Category Archives: Julia Danilina

What’s There New in the News?

In their article “Al-Jazeera English and Global Networks,” Shawn Powers and Mohammed el-Nawawy talk about media system dependency theory and how there is a relationship between people’s reliance on news from a particular news source (like BBC World, CNNI, or AJE) and their political opinions and attitudes. One of their findings was that people tend to turn to particular broadcasters to affirm their existing opinions rather than to change them, thus reinforcing existing cultural clichés about cultural ‘others.’ This is quite a disappointing conclusion given all the hopes for the global media to promote a more cosmopolitan and tolerant outlook. Interestingly enough, their second finding was that those people who watched Al-Jazeera English tended to be less dogmatic in their thinking.

Another recent piece of research has revealed that of all news channels, Fox News viewers are the least informed. In the study, respondents were asked questions about the recent events of the Arab Spring, widely covered in the US by almost all news broadcasters. The results of the research showed that Fox News viewers were 18 points less likely to know that Egyptians overthrew their government than those respondents who were not TV viewers. Fox News viewers even scored lower than those respondents who claimed not to watch news at all!

What is more interesting, however, is that the same researchers found that 11% of MSNBC viewers believed that Occupy Wall Street protesters were Republicans, while only 3% of Fox viewers believed so. As Dan Cassino, a professor of political science, noted, “People who tune into ideological media are motivated to hear their side of the debate and so you can have someone who watches MSNBC be so used to hearing about protests coming from the right that they automatically believe that Occupy is mostly a Republican protest.”

These findings demonstrate the ambiguity of the role global media play in the promotion of cultural awareness and tolerance. It is especially important to remember the nichefication of media outlets and the emergence of highly ideological media, which tends to attract those viewers who hold extreme political views and are not looking to reconsider them. “News” presented by these media is often just a euphemism for propaganda.

Hybridize That

The project called “Citizen Poet” was conceived of in Moscow by a poet, an actor, and a producer slightly over a year ago. The idea looked brilliant to me: the form is a theatre, the tool is Russian classic poetry, the content is acerbic political satire of the Russian “duet” (Putin-Medvedev), and—attention—the medium is the Internet. The actor reads poems that rhyme like widely recognizable and beloved pieces of Russian poetry, but the meaning is aimed at criticizing and ridiculing Russian political leadership; the performances are videotaped and uploaded on the Internet.

At first the authors thought that these videos would be seen only by a few thousand intellectuals, but the viewership of their first clip was 250,000, with 14 million clicks now, a year later. It is important to mention that the Russian government, to put it mildly, does not welcome the opposition (just like almost any government). Most of the intellectuals are either apathetic about the current political situation, or have been co-opted by the government through membership in the official party, United Russia, or by being repeatedly invited for tea and “cordial” conversation with Prime Minister Putin.

The success of this project is obvious—it was noticed immediately and the poet (who actually happens to be my favorite journalist, Dmitriy Bykov) was invited to the “tea party” with the Prime Minister. Bykov declined on the premise that he was busy. The real motivation, as he admitted in an interview, was that he does not want to lose credibility with his audience as an independent opinion maker.

What is interesting, I think, is the form the creators of the project have selected. Both of them, the poet and the actor, belong to a generation which prefers traditional artistic media to Internet-specific ones. However, by uploading their theatrical recitations on the Internet, they have increased the project’s outreach and popularity, and created, from my point of view, a truly powerful satirical weapon and a truly hybrid product, which could only be possible with new technology.

As a native speaker, I can attest that the whole thing is VERY stinging.

Here is the NYT article about the project:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/19/world/europe/mocking-vladimir-putin-with-poetic-flair-in-russia.html?emc=eta1

The Story of One Encounter

In the summer of 2010 Muscovites and people in several regions around Moscow were literally suffocating with the heavy acid smoke coming from the forest. The temperature that summer was abnormally high for this latitude—up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit—and forests rich with peat were burning like a stack of dry hay. There was a general resentment about the efficiency of the local and country authorities who were dealing with this natural disaster. At times, there was a feeling that they were not dealing with it at all, letting the unlucky ones whose houses were in the danger zone deal with the raging natural disaster.

