Rebel Communication Theory

Existentialism, Naturalism, and Communication in the 21st Century


Communication is the means by which we exist and know we exist and it is nourished through open-mindedness, active inquiry, and creativity.  When these means-and-ends-in-themselves are not fostered and encouraged, communication suffers from, “passivity, absolutes, resolute acceptance of social injustice,” or what the originator of Journal of Thought, James Van Patten refers to all three as, “expressions of futility.”[1]  Futility erodes communication because communicating is existing.  Both communication and existence are active by nature.   There is no truly passive form of either, so when we succumb to a logic that might ultimately conclude with futility, we are by our own creation motivated against nature and reason to act in the opposite interests of openly communicating and fully existing.  If existence is perceived as futile, resulting actions tend to stray from expanding and giving the appropriate amount of metaphysical weight to it.  If life seems meaningless, we have the tendency to treat it with more or less a general disregard.  When communication and experience through open-mindedness, active inquiry, and creativity are not the ultimate methods and aims of life (in which they would be if we value existence and agree that communication is the fundamental means by which we are aware of it), the void left in their place is filled with absolutes, passivity, and social injustice.  Open-mindedness, active inquiry, and creativity are the means by which we communicate rebellion against individual and social absolutes, passivity, and injustice.

For our purposes, communication can be simply defined and understood as an exchange of information between any two entities.  More simply for the purposes that follow, we are referring to the communication of people with one another and with themselves through all action and any mediums involved (i.e. instruments, technology, tools).  Rebel communication theory stems from a broader definition of what is considered communication than most traditional schools of thought.  This perspective is not necessarily without purpose when perceived as open-ended and abstract.  Its hypothesis is meant to serve as a guide rather than absolute rules to follow.  For example, the avoidance of absolutes does not predetermine that we cannot or should not believe in absolutes, but it does aim to highlight and evaluate the consequences and effects of those beliefs on individual and social thought and action.  What follows is an analysis of the three pillars of a communication theory rooted in Deweyan naturalism and Camusian existentialism[1].  In Robert T. Craig’s, “Communication Theory as a Field,” Craig aims to unite the discipline given its “incoherence…as a field.”[2]  Where Craig’s aim is academic unification of the theoretical study and application of communication as a field, the primary purpose of rebel communication theory is to place the study and theory of communication more firmly in the hands of society and individuals by emphasizing its experiential and empirical nature.

This theory is most appropriately rooted in the works of John Dewey and Albert Camus because, as Van Patten says of them:

Two philosophers who raised questions about content of man’s experience thereby enabling philosophy to become more applicable to the individual and social problems faced by Twentieth Century man were rebels in their own right.[3]

In the early part of the twenty-first century, many problems we faced in the twentieth century continue to this day and in some ways are even exacerbated by uniquely twenty-first century technologies, applications, and contexts.  In the same way Dewey and Camus challenged the field of philosophy, rebel communication theory aims to challenge the field of communication to become more applicable in theory and practice to the individual and social problems we face today.  According to Craig, there are four themes that permeate the traditional communication literature; historical and cultural roots, reflexivity, implicativeness, and a “communicational perspective.”[4]  A Deweyan-Camusian approach to communication establishes open-mindedness (rebellion against absolutes), active inquiry (rebellion against passivity), and creativity (rebellion against social injustice) as the pinnacle means-and-ends-in-themselves of individual and social communication.

I. Open-mindedness as Rebellion Against Absolutes

Absolutes hinder the growth of knowledge while purveying futility and passivity.  Thinking in absolute terms does not motivate active inquiry into our world, but rather hinders it.  In terms of conversation, if our view is an absolute one, we have little interest in hearing out other views that do not coincide with it.  Even if we do, the quality of our listening will at least be suspect.  The purpose of theory as a form of conversation is to motivate active inquiry rather than establish limits that demand acquiescence.  Limits find their way of fragmenting our reality.  If we think of intelligence as a limit, something to be achieved and/or possessed, we are gravely misunderstanding knowledge and intelligence.  In the words of Dewey:

Intelligence is not something possessed once for all.  It is in constant process of forming, and its retention requires constant alertness in observing consequences, an open-minded will to learn and courage in re-adjustment.

In contrast with this experimental and re-adjusting intelligence, it must be said that Reason as employed by historic rationalism has tended to carelessness, conceit, irresponsibility, and rigidity—in short absolutism.[5]

This historic rationalism is in reference to any rational framework that takes it upon itself to determine the validity of truth only through specific forms and structures of logic and reason.  It is useful in advancing human thought up to the point it becomes a limit to our ability to actively seek out new information.

The effect of certain theories in implying a standard limit of intelligence is a reality defined by absolute limits.  A limit is a finality, something achieved or possessed.  We either go over the speed limit, have achieved the speed limit, or are under the speed limit.  The finality is rooted in fact.  But the fact that we think we are going 45 miles per hour when our speedometer tells us so and the speed limit is 45 miles per hour would not change the reality or the consequences of a situation where a radar gun monitors the speed of our vehicle at 51 miles per hour.  So, if our car tells us we are going one speed and a radar gun shows a different speed then the reliability of both measures of our actual limit achieved are called into question.  The only way to figure out which one is accurate, if either, is through active inquiry into the matter.  And a theory is just that, a hypothesis.  Hypothetically speaking, the speed shown on the radar should match the speed on the speedometer.  When our working theories are taken as absolutes, we tend to ignore the information that contradict them and see the world through a very limited perspective.  According to Dewey:

Here it is enough to note that notions, theories, systems, no matter how elaborate and self-consistent they are, must be regarded as hypotheses.  They are to be accepted as bases of actions which test them, not as finalities.[6]

In our example, our hypothesis is that the speed on the radar gun and the speed on our speedometer are identical, but this is not absolute knowledge.  In this particular situation, we realize our hypothesis is flawed.  If we took this hypothesis as absolute, to say that we know absolutely the speeds on both devices are the same, it will not affect the reality of the difference between the actual measurements being made.  So this assumed absolute “knowledge” is not really knowledge in this circumstance at all, but “knowledge” only appropriate in given circumstances where the two speed measurements align.  Real knowledge is active and real knowing exists through active inquiry and critical thought, not a limit to be possessed or hypothesis assumed to be absolutely true.  Real knowing in this situation would be the process of determining which reading was accurate.  This takes action and effort, neither of which would be engaged if we just chose to adhere to our absolute hypothesis.  We would rationalize this away as an outlier, contributing it to a temporary malfunction of one device or simple dishonesty of the one holding the radar gun.  If we thought our original hypothesis to be absolutely accurate, we would not go through the process of assuring our speedometer was working properly or not.  In that case, there is no growth of knowledge since according to Dewey in his previously quoted work, Reconstruction in Philosophy, “The only situation in which knowing is fully stimulated is one in which the end is developed in the process of inquiry and testing.”[7]  Knowledge understood in these terms is active pursuit, not resolute acceptance.

Understanding knowledge as active pursuit rather than resolute acceptance frees the communication theorist from being hindered by the absolutes of a particular perspective that might negatively limit their observations and analysis.  As life and communication are continuously changing and evolving, so too must our means of evaluating and engaging in them.  The historical and cultural roots of communication need not be ignored or disregarded, but rather understood in ways that prevent the “truths” from the past from altering our present and future study and practice from becoming stagnant, irrelevant, or even counterproductive.  Given the reflexive nature of communication and its implications, it is essential that critical thought be hailed above any particular school of thought, lest our theoretical concepts manifest themselves as individual and social absolutes.

The Irrational Truth

When historical theories or dogmas demand resolute acceptance of absolute truths by superseding critical thought and its inquisitive action, the common conception of truth becomes irrational.  Economics, like communication and other social sciences, is reflexive in nature as well.  Let us take, for example, the “truth” of neoliberal economic policies.  Neoliberalism is the set of ideas and practices that adamantly defends a lightly regulated approach to free market capitalism.  The “truth” of neoliberal policies is one of economic benefit for all.  The reality of neoliberalism is one of maximum benefit to only a few.  This is the absolutist way of thinking about economic theory that led to the housing market crash and the savings and loan crash before that.  According to American economist, Joseph Stiglitz, “If markets had actually delivered on the promises of improving the standards of living of most citizens, then all of the sins of corporations, all the seeming social injustices, the insults to our environment, the exploitation of the poor, might have been forgiven.”[8]  In his book, The Price of Inequality, Stiglitz outlines the underlying problem of pervasive neoliberal economic theory and points out how the American policy-making process is manipulated for the interests of the wealthiest 1% of its population.  In reference to the Occupy movements that followed, Stiglitz prefaces his book by summarizing what a majority of these protestors took issue with, “…to the young indignados[2] and protestors elsewhere in the world, capitalism is failing to produce what was promised, but is delivering on what was not promised—inequality, pollution, unemployment, and, most important of all, the degradation of values to the point where everything is acceptable and no one is accountable.”[9]

If one is familiar with the philosophical death of God, we can easily see how money seems to have theoretically and practically replaced God as the ultimate good in the twentieth century which continues on through the present day.  When money is the absolute good, the absolute end, social and moral systems are all subject to fragmentation, manipulation, and degradation.  Dewey has a hard time accepting the mental fortitude of those abusing truth for personal gain:

So repulsive is a conception of truth which makes it a mere tool of private ambition and aggrandizement, that the wonder is that critics have attributed such a notion to sane men.[10]

It is irrational for something we do not require to physically exist to dominate the majority of our existence.  According to Albert Camus in The Rebel, “Rebellion is born of the spectacle of irrationality, confronted with an unjust and incomprehensible condition.”[11]  The current historical context is one where there is a vast and overwhelming acceptance of social injustice brought on by neoliberal policies.  It is so pervasive, that to most, fighting against it is futile.  The system is one in which we need money to survive.  Money comes between us and everything else we need and want in life including each other.  We sense, think, and feel that this situation is wrong, but because of our reliance on capital, every day we work, we are essentially playing our part in the same system we wish to oppose.  The only way out of this predicament for some is violent populism where they focus all the anger, fear, and hatred that breed in unfair circumstances onto a red herring of one form or another, most usually a person or group of people.

