A little bit of everything…

Sex. Terrorism. Elections. Theory. I sit here with a rather large dilemma: what should I blog about? My head is filled with thoughts and ideas, applications of theories and general questions about Habermas and recent events that I could tie him (and critical theory) to. Not a bad problem to have. Among the swirling thoughts:

  • There’s the Ottawa shooting, and ideas about state surveillance, open government, mental illness versus terrorism, the media’s failure (or not) and official statements. Will an “ideal speech situation” occur about the different aspects of the shooting and will we come to a “mutually understood truth,” as Levine puts it in his blog? Call me a pessimist, but I’m not holding my breath. (More on that later).
  • I won’t be attending the Collaborate session because I’ll be covering the municipal election here in London (aka The Other London). I’ll go in for 4 p.m., hopefully get pizza (a must, despite dwindling newsroom resources, on election night. We might not have pens, notebooks or a future in newsprint, but we will eat free election day pizza, damn it). How do we get people to recognize each other (and each other’s opinions and discourse) as equal? Habermas assumes that it’s possible, but I’m not so sure. What is my role, as the journalist, to cover all campaigns equally? Is it the responsibility to of the media to give every candidate or issue equal space? Who decides who is a front-runner (an opinion poll?) and who is a fringe candidate not worth spilling ink over? It’s interesting how angry some people get if we don’t cover every candidate, but if we covered everyone, we’d have less space for the people who might actually win. I know that puts an awful lot of power in the hands of the journalists and editors in the (mainstream) media, and it’s not one that anyone involved takes lightly. Also interesting are the things we choose to release about ourselves – the hashtag you choose to end your tweet with or the simple act of affixing an “I voted” sticker to your jacket says a lot about you, I think.
  • On a slightly different note, though related to communication theory and PR, I’ve become obsessed in the last 24 hours with the whole Jian Ghomeshi/CBC scandal, on so many different levels. The sequence of how it all went down is so instructional and I’m guessing will be studied in PR courses. First, the fact that, although Gomeshi hired a powerful PR and law firm which put out a bare-bones press release/statement (Sunday afternoon) of his intention to sue the CBC, he used his Facebook page to explain his own side of the story (Sunday evening) before anyone else was able to do so. A brilliant PR move, if nothing else, right? (Maybe those of you in PR will disagree). But here’s how I see it – most people (perhaps those not quite as obsessive about getting all the facts and sequence of events) will see it as a personal letter (“Dear Everyone” his Facebook post begins) to the masses. Much more poignant than any statement someone might release through a PR or law firm (though undoubtedly his FB statement was vetted and revetted, written and rewritten, but both his PR and law firm). What began, on my social media, anyway, as some people sharing his statement, has now turned into people sharing the mainstream media links (CBC, The Star, National Post, Globe and Mail, Huff Post) as well as critical blogs and podcasts, etc. Now it’s turned into, ‘wait, why aren’t we hearing from the women?’ Interesting to see who in my social network is linking to what. What does it say about them? I routinely stop myself from posting links of any kind on my Facebook wall because I’m weary of how people will interpret the source. Are you guys that hyper-aware when you post stuff on personal social media (blogs, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook)?

Now that you all know what I’m thinking about today, let me briefly turn back to Habermas. From the very first reading (Levine’s blog), I understood the Frankfurt School’s dilemma. Why, given all the tools, has there been no revolution? Why did humans turn to totalitarianism instead of rising up? I’ve always tended to think that it’s because we’re born selfish, or at least selfishness is socially constructed in us from birth. Marcuse’s theory of capitalism as a clever ruse to make us think that we have all these needs for which it is providing us choice (Sudersan, 261) really hit home.

I can get behind Habermas to a point, probably more than any of the other theorists we’ve studied. I get that our life-world is being colonized by overarching systems that have come to dominate all areas of our life. I might even agree that society is ultimately redeemable, as Stowe says in her blog. I understand how truth can be empirical and/or normative (Levine). I see communication getting distorted because of power and ideological domination all the time, and I agree that a society free of distorted communication is a noble goal. I just don’t know if an ideal speech situation is possible. (Maybe that’s because we’re still working toward this goal?). I can’t think of a single instance where everyone gets an equal chance to argue and question, where rationality prevails because power doesn’t matter (particularly in the public sphere). I guess I’m not sold on that Utopian ideal, though I don’t know yet if that’s because our life-worlds are still being colonized and will continue to be for a long while yet, or if I even believe that it’s possible to end the colonization.

