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“Through his eyes she no longer saw humans as scurrying ants.  She took part in his effort to find order and meaning in their lives.  She suspected that in fact there was no meaning, that by telling his stories when he spoke people’s lives, he was actually creating order where there had been none before.  But it didn’t matter if it was fabrication; it became true when he spoke it, and in the process he ordered the universe for her as well.  He taught her what it meant to be alive.”
Speaker for the Dead   Orson Scott Card

This is a really fun book that, as one of its many interesting subplots, investigates what it means to uncover and speak the truth about a deceased person’s life.

The characters in this quote are Ender, the man who creates the meaning of life as he tells the official story of the lives of those who have passed on, and Jane, a “person” born of a computer network, a sentient being who lives solely in the connections and machinery of a web of technology.  From her perspective within the system, she must rely on humans for their information, and she has developed a special intimacy with Ender because she trusts and values his experience in the world.

The novel gives the reader an important viewpoint from which to consider the function of meaning.  How are we like Jane: isolated, in the role of spectator, dependant on others to experience the world for us?  How are we like Ender: exercising agency in the world, gathering raw data (“truth”) which we speak to the world, supplying others with our perspective?

I am suggesting a dichotomy where I really don’t believe there is one, as the reader can pick up from obvious clues in the language of the text (e.g. “She took part in his effort…” implies an agency.)  But even so, I think that by forcing a duality we can observe from this fiction ideas that might be useful to Semanturgy.

According to Jane, there is no meaning until humans create it.  Indeed, it appears that there is no truth until humans create it.  Whether this is true or not, the idea speaks to the enormous power of our words and of our ability to influence the world as we influence other humans.  I think sometimes we forget this as we watch the evening news, listen to gossip, or ingest many of the other forms of meaning that are thrown at us all day every day.  We forget that someone has created this information based solely on human sensory experience, that they have chosen to interpret it and relay it in a certain way, and that it is our responsibility to then re-interpret for ourselves.  And that our personal interpretation is also powerful to those around us who, whether consciously or not, depend on us to supply them with information.  Our kids, for example, our employees, our congregation, or even a partner or close friend with whom we share a mutual dependence.  We must take responsibility for our perspective and the way in which we express it.

Even if a person believes that God or some other supreme being orders the universe for us, gives it meaning and supplies Truth, we must still take responsibility for how we interpret the divine words we receive, for how we use them and live them.  This active participation is where the great power of meaning lives, and how we live the great power of meaning.