What's up, Europe? Gender, media and European integration. The story of a a young Dane exploring the continent.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Cartoon incident meets Luhmann

My reading of the German theorist Niklas Luhmann has added a new perspective to my experience of the Mohammad drawing serial.

According to him communication is the basic unit of society. Implicating, if communication does not appear society will seize to exist. Misunderstanding and objection are two obstacles to communication and with the words of Luhmann: "it is possible to refrain from communication in face of these difficulties, and this is a rather common solution..." (Collected Papers, p. 184)

But in the case of society where communication is vital to existance: "it cannot simply capitulate in the face of these problems; it cannot stop all communications at once and decide to avoid any renewal." He continues: "... society has invented powerful mechanisms to guarantee its continuity in the face of lack of understanding or even open rejection" (Collected Papers, p. 185)

The solution is that the communication process starts communicating its own difficulties. Luhmann explains: "It uses a kind of (rather superficial) selfcontrol to become aware of serious misunderstandings, and it has the ability to communicate the rejection and restructure itself around this 'no'. In other words, the process is not obliged to follow the rules of logic... When faced with serious problems of understanding and appearant misunderstandings, social systems very often tend to avoid the burden of argumentation and reasoned discourse to reach consensus..." (here he even added: "very much to the dismay of Habermas", Collected Papers, p. 185)

To me, this portraits the problem of the on-going cartoon crisis: We have a potential communication breakdown due to a cultural cleavage and since the complex communication process of society cannot be stopped - the show must go on. The process begins to communicate its own difficulties, often without reasoning and with arguments based on emotions, and - tadaaaaa - a conflict appears.

Luhmann calls this the immune system of society.