According to sociologist and English and journalism lecturer at Coventry University, David Ridley, the populist movements behind the Brexit and Donald Trump victories were a result of the “double-truth” doctrine of neoliberalism, which is that it was founded on an idea that does not work[12]Laissez faire approaches to market regulation do not work.  The economy is not something that exists naturally outside of humankind.  According to Ridley, early neoliberalists realized the, “…law of supply and demand does not work ‘naturally’ in society…The perfect market does not already exist in the structure of nature, which is merely uncovered in capitalism, it must become the end of all economic and public policy reform.”[13]  In this way, it becomes an absolute to be achieved.  Our present situation is then all just a sacrifice towards an unachievable end while the few who do benefit from the current system have the resources to continue to manipulate public sentiment and understanding of the pervasive economic model for their own private purposes.  They are able to do this rather efficiently with the assistance of the American mainstream media, whether willingly or unwillingly:

We have been socialised into seeing our identity in nation states, and have been convinced that neoliberalism will bring prosperity for all. Yet within globalised neoliberalism, the nation state has been ripped apart, sold off to multi-national corporations, and wealth has remained with the wealthy. The middle class, forever chasing the neoliberal carrot, wins nothing but clinical stress, anxiety and depression. The working class is lumped with insecurity and social fragmentation, while being at the same time demonised as a class of ‘chavs’ and ‘scroungers’.[14]

The adherence to neoliberal policies must be absolute for they seek an end that exists at some point to be determined, not the present.  One must stay the course regardless of observed consequences and in the end, there will be a reward.  This is how people can be convinced it is good for them even when it does not benefit them at all.

Dewey and Camus understood the dangers of any system rooted in absolutism according to Van Patten; “Both rejected absolutes, systems’ supernatural causes and sought to make philosophy relevant to the men living in a century filled with promise and fraught with risk and uncertainty.”[15]  For Dewey, he saw the problem philosophically speaking in fixed forms, such as the concept of mind as something complete and separate from the physical, and fixed ends, such as an all-important end to be achieved like heaven or the perfect market; “Fixed forms and ends, let us recall, mark fixed limits to change.  Hence they make futile all human efforts to produce and regulate change except within narrow and unimportant limits.”[16] If there is already a fixed form of mind and a fixed end that we are headed to, we pay less attention to how our actions and ways of behaving affect our own present reality.  For Camus, the problem lies in the unwillingness to admit what we do not know and are most likely not even capable of knowing; “I don’t know whether this world has meaning that transcends it.  But I know that I do not know that meaning and that it is impossible for me just now to know it.  What can a meaning outside my condition mean to me?  I can understand only in human terms.”[17]

Absolutist theory and its consequential systems limit our understanding of truth by relinquishing our active inquiry which hinders our ability to account for the consequences of our actions.  In their approach to philosophy, Dewey and Camus were rebels in that to them the real questions of existence cannot be answered by the systems and examinations of other philosophers, but by each individual through active inquiry into and creative participation with the world around them.  As Van Patten puts it, “Neither Dewey nor Camus is a pure philosophical analyst building comprehensive systems, but neither is satisfied to merely examine philosophical concepts or analyze their basic assumptions.”[18]  With a flawed understanding of truth as something only some can access, true and real consequences that occur daily go widely ignored, especially those that do not fit into an absolute worldview.  We see only what we want to see, those things that support our original assertions.  In Human Nature and Conduct, Dewey emphasizes the consequential nature of action and our ability to be observant or oblivious:

It is not possible adequately to characterize the presumption, the falsity and the deliberate perversion of intelligence involved in refusal to note the plural effects that flow from any act, a refusal adopted in order that we may justify an act by picking out that one consequence which will enable us to do what we wish to do and for which we feel the need of justification.[19]

If any given communication theory inappropriately limits our understanding of communication in theory and practice, it is likely to have the negative effect of shielding our eyes from information apt to challenge our original assertions.  When we broaden our definition of communication, we begin to reveal the truly consequential nature of every act and thought.  These consequences being both results and forms of communication themselves.

Truly Consequential

Truth as a concept only has real meaning insofar as it exists within action whose consequences are appropriately considered and evaluated.  Truth is not something which exists outside of human nature, but is actively contributed to by every human action.  We truly do things and they have true results.  We truly act toward our desired end and that activity has true consequences whether they are intended or not.  Dewey points to the active nature of truth; “That which guides us truly is true—demonstrated capacity for such guidance is precisely what is meant by truth.  The adverb “truly” is more fundamental than either the adjective, true, or the noun, truth.  An adverb expresses a way, a mode of acting.”[20]

Truth is all encompassing, meaning it changes as life does.  Though it may be true right now that we are going 45 miles per hour, it may not be true the next moment if we increase or decrease our speed.  The truth of the present is only relative in our perception of it and how it guides our activity.  For the police officer whose radar gun is telling him we are going 51, his truth is that we are going 51 which will potentially guide his action to pull us over. Because our truth is that we are going 45, we make no action to decrease our speed when we see the police officer.  Hence, we see how truth is whatever guides action.  A perception may or may not be accurate, but it will truly guide us to act in the way our truth tells us we will receive the desired consequences.  The repetitive actions we participate in for these desired consequences are referred to as habits.  The adage that humans are creatures of habit falls in line with Dewey’s assertion; “All habits are demands for certain kinds of activity; and they constitute the self.  In any intelligible sense of the word will, they are will.”[21]  We are our habits.  Understanding this nature of our existence emphasizes the importance for us to be critical of the perceptions that guide our actions.

Our concept of truth and the truth of our reality are consistently at play with one another.  Back to the car analogy one last time; as our conception of the truth of our speed is variable with the reality of our speed and our observations and means of observation, so too is our perception of reality. If we think we are going 45 mph and someone else tells us we are going 51 mph, we may be skeptical if not in outright disagreement.  But if 100 other people tell us we are going 51 mph, we will have a different perception.  From an absolutist perspective, the 100 others telling us we are going a different speed has no difference.  We are absolutely going 45 mph.  Our truth is undeterred by anything outside of it because the absolute limits we set for ourselves do not enable inquiry beyond their realm.  To the absolutist, truth is something complete, never dynamic, and always static.  From this view, different truths will always conflict rather than converge.  Under this structure of thought, we are never really open to listening to anything that challenges our truth even though the only way we could even access such a truth in the first place was by being receptive to it.  Instead of learning to appreciate the value of being open to new ideas, we adamantly adhere to a single one that prevents us from welcoming others.  Truth is inaccessible if we are not receptive to it.

Communication is necessary to access any truth, especially those truths relative and relevant to each transformative moment of life.  To Dewey, the absolute dualism that holds mind and truth as things complete in themselves can lead to confusion; “If we start with the traditional notion of mind as something complete in itself, then we may well be perplexed by the problem of how a common mind, common ways of feeling and believing and purposing, comes into existence and then forms these [social[3]] groups.”[22]  If truth is complete in itself, it instigates no action, requires no active inquiry; it just is, impervious to all, somehow encompassing a future of consequences yet to be realized.  If this were the reality of truth and the human mind, we would not develop habits of critical thought and active inquiry.  Our habits would be predetermined by things already complete in themselves, needing nothing to come to fruition.

Truth and mind are both subject to the communication of them.  Complete truth or mind as concepts had to be communicated to us somehow in order for us to be aware of them as ideas.  So, since they must be communicated, they rely on the same habits that enable social living.  Since the habits that enable social living require open-ended thinking and receptiveness to new information, adherence to notions of mind or truth as complete in themselves is irrational.  To Dewey, social habits, “…denote ways of behavior.  These ways of behaving involve interaction, that is to say, and prior groupings. And to understand the existence of organized ways or habits we surely need to go to physics, chemistry and physiology rather than to psychology.”[23]  We must subject these ideas of truth and mind as things complete in themselves not only to science, but to the scientific history of humanity.  A complete truth and mind 1000 years ago would not be the same as their counterparts today because the counterparts today possess knowledge that did not exist 1000 years ago.  And likewise a complete truth or mind of today does not have the information of a complete truth or mind tomorrow and so on and so forth.  According to theoretical physicist David Bohm, “It seems clear…that the evolutionary process of nature (which includes the development of man and his intelligent perceptions) is at least potentially of an infinite order, in the sense that it is not fully determined by any of its partial orders.”[24]  Nothing is complete in and of itself and nothing in our lifetimes will be.  Humanity, along with the universe around us, is part of an infinite story.  We are no closer to the end of this ultimate story than we are to the beginning, just at the specific point we are only now aware of.

As human existence goes on, truth is always subject to the consequences of past action.  And these consequences play out infinitely.  Truth, as a practical concept, is only those consequences which we are currently dealing with.  If there were no more trees, we would truly be dealing with the consequences as we truly deal with a world that currently has trees.  And how we interact with this world of trees now will play a role in determining what we will have to interact with in the future.  The truth is that trees exist, but if they were all of the sudden gone, that truth is no longer accurate.  The truth then becomes, trees did exist.  A worldview whose actions are guided by a truth of trees existing would find its actions conflicting with the very reality it finds itself in rather than adapting to it.

Truth-in-motion is the concept of being truly guided toward action given the context in which we act.  Within the context of human history, truth-in-motion acknowledges that the truth of humanity is played out in every current human interaction.  Scientist and naturalist Loren Eiseley nicely sums up the current evolutionary challenge for the continued existence of the human species:

For in the creation of the social brain, nature, through man, has eluded the trap which has engulfed in one way or another every other form of life on the planet.  Within the reasonable limits of the brain that now exists, she has placed the long continuity of civilized memory as it lies packed in the world’s great libraries.  The need is not really for more brains, the need is now for a gentler, a more tolerant people than those who won for us against the ice, the tiger, and the bear.  The hand that hefted the ax, out of some old blind allegiance to the past fondles the machine gun as lovingly.  It is a habit man will have to break to survive, but the roots go very deep. [25]

The Anthropocene will either be the period man learned to live with himself and his environment or the period he ignored both for a notion of truth he has no understanding of and failed to learn from his own history.

Rebellion, understood as active truth-in-motion, simultaneously refutes and affirms the violent history of humankind by accepting its reality without accepting it as a necessary and absolute future.  We rebel against the current reality by acting in a manner that seeks to change it.  We cannot absolutely reject history because it is the only reality that has preceded our existence and the ability to reflect on how we have gotten to where we are.  We rebel against the violent nature of man, not because violence is absolutely bad, but because our current situation and future survival demand it.  To do anything other is absurd and irrational, all too familiar ground for Camus; “What is a rebel?  A man who says no, but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation.”[26]  The rebel says no to absolutist beliefs and perceptions that view humanity as complete in itself.  This view of humanity affects the actions of all those who adhere to it.  The rebel understands the human experience as a story that is continuously contributed to every moment by every individual in existence whose actions and consequences are prefaced by their beliefs and perceptions of reality.

