Saturday, January 18, 2014

MetaDiscussion: How We Deny Our Collective Mental Illness

If a person is sick, they will seek medical help.  A sore elbow, leg, or headache will prompt them to seek the appropriate specialist to make things feel better.  Mental and emotional problems, though, are a different sort of problem and not just because these ailments are so stigmatized.

There's something in us that trusts our brains and our perspective over all else - even reality.  It just doesn't occur to a paranoiac that their reality is skewed.  We innately bind ourselves to these cerebral control systems we have, so that we discount and dismiss emotional problems and mental problems even when it's obvious that there is something wrong.  And this is also how we behave as a society.

Our social central nervous system is the set of systems of governance, discussion and feedback we use to discuss things.  Government, the press, public debate - that is our collective mind: our way of perceiving issues thinking about them, and acting.  It moves us forward towards solving problems, and hopefully past them to paths of material and physical growth.  

I would say that such systems are in such disarray today that we can't trust our group psyche.  There is no unity, there is only indecision.   We're mentally ill, and in denial of it.  We may even have aboulomania:

"Aboulomania (from Greek a–, meaning "without", and boulÄ“, meaning "will") is a mental disorder in which the patient weakened willpower or pathological indecisiveness. It is typically associated with anxiety, stress, depression, and mental anguish, and can severely affect one’s ability to function socially."

Our problems appear to be everywhere: environmental, economic and even social. But we can't seem to agree on a  way forward.   We can't even agree on what is a fact anymore.  Far from not trusting politicians to lead the discussions, we no longer even trust media, scientists or academics.  

This is why MetaDiscussion is needed today. That is, we need to talk about the discussion itself. Our group brain, our way of making decisions, our public forums are broken. They're based on decaying old manifestations of the 'press' (itself an archaic term) that are dying and not coming back.
We need to find a way align our new digital publics to our social institutions as our old ways of discussion (newspapers and television) crumble and wither.  We need to digitize our dissent, so that our leaders can cut a way through the darkness, to negotiate, take risks, make decisions and lead us as past leaders had to do.

Otherwise, we will continue in our unhealthy psychosis and its attendant self-denial and inner conflict.  In my next blog, I will recommend some group therapists.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

MetaDiscussion: Grantland's Sports Guy Talks about Talking About It

Link to Grantland article 

Bill Simmons talks about the differences in public and private discussions on performance enhancing drugs.  This is a great example of MetaDiscussion even if he doesn't quite try to realign the 'old' distinctions between public and private dialogue with digital media:

If you're a public figure who says something offensive, we're going to rake you over the coals until you apologize … but if you make that same offensive comment under the protection of anonymity, whether it's on YouTube's comment section, Reddit, a message board or whatever, that's totally acceptable. What are we? Where are we?  ... Anyone with a public forum should feel a certain responsibility to the greater good, whether you have a blog, a column, a podcast, a radio show or a steady TV gig. 

People will naturally be more responsible for opinions given under their name but 'anonymous graffiti' posting has its place too.  Some common morality will coagulate in a society, through the high pronouncements of authorities as well as through back-door finger wagging gossip and sniping.

Chaning modes of communication such as those we are living through today will tend to shake up social foundations and 'loosen' morality in some cases.  McLuhan has anecdotes about these things, such as when radio was introduced to Bedouin tribes and nobody seemed to mind that the broadcasters told stories that would be inappropriate in mixed company.

Ultimately, though, a common morality serves a purpose so it will be there again in the digital age.  If we start talking about the discussion itself, as Grantland has done, then that's a first step to understanding what is happening to us IMO.

Friday, January 10, 2014

MetaDiscussion: Let's Cross the Bridge

Scandal of the day: The New Jersey governor is in trouble because a political appointee of his was able to close lines on a busy bridge, allegedly for reasons of political retribution.

My response to this situation is to ask how the appointee was simply able to order a closure affecting many people, seemingly without a rationale.  This happened in a part of the world that places a high value on accountability, citizen rights and service.

How did the political process allow this to happen ?

MetaDiscussion first:  My curiosity took me to Google News, in order to read the top 10 articles on this matter.

 Google News Search Jan 10, 2014

I looked at the top 10 listed articles on this scandal from: CBC, Washington Post, Huffington Post, Fox, The Economist, The Telegraph, Chicago Tribune, The Globe and Mail, Christian Science Monitor, CNN.

As expected, the focus is on the SCANDAL, and the resulting impact on the Governor's presidential hopes, not on the underlying causes.  This result teaches us a very important basic fact of political coverage: it's usually about the campaigns.  These spectacles are the most exciting things in politics; "political coverage" as it is today tends to revolve around the horse race of campaign strategies and gaffes more than policies.

So the discussion about this scandal, as it is, won't result in any changes to the process.  There isn't enough focus on how the authorities don't have to explain such decisions (well, without a subpoena) And nobody will mention "Open Government" as a possible solution to throwing light on backdoor deals such as this.  Yet.

We need to discuss the discussion first.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Fish Out of Water - Why We Need Political Meta-Discussion NOW

"One thing about which fish know exactly nothing, is water" Marshall McLuhan

As an analogy for us, in today's world, this is not exactly correct in that we know that there is something wrong with the water.  There is, as Jimmy Carter described, a feeling of malaise and that assessment may be the only thing we can agree on.

So the fish is us, and the water is our collective means for solving problems ie. politics.  So how does a fish find out about water ?  It could evolve to be able to leave the water, or - more easily - it could ask a fish that thinks about things.

 Philosophers are these types of fish:

Michael Warner in his essays 'publics and counterpublics' states that "A public is the social space created by the reflexive circulation of discourse".  He builds on the work of Jurgen Habermas, bringing it into the digital age.  Things that work against creating a public are desituated individuals (individuals who are situated outside the domain of the problem being discussed) and the ascension of the trivial.

I would add that the complexity of our engagements to the world make the discourse difficult to manage.   How can so many disparate groups of people think that they are not being heard ?

The time has come for us to use personalized digital media as a platform to start a meta-discussion so we can replace our failing media institutions with a new, realigned discourse.  The next time you comment on a political issue on facebook, or elsewhere, take the time to add how this issue has arrived in the public sphere - who is commenting on it, how it's being processed, and think a little more like a fish out of water.