I like that Habermas’ end goal isn’t victory or defeat of any standpoint, but rather consensual agreement (Sudersan), I just don’t know if that emancipation is possible. I’ve either not seen an example of it (on a micro level), or it hasn’t happened yet. Curious to find out what the discussion leads to tonight. We’ve had a mayoral candidate here in London (the likely winner, if the polls prove correct), who has talked about change and consensus building. He claims to be more concerned with consensus than ideology, to recognize his opponents as equals. Will rational discourse, or ideology, prevail? How do we get people who claim to be concerned about their property taxes, to care about city-building (figuratively, not literally)? Maybe we’re experiencing a mini social-movement here in London. Or maybe we’ll wake up tomorrow and it’ll all be the same.

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3 thoughts on “A little bit of everything…

  1. I feel compelled to update this post slightly because of the developments in the Ghomeshi story. My prediction (made the night the whole scandal broke and the day after) was that his whole “trying to get in front of the story” with his Facebook post would be a brilliant PR move. Now I’m not so sure. It seems that it might have been, if Facebook existed in a social media vacuum. Instead, it seems like it’s just added to the debate about the allegations and added to the discussion about Ghomeshi’s guilt/innocence. Shows how much I know about PR, I guess! Or maybe it shows how much PR has changed in an era when everyone is a critic. Again, interested to hear what the PR practitioners out there think (of the PR/media/public response itself, not necessarily about Ghomeshi’s guilt).

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  2. Very interesting read – thanks for posting! I have also been following the Ghomeshi story closely, particularly because from a professional standpoint, I am curious how my organization (or others) would handle a similar situation (a high-profile employee is accused of doing something horrible), especially overtime as more and more information unravels, including more and more people coming forward.

    I find it interesting that in the beginning the story was truly being broken by The Toronto Star (on Monday it wasn’t anywhere on the CBC’s main news page), however as the story has grown the CBC now become an active player in covering it (it seems to primarily be The Toronto Star and CBC), even though there name is closely attached to it.

    The PR firm he has hired has represented a number of high-profile cases, including when Michael Bryant was charged in the cyclist’s death, and I’ve had a number of conversations with co-workers on what we think the next move will be by the firm. Without a doubt I totally agree with you, this will be something that is studied by future students, and an interesting story as it continues to unfold.

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  3. I think we’ve all been following the Ghomeshi case with interest. I just listened to a podcast by Jesse Brown, the Canadaland reporter who broke the story with Kevin Donovan of the Toronto Star. In Episode #56: We all knew about Gian, it turns our the Gian broke the story himself. Here’s where the sociopsychological tradition of communicaitons kicks in. Within this tradition lies Trait Theory, which breaks down the entire human personality spectrum into five traits, four of which align with the Myers-Briggs personality testing we are all familiar with. The fifth trait, not under Myers-Briggs, is neuroticism, defined by anxiety and stress. We know from several articles including this one in Toronto Life magazine (http://www.torontolife.com/informer/features/2014/01/28/jian-ghomeshi-cbc-q/) article that he suffered from anxiety disorder. He talked to a therapist once a week and had “Big Ears Teddy” ease his anxiety (!) So, with this in mind, he both received communications (from Jesse Brown) and delivered messages (his famous Facebook post) with this particular affliction. Imagine: he knew in April that the Star had something, some allegations. He told the CBC. Then he waited and waited. On Oct. 20, in Jesse Brown’s podcast, he said at the end that he had something very big, huge and it would soon come out. Anxiety-ridden Ghomeshi panicked and went to the CBC with his evidence. The tapes. They fired him. Jesse Brown, hearing the news, tweeted out a message that he knew why. Anxiety ridden Ghomeshi publishes the Facebook post. It was only then that the Toronto Star published. Until then, according to this podcast, the story was on ICE. The Star did not believe they had a publishable story. His own anxiety was his own defeat. All of this is tied up very nicely with Habermas theory of discourse and the notion of the coffee shop: social media and twitter are the new virtual coffee shop for discourse, discussion, judgement and in the case of Gian, persecution. This is not a story being played out in the courts, but in social media, in real time: and how quickly fans went from reacting to his post and blaming the CBC for firing him without case, to turning on the CBC for not acting quick enough. Social media is forcing instant discourse and transparency like never before (all internal memos are being made public, for example). And where is Jian in all of this? No where to be found. Not even in the virtually.

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