The Internet that summer was full of indignant blogs, as well as calls for volunteers for the fire fighting teams organized by local residents in different villages.  The editor of one of the major radio stations in Moscow was looking for information about the fires and the fire-fighting situation in different regions.  Because this radio station didn’t have correspondents in all these regions, the editor was reading what people from those regions were writing in blogs. He found a good one: a blogger who named himself top_lap wrote that he had a vacation house in the region that was beset with fire and he was blaming local authorities for the inefficient management in his situation. The blog was loaded with curse words directed at the authorities, but in general it was well written and juicy. The blogger’s irritation with the local bureaucracy quite naturally evolved into a frustrated monologue about the state of things in general:

“Where is our [tax] money being spent?” he exclaimed

“Why with every passing year are we hurtling towards a primitive social order?”

“Let us live the way want, and we want to live well and happily. We do not rely on you because we understand your life principle: everybody around owes you something, but you are wrong about that: it is you who owe us, and you owe us a lot, believe me.”

In the end, the blogger demanded the return of the alarm bell that had always operated in his village in Soviet times, and disappeared in the mess of the transition. He said he didn’t need the phone, which was not even working, but instead wanted local authorities to dig out special fire ponds, which would make water available in case of a fire, so that local people could prevent its spread quickly and efficiently.

The editor copied the blog and pasted it in a special box named “write to the Prime Minister” on the government’s site, not even hoping to get a response. He felt like, as a member of the media, he at least fulfilled his duty in letting the government hear the “voice” of at least one angry citizen.

Surprisingly, the next day Prime Minister Putin himself wrote a response in a soothing and slightly ironic manner, praising the author of the blog for his literary style. He promised that the local authorities would deliver the anonymous blogger the alarm bell he so passionately demanded.

This story of Putin’s response to some anonymous blogger made it to all the major news channels and was covered in the foreign media. To this day this, exchange of messages is considered to be the first (and probably the last) of Putin’s direct dialog with “the members of civil society,” who openly express their dissatisfaction with authorities, even if with obscene vocabulary.   Here is the BBC’s article:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-10872840

The blogger was even invited to the talk show on the radio station, which made him famous.  In the interview he announced that he would keep posting and that he is glad his writing produced such a powerful effect.

This story looks like a good example of how regular citizens using telecommunications are empowered now and are able to put additional pressure on authorities and hold them accountable for their actions. But there was more to this story.

On December 25, 2010 it was announced in the news that police searched the blogger’s house and confiscated  his flash drives and a hard drive. Later he wrote in his blog: “It looks like they are really going after me…” Then he wrote that there was some inspection at his mother’s workplace. His last post was, “Busted.” The journal was soon deleted.

So who is willing to be the next brave “concerned” citizen?

Ĉu vi parolas Esperanton?

The idea of linguistic exclusion discussed in the chapter by Paul Adams made me think of Esperanto, the most successful attempt thus far to create an artificial language purely for international communicative purposes. The story of Esperanto’s creation is remarkable in itself. Esperanto was literally invented by Leyzer Zamenhof, a Jewish man, who was born in the territory of the Russian Empire in 1859. His small town of Białystok (in present-day Poland) was populated by people from four different ethnic groups: Jews, Poles, Belarusians, and Germans. Each community spoke its own language and stuck to its own customs. The level of misunderstanding and mistrust was so high that Zamenhof, a medical doctor by profession, dedicated most of his time to the invention of a new language for intercultural communication, which, he hoped, would facilitate a more peaceful coexistence for people in multicultural communities.

Esperanto’s grammar and vocabulary were borrowed from multiple Indo-European languages and were constructed in such a manner as to facilitate easy recognition by speakers of different languages, as well as quick learning. Since its creation in the late 19th century, Esperanto gained a good deal of popularity in Europe, China, Japan, and the Americas. The world congress of Esperanto speakers has been held annually since 1905. Apart from its enthusiasts all over the world, Esperanto has gained the support and recognition of international organizations such as UNESCO.

