On Triviality

Anonymous Source

The word “trivial” has some interesting uses. In math there are trivial cases, trivial solutions, trivial sets and groups. Trivia are facts that are unimportant and exotic, pertaining to remote things. Trivial things are common, obvious, taken for granted. But when it comes to reasoning, when someone gives a “trivial argument,” one involving the use of definitions to deduce a qualified (and trivial) conclusion, it’s a big let down. You say, “Come on, man. You know what I meant.” People making substantial arguments are doing something beyond drawing trivial conclusions, because it should be understood in that community that these trivial things are taken for granted and are only mentioned in shorthand or not at all, and the real work is done with matters beyond the trivial.

I particularly love the Latin “trivialis” which means “of the crossroads,” an open place where three (tri) roads (via) meet. I like this notion, when I particularly imagine these roads meeting in some remote place, as they were trivially destined to meet, because, yeah, well, duh, they meet eventually, but in the nontrivial, practical sense, they really aren’t connected. Something too, also, in the notion of roads as a means to an end, and an intersection also being a particular means, being achieved in the trivium. It’s like when you complain that you want to do something, and someone makes the trivial statement, “Well, in the literal sense of ___, you already can do it.” You can, the ability does manifest in a required intersection, but only way out there, but you were implicitly discounting that trivial possibility, because, I mean, come on. Likewise, the statement that in a trivial sense it’s already being done, is again, the trivial thing to say, because it’s a let down to realize the thinness of these roads and the remoteness of them, the ad hoc connection, when really what you want to do is the full experience of something, the ordinary interpretation, in a normal and nice environment rather than distant, solitary outskirts. There is something antisocial and subversive of the trivial.

But perhaps the trivium isn’t in the outskirts at all, but rather is in the town square. Then it is overly common, overly incorporated in the social common ground, so that bringing it up as if it is new, as if one is foreign to it, as if it should be questioned, is the subversive thing to do. The via are the basic language and dialectical practices that are taken regularly by a community under social forces, resulting in a trivial awareness of them, that they are taken for granted like the color of the sky, they are taken, in that community, to be fundamental, so mentioning them is a silly trivial activity, and possibly an indication of subversive intent by a person who doesn’t take these roads for granted, who doesn’t identify with them, and who finds them noteworthy and describable because they don’t see them as fundamental, linguistically or conceptually, and is therefore implicated in transgressing these via. When the trivial move is assayed and the threat isn’t detected, the accused is downgraded (or upgraded) from anti-social to socially naive (and bloody annoying at that). So the next time you see someone hacking away at the road or some trivium, check to see if you can think of her as neither subversive nor defective. It’s still possible, nevertheless, many abstract artists are delusional fools—but only in some sense.

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