Behind the rhetoric – female politicans are still searching for an equal voice

Our class readings inspired me to analyze the role of female politicians through a rhetorical lens. Interestingly, Sutherland and Sutcliffe (1999) found that the rhetorical tradition developed into a much narrower meaning throughout the centuries, one which “confined it to the public discourse of men of the ruling class.” (p. 10). This phenomenon is still alive today in the role and image of 21st century female politicians.

The First Lady ultimately set the stage for women in the public sphere, as they took on the role of compassionate supporters and motherly figures (Griswold, 2007). Despite the success of the women’s movement in the 1970s, the public image of female politicians is influenced heavily by the idea that political rhetoric is primarily ‘masculine.’ Griswold (2007) explains that “a woman, unlike a man in politics, must balance addressing her gender with a masculine and powerful rhetoric. If a female politician upsets the balance by coming across as too forceful, then she in untrustworthy, and in contrast, if she is too ‘feminine’ then she is deemed unfit to lead” (p. 3). Although female politicians have come a long way, media coverage reveals that lingering sexism towards female candidates is still very prevalent.

Sarah Palin is arguably the most sexually objectified female candidate to date. Throughout her political campaign, news sources emphasized her physical appearance and publicized her past participation in beauty pageants. The media used Palin’s former pageant career to dismiss her as a serious candidate with news anchors referring to her as the following: “The race for the U.S. presidency is not just one more beauty contest,” “Caribou Barbie,” “Presidential Barbie” and “Malibu Barbie” (Winfrey and Carlin, 2009, p. 330 – 331). The media’s objectification of Palin led the public to discredit her political agenda and view her as incompetent.

On the other hand, Hilary Clinton executed a much more mature and commanding image to the public. However, her sometimes “intimidating nature” and decision to pursue a more dominating leadership style was seen as fair game to many media outlets. She was often identified in the media as not being ‘feminine’ enough with headlines identifying her as “calculating,” “overly ambitious,” “cold,” “scary” and “intimidating” (Winfrey and Carlin, 2009). The media often criticized her attempt to assert a traditionally ‘masculine’ rhetoric and viewed her husband, Bill Clinton, as a source of necessary aid and strength.

In Canadian politics, this issue was brought to life after two female NDP MPs came forward with allegations of sexual harassment against two of their Liberal counterparts. It is interesting to note that the rhetoric surrounding this case is largely focused on the fact that Parliament doesn’t have a formal process to deal with these types of allegations. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has called for a new policy to deal with harassment issues, but the fact that there wasn’t one already in place is extremely troubling (to say the least). Canadian Parliament seems to be living in another decade when it comes to the treatment of female staff and officials in the workplace. Despite the bickering and finger–pointing between the New Democrats and the Liberals, Canadians are expecting more from all members of Parliament and want to see action and change so that future issues of harassment are properly addressed.

After diving deeper into the rhetoric surrounding Sarah Palin, Hilary Clinton and Canada’s recent harassment issue at Parliament Hill, it is clear that female politicians are continuously struggling to fit into a public sphere that the media and public deem as ‘masculine.’ To move beyond this issue, future political leaders need to openly discuss issues of sexism and harassment, as well as adopt a rhetoric that is neither defined as ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine.’ It is also crucial that journalists, PR professionals, members of the public and politicians hold the media accountable for acts of sexism against female (or male) politicians. It will be interesting to see where the future of politics goes and if it is possible to create a gender-neutral public sphere for political debate and societal change.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to share your thoughts.

Chelsey

 

References

Griswold, D. (2007). The politics of speech: engendering the public sphere. Retrieved from Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Sutherland, C. M. & Sutcliffe, R. J. (1999). The Changing Tradition: Women in the History of Rhetoric. Calgary: University of Calgary Press.

Winfrey, K. L. & Carlin, D. B. (2009). Have You Come a Long Way, Baby? Hilary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and Sexism in 2008 Campaign Coverage. Communications Studies, 60, 326-343.

Twitter: Public Sphere or Public Square

It’s something of coincidence that the week I began to hate Twitter was the week I was immersed in Critical Theory and more specifically, the work of the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas. Fascinated by Habermas’ concepts around the Lifeworld, the System and Public Sphere, I began immediately trying to see parallels in how we use social media. I was most interested in the idea that Twitter was the technological marvel that merged the Lifeworld — typically the domain of the private and information shared only among close family and friends – with the Public Sphere – the place where people come together to talk about issues of importance to them.

Twitter has a myriad of uses. From sharing the mundane such as today’s lunch special or cat video to live updates on breaking news to intense discussions around social issues, Twitter gives everyone the opportunity to join the conversation.

