a new attitude?


The first question directed to last night’s speaker at Frank’s International Soiree had to do with survival, the second with definition. Suddenly we were immersed in the midst of a dialogic surge with all the characteristics of the storming stage in group development. I immediately began to wonder if we could turn this to a sustained dialogue? Or would it fade into another instance when a bunch of individuals take up characteristic group member roles and enact the usual clash of competitive discourse
Yes, I linked “discourse” to “path dependence” on purpose.

(Are you checking the links? Some links are topically informative: they give background on the concept. Other links are conceptually informative – they are trying to show you how I’m thinking. It seems to me that the relationship between the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ in real, live communication gets lost when we’re trying to find solutions to big problems, because we get caught up in our own reactions, thoughts, and gut instincts that lead us to say the things we say and to hear (interpret) others in the ways that we do when listening to what they say.)

I make the connection between talk and institutions because this is one of the ways that the relationship between language and social reality becomes visible.
The storming phase of group development is when a group engages the questions of power and control: e.g.,

  • what does the group want to do (if anything)?
  • Will I like its leaders?
  • Is my opinion going to matter?

I was astonished – and delighted! – that such dynamics emerged in this setting. Frank throws this monthly event bringing together diverse people with big dreams to give us a chance to meet and network with each other. This occurs generally through one-to-one conversations in small groups over a kind of rotating dinner: we switch tables throughout the meal in order to meet as many people as possible. I’ve only attended one previous Soiree, so I do not know if last night’s event was atypical. It felt special and, in my experience, relatively rare.

I’m not exactly happy to admit that I didn’t listen well to the scheduled speaker; my mind was somewhere else (I don’t even remember) – my attention was drifting. He was speaking about a sustainability initiative – such a vogue topic about which so little is actually being accomplished. The first question was from the journalist who had covered Palestine, who wanted to know about the pragmatics of funding. Another issue getting so much airtime (in these days of “the financial crisis”) without constructive effect on the economic insfrastructure. Then the philosopher fired off a sharp challenge about whether the concept of sustainability, in the speaker’s usage, was limited to the environment or could include things like language and culture… tension rose in the room – how was the speaker going to respond? Deftly ­čÖé
Perhaps the fact that he was unruffled (at least he did not display if he was rattled inside) gave the group confidence to take the plunge? Suddenly we were arguing about what could be included in the concept of sustainability (e.g., economics) and what should be excluded (the Irish language was given as an example). The role of consumption and consumers came up including some anger and frustration at never being asked, in the role of consumer, what one might be willing to do. Instead, the fraud investigator whispered to me: “We are just told that if you are a good enough person then you will just pay the extra…”
Meanwhile, someone else was asserting, urgently, that “we’re too nice! We need to cause more panic!”
Ah yes, panic. I thought of colleagues in my graduate program who are interested in social panics. (Interesting that the wikipedia link on this is an orphan.)
My mind flitted about, seeking context. Were we picking up some vibe from protesters of Ahmadinijad’s questionable re-election in Iran? Is fear of the consequences of global warming reaching critical mass – and similar outbursts like this are beginning to happen in groups across the globe? Not only do scientists’ concerns continue to increase as policy makers miss crucial deadlines for changing policies and big business delays implementing serious structural reforms, I had just read a proposal for geoengineering to temporarily lower the earth’s temperature in order to buy us time.
One woman explained that if we continue to use resources at the rate of the United States, we need four earths. Even, she continued, if we adapt to the lower-consumption rates in Europe, we still need two or three. “We only have one.”
And we’re gutting it. The argument made by in the new film by Yann Arthus-Bertrand is that we have only ten years in which to act decisively to avoid crossing into climactic conditions for which there is no precedent in nine billion years of life on earth. The last ten minutes of the 90 minute film make the case for hope – there are projects underway and success stories we can build on: but we can delay no longer. Somehow, we have to confront our fears, deal with each other’s defense mechanisms, and challenge our rationalizations. We must work through the storm.


about Frank’s International Soiree:
in French

Speaker: Max von Abendroth of 3plusX

Home: the new film by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Worth a second viewing, or if you haven’t seen it yet: An Inconvenient Truth

It’s Time to Cool the Planet

5 thoughts on “a new attitude?”

