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.