I am a big fan of Twitter. Since joining in 2007, I have found it to be not only a source of amazing information and great entertainment, but also a great way to meet new, fascinating people (including Stephen Harper’s deceased cat, Cheddar Harper, with whom I’ve had an on again-off again relationship for a number of years).

Cheddar

I remember doing a workshop on Twitter and sharing Margaret Atwood’s love of Twitter. She called the Twittersphere an “odd and uncanny place” and akin to having fairies in your garden. Atwood talks about the whimsical nature of Twitter and the variety of interactions possible.  An idyllic world indeed.

Back to Habermas and my somewhat utopian view that Twitter was the 21st century Public Sphere where not only where dialogue flourishes, but “ideal speech” – respectful, reasoned discourse among individuals – is possible. That all changed with Jian Ghomeshi.

mayIt was fascinating to watch the story evolve on Twitter from the very first Tweets on Sunday, October 26th as people (including me) expressed disbelief that the CBC would fire Ghomeshi through growing shock and then anger as the story developed. Some high profile people – including Green Party leader Elizabeth May – tweeted their support for Ghomeshi in the first hours before the Toronto Star article with the serious allegations of violence and non-consensual sex was published. Those supportive tweets would be retweeted over and over again in the coming days with vitriolic comments added despite the mea culpes from people like May.

I began to see what I had been denying for so long – Twitter, far from being an idyllic Public Sphere, is in reality a vast echo chamber that gives everyone tries to yell louder than the next person. Or worse, the public square where people can be pilloried and shamed for all to see.

I saw people I respected and considered “progressives” attacking other like-minded individuals because they weren’t politically correct enough or hadn’t expressed their outrage loudly enough. There was a rush to post your opinion, then trumpet why it was the correct one.

Zosia Belski wrote an interesting piece in the Globe and Mail on October 29 called “Social media, victim blaming and the two camps enshrined in Ghomeshi-gate, that talks about the rush to judgement. She quotes Alfred Hermida, author of Tell Everyone: Why We Share and Why It Matters as saying about social media It’s the way that space is designed. You’re expected to react right away, not to take a minute to consider ‘Do I really think that?’…Immediacy privileges reaction rather than reflection. It fosters ardour rather than nuance. These are certainly not the conditions necessary for ideal speech.

All of this is not to argue that there haven’t been some amazing memes that have come from the Ghomeshi affair, including the “BeenRapedNeverReported” hashtag that has shined a much-needed spotlight on why women don’t report sexual abuse and violence. It also doesn’t mean I’ve given up on Twitter. It means I need to look at Twitter with more of a critical eye, and when I tweet, ensure I’ve taken some time to reflect rather than just react.

Habermas: Connecting theory to what we do everyday

I must admit, I have struggled my way through a number of the readings this semester. I have relied heavily on the class, in particular others interpretations of the readings, to better understand several theorists and traditions (Babe, the social-psychological tradition, etc.). But with that being said, the Habermas readings, particularly our class discussion, reminded me just how applicable all of this is to our everyday roles as communicators.

Jian Ghomeshi (Facebook photo)

Sudersan hit it straight on the head when saying “amidst the ruins of many a social theory, Jürgen Habermas stands alone in his endeavor to bridge the vast void  between theory and practice …” (Sudersan, 1998, 253). It is this bridge that allowed our class discussion to link to a variety of current events, such as the Ottawa shooting, Jian Ghomeshi and Ebola, and then bring the conversation back to Habermas.

For days after that class I drifted back to our conversation, particularly as more and more details emerged around Ghomeshi. A great deal of Habermas’ arguments were grounded in the concept of ideal speech, including everyone having a chance to argue and question, without the more powerful and prestigious having an unequal say (Gingrich, n.d.). In the Ghomeshi case, a number of the women have said that it is his power that originally stopped them from coming forward, including the fear of his power leading to online victim blaming. Social media also played a massive role in how this story unraveled. Even though a number of the alleged events took place before social media was a major player, Ghomeshi essentially broke the story himself on Facebook. By doing so, at the same time he garnered so much online attention that it made other victims realize “it wasn’t just me; I’m not the only one,” thus completely shifting public support towards his victims.