Stiglitz discusses the recognition of this fact amongst economists, “Beliefs and perceptions, whether they are grounded in reality or not, affect behavior…”[27]  He continues on:

But important as perceptions and beliefs are in shaping individual behavior, they are even more important in shaping collective behavior, including political decisions affecting economics.  Economists have long recognized the influence of ideas in shaping policies.  As Keynes famously put it,

The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood.  Indeed the world is ruled by little else.  Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.

Social sciences like economics differ from the hard sciences in that beliefs affect reality: beliefs about how atoms behave don’t affect how atoms actually behave, but beliefs about how the economic system functions affect how it actually functions.”[28]

Stiglitz’s evaluation of the social sciences reiterates the reflexive nature of communication theory mentioned earlier.  When the majority of people barely understand economic theory and even less are experts in the field, it is easy to see how theories purported as absolute truths can be extremely misleading to the general public.  When these absolutes are packaged and sold through an elaborate mechanism of propaganda by those with plentiful resources (cognitive, monetary, technological, industrial, etc.), people can hardly be blamed for falling victim to such an oppressive and overwhelming mythology.

Absolutism such as the myth of neoliberalism as an economic model that benefits all people easily dismisses contrary evidence because there is no room for it in an already complete worldview.  The evidence of a growing gap in inequality and the deterioration of our social and physical world are outright ignored, brushed aside, or rationalized away like a magic trick.  People are convinced they are not seeing what they think they see and are made to feel self-conscious about what is deemed a simplistic, naïve, or idealistic perspective just because they think the world can be better and they want to explore ways to make it so.  This suppression of open-mindedness and active inquiry results in a willful ignorance of real world facts that enables the acceptance of all the social injustice it produces as a result.  When social injustice is pervasive, the natural anger, fear, and hatred people experience when confronted with such a reality is misdirected against one another.  Absolutes disable critical thought and activate a necessary justificatory emotional response.  Ridley summarizes this context nicely:

‘Post-truth’ has become a key concept within explanations of Brexit and Trump.  Recently being declared ‘word of the year’ by both UK and US Oxford Dictionaries, it is defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”  This phenomenon of the rejection of facts in favour of emotion described by ‘post-truth’ is actually a consequence of neoliberalism; it is the organised confusion that [Philip] Mirowski described as the ‘double-truth doctrine’.  It is an historical phenomenon, not something inherent to the quality of public intelligence.  It is what happens when neoliberalism marketises education, privatises the public sphere and turns the mainstream media into a propaganda machine.[29]

This seems to be the historical situation of the twentieth century and now the twenty-first.  And that is not to say it was not a necessary step of humanity.  As Dewey says in his early twentieth century examination of “laissez faire liberalism”[30], “Humanly speaking, I do not see how it would have been possible to avoid an epoch having this character.  But its perpetuation is the cause of the continually growing social chaos and strife.”[31] The rebel does not judge the past or renounce it, but seeks to improve the present and the future with the information at-hand, active inquiry into the current reality, and open-mindedness.

The true rebel is neither passive nor violent in Camus’ analysis.  The rebel has a fine line to walk.  Any act of violence against others can delegitimize the rebel’s entire position.  Sitting idly by while others suffer from violence is equally reproachable.  As Camus points out, “Absolute non-violence is the negative basis of slavery and its acts of violence; systematic violence positively destroys the living community and the existence we receive from it.”[32]  Both causing and allowing violence communicates violence.  “In history, considered as an absolute, violence finds itself legitimized; as a relative risk, it is the cause of rupture in communication.”[33]  If violence is a cause of rupture in communication, the goal of the rebel and the communication theorist is to bridge communication and repair those ruptures.  Communication in the form of conversation is active social inquiry into the current reality of other individuals.  With an open mind and the history of humanity as the truly guiding force for inquiry, we are able to view our reality from a simultaneously individualistic and socialistic, scientific, artistic, and humanitarian perspective.  “The rebel, far from making an absolute of history, rejects and disputes it, in the name of a concept he has of his own nature.  He refuses his condition, and his condition to large extent is historical.”[34]

Though we find ourselves in a condition of historical violence, the concept we all have of our own nature is the need to cooperate.  Human existence is dependent upon our ability to do so.  No cooperation, no humanity.  We cannot invent or rationalize ourselves out of this fundamental reality of human nature.  Even now, some people think we can put our minds into computers because we are still plagued by a separation of mind and body.  A similar illusory dualism is at work when we think there is no reconciliation between science and religion, as Dewey explains; “When the consciousness of science is fully impregnated with the consciousness of human value, the greatest dualism which now weighs humanity down, the split between the material, the mechanical, the scientific and the moral and ideal will be destroyed.”[35]

Dewey and Camus, through their incorporation of both a scientific and artistic perspective, believe the human intellect is capable of solving the social problems if we can free ourselves from the limits of absolutist epistemologies.  Van Patten links the lessons of both thinkers with ancient Greek thought (the primary roots of philosophic systems they spoke against); “Both believe that social problems should be solved by intelligence, good will and the moderation so important in the Greek mind.  The failure of men to live according to moderation (Hubris) was the only thing consistently punished in Homeric poetry.”[36]  This failure to live moderately has a clear correlation with neoliberalism and the extreme amount of wealth garnered for so few, but it also relates to ideological moderation.  We cannot know absolutely, and to behave as if we do is an expression of hubris.

The solutions of Dewey and Camus to the complex challenges of human social interaction are rebellious in their simplicity alone.  We are capable of engaging in their praxis of rebellion every day.  It is a simple process of inquiry and reflection, both a product of and precursor to communication and necessary in any scientific or artistic endeavor.  In Ridley’s words:

Dewey…thought that intelligence was based in an everyday process of problem solving.  Experience is problematic, in that our routine existence regularly resists our purposes, breaks down when we try to get things done, and throws up dilemmas that we can’t ignore.  Most of the time these are just hiccups that can be overcome by adjusting our habitual behaviour, but sometimes we need to reflect, to consciously create and weigh solutions.  All forms of inquiry that human beings have developed – science, education, morality – have developed out of this fundamental process of reflection within ordinary experience.[37]

Only the individual is capable of choosing and acting upon this inquiry and reflection.  Both are simultaneously outward and inward facing.  Only by understanding the world around us are we better enabled to understand ourselves and only through understanding ourselves are we better able to understand our world.  For this reason, Dewey and Camus doubt the ability and potential of absolutes preached from pulpits.  According to Van Patten, they think, “instead that the ends men strive for and the alternatives of action chosen must be his own.”[38]  Though they emphasized different realms of our experience, the only appropriate approach for both is an active one.  “While Dewey gave the world an insight into philosophical relevance in regard to social progress through intelligent and responsible inquiry, Camus stressed the importance of the inner life of the individual and his freedom to be.”[39]  Our actions and the consequences that result comprise our being and this is both an internal and external communication of our individuality.

The preceding section makes the following claims concerning the necessity of open-minded approaches to theory and practice over absolute ones: 1.) Absolutes have the tendency to limit our observations which can have the effect of distorting our worldview and deterring active inquiry.  Neoliberalism is our working example of this actuality.  2.) The concept of truth is most conducive to social theory when understood simply as the real and plural consequences of action.  This stands in contrast to the ‘post-truth’ mentality that is partially both a cause and effect of absolute neoliberalism.  3.) Internal and external realities are reciprocally effectual.  This means that both; a.) what we think and believe affects what we do and vice versa and b.) our environment affects what we believe, think, and do and vice versa.  Adherence to the absolute truth of neoliberalism will motivate us to act accordingly, despite consequences (such as growing income inequality) that an open mind would inquire into avoiding.  Through a close-minded approach, emotions are left susceptible to irrational motivation that could potentially exacerbate the very problem we aim to address.  Because misguided actions will most likely fail to achieve desired outcomes, action loses its necessary motivational force in the least, leading to passivity.  In the worst, action becomes extreme and blindly driven to ultimate and often violent ends in one form or another.  In the following sections, active inquiry and social justice are presented as the guiding means and aims of the open-minded communication theorist and practitioner.

II. Active Inquiry as Rebellion Against Passivity

Active nonviolence communicates opposition to futility and passivity.  Remember that this is not an absolute, for most aspects of survival are inherently violent, such as eating.  Active nonviolence refers primarily to behaving in a humanitarian way, respecting the dignity of every human being.  The Golden Rule is rooted in the idea that what is good for the other is good for us and what is good for us is good for the other.  The problem is in defining what is good.  But this is not about what is good, it is about, matter-of-factly; what are the consequences of our communication, both on ourselves and on others.  Only through our internal perceptions are we able to interact with others and only through our interaction with others are we able to further develop our understanding of our own individuality.  This is all done through communication.  We communicate internally and externally and social interaction or lack thereof contributes to the determination of both.

As we do not exist outside the historical context in which we find ourselves, our individuality does not exist outside of the social realm.  This is where existentialist questions come into play.  And neither Camus nor Dewey claimed themselves to be existentialists, but they all share common ground on the fact that currently, for each person, there is no existence outside of the history and society in which we find ourselves.  Our individual and social existences have a corollary relationship.  According to existential philosopher Karl Jaspers, “Our questions and answers are in part determined by the historical tradition in which we find ourselves.  We apprehend truth from our own source within the historical tradition.”[40]  As life and history continue to grow, so does truth.  Just as history precedes our questions, answers, and truths, social interaction through communication precedes our individual lives.  As Dewey says, “To talk about the priority of ‘society’ to the individual is to indulge in nonsensical metaphysics.  But to say that some preexistent association of human beings is prior to every particular human being who is born into the world is to mention a commonplace.”[41]

All of our internal perceptions of self come from society and our communication within that society.  Likewise, all of our external perceptions of others are projections of our own selves.  Since social communication precedes our existence, a large majority of our internal and external perceptions are the communication of people who lived long before us because that is the only way we got here.  So as not to delve too deeply into metaphysics, let us return to our naturalist scientist, Eiseley, on the matter of humans as social creatures:

We are now in a position to see the wonder and terror of the human predicament: man is totally dependent on society.  Creature of dream, he has created an invisible world of ideas, beliefs, habits, and customs which buttress him about and replace for him the precise instincts of the lower creatures.  In this invisible universe he takes refuge, but just as instinct may fail an animal under some shift of environmental conditions, so man’s cultural beliefs may prove inadequate to meet a new situation, or, on an individual level, the confused mind may substitute, by some terrible alchemy, cruelty for love.[42]

Though our modes of existence as a human species and the methods that got us to this point may have been appropriate in the past, it does not necessarily follow that they are appropriate for the present, especially when they compel an ignorance of current reality.  If we are not engaging in active inquiry in the present, we are not engaged in the present.  When we are disassociated from our present circumstances, we are more easily manipulated by those whose personal interests are fulfilled by contemporary means.  On this matter let us return to our modern economist, Stiglitz:

Today those who wish to preserve societies’ inequalities actively seek to shape perceptions and beliefs to make such inequalities more acceptable.  They have the knowledge, the tools, the resources, and the incentives to do so.  Even if, in the past, there were many attempts to shape societal perceptions, today there is increased sophistication in doing so.  Those who seek to do so know, for instance, more about how to manipulate ideas and preferences.  They don’t have to just hope and pray that the evolution of ideas works out in their favor.

