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Wittgenstein’s language games and the public sphere

Monday, May 7th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — suggesting a lessening of TV Trumpery and its critiques ]
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In a tweet earliee today, I suggested that the close reading of a text can be highly rewarding, a point I made most forcefully in Close reading, Synoptic- and Sembl-style, for parallels, patterns.

Key to a close reading is the “language” in which a given writer or speaker clothes their words.. “language” here being used both in the sense of their metaphors and forms (which is why I’ve been collecting sports and other metaphors, ouroboroi and other forms) and in the sense formulated by Witty Wittgenstein in his Philosophical Investigations (PI).

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers us a list of regular language games as Wittgenstein uses the term in PI:

reporting an event, speculating about an event, forming and testing a hypothesis, making up a story, reading it, play-acting, singing catches, guessing riddles, making a joke, translating, asking, thanking

I want to suggest that we could usefully think of language games in terms of the philosophical, ideological, partisan, religious or psychological drivers that propel them.

Further, in the case of Trump, we might observe that the language game he is playing is not the one his critics on, say, MSNBC, are basing their own critiques on.

And here’s the great advantage: once we’ve analyzed the differences between Trump’s language game and aims and those of his critics, we could close shop. We wouldn’t need this constant barrage of Fox and MSNBC news on the topic — any new utterance of his or Giulianis of note could simply be indexed to the sub-para describing that particular disjunction in language game, and basta! — the rest of the news “oxygen” would be available for the discussion of other topics.

As a subset of that para — I don’t suppose Mueller xxwill want to take every piece of “off the cuff” Trumpery as intended as real “truth” — “all that is the case” –he’ll surely see it as entertainment and distraction — chuff and chaff — and zero in on the key statements of the President’s worldview, viewing them as exemplars not of “truth” but of a language game to be analyzed and evaluated as such. Having zeroed in on these relatively few key phrases, many of the many critiques offered by Trump’s accusers.

**

Wittgenstein asks what all that we consider to be games have in common, and decides they share a family resemblance but — in my words, here — the cousins on one side of the family have little (a polite word for “nothing”) in common with the cousins at the other end of thr spectrum.

If the Olympic Games included language games in their list of sports, Giuliani‘s reference to FBI agents as stormtroopers wight win long jump gold.

Here’s Jonathan Chait in Giuliani’s FBI ‘Stormtroopers’ Smear Is the Key to Trump’s Authoritarian Mind-set”>:

In 1995, National Rifle Association president Wayne LaPierre signed his name to a fundraising letter referring to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents as “tjack-booted government thugs.” The implicit association of American federal law enforcement with fascists provoked a furor. Former president George H. W. Bush publicly resigned his NRA membership in protest; LaPierre had to apologize.

Last night, in the midst of a long, deeply incriminating interview, Rudy Giuliani called FBI agents “stormtroopers.” Here was the president’s lawyer, not an outside lobbyist, comparing federal law enforcement to Nazis directly, rather than indirectly.

Stormtrooper vs jack-booted government thugs is an interesting comparison (& makes a fine DoubleQuote), and Chait’s “implicit association of American federal law enforcement with fascist” in hth cases exemplify just the kind of language extremism we should be avoiding in our policy debates.

Chait’s continuing half-paragraph illminates the arcane workings of the media machine in processing such things:

The Washington Post’s account of Giuliani’s interview noted the remark in a single sentence, in the 30th paragraph of its story. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Politico accounts of Giuliani’s interview did not even mention the stormtrooper remark at all.

There are times I wish for sanity.

**

Okay, that was third and last in this series.. Previously:

  • On negative space in the painting..
  • On negative space, private morality in the public square
  • This:

  • Wittgenstein’s language games and the public sphere
  • The size of the (reported) world, a matter of scale & compassion

    Monday, February 5th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — sadly but explicably unable to fall in love with the world population ]
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    I’ve been thinking about the appropriate scale of the world as it appears in different styles of reporting. The issue here is what happens when you zoom down from the abstract, group, to the individual, personal level.


    Ava Olsen, perceived at the appropriate scale at which to view the world as a whole

    **

    My tweet:

    **

    My tweet explained — I hope!