  1. Hi Philippe and the rest of you brainy people doing translation across the centuries.
    I realize our specific agendas differ, and/but . . . I hope there is a way to collaborate.
    My pitch is basic: if we have a decade in which to secure future centuries (see blogpost), then we need all the resources language offers and we need ’em now. More mundanely, my dissertation is about drawing a clear distinction between interpretation and translation. We need both, but as it is the standards of translation proper are imposed on interpreted communication – forcing interpreters and interlocutors to miscommunicate in the here-and-now. Assuming humanity will survive for at least as long as it takes to earn tenure, I want/need to understand machine translation and its human interface much better.
    Thanks for reading.
    I hope I can figure out how to fit in, here, with you.
    best regards,

  2. A problem (?) when no one responds is that I keep talking to myself!
    Hi Max,
    I hope this gets to you, as I don’t have your email address…My apologies, as well, for not listening carefully at the beginning of your talk. I’m intrigued by what you’re doing, especially when you explained the bit about being potentially subversive (even if that did only come about as a tease from Frank!) I don’t know if there is a way we can connect up but if you have any ideas please do let me know. At least (if you can) let me know what you think of the blogpost!

  3. Steph,
    I left the evening with a feeling that most people were rather trying to have time to speak and be heard by the others rather then really showing interest in the concept Max was presenting…
    After discussing your blog post and re-reading it you’ve really changed my viewpoint of the situation.
    Interesting that your interpretation is that it caused panic… I’m not sure if Panic or a debate is the right approach to evolve in any way or if it is just an expression of peoples egos?! I still wonder what made you so curious about this happening?
    – Is it the interest of a scientist?
    – Do you see an opportunity to save the planet?
    – Or were you simply surprised about the situation?
    A topic as broad as Sustainability can certainly cause insecurity… An undefined meaning with a problem that one only has limited knowledge with no clear solution to solve these… some time ago I asked people in several Forums & situations What does sustainability mean to you? How sustainable do you think you are? – my forum threat resulted several times in a long debate.
    Panic & insecurity is useful in getting people’s attention. Sometimes also in getting people to act. People in a state of Panic are easy to influence, control since they become less rational and rely more on instincts. But when it comes to doing ‘the right thing’ and making a real difference (whatever that might mean in practice)
    I’m not convinced that Panic will help us to save our planet though…
    All the best,

  4. One world, one future…
    One world, one past…
    One world? – One love?
    We are so depended on time that we seem to most of the time be unconscious of the possibility that sustainability is something which we can achieve in our everyday life.
    Sustain can be achieved by living the moment and being attentive to what is happening around us in a way that:
    We don’t set up as first priority to reach the planet BUT to reach the people next to and around us. (micro and meso level).
    We do that only if we feel the right moment, meaning the right energy doing that.
    We constantly take the feedback that we get through this action to really EXPERIENCE ourselves, by EXPERIENCING the others+nature and vice versa.
    (One will gain from this behavior as well as her/his environment.)
    This can be done and practiced everywhere.
    If we feel like having a message which is worth providing for the world then we should start with addressing “our” own world (close “contacts”) first!
    Feedback is among the most necessary ingredients for a successful (sustainable) action.
    Love will spread and sustainability will become an attitude because nobody wants to hurt somebody who she/he loves for the reason that she/he loves her/himself.
    Flow (a byproduct, like sustain) is the effect of every step done in this way… and don’t measure them by their words (first hand)… look and see… what they are doING… it’s about the attitude AND nobody is perfect.
    Thank you so much!

  5. Mira,
    I don’t see panic as a solution either, but I do recognize it as indicative of the kind of moment when a group is seriously organizing itself to accomplish some kind of task. The questions become,
    1) what task (there are always competing imperatives),
    2) to which aim (think “task” as means, “goal” as outcome), and
    3) how (such as delegation of duties, the equitability of attention to process & content, evaluation of effectiveness, etc).
    To answer your direct questions, I was interested in the particular group dynamic (explained in the entry above) as a humanist who understands the usefulness of social theory (including philosophy) in the extent to which it can be applied to real life problem-solving. The phenomenological (felt) experience of “surprise” is a recognition of connection between theory and application that can be built upon to forge stronger relationships and more concerted actions. I do indeed perceive windows of opportunity for preserving the known conditions for life on earth!
    Svensonsun, I replied to you more directly over in ideaplants, as a comment to an entry asking about definitions of sustainable development. I love your dreamy metaphysical stance (and I agree with the essence of the strategy), but I do not believe it is adequate on its own to accomplish the massive restructuring that lies ahead. What an ethic of interpersonal sustainability can do is build resolve within communities and provide encouragement to members as the compromises and consequences of change multiply in daily life.

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