|Trans||Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften||13. Nr.||Mai 2002|
1. The Nature of Communication
2. The Loss of Landmarks
3. The Polyphony of Friends Who Wish You Well
Apart from aggressive forms of communication, like publicity, libel, slander, and joking, private communication is governed by good faith. This is not the case in communication of public bodies. In a way it cannot be otherwise because too many interests are at stake and have to be monitored: qui trop embrasse mal étreint.
The human rights issue is particularly aggravated in terms of freedom of opinion, speech and the media by the power machine.
Sustainability is claimed for third-world development, but it does not go without saying for communication.
This essay attempts to throw some light on the off-scene of the puppet show and plead for a fairer treatment of its spectator.
The Renaissance placed man at the center of the world; the information society tends to replace him by communication, without considering whether an object can become a subject. This may be the reason why the information society is said to be degenerating into a mystification. Typically man's outer shell, viz. his clothes, is being equipped with optical fibers to communicate,(1) so that man can withdraw into his incomunicado.
It does not suffice to talk about communication to make it work.
The main issue will be to consider whether communication is meant to be taken seriously in a world that can no longer claim innocence,(2) because understanding is getting out of hand,(3) if it is wanted at all. Yes, the world has lost its virtue, if it ever had any. Long past is the age when it had one language and few words.(4)
People had then to adopt a plural for themselves and their speech, and earned a curse for wanting to make a name for themselves. Names are given, not taken. So they won dispersion and a tower-crash for the fortuitous rapture over ravished fame.
Communication has ever since been an endeavor to justify what has happened, because the occurrence or act always precedes its comment, granted that speech is an act.
People tend to take themselves serious without realizing that nobody else does. This is the reason for the fundamental misunderstanding of man in society, and accounts for his malaise. In order to comfort himself, he enters into chosen links with like minds (Wahlverwandtschaften), creating thereby communicating light circles around himself to stave off the dreadful exposure to his dark vacuity. Schopenhauer could well be quoted to illustrate this, for he wrote off his tedium vitae in his intimate notebook (The Willful World of Imagination(5)), which exposes his fundamental distrust in admitted values, and which made him rank as a philosopher. Nowadays, writing still seems a practicable issue for an anguished mind, if nobody wants to listen to it. It is true that for the lazy and fortunate, psychoanalysts have replaced the notepad. Whether over the Internet, the notebook, the canvass or the couch, all these means serve the same end: to find out who you are, and why you are placed in the circumstances you are in.
That is why communication is vital to the human mind. The self is not sufficient, even though some strong minds have tried self-communings, oozing out thoughts like Amiel, Marcus Aurelius, Montaigne or Pascal, to mention but a few classics. The modern media offer Internet openings(6) to speed off intimate thoughts to virtual chums. Monologues are a disguised blessing, for they alleviate the stress of the awareness of one's isolation, like John's cry in the wilderness, or suicidal despair, like Hamlet's self-justification. On scene, monologues traditionally expose the thoughts of the dramatic actor, which he chews as he is moving about. Off-scene discourse consist also mainly of monologues, which aim at providing self-assurance, as when advancing in a dark corridor. When two monologuers meet and declare their intent, odds are that they disagree; this is called a dialogue, which, at least, offers an echo, however discordant, and possibly a clue. Private communication is at this price. Public communication is even more brutal, as we shall try to show.
As we have noticed, both written and oral communication is not empty talk, even though it follows an eminently monological pattern. It does not necessarily lack harmony when joined in a conversation. Positive communication resembles music when different voices meet in a choir. Harmony was sought by classical composers, as with baroque polyphony, to match the image of divine creation, each free will being wrought together to an admirably balanced globality, a whole (holy) world. The melody of each voice had a meaning of its own. Communication seemed possible between the voices within a higher order: the search for the common weal, dismissed now as antiquated as the wholeness of God's creation. The negation of God entailed the negation of the creational origin of man's world. The brave new world was henceforth to be governed by the harsh new gods called hazard and necessity, and man was called upon to steer the machinery by the sole strength of his intellect. This infantile idea is the prevalent credo today. Once again, a building site has been opened. Masons from all nations flock together to construct a new metallic city. Communication is meant to open up hopeful avenues, if not reconcile opposing views. The idea sounds good, but, as we shall see, the purpose has been jeopardized by malignant practice.
