communicationalism and power
- Following from my recent musings about the distinction between mutual
subject/object relations and what might be termed intersubjectivity
(thanks to all those who responded) I have been thinking about how
this relates to real human relations, both at the microcosmic level
(I and thou) and the macrocosmic (USA and the Arabic/Islamic Other).
What appears to distinguish the intersubjectivity of I and thou from
the subject/object relations established by the use of verbal
language is the context of power within which that verbal language is
used. Intersubjectivity is a possibility when I use a verb to
describe my (subject) experience of you (object). But it fails as
soon as I am described within a sentence that uses a verb to
predicate what I am to the person using the language, if that person
has the power to insist that I conform to the internal logic of the
For example, "Tommy is a project manager" predicates the verb "to be"
with the quality "project manager". According to the person using the
sentence, a project manager is not only what I am doing but what I am
BEING. All I need now is to be supplied with a project and a budget
and away I go. As part of my role as project manager I am expected to
enmesh myself within lots of additional verbal constructs, eg.
whether targets are being met, whether the project is profitable etc.
and berate myself if I fail to conform to these additional
constructs. The shorthand "is a project manager" can be used to
connote all these additional verbal constructs so that the entity
which is using me in this way doesn't even have to rise to that
In "being" a project manager I am jettisoning my subjectivity,
subjugating it to the ends of the entity I serve while acting out
this role. To reassert my subjectivity is to fail to conform to this
qualification of the verb "to be" and to therefore become a nothing
as far as the entity whose project I am managing is concerned.
The key to understanding all this is to make reference to the power
of the entity which is fixing you as an object in the sentence which
describes your role within that entity's projects. I define power as
the ability to initiate change rather than to experience change as
something which happens to you. So my lover tells me that it is over,
that she is making a new life with someone else and I howl in anguish
because this wasn't a change I initiated but one which was imposed on
me. Or Uncle Sam tells Saddam Hussein that "time is running out" and
that it is "a question of will" and we all know what is meant.
The material world of objects responds to the exercise of verbal
power because that power extends through technology. I construct a
sentence in which a person "is" a nuclear physicist and hey presto!
there is a mushroom cloud. To a greater extent than most people
realise, what is salient about the world and objects within it is
constructed by verbal formulations.
I hold that all power is a subspecies of that super-power that is in
the hands of the neo-fascists in Washington. We are free to construct
philosophies of communication all we like, and these theories have a
certain amount of internal consistency. But if we don't make
reference to Power, these philosophies have no application to the
political world in which we live.
That is why the project to develop a system of international law is
doomed before it even starts. The neo-fascists are right because they
are right and there is no point in going into that question in very
much more detail than that.
Communicationalism and its insistence on intersubjectivity stands as
a personal philosophy and it works as an ethical system as long as it
isn't taken where it doesn't belong, into the world of power
relations. Communicationalists must accept that if Power says, "you
die", then that is precisely what you do. There is justice - but
power is prior to justice. In fact, Power is prior to everything
unless survivalism is refuted and being embraces the nothingness that
lies curled within it.
Join us at Communicationalism, the attempt to find a basis for ethics
in communication rather than survival