The fact that those at the top can shape perceptions represents an important caveat to the idea that no one controls the evolution of ideas.  Control can happen in several ways…One is through access to education and the media.  If one group is greatly disadvantaged in opportunities for education or access to public office and to the media, then it will not participate on equal terms in the deliberative space in which the “conventional wisdom” emerges.  Some ideas will therefore not emerge; other ideas can be effectively suppressed.[43]

The absolutes of the past have the effect of hindering and suppressing our present thought, which in turn fragments our perception of current reality by replacing our present reality and social environment with memories and histories more illusory than real.  Plagued by the absolute realities of the past, we close ourselves off from the present.

Communication is the means by which we create and share internal and external realities.  This process, like life and existence itself, is continuously changing and in constant interplay with present circumstances.  This practical and existential role of communication cannot be overemphasized, especially to those within the field.  As Craig points out concerning the third theme of communication theory literature;

…theories of communication, because they are historically and culturally rooted and reflexive, have practical implications, including political ones.  Because they influence society, theories always serve some interests—often, unsurprisingly, interests of the more privileged and powerful strata of society—more than others.  For example, a transmission model of communication can serve the interests of technical experts, such as scientists and engineers, when it is used to reinforce cultural beliefs that highlight the value of experts as reliable sources of information.[44]

If we apply this to our economic example, clearly those benefiting from the existing neoliberal approach will use their resources to sway public opinion in their favor.  If communication theory is to be taken seriously, it must take responsibility when communication practices are utilized to manipulate individuals within a society.  Any communication theory or practice that employs dehumanizing means or serves divisive ends should not have a place in a field focused on the primary means by which we are existentially aware of ourselves and others.  Any theory that necessitates acquiescence to absolutes serves the purpose of fragmenting individuals and societies with naturally unique perspectives.

Absolutes Build Walls

Adherence to absolutes closes us off from others and our own selves, creating walls that divide us rather than bridges that unite us.  Since our past is absolutely determined in the present, adhering to past absolutes makes all present activity seem ultimately futile.  The past has already happened and there is nothing to be done.  Dewey, the philosopher and metaphysician, highlights the inhibitions of having a future outlook completely predetermined by a particular perspective:

Pessimism is a paralyzing doctrine.  In declaring that the world is evil wholesale, it makes futile all efforts to discover the remediable causes of specific evils and thereby destroys at the root every attempt to make the world better and happier.  Wholesale optimism, which has been the consequence of the attempt to explain evil away, is, however, equally an incubus.[45]

Assuming things as already determined and fully complete in and of themselves, like the human mind and human history, instead of growing, both succumb to a blind allegiance to absolute myths and illusions, allowing critical thought and inquiry to wither through lack of utilization.

The purpose of education and communication is not to set limits to be achieved.  They are both actively achieved only in the participation of them.  Learning should encourage the mind to explore the unknown, not conform to the unoriginal.  Dewey, the educator and sociologist, is critical of any form of education that compels uniform adherence; “The inert, stupid quality of current customs perverts learning into a willingness to follow where others point the way, into conformity, constriction, surrender of scepticism [sic] and experiment.”[46]  Conformity, like homogeneity, does not strengthen the human condition, but weakens it.  He continues on with his naturalist perspective:

Even in dealing with inanimate machines we rank that invention higher which adapts its movements to varying conditions.

All life operates through a mechanism, and the higher the form of life the more complex, sure and flexible the mechanism.  This fact alone should save us from opposing life and mechanism, thereby reducing the latter to unintelligent automatism and the former to an aimless splurge.[47]

Just as wholesale optimism is as bad as full-on pessimism, super rationalism is no better a theoretical perspective than base instinctualism.  The purpose of theory is not to automate thought, but to guide active inquiry.  Absolutism has the effect of suppressing inquiry and hence, action itself.

This suppression of nonviolent thought and action inhibits individuality, communication, and humanity.  In the words of existentialist playwright and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, the existentialist doctrine holds, “that there is no reality except in action.  It goes further, indeed, and adds, ‘Man is nothing else but what he purposes, he exists only in so far as he realizes himself, he is therefore, nothing else but the sum of his actions, nothing else but what his life is.’”[48] There is no morality for us outside of the actions that define our individual and social realities.  In Dewey’s eyes, “Communication, sharing, joint participation are the only actual ways of universalizing the moral law and end.”[49]  Whether or not morality exists outside of communication is irrelevant, for communication is the means by which we are aware of it one way or another.  To Dewey, “The increasing acknowledgment that goods exist and endure only through being communicated and that association is the means of conjoint sharing lies back of the modern sense of humanity and democracy.”[50]

Any theory, especially a moral or ethical one, should not be relevant only to those who are able to develop it.  It must serve as a means by which humanity can move forward more intelligently and humanely.  We can follow Dewey’s example and think of theories as roads:

As a matter of fact, truth as utility means service in making just that contribution to reorganization in experience that the idea or theory claims to be able to make.  The usefulness of a road is not measured by the degree in which it lends itself to the purposes of a highwayman.  It is measured by whether it actually functions as a road, as a means of easy and effective public transportation and communication.  And so with the serviceableness of an idea or hypothesis as a measure of its truth.[51]

Human action understood in terms of communication and truth-in-motion comprises the foundation of a hypothesis of non-absolutes that argues for active nonviolence as the only true rebellion, in both real and metaphysical terms, against the historical violence of man.  And this is the only path towards a successful rebellion that does not set itself up to fail by establishing the same type of absolute structure it is opposed to.  This rebellion is continuous and can only be realized through active nonviolence in the form of inquiry.  Its focus is on humanity, for humanity’s sake.  And since the human condition is rooted in environmental context, this nonviolent rebellion, as humanitarian, is naturally for the sake of our planet as well.  For the human species to continue to be relevant, our story must become one of creating harmony with the environment, not one of senseless and fruitless destruction.  This harmony, understood as creative and active truth-in-motion, is made manifest in the open and active communication of people, with one another, with themselves, and with the world around them.  Through communication, we connect with, and this very ability to connect with implies an underlying reality of unity.

Active nonviolence is ultimately manifested as active inquiry into this reality.  Violence is a force of exertion over some aspect of our surrounding.  This is a necessity of survival in certain circumstances; we are constantly manipulating organic molecules for the sustenance of our physical bodies.  The only necessary violence of man against man is a problem created by man.  This may have been appropriate in humanity’s past, but it is also a hurdle we must overcome if we are to reach our full potential as reasoning beings.  We have evolved with and through the ability to actively inquire into the world around us to better gain an understanding of how best to exist within it.  Our current environment is one of an unprecedented sharing of existence through communication.  Through communication, seemingly separate existences are brought into overt union.  What is communicated is shared in all of its beauty and tragedy.  The challenge of the human condition in the twenty-first century is to bear the weight of human suffering as it is communicated more quickly and broadly than ever before possible. One simply needs to reflect on one’s own difficulty in dealing with personal tragedy to attempt to grasp the full existential gravity of such a reality.  It follows that we would naturally aim to avoid carrying this extra burden and so we pursue mental, physical, and emotional means of separating ourselves from it, which is to say, separating ourselves from one another and existence-at-large, which we ourselves are inextricably part of.

Communication Builds Bridges

Active inquiry, which we can refer to as rebellion-in-motion, exists through communication, building bridges that bring us together while tearing down the walls that separate us.  When we act, we communicate, and so our actions are not just for themselves, but for all people.  And since our perceptions are what guide us to act, our perceptions are not just for us, but for all people.  If this perception does not accommodate any one person, it is inherently flawed by the nature of its inapplicability to that one person.  We communicate to resolve this problem knowing we never completely will for the physical and mental impossibilities of knowing the individual minutiae of every person to ever exist (and even then, we would not even be close to a comprehensive understanding).  To quote Sartre again; “When we say that man chooses himself, we do mean that every one of us must choose himself; but by that we also mean that in choosing for himself he chooses for all men.”[52]

In order to fully engage in the field of communication in the twenty-first century, there should be no judgment, only attempted understanding through participation in it.  By judging, we adhere to absolutes that hinder our ability to see through the lenses of differing absolutist perspectives as well as any non-absolutist perspective.  This lack of judgment is the opposite of passivity.  We actively observe the situation we are in as it is, whether we like it or not.  To point out obvious injustices and realities is not a matter of judging, but a matter of facing facts.  There is no progress without a certain amount of frankness and honesty.  Purposely misleading or flat out lying on a public scale is an insult to humanity and a hindrance to the progression of the human species, both scientifically and artistically speaking.  Stiglitz unveils an unfortunate reality about the pattern of corporate behavior that led up to the housing market crash:

The banks adopted a policy of lying to the court…Lying to a court is normally a very serious matter.  Lying to the court routinely, hundreds of times, should have been an even greater offense.  There was a true pattern of crime.  If corporations had been people in a state that enforced a “three strikes” rule (three instances of shoplifting, and one faces a mandatory life sentence), these repeat offenders would have been sentenced to multiple life sentences, without parole.  In fact, no bank officer has gone to jail for these offenses.[53]