The worlds of plants and animals also communicate, successfully, because there is no free will to disobey. The achievement of such an ideal state seems the secret aim of world rulers who dream of instituting a global vegetable State. However, man's free will to power, on which hinges the sustainability issue of communication, cannot so easily be dismissed.
The individual's will of revelation (Offenbarungswille) urges him to communicate his Weltanschauung to the world as an offer (als ein Opfer) of renunciation (Offenbarungseid) of his individuality for a higher reality. The step from communication to communion is easily tread in both directions(7). Speech and act sustain each other: the dictum "this is my flesh" both explains and operates a revolution in the individual conscience by relating it back to its common origin (re-ligare > religio), whether you believe it or not. Communication on the personal plane intrinsically tends to retrieve this common ground, and this instinctive endeavor fuels the communication machine. One hopes for a hint on one's status and fate. This is the reason why the individual keeps an ear open to communication even from sources he has learned to distrust. You never can tell! And this readiness, in turn, explains why communication goes on, despite the misfiring of the engine.
Today, science has replaced religion to the extent of an ideology. The dogmatic position remains the same, while the communication process lacks any concern for a common ground. On the contrary, the monological feature is aggravated by the quarrel of schools and the clash of opinion. Like formerly religion, science has entered the power-circus, the expert replacing the priest, material certitude dispensing with spiritual progress. Expert advice is the final weapon in the struggle for supremacy, because knowledge is power, if it works. Sometimes it does, but then the confusion between knowledge and wisdom becomes evident by the havoc which practical knowledge can spell. Blank know-how breeds devastation in vital domains for lack of consideration of vital interests, the only priority being material profit for ever more power. The whole public communication machinery is tuned to material success. It is this deviation that accounts for the deplorable state of communication in science and other public affairs.
The nature of communication, as indicated by the etymology of the word, viz. impart or share (mitteilen) information as between equal parties, has changed with the status of the addressee. The preposition "with" has tended to disappear in favor of the preposition "to," indicating a unidirectional flow of constraints to the generality. Public communication ignores the addressee, and hence suffers no reply. A communiqué is an official intimation. The individual has learned that he cannot win, that there is no point in kicking against the pricks. Such clear awareness is not enough. He has to learn more, in particular that nothing can be taken for granted. One should assume that those who have the say use it properly and truly, since power fears nothing and can brutally communicate orders. However, this assumption is wrong. It is wrong in all languages, because power has retrieved the lost unique language of the double-tongued monster of yore, and uses it accordingly. Therefore, in his dealings with the authorities, the individual has to develop a coping mechanism to allow for the missing understanding. His muteness has to be compensated by a keener audition to calibrate the message, to perceive the unsaid, to sense the hidden snags and snares, and last but not least, to distil what is relevant for him from the crude sold wholesale, if he cares at all. The trinity of this world is composed of those who decide what is going to happen, those who know what is happening, and those who wonder what has happened.
Communication presupposes a conventional frame of reference. Language is the first convention, the sonority of speech aligning the signs of meaning, i.e. words, which reflect concepts of current usage. Terminology is a second convention bearing on the adequacy of the concept/word link. The concept's meaning is a third convention, which figures the knowledge included in the concept, and which borders on metrology, the science of weights and measures, a fourth conventional dimension.
Big and small, heavy and light, etc. are important distinctive criteria, needed to order the empirical world. This in turn has to be backed up by theory, linking the observations to a coherent model. Theory and observation + experiment are the two pillars on which stands science. Valuation probes not only quantity but quality as well; indeed, quality is a governing principle even in standardization, as transpires from the ISO norm 9000. Nobody would buy a good measure of bad quality. Value cannot be neutral because it is vital to any deliberation, to any act of volition. Man has to choose between what is good and what is bad for him. The tree of knowledge and the tree of life stand side by side.
Every society has to adopt a system of values by which it lives. History shows us traditional values, which have been handed down from generation to generation, and which were landmarks or signposts in a shared ideal landscape. They served as fundamental principles governing the behavior and attitudes of group members in their mutual and collective relations. This code of conduct is reflected in the social and legal norms, of which the most fundamental is that of trust. Credit continues to be the main cement of society. Credit also extends to the meaning of current concepts, their acceptation.
