Thursday, December 18, 2008


£, $ etc - questions about the language of values

The mechanism of language available to us shapes the way, extent and focus of our thinking. There is the story (which I gather is exaggerated) of Eskimos having hundreds of different words for snow, because snow is so central to their understanding of the world and their own existence. Circumstances like the need to survive do shape language, but language also shapes the viewpoint of circumstances.

What then do we make of the normal language of value available to us (in the western world) - on a computer keyboard for example, that thing sitting under our noses most days? What is there is solely financial or mathematical - £, $ and occasionally some others, with %, = and so on. What isn't there is any symbol for social value, any non-financial and non-quantitative measures. Does this limit the horizon of our thinking about value or expressing it? What if there were standard keyboard symbols expressing peace, justice, environmental impact, happiness or generosity - would we think about these things, use them, factor them in more frequently to our creation of thoughts? Would they be more to the front of our minds? Does this happen more often in pictographic written languages, where letters and words can represent concepts, rather than just spelling them out? Is this somehow a reason for the east-west difference in conceptualisation of the world - an intrinsic vs extrinsic view of the world? I don't know, but I'm interested.

Companies now talk about creating a triple bottom line. One of these three has a sophisticated, universal and (human error notwithstanding) precise coding language of its own, the others just have words, with all their capacity for different interpretation, vagueness, and flannel. Our mechanisms for expression, understanding and management still vastly emphasise just one of the triplet. When we have an accounting and auditing profession for environmental and social concerns, and our standard computer keyboard has, say, a carbon footprint key alongside the dollar key, then I think we will genuinely be seeing our place in the world through new eyes.


Comments: Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]