Sunday, November 23, 2008

From Rushkoff to San Diego with General Semantics and Media Ecology

So, I've been in San Diego for a few days now, for the National Communication Association's annual meeting. We had a pre-conference on media ecology on Thursday, that took the form of a lively all-day seminar discussion, and there have been a number of sessions here co-sponsored by the Media Ecology Association, one of which I chaired.

One big disappointment is that I applied for the National Communication Association to grant affiliate status to the Institute of General Semantics, a status that the Media Ecology Association gained some years ago, and the executive committee decided to table the application and put a moratorium on affiliations, and review the whole process. A number of NCA bigwigs expressed their disappointment with that outcome to me. At least we were approved for affiliation by the International Communication Association, and I have an application in to become an affiliate of the Eastern Communication Association.

We did set up tables at the Exhibition Hall, which my graduate student Pamela Miller ran for most of the time, and did so with great dilligence and efficiency. I took over for most of today, and in fact I'm writing this post while sitting at our exhibit. The response has been good, we've sold some books, generated some interest, gotten a lot of very affectionate reactions and strolls down memory lane, and most importantly, reminded folks in the field of communication about the IGS, and generated awareness overall.

I was also delighted to have a chance to meet for the first time Tom Bruneau, after some e-mail correspondence. It turns out that Tom was a student of Frank Dance, the speech, language and human communication maven and former president of the National Communication Association and the International Communication Association--Frank is also a Fordham University alum, and a long time member, friend, and supporter of the Media Ecology Association.

So, it's not surprising that Tom and I would be on the same wavelength intellectually. Tom, who is retired now, is a leading expert on chronemics, the human use of time, a subject I find fascinating. Tom's major influence is Edward T. Hall, an anthropologist who is an often unsung pioneer of media ecology, an important influence on McLuhan, and also a pioneer in the study of both intercultural communication and nonverbal communication. His first book, The Silent Language, is a foundational work for media ecology, and his second, The Hidden Dimension, established the importance of proxemics, the human use of space, as an area of study. And conceptions of space are very important for media ecology scholarship, as are conceptions of time, which Hall deals with in The Dance of Life. I also recommend his book on intercultural communication, Beyond Culture. So, anyway, Tom and I never got around to talking very much about Hall, but did talk a bit about general semantics, about time, and about intercultural communication.

Which brings me back to Rushkoff, who put up a post about his Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture on the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies website on November 19th. Rushkoff's post, entitled Don’t Change Your “Self” - Change the World, can be gotten to by clicking here, but of course I am happy to go over there myself and bring it on back for you here--it's all part of this full service operation.

I'll even bring over the picture of Doug that's on the post:

There it is again, his shayna punim! Now, let's see what he has to say:

Doug Rushkoff: Here’s a podcast of the talk I did for the Institute of General Semantics last Friday night. The talk was about the biggest honor I’ve had as a public speaker: The 56th Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture at the Princeton Club in NYC. The event was just written up by Brian Heater for the NYPress.

This put me at the end of a long line of thinkers I’ve long admired: Buckminster Fuller, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Gregory Bateson, Robert Anton Wilson, Abraham Maslow, Ellen Langer, Albert Ellis…you get the idea. It’s hard to accept the fact that I’ve grown up, and that most of the generation of thinkers before me have already moved on. But someone has to carry the torch, and that may as well be all of us.

The lecture has a lot to do with the subject of my upcoming book, Life Incorporated: How a business plan took over the world and how to take it back, which I just finished rewriting last night to include the current financial crisis. It’s the same book, except instead of warning that our corporatist behaviors will soon lead us into a financial crisis, I get to show how it all happened and how to get out. It makes the job of explaining the book or convincing people to read it a lot easier. I’m much less a Cassandra, now, warning of imminent meltdown - and I don’t have to spend as much time doing what might appear to some as naysaying or scolding. We’re all aware that we’re in a fine mess, now, and already interested in understanding what happened and how to fix it.

I tried to make this lecture provocative to the General Semantics people, in particular. General Semantics has over the years limited itself, I argue, to self-help technologies from NLP and psychotherapy to EST and self-hypnosis. All this focus on the self really started back during the renaissance, and coincided with some really dark presuppositions about human nature such as self-interest. And - as I show in the book - these are really just artifacts of corporatism.

The object of the game, I think, is not to change the self (which doesn’t even really exist) but to change the world.

In all fairness, general semantics should not be grouped together with these psychotherapies, although it is true that there have been many general semanticists interested in the therapeutic uses of the discipline over the years, and many therapeutic offshoots of general semantics such as Neuro-Linguistic Programming and dianetics. But Alfred Korzybski himself was very much interested in changing the world, and in social, political, and economic applications of general semantics. He and his followers were profoundly interested in propaganda, in equipping people to resist it, and stereotyping and scapegoating. General semanticist Anatol Rapoport was a major figure in peace and justice studies. And Neil Postman, who introduced media ecology as "general semantics writ large," was also looking at much more than the individual self.

Doug loves to be provocative, and I certainly agree that we need to change the world. General semantics has always been about that, and so has media ecology. And from a general semantics point of view, you'd have to ask, why is it either-or? Why not both-and? Let's change ourselves and change the world. The two are inseparable. It is, after all, an ecology.

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