Credit thrives on good faith or, at least, honorableness. However, the shrewd Polonius' advice, "assume a virtue if you have it not" paves the way for make-belief. This advice has become the guiding principle of power-wielders and politicians who pay lip service to inherited virtues when canvassing their constituencies. Since they are given credit for what they say at the time of elections, it may seem surprising that the quality of their statements(8) is not judged in the light of their deeds. However, at a closer look, it can be explained by the lack of alternatives, by the consecutive demobilization of voters, and, more generally, by the inertia of the body politic. In addition, it is granted that democracy is a fiction, which, as everybody knows, stands aloof from a reality admitted as the lesser evil. So voters and deputies alike share in a hoax, which will last as long as the mischief endured remains tolerable or sustainable.
In our democracies, it is not the people who govern, but the foxes, which people flatter themselves to know, not caring about the difference between a ham and an actor. Those who officiate as actors are nothing but that, and they perform a show, whose script is never revealed, nor is the play-writing team. Presidents are generally poor performers; and the fact that a worse fellow replaces a bad one is no longer a surprise to anybody, proving once more the universal validity of Gresham's law.(9) The foxes use the State in the name of the people, for their own ends(10) and use communication to further these ends against the people(11). They constantly arrange legislation accordingly, since nobody can challenge their decisions, especially when the courts are at their disposal, as in France and Germany.
Germany had good reasons to figure as a paragon of democracy. Yet its constitution provides under §20 for a blank check, since no deputy, contrary to the general provisions of the law of agency or deputation (Auftrag, mandat in French), is required to render accounts to his principals, i.e. his voters. In addition, glasnost is not the rule,(12) so that the relation electors-elected is one of unilateral plain trust. In plain words, responsibility is not wanted. This explains why political communication is unilateral in the opposite direction of plain trust. Polls provide the feedback to politicians for adjusting communication to what the people want to hear or learn or not. Political communication is a perpetual sensor and manipulator of public opinion. It needs not careful handling, but careful watching.
Public opinion is featured as a more potent and direct arbitrator of democracy than elections, so that communication has become the main stick for taming the shrew. A whole industry has cropped up to look after her, to put her at ease, to flatter her instincts, to shock and violate her if need be. Actually, the media have usurped the power supposedly wielded by public opinion, and they are the channels by which the fiction is entertained. Everybody is nobody, and his opinion is despicable.(13)
The sustainability of communication to you and me boils down to the discretionary handling of information by the media and their principals. Who pays the piper calls the tune. And the tune is not facts and figures, but comments on them, allowing for distortion and cooking to make things palatable.
This formal handicap of presentation is aggravated by the material change of the benchmarks. Typically, Europe has been changing its currency,(14) so that former valuation standards no longer obtain. The older generation will find this most awkward, but will have to swallow it, however hard; those of the younger generation, confused since their tenderest age, will not make the difference. They have lost their goals long ago. They even cannot read or write properly. Illiteracy is reaching 20% in France to the point that a recent critic(15) has called l'Education nationale (the French educational machinery) the children's worst enemy. There is a system behind such a success. Total illiteracy, though the ideal goal, is no longer affordable.(16)
So the global reading reform and a desultory history syllabus, together with other pedagogical innovations of our schools produce a destructured youth, easy to manipulate. While they are permanently fed with the models of crime and violence during the rest of their day, with nobody at home to talk to, to communicate with, at best an exhausted parent to shout back, there is little hope for better days.
This sabotage of education is perfected by cynicism. A cause other than the perverse system had to be dug up. So the French ministry has started a campaign against the supposed source of this predicament. Millions of francs are now being spent on the dépistage de dyslexie chez les jeunes (detection of dyslexia in youngsters). This official campaign is a good example of a well-orchestrated communication exercise for diversion from essentials. The perpetrated mischief is dodged by drawing a red herring across the trail.
Along the same lines runs the generous offer of an "explanation" thrown into the din of protests by either an official spokesman or a journalist or, if the scandal is stinking to heaven, by an expert whose superior knowledge will shut the mouth of any ignoble wiseacre.