When truth is punished and lying rewarded, violence is the means by which both are done and so nonviolence is the only means by which the problems facing the human condition can be appropriately addressed.  This is to say that any lie that seeks to raise one up over another is a violence against the other, while the punishment and deterrence of honesty is violence against truth (think whistleblowers).  What we do affects our reality.  What we communicate is what humanity communicates.  Allow us to refer once again to our physicist, David Bohm:

Similarly, we may say that in communication, each person’s brain “copies” the thought of the other, sometimes faithfully, and sometimes with “wrong” features that tend to impede further communication and thinking.  This replication of thought patterns is of crucial importance in all that we make and in all that we do, both individually and socially.  Indeed, if we suddenly lost all memory of our thought patterns, society would collapse, and the individual would cease to be able to survive, since nobody would know how he is supposed to be related to other people, nor even how to take care of his own needs.  And evidently, the tendency to go on copying wrong or inappropriate thought patterns must lead to an accumulation of problems, both social and individual, that cannot be solved unless these patterns cease to be copied in this way.[54]

Violent means most often beget violent results and consequences.  Illusions beget an illusory concept of reality.  Stiglitz identifies one such illusion:

The supply-side myth argues that taxing the rich will reduce work and savings and that everyone—not just the rich—will be hurt.  Every industry has its own version of the myth that helping them helps everyone: cutting back on military expenditures will cost jobs.  Cutting back on tax benefits to the coal or oil industry will cost jobs.  Industries that contribute to air or water pollution or that create toxic wastes claim that forcing polluters to pay for the costs they impose on others will cost jobs.[55]

True resistance to these problems must be nonviolent by nature, otherwise it is not truly resisting the root causes of absolute ends and futility.  Active nonviolence is never passive, especially in the face of an overwhelming sense of social and personal futility.  In the words of Stiglitz, regarding our present circumstance in America, “There’s no use in pretending.  In spite of the enduring belief that Americans enjoy greater social mobility that [sic] their European counterparts, America is no longer the land of opportunity.”[56]  This is one reason “Make America Great Again” caught on like wildfire.  It assumed an absolute point in history as an ideal to be re-achieved.  For the current generation, both in our lives and basic historical knowledge, this ideal America never existed.  Stiglitz points to the millennial reality as well:

Nothing illustrates what has happened more vividly than the plight of today’s twenty-year-olds.  Instead of starting a new life, fresh with enthusiasm and hope, many of them confront a world of anxiety and fear.  Burdened with student loans that they know they will struggle to repay and that would not be reduced even if they were bankrupt, they search for good jobs in a dismal market.  If they are lucky enough to get a job, the wages will be a disappointment, often so low that they will have to keep living with their parents.[57]

Add to this the memory of 9/11, two seemingly endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, all the pervasive social injustices that plague present-day American life and the repeated failure of political and private leaders to enact meaningful change, these prospects of greatness become increasingly dim.  The reality of a situation that creates a wave of futility is seen in the consequences of senseless violence to selves and to others.

Our action and communication are prefaced by the way we view and think about the world.  If we are not actively engaged in our ways of thinking and seeing the world, we leave both functions to the will of others at the cost of our own happiness and wellbeing.  Bohm emphasizes the importance of active inquiry into what and how we think; “Why should thought and language be the one field left to function automatically and mechanically, without serious attention, so that the resulting confusion vitiates most of what we try to do in all other fields? The first step in giving proper attention to thought and language depends on seeing that thought is real.”[58]  To understand thought as real, we simply need look at the effects of thought on action and the effects of action on thought.  Stiglitz points to the relation of thought and action in worker productivity, “As any firm knows, a happier worker is a more productive worker; and a worker who believes that a firm is paying senior employees too much relative to what everyone else receives is not likely to be a happy worker.”[59]

Absolute systems manipulate this mutually effectual relationship between thought and action to achieve its own ends as needed.  Complacency and futility are the means by which public thought and action are kept at bay from uncovering the illusion.  The dualism that inevitably results from absolutes offers a misleadingly simplistic worldview capable of motivating neighbor against neighbor, sibling against sibling, human against humanity.  Ridley points to the susceptibility of a public motivated by an anger they cannot fully comprehend:

There is good populism and bad populism. But these forms of populism cannot just be mapped on to left and right ends of the spectrum. Both left and right populism use the anger of the public for external ends, namely to gain power for whatever political party that is pitched against the ‘establishment’. As already argued, this has been the case throughout history: the public are called into being whenever a revolution is needed, and then betrayed as soon as they have served their purpose. Both left and right populism are based on a low opinion of public intelligence, an assumption, incidentally, shared with neoliberalism.[60]

Rebellion through active inquiry, understood as nonviolence and truth-in-motion, reveals a world that demands our vigilant inquiry and engagement lest our means and ends become the means and ends of some other, like a slave to a master he has never even met.  To free ourselves from these chains, we must continuously rediscover one another and ourselves.  Dewey expands on the potential outcome of this view:

Making a living economically speaking, will be at one with making a life that is worth living.  And when the emotional force, the mystic force one might say, of communication, of the miracle of shared life and shared experience is spontaneously felt, the hardness and crudeness of contemporary life will be bathed in the light that never was on land or sea.[61]

Communication is the only means through which we are able to engage in our reality in a meaningful and fulfilling way.  It is the only means by which we engage in reality at all.  If our means of communication are rife with absolutes and violence we enslave ourselves to the absolute nature of violence and its destructive means and end.

Establishing active inquiry as nonviolent rebellion against passivity reflects the following assertions: 1.) Communication both creates and shares our internal and external worlds.  The role of historical violence and neoliberalism in shaping our present realities attests to this and highlights the implications of communication theory in shaping our individual and social lives.  2.) When communication is guided by irrational ends such as money and control over others, its function is counterproductive and passivity overrides action.  Communication serves to uncover the unity of existence by enabling people to share in it, but can be manipulated as a means of exacerbating differences to the point of metaphysical division; isolating people from one another and even their own selves.  3.)  Active inquiry serves to open and expand communication between and within ourselves.  Inquiring into present circumstances through nonviolent means simultaneously reveals unity while dismantling division.  Because we share in existence, what we choose for ourselves we choose for all others.  4.) Communication is the means by which we define ourselves and our existence.  Active inquiry is the process of realizing and engaging in the reality that our existence is solely in our own hands.  Passivity is essentially existential servitude, allowing ourselves to be slaves to violent and absolutist ends, resolutely accepting the resulting social injustice.

III. Creativity as Rebellion Against Social Injustice

Open-mindedness and active inquiry are prerequisites to rebellion against social injustice through communication. Communication as a form of creative intelligence is intrinsically connected with social justice and actual democracy.  As Dewey says, “Democracy has many meanings, but if it has a moral meaning, it is found in resolving that the supreme test of all political institutions and industrial arrangements shall be the contribution they make to the all-around growth of every member of society.”[62]  What we do, what we communicate, and how we do it are all creative processes.  In society, according to Dewey, the ultimate question answered by our modes of acting and communicating is: “What sort of individuals are created?”[63]  A violent social system will create violent individuals.  Each person is responsible for themselves, but society is also responsible for each person.  The role of the state, to borrow Dewey’s words, is to “enrich the contacts of human beings with one another[4].”[64]  This suffices for our definition of social justice, the continued enrichment of contact between members of a society.  Social injustice is thus represented as furthered division between and within people.  If people within a society are divided against one another, that society is ultimately failing its primary purpose.  Social justice in this sense is the primary duty of the state.  Rather than resolve this division, a state run by private interests will manipulate the very division it has created for its own purposes, exacerbating fragmentary illusions that blind us from the reality of the world around us.

Whether we like it or not, the violence of one man is the responsibility of that man’s social environment.  Understanding the role of communication in human existence highlights this reality.  Bohm emphasizes the importance of a scientific perspective in overcoming misleading and divisive illusions:

In view of the destructive effect of illusions…it may be said that the most significant implication of science is less in its many positive achievements than in the fact that it teaches us to look at facts in an unbiased way, whether we like it or not, and that it is meaningless to do otherwise.  Indeed, one of the main points…is that such a scientific spirit is necessary, not only in what is commonly called “scientific research,” but also in art and in every phase of life, and that without this spirit, human actions are continually in danger of deteriorating into a mere response to illusion, leading to conflict and destruction.[65]

The deterioration of communication is made manifest in a fragmentary notion of reality that ignores all the ways in which all life is linked together.  Ignoring this reality enables the justification of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual violence and slavery.  Communication understood as a binding social agent plays a major role in Stiglitz’s social cohesion:

The breaking of the social bonds and trust—seen in our politics, in our financial sector, and in the workplace—will, inevitably, have broader societal consequences.  Trust and reciprocal goodwill are necessary not only for the functioning of markets but also for every other aspect of societal cooperation.  We have explained how the long-term success of any country requires social cohesion—a kind of social contract that binds members of society together.  Experiences elsewhere have shown, however, the fragility of social cohesion.  When the social contract gets broken, social cohesion quickly erodes.

Governments and societies make decisions—expressed through policies, laws, and budgetary choices—that either strengthen that contract or weaken it.  By allowing inequality to metastasize unchecked, America is choosing a path of the destruction of social capital, if not social conflict.[66]

The failings of each individual are owned by society and the failings of society are owned by each individual.  This is the underlying reality of the social contract.  In the words of Bohm, “…man’s essential illness today is his feeling of fragmentation of existence, leading to a sense of being alien to a society that he has himself created, but does not understand.”[67]  There is no one to blame outside of our own selves.  We must take responsibility for the society we have created in order that we may approach the problem from a scientific and artistic perspective that will strengthen and highlight the underlying bonds of all life.  If we blame or judge others, we will fall victim to the same mode of thought that got us into this situation in the first place.  Likewise, if the challenge seems too daunting, we might succumb to futility.  Stiglitz alludes to the dangers of both passivity and extremism as social responses to the problems we face:

Views that our political system is rigged are even stronger than those that our economic system is unfair.  The poor, especially, believe that their voice is not being heard.  The widespread support expressed for the Occupy Wall Street movement…bears testimony to these concerns.  The belief (and the reality) that our political and economic system is unfair weakens both.

While the most immediate symptom is disillusionment leading to a lack of participation in the political process, there is always a worry that voters will be attracted to populists and extremists who attack the establishment that has created this unfair system and who make unrealistic promises of change.[68]

Violence has the effect of fracturing and dividing us from one another, forcing us further and further from an understanding of the problems we face.  If we cannot even grasp the problems, attempts to solve them will most likely be misguided and counterproductive.

