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+3 votes
i recently learned about eprime (short for english prime), a language identical to english with the exception that you cannot use the verb “to be” and all of its potential forms (am, is, are, was, were,  be, been, they’re, isn’t, etc.).  proponents suggest that among other benefits, using eprime leads to a reduction of absolutism and dogma.

the concept intrigued me a lot. and as i experimented writing and speaking this way,  not only did it help to clarify my thoughts, but i began to see  more connections between this alternate language and anarchy. it also took a lot more effort than I thought it would, considering the absence of essentially only one word!

i’d like to hear what others think about it, especially as it may relate to anarchy.  


(i wrote all of the above in eprime – as far as I can tell).

edited: to add, just let me know if you'd like a few links to info on the subject.
by (8.5k points)
shin: sorry to say, there is nothing particularly interesting about my "obsession" with subjectivity and objectivity. essentially, i share your healthy skepticism of objectivity, and i think of relations and interactions as some sort of vaguely shared subjective reality. but i do not base this on any philosophical training or understanding. i would describe my perspective as rooted fairly strongly in the idea of "context", which does have some relation to my concept of subjectivity.

i don't even know what "radical subjectivist" means. while i have a surface level understanding of randian "objectivism", i find it just another ideology that seeks to coerce everyone into a single "right" way of thinking/acting/living; one that comes from a strongly economic worldview, no less. i might think the same of "radical subjectivism", i don't know. [a good friend of mine used to promote the idea of "radical honesty", which they eventually tempered due to an increased awareness of the role of context].
as much as i might hate the majority of philosophy, i will defend it by separating ayn rand from any vaguely philosophical discussion.  ayn rands objectivism had nothing to do with any analysis of notions of subjective and objective, but basically just an insistance that her mode of thought was 'correct' and everyone else was just being touchy feely.  basically like if i called an ideology i was espousing 'correctism'.  i will read the engage more in depth when i have made and eaten dinner :)
ok then, i am interested in your idea of 'context'.

also i just googled radical subjectivity to brush because i basically just shoved it in there because of my love of both words and have no idea about any historical context of its useess.  the first link i found was on this forum, which is neato, though i didnt really like the explanation.  basically i just mean i reject the dichotomy of 'subjective' vs 'objective', leading to most people who subscribe to that dichotomy saying i am only interested in subjectivity, which is basically true i guess

i take it back i actually really like the explanation i found there

"ok then, i am interested in your idea of 'context'."

oh fuck, you are actually going to make me think about this? didn't i mention elsewhere about my laziness?

but seriously, that is a good question/point. and i will have to think about it a bit.

so much of how i think/feel/move about in the world seems to flow from the trust i have developed in my ability to make decisions that by and large correlate well with my desires and priorities. (it should go without saying that that is a generalization, and i do still make choices that don't necessarily work as well for me). that trust comes - in part, if not largely - from my capacity to see as much context as possible (or makes sense) in any given situation.

i will hopefully come back with some description of how i see "context".

4 Answers

+1 vote
Color me intrigued.  My initial thought is that using eprime could preclude expressing ideas, concepts and arguments in an essentialist form, or at least make it difficult enough that in order to assign essential attributes to something you'd have to conciously construct a sentence before speaking it, at least in some situations.  Maybe speaking/writing in eprime could help pose a challenge to some unexamined essentialist assumptions.

I don't know, I haven't really thought this through yet.
by (6.3k points)
Yosemite, yes, when speaking eprime, it has helped me to construct sentences in my mind first before speaking. many times, the entire sentence structure changes, and it forces me to really think about what i want to convey and how i want to say it.

i hadn't heard of essentialist form before, but after researching it a little, i tend to agree with you that speaking/writing in eprime about such concepts would become more difficult.
+3 votes
Hey bornagain, I wanted to revamp this discussion since I actually had some thoughts about this (I'll use eprime for fun)

This could have some interesting implications for anarchist writing, because analysis always attempts to say "a=c" like "capitalism is the central theme of our world" or "our social lives are decomposing". Taking away the to be makes these statements less authoritative, even though writing in general acts as an authority (since it expresses content uni-directionally). John Zerzan talks a lot about the problem of saying "a=c rather than letting a be a", if you haven't "running on emptyness" or "free from civilization" I would recommend them since they speak a lot about the problem with language and symbolic representation.
Definitely recommend "Free From Civilization", I helped edit the translation of the section on symbolic culture :-D
haha, that was a great book, mostly an expansion on JZ's thoughts, and i liked his writing style better
hey rick, thanks for the revamp!

i agree with your observations about a=c making things sound authoritarian. i hadn't thought before about how writing in general can act as an authority, but i see your point. with eprime, at least the authority comes off more often as the person making the comment (the author of your own thoughts), rather than as a fact of life decreed by an unknown authority that exists outside of the person.

i read "running on emptiness" at your suggestion and liked it a lot - this one line really spoke to me "the more involved this internal representational system is, the more distanced we are from the reality around us." (like money, for example - my add). you might like to read some of Charles Eisenstein's work, particularly, "the ascent of humanity" which touches on many things that Zerzan did in that article, regarding numbers, lack of using other senses, separation and abstraction, and so on.