Despite its seeming usefulness, Esperanto failed to develop into a real international tool of communication. Instead, English became the de-facto lingua franca—mainly for economic reasons and sort of by default. Esperanto enthusiasts all over the world, however, are vocal about actually replacing English as a language of international communication with Esperanto. What is interesting is that their main argument is along the same lines as the integral role of communication in global governance, which we have discussed in class: namely, that everybody has a right to participate in the political process, and language disparity hinders this participation. Enthusiasts, like Robert Phillipson from the University of Amsterdam, promote Esperanto as an auxiliary language which should become mandatory in the globalized world. Importantly, Esperanto is promoted as a second language, an auxiliary to the native one, thus it is not aimed at substituting native languages.

The advantages of Esperanto are obvious: it is nobody’s native language and does not carry any cultural connotations apart from the idealistic attempt to facilitate understanding. Thus communication in Esperanto is a more egalitarian process than in English. Also, as research of Esperanto speakers (Esperantists) shows, they tend to see themselves as a “voluntary, nonethnic, non-territorial speech community” (Li, p. 36). This seems to correspond with the processes of transnational network formation, which take place in a network society. Besides, learning an international language would require patience and attention to what someone is actually saying, and in the modern conception of democracy, this by itself is a significant act. So, according to Esperanto scholars, a neutral tool of communication like Esperanto is necessary for global governance to be truly democratic.

I feel that this debate about the international language of communication, as idealistic as it may seem, is timely, especially in light of the fact that there is so much frustration and resentment toward West-led globalization. I want to believe that the world is what we make of it, and if the present world order, with all its advanced technology, needs new tools of communication, sooner or later they will be introduced.  And maybe in 100 years our descendents will speak a second, international, language, one that won’t be a result of economic hegemony, but rather of voluntary agreement.

 

Here is a very interesting video about Esperanto:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INCr1bV8kGk

 

 

Materials used:

Daniele Archibugi, “The Language of Democracy: Vernacular or Esperanto? A Comparison between the Multiculturalist and Cosmopolitan Perspectives,” in Political Studies, vol, 53, 2005, 537-555.

http://www.danielearchibugi.org/downloads/papers/The%20Language%20of%20Democracy.pdf

David C. S. Li, “Between English and Esperanto: what does it take to be a world language?” in International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 164, 2003, 33-63.

 

http://denizo.opia.dk/la.trezorejo/alilingve/Between%20English%20and%20Esperanto%20what%20does%20it%20take%20to%20be%20a%20world%20language.pdf

Network Cosmology

When I read the articles by David Grewal and Amelia H. Arsenault, I could not help but think about what a great advance 20th century thinkers in terms of the social. If 19th century theorists provided us with the image of the atomized “economic man,” self-contained classes or institutions (like church), sovereign nation-states, or even different civilizations, now, at the beginning of the 21st century, we suspect that the relations among these units also matter, and that they are not neutral.

It seems to me that network theory is a powerful tool in the analysis of our present, as well as of our past and future (as ungrateful of a task as predicting the future can be). For example, given the idea that networks wield structural power over insiders and outsiders, we can trace and uncover the internal dynamics of the inception and growth of empires, the rise of powerful social movements (like the Bolsheviks in the Russian Empire), as well as the effectiveness of multilateral agreements. How did the growth of the Christian Church and the increase in the number of its followers predetermine its split and ultimate loss of power? Was the structural power of the Catholic Church too much to tolerate so that its individual members (like Henry the VIII or Martin Looter) instituted their own Churches-networks? How were the 20 people who gathered in a British pub, and called themselves Bolsheviks, first able to appeal to so many Russian people? As soon as the revolution progressed, so did the Bolsheviks’ perceived need for brutal suppression of the opponents, and the Bolsheviks experienced the wave of dissent from their party-network. In the long run how did this predetermine the collapse of the Soviet Empire?

Of course it would be too simplistic to approach these large-scale historic processes solely from the prospective of network analysis. However, it seems that human institutions do operate more like networks than like self-contained isolated units (even when they deliberately search to be quite isolated and exclusive, like freemasons for example). A latter given to one mason would definitely travel to another mason even if he lived in a different country, just like a secret message from one Bolshevik to another would find its addressee within the network. This internal connectedness facilitated the effective functioning and guaranteed the survival of networks throughout history. In this sense networks definitely are not a discovery of modernity or post modernity, but it has been in the computer age that their social significance grew dramatically.