The subtly conducted erosion of principles is carefully monitored by public tricksters. The media play the main part in this scenario. Round table discussions, talk shows, films, and publicity will lead the way. We have already pointed out the perverse interpretation which the human rights catalogue is being subjected to,(17) in particular the freedom of expression under the whip of what is politically correct - not to do, but to say, streamlining communication in accordance with approved practice dictated by the tyranny of consensus or induced self-critique (a softer form of induced suicide).
A striking example for how such erosion is orchestrated is the institution of the defenders of human rights by virtue of respective declaration,(18) especially its § 7, which states that "each has the right to develop and discuss new human rights, ideas and principles, and advocate their acceptance";
§ 9 provides that opponents to these new human rights can and should be prosecuted; § 12 provides that Member-States have to protect the defenders, to ward off and even punish opponents. The North American Man/Boy Love Association has already communicated its intention to invoke this Declaration in favor of militants of pedophilia.
The Jesuits had already shown that any word can be interpreted to mean its opposite, and the Dominicans inquired with scorching success into the shortcomings of public confessions, with Giordano Bruno as a capital scapegoat and Galileo Galilei escaping by the skin of his teeth.
Tolerance is another password to social unrest. It is typical for the service that words can subreptitiously render to apostles of newly discovered truths. Does tolerance require the acceptance as normal and even the furtherance of things like abortion, homosexuality, incest, excision, Russian roulette, vendetta or political murder? That former crimes, like homosexuality, cease to be prosecutable is one thing, but that they should be celebrated as a virtue, with everybody who refuses to join in the feast condemned as intolerant,(19) is not sustainable. On the other hand, it is not sustainable either that zero tolerance in matters of State security is pleaded by public agencies when dealing with minor delinquents, as though fare dodgers caught twice could be assimilated to terrorists.(20)
Such a drive is but another stroke on the back of the human rights donkey, even though in official communication it is claimed that it is all done to protect the citizen - but not from his worst enemy!
The same goes for liberalism or new biotechnologies. Is it acceptable that liberalism goes to the extreme of exposing countries to sanctions, if they do not submit to the demands of the 29-member oligopole resulting from the Multilateral Agreement on Investments, within the framework of the OECD, flouting thereby the rights of poor populations to food, health, education, yea survival ?(21)
Gene manipulations, it should appear, require not legal protection,
but legal control.
Capital punishment is not a crime because the State acts on behalf of and for the protection of its people. Crime needs a conscience and, as everybody knows, the State has none.
However, already Plato devised that "there is no greater evil than that which is perpetrated under the disguise of right."
Our so-called civilization, which pretends to liberate the individual from his fetters, actually deprives him from getting his bearings straight. His landmarks are disappearing, his bewilderment is carefully entertained, and his confused mind left to the triumphant pharma-industry.
Public communication has become a discipline taught in universities, and, in France, at les grandes Ecoles, notably Sciences politiques and the ENA, the cradle of the higher technocrats left, middle and right.. It is the art of selling fiddle-sticks for good value. The official name is public relations, but what is meant is manipulation by word of mouth or print. The aim is to impress, to baffle, to hoodwink, to distract. The "communicator", the "action Joe" of communication, knows what to say and what not, and how to say it. It is an aggravated form of monologue, namely one with a dead end. The recipient is defenseless and left speechless.
The discrepancy between sender and recipient is obvious. In a sales contract, the seller knows what he sells, whereas the buyer does not, but the law provides the buyer with remedies against the dominating position of the seller. The analogy may be inappropriate, since communication implies no contractual relation with respective warranties. It could be argued, however, that what is involved is a quasi-contract. The object of communication, especially information, could be required to be guaranteed true, correct and complete ("la vérité et toute la vérité") not only by the sender but also by his source, that is the originator. But what mouse is going to fix the advocated bell round the cat's neck? Journalists, i.e. those who know what is happening, pretend that they check their sources, and they probably do in most cases, but they can rarely make out whether their source is polluted or clear.
