“You Are Not Hearing Me!”: Ontology of Communication and Communication of Ontology

We have thus far laid out the historical evolution of communication and essential principles of communication, but we have not yet addressed the heart of the matter. We must now explore the  fundamental nature of communication and its situation in the human experience.

We understand, perhaps better now in a post-rational world, that man is not exclusively a thinking and rational being, although that is not to say he is an irrational being incapable of rational thought. Certainly, man is a thinking Being, and this ability to think being his defining characteristic above all other creatures, he is also a Being who feels, wills, and ultimately becomes. This presents a conception that considers man as a complex and dynamic Being and not simply a rationalistic computer program.

Therefore, we are in need of a conception of communication that can not only transcend linguistic and geographical boundaries but also boundaries such as education and intellectual-cultural circumstances. More than that, we need something that is not merely a vehicle of communication but something which constitutes the essence of communication itself, and what better candidate than Being itself.

Being is something that belongs to the domain of Ontology and which has been shut out of intellectual discourse ever since Descartes laid the course of Western thought with the Cogito, but which has come back into the fold with Heidegger and Father Cornelio Fabro’s resuscitation of Thomistic metaphysics, although this has not penetrated into the mainstream of intellectual thought that still operates within the paradigm of Cartesian Immanentism.

We could play the semantic game of attempting to define and pin down exactly what Being is but this would not only be counter-productive but would the point of the discussion entirely. Rather, Being should be envisioned as something we cannot define but which we know is real and tangible and which we can comprehend in the way it interacts and behaves, much in the same way we have not yet defined or truly understood what matter is despite understanding what it is comprised of and how it behaves; an axiomatic principle necessary for any worldview or proposition to function as proven by Gödel’s Completeness Theorem.

Additionally, we can understand that Being is not something static but something that, through the process of Becoming, expands, contracts, or, worse, stagnates. Being is therefore something that can be cultivated and thus increase in intensity or magnitude which naturally leads to disparities and hierarchies of Being and Beings. A useful example of this is the human body and its becoming. If we were to compare the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger to a overweight and unhealthy mans we can see an obvious and striking discrepancy of Being which communicates to us on a fundamental ontological level the state and character of these two Beings. However, the process of Becoming is not arbitrary or oriented solely for the purpose of change for changes sake, rather, it has the chief objective of vertical transformation or transcendence. However, being can accumulate intensity in a multitude of directions and Rene Geunon’s conception of Being with the symbol of the three dimensional cross is an especially comprehensive aid in this regard. We have in this symbolism a two dimensional plane for the horizontal expansion of Being, but more importantly a vertical axis that corresponds to transcendence both in a positive (upward) pole and in a negative (downward) pole, which represents holy or angelic states in the former and demonic or satanic states in the latter.

This conception provides a dynamic and deeper understanding of Being that does not restricted by the inherent limitations of the good-evil binary and which can better account for evil with its symbolism of negative-transcendence. A striking example of this this conception can be found in the characters of the Batman and the Joker in the 2008 film ‘The Dark Knight’. In this narrative we have embodiments of exceptional evil and exceptional good which correspond to intense Beings respectively speaking but with opposing orientations. The Joker himself observes this and comments that both him and the Batman are identical and that only the two of them could truly understand each other while the mediocre and two-dimensional or primarily horizontal Beings that comprise Gotham City and the Police Department  dismiss them as ‘freaks’. This means that disparities in Being lead to disparities in communication which lead to misunderstanding and eventually culminate in violence or a clash of Being.

Likewise, in the climactic finale of Hostiles we have a similar scenario where a unremarkable horizontal Being in the form of the ranchers encounter a exceptional Being in the form of Joseph. This disparity in Being makes the two-dimensional Beings incapable of understanding or forming a common basis for dialogue with the exceptional Being. This disparity eventually culminates in catastrophe and signifies that disparities in Being lead to disparities in communication which lead to misunderstanding and eventually culminate in violence or a clash of Being.

However, this ontological conflict also has a positive connotation; it implies that who and what you are ontologically is connected to how you perceive and understand the world and inevitably how you communicate with the world and those who inhabit it. We can observe, therefore, that Being is the most essential and fundamental principle of communication and is in fact communication itself as all communication is an exchange of Being and Being is at the core of Reality. Communication alone is meaningless and is an empty vessel without ontological Reality to give it meaning and substance, which is synonymous for Being itself; Being produces Being.

While it is easy to dismiss Being as some untenable idealistic goal with no practical implications in the monotony of everyday life, this would be presumptuous and part-in-parcel of the modern/ post-modern materialistic historiography and determinism that operates solely within the horizontal realm of two-dimensional existence and is incapable of conceiving of transcendence. The manner in which a worldview, and de facto a civilization, conceives of and understands Being and its implications, will determine the course it takes in all its manifestations. Traditional civilization was predicated on the cultivation of Being and transcendence, which imbued Traditional civilizations with a heavenly or vertical orientation  while modernity, on the other hand, has developed on an exclusively horizontal direction in the material realm and has imbued this with a pseudo-transcendent character with the presumptuous notion of ‘progress’ in broader civilizational context and with the void of ‘consumerism’ on the individual existential level where the accumulation of consumer products and goods is a form of transcendence. We can now understand the importance of fundamental principles as Descartes misunderstanding of Being with the Cogito and the subsequent Immanentism was the progenitor of modernity and responsible for all the consequences that have manifested themselves to the present. Rather than being a irrelevant ideal, Being and Ontology are at the heart of civilization and dictate all facets of a civilization from the individual all the way up to the economy and military; what you are in transposed onto what and how you communicate and by extension how a civilization organizes its economy, how its members interact with each other, and even how it wages war.