Butler-Jones became the public face Canadians trusted during the fight against H1N1 (Canada.com photo)

Habermas’ distinction between communicative action and strategic action can also be directly linked to a number of current events today. As Levine explained, Habermas described communicative action as trying to persuade someone else of the truth, where instrumental or strategic action is more about trying to get someone else to do what you want (Levine, 2012). This instantly makes me think about the communications surrounding Ebola. From the Canadian perspective, I understand why the government leads in this type of situation, but there is something about an elected politician instead of a medical expert being the spokesperson that doesn’t sit right. With Ebola, Federal Health Minister Ambrose has been front and center, with now Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Gregory Taylor, at her side. Federal Health Minister Aglukkaq handled H1N1 much differently, and was praised for stepping aside and letting the medical expert, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. David Butler Jones, become the trusted face Canadians could rely on. Politicians run a fine line between acting in their best interest and the best interest of this constitutes.

All in all a very interesting theorist, please feel free to comment on how you think Habermas links to the realities of today.

References

Bolkenius, M. (2014). Health Ministers discuss Ebola preparedness in Canada. Public Health Agency of Canada. Retrieved from http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?mthd=tp&crtr.page=1&nid=897289&crtr.tp1D=1

Ghomeshi, J. (2014). Dear everyone. Facebook post. Retrieved from: https://www.facebook.com/jianghomeshi

Gringrich, P. (n.d.). An Introduction to the Work of Jurgen Habermas. University of Regina. Retrieved from http://moodle233.msvu.ca/m23/course/view.php?id=3449

Kirkey, S. (2013). David Butler-Jones, Canada’s top doctor, stepping down a year after suffering stroke. Canada.com. Retrieved from http://o.canada.com/uncategorized/david-butler-jones-canadas-top-doctor-stepping-down-a-year-after-suffering-stroke

Levine, P. (2012). Habermas and critical theory (a primer). A Blog for Civic Renewal. Retrieved from http://peterlevine.ws/?p=9224

Solomon, E. (2014). Ottawa shooting: The face-to-face encounter that ended the attack on Parliament. CBC.ca. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/ottawa-shooting-the-face-to-face-encounter-that-ended-the-attack-on-parliament-1.2812802

Sudersan, P. (1998). Habermas and Critical Social Theory. Indian Philosophical Quarterly. (XXV, II), 253-264. Retrieved from http://moodle233.msvu.ca/m23/pluginfile.php/158173/mod_resource/content/1/Habermas%20%20Critical%20Social%20Theory.pdf

Group think and Jian’s victims

I’m posting again because, admittedly, my first post was cheeky. It did get the ball rolling, however. And it did reflect my initial struggles to compute and connect theory to practical. Now that we’re past post modernism, I feel the worst might be over. I have to say, thank goodness for Jian, because almost everything that’s happening can be pushed through the lens of the theories we are learning.

I was looking forward to the articles on organizational communication, assuming I would instantly be able to relate it back to my experience working for a global corporation with multiple layers of management. And I did. One of the components of ecological theory — a “generalized theory of change” — as expressed in the reading, is retention, which are the routines, bundled competencies that allow an organization to do what it does (Monge, P. and Poole, M.S., 2008, pp 681-682) In other words, its governance. It’s the “we’ve always done it this way” answer that resists change. Change does eventually come, usually with a merger, or new technology, or a massive reorganization (or all of the above). I witnessed this many times and it wasn’t always pretty.

But it was the second reading, Social Identity, Self-categorization, and the Communication of Group Norms that most resonated, particularly since I had just finished marking papers by my post grad PR certificate students that had them come up with a Team Charter. The assignment had them think about the norms of behaviour, the group rules, the communications principles and consequences for un-group-like behaviour. They were to talk about the four forces of small group formation: norming, storming, forming and performing, how personalities impact communications and decision-making (all part of the sociopsychological tradition). Turns out I’m teaching them organizational communications. (And after their grades, turns out they should have read this article as part of their research)! The entire article was a primer on small group work and group decision-making (or lack thereof).

Lucy DeCoutere  Photo by thestar.com

Lucy DeCoutere
Photo by thestar.com

photo by thestar.com

Reva Seth
Photo by thestar.com

When the article turned to leadership, that’s when I had my aha! What we have been witnessing with the discussion of women victimized by sexual abuse, by collective hashtags like #BeenRapedNeverReported, is group formation. When actress Lucy DeCoutere came out publicly about  the violence she experienced at the hands of Ghomeshi, she gave permission for many other women (now nine, plus one man) to follow suit, be it with a name, like Reva Seth, or anonymously. As a consequence, followers are prepared to take risks (Hogg, M.A. and Reid, S.A. 2006, p. 20) such as going public, sharing their story or even reporting it to police (three women have pressed charges). A social movement was created, and perhaps we will see a paradigm shift to rethink how women are treated in the workplace and how women can communicate harrassment in a safe environment. As the article states, “the hurdle for social mobilization is that social protest carries personal risk that inhibits participation” (Hogg, M.A. and Reid, S.A., 2006, p. 20). Nothing could be truer for these women. But it has to start somewhere. Thanks Lucy. #IBelieveLucy