The crux is that in particular the originator, even if he were identifiable, cannot be held responsible, if it is a public body. The French contaminated blood scandal, which involved a retention of vital information to prevent the spread of contamination, showed the vanity of prosecuting the high officials in-charge (responsable mais non coupable!, as the ministerial procrastinator proclaimed). The circulation of public information is a big bazaar with foxes and cats as its biggest purveyors. The craftiest will always outwit the crafty, especially when they hold the thicker end of the stick. Apart from information, communication can also convey a piece of propaganda or an intimation. The informal nature of communication leaves a margin of appreciation also to the addressee to determine his contingencies. After all, the irresponsibility on the big end has to correspond to a latitude of non-compliance on the small lower end, although it will never be a fair deal. The big rogue will always get the better of the small rogue and whitewash his action by well-tuned communication.
In any case, one should not think that information is neutral, propaganda negligible, or that an order is not for you. Loopholes are for rats not for mice. In all cases, communication infringes on your privacy, on your freedom of thought or even on your freedom of movement. The question remains always how serious the object of communication is taken on one end or the other, seeing that at the lower end stands always the loser. There is a strict analogy with the concept of sustainable development, in which the qualifier "sustainable" is meant to make odds even to some extent, by claiming fairness and responsibility in development for the people concerned and their surroundings. This same idea of fairness and responsibility should prevail in public communication.
The unsaid, the unspoken word is just as important as is the explicit. As the African village-head used to say: we have heard you say things; we have understood these things; we have understood the things you have not said. Indeed, communicated silence conveys, in many instances, more vital information than explicit talk. This applies in face-to-face discourse, when persuasion is involved, and seduction employed, as at court or in a store. In ordinary political communication, e.g. party spokesman to the press, important things are never disclosed. At best, they may be guessed under allusions or banalities. It is only when spilled milk is whipped to a scandal and tremendous responsibilities seem to be at stake that the communication machine eventually will spit out some more or less relevant information, "which everybody knew anyway."(22)
Scandal is engineered in most cases and is meant to distract from essentials. If it has a hard core, it may just be a settling of scores between competitors or a test on public opinion or an affair quickly silenced. Only 50 years later will lucky survivors flout their prosecutors who worried about trifles, or, when it is a tall order, it is classified "national defense." Most reprehensible deviations from ordinary rules are considered politically correct, if within the party code they are qualified as "just un renvoi d'ascenseur," i.e. a return service for services rendered. In the rare event of a white-turkey being dragged to court, the case will end up with a withdrawal in most cases.
Recent French political history is rife with such dead-end issues. For instance, the ELF scandal, involving French, German, African and other heads of State, natural resources, especially oil and uranium, arms sales, drugs, private armies and wars, secret services, and, last but not least, underhand party financing, has produced a cross-fire of contradictory communications, the disappearance of ELF, of some main actors (while the biggest fish continue quietly to run their businesses), and a court-file of over one-hundred-thousand pages, the sheer volume of it stifling the prosecution. Other State-owned companies, like le Crédit Lyonnais or la Société Générale, have equally impressed public opinion by the State's acumen in furthering the interests of its people, i.e. the taxpayer, who is, after all, le dindon de la farce! But if somebody has the cheek to denounce such practices, he will be bluntly discouraged or prosecuted for libel or slander. In all such instances, communication will produce the same echo-effect as the chorus in the Greek tragedy.
The oligarchy of cats (lobbies) and foxes (politicians from the top to rank and file) is eviscerating the State and other formal institutions, partly including supranational bodies, with the result of creating a new state of society in which the individual is ever more entangled in a counter-world of inverted values, propagated as an achievement. The progress is laid down in new laws and regulations, for which the European Union is particularly active. The directives issued at great speed have, for example, succeeded in killing off European agriculture, earning applause from our overseas friends. Affirmed principles are eroded, if not naturally, then perforce, as under the recent anti-terrorist campaigns and laws, triggered by possibly pre-arranged attacks.
The regular summit meetings of the Union, of which nothing essential oozes out, (just as of the summits of Davos, Seattle, Genova, etc.) give the impression of a conspiracy. The impressive silence is plausible: There is no point in giving the game away, when they are about to set the cat among the pigeons. On the other hand, if decisions are published, like the Maastricht treaty revisions, they are not much publicized, because nobody understands what it is all about, and most people do not even take the trouble of wondering. Even if they do not care, the example is particularly telling of what sustainable communication cannot be.
