on being heard
life and language
Reality is a social medium, the briefest conversations lingering. Framed in place and time I grow connected with everyone I talk to and with everyone I hear. We talk; we want to be heard. Listening, and speaking too, become hard when we're not.
Meaning-making is inseparable from being. Every being makes its signs, and these signs, in whatever manner, are understood - life and semiosis are co-extensive. Speaking is a social act, our conversations gathering together societies of dependency and mutual interest. They have made our primate tribes the world for us ,and still we rise and fall with them. Two billion years before or thereabouts different understandings of the environment had come together and fused, like sperm and egg, our species evolving from cells that most likely came themselves from a social act.
Sociality is fundamental; it is the builder of complex organisms and their means of survival. Even our own body is a co-operative of cells, rather than the dictatorship of our brain that is commonly imagined. Only half of me has my DNA. We are a social alliance of animal and bacteria cells - without the latter we struggle to be. Every being of every kind and scale, no matter how grand, is framed within a context that is provided by their society, a society constructed by both allies and predators.
Despite our awareness, and the self-interest this has for survival, from our very first moment we have called out, like birds in the trees. Even though being heard - except by our mothers - as often summons diners as dinner, calling out exposes what is good for us as well as who is not. Communicating is not just in our genes it's their function; life is innately about connecting, not codes. Physically, culturally, and psychologically, it drives the evolution of life.
Like those of other animals, our young are driven to assume the powers of an adult. In striving to do so they co-operate and compete with each other and with us, reflecting what they see in their environment, the broader culture that they experience. It is this that provides the framework of communication supporting, as well as constraining all aspects of their development - whatever we try to teach them at home. Through it they learn to recognize those they are most related to - with whom it is easy to feel empathy; to identify other groups - with whom this feels hard; and that it's wrong to feel empathy for other species.
Across evolutionary time, society has proved to be our best defence - it is a comfort to engage with others as that is our unconscious goal. Each of us finds what we need to develop our most basic perceptions - of sound and taste and sight - through communicating with the societies in which we are conceived and born. In thought and feeling we come to express ourselves, knowingly and not, so that others will see us and the world as we need them to, and in our expression others find what is significant to them rather than what we intend. Through endlessly striving to converge these differing perceptions society is maintained.
Words are as hard as images to pin down and perhaps even more seductive. It's easy to become trapped in them by imagining their meaning is intrinsic but they are only midwives. While their meaning is conceived in our intentions it only comes to life in the understanding of those who hear them. Conversation develops in every natural language, in every form of sign - in light, in sound, in shape and form - and ambiguity is intrinsic to them all. It only kills machine codes. If it were otherwise, over the millions of years it would have vanished along with our tails. The endless resolving of doubt it requires shepherds us closer together, flushes out liars, and disempowers rebellion.
As our species has focused on signs and symbols - for deceit as well as co-operation - new media have evolved. From handprints on cave walls, text, photography, and theatre have developed into a broadcasting industry. From printing to HTML, this has come to orchestrate social choice, mediating communication and standing, like a wall, between societies and their leaders. In marketing and movies, doorstep chat and schoolroom debate, a mundane propaganda sets the stage for social strategy and policy. Media conversations, in transforming social intercourse, have changed the behaviour of their host like a parasite.
Conversations gather us together, assembling into cultures that construct not only our virtual environments but also those that are real. As we grow and develop inside the cultures they form, our everyday needs both physically and psychologically are secured by the societies that they build. The common-sense we have, in which with others we feel safe and at home, is created in an elemental manner by the conversations that we have.
A baby has no innate answers to basic, elementary questions, any more than any other animal does: "Am I connected - to my feet to this breast to this person?" "What is 'mother'?" "Where is 'home'?" "What is 'family'?" "What is 'friend'?" Infants have innate expectations but not a database by which to know the nature of the entities involved. If they find individuals of other species, or inanimate objects, to be the candidates in their environment most suited to their needs, they will attach to these. We build ourselves ignorantly. Acting on instinctual knowledge - feeling/thought - from the the most elementary constructs in our brains unknowingly we construct perception incrementally and found our minds. Engagement with the environment is directed through sign, through touch and sound and sight, by communication, through language and culture.
Selecting leaders through choices based on more than simply their physical strength, in social species the group is more powerful than the individual. The complex social communication that makes such processes possible focuses the power of a social group's individuals.
Through technologies, from print to html, broadcasting has transformed social communication. Replacing direct social intercourse as the medium through which social decisions are made, it has taken over its role in social cohesion and governance.
Focused on matters of immediate and direct relevance to the everyday lives of individuals, the content of social communication has always been mundane. Broadcasting media mirror this. Diverting the innate drive to engage socially, they provide an ersatz freedom of social interaction while channeling this through virtual technologies to isolate micro-demographic, consumer clusters.
Evolving as a social organ, constructed by the economic interests of those involved in it, the media industry has developed a self-reinforcing feedback cycle between itself and society. Hijacking its host society's natural behavior in the information environment, it echoes the behaviourss of certain biological parasites.
Behavior modifying parasites hijack natural responses, such as heightened anxiety, to serve their needs instead. Flukes have evolved to make prey (such as frogs) easier for their vertibrate hosts (such as birds) to catch.
Victims of the rabies virus experience hydrophobia, refuse to swallow (allowing the virus to collect around their mouths), and are much more likely to aggressively bite and interact with others .. Toxoplasma gondii, a protist parasite, suppresses the fear response of rodents and drives them to seek out feline foes to help complete the lifecycle of their protist partner. Horsehair worms encourage their host crickets to drown themselves, which allows these parasites to complete their own lifecycle in water. Likewise, certain entomopathogenic fungi .. manipulate their hostsí sexual behaviors to increase their odds of transmission.
US National Center for Biotechnology Information, PLoS Pathog. 2020 Jun; 16(6): e1008598. Published online 2020 Jun 18. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1008598