Friday, 24 June 2016

Unravelling Status Functions: Which Speech Acts do you want?

The EU is just a speech act. In Searle's theory of 'Status Functions', he argues that all governments - whether national or transnational - exist because of declarations made by powerful people which are upheld by the 'collective intentionality' of the community which is to be governed. The authority of powerful people to make declarations (what Searle calls 'deontic power') is also determined through speech acts. And on it goes: money, markets, computer software, debt... oh, and austerity.

Revolutions are moments when existing sets of speech act declarations are overturned. Alongside this, the reality of many other related entities is also questioned: currencies or markets for example, or the EU itself. Although some see democracy as a kind of gift from an elite to the people, really it is a manifestation of social reality irrespective of whether societies are 'democratic' or not. It is part of a natural cycle that at various points in history, the people discover their power in maintaining existing speech acts, and seek to overturn them - particularly when they don't work in their favour. The advantage of maintaining an administrative structure around democracy is that explosive change is generally avoided - the stemming of violent explosion is one of the foundations of capitalism. Any attempt to overthrow capitalism has to deal with this. And we have to hope that the explosive change of Brexit doesn't lead to war (another expression of the overturning of speech acts).

Explosions occur when ordinary people get left behind and are coerced to participate in something that doesn't work in their interests. This is basically what has happened with the EU. It governed in the interests of those who were clever enough to cut through its bureaucratic language. Higher Education itself became increasingly focused on providing the 'skills' of bureaucratic language to enable people to swim in the EU techno-bubble. Increasingly 'higher skills' have become skills of compliance with a regime which half the population couldn't fathom. The EU felt it could ignore the other half of the population. It could endorse the cutting back on welfare support which was designed after the war to meet their needs, it could rationalise their workplaces, take their jobs, and in the process hope for a kind of educational utopia where eventually no-one would be left befuddled by EU newspeak, and it could impose its own version of neoliberal economic rationalism which in the end only served big corporations.

But the people left behind eventually realised they did have a voice. And they have now overturned the speech acts of the EU, defying 'experts' whose expertise (more speech acts) has, in most cases, only made things worse.

So what do we do now? Once people see things to be speech acts, and that each has the power to change them, all sorts of things become possible. I don't really think the Leave camp believed they would win (didn't Farage concede earlier in the evening?!). Nobody right now has a plan. Which is an opportunity. Austerity is a speech act. Debt is a speech act. So we can overturn those too.

But so many revolutions fail because they only go so far in overturning the speech acts they don't want, without declaring the things that they do. Think what might be possible if we can get this far: Universal basic income is a speech act. Free education is a speech act. Nobody to worry about having a roof over their heads...  Eliminate global inequality...

The general emotion I have right now is, on the one hand a kind of sobering realisation of really important things happening.... but that gives way to a realisation of what might now be possible to make the world a better place for everyone.

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