Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

Elements of an Ethic (a la Marcel Mauss) of Convivialist Discussions

Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

Elements of an Ethic (a la Marcel Mauss) of Convivialist Discussions

Article excerpt

ARE POLITICAL, ETHICAL, philosophical, literary, and artistic polemics more violent today than a century or two ago? We can leave this question to historians. What is the case, after all, is that since the end of the Second World War they become more so every year in Western countries, countries that are in principle moderate. The reign of the media and an omnipresent Internet clearly have a lot to do with this. The logarithmic increase in channels of expression, access to which is now open to everyone without any restriction or regulation, the instantaneousness of exchanges that opens the floodwaters to the spontaneous expression of feelings without giving a moment's reflection, the acceleration of time that only leaves people wanting more, the resulting obligation to present any idea or information as briefly as possible--with the Tweet being the incarnation par excellence of this norm--all of this contributes to the reduction of public debate to the circulation of "sound bites." These sound bites are meant to connect directly with a target audience through a simple formula designed to impress on all that mediated existence is everything; that there is nothing outside of sound bites. In other words, no visibility. Every day Donald Trump is the living example of this principle. Any sentiment, however complex, must be able to be condensed into a sound bite--or, better, into the 15 minutes of a TedX. Under the reign of the sound bite, ideas no longer appear as moments in a constructed and coherent discourse, but as simple discursive parcels which, in a few words, take the place of the entire discourse itself. Thus, we are no longer obligated to read an article that has just been published--we need only retain the sound bite that summarizes it.

THE DERAILMENT OF CRITICAL CRITICISM

All of this is well known and obvious. Perhaps what is less obvious is that the sound bite is not only supposed to stand in for all discourse and thought. It functions equally well, if not better, in representing in itself the entirety of the author, the profound essence of his or her person. It acts as an author's signature--in the manner of a tag of some sort--like the expression of his or her true personality. The question therefore is not to know whether this or that idea, this or that concept, or this or that analysis helps us to think, but rather what they reveal or are supposed to reveal about their author. Is the latter good or bad? For us or against us? Has the author come to support what we think--or at least what we feel--or, on the contrary, might he or she invalidate our thoughts. Friend or enemy? Honorable or disgraceful? In such a discursive regime no complex thought is audible or even receivable. The sound bite is not there to incite thought, it aims to spark love or admiration for a tribe and in a few words condenses the hate that it dedicates to another tribe or tribes.

Let us be Girardians, at least for a moment. In the mimetic rivalry of all against all, to exist in a mediatized environment it is necessary to designate one or multiple adversaries whose impurities we will denounce and whose symbolic death we will demand. The rule of the game is to always deploy more criticism, more than criticism, critical criticism, (1) to play the role of someone who never gives up and who knows how to reveal behind the words of an adversary the repugnance of what is not said, "foul" desires, necessarily foul, retrograde tropisms or obscene, fantastically commercial provocations. Try to be more critical than me and you are dead. Simply put: in the discursive regime of sound bites, everything functions in order to find scapegoats. There is nothing to understand, for seeking to understand always comes back to justifying, when it is really about denouncing. Those who do not denounce are not with us and thus must be denounced themselves. The rules of this game of general denunciation are henceforth clearly established: to high-handed charges of populism or communitarianism, respond by throwing opprobrium on media elites, financiers, moralists, or politicians suspected of conspiracies against the people. …

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