In the conclusion of her chapter, Amelia H. Arsenault calls for greater integration in field of network theory, and this call seems to me very timely given the new scientific insights into network power. First of all, relations within networks—the subject of ANT theory—seem to be as important as the ones outside network (Castells). For example, modern-day civil society is defined as “the realm of autonomous group action distinct from both corporate power and the state,” (Robert W. Cox, “Civil society at the turn of millennium”)—thus civil society is a multiplicity of networks which are excluded from corporate or state networks. Given the expectations vested in civil society in democratic theory (and practice), the quality and quantity of networks within civil society as well as the fact that they have been excluded from certain over networks are equally important.

Second, network theory seems to capture the core nature of multiple processes in the realms of social as well as physical worlds. Just like in cosmos all stars, galaxies, and even universes are held together by the force of gravity and exist in the eternal condition of mobility, in the same way social entities spring from the eternal movement of social forces, mature, and (most importantly) dissolve only to form new networks with new qualities on the basis of new means of communication. In this regard, it would be interesting to analyze the internal dynamics within growing networks to trace their life cycle. In his article, Grewal only hints at the fact that networks “decline over time,” but never develops this idea. In the meantime a better understanding of network dynamics would help us to shed light on many social processes. For example, why after the dissolution of the bipolar world, did connections between allied anticommunist countries weakene considerably giving rise to the multiple local alliances (like NAFTA) and more parochial policies (R. Gilpin, The Challenge of Global Capitalism) in all parts of the world? Was this outcome a pure accident, or maybe it was a predictable consequence of the dissolution of two powerful networks?  Or along the same lines, is the growing power of the “imperialistic” forces of globalization the beginning of the globalization’s end? For as history demonstrates, none of the empires was able to last forever, and the rise to dominance of one force is usually at the same time the beginning of its decline.

Sorry for the long post. For a diversion, here are two images: one of space, and the other a diagram of social network. These look kind of similar to me.

Whatever you call it…

Having worked in the advertising industry, I have trouble applying words like “culture” or “art” to the marketing industry, including advertising and commercialized TV. When I read scientific articles that employ mind-bending jargon and engage in extensive and sophisticated explanations of the possible “significance” of commercial products—actually, much more sophisticated than the content they discuss—I feel like they are all part of a very much self-content commercial  industry.

For me, the word “art” signifies some product that was made by a skilful master for the purpose of expressing meanings and ideas that are at the same time universal and reflective of the artist’s worldview. Usually, the closer the artist is to what we call a “genius,” the more universal and far-reaching are his creative discoveries. Thus, Plato’s Republic, Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, the anonymous architects of Notre Dame de Paris, and Raphael’s Sistine Madonna are all works of human creative genius that speak to us through the centuries. In more recent times, the photos of Henri Cartier-Bresson, the movies of Federico Fellini, and the performances of Martha Graham are examples of breathtaking and multi-layered art, which requires a certain level of training and sophistication on the part of the observer, and actively engages his imagination. In a way, art is an interactive process of dialogue between the artist and the observer about the universal themes of our life. Similarly, “Culture” is that nourishing soil, that symbolical context, which gave life to these works of art and without which they would probably never have been created.

For this reason, to me, the advertising industry has nothing to do with art. Everybody who has worked in the advertising industry knows what kind of cynical atmosphere that dominates there, especially with regard to the consumers. For a very realistic description of that environment I would recommend a book (and now a movie) by a former French advertising executive—now turned writer, Frédéric Beigbeder.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sF4EL5G7qhQ

None of the so-called “creators” in the advertising industry does what he really would want to do.  Writers don’t reflect their thoughts and ideas; designers do not produce visual art they would themselves love. Every decision is geared toward the sole goal of hawking “the product” (vodka, cookies, candy, deodorant) to the customer. The choice of slogans and visuals more often reflects the individual tastes of brand managers and marketing directors, as well as the financial capabilities of their corporations. The customer is left no choice but to passively consume this totally commercial “product” accompanied for “smooth swallowing” with images of ideally Photoshopped life. Even if this product—and I mean not only advertising, but cheap movies like telenovellas as well—engages the viewer, it is only to distract him from the gray reality of his everyday life and to provide a simulation of experience. Or now it is very popular to engage in a “game” with the consumer, make the process interactive—again to give a false feeling of participation and “empowerment.”   “Go on our cite and paint your own Nike shoes,” or “Go and order the Subversive Chicken around” —with the lowest common denominator possible in mind, just enough to sell you the product.

