Artillery Row

2+2 doesn’t equal 5

What is truth?

CARTHAGE—On Twitter, the Fourth Punic War continues to rage. On one side we have the Romans, who allege in their fact-obsessed, narrow-minded, patriarchal way that 2+2=4; on the other side we have the Carthaginians, who hold that while 2+2 certainly might equal 4 some of the time, it might also equal 3 or 5, or even 6, depending on the weather, the mood of their god Moloch and the cultural background of the person doing the math. The Romans are getting quite annoyed about it, putting “Carthago delenda est” in their usernames with crossed swords and flame emojis, while the Carthaginians have been lifting their voices to decry the patriarchal power grab and oppressive nastiness taking place through 2+2=4, and to lament that “the idea of 2+2 equaling 4 is cultural and because of western imperialism/colonisation, we think of it as the only way of knowing.”

For some reason, the Carthaginians feel that if 2+2=4 were held to be objectively true, always and everywhere, then their cultural practices—such as misspelling the word woman, hurling babies into fiery pits to please Moloch, and promoting mixed changing rooms—would no longer stand up to public scrutiny. Thus they are agitating to ban, cancel, proscribe, and otherwise annihilate the belief that 2+2 always equals 4.

That said, the Carthaginians are open-minded, peace-loving, inclusive people, and they don’t want anyone to feel hurt or left out of Carthaginian society. They are totally OK with Romans or anyone else saying 2+2 sometimes equals 4. In fact, it usually equals 4 in tax season, and on the stock market, and when building aqueducts or harnessing elephants to march two by two in processions. What the Romans need to wrap their measly little brains around is the fact—er, sorry, construct—that 2+2 can equal 5 sometimes. Or even 9, depending on the day. If we were all truly caring people, we would agree that we have the right to answer 2+2 however we want. Unless, as mentioned previously, it’s tax season or the god Moloch is in a bad mood—then the answer’s usually 4, but fortunately the media usually announces these occasions well ahead of time so everyone can get it right on the day.

What the Carthaginians really can’t fathom is why the Romans get so annoyed when it’s explained to them in simple language a child could understand that it’s about context, not about facts. In an attempt to reach out to the Romans and encourage them to become allies, a.k.a. part of the solution, a leading Carthaginian general by the name of Hannibal tweeted out, “I don’t know who needs to hear this but if someone says ‘2+2=5,’ the correct response is ‘What are your definitions and axioms?’ not a rant about the decline of Western civilization.”

However, the Romans refused to accept this olive branch, although it was a perfect opportunity for them to recognize the tool of systemic oppression they were wielding against minorities. Instead, they decided to escalate the situation. One particularly offensive and uncaring Roman, Scipio Africanus, tweeted out a meme reading, “2+2=4: A perspective in white, Western mathematics that marginalizes other possible values.” The text in itself was fine, since it was indistinguishable from the Carthaginian position; the problem was—and this is incredibly, yet typically, uncaring and nasty—that he meant it sarcastically. In Carthage, sarcasm is called out for what it is: another tool of patriarchal white Western Mediterraneo-Tyrrhenian oppression, and it’s punished by what’s somewhat obscurely referred to as a Time Out.

Inseparable from human reason and objective reality, truth sits in judgement over feeling and belief

Many Carthaginians weighed in to defend reasoning with the feelings instead of the brain, explaining that if you took 2.9 and 2.9 and added them together, they would almost equal 5, and furthermore that if you had 2 groups of 2 chickens, and one of them laid an egg and it hatched, then you would have 5 chickens. Others got very muddled between recipes for apple pie and deconstructionist theory, and were last seen covered in flour, arguing angrily with each other as to whether Granny Smiths counted as a value of 1 or a value of 0 if the recipe called for 6 apples (redefined to mean 5) and you had already put in 3 Mackintosh and 2 Empire.

At press time, this reporter had not seen anyone draw the natural conclusion to this insanity—which is that if Rome wants to win the Punic Wars, it needs a philosophical basis beyond the purely pragmatic. Pragmatism says you owe me four apples, and if you only give me three I’ll punch you in the nose. Sound philosophy, however, says that truth exists, is knowable, and that we have an obligation to recognize it to the extent of our ability—beginning with very simple truths such as 2+2=4. Truth, in the happy world built by sound philosophy, becomes the arbiter of feeling and belief.  This is anathema to our Carthaginian friends, who want feeling and belief to boss the truth around and tell it what’s what.

“What is truth?” Pontius Pilate asked in one of the more famous scenes in Scripture. Many of us feel that in asking this question, we’ve done all that can be expected of us; like Pilate, we shrug our shoulders and walk away without waiting for an answer. But not so fast. Truth, as St. Thomas Aquinas, developing Aristotle, concluded, is the conforming of the mind to an exterior reality. Inseparable from human reason and objective reality, truth sits in judgement over feeling and belief.

To misquote the Twitter user facetiously christened Hannibal above: “I don’t know who needs to hear this but if someone says ‘2+2=5,’ the correct response is ‘Truth is the conforming of the mind to an exterior reality.’” Cato the Elder added Carthago delenda est to the end of his every speech until Rome got up steam to destroy Carthage; the defenders of objective reasoning ought to repeat with similarly dogged perseverance, “Truth is the conforming of the mind to an exterior reality.” Or, alternatively, “Two and two make four.”

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