    A lot of journos take the wide-angle or “30,000 feet” view, dealing with a group or preferably larger community’s situation, eg “The Middle East after ISIS“, it's abstract and much smaller than the world – when you focus on one 7 yer old (eg Ava Olsen) you capture the actual size of the world, albeit only a tiny fraction of it — but with the appropriate level of compassionate response.

    This is important becaus at full size, ie at the individual level, your writings elicit the appropriate compassionate response, which is key to our humanity, while at the more abstract and removed (“30,000 feet”) scale, both Ava herself and the appropriate compassion go missing.

    And we desperately need the full appropriate compassion to be elicited, for the individual but for the individual at the group level!

    I suspect, FWIW, that this is also, essentially, a quantity vs quality issue.

    So 100 to 1 abstract, high level reporting will show the world, but garner only 1% of the appropriate compassion in readers (I know, it’ll do better than that, but only by a little), whereas 100 to 1 personal level reporting will garner the full compassionate impact — even with only 10% of the reportage, still the equivalent of 10 times the reportage at the abstract level — which then needs to be multiplied up to the abstract level.

    image borrowed from one of a few dozen sites, then altered

    **

    So we need a preponderance of individual focus, but also an individual to group zoom — even when the group is humanity as a whole.

    The best news: We can improve our capacity for compassion

    QED

    Poetic or magical phrasings in otherwise realist contexts

    Saturday, February 3rd, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — featuring SWJ, Uma Thurman, and an outbreak of sheer alchemy – !! — on MSNBC ]
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    Poetry is irrepressible.

    Often confused with things people print with broken lines, poetry is a view on things, an angle oblique to reality revealing an archipelago of plausible, interesting deeper meanings, not behind but within the everyday.

    Under that definion, poetry is irrepressible, while the broken line stuff is failing, almost dead, precisely because it so oftten lacks authentic poetry.

    Here, then, are three examples of the elements of poetry visible emerging from the dense forests of the prosaic, as the Mayan temples emerge from the Guatemalan forest in this National Geographic image:

    From Exclusive: Laser Scans Reveal Maya “Megalopolis” Below Guatemalan Jungle.

    **

    Small Wars Journal:

    vegetation and the night can come to be seen part of the enemy, a similar view can emerge concerning civilians

    So: “the night can come to be seen part of the enemy” — true in terms of personal experiences of war (we’re talking Vietnam here) no doubt, but also mythic in its resonance, in a way that’s inseparable from its practical, field reality: night as darkness, the unknown, mystery, terror, all providing a cloak for sudden attack.

    From Preventing the Barbarization of Warfare: The USMC CAP Program in Vietnam in the Small Wars Journal, not a source renowned for poetry — or “poetry” for that matter.
    **

    New York Times:

    There’s divinity, and then there’s celebrity:

    Uma Thurman is certainly a star, maybe more —

    Her hall features a large golden Buddha from her parents in Woodstock; her father, Robert Thurman, is a Buddhist professor of Indo-Tibetan studies at Columbia who thinks Uma is a reincarnated goddess.

    — a goddess, with a lower-case “g”?

    From Maureen Dowd, in This Is Why Uma Thurman Is Angry

    **

    MSNBC, The Beat:

    This is no doubt the most astonishing.

    Bringing the moon and the sun together always makes me happy.

    From Ari Melber on The Beat yesterday, at 47.12 almost at the very end of this clip:

    Sheer alchemy, out of the Tube, out of nowhere! Bringing the sun and moon together is the conjunctio, subject of Carl Jung‘s last major work, Mysterium Coniunctionis, and symbolized by the union of sun andd moon, king and queen, gold and silver:

    The middle image, showing the coniunctio, is from the Rosarium Philosophorum (1550): Jolande Jacobi describes it thus in her book The Psychology of C.G. Jung:

    The alchemical conception of one of the stages of the coniunctio. Here the ‘king’ and the ‘queen,’ who may be taken as Sol and his sister Luna, appear as symbols of the primordial psychic opposites, masculine and feminine. Their ‘marriage’ is meant primarily in the spiritual sense, as is clear not only by the words of the middle band spiritus est qui vivificat, but also by the dove as symbol of the spirit, and according to the ancients, amor coniugalis. The primordial opposites confront one another in their naked, unfalsified truth and essence, without conventional covering; the difference between them is evident and ‘essential;’ it can be bridged in fruitful union only through the intermediary of the spirit symbol, the dove, the ‘unifier’ which intervenes from ‘above.’ The branches held to form the cross, the flores mercurii, and the flower hanging down from the dove’s beak—all these symbols of the process of growth illustrate the common effort of man and woman in the living work of the coniunctio.

