JANUARY 26 2010 14:37h
The dialogue was intended to operate as a prerequisite for achieving an authentic relationship between man and man, and later, man and God.
When I went out for my morning walk a few days ago, I was shocked to see a big, overstuffed armchair sitting right at the edge of the street, as though gazing out to sea. I stopped and stared, examined it from every angle, circled it, and even sat down on it. It was brown, old, and threadbare. The cushion had a cover that could be unzipped, removed, cleaned, and then replaced, which I thought was an excellent idea. Since nobody was around, I decided to continue my walk, thinking along the way about how, why and who had abandoned the chair.
When I returned, I saw that two of the villagers were standing in front of the chair, gesticulating. As I approached them, I heard threads of the dialogue, which seemed to revolve around the intentions of the armchair’s owner. He had wanted to get rid of it, give it away, said one, as it was still in good shape, and thought leaving on the street was the best way to resolve the problem. No, he had been a weekend person who didn’t want to pay for garbage removal, claimed the other, so instead of hiring someone to come and pick it up, he had dumped it here in the middle of the night when everybody was asleep. No, it was too nice to just throw away, he had certainly wanted somebody to get some use out of it, but people being the way they are, proud, disinclined to take charity, this was the best way. Somebody could come for it anonymously, also in the middle of the night, and take it away. Who would ever know?
Back and forth, back and forth, neither willing to back down until suddenly, the voices stopped. One had apparently admitted defeat, bowed to the superior logic of the other. They both trudged off, hands twined behind their backs, and the chair remained, seeming almost embarrassed, if a chair could be, to have been the focus of such passion.
It was a perfect denouement, I thought to myself. A dilemma had presented itself, a dialogue had taken place between the interested parties, logical and persuasive arguments were offered by both sides, and the ultimate resolution was reached based on the superior reasoning of one of the parties. The dialogue, first recorded as a genre by the Sumerians, and later in the West by Plato (427 B.C.), was intended to operate just as it had in the chair discussion, not simply as a mere attempt to reach conclusions or express points of view, but as a prerequisite for achieving an authentic relationship between man and man, and later, on a religious level, between man and God.
The Russian philosopher and linguist Mikhail Bakhtin expanded the concept, coining the term 'dialogic'. According to him, all language is a dialogue (or at least should be) and everything one says is always influenced by what has been said before and what will be said in response. He argued that speech cannot exist in a vacuum because language is dynamic and constantly redefining the world. His theory emphasized the power of discourse to increase understanding of diverse views and create myriad possibilities, and held that “relationships and connections exist among all living beings, and that dialogue creates a new understanding of a situation that demands change.” The ideal dialogue, then, between two or more persons, must be open and able to challenge authority, encourages reflection and follow-up questions, and is not influenced by power relationships of the participants.
Unfortunately, what we have today is the illusion of dialogue, and the illusion of democracy. The media presents an issue and its resolution as well, both in the same sentence, without having provided any kind of intervening dialogue, discussion, or analysis, be it on mundane issues or the pressing questions of our times.
Is it really in Croatian interests to join the European Union? Yes, say the government, supported by the major media, but there is an incredible lack of analysis of the pros and cons. And the fact that a referendum might well express majority popular opposition to Croatia joining the Union has led to efforts to revise the Constitution so that a referendum does not occur at all. Is the Hague Tribunal an instrument of justice or injustice? We don’t know because that dialogue is absent from major public discourse.
All we do know is that we must cooperate with it unconditionally or we will not be allowed to join the European Union, which may or may not even be in Croatian interests. Some issues are not even presented in the media, so there cannot be a monologue or a dialogue. Why, when we have our own garlic, do we import it from China? Is it part of a much wider globalist scheme about which we can read nothing in the media, or are we just nutty conspiracy theorists?
Irving Kristol, one of the foremost neo-conservative theorists in the former Bush administration, illustrates how this works: “There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people. There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn't work."
In other words, in his view, “truth” should be appropriated by those who hold political, economic and military power, as though they were gods. As a result, dialogue disappears and the major issues of the times remain unexamined. And unless we insist upon a return to the Socratic dialogue, in every home, community, and city, we are simply dumb animals being led to slaughter.