In Camus’ words; “The mutual understanding and communication discovered by rebellion can survive only in the free exchange of conversation.  Every ambiguity, every misunderstanding, leads to death; clear language and simple words are the only salvation from this death.”[69]  Absolute systems that erode thought and place everything into a ‘this or that’ category do not enable the clear and simple conversation necessary for the open exchange of experience and ideas.  If our forms of communication and our approaches to educating and informing the public are rooted in absolute systems, their failures are made apparent in our inability to effectively communicate with one another and engage cooperatively in active inquiry.  Ridley explains:

We need a new practice of ‘critical pedagogy’, based on an assumption of the equality of intelligence, not on the inevitability of false consciousness. Through co-operative social inquiry, the double-truth doctrine can be unmasked by ordinary people. As Dewey argued, political activists, academics, community organisers, all have an important role to play in helping to re-create such public spheres of inquiry, but we must not assume we own such inquiry. Intellectuals also have a political task of our own: democratising knowledge production and educational institutions so that the conditions for such co-operative inquiries are improved. Universities, for example, can be transformed into co-operative, worker-student controlled hubs of inquiry that cascade knowledge back and forth along a chain of radical-democratic decentralisation.[70]

Empowering the individual to engage in cooperative social inquiry is the only method of strengthening democracy, society, and human existence.  The end we seek can only be achieved within the means we employ.  The means are also the ends-in-themselves.

Conversation is the means and end of rebellion against social injustice.  Where social injustice is pervasive, there is little to no enrichment of existence through interaction with others in the form of conversation.  When we are able to freely and openly converse with one another, we share in and broaden existence.  Clear, straightforward, and simple conversation requires open minds and cooperative, active inquiry.  Because there is an exchange of information, there is communication.  There is also the practice of democracy since those partaking in the exchange are equally and cooperatively engaged in regulating the transmission and reception of information.  And, most importantly, it serves to enrich the parties’ contact with one another, the manifestation of social justice.  When we see ourselves in others and others in ourselves, we engage in the foundation of the Golden Rule to treat other individuals as we would be treated.  When we expand this perception to social action and how it constitutes our environment we come closer to understanding the concept of being the change we wish to see in the world.


When engaged in conversation; communication, democracy, and social justice serve as means-and-ends-in-themselves.  As society is defined by the actions of its members, man is defined by his.  In the words of Sartre concerning the existentialist position, “What we mean to say is that man is no other than a series of undertakings, that he is the sum, the organization, the set of relations that constitute these undertakings.”[71]  If individuals within a society are bound up by the means of achieving the necessities of life, and the means of achieving those necessities are determined by the social structure they find themselves in, their freedom of choice and action is limited.  Stiglitz points to another economist and a psychologist:

The economist Sendhil Mullainathan and psychologist Eldar Shafir have found evidence from experiments that living under scarcity often leads to choices that exacerbate the conditions of scarcity: “The poor borrow at great cost and stay poor. The busy [time-poor][5] postpone when they have little time only to become busier.”[72]

Capital, intended as the means of obtaining the necessities of life, by separating the individual from their own means of subsistence, becomes the desired end for members of a society.  Those with excess capital are more capable of fully engaging in the processes of communication, democracy, and social justice though they do not necessarily do so.  Those with little or no capital have limited time and few resources for these pursuits (especially when they seem out of reach) since by necessity both are directed towards the acquisition of their basic needs of survival.  It is not that the latter need it more or the former do not deserve it.  Continued human existence demands it equally of all.

According to Dewey; “Needs, wants and desires are always the moving force in generating creative action.  When these wants are compelled by forces of conditions to be directed for the most part, among the mass of mankind, into obtaining the means of subsistence, what should be a means becomes perforce an end in itself.”[73]  People cannot be held responsible for their decisions when they have neither the physical nor mental resources to even comprehend their choices.  All of their thought and action is directed towards obtaining capital, simply to continue on living.  Capital itself becomes the end and drives all thought and action towards its achievement.  Stiglitz points out, “An individual’s cognitive resources are limited.  The stress of not having enough money to meet urgent needs may actually impair the ability to take decisions that would help alleviate the situation.  The limited stock of cognitive resources is depleted and this can lead people to make irrational decisions.”[74]

Social justice, democracy, and communication are not ends to be achieved through capital.  To Dewey, “Not the end—in the singular—justifies the means; for there is no such thing as the single all-important end.”[75]  There is no other means of achieving them outside of the active participation in them, as in conversation.  When capital is the necessary pre-determinate of basic survival, those with the most are able to dictate to those with little what is most important and best serves their interests.  The main theme of Stiglitz’s work in reference is “…that there has been a battle of ideas—over what kinds of society, what kinds of policies, are best for most citizens—and that this battle has seen an attempt to persuade everyone that what’s good for the 1 percent, what the top cares about and wants, is good for everyone: lower tax rates at the top, reduce the deficit, downsize the government.”[76]  This is what is supposed to benefit everyone, but time and time again, it fails to truly do so yet the myth continues to prevail.

We can briefly look at the American infatuation with measuring our economic success through GDP (gross domestic product) to highlight this point.  Taken as an absolute measure of success or failure, the GDP influences policy decisions that will contribute to its overall growth regardless of the consequences of those policies on actual social wellbeing.  A high GDP does not change the reality of those unable to find jobs, those miserable within their jobs, those without homes, damage to the environment, loss of resources, et cetera, et cetera.  The reality that our means of calculating the GDP are flawed in their effects on policy is nothing new:

President Sarkozy of France set up the International Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, which I chaired.  Experts were drawn from statistics, economics, political science, and psychology, and the group included three Nobel Prize winners.  We unanimously agreed not only that GDP was a bad, and potentially badly misleading, measure but that it could be improved upon.[77]

The GDP does not measure communication, democracy, or social justice, but is viewed by a large number of policy-makers and the general public as being more important than all three.  But the GDP serves no social purpose outside of itself as a flawed means of measurement and manipulation.  Communication, democracy, and social justice all simultaneously serve the interests of the individual and society.

The acts of communicating, of participating in democracy, and engaging in social justice are all creative.  They do not exist alone outside of ourselves nor are they absolute ends.  Democracy is not just established and permanently maintained by itself.  Social justice is not achieved at once and then preserved for all time.  Communication is never something done and then complete.  Like drops falling into water, all three are active in moments, but have consequences that ripple throughout existence.  Inquiry into these consequences with the aim of acting in enriching rather than violent ways is a distinctly logical human trait as far as we know.  To behave in ways that willfully ignore consequences and realities is illogical and inhuman.  Purposefully adhering to an economic theory that fails to show adequate enrichment and social unification yet serves to exacerbate division and violence is irrational.  This is the type of irrationality Camus urges us to rebel against.  Rebel communication theory focuses on not only the means of communication by which both are advanced, but also the communication of violence and the rebellion against it, individually, socially, and existentially.  The means by which people are manipulated into blindly following contradictory social movements and policies, like those of neoliberalism, underscores Craig’s third theme of communication theory as having practical implications.  The fourth theme of communication as a ‘primary explanatory factor’[6] is more clearly understood when we comprehend that every thought and act is a communication and it is a creative process engaged and inquired about in the present environment.

Creating What We Are

Only through the practice of communication, democracy, and social justice are they each created and actively inquired into.  Absolute theories and ideologies demand others to adhere to precepts in order to achieve some unrealistic end that is based more on imagination than reality.  They require adherence and control over thought and action in an attempt to exert authority over a constantly changing reality.  Rather than telling others how to live or claiming an absolute understanding of how they live, the role of any social theory, especially one with a communicational perspective, should be to empower each and every person to live in a way that respects the existential choice and freedom of others.  In the words of Camus, “…to the ‘I rebel, therefore we exist’ and the ‘We are alone’ of metaphysical rebellion, rebellion at grips with history adds that instead of killing and dying in order to produce the being that we are not, we have to live and let live in order to create what we are.”[78]  When absolutes that dominate social thought and action, such as neoliberalism, inhibit our ability to effectively communicate with one another in a way that respects our differences, we must move beyond them into a framework that promotes social growth and cohesion.

If we approach the man-made means of communication through this perspective, we find the truth-in-motion of Camus’ words that we have to live and let live to create what we are.  Ridley offers some further guidance:

What is missing today is a mechanism that would revive the potential of democracy as a technology of the public.  Ancient Athens had the theatre, where the moral capacities of citizens were exercised and politics debated.  The emerging labour movement in the eighteenth century had correspondence societies, where pamphlets were read out and revolution fermented.  As Jürgen Habermas argued, the ‘public sphere’, a fundamental cog in the machine of early modern democracy, was destroyed through capitalism’s commercialisation of public space and commodification of private life.  What is needed is a new form of co-operative inquiry that both reconstructs democracy from within and re-creates the public in the process. What is needed is an ‘intelligent populism’.[79]

When we have the technological means of instantaneous connection with people around the world, it should be a means of greater unity rather than a means of furthering division and isolationism.  Ridley further elaborates on Dewey’s perspective:

For Dewey, humanising technology was the most pressing task of modern society.  As we have seen, technology doesn’t just mean “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry” (OED), it refers to any means for the achievement of human ends.  As Alan Hickman has convincingly argued, Dewey’s entire philosophy can be summarised as a theory of ‘responsible technology’.  Technology, as inquiry, is responsible when it arises out of problematic situations that are concretely felt (in the sense that all experience is primarily qualitative) by human beings. But more importantly, it can only be fully responsible when the results, values and ends that arise out of such inquiries “are brought back to the situations from which they originated in order to ascertain whether they are appropriate”.[80]

We have the means of creating a more informed and democratically organized public, yet neoliberal ideology taken as an absolute serves to maintain the status quo.  Those at the top seek to remain at the top.  Those in control seek to maintain control.  This is somewhat rational.  What is irrational is the inhibition of human progress for personal interests.  Logically, that which benefits all is beneficial to the individual for the individual exists within the same social environment.

