Information and emotion ripple across the social, transforming members’ attitudes and behaviors. Stress breeds stress; anger transfers; to paraphrase Buddha, the only moral imperative is spreading good vibes.
This is the idea behind the phrase “all communication is manipulation“: to emphasize the effects of utterances—and similar symbolic gestures—on the social ecology within which they are emitted. (The organisms on which language is unleashed.) To frame speech as a designed causal delta, a means of constructing and controlling one’s niche.
Yet the zeitgeist takes the opposite tack—necessitating a counter-balance. Claims of “authentic self-expression” are run as cover for social aggression. Somehow language, this most social of behaviors, has been cast as an asocial or even private practice, which owes no debt to receivers, and claims innocence even at its most apparently performative. The sociality of speech is bracketed out; “communication” becomes “self-expression” in a feint of extreme egoism, or extreme deception. Symbolic displays are claimed to be performed “for oneself”—rather than for the effects they create in others—as if similar behavior would be commonplace in a hermitage, or on a desert island. Many such displays have even claimed the status of high art—a certain claim to transcendental truth-telling, and a removal from all responsibility as to the consequences of what’s told.1
This disavowal of strategy is itself strategic. The system obfuscates its own workings so as to better continue working unimpeded. In this vein, we are readiest to accuse others of social manipulation—of meaning or implying something in their speech; of pursuing an agenda—and readiest to defend our own claim to neutrality. (“I’m just saying,” protests the chorus; “I’m just stating a fact.” But why say that fact in particular, given the infinite space of possibles?)
For this (motivated) reason, certain classes of speech (and certain classes of speaker) have recently lost their protected status as mere self-expression—those, for instance, which might plausibly re-traumatize, trigger, denigrate. This contradiction, whereby some symbolic gestures are defined as pure and inalienable self-expressions, and others cast as pure social act, is widely held sans scrutiny in highly educated progressive circles; whether it will collapse remains to be seen.
 I am similarly skeptical of theories of art which claim pure self-expression as dominant motivator; the artist who has no interest in sharing his work, though oft rumored to exist, shares the status of a sasquatch. Still, there is at least a class, however small, of creators who show remarkably little interest in tailoring to others’ receptions.
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