The ecological warfare has also given rise to unsuspected reactions, in particular the blocking by the White House of the scheme to reduce the production of gases causing the greenhouse effect in the form of a fin de non-recevoir. The U.S. can afford such a model piece of communication policy.
But the worst is the crime against mankind perpetrated single-handedly by the atomic lobby with the connivance of States and international bodies, like the Vienna-located UN International Atomic Energy Agency.(23)
The world would probably have gone on being radiation-polluted without official warning, had there not been the catastrophe of Tschernobyl. The handling of this casualty and similar ones, like 3-Mile-Island, Superphenix, Sellafield, Biblis, etc., and of the castor-haulage has borne out a preposterous disregard for basic precautions, especially in terms of information of the populations concerned. Disinformation and brazen lying characterize the communication policy of competent agencies. The German executive proclaim, against better knowledge, - or don't they care? - that German nuclear plants are the safest in the world, and the highest judicature has dismissed quite a number of plaints lodged against the atomic industry.(24)
The abandonment of nuclear power was the commitment by which the present coalition won the elections. Now, three years later, not only the abandonment has been abandoned, but steps are being taken to reinforce the position of atomists, including by legal measures, to the effect that the promotion of nuclear energy has priority over that of public health. The admissible emission ratings have been raised, opponents declared public enemies, and the banks given guaranties for a longer depreciation period of installations. Safety regulations are known to be flouted in many instances, breakdowns are concealed,(25) higher cancer rates ignored and respective actions rejected, and overhaul stoppages shortened. The running of nuclear power plants does constitute already a permanent hazard to millions of people all over the world, but the final disposal of nuclear waste with its radiation levels endangering the biosphere(26) for thousands of years constitutes an eternal peril to life on earth. The SOS for help remains in the air. Man has set free deadly energies, which he cannot control. Nobody wants to care, because the disaster has already reached proportions that are beyond human imagination. So cats and foxes close their eyes and hope for the best. Sellafield and La Hague brazenly continue their pollution by directly channeling fluid waste into the North Sea, contaminating thereby the whole Northern Hemisphere's ocean waters, which also benefit from the Russian atomic submarine waste and flooded missiles. And the deep-sea fishery continues landing fish. If somebody queries the public health implications, a communiqué will assure that the safety margins are largely respected and that a small dose of radiation is even good for health!
The dangers are minimized, if not negated, by paid experts and officials. The German author of the book quoted had to expatriate himself to Portugal, in order to save his life and that of his family. These incredible things would pass unnoticed were there not a few courageous people to draw the attention of the future victims to their fate. The much publicized crimes against humanity prosecuted in the Hague are nothing in comparison with what is in store for the 400 million Europeans, not to mention the rest of the world, who are conniving hostages of the nuclear industry, if they do not unite to resist the programmed holocaust, because the probability of a major hazard increases with time and with the multiplication of plants; the energies involved now are far beyond any comparison with Tschernobyl, and the density of population around the sites is greater, especially in Germany.
In France, the recent blow-up of a non-nuclear storage of explosives at Toulouse, killing 30, injuring hundreds and destroying 300 buildings housing over 100,000 apartments in the neighborhood has shown the impact of a relatively minor hazard on a whole region, lacking all of a sudden even normal supplies, hospital facilities and materials for repair. The havoc created by a nuclear disaster in a densely populated area cannot be imagined. That is why no precautions are taken, except for those to silence protests and to minimize and negate the obvious dangers.
Internet communication is prone to expose users to attacks of hackers, who can break into their data for any illicit purpose. Surveying software spies on queasy citizens, and virus development tends to break up security systems. The Information warfare(27) has already shown its explosive effects on the twin-towers. The fragility of the Internet, the backbone of the Information Society, in terms of security of data circulation, underlines an unsuspected aspect of the sustainability of communication, if by communicating over the Net you risk your privacy, your security, and that of your contacts, and, in particular, you are constantly watched over by those who can decide how you should spend your money and time. And if they find fault with you, you will be in trouble in no time, forfeiting their credit and that of your bank. There will be no need for prisons anymore.
