthfulness and fortitude).

All these are learned, expressed and recognised in conversation.D39

However, conversation as a connected and connecting interaction may be in trouble. There are many reasons for this, including the growth of television watching and the decline of family meals, but one possible influence, and/or symptom, is a change in grammatical form: there is a shortening of sentences and of continuous trains of thought: fewer relative pronouns (“which”, “whose”), participles (“having seen . . . ”, “despite wanting . . .”) and conjunctions (“and”, “but”); fewer commas and semi-colons; more full stops. The effect of chopped-up language (asyndeton) is evident in the recent church liturgies, whose former generous thought-sequences have been broken down into the abruptness of remarks, even lists of instructions, and this is significant because disconnected grammar lends itself to disconnected meaning. It does not deliver a connected narrative.D40

Long sentences that make connections are with us still in (for instance) the sustained 153-word metaphor of water, washing, storm, waves and landfall in the Baptism Service of The Book of Common Prayer . . .

. . . who of thy great mercy didst save Noah and his family in the ark from perishing by water; and didst also safely lead the children of Israel thy people through the Red Sea, figuring thereby thy holy Baptism . . . : We beseech thee for thine infinite mercies, that thou wilt mercifully look upon this Child; wash him and sanctify him with the Holy Ghost; that he . . . may be received into the ark of Christ’s Church; and being stedfast in faith, joyful through hope, and rooted in charity, may so pass the waves of this troublesome world, that finally he may come to the land of everlasting life . . .D41

—but they are the exception. The grammar of asyndeton can be used to form a connected argument, but it lends itself to the opposite. At the extreme, it gives us statements each of which has only the force of the sentence to which it belongs, and they can therefore contradict each other without necessarily appearing to be inconsistent. Where there are no connections, there can be no inconsistency. There is therefore no basis for judgment.

 

Related entries:

Liturgy, Conversation, Logic, Fallacies.

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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was an economist, historian and writer, based in London. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, Lean Logic and Surviving the Future. A film about his perspective and legacy - The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation? - was released in 2019, directed by BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong. For more information, including on Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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