There is no absolute condition for democracy outside of the active process of engaging in it; likewise with communication and social justice.  Dewey explains, “The prime condition of a democratically organized public is a kind of knowledge and insight which does not yet exist.  In its absence, it would be the height of absurdity to try to tell what it would be like if it existed.”[81]  Rebel communication theory asserts no new absolutes to replace old ones.  It asserts only that we must actively communicate, participate in democracy, and nonviolently yet resolutely demand social justice.  All three necessitate the need of an informed public.  By actively pursuing all three, we will be actively informing ourselves and one another.  So the means by which we are informed, specifically through our media and system of education are ends-in-themselves.  So if one or both are flawed, the results will be as well.  Stiglitz highlights the role of media, which is the professional application of existent communication theory, in a democratic society,

Ensuring that we have a well-informed public citizenry is important for a well-functioning democracy, and that in turn requires an active and diverse media.  Other countries have attempted to ensure this diversity—with some success—by providing broad public support for media, ranging from national public broadcasting stations to community radio stations to support for second newspapers, even in smaller communities.

We could also have more balanced media.  As it is, the media are a realm where those in the 1 percent have the upper hand.  They have the resources to buy and control critical media outlets, and some of them are willing to do so at a loss: it’s an investment in maintaining their economic position.  Like the political investments of the banks, these investments may yield far higher private returns than ordinary investments—if one includes impacts on the political process.

This is another element in the creation of distrust and disillusionment: not only isn’t there trust in the fairness of our political and economic system; there isn’t even trust in the information that is provided about our political and economic system.[82]

When only an elite few possess the means of actuating real social change, the effects of democracy and its ability to account for the consequences of social actions are extremely limited.  And when the public perceives this as a reality, social frustration and futility are the inevitable results.  Ridley further expounds upon the antithesis of democracy and neoliberalism:

Democracy is a technology of the public that arose out of a need to control the indirect consequences of social action.  Neoliberalism co-opts democracy, and its institutions, for the manipulation of the public for private gain, and for the maintenance of power.  Populism is the public expression of recognition: that this is happening, and that democracy needs to be taken back by the public.  In a Deweyian sense, populism is therefore the first stage of an inquiry begun by the public for the public. Instead of dismissing this inquiry, we should get involved.  We need to be a part of this inquiry, help it develop into an ‘intelligent populism’ which would found and maintain radical democracy, replace a dying neoliberalism, and as an adaptive and generative form of social problem solving, maybe even save the earth from environmental destruction.[83]

Active participation in democracy, especially when hindered by social constructs, must be about more than simply putting in one’s two cents on the rare opportunity they get the chance to.  If people feel that the power of one’s voice comes only from the size of their bank account; democracy, communication, and social justice all suffer as a result, for they all require regular action.  If the majority of people feel they do not possess the capital to be influential, their motivation to action suffers under an overwhelming sense of futility.  In the words of Stiglitz:

Americans, Europeans, and people in other democracies around the world take great pride in their democratic institutions.  But the protesters have called into question whether there is a real democracy.  Real democracy is more than the right to vote once every two or four years.  The choices have to be meaningful.  The politicians have to listen to the voices of the citizens.  But increasingly, and especially in the United States, it seems that the political system is more akin to “one dollar one vote” than to “one person one vote.”  Rather than correcting the market’s failures, the political system was reinforcing them.[84]

The Citizens United Supreme Court case and every political move to deregulate monetary contributions to political campaigns is a communication by the government to all people that money is the only true influence into its functioning.

Dewey and Camus, as true rebels, would utterly reject any governmental action that increases the power and ability of wealthy individuals and corporations to garner more influence over the political process.  As Van Patten puts it, “Both are deeply committed to social and economic reform and justice and seek a better world.”[85]  Their response, as is the rebel’s to such blatant disregard for democratic principles, is to actively work towards the creation of a better social structure where people are not divided into haves and have-nots.  In Camus’ mind, “Every act of creation, by its mere existence, denies the world of master and slave.”[86]  Rebellion is creation and creation is rebellion.  Both are truth-in-motion, active inquiry into a world through the very means it aims to establish; communication, democracy, and social justice.  Camus describes the relationship between rebellion and artistic creativity:

Rebellion, in fact, says—and will say more and more explicitly—that revolution must try to act, not in order to come into existence at some future date in the eyes of a world reduced to acquiescence, but in terms of the obscure existence that is already made manifest in the act of insurrection.  This rule is neither formal nor subject to history, it is what can be best described by examining it in its pure state—in artistic creation.[87]

Creativity, as a form of social intelligence, demands an education that fosters its growth through cohesion rather than hinders it through division.  An education system built on conformity that does not provide better opportunities fails on multiple fronts.

Both education and media, as the means of informing the public, have a duty greater than any individual or group of individuals’ private interests.  Because of their duty to the public, they belong to the public, not to private parties who possess the capital to manipulate public opinion in their favor.  Dewey goes further; “In saying then that art and play have a moral office not adequately taken advantage of it is asserted that they are responsible to life, to the enriching and freeing of its meanings, not that they are responsible to a moral code, commandment, or special task.”[88]  Absolutism, in hindering the creative thought of individuals, hinders communication and cooperation necessary for a fulfilling social and personal existence.  Dewey believes:

A philosophic reconstruction which should relieve men of having to choose between an impoverished and truncated experience on one hand and an artificial and impotent reason on the other would relieve human effort from the heaviest intellectual burden it has to carry.  It would destroy the division of men of good will into two hostile camps. It would permit the co-operation of those who respect the past and the institutionally established with those who are interested in establishing a freer and happier future.  For it would determine the conditions under which the funded experience of the past and the contriving intelligence which looks to the future can effectually interact with each other.  It would enable men to glorify the claims of reason without at the same time falling into a paralyzing worship of super-empirical authority or into an offensive “rationalization” of things as they are.[89]

A worldview free of absolutes that fosters nonviolent communication between every individual usurps futility and more fully enables us to actively create the better world we seek.  To Dewey, “It can make it easier for mankind to take the right steps in action by making it clear that a sympathetic and integral intelligence brought to bear upon the observation and understanding of concrete social events and forces, can form ideals, that is aims, which shall not be either illusions or mere emotional compensation.”[90]  How we achieve democracy, open communication, and social justice is what determines the value of each.  As Camus puts it, “Does the end justify the means?  That is possible.  But what will justify the end?  To that question, which historical thought leaves pending, rebellion replies: the means.”[91]

The means and consequences of communication are the focus of communication theory.  In the words of Craig:

All genuine communication theory acknowledges the consequentiality of communication (Sigman, 1995b); it acknowledges communication itself as a fundamental mode of explanation (Deetz, 1994).[92]

Rebel communication theory, with its naturalist and existentialist roots, identifies the process of communication as one requiring application of creative means that are also the sought-after consequences.  Democratic and socially just means are the only paths towards their actualization and are actualized in the same creative processes engaged in aiming to achieve them.  In this sense, any theory that ignores the means and consequences of communication is not only logically irrational, but also has no place in the field of communication theory.  Communication is active creation.  So we must focus on what it is and how we are creating, both directly and indirectly.  If the traditional role of communication (and hence, action itself) is commonly understood as a path towards desired ends, the evaluation lies in the effectiveness in achieving those ends.  Actual ends are nothing more than products of the means by which they were achieved.  Absolute ends are illusory in that they are determined regardless of any actions taken towards their realization.  If this were not the case, they would not be absolute.  The supply-side theory of economics ignores all the social deconstruction involved in the means of making the perfect market a reality while simultaneously saying it is something natural and absolute in itself.  So pervasive and invasive and with overwhelming force is this mindset that a great number of social issues we face today have roots that trace back to it.

For communication theory as a field, rebel communication theory emphasizes the role prior theories about communication, whether actually embracing the communicational perspective or not, have played in contributing to this current social situation.  It puts the burden of correcting social fragmentation on the field of communication, and it is not alone in doing so.  Robert Craig references Stanley A. Deetz’s work, “The future of the discipline:  The challenges, the research, and the social contribution”:

Deetz points out that new disciplines (in the sense of fundamentally new modes of explanation) “arise when existing modes of explanation fail to provide compelling guidance for responses to a central set of new social issues” (1994, p 568).  Today, the central social issues have to do with who participates in what ways in the social processes that construct personal identities, the social order, and codes of communication.[93]

The above paragraph serves as a good template to sum up the claims of this final section in that: 1.) Social injustice demands a creative response.  The theoretical perspective being laid out aims to be a new mode of explanation that promotes continuous creativity in response to old and new forms of social injustice.  2.) Ideas about democracy and social justice are only real in so far as they are actively participated in, serving as both means and ends in themselves.  3.) We create what we are through communication.  Through this communication, understood as a social process, we create our own identities, our structure of society, and the ways in which we communicate.  Creativity in forming the ways in which we communicate, structure society, and identify ourselves is the means by which social justice and democracy are achieved as means-and-ends-in-themselves.

The final sentence of Craig’s previous paragraph reiterates earlier themes of this paper and how they identify with communication theory as a field:

Against the traditional informational view of communication that takes these elements for granted as a fixed framework that must be in place in order for communication to occur, Deetz endorses an emerging “communication perspective” that focuses on “describing how the inner world, outer world, social relations, and means of expression are reciprocally constituted with the interactional process as its own best explanation” (1994, p.577).[94]

In sharing similar ideas about the field as Deetz, rebel communication theory expands this constitutive communication perspective onto matters of nature and existence in arguing that: I.) Fixed frameworks, understood as absolutes, predetermine outcomes in a manner detrimental to open-minded observation and active inquiry.  Hence, through open-mindedness, we communicate rebellion against these absolutes.  II.) External and internal realities share a reciprocal relationship.  Hence, through active inquiry, we communicate rebellion against passive forms or views of either.  III.)  Our social relations and means of communicating are created by our participation in them and reflective of how we communicate and socially organize.  Hence, through creativity, we communicate rebellion against currently existent social injustice.  All three follow from Craig’s four themes of communication theory literature in that they are historically and culturally rooted, reflexive, practically implicative, and embracive of communication itself as the best means of explaining individual and social interaction.