References:

Hogg, Michael A. and Reid, Scott A. 2006. Social Identity, Self Categorization, and the Communication of Group Norms, Communication Theory, pp. 7-30. Retrieved: http://moodle233.msvu.ca/m23/pluginfile.php/159716/mod_resource/content/1/Hogg%20%20Reid%20Group%20Norms.pdf

Monge, Peter and Poole, Marshall Scott. 2008. The Evolution of Organizational Communication. Journal of Communication, pp. 679-692. Retrieved: http://moodle233.msvu.ca/m23/pluginfile.php/159714/mod_resource/content/1/Monge%20%20Poole%20Org%20Comm%20Theory.pdf

Public discourse in the Rhetorical Tradition and Habermas’ Theory

I was really jazzed by our course readings on Habermas. His theories were down-to-earth, practical, applicable to the modern world, and very relevant to the current events unfolding during the week of reading and discussing his theories (Oct 26-Nov 1, 2014).

The readings about Habermas reminded me of one of another theory we read earlier. I looked back on the moodle posts and found it on page 135 of Robert T. Craig’s “Communication as a Field” article, right in the title of the section: “The Rhetorical Tradition: Communication as a Practical Art of Discourse”. (Craig, 1999, p. 135) Aha, read on!

A double-check on the meaning of public discourse revealed “A fancy way of saying public discussion. When you have people on a panel show, they are having public discourse – in other words, discussing something in public.” (Yahoo Answers, 2012)
Rhetoric was defined as “the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing”. (Oxford, 2014)

Turning to Habermas, we find a description of public discourse in Peter Levine’s blog entry (Levine, 2012). Levine describes the way Habermas defines the public sphere as “the set of forums and institutions in which diverse people come together to talk about common concerns. It includes civic associations, editorial pages of newspapers, town meetings and parts of the internet.”

Back to Craig, who says about the rhetorical tradition: “This way of theorizing communication is useful for explaining why our participation in discourse, especially public discourse, is important and how it occurs, and holds forth the possibility that the practice of communication can be cultivated and improved through critical study and education.” (Craig, 1999, p. 135) I heartily agree with this statement!

jian

Jian Ghomeshi

A very relevant section in the Craig article: “We know some people are better communicators than others, and that the best examples of rhetoric can rise to the level of great art.” (p. 135) How relevant to the Jian Ghomeshi situation! The parallel between Craig’s statement and Ghomeshi’s skill at communicating in the public sphere (radio) is striking.

An interesting question here would be how public discourse could be balanced, and be free communication, as we see Haberman’s theory described by Stowe (2010), “Free and open communication should be the basis of all social interaction”, if one of the communicators’ skillset far exceeds any other. We saw Ghomeshi’s incredible ability to gain sympathy and support in his Facebook post on Sunday, October 26, 2014 (Facebook, 2014). We then witness a deluge of public discourse over the weeks to come about the truth of that post, and the effect of his convincing words.

Both Habermas and the rhetorical theory see public debate as having the potential to convince and improve the world for the better. Gengrich tells us Habermas thought debate in the public sphere can “create the possibility of greater reason, justice and human freedom”. (Gingrich, n.d., p. 1) This is true in many cases, such as election debates, talk shows, town halls or public meetings.

Where public discourse does not always show greater reason, justice and human freedom, is in the public space of the internet. Unfortunately, this easily accessible, world-wide, open and free method of communication and debate is often besmirched by thoughtless people who do not take the time to critically think through their words before they bang on their keyboard and share their comments. Many people waste the opportunity to engage, enlighten and share ideas, and the internet becomes a place for insults, oversharing and meaningless cryptic comments.

Mike, Bree, Andy and Dayna

Case-Rowling family dinner discussion

This topic of public discourse led to much discussion at the dinner table, and has potential for many other private as well as public debates. Many of us would benefit to consider the question: “Where do you see public discourse in the modern world, and where does it work well?”

