KJ Hannah Greenberg

More Psychological Conundrums

Language can be (intentionally) crazy-making. Consider that the classic self-referential statement, “this sentence is false,” and the contemporary one, “if a person truly understands the mechanisms of persuasion, he or she ought to be able to deconstruct this claim,” are both regularly consistent at the object level of sense while being recurrently inconsistent at the metalinguistic level. Worse, when couched in a metalinguistic clause, such as “a known liar said, ‘this sentence is false,’” or “a semantic expert said, ‘if a person truly understands the mechanisms of persuasion, he or she will be able to deconstruct this claim,’” such statements become inconsistently inconsistent at the meta-metalinguistic level.

A common expectation that we have about our conveyance of ideas is that the rationally motivated consensus of contributors, in systematizing legitimacy, is contained in the structure of conscious and unconscious thoughts and feelings, i.e., is contained in intersubjectivity. Another expectation that we have is that this discursive improvement makes universalized truisms superfluous.

By way of explanation, we remain inclined to believe that whether we use a compilation-based, a transformation-based, a mixed base, or an entirely different scale for calculating discoveries about ourselves and about the milieu in which we live, the fact that we are assessing our words implies the presence of a emphasis and the prospect that the nature of credences, overall, will vary from relay to relay. Hence, discourse displaying an awareness of itself might or might not be reliable.

Let’s deconstruct the aforementioned. First, metalinguistic considerations are thought to be “motivated by a desire to escape [from] constructivism and relativism [to] reaffirm the possibility of knowledge” (Jones, xix-xx). For example, obstetricians/gynaecologists practicing allopathic medicine, who relish their social status, who savor the “exclusivity” of their know-how, often seem unconcerned about their patients’ unearthing of treatment options. They minimalize, or, worse, entirely dismiss their patients’ efforts to engage in dialogue. Even when their patients protest the resulting lack of doctor/patient coordinated management of meaning, doctors reinforce this dearth.

For the most part, our society’s expectations of doctors’ and patients’ roles continues to be singularly defined by medicos’ rhetoric. Consequently, women are “attached to beds by means of tubes, beeping machines, and inserted needles” (Cohen, 13). Their voices are muted or unreservedly silenced. Plus, in times of pregnancy loss, clinicians intensify women’s hurt and humiliation. Many would-be mothers, having already suffered the trauma of miscarriage or the like, thereafter, are subjected to blood tests, bimanual exams, etc. when ultrasounds or further less invasive procedures would suffice. The problem is that their requests to look into alternatives is denied. Specialists seem to purposely sidestep accountability having realized that if no discussions take place between them and the publics for whom they’re responsible, no culpability can be assigned.

Unfortunately, gagging women from participating in their care, even “merely” preventing them from becoming informed consumers, entails extra mistakes and anguish will have to be endured. Our “error in thinking [about distinct roles’ diffusion constraints] tends to propagate through one’s hierarchy of knowledge. An error in [m]etaphysics tends to lead to errors in [e]pistemology which lead to errors in [e]thics, and so on” (Landauer and Rowlands). If we questioned our believes about doctor/patient connections, for instance, we might have better medical outcomes.

As midwife and childbirth educator Nancy Wainer Cohen clarifies, in Open Season,

we can know almost everything we need to know about a culture by observing the way that most women in that culture birth their babies. [W]e’re in deep trouble. Most women in this culture birth their babies either as if they were stars in a science fiction movie or casualties of war (Cohen, 13).

Care providers’ desire to run away from liability coupled with their desire to throttlehold  medical knowledge generates a disempowered populace as well as produces nonoptimal medical results.

Second, a pooled arrangement for measurement is necessary for ameliorating transmissions among people. All of us need and deserve explicit information about authorities’ methods for forming, supporting, and executing exchanges as all of us are jointly communication’s gatekeepers.

Reflect on the case in which three major USA television networks depicted the 1986 birthday of The Statue of Liberty as a festive occasion marked by pageantry, fireworks, and a Presidential address. None of those channels, however, mentioned the event’s funding source, its total price, or worker injuries related to that affair. Only afterwards, did print outlets reveal these facts.

It’s nearly impossible to weigh in on the creation and maintenance of assembled valuations when data is withheld. Although we stereotype certain kinds of governments as being autocratic, in truth, most groups of citizens possessing clout have the propensity to stop others from helping determine national axiological considerations. These days, despite the fact that social media has brought news/decision-making power to the masses more routinely and quickly than had time-honored media, social media has, concurrently, manufactured new masters, viz., “influencers.” It seems that elitism’s just been transferred from one set of folks to another.

Third, not only do the entities in control ordinarily try to keep their supremacy but, simultaneously, the rest of us fail to penalize them for doing so. Ruth C. Smith and Eric M Eisenberg report, in “Conflict at Disneyland,” that there are significant costs to society, rather than to the powers that be, when those organizations successfully avoid punishment for their recklessness.

Within the Disney Corporation, as is true in many other officialdoms, employees who question the existing state of affairs are terminated. The established order, meanwhile, grows fat on salaries and stock options.

The problematic nature of [the Disney employees’] utopian vision is exacerbated by the particular interpretation of “family” [that] the employees chose to advocate. There are many different types of families, but a central aspect of American mythology holds that happy families are tightly knit and conflict-free. Recent research on family interaction reveals not only that this is a myth, but that perpetuation of the harmony-at-all-costs ideal can cause serious problems of adjustment. In promoting a conflict-free work environment, and in particular one that was “on-stage” for all the world to see, [the organization’s] management and employees never learned to manage conflict effectively and were therefore seriously upset when disagreements finally surfaced (Smith, 378).

It is imperative that we, as a collective, don’t excuse the ruling classes from blame. Otherwise, we’ll never unite with them in attributing worth to assemblages of words used by everyone.

All in all, by calculatedly thwarting the “circumvention or the subversion of liberal modes of debate[,] the rationality specific to traditions of enquiry [we can] challenge the communal and political hegemony…effectively” (MacIntyre, 1971, 401). We must encourage knowledge dispensing, must demand that our leaders interface with us to reveal their undergirding metacommunications, and we must chasten them if they don’t. A world in which representatives’ objectives are transparent is a world in which we can trust our decisions, specifically, and our values, generally.


Cohen, Nancy Wainer. Open Season: Survival Guide for Natural Childbirth and VBAC in the 90s. Bergen and Garvey, 1991.

Jones, William T. and Robert J. Fogelin. “Introduction.” A History of Western Philosophy: The Twentieth Century to Wittgenstein and Sartre. 2nd ed., rev. Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1975.

Landauer, Jeff, and Joseph Rowlands. “Misbegotten Notions.” The Importance of Philosophy. 2001. Accessed 4 May 2004.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. Against the Self-Images of the Age: Essays on Ideology and Philosophy. London: Duckworth. 1971.

Smith, Ruth C. and Eric M Eisenberg. “Conflict at Disneyland: A root-metaphor analysis” [sic]. Communication Monographs. Jun. 2009. 367-380.

About the Author
KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs. Thereafter, her writing has been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.