Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Rectifications…of names and things (1) – ‘Send a message…’
Torrey Orton
Feb. 20, 2009
One tool for obscuring reality is inappropriate or incorrect generalisations. Another is incorrect conceptualising of the world. Contemporary spinspeak is alive with them both. Following the suggestion of Confucius, I will undertake some rectification of names in our times, though perhaps without the same finesse of distinction and definition. However, my aim is to show the way to the concrete, to palpable truths, by way of agreed significations for our signs. This requires demystification and deconstruction. The first of these follows.

Instrumental relationships (see my 2 blogs on “Dances with Difference” for details of relationship types), increasingly dominate civic processes and discourses, and uproot /swamp the intimate ones. One way this is repeatedly imposed on us is this: the prominence of expressions like ‘send a message’ or ‘the message is…’ in contexts where the audience or subject of the message is not present (and often not discoverable in any concrete sense). This is a source of endless wonder – almost an acknowledgement that no communication can occur. The presumed audience is usually the ‘community’, or occasionally a stereotypical sub-community within the ‘community’ – e.g., bikers, bankers, bogans, beachbums, barbies, ….

We know that communication is not a unidirectional encoding-packaging-sending-unpackaging-decoding process of the sender –receiver type typical of communication training. The main reason this construct fails (the sender-receiver one) is that the ‘message’, whatever it is, is truly in the eye of the beholder in the first place and so cannot be seriously claimed to have been sent until ‘reception’ is proven by a ‘receiver’ response – which is mostly undoable in the contexts where ‘send a message’ is the name for the act of attempted communication.

The claim a message is sent implies it must be heard and so settles the need of senders to fulfil their perception of their obligations to others (and implicitly to themselves). Yet, ‘send a message’ is often a plea for an effect which cannot be attained by sending alone. Maybe the speaker knows it. The intended effect therefore is the appearance of caring about the espoused ‘message’. In Australia, examples of this abound in matters like: reducing binge drinking, athletic drug taking, excess non-evidence-based executive remuneration, and on and on. And we haven’t even looked at really serious stuff like climate, GFC, fluids. Foods..… the stuff of question time where it often seems the messages are mostly to themselves, and select audiences in the political apparatus (persons and organisations – the various players).

Where the message is for a clear audience, its intent is often to show that they needn’t worry; they are understood, etc. These tend to be marginal groupings of various sorts with high marginal political potential. (See forthcoming blog called “Political Default” for disproportionate influence achieved by marginal groups). Somebody’s whistling. While we are at it, we should notice that ‘stay on message’ is the supporting cast for the main acting of sending one. Its virtue is persistence in the face of increasingly insurmountable odds that no one’s listening - except other message issuers.

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