With time this passive observation effect, or simple undemanding rules of the “game,” accumulate to produce a certain kind of personality and mainly, as both Marwan Kraidy and Robert McChesney point out, reinforce the status quo of the market ideology and consumerism. As Ivy Lee, the founder of modern public relations noted, “Since crowds do not reason, they can only be organized and stimulated through symbols and phrases.” For this reason I am not working anymore in the advertising industry and don’t watch TV. At all.

Foreign factor: diasporic media as a source of alternative coverage of politically charged events

We talked in class about the power of diasporic media to sustain supranational imagined communities and to keep various dispersed-in-space enclaves immersed in the culture of their home countries, regardless of their actual geographic location. Recent events in New York made me look at diasporic media from a slightly different prospective, as well as reflect on the notion of media literacy and what it entails.

Russia Today (RT) is a Russian English language channel which was originally aimed at informing the world about events in Russia. Now it has a studio in Washington DC and bureaus in Miami, Los Angeles, London, and Paris, and supposedly is the second-most watched foreign news channel in the United States (after the BBC). So maybe Russia Today is not strictly a diasporic media channel, but it is definitely not main-stream here in the US. Regardless of its status, several of my American friends told me that if you want to actually know something about any country, don’t follow the domestic media, but instead watch channels like RT—high quality foreign-based media—because they tend to offer much more objective and thorough coverage of events happening in the United States.

Recent events in New York illustrate this perfectly. The American mainstream media had been ignoring Occupy Wall Street for about a week. After it became almost impossible to preserve the silence, virtually all of the media outlets, including the liberal ones like the New York Times (and these events are taking place in New York) came up with some articles and news reports that portrayed the whole thing as a gathering of a bunch of youngsters dressed up for Halloween. “Look at them, they don’t even know what they want!” – with the camera trying to catch the weirdest people in the crowd:

http://www.youtube.com/user/TheYoungTurks?feature=chclk#p/u/1/1x4ly3Gr3kw

At the same time, from the very first day of Occupy Wall Street, RT offered meaningful and interesting interviews with people on the streets, who were far from celebrating Halloween. They were talking quite openly about what exactly they were protesting, while the camera captured the other side of this supposed “Halloween parade”:

Here is another good example that RT is being heard, and is spoiling somebody’s game from time to time:

I am writing all this not to promote Russia Today. Just like I mentioned earlier, almost every country’s media are biased to some extent. But this particular coverage of the heavily charged political events offered by the US mainstream media (both the left and right) clearly illustrates an ideological “affiliation” with their corporate owners, as well as the importance of the alternative media’s disinterested (or interested to reveal as much truth as possible) voice, which can only be heard if people actually want to hear.

This takes us to the question of media literacy that was briefly discussed in the last class. I think at a minimum, media literacy should involve the realization that none of the media outlets, especially those belonging to huge media monopolies, are in any sense neutral, or “objective,” but rather bear some degree of bias which usually favors whatever side is in control of the particular media outlet. This realization is important because it urges us to search for possible alternative sources of information, especially if we want to learn more about politically charged issues, and the diasporic media can offer a very fruitful source of alternative opinion.

Can virtual become real?

Virtual supranational communities attract the considerable attention of the social sciences and communications scholars, especially in the context of globalization. It is argued that such communities can become potential agents of social change in a “global” world without “global” government.

In his article Media and the Reinvention of the Nation article Silvio Waisbord states that “[g]lobal communities of sport and music fans, fashion and art aficionados, academics, and religious believers are devoid of movements that appeal to historical and cultural bonds to achieve political recognition. They are integrated by people with similar cultural interests, but without a political movement claiming cultural distinctiveness and political rights, they are poor competitors to nations.”

