Theater of Cruelty

In the spectacular media's desert landscape

The art of talking to each other. About the dialogue in society and politics
MEDIA / Surveys show that more than half of Germany's population believe they are receiving fake news. In France, 80 percent think the same.


"Daddy, believe me!" This is the title of Misja Katsurin's website. Katsurin lives in Ukraine. So do 11 million Ukrainians with relatives in Russia. The reason for the website? Misja's Russian father trusts the lies of state television more than his son when he talks about the tragedies around him, caused by Putin's war of aggression. With his documented descriptions, he will give advice to others in the same situation. About how to enter into dialogue with family and friends who refuse to accept an obvious reality.

With this initiative, Katsurin has also caught the attention of a highly regarded German media researcher, Bernhard Pörksen, who comments: "Katsurin's initiative is so successful because he creates a basis for the conversation. He pays his respects to his father before continuing with moving and understandable stories. You notice, through several dialogues with the father, how his false reality cracks."

Through several dialogues with his father, his false reality cracks.

The experiment also shows, Pörksen continues, how important the messenger's authority is. In this case, credibility rests on the father-son relationship and the evidence the son can present. Why this evidence is even necessary is another matter and can most certainly be explained by years of dictatorial brainwashing. One can imagine the reactions of Misja's father as the pain of an intrusion into the soul and the resistance it entails. Academics call it 'cognitive dissonance'.

The constructive dialogue

The public is characterized by increasing polarization and apocalyptic escalation rhetoric. We are witnessing societies in free flow, at turbo pace. Online dissemination and Social Media creates new rules of the game, or lack thereof. From 1970 to 2016, 500 newspapers in the US were closed. Globally, democratic pluralism is shaking in its foundations.

There are many battlefields in the fight for constructive dialogue. The mass media is one of the biggest. Former editor-in-chief of the Guardian Alan rusbridger has described the situation: "For the first time in recent times, we are confronted with the possibility that society will have to manage without reliable news reporting." IN spettakel medianes desert landscape, the systemic conditions for broken discourses are obvious. A lousy debater who causes small and large scandals becomes the favorite of TV stations as he increases the viewing figures. Surveys show that more than half of Germany's population believe that they receive fake news. In France, 80 percent think the same. Another factor is the pace of innovation. It took the classic telephone 75 years to be used by 100 million people. It took WhatsApp 2,2 years. We've got a chaos of senders and receivers who can freely publish their offers of indignation, there hyping and unrestrained chatter dominates.

Uber. fakes.

Pörksen, in 2008 voted 'Professor of the Year' at the University of Tübingen, and the communication psychologist Friedemann Schulz von Thun have published a conversation book, The art of talking to each other. About the dialogue in society and politics. Their themes are liberalism – the individual's intrinsic value – and a democracy that springs from good dialogue. It distinguishes between contention and criticism, avoids bias and stimulates understanding across disagreements.

Pörksen and von Thun state: "In a liberal democracy, it is an unconditional requirement that you talk to those who think differently, but not always and under all circumstances. First and foremost, it is important to understand the other person's point of view." This implies a minimum of esteem. Without this, any discussion is doomed to failure. Cichés should be banned, the ones consisting of one-dimensional classifications such as 'old white man', 'criminal fugitive', 'fussy minorities' and 'hysterical women'.

At the same time, it is important to consider when a discussion is desirable at all. One can choose to confront a fundamentalist Islamist with a clear message: "You think I should respect a backward 'culture' where fathers kill daughters who want to decide on their own lives. This barbarism deserves no understanding.” Thus, the lines are clear and the dialogue is over before it has begun.

Two about the truth

However, it is also clear that man is ultimately a relational being. Von Thun recommends this approach: "I am admittedly uncomfortably affected by your choice of words, but we are on the same page when you ..." – and in the next part: "... nevertheless, on one point I must vehemently contradict you." Here one presents one's own convictions as forcefully as possible, without implying that the other party is stupid or mean. This mosaic of criticism and combativeness, empathy and appreciation should make it possible to meet on equal footing and achieve "a higher truth". Von Thun calls the model the truth for two – we are two about the truth. In the case of Misja and his father, at the beginning of the dialogue they are sitting on two conflicting truths, one subjective and one objective. This changes during the process.

"For the first time in recent times, we are confronted with the possibility that society will have to manage without reliable news reporting."
Alan Rusbridger

A theoretical truth for twoundoubtedly presents countless challenges. One of them is to avoid falling into the escalation trap. The communication psychologist gives us a model example from the private sphere (from the TV age): Two small children sit like glued to the TV screen, where according to the house rules they are only allowed to sit for half an hour. Father enters with the following message: "So, the half hour is over, please turn off." The children: "It's so exciting right now, please, please, please,can we see the end!” Enter Mother: "My God, let them see..." Father: "No, absolutely not. That's why we have the rules." Mother: "Honestly, don't be so petty!" Father to his wife: "Aha, I'm petty – and your heart is so big that you want to let your children be dimwitted in front of the damn telly!?" And here it slides out of control. It has become a conflict on a relational level, and immediately they find themselves on the battlefield with the theme: How are you talking to me?! It has become deeply insulting and loud – until the children interrupt: "Hush, don't make so much noise! We can't hear what they say on the TV!" The battle lost, loss of authority included.

In a world of smartphones and millions of speedy 'authorities', one is easily overwhelmed. Whereas the good dialogue is characterized by trust, we often fight under the weight of lies and what Pörksen calls "an overdose of world events": "We get a medial asymmetry between fake news and their corrections. The lie, especially if it breaks taboos, immediately delivers bold headlines. The correction comes after a phase of fact-checking and causes less attention. Headline versus footnote – then even David had a better chance against a Goliath."

The 'Pope of Communication' Pörksen naturally has an antidote: "Check your sources, have several sources at all, create conditions for evaluating the sources; don't make events bigger than they are; orient yourself around relevance and proportionality; be skeptical in dealing with your own opinions and prejudices; always also listen to the other party, unless it is a propaganda agency.”

Vladimir Putin

The Council provides a built-in answer to the question of whether it is a good idea to go to the negotiating table with Vladimir Putin (something many presumably sane people still suggest). A dictator and walking propaganda machine who apparently doesn't care about the loss of human life cannot be a negotiating partner. Pörksen: "Blood will forever stick to Putin."

It seems very long ago that constructive , mmunication had such tough times as now. But who said the art of talking to each other had to be easy? Or that we actually have some alternative to the search for human realityorienteringone?! The good , the alog#en is the cradle of reason.

Ranveig Eckhoff
Ranveig Eckhoff
Eckhoff is a regular reviewer for Ny Tid.

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