GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

January 30, 2010

A Minimal Rule for Political Discourse

Filed under: GA — adam @ 9:28 pm

Exclude from your discourse all imperatives, implicit and explicit, to third parties. No “x must realize,” or “y needs finally to understand,” or “we have to demand that z…” Nobody really has to do anything, and stating that they do simply establishes a fantasy scenario in which others come to occupy the same scene as you and recognize the same center. Note that imperative directed towards the second party, i.e., the reader or interlocutor, are perfectly acceptable under this rule—as long as the imperative is fulfilled in actions that can be taken by that interlocutor alone, like “exclude from your discourse…” Think about how ridiculous so many of those implicit imperatives would be if stated in the first person singular—if, say, “we must hold the Democrats accountable for their unconscionable over-spending” were to be imagined as someone standing (where? In front of “the Democrats”? who have been lined up to hear this proclamation how?) and saying “I hold you accountable”—but what is a performative, like an imperative or judgment, that can’t be stated in the first person before the intended recipient? An imperative to the reader, on the other hand, can remain within the bounds of the imperative: try speaking in this way. It can, of course, be rejected. The other alternative is to write or speak in indicatives, implicit as well as explicit, and lay down some chain of events that might articulate the thing being said or written with someone else doing something else. I think this constraint would be very helpful—it seems to me that we hardly ever hear, from either politicians or journalists, “if…then…” chains which can sustain the insertion of indefinite “if… then” chains between each “if” and “then.” If the Democrats pass the health care bill they will alienate those who would have their health care and/or insurance arrangements put at risk (in the following ways…) along with those whose taxes would be raised and those who could not afford to sustain their businesses under such mandates; the Republicans would then have a constituency for running on overturning the health care bill which would in turn alienate those who would find the accusation that they have thereby taken away coverage from x number of people persuasive, meaning that the Republicans would weigh these respective constituencies, which might, in turn, “present” differently to different Republicans, who would therefore negotiate amongst themselves. No one “must” do anything in this kind of discourse—everyone is simply confronted with choice after choice, with each choice generated a new series, which we can anticipate and formulate as mimetic, speaking beings. Even with larger questions, phrases like, “we must defend the basic principles of the American constitution” or “Western civilization” collapse in the same way under closer inspection. In a sense, what I am arguing is that the legal notion of “standing” is far more important than “logic”—I can speak to an injury done me, I can answer an accusation made against me, and while I can’t “defend Western civilization” (like my example of “holding Democrats accountable,” try to picture “defending Western civilization”), but I can certainly shore up a concept or exemplify a way of thinking that might give some others an imperative to repeat to themselves when they have the chance to speak to an injury done to themselves or another, or to answer an accusation, including one addressed to one of their corporate identities.

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