This statement was a bit disappointing to me because, first, there are historical presidents that show the possibility of a supranational political action, which actually can bring improvement to the rotten world of politics. I am talking about student strikes in the 1960-s that swept through many Western countries almost simultaneously and affected social history so profoundly. And second, honestly, apart from organized citizens, I don’t see any other possible source of articulately expressed opinion alternative to that of commercial profit seeking. So potentially virtual supranational communities could become advocates for the local/global political issues.

In my experience on  Russian Live Journal (this social network is still very popular among the older Russian users of internet, and I mean 30+) people are able to collect money for seriously ill people; help in other complicated life situations (loss of job); announce and disseminate information about protest campaigns as well as advocate for/debate the necessity and productiveness of those campaigns; find people in other countries who were able to host them for three (young journalists are especially good at this); many Russian opinion makers and TV personalities have a live journal page, where they post links and references to everything they do in “real life.”

Indeed this is probably not enough to represent a real “political” movement in reality, and how can we then talk about “citizens of the world” or “virtual nations,” if they are incapable of bringing about change in “real” reality, not virtual. Are United Nations of the Internet being kept together by anything more than a need for some nice leisure time?

Mario Diani, a professor of sociology in Glasgow, points out that “[the most distinctive contribution of CMC (computer mediated communication) to social movements still seems to be instrumental rather than symbolic. Existing bonds and solidarities are likely to result in more effective mobilization attempts than it was the case before the diffusion of CMC; it is more disputable, though, where CMC may create brand new social ties where there were none.” He also points out that given the inaccessibility of CMC to lower-income social groups (the digital divide Elizabeth Hanson discusses in ch. 5) as well as increased opportunities of power holders, could mean that CMC “merely reflects existing balances of power,” rather than creates new ones.

The challenge of change

To have a certain national identity seems to most of us to be as natural as having first, middle, and last names that were given to us at birth and signify our belonging to a family, or maybe even to a whole clan. Our nationality is like an extended family which we feel an emotional attachment to and which provides us a sense of belonging—whatever meaning each one of us bestows upon this word. It becomes second nature, and I venture to guess that few ordinary people question the meaning of this relationship.

However, as Karim H. Karim and Silvio Waisbard point out, nationalism is first of all an invented, imaginary concept, and second, it possesses a dual “elastic” nature, which is both capable of uniting and to excluding, and bring about liberation or genocide. Also the nation as a socio-political category bears a close relationship with politics (nation-states) and the economy (international trade), neither of which are the most humane and ethical realms of human activity. In addition, the national subdivision of human kind is not the ideal, nor is it the final stage of human development (see for example Jeremy Rifkin’s talk on The Empathic Civilization: http://www.ted.com/talks/jeremy_rifkin_on_the_empathic_civilization.html)

As deceptive and illusionary as nationhood is, I think in reality it is extremely hard to remove its blinders. First of all, a person has to realize that these blinders exist; second, he or she has to find the opportunity to leave the territory over which these blinders operate, for an extended period of time; and third, a person should be open-minded about the variety of information he or she would be exposed to in a different country, and willing to accept the inevitable change of worldview this experience is most likely going to bring about. It means that stepping out of your national “shell” involves a lot of work on the side of the individual, including real-life experience (sometimes even painful experience, like culture shock). And here I think is the key to the problem discussed in Silvio Waisbard’s article, namely why despite the great expectations, the global media do not contribute to the “broadening [of] cultural horizons and fostering transnational communities.” (p 385) Instead, “audiences are typically indifferent to the plight of others portrayed in world news.” (p 386)

To see the picture of the “other” on a TV screen, as colorful as it may be, is not enough to bring about serious value change in people. Even more so, people become desensitized from overexposure to information that they can’t personally relate to. At the same time, not many individuals are willing, or capable, or have the opportunity, to travel abroad and to obtain the necessary exposure to the “otherness” of different cultures. In this respect I think that the phenomenon of third culture kids (or TCKs) is of special interest. Scientists believe that children who spend their formative years (when they are under 15) in different cultures are not attached to any one particular culture, which molds their personality in a very peculiar way. They tend to possess “superior diplomacy, flexibility, linguistic ability, patience and sophistication.” (Nina Killham, World-Wise Kids, p 229) TCKs are also “good observers, less judgmental and less prejudicial.” (Killham, p 230) They also possess a heightened sensitivity to world events and “have a three-dimensional view of the world. ‘A  TCK will read a headline in a newspaper, and can often smell the smells, hear the sounds, and identify with the pain and disaster a half a world away.’”