Through the course of this study we have embarked on an exploration traversing difficult intellectual terrain and bringing unlikely travellers along for the journey. We have shown the importance of ideas and principles both in the life of man both in a singular and broader macrocosmic civilizational sense. We have extracted significant themes from a brief scene in a Hollywood Western which has defied the stacked odds and perhaps given some hope in the intellectual capacity of the creative wing of Hollywood to produce insightful and deep substantive narratives that speak to the human condition and explore vital principles pertaining to it. We have moved from the limited setting of the American Wild West to the founding principles of modernity and the course these principles have set the Western Mind and Western Civilization on. In a time where both the Intellect and Character have been trampled on and cast aside it is more important than ever to nurture and cultivate these faculties in conjunction with our Being to rise above the muddy waters and transcend. A final quotation from Heraclitus, one of the great minds of the classical tradition, will provide words for reflection and hope in our journeys through the ocean of life: ‘Character is Destiny’.

“You Are Not Hearing Me!”: Principles of Dialogue & Communication

The previous post in this series has provided a historical contextualization of the evolution of means of dialogue and communication, but we now must dive deeper and explore what constitutes dialogue. After all, a means of communication is useless if the there is no communication occurring. But this raises an important question: what is the nature of communication and dialogue? To answer this we will utilize the climax of the recent Western film Hostiles which we reviewed recently, which is natural given that this film was the driving impetus behind this series.

We will situate ourselves in the climax of the film where our travelers have finally reached their destination of the ancestral homeland of our Indian Chief Yellow Hawk where he will be buried. However, the ritual is interrupted as the new owners of the land, a group of hard-edged ranchers, arrive and immediately start the discussion on not so friendly terms. It is this exchange in dialogue between the ranchers and Joseph that will provide a narrative reference for our analysis.

Jospeh informs the men that he has explicit orders directly from the President of the United States to transport Yellow Hawk to his homeland and lay him to rest amongst his ancestors. The ranchers are unconvinced by this direct order from the President despite Joseph presenting documents cementing his case and proclaim that the President cannot tell him what they may or may not do on the land. Joseph attempts to salvage some sort of dialogue by informing the ranchers that he understands their grievances and lack of notification of this burial, but that they must understand the exceptional circumstances of the situation and respect the wishes of the Chief and the President. This does nothing to improve the standing between the two parties and the ranchers quickly order our travelers to immediately vacate the property and carry the corpse of Yellow Hawk as they will not tolerate a ‘savage’ being buried on their land. This only further escalates the volatility of the exchange and our key moment springs to life: Joseph proclaims that the ranchers are not hearing what he has to say to which the ranchers reply that Joseph is not hearing what they have to say. With no Modus Vivendi (peaceful resolution) in sight guns are drawn and blood is spilt and the tragedy and danger of ignorance is unfolded.

Although this scene may seem fairly shallow and par for the course in a Western, that position is lacking and misses the deeper themes implicit in it. In order to understand this scene we must start with the statement “You are not hearing me” as our founding premise. This statement is especially interesting when we ask the question why are they unable to hear each other? Both Joseph and the ranchers speak English which eliminates any potential language barriers and both have a shared cultural and socio-economic background as hard-working Anglo-Saxon Americans. Furthermore, the phrase has a more paradoxical aspect when we realize the fact that both men have the physical ability to detect sound waves and are not suffering from deafness or any other sensory limitation.  This begs the question: why are they not able to hear each other in light of the fact that there are no apparent obstructions preventing them from literally hearing each other?

This suggests that the essence of dialogue is something non-physical, although that is not to say that terrestrial factors like language or culture have no bearing whatsoever, which is a silly position, but that it is secondary in importance when considering the overall hierarchy of the elements constituting the totality of communication.  Additionally, dialogue and communication fundamentally require shared essential or founding ideas and values for it to be productive. By extension, this means that communication is predicated in ideas and mans Intellect, and to tie this with the scene in context, it means that physical conflicts are simply manifestations of a conflict of ideas and vision. If we extend this principle even further to the contemporary global climate we see why nearly all dialogues or exchanges are doomed from the start because there is no shared principles and ideas to provide a framework of reference. The phenomenon of television and internet  interviews or debates is unraveled at its root and explains why these endeavors devolve to hostility, shouting matches, and pointless conversations that start nowhere and get nowhere.  These attempts at dialogue amount simply to pure sophistry not concerned at all with ideas or Intellectual exploration and crash and burn into intellectual wreckage and chaos under the weight of their own stupidity and superficiality.

We are now faced with a interesting question: what can transcend these semantic games and sophistry to provide meaningful dialogue? This question will lay the foundation for our concluding post in this series and allow us to get to the bottom of this phenomenon. We will leave a quote commonly attributed to Plato but regardless of its authorship what is important is its wisdom.

“Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something”