Cogitating About Communication in Our Connectedness

The communication in connectedness, like give and take everywhere, follows an oft-remembered model. The model presented here applies in general to all communication at any level of intensity, from a simple greeting to heated argument and debate. It has 5 stages.

1. Mimetic Desire for Communication
One party identifies Communication as an object of desire and other parties reflect that desire. Examples of things children and adults find comment-worthy: notions, ideas, opinion, complaints, vituperation, scathing attacks, smashmouth. Whatever the Conversation Culture tells us is worth buzzing about, that's what people decide is ripe for discussion.

2. Mimetic Rivalry for More Chatter
Now the parties begin competing for more airtime. Whatever forms of chitchat emerge, people copy them. If it's a mean-spirited diatribe, it's played as a win/lose game. To win, you only need to make some people snicker while making your rival wince. Typical strategies are criticisms or ridicule. If it's a good-faith dialogue, it's played as a win/win game. To succeed at the Dialogue Model you must intrigue everyone while annoying no one.

3. Skandalon
Skandalon is a Greek word that means "taking the bait". It's the root of "slander" and "scandal." In the rivalry for airtime, if one side is offended they are caught in the temptation of Skandalon and feel compelled to retaliate. Thus begins a mean-spirited argument, fought on the political battlefield, in which the goal is to demolish the other side. Skandalon is what makes it so hard not to take the bait, so hard just to walk away. It's so easy to retaliate. The give and take escalates.

4. Scapegoating and Alienation
Eventually one side crosses some arbitrary threshold of civility where the host of The Connection feels compelled to intervene. It's essentially random which side crosses first, but often it's the more strident faction, which uses harsher language to maintain parity. Whichever side goes over the arbitrary line becomes disgusting, and the others who kept their irony below threshold are offended. They chastise the miscreant, sending him or her to the Oblivion of Disconnection.

5. Acceptable, Politically Correct, and Sacred Commentary
To appease the listening audience, the host determines the standards of civility and visits censorship and restraint on the outcast. Then everyone issues a sigh of relief. This escalates the polarization to the next higher level of authority in our culture.

The 5-stage pattern repeats at all levels of conversation and for all rivalries and competitions. The most vicious attacks are reserved for people highest up in the power structure. Juan Williams, Jerry Springer, and Geraldo Rivera follow this model. Well, actually, almost everyone follows it.

At every point in a battle of words, the dynamic is somewhere in the 5-stage model, which repeats endlessly.

The only way to stop the incivility is to adopt the conscious goal of de-escalation and run the model backwards toward constructive dialogue. Giving up the desire to be mean-spirited, avoiding the temptation of skandalon, avoiding slamming down the phone, avoiding authorized and sanctioned disconnection.

A common type of haranguer is a person who bears witness and speaks the truth to power. Sensitive figures in childhood were made fun of for bearing witness to mean-spirited remarks.

In Littleton, the community witnessed the escalation of the pervasive and horrific culture of verbal savageness that adolescents wage with cruel verbal abuse, smashmouthing, and other powerful tokens of disrespect.

Mean-spiritedness, left to itself tends to escalate over time.

We need to think our way out of verbal violence by mindfully running the model backward, de-escalating nasty diatribes and moving toward dialogue.

At every stage of the model, we need to be mindful of the dynamic we are caught up in, and consciously elect to run the model in reverse.

With this Systems Theoretic Model of the dynamic structure of argument, debate and dialogue, we can discover the optimal strategy to drive the system in reverse toward good humor and insightful conversations.

It's pure science, pure reason, and pure common sense. These methods of thought all reach the same insightful solution to getting along.

It's time we learned it so that we can discontinue the mindless practice of amusing ourselves to death. It's time we learned, reviewed, reflected, and meditated on the Mimetic Conversation Model. You can do that in the context of your faith, or while posting your comments on the Web. It's the same calming mindfulness.

--Barry Kort, Ph.D.

Copyleft The Orenda Project
Copyleft Barry Kort, bkort@musenet.org

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