The sustainability of communication is hard pressed by the power machine. Awareness of the high treason, which is being perpetrated by the decision-makers, should rouse the dozing citizens to overdue action. We outsiders can no longer afford to sit on the fence, to wonder what may be going to happen. Submission to the law poses the ancient issue of iniquity, as dealt with in Sophocles' Antigone.(28)
Communication is sustainable not only when fairness and responsibility are warranted, but also when by consultation a concert is achieved, by which violence in all its forms, which is so often employed to maintain an abject authority, is banned and banished for a time.
Language is not the only means of communication, but it is the easiest to misuse. Professionals of the word like writers, poets, publicists, lawyers, priests, and politicians are perfectly aware of this, and find their daily bread in the exploitation of this vein. Certain cultural tendencies have cultivated this, like the baroque, as illustrated in Molière's Femmes Savantes, but in most epochs, the bread and butter trade-off of word usage for undisclosable ends has remained a practice which was the least talked about because it was most common.
On account of the word's openness of purport, its identity is liable to change, to accommodate new meanings, to compromise between conflicting views, to replace missing concepts.(29)
"Sustainability" was such a word. It is hoped that it now has earned its credits in the context of communication. The state of affairs, as summarily depicted, may change as a consequence, if enough pressure can be built up. The vindication has to be addressed to the right place. The State is no longer responsible. It is important to make sure not to bark up the wrong tree. The first thing should be to rouse awareness in the people, in whose name the criminal lack of foresight and disinformation is perpetrated.
The political parties spend their energies and waste millions on elections and the distraction of public opinion from essentials to entertain the fiction of democracy. The money for that stems from criminal energies employed in the production of more criminal energies within the top-secret circuits of corruption and collusion. The ideal democracy is based on the transparency of power. This vindication of glasnost preceded the fall of the Soviet colossus. The appalling state which characterizes this conglomerate now only shows that the extant communication channels of power and information were insufficient to cope with the new requirements of a healthier power scheme of the type supposed to be prevalent in the Western countries, including language requirements. It is not enough to mobilize a word like glasnost, if it is not sustainable. Transparency is being evacuated like democracy. The new concept of Europe, for instance, as evolved at Laeken, is dissimulated under a consensus in an oxymoron(30)
such as the federation of nation-states. This stops public debate and justifies the indifference of voters, while the train that carries the reform of institutions has departed, vesting the Eurocrats (the Commission) with uncontrolled and uncontrollable powers of decision, leaving Council and Parliament as simple onlookers. Do as they please will be the governing principle of the European so-called Union. The bureaucracy will be free to handle its citizens the way they deserve it.
Sustainable communication presupposes transparent channels operating smoothly in the glass house of a really democratic body politic. Now, this is becoming a past utopia. The House of Europe at Strasbourg is made of glass, but it is not sustained by human dignity. They pretend human rights instead. The issue is one of ethics, not of law. The power wielders jibe at ethics behind the legal façade. Knowing this, the addressee of public communication should remember that le commissaire est bon enfant, and that children are irresponsible creatures, whereas sustainability presupposes adult agents. So the final answer to an infantile situation lies in its acknowledgement and adjustment to it to keep the damage to a minimum.
© Herbert Eisele (Paris)
table of contents: No.13
(1) Cf. Le Monde de la Science, 14 December 2001, p. 27.
(2) As Oscar Wilde succinctly put it: "Innocence is a delicate flower, touch it and its bloom is gone." The forfeiture rather is the big bang of shutting gates which marks the irretrievability of Paradise Lost.
(3) "Je menschlicher die Menschen, desto leichter können sie sich untereinander verständigen." Ricarda Huch, Der Sinn der heiligen Schrift. Insel Verlag, 1922, p. 252.
(4) Genesis 11, 1.
(5) In fact, the exact title of the original 1819 edition, first published in English in 1883, sticks to the original: The World as Will and Idea (Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung), explaining human misery by man's volition separating from the universal will, but not explaining why this scission had to be written off, for any explanation is a product of will and idea.
(7) "Die Welt besteht aus Worten, die Fleisch werden (Vorbilder) und aus Fleisch, das Wort wird." Ricarda Huch, Nachruf, kulturprägende Namen, op. cit. p. 337.
