The Pollution of the Public Discourse

I agree with William Blake: politics is the chief human science. You can’t avoid politics if you live with other people. Living with other people may be “Hell”, as Jean-Paul Sartre once put it. But so is not living with other people.

And since this is an election year here in Canada, and campaigning by the parties to win government has already begun, you are going to hear quite a lot from me about politics, albeit as witnessed from a higher altitude than the usual ground-level (if not basement) commentary and practice, which is indeed a politics of debasement.

The pollution of the public discourse in contemporary politics is the surest indicator of the degeneracy of the Modern Era. The greatest public asset of any commonwealth is its speech, without which it could not exist. The corruption of the common speech is the worst corruption of all, and in contemporary politics that corruption has become chronic and critical. No society has ever survived the corruption of its language.

Contemporary political language, as George Orwell noted in his famous essay “Politics and the English Language” and in 1984 has become the art and science of evasion, obfuscation, spin, and the suppression of truth — if not outright lying — or the expenditure of a great many words in order to say nothing at all. It’s almost as if our present crop of politicians were actually using Orwell’s dark dystopian visions as their own blueprint for acquiring and holding power. For surely, today, no one — and especially the politicians and the “Money Interest” — can claim ignorance about Orwell’s warnings respecting the political and social consequences of the corruption of language?

In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia.

All issues are political issues because speech itself is a political act. So is listening, which is an art in itself. “Proper speech is more important than property”, Rosenstock-Huessy once wrote. And more valuable, too. It’s almost as if, despite Orwell, the response is “Yes, yes George! Let’s have more lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia!”. Not for us “the truth that sets free”, just “truthiness” suffices. That is to say, politics has become little more than the art and science of “truthiness”, employing communications techniques of “spin”, “perception management”, and “branding” first developed for corporate advertising, marketing and public relations. Why? Because they work. Yet it is the politics of insincerity.

It’s not surprising that public participation rates in the ostensible democracies are declining — “the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity”, or that “democracy” exists in name only, or that those who have a real talent for a genuine politics now refuse to have anything to do with it. A great fissure has opened up between “politics” and “civics”, between the political class and civil society, which is reflected in the divorce of State and Nation, leading to what we might call the “two paranoias,” where the State has become suspicious of the people, and the people suspicious of the State. This, too, belongs to the symptoms of disintegration and fracture.

Politics has become, in effect, war by other means. This is not healthy. The uncivil civilisation is a self-contradiction. The true issue of politics is how to successfully form a “we” — a convivium. Conviviality should be the entire purpose and pursuit of politics. Conviviality is what Rosenstock-Huessy means by “synchronisation of antagonistic distemporaries” as the purpose of any valid social science, too. The pursuit of conviviality is the purpose of all higher politics. But it seems that no one now really understands any longer what “conviviality” actually means, which will be the fatal error of globalisation. Without sincerity, which is political cynicism, no conviviality is possible or achievable.

So, we will have to examine the meaning of “conviviality”, and look to see where, presently, new forms of conviviality are being attempted as a counter-dynamic to the cynical politics of deceit, decay, and disintegration.

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9 responses to “The Pollution of the Public Discourse”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    “The rich disconnect themselves from the civic life of the nation and from any concern about its wellbeing except as a place to extract loot. Our plutocracy now lives like the British in colonial India: in the place and ruling it, but not of it.”

    Found that passage cited in an article by George Monbiot, quoting a former Republican analyst named Mike Lofgren, no less (having become disgusted with the GOP, apparently, and writing in the magazine “American Conservative”). Pretty much accords with what I wrote above.

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/21/islamic-extremism-cameron-struggle-generation

    Also of interest to me in Monbiot’s article is his reference to a “total collapse of perspective” in relation to what I’ve been posting about the breakdown of the mental-rational consciousness structure. Effectively, it means the same thing — the essential irrationality of Late Modernity in terms of its loss of the proportionate and the measured response — loss of the ratio, which is made explicit in the growing problem of inequality and the imbalancing of the distribution of wealth and power. The “rational” is the just, and our sense of justice comes in the form of proportionality and the measured response. The growth of irrationality and the breakdown of all interest or concern for social justice are exactly equivalent, therefore.

    • LittleBigMan says :

      That’s an excellent article by George Monbiot. There are plenty of valuable quotes from his article, but in addition to the quotes you chose, this one also struck me as deep and meaningful:

      “Segregation in this country is primarily along economic not religious lines.”

      Yes, it has always been about money. Religion only provides an exceptionally convenient cover for those who do the stealing, oppressing, hanging and murdering, messing with women and their rights, and a whole host of other evil acts where people are politically unsophisticated and rather simple-minded. One thing that Money Changers have become a master of us all for over two millennia is to wear whatever cloak that’s necessary to clinch at the last buck on the planet no matter where it is and no matter how much blood they’ll have to spill to get it. Wall Street? No problem! Middle East? No problem!

      http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-606777

  2. LittleBigMan says :

    ““Proper speech is more important than property”, Rosenstock-Huessy once wrote. And more valuable, too.”

    A beautiful and insightful quote from Rosenstock-Huessy, which tells me this rape of speech and double-speak must’ve existed to alarming extent in his time, too. Many members of the human race find it appealing, apparently, to make a living in this way.

  3. abdulmonem says :

    The adage that politics is the chief human vocation is engraved on the gate of the earth when its was decreed that the human will be the governor of the earth. All secular isms as you always rightly state are the sons of the religious isms and these are the sons of the god prior to their corruption into lies. God will not allow his sons to be abused for long. Chances are given , then, the punishment descends. The agony of the good and their attempts to correct will not go in vain. All our earth is on fire and most apparently in the middle of the earth. I get confused and surprised when I read in the last book that the chosen people are decreed in the end time to corrupt the earth. I am agonizing also but feel hopeful when I watch the cycles of history.

    • Scott Preston says :

      All our earth is on fire

      You’re right about that, in more ways than one. Canada is burning and there’s smoke everywhere. incredible number of forest fires this year, and some are linking it to climate change.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Yes. I understand.

      By the way, abdulmonem, Islam also has a fourfold structure similar to the Christian crucifx and the Sacred Hoop. It’s in the Kaa’ba —

      Ruknu ‘l-Aswad – south east corner where the Hajar al-Aswad is located.
      Ruknu ‘l-`Iraqi – ‘the `Iraqi corner’
      Ruknu sh’-Shami – ‘the Levantine corner’
      Ruknu ‘l-Yamani – ‘the Yemeni corner’

      In that sense, the Kaa’ba is also a map. These aren’t just geographical points. They are also spiritual.

      The real “hajj” for Muslims is not just to visit the Kaa’ba or circumambulate the Kaa’ba, but to become the kaa’aba itself — to be the shrine. So, the Kaa’ba itself is also a mandala, and a map of the human form.

      It’s all one knowledge, variously expressed. But in effect, the Sacred Hoop, the Christian crucifix, the Buddha and the Four Guardians, and the Kaa’ba with the four corners are all one and the same symbolic form for expressing the fourfold human.

  4. abdulmonem says :

    The flag of truth must always be raised very high although by the few. We still remember those who raised the flag of truth over time with reverence and respect.

  5. Dwig says :

    Two points reminded me of good references:
    “Conviviality” reminded me of Ivan Illich’s “Tools for Conviviality”.
    The corruption of speech reminded me of Wendell Berry’s ” Standing by Words”.

    • Scott Preston says :

      I haven’t heard of Berry’s book. It sounds like something I might want to read. Illich’s I’ve heard of, and I think I might even have a copy somewhere.

      Thanks for the references.

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