TCKs are probably the closest one can get to the cosmopolitanism discussed in Waisbard’s article. That’s not to say that other people don’t possess all these valuable characteristics, but again, they are usually the result of extensive education (including self-education) and firsthand experience. One does not become cosmopolitan by simply watching TV, or consuming other mass media.

Nationalism is but one of the stages in the social development of human kind. Now that we face challenges that threaten our existence as a species (for example, climate change), the cultivation of empathy, “solidarity and commitment to universal values” (p 385) must climb higher on the agenda of the international community, and obviously there is no simple solution to this task.

“Symbols of” and “Symbols for”

To say that I liked James Carey’s chapter would be an understatement. For me it was one of those readings so dense with original and well formulated ideas that it helped me to assemble scattered bits and pieces of my own thoughts and impressions.

I was reading the chapter last week, in a book on the Realist Theory of international politics. The author of the book was a major authority in the field of international relations and the book itself has been a seminal work in the field for years. In that chapter, in a very logical and consistent manner, the author drew a picture of his vision of the approaches to scientific reasoning and theorizing about international politics, in an attempt not only to understand the decisions political leaders have made in the past, but also to try to create some system which would allow one to predict future decisions. I cannot describe all of the details of the theory here, but one thing I want to mention is that while I was going through his deliberate explanations of this new theoretical paradigm, I could not help but think that by setting this framework—which from a logical point of view was very sound—the author was literally creating a world of his own, a scientifically justified “system,” which made perfect sense to him and to many of his followers, and precisely because of that was limiting its adopters in the ways they were evaluating real-life situations. The world described in the system was quite harsh: in a state of nature way of interacting, its theoretical units of study—states—were busy taking care of one thing—the survival of the state. Leaders of each and every state were reasonable and prudent decision-makers who saw their duty in the common good of the people of their states, namely of survival. To survive under the pressure of the neighboring units, which were concerned precisely with the same thing, these rational leaders were trying to implement good (albeit rational) foreign policy to observe the national interest of their country and to make sure that other units didn’t observe theirs to a greater extent than they did. While doing so, these rational leaders par excellence put aside all their beliefs and emotions, and ethical as well as religious considerations. The physical survival of their respective states was all that mattered to them.

The picture the author drew was very persuasive, especially due to the scientific manner of its exposition, and, like I mentioned earlier, the book was (and is) considered to be a classic in the field of international relations. But there was one problem: even though on multiple occasions the author mentions in the text that his theory just helps to grasp the essence of “good” foreign policy theoretically and does not reflect reality one-hundred percent, his own judgments from now on were informed and supported by his theory, and followed the logic he had himself set at the beginning of the book perfectly well. Subsequently, the author became a consultant to the U.S. State Department in the early days of the Cold War. American foreign policy during the Cold War was highly inspired and informed by the way this author was reasoning about “good policy,” and according to this theory’s logic it was “good” enough, because it made sense in the realm of his system.

Now, I am not trying to simplify this author’s ideas here (you have probably recognized him by now: Hans Morgenthau) or diminish his important contribution to the field of international relations. I just want to illustrate Carey’s point about the power of communication (in this example scientific communication) to serve as an initial impulse for the creation of a new reality (pg. 29)—in this case, the Cold War reality. The more I read about it, the more it looks like the Cold War was avoidable. It’s as if the theoretical worldview described in the book was assumed to be reality itself and taken by American researchers and policy makers as a starting point for future action. Following the logic they themselves created, decision makers persuaded themselves of the imminence of future hostilities, because in their imagination the “enemy” was also following this logic. Everything made sense, and now some preventative measures had to be taken. The path to war had been carved.

Of course I’m oversimplifying things here to make a long story shorter, but once again, this uneasy feeling that the author was creating a self-fulfilling prophecy was persistent when I was reading the chapter, and I think Carey provided some very important insights and made powerful arguments on the deceptively obvious nature of communication.

Julia D