    Borrowed from Yin, Yan, the Tao, and Wholeness.

    For Ari Melber, out of the blue, to come up with this expression of his “happiness” at “bringing the moon and the sun together” is a stunning instance of the breaking though of the prime symbol of sheer alchemy into an MSNBC news program — in the midst of the Trump / Mueller controversy!

    **

    Had enough?

    Rest assured Inside a Bookshelf at This Genius Hotel:

    A magical — peacetime — way of nightt..

    Fox / Faux and two mirrors

    Sunday, January 28th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — still pondering how much of “Trump” is chaff, intended to deflect attention from his serious intention ]
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    **

    My source for the main thrust of this post:

    Fox News hosts ramp up ‘deep state’ conspiracies
    As the network escalates its attacks on the FBI, mainstream conservatives say it is endangering U.S. institutions.

    **

    Digression:

    There are mirrors all over the place, and smoke, too. Harvey Weinstein, Democrat and friend of Hillary; Steve Wynn, Republican finance chair and Vegas mogul: both were major fundraisers for their respective parties, both have been accused of sexual malfeasance.

    If you’re a Republican and castigated Weinstein, demandung his cntributions be returned, are you now castigating Wynn, and demanding your own party returm the funds he raised? And if you’re a Democrat, and contrarywise in any way played doen the Weinstein affair, are you likewise playing down the Wynn matter?

    Or is party politics making a difference?

    The principle here should be, surely, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander..

    **

    Back to the deep state and its mirrors.

    Hannity’s coverage was just part of a wider trend, observers say. For the past week, Fox News opinion hosts have seized on claims by some Republican lawmakers about a “secret society” at the FBI and “deep state actors” to fashion unproven narratives designed to protect Trump and delegitimize Mueller.

    On Wednesday night, Hannity told viewers, “The constitutional violations are severe and historically unprecedented in this country. You have deep state actors using and abusing the powerful tools of intelligence we give them to protect this country.”

    **

    One mirror sees a parallel with sixties left radicals, the Weathermen

    Stuart Stevens, the Republican who served as chief strategist for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, had a similar view.

    “In the 1960s, some rich white radicals attacked the justice system, ranted about government conspiracies and called for violent opposition,” he wrote in an email. “They called themselves Weathermen. Now the same is happening, and they call themselves conservative commentators. But it’s equally nutty.”

    nota bene, the Weathermen used violence, while thus far, the Republican conspiracists have confined themselves to virulent rhetoric.

    **

    Jennifer Rubin holds another mirror up to Republican conspiracists — Russian propaganda:

    Jennifer Rubin, a conservative columnist at The Washington Post, noted to POLITICO that the points being made on shows like “Hannity” and “Fox & Friends” echo those being reportedly pushed by Russian bots on social media.

    “When they turn on a dime and begin adopting the same position as Russian bots and start attacking the FBI, we’ve gone to a whole new level of crazy,” she said.

    “It’s almost like Fox has become the RT, the Russia Today, for the administration and the Kremlin,” she added.

    Stevens finds a parallel in the American past, and a leftist group. Rubin finds a contemporary parallel in the activities of our principal foreign enemy.

    **

    Bill Kristol doesn’t offer a mirror, but his comments are worth noting:

    In a Thursday interview on CNBC, Bill Kristol, the Weekly Standard editor who was a Fox News analyst from 2002 to 2012, alleged that the channel has become increasingly conspiratorial over the past several years, saying, “Seventy-five percent of it seems to be birther-like coverage of different issues.”

    Rubin said, though, that the most recent commentary is beyond anything that’s aired on the network in the past.

    “The substance of what they’re saying and the conspiracy theories that are being floated are so much weirder and so much less credible than simply taking a suspicious view of the events leading up to Benghazi or questioning the motives of President Obama. There was once upon a time some factual basis for what they were looking at — some may have been drawing unreasonable conclusions and some may have been exaggerating, but here they appear to be making stuff up from whole cloth, so I do think it’s worse.”

