2 Plus 2 Equals Whatever My Truth or Lived Experience Says It Is

Clifford Humphrey:

What is two plus two? Well, as it turns out, it depends.

“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.” This statement was the “thoughtcrime” of Winston Smith, the protagonist in George Orwell’s novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four.” Though not yet a thoughtcrime in the real world, this statement is increasingly suspect.

Politics is the conversation a whole people has about what is good and bad, and just and unjust regarding their common life and common nature as human beings.

That conversation, of course, is only possible if language is possible, if words mean discernible things and are communicable. The famous story of the Tower of Babel, in which God mixed up the languages of men and forced them to scatter, is an apt analogy for the breakdown of politics following the breakdown of language.

Language itself, though, is only possible if reason is possible. The law of noncontradiction holds that two plus two can’t be four and not-four at the same time. The whole potential for politics depends on that law, because by it people can use their reason to arrive at and assent to a conclusion, and by it, people can deliberate together and consent to government.

If one denies the law of noncontradiction, however, all that remains is the tyrannical rule of force, one party foisting its will on the rest. A tyrant, after all, doesn’t bother asking for the opinion of his slaves.