Through Craig’s view, rebel communication theory could be accurately described as a constitutive model:

Especially noteworthy is that the arguments advanced in support of a constitutive model of communication, as the passages just quoted from Deetz (1994) illustrate, most often are not purely theoretical.  The changing social situation in which communication is theorized, it is said, calls for new ways of thinking about communication.  The constitutive model is presented as a practical response to contemporary social problems, such as those arising from the erosion of the cultural foundations of traditional ideas and institutions, increasing cultural diversity and interdependence, and widespread demands for democratic participation in the construction of social reality.  Just as a transmission model can be used to bolster the authority of technical experts, a constitutive model can hopefully serve the causes of freedom, toleration, and democracy.[95]

Focusing on open-mindedness, active inquiry, and creativity enables the ideals of freedom, toleration, democracy, and social justice to guide our theory and its applications and analysis.  From a perspective that refutes the negation of these ideals, it can only be actively realized when it does not prompt or promote adherence to absolutes, passivity, or social injustice.  Like any personal struggle against feelings of futility, there is not a one-size-fits-all answer to social futility.  Rebellion against futility must be continuously active and adaptive to individual and social changes that are natural elements of existence.


Open-mindedness, active inquiry, and creativity are the primary means-and-end-in-themselves of natural and existential rebellion against futility made manifest in communication which both necessitates and perpetuates the practice of democracy and social justice.  This foundational assertion of the rebel communication theory is the product of approaching the works of John Dewey and Albert Camus through a communicational perspective, emphasizing the natural role of communication in existence.  What has been laid out does not even scratch the surface of an in-depth communicational analysis of ideas about existential communication and social and individual nature discussed by John Dewey and Albert Camus, let alone the wider fields of naturalism and existentialism.

To emphasize this point and reiterate the main claims of this theory, we turn to the beginning of Dewey’s analysis of symbols with meanings and their relations in one of his later and more philosophical works, Logic: The Theory of Inquiry:

(1) Symbols are “related” directly to one another; (2) they…[reference][7] existence by the mediating intervention of existential operations; (3) existences are…[connected to/involved with] one another in the evidential sign-signified function…in virtue of which inference is possible.[96]

1.) As symbols are directly related to one another, so are the manipulators of them.  Since we use symbols to communicate, we are connected to those who are able to engage in the same process.  This ultimate underlying unity is most visible when our observations of it are unhindered by absolutes.  This relates to open-mindedness as rebellion against absolutes.  An absolutist mentality might assume no connection between two people who speak different languages.  An open-mind is more likely to find the symbols they share outside of language.  2.)  As these symbols and their meanings reference existence, they not only tell us things about existence, but enable us to engage in it in different ways than if we did not have them.  By actively inquiring into them, we also participate in their creation and contribute to their functions and meanings.  This is our rebellion against passivity.  A passive approach assumes no influence over the creative process of symbols and their meanings.  3.)  As existences are connected to one another, the interaction of those existences with one another will serve to either erode or enrich the existing connections.  Through open-mindedness and active inquiry, we are made aware of these connections, and then through creativity, we are able to develop the means by which we engage in their enrichment, rebelling against social injustice identified as a breakdown of these connections.

To put these relationships described by Dewey into a different theoretical context so as to allude to their applicability in other fields, he asks us to:

Consider…propositions of mathematical physics.  (1) As propositions they form a system of related symbol-meanings that may be considered and developed as such.  (2) But as propositions of physics, not of mere mathematics, they have reference to existence; a reference which is realized in operations of application.  (3) The final test of valid reference or applicability resides in the connections that exist among things.  Existential involvement of things with one another alone warrants inference so as to enable further connection among things themselves to be discovered.[97]

Placed into the context of the communicational perspective with the rebel flourish: 1.) Communication forms a system of related symbol-meanings that are not absolute, but open-ended.  2.)  Communication references existence, a process realized in its application and fully appreciated through inquiry into existence.  3.) The final test of communication lies in the connections it builds and enriches or destroys and erodes, the former being the realization of social justice, the latter being products of social injustice.  Human communication is more than complex enough on its own.  When we consider the pervasive nature of interactions that can be understood as communication throughout all existence and modes of existence, we see two directions this new communication perspective might go.  To quote Dewey in his Logic one last time:

Associated behavior is characteristic not only of plants and animals, but of electrons, atoms and molecules; as far as we know of everything that exists in nature.  Language did not originate association, but when it supervened, as a natural emergence from previous forms of animal activity, it reacted to transform prior forms and modes of associated behavior in such a way as to give experience a new dimension.[98]

Not only are we enabled through communication to interact with the universe around us, but through those means we have reconstructed the past, created different dimensions of the present, and will build the future.  It is important that we take a step back to observe what exactly it is that we are creating before we land ourselves in an existential trap or, even worse, grave.  The future is in our hands and filled with challenges old and new.  Our ability to effectively communicate with one another in ways that enrich our own and each other’s lives will be a major determining factor in the manifestation of those challenges and our ability to overcome them.





[1] James Van Patten, “Camus, Dewey & Relevance,” Journal of Thought 3, no. 1 (1968): 58.

[2] Robert Craig, “Communication Theory as a Field,” Communication theory 9, no. 2 (1999): 121.

[3] Van Patten, “Camus, Dewey & Relevance,” 52.

[4] Craig, “Communication Theory as a Field,” 125-126.

[5] John Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1958), 96-97.

[6] Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy, 145.

[7] Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy, 146.

[8] Joseph Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality: how today’s divided society endangers our future, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2013), xlviii.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy, 157.

[11] Albert Camus, The Rebel, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1956), 10.

[12] David Ridley, “John Dewey’s ‘intelligent-populism’: beyond Brexit, Trump and post-truth,” OpenDemocracy, accessed January 18, 2017.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Van Patten, “Camus, Dewey & Relevance,” 57.

[16] Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy, 70.

[17] Van Patten, “Camus, Dewey & Relevance,” 52.

[18] Van Patten, “Camus, Dewey & Relevance,” 57.

[19] John Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct, (New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 2008), 152.

[20] Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy, 156.

[21] Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct, 10.

[22] Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct, 34.

[23] Ibid.

[24] David Bohm, On Creativity, (London: Routledge, 1998), 9.

[25] Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey, (New York: Random House Inc., 1957), 140.

[26] Van Patten, “Camus, Dewey & Relevance,” 52.

[27] Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality, 189.

[28] Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality, 189-190.

[29] Ridley, “John Dewey’s ‘intelligent-populism’.”

[30] John Dewey, Liberalism and Social Action, (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2000), 88.

[31] Dewey, Liberalism and Social Action, 89.

[32] Camus, The Rebel, 291.

[33] Camus, The Rebel, 291-292.

[34] Camus, The Rebel, 289.

[35] Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy, 173.

[36] Van Patten, “Camus, Dewey & Relevance,” 57.

[37] Ridley, “John Dewey’s ‘intelligent-populism’.”

[38] Van Patten, “Camus, Dewey & Relevance,” 58.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Walter Kaufman, Existentialism: From Dostoevsky to Sartre, (New York: Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 1975), 160.

[41] Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct, 33.

[42] Eiseley, The Immense Journey, 92.

[43] Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality, 200.

[44] Craig, “Communication Theory as a Field,” 125.

[45] Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy, 178.

[46] Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct, 35-36.

[47] Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct, 40.

[48] Kaufman, Existentialism, 358.

[49] Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy, 206.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy, 157-158.

[52] Kaufman, Existentialism, 350.

[53] Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality, 248-249.

[54] Bohm, On Creativity, 65.

[55] Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality, 281.

[56] Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality, 332

[57] Ibid.

[58] Bohm, On Creativity, 64.

[59] Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality, 129.

[60] Ridley, “John Dewey’s ‘intelligent-populism’.”

[61] Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy, 211.

[62] Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy, 186.

[63] Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy, 198.

[64] Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy, 207.

[65] Bohm, On Creativity, 29.

[66] Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality, 156-157.

[67] Bohm, On Creativity, 30.

[68] Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality, 160.

[69] Camus, The Rebel, 283.

[70] Ridley, “John Dewey’s ‘intelligent-populism’.”

[71] Kaufman, Existentialism, 359.

[72] Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality, 128-129.

[73] Dewey, Liberalism and Social Action, 89.

[74] Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality, 129.

[75] Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct, 152.

[76] Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality, 321.

[77] Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality, 232.

[78] Camus, The Rebel, 252.

[79] Ridley, “John Dewey’s ‘intelligent-populism’.”

[80] Ridley, “John Dewey’s ‘intelligent-populism’.”

[81] Dewey, John, The Public and Its Problems, (New York: Henry Holt, 1927), 166.

[82] Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality, 161-162.

[83] Ridley, “John Dewey’s ‘intelligent-populism’.”

[84] Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality, xlix-l.

[85] Van Patten, “Camus, Dewey & Relevance,” 57.

[86] Camus, The Rebel, 274.

[87] Camus, The Rebel, 252.

[88] Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct, 104.

[89] Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy, 101-102.

[90] Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy, 131.

[91] Camus, The Rebel, 292.

[92] Craig, “Communication Theory as a Field,” 126.

[93] Ibid.

[94] Ibid.

[95] Ibid.

[96] John Dewey, The Later Works of John Dewey 1925-1953, Volume 12: 1938, Logic – The Theory of Inquiry, ed. JoAnn Boydston (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991), 60-61.

[97] Dewey, The Later Works, 61.

[98] Dewey, The Later Works, 62.



[1] The terms ‘naturalism’ and ‘existentialism’ are purposely used as the broader contexts of Dewey’s pragmatism and Camus’ absurdism.

[2] All italics within quotes are original author’s.

[3] Preceding sentence: “The family into which one is born is a family in a village or city which interacts with other more or less integrated systems of activity, and which includes a diversity of groupings within itself, say, churches, political parties, clubs, cliques, partnerships, trade-unions, corporations, etc.”

[4]   “The tendency to treat organization as an end in itself is responsible for all the exaggerated theories in which individuals are subordinated to some institution to which is given the noble name of society.  Society is the process of associating in such ways that experiences, ideas, emotions, values are transmitted and made common.  To this active process, both the individual and the institutionally organized may truly be said to be subordinate.  The individual is subordinate because except  in and through communication of experience from and to others, he remains dumb, merely sentient, a brute animal.  Only in association with fellows does he become a conscious centre of experience.  Organization, which is what traditional theory has generally meant by the term Society or State, is also subordinate because it becomes static, rigid, institutionalized whenever it is not employed to facilitate and enrich the contacts of human beings with one another.”

[5] Original author’s brackets.

[6] “Communication, from a communicational perspective, is not a secondary phenomenon that can be explained by antecedent psychological, sociological, cultural, or economic factors; rather, communication itself is the primary, constitutive social process that explains all these other factors.” (Craig, 126)

[7] My brackets.


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