    If the Fox-faux folk heard these critiques from their Democratic rivals, they might well dismiss them out of hand. But they come from erstwhile highly respected people on their own “side” — fellow Republicans.

    **

    Humor on your way out the door:

    Uday and Qusay Trump motif traces back to Bill Maher

    Sunday, January 7th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — more striking examples of form in the news, “pressed down and flowing over” ]
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    Michael Wolff‘s book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House has been quoted extensively, but one accusation struck me forcibly, both because of its viciousnes and because it has a formal property of double, parallel construction. The comparison was between Trump‘s sons Donald Jr. and Eric, and Saddam‘s sons, Uday and Qusay:

    Don Jr. and Eric — behind their backs known to Trump insiders as Uday and Qusay, after the sons of Saddam Hussein — wondered if there couldn’t somehow be two parallel White House structures, one dedicated to their father’s big-picture views, personal appearance and salesmanship, and the other concerned with day-to-day management issues.

    Crudely but vividly put in a Pinterest graphgc [I’ve reduced its scale, but you get the idea]:

    **

    Under the header, Maher Rips Trump Sons — Calls Them ‘Uday and Qusay’, Breitbart reported in September 2016 what seems to me most likely the original source of Wolff’s unsourced remark:

    On the Friday airing of HBO’s “Real Time,” host Bill Maher slammed the two sons of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Jr. and Eric Trump.

    Maher partially cited a Trump quote from his 2008 book, “Think Big,” which he used as a segue to attack the Trump children.

    “Donald Trump also once said, ’Sometimes people will come into my office and they will be great. They will look great, they’ll sound great, they dress beautifully. Everything is great. Then after you hire them they turn out to be morons,’ which explains his sons Uday and Qusay.”

    “I mean Trump, Sr. at the what House is bad enough without these two American psychos putting plastic over the furniture so that they can axe murder prostitutes while discussing Phil Collins,” he continued.

    According to Breitbart, then, Maher would seem to be the ur-source — with just a hint that Trump himself may be partially responsible at that:

    which explains his sons Uday and Qusay.

    The Trump sourcing strikes me as so attenuated as to be worthless, but the tie to Maher seems undeniable — whether it’s Wolff’s only source or not.

    **

    Here are a couple of other items in the news which have caught my eye on account of their formal propeties. Here, from Real clear Politics, is the first:

    President Trump said there was no collusion between himself on the Russians, but there was collusion between Hillary Clinton and the Russians and the Democratic National Committee and the Russians.

    That strrikes me as a clear instance of what psychologists term projectionAri Melber writes in his intro to psychologist Dr. Justin Frank, who discusses the issue with him:

    Trump uses ‘projection’ as a defense tactic

    Trump is an expert at projecting his own faults onto his political rivals as a defense mechanism

    There are plenty of other arguable examples of Trump’s likely instinctive use of projection, but to my mind the most powerful are those that use the same words or phrases — eg: “collusion between [self, other] and the Russians” — in a short span to contrast the denial [against self] and accusation {against the other].

    It’s a widely-found psychological trick — and a beautiful formal setup. The saying about “the pot calling the kettle black” summarizes it nicely, as Ari Melber obviously knows:

    And dig this example:

    **

    A second form to keep an eye out for, and one of my own favorites, is the serpent-bites-its-tail motif, or ouroboros.

    Discussing Trump saying he’llannounce his “Dishonest and Corrupt Media Awards” tomorroww:–

    “I will be announcing THE MOST DISHONEST & CORRUPT MEDIA AWARDS OF THE YEAR on Monday at 5:00 o’clock,” Trump wrote. “Subjects will cover Dishonesty & Bad Reporting in various categories from the Fake News Media. Stay tuned!

    Everyone in comedy took immediate advantage, proposing themslves (!) for awards:

    but it was Ari Melber, host of MSNBC’s The Beat, who nailed the ouroboric implications of Trump’s challenge with this question:

    Will he be physically able to give an award to anyone other than himself?

    It may not feature groovy graphics, like the two late-night comedians’ tweets do — but that explicit Trumpian self-reference really stings!

    Enough. I’m getting dizzy, and that’s something my doctors would scribble about it I mentioned it. Gotta save them pencil-wear — I’m not so simple as a list of symptoms, added to a single numbered diagnosis,


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