I've found that eprime also helps to remove the abstraction of time. when someone says "it was" or "it is", it appears that ideas, people, society, things have a state of permanence, rather than ever-changing qualities. the world "was" this way and now it "is" this way. perhaps when anarchists talk with non-anarchists, one problem becomes this fixation of time - i.e. "capitalism IS the theme...." and both parties end up speaking the same language of abstraction rather than relating experiences and observations and the context in which they occurred. this might tie into another conversation you had in another thread (sorry, can't remember it right now) where you discussed how anti-authoritarian views can contain some of the same qualities of authoritarian views.

i'll check out "free from civilization" nexts. thanks for the suggestions and the conversation.
haha, yes this is the terrain of behemoth we are talking about, much larger than the terrain of lerviathan! The realm of thought policing is to me is of great interest, it teaches us why physically fighting physical authorities 99.999999% of the time does absolutely nothing effective
agreed, the beast behind (and beneath) the beast!

i haven't found Free From Civilization on the internet anywhere yet...ALC, rick, or anyone else, i'd appreciate a link if you have preferred., i think LBC is the only distributor that prints it. It's around 300 pages long and is really well researched and written in a more precise manner than JZ's work. Quite an ambitious work, i really enjoyed it.
+3 votes
Logged in for the first time in a year just to mention that I've used e-prime/e-primitive in all of my formal writing for about 6 years now and really loved the challenge it has provided me, and the way it clarifies thinking.
by (8.9k points)
hi ALC, nice to know you're still around (even if mostly lurking)!
what are your formal writings? You've got to tell me now that you say you used e-prime/e-primitive!
ALC, thanks for your answer and for logging in at the prompt of my question. i appreciate it. if you feel inclined, i'd like to hear more of your experiences of writing this way and what challenges and benefits you received as a result...and any impact it might have had on your practice of anarchy.
+1 vote

i feel so excited right now, im twitching!  i dislike the attempt to impose timelessness on the world, eprime seems like it might help to remove a lot of this from speech.  i like to try -and fail, mostly- to relate to things as they are now and as the seem to me directly.  everyday i grow more hateful of abstractions.  i was skeptical of eprime as i dislike rules in general, but then i read a criticism of eprime that read 

  1. A civilization advances when it can move from the idea of individual trees to that of forest. E-Prime tends to make the expression of higher orders of abstraction more difficult, e.g. "She is a student" is rendered in E-Prime, e.g., as "She attends classes at the university".
and i almost screamed.
i also go after 'is' a lot in my ramblings, but had never heard of eprime until i noticed @dot mention it in a couple of comments.

that said, i didnt write this in eprime, i tried to write it as i would usually write, though no doubt i was influenced by eprime.  i wonder if the blanket ban on 'to be' is as useful as selective removal?  are there perhaps other things that might be done to make the use of our language more thoughtful?

for instance; how would you render 'i am twitching!' in eprime?
or 'i was influenced by the idea of eprime'?  
for some reason uses of 'to be' in reference to myself dont necessarily seem to provoke the same negative reaction in me as others uses do.  i wonder if you have any thoughts on this?

by (2.1k points)
Sms.....yeah, "to be" functions a few different ways in language. some ways lead more to absolutes and abstractions, while others mostly imply tense ("i'm twitching" - although, did you twitch as you wrote it? you could say "my legs and arms just twitched, or keep twitching, or twitched several times, i twitch(ed) as i wrote, etc. - basically, more verb and action oriented, more descriptive). so i've tried mostly to eliminate the former. i read an article on this which went into a lot of detail about it....i'll see if i can find it and post it here.

mainly, i like that i tend to slow down when i write this way and think more deeply about what i want to say, even if i still use "to be" here and there....when speaking in eprime, i really need to slow down (which helps if you don't want to say things like "that's so stupid!").

so i look at it like not so much as a rule, but as a way to more creatively and descriptively say what i see, sense, think, a way to slow down or unscramble certain patterns that i think don't serve me well, and to not turn my perceptions into "what is".

okay, your sentence "i was influenced by the idea of eprime" could say:

- the idea of eprime influenced me (and you could add how, in what ways, and why it influenced you)

- i feel influenced by the idea of eprime

- after hearing about the idea of eprime, i gave more thought to how i write and speak.

- last week i heard about eprime, and it influenced my writing.

edit: i just noticed you probably meant in reference to your sentence in your answer. in that case you could have written "no doubt the idea of eprime influenced me", or "no doubt i felt the influence of the idea of eprime" (although that sounds a little clunkier to me).

edit: (removed the stuff about "she's a student" felt unnecessary later)

like anything else, if i try to eliminate "to be" as an absolute rule, i can feel restricted or i try to keep in mind that i choose to use it as a tool to help me communicate clearly and creatively and contextually......increasing my awareness of when it helps toward that end, or  not.

yes! i absolutely agree :) sorry i should have been more clear, that criticism made me waaaaay more receptive to the ideas of e-prime, which is impressive since i already liked it!  none of that was clear in my original post however, so perhaps i would benefit from the slow down too

also i didnt twitch, i lied to try and express just how excited eprime made me feel.  well i i didnt twitch more than usual anyway.
oh no, you burst my image of a disembodied twitch-fest!

but i feel excited about your excitement.....despite only reading letters and words on a flat screen.....