 

 

 

References

Craig, R.T. (1999). Communication as a Field. Communication Theory, 9:2, p 135-136. Retrieved from http://moodle233.msvu.ca/m23/pluginfile.php/147163/mod_resource/content/1/Craig%207%20Traditions%20article.pdf

Ghomeshi, J. (2014, October 26) Dear everyone [Facebook post] Retreived from: https://www.facebook.com/jianghomeshi

Gringrich, P. (n.d.). An Introduction to the Work of Jurgen Habermas. University of Regina. Retrieved from http://moodle233.msvu.ca/m23/course/view.php?id=3449

Levine, P. (2012, July 11). Habermas and critical theory (a primer) [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://peterlevine.ws/?p=9224

Rhetoric (n.d.) Oxford Dictionaries, retrieved from: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/rhetoric

Stowe, M. (2010, March 20) Jurgen Habermas Concepts, Communication Theory and the Problems of Modern Society [Web log post]. Retrieved from: http://roadstarsociology.blogspot.ca/2010/03/jurgen-habermas-concepts-communication.html

Public Discourse (n.d.) Yahoo Answers, retrieved from: https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090419162716AAcJV96

To act or to react: shaping external conversations through social media

After listening to our October 27th blackboard collaborate session I was very intrigued to analyze aspects of Gramsci’s theory of hegemony, Habermas’s critical theory and Gleick’s book Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything. One comment that really sparked my interest is that we live in a society where “we act, rather than react” to important issues. This statement struck a chord in my professional life, as the industry I work in strives to understand what Canadians know and think about energy in order to “react” to negative opinions.

Growing up in Fort McMurray and now working in external communications for an oil sands company, I have found myself smack dab in the middle of an “oil sands PR war.” There is rarely a day that goes by where at least one special interest group, environmental activist or Hollywood celebrity, isn’t trending online for taking another critical shot at Canada’s oil sands. These debates mostly materialize on Twitter, Facebook and blogs, highlighting the idea that social media is breaking the hegemonic dominance of mass media. Gramsci’s theory of hegemony describes the “ways particular political forces achieved hegemonic authority, and the delineation of counterhegemonic forces, groups, and ideas that could contest and overthrow the existing hegemony” (Durham & Kellner, 2006, p. 15-16). The Internet gives people the ability to freely share their thoughts and express views that often differ from traditional mass media outlets. This online world has created a counterhegemonic platform of conversation and debate where marginalized voices utilize the virtual sphere. Social media heightens the public voice and demands a level of connectivity that companies cannot choose to ignore.

Social Media consumes my working life from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and sometimes even into the wee hours of the morning. My team’s approach is to turn on all commenting functions and enable direct engagement with company spokespersons. This open dialogue requires us to respond quickly in order to stimulate conversation and share our company’s story effectively. Gleick (2000) comments on this quest for speed in our lives, from television without commercials, smartphones, to “instant” microwavable meals. We desire instantaneous communication and loathe devices that waste or delay our time. We live in an age where information spreads like wildfire and companies need to monitor the Internet carefully. The worst thing a company can do is stay silent or refuse to comment during a conversation or issue. While the answer may not be readily available, I have learned that it is important to emphasis accessibility and availability – to put the brakes on potential controversy.

Habermas’s principles of the ideal speech situation outline mutual understanding, truth, sincere expression, the right to speak and legitimacy as key factors to maintaining communication and developing common understanding (Gingrich, n.d.). These values speak to the fact that companies cannot just act, but need to react with knowledge to build credibility with audiences. Cenovus Energy has attempted to “react” to negative perceptions of the oil sands industry with the following ads:

Through the lens of Habermas’s principles, the company’s attempt to foster a responsible conversation hinges on the mutual understanding that oil adds legitimate value to our daily lives. Furthermore, their ability to connect the resource to life-changing, inspiring situations leaves the viewer with impressions of sincere expression and truth. Cenovus has placed these ads on YouTube and Facebook in order to tap into the social media realm and encourage dialogue on one of the industry’s most controversial platforms. Many oil sands companies are following suit to help set the stage for a more open and honest debate. This discourse is explained by Habermas as one where “all concerned take part, freely and equally, in a cooperative search for truth, where noting coerces anyone except the force of a better argument” (Gingrich, n.d., p. 10). His thoughts capture the ability of social media to bring diverse people from all over the world together to talk about common concerns. While social media comes with its own set of unique challenges, it ultimately forces companies to actively listen and guide their business with transparency. My daily attempt to react, rather than simply act in the face of controversy has become the most rewarding aspect of my career.

Please feel free to share your comments below. I’m very interested to learn how other companies/industries use social media to shape external conversations.

References

Durham, M.G. & Kellner, D.M. (2006). Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks. UK: Blackwell Publishing.

Gingrich, P. (n.d.). An Introduction to the Work of Jurgen Habermas. Retrieved from http://moodle233.msvu.ca/m23/course/view.php?id=3449.

Gleick, J. (1999). Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything. New York: Pantheon Books.

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.