An Answer vs. The Answer

Trump’s latest coercion attempt to change the election results in Georgia got me thinking about questions and answers, especially this part between Trump and Raffensperger:

Trump: “The people of Georgia are angry. The people in the country are angry. And there’s nothing wrong with saying, you know, um, that you’ve recalculated.”

Raffensperger: “Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is the data you have is wrong.”

The Washington Post, 1/3/2021

If you listen to the phone call long enough, it starts to sound reminiscent to this infamous exchange:

O’Brien: How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?
Winston: Four.
O’Brien: And if the party says that is not four but five–then how many?
Winston: Four.

George Orwell, 1984

“4” is an answer, a symbol for a quantity. But is it THE answer?


Existentialism arose, in part, in the aftermath of World War Two in an attempt to suppress the rise of dictatorship and tyrants. If you disrupt the “Grand Narrative” of national-ideological discourse then no single person or party can rewrite history into their own image, like the NSDAP did with the “Stabbed in the Back” myth in the 1920s and 30s. If you have multiple answers, you–or would-be messiahs or demogogues–have a harder time framing the world in Zoroastrian binary terms: us vs. them, good vs. evil, God vs. Satan, Capitalism vs. Socialism/Communism, Democrats vs. Republicans; where each conflict will end in an apocalyptic battle at the End of History.

Yet having multiple answers can bring uncertainty, confusion:

What do you mean that in synergetics the sum is greater than all of its parts combined? So that 2+2 can equal 5, or cannot be predicted?

What do you mean that in semiotics “4” is simply a signifier for a quantity of things signified, and its up to you to determine its meaning? Yeah… or put it simply:

What’s 2+2 among accountants? Whatever you want it to be.

When does 2+2 equal 4? All the time? When you feel like it? When it doesn’t make you angry?

How far does a culture/society/nation go in their questioning of the grand narrative that people start seeking ANY answer to be THE answer, if only to give them stability and order in their lives?

And who or what will supply that answer? And does it lay groundwork for worse tyrannies?

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