La liturgia come pratica razionale

Chi pensa al rito come ad un ornamento legato a culture primitive farebbe meglio a ricredersi, magari con l’aiuto del libro Rational Ritual: Culture, Coordination, and Common Knowledge scritto da Michael Suk-Young Chwe. Secondo lo studioso il rito ha assolto e assolve a funzioni razionali ben precise e tutt’altro che desuete, tanto è vero che lo rintracciamo con frequenza anche oggi nella nostra società tecnologica.

Partiamo allora col chiederci cosa sia un problema di coordinamento. Meglio saperlo con esattezza visto che nel libro si mette al centro proprio questo genere di difficoltà del vivere insieme:

… Here we consider “coordination problems,” in which each person wants to participate in a group action but only if others also participate. For example, each person might want to take part in an antigovernment protest but only if there are enough total protesters to make arrests and police repression unlikely…

La comunicazione fatta di messaggi elementari è impotente in questi casi:

… simply receiving a message, however, is not enough to make an individual participate. Because each individual wants to participate only if others do, each person must also know that others received a message.

Per affrontare i problemi di coordinamento occorrono messaggi che realizzino la cosiddetta “conoscenza comune” o “conoscenza profonda”:

… In other words, knowledge of the message is not enough; what is also required is knowledge of others’ knowledge, knowledge of others’ knowledge of others’ knowledge, and so on — that is, “common knowledge.”…

 

Ecco allora profilarsi la funzione della comunicazione rituale:

Public rituals can thus be understood as social practices that generate common knowledge. For example, public ceremonies help maintain social integration and existing systems of authority…A public ritual is not just about the transmission of meaning from a central source to each member of an audience; it is also about letting audience members know what other audience members know.

Ora dovrebbe essere più chiara anche il ruolo del sacro nelle società umane. E parlo di società razionali dove si fa leva sul ruolo delle emozioni:


…One explanation of how public ceremonies help sustain a ruler’s authority is through their “content,” for example, by creating meaningful associations with the sacred… It is often argued that public ceremonies generate action through heightened emotion; our argument is based on “cold” rationality.

Capiamo meglio anche certi modi retorici tipici del sacro:

… Ritual language is often patterned and repetitive. In terms of simply conveying meaning, this can be understood as providing redundancy… she knows it is repeated and hence knows that it is more likely that others have heard it.

La danza e la musica sono particolarmente adatti a coniugarsi con il sacro e la liturgia:

… when dancing, each person knows that everyone else is paying attention, because if a person were not, the pattern of movement would be immediately disrupted.

Persino la disposizione dei protagonisti nella cerimonia non puo’ essere casuale:

… I then look at examples of people facing each other in circles, as in the kiva, a ritual structure found in prehistoric structures in the southwestern United States, the seating configuration of various U.S. city halls, and revolutionary festivals during the French Revolution. In each of these examples, the circular form was seemingly intended to foster social unity. But how? Our explanation is based on common knowledge generation. An inward-facing circle allows maximum eye contact; each person knows that other people know because each person can visually verify that others are paying attention…

Gli uomini del marketing conoscono bene i problemi del coordinamento:

… Buying certain kinds of goods can be a coordination problem; for example, a person might want to see a movie more the more popular it is…an advertiser should try to generate common knowledge…  More recently, the Super Bowl has become the best common knowledge generator in the United States recently, and correspondingly, the great majority of advertisements on the Super Bowl are for “coordination problem” goods…(when I see a popular show, I know that many others are also seeing it). Companies that sell “coordination problem” goods tend to advertise on more popular shows and are willing to pay a premium for the common knowledge they generate.

Nelle reti relazionali i vincoli possono essere forti e deboli. Ora, c’è chi fa notare che le seconde possono essere più estese e quindi più utili, peccato però che da esse difficilmente emerge “conoscenza comune”:

In a weak-link network, the friends of a given person’s friends tend not to be that person’s friends, whereas in a strong-link network, friends of friends tend to be friends. It seems that strong-link networks should be worse for communication and hence coordinated action, because they are more “involuted” and information travels more slowly in them; however, empirical studies often find that strong links are better for coordination… even though strong links are worse for spreading information, they are better at generating common knowledge”.

Ricordate la celebre analisi di Foucault del carcere panopticon benthamita? Ora possiamo coglierne tutte le lacune:

… Finally, I consider Jeremy Bentham’s “panopticon” prison design, in which cells are arranged in a circle around a central guard tower. Michel Foucault regards the panopticon as a mechanism of power based on surveillance… Foucault and most other observers, however, neglect the fact that Bentham’s design includes a central chapel above the guard tower, so that the prisoners can take part in service without having to leave their cells; in other words, the panopticon is to some extent also a ritual structure.

L’idea forte del libro è senz’altro insolita: rito e razionalità strategica sono intimamente connessi. Una brutta notizia con chi credeva che certi passaggi storici ci avessero liberato dalle liturgie:

… Ideas of rationality and culture are often considered as applying to entirely different spheres of human activity and as having their own separate logic. This book argues instead for a broad reciprocal connection… To understand public rituals, one should understand how they generate the common knowledge that the logic of rationality requires. To understand how rational individuals solve coordination problems, one should understand public ritual…

In questa ottica assume un senso sostanziale la classica guerra culturale su simboli e parole:

… Common knowledge depends not only on me knowing that you receive a message but also on the existence of a shared symbolic system which allows me to know how you understand it…The fact that common knowledge generation is a real resource suggests that “symbolic” resistance should not be underestimated… Common knowledge is generated not only by communication but also by historical precedent… common knowledge not only helps a group coordinate but also, to some extent, can create groups, collective identities, “imagined communities” in which, for example, each newspaper reader is aware of millions of fellow readers…

Forse è meglio sottolineare qualche caratteristica del concetto centrale (“common knowledge”) da cui derivano le tesi del libro:

… One way to coordinate is simply to communicate a message, such as “Let’s all participate.” But because each person will participate only if others do, for the message to be successful, each person must not only know about it, each person must know that each other person knows about it.

I padri intellettuali del concetto di “common knowledge” sono molti:

… David Lewis (1969), influenced by Thomas Schelling ([I960] 1980), first made it explicitly; Robert Aumann (1974, 1976) developed the mathematical representation that makes it elementary…

Facciamo un esempio concreto per facilitare la comprensione:

… Say you and I are co-workers who ride the same bus home. Today the bus is completely packed and somehow we get separated. Because you are standing near the front door of the bus and I am near the back door, I catch a glimpse of you only at brief moments. Before we reach our usual stop, I notice a mutual acquaintance, who yells from the sidewalk, “Hey you two! Come join me for a drink!” Joining this acquaintance would be nice, but we care mainly about each other’s company. The bus doors open; separated by the crowd, we must decide independently whether to get off. Say that when our acquaintance yells out, I look for you but cannot find you; I’m not sure whether you notice her or not and thus decide to stay on the bus. How exactly does the communication process fail? There are two possibilities. The first is simply that you do not notice her; maybe you are asleep. The second is that you do in fact notice her. But I stay on the bus because I don’t know whether you notice her or not. In this case we both know that our acquaintance yelled but I do not know that you know…

In casi del genere il messaggio necessario a realizzare una comunicazione efficiente deve sfruttare tutti i livelli comunicativi in modo da formare una meta-conoscenza:

… Successful communication sometimes is not simply a matter of whether a given message is received