The next obvious step is to combine the discourse typology with the publicity framework. The result is this:
One should note that the top-down – bottom-up axis is characterized by the extent of the writer/speaker imposing a specific mindset. In the authoritative (top-down) sphere more definite language is used, and it is imperative.
The democratic (bottom-up) sphere, on the other hand, is contemplative; one can explore the various viewpoints much more freely and even reflect one’s own thinking in the discourse.
We can notice that the dimensions are not only about characterizing the various pieces of discourse but also what is expected in their genre. A political speech cannot be thoughtful and consider various viewpoints, a corporate blog can’t include funny stories from last week’s meeting and agitative essay in a personal blog creates a sense of aversion. From an authoritative piece certainty is expected, and in a democratic one it is rejected by the audience.
There are two main types of discourse: authoritative and democratic. Authoritative discourse is seen in news articles without comment section and in political speeches and tv interviews in which there is no interactivity. This type can be described as one-way communication.
Democratic discourse is represented by a politician’s blog open for comments or tv discussions in which the reporter is knowledgeable. In democratic discourse, the participants build the discourse instead of only asking and answering. This is two-way communication.
This typology came to my mind when reading the following news article:
Presidential candidate Biaudet (r) could accept Finland’s NATO membership, if the government decides to apply for it.
This article represents the authoritative discourse. The candidate’s position is reported objectively, without context. On the other hand there is a comment section, so in this regard there are democratic features. On the other hand, the comments are on a separate page (unlike in e.g. Guardian’s CIF) so democracy is more hidden.
Egon Werlich developed his discourse typology in the 1980′s; I find it insignificant for analyzing contemporary discourses, since it includes no interactivity. If we were to group Werlich’s basic forms of discourse, maybe it could be done roughly like this:
- Authoritative: narrative and instructive types
- Democratic: descriptive, explanatory and argumentative types
The type of the discourse could be defined by asking: What is the supposed reaction to the piece of discourse? In the authoritative type, it is respect and obedience, in the democratic one, a thought process and new input to the discourse.
The most common complaint about the protester is:
The protesters are against many things but actually for nothing.
The way I see it, the “dilemma of the protester” lies in the identity of the individual. It is rather easy to be for status quo (conservatives) or against it (progressives), but more comprehensive, critical-but-constructive approach requires fundamental shift in the individual identity. The following questions can be asked:
- What is the point of my existence?
- What do I value in life?
- What is good life?
- How is the outer reality corresponding to the ideals I have?
- How/where are the ideals currently materialized and where are they currently invisible/emerging?
Answering these questions create much more sustainable political agenda than the small-minded opposition of the current way of the world.
Political discussion should be moved from identity-building with petty labels (such as capitalist, communist, marxist, left, right) into a democratic discourse in which participants already have a sense of their for-identity before entering the discourse. This presupposes the participants’ ability to form sensible thoughts individually. There should also be a sense of self-confidence as in: “My points of view are reflections of my subjective consciousness and therefore true in themselves. If someone tries to say otherwise, they are in fact trying to establish a relation of superiority.”
A specialist and a generalist were having an argument. The specialist exclaimed:
- Your problem is that you know a bit about everything but profoundly about nothing!
To which the generalist replied:
- Well, you in turn know one field profoundly but understand little about the whole.
The basic problem between their fight is in how they view knowledge as an accumulating substance; this view lacks the vividness of the consciousness approach in which knowledge always builds the individual – no matter whether it’s special or general knowledge.
The question should not be: should one specialize or “generalize”, but what are the most efficient ways to do both things. Too much specialization in education causes one to lose the sense of proportion and without specialization no direction for life can be clarified. Somewhere in between there is fertile ground for interdisciplinarity and synthesis.
This is a model that came to my mind yesterday after reading Viviana A. Zelizer’s book Economic Lives: How Culture Shapes the Economy on economic sociology.
Environment forms the basis of the society. Economy is the material network between people and it could be thought that economy is kind of “below us”, creating the foundation for our material wellbeing. The economy extracts resources from the environment and transforms it that way.
Culture, on the other hand, is “above us”. It is the invisible network that connects people in a mental level. While people constantly shape the culture, the culture constantly shapes the people and the economy.
