Saturday, October 25, 2008

theory of communicative action, 2008

The times are amazing. This season, are we witnessing the original emergence of a truly global “conversation” (among Euro-American and Euro-Asian ministries) on the governance of democratic economies? The recent globality of finance-capitalistic advents have relied on a notion of inherently (or natural, social-darwinist) self-corrective rationality, what Alan Greenspan calls “the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works” (10/23) that fails with exotic financial instruments. (That “critical functioning“ always was, since Bretton Woods, more regulatorily constrained than pure free marketers wanted to admit.) All leading and emerging economies now anticipate formation of a new Bretton-Woods-like balance between innovation and regulation through tighter interregional coordination of economic policies.

Dear professor Habermas' U.S. lectures this month on religious challenges to a secular self-understanding of modernity seem so 2004, though being probably (I haven't heard/read them) as philosophically pertinent to their topic as his published work has been. Reactionary nationalism that is partly fueled by religious reactionism is clearly relevant to the EU having failed to ratify a constitution, such that the EU might now deal more efficiently with its place in the global financial meltdown.

Habermasian notions of cosmopolitan politics are certainly important for practically understanding the world's need for governmental multilateralism across economies and across modes of each economy (financial vis-à-vis commodity economies). The complexities of national support for multilateralist leadership tax the lifeworlds of highly-stressed voters in recessional localities. The mechanics of the world involve a planetary metropolia—a netweave of leading regions that more-or-less antedate the nation state, while the typical citizen can barely manage the local time needed for a healthy family and neighborhood, let alone understanding her/his potential for global citizenship (which requires active, if not exemplary, support for educational time that is unavailable or unfunded).

Synchronic complexity of whatever sort is at least tacitly part of any valid hermeneutical lens for employing a treatise written 30 years ago, as was Habermas' Theory of Communicative Action (which I tried recently to briefly contextualize in Habermas' career; an authoritative outline of his work is also available online). The age of Theory of Communicative Action implies a diachronic condition of Habermasian communicative action (the career) that has built on TCA through succeeding decades, through equally-important work up to Between Facts and Norms (relative to TCA); and including philosophically-basic work beyond that, which implicates a notion of “Habermasian” thinking prior to TCA, building on a formal pragmatics of the mid-'70s whose nature was ontologically uncommitted, but whose discursive sense of inquiry has grown beyond that, even beyond his mid-'80s sense of discourse ethics (I would argue), in terms of recent responses to neurophilosophy. [Excuse the length of my sentence, but it seems fair to the situation of discursive diachrony.] There, I face my own issues of inquiry that may cause me to revise a new Habermasian essay rather than read for edification or critique.

But anyone's reading of a very diachronized text (so to speak) is a venture in one's self formation or a venture in the development of one's own thinking, since the diachronic career of context can't be readily considered in simply a reading of the text (though one might argue that the text deserves to stand on its own; but what is that?). So, one likely employs the text as projective other (one's own “Habermas” in the construal of discursive points accumulating in one's own way of reading) in a process of discursive learning that is about the midland of understanding between text and reader. You can't get more immanently hermeneutical than that: self reflection (not necessarily self-reflection) in the construction of meaningfulness (i.e., senses of large-scale context), which is not yet a matter of evaluating the text, as a matter of significances of whatever point or theme.

Anyway, who has time to display close reading, especially online? Interposting online (stance and response, then response to response) becomes some kind of conceptual jazz, jamming in words about compositions that may (with discursive inquiry) be rigorously conceived and systematically elusive to brief opinion, except as stimulants for exchanges basically unrelated to the motivating author.

No wonder, then, that a philosopher's work might only be honored by this medium that pretends to attend to the work, given our interminably time-crunched lives, especially as a place to note longer work (actual discursive inquiry) from elsewhere. Even taking a manageable quote and doing something worthwhile with it is at best exemplary of reading that must presume a lot of background for the reader, which may turn follow-up interaction into couples doing a performance together that turns other readers into audience, rather than really being other participants (and the couples cross-pollinate, and the posting threads get too confusing to continue). Better to be sitting in an actual symposium discussion section where you can stop someone to say you're confused. Better yet a seminar, which the online medium fails to approximate. A dramaturgical type of reading may become the frontstage of a possibly self-concealing diachrony of both the work's backstage career and the history of interacting readers, becoming traces of each other.

Anyway, a large-scale condition is at stake for me: The character of conceptual work, as such (the “nature” of conceptual work), is in question (apart from the hermeneutical condition of online interaction). We each have our own philosopher in reading any philosopher. Does the real text exist? (Derrida outstrips Gadamer.) Is any writer largely a nebulous venue for one's own self formation? (The other is enowned for the sake of the reader's own argumentative coherence.) How many Immanual Kants are there, by the way?

So, what difference does careful conceptual formulation make in the hyper-evolving environment of our 24/7 news cycle and global-villaged information ecology? We always were strapped with our ephemerality of understanding, faced with contrary nature: The hopes of metaphysicalism (born so many millennia ago from imputed specificity of natural powers) that was supposed to provide reliable coordination of progress across generations—the hopes were dashed in the 20th century's emergent realization of our ultimately-open evolutionarity. (God didn't abandon humanity; rather, “God-given” freedom was always already anthropologically and historically relative.) Romances of structuralism dissolved in post-structuralist reconcilations about playing for keeps about irony and contingency and solidarities that pass way.

So, what is “theory”? One might wonder how to write a theory of communicative action for the second decade of another century of accelerating social evolution. Who could have imagined, in 1980, the Web.