(8) Mrs. Thatcher attributed the dubious quality of political communication to the fact that politicians have to make statements more often than they have things to say.
(9) Bad money drives out good.
(10) H. H. Von Arnim, Staat ohne Diener, bzw. der Staat als Beute. Knaur, 1993. "Das Grundübel unserer Demokratie liegt darin, daß sie keine ist. Das Volk, der nominelle Herr und Souverän, hat in Wahrheit nichts zu sagen." P. .335.
(11) The promotion of atomic energy has a greater priority than safety and public health; military and police have priority over education. Decision-makers need protection against the fury of the poor.
(12) "Die parlamentarische Demokratie basiert auf dem Vertrauen des Volkes; Vertrauen ohne Transparenz" Bundesverfassungsgerichtsurteil vom 5. November 1975.
(13) Better informed Romans already knew this: vox populi, vox bovi.
(14) The architectonic marks on the new banknotes bear out a clearer reference to the underlying ideology than has been the case with the constellated blue flag.
(15) Colette Ouzilou, dyslexie, une vraie fausse épidémie. Presses de la Renaissance, Paris, 2001, 212 pp.
(16) Even though a World Bank official remarked that primary literacy campaigns, if not followed up by secondary education, would but breed revolutionaries.
(17) Cf. my article on culture and sustainable development, which is being published in UNESCO's "Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems."
(18) Cf. Le Monde, 8 December 1998, p. 19 and especially Michel Schooyans, La Face cachée de l'ONU, Le Sarment - Fayard, 2000 pp. 76-78.
(19) Cf, Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler, The New Tolerance. How a New Cultural Movement Risks Destroying You, Your Faith and Your Children (German edition 1999, CLV Christl. Literatur-Verbreitung EV Pf.110135 - D-33661 Bielefeld).
(20) The recent French anti-terrorist law "vigie-pirates" provides for up to 6 months imprisonment for such offenses. Cf. Also "l'Institut Montaigne, laboratoire de la pensée libérale, " in: Le Monde, 14 December 2001.
(21) M. Schooyans loc. cit.
(22) Like this: "The likelihood for being nominated to the légion d'honneur increases proportionately to your capacity for white-washing money. This information is not for circulation."
(23) Cf. Holger Strohm, Die stille Katastrophe. 2001-Verlag, 1999, 568 pp.
(24) Because prevailing legislation puts the onus probandi of the damage on the claimant, instead of requiring that the plant operators prove the harmlessness of their activity. The operators have the money to prevent the law from being changed. Such a revolting fact will not appear in any communication, because it is not sustainable.
(25) Alone between 1984 and 85 the 101 US nuclear power plants experienced 5400 incidents and failures, and only in 1400 of them did the safety systems work properly, so that it is only a question of time before the worst can happen. "The perfect reactor in a perfect world does not exist," said Richard Pollock, one of the leading reactor security experts. B. Keisling, 3-Mile-Island Turning Point, Veritas Book Inc. Seattle, 1980 + Informat. d. Zentralverbandes der Bürgerinitiativen gegen Atomgefahren, Wien, No..3. p. 6, 1986. Quoted in Strohm, op.cit. p. 165.
(26) For decades, UNESCO has maintained an international survey called Man and the Biosphere, costing millions of dollars, but the nuclear hazard is quietly ignored.
(27) P. Salz-Trautmann, "Hacker Chips Are a Threat to Society," in: The European, London, No. 292, December 1995, p. 22.
(28) "Dealing with the pain and suffering caused, when an individual, obstinately defying the dictates of divine will or temporal authority, or refusing to yield to destiny and circumstance, instead obeys some inner compulsion that leads to agonizing revelation and, ultimately, to a mysterious vindication of that person's behavior and life". Encarta 97, S. "Antigone".
(29) "Denn wo Begriffe fehlen, da stellt zur rechten Zeit ein Wort sich ein," Urfaust, Mephistopheles.
(30) Like the famous "vrais faux passe-ports," circulating with official approval of the French authorities to accomplish a dirty job abroad, an oxymoron is a figure of speech yoking incompatibles.
For quotation purposes:
Herbert Eisele: Sustainable Communication. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 13/2002.