I started a discussion with Barry Stocker in his blog post about Kim Jong-Il’s death. I got to post two comments and then he apparently lost his nerve and removed all comments – not exactly a good trait in a philosopher. Here I have tried to summarize what I wrote:
When talking about things like North Korea, one should be able to distinguish between the actual and the actual of the discourse; or, the actual and the mediated image, in terms of the society of the spectacle. A philosopher of late modernity is not interested in the actual; it’s the discursive reality that is interesting (social constructionism and all that). So we should ask: What purpose does North Korea have in the discourse of the powerful of the West? How does labeling North Korea as “true evil state” aid the power structure?
The pattern we see here points us to the conclusion that the Cold War is not over yet. After the Soviet Union collapsed, it was the likes of Taliban, Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-Il that were given the role of “true evil” – a villain which the discourse of the powerful obviously needs in order to sustain its own role as the sole supplier of unquestionable truth.
What we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.
Starting an essay with this quote from Wittgenstein never goes out of fashion. It is symptomatic that while quoting dear old Ludwig gives a touch of deep thought to any subject (after the quote one could start writing philosophically about anything from cocktail parties to international politics), the preceding sentence in the Preface of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus gets ignored:
What can be said at all can be said clearly.
This truly shows the irony in the history of philosophy. Wittgenstein found the truth, and his statement about it made it look all the more evident. The call for clear speech was (and still is) passed over in silence. (Anyone who has ever tried to both read and understand the likes of Derrida or Foucault may prove my point. Or read and understand any politician’s tax plan.)
Perhaps another discussion is that not all philosophy is meant to be clear and easily understandable. In being complex and incomprehensible, it gives us a tool to develop our thinking. The point is not to instantly understand, but to acquire the will to understand. And more importantly: perhaps the point is not to understand what others have thought but to start forming thoughts of one’s own.
Returning to “what can be said”, the point that Wittgenstein fails to see is that “what is said” always has bias. What is the point of saying this or that and how does it affect my position in this communication? Not all things that are said are meant to be understood; they can be said to incite emotional responses in the voters or to enforce a power structure, for example.
So perhaps it should be
What can be said at all can indeed be said clearly, but it would be too harsh and take away my predominance so it is better for me to put things in an unclear manner.
going along with the quote:
What I cannot talk about I shall pass over in silence.
the things of which one cannot talk about including the following:
- Things that question the presuppositions of the discourse.
- Things that contradict with the logic of the discourse.
- Things that question the actual outcomes of the discourse to the concrete reality; or rather, things that claim the actual outcomes are not in line with the discursive reality.
- Things that contradict with the position one has been appointed to in the discourse.
So next time you are talking with someone and they, at some point, just become wordless, there is high probability that you have found the boundaries of the world. Congratulations!
The spectre of the spectacle wanders about Europe. There he whispers with his devilish voice:
Just watch me
Can you not hear him? Can you not hear the apathy and weariness in his voice?
Let’s think of the moment learning happens. A situation can be imagined where person W has done some stupid act, and person Q tells W that “you have been stupid”. What is the anatomy of this situation?
What Q says is actually a form of feedback from the outer reality to W’s consciousness. W can react in the following ways:
- Indifference: “Yeah, so what. That’s my right as [a convenient noun here]“
- Aggression: “It’s not true!”
- Self-defence: “Maybe, but I blame…”
- Learning: “Ok, I have been stupid. So what should I do next time? How should I change my thinking that led to the stupid act?”
What annoys me in the commercial media is the ahistoricity that’s often applied to every mistake. Because the media (=a reflection of the collective consciousness) always asks the question: “Who is to blame? Who is to be fired?” real learning (institution-wise) – and thus, change of practices – never takes place.
In a state of scandal or crisis no-one remembers the simple fact that people make mistakes. The power of the spectacular consciousness is strong and it is able to block all facts in order to maintain the course. So to restore the imaginary confidence, leaders are given the boot and new ones elected. But because the system and it’s practices don’t change, the world keeps rolling just like nothing happened. And the crises keep coming.
Today was my last exam in the Finnish education system. I thought it would be interesting to have a little retrospection of how I now feel about this trip that took seventeen years.
This is a long story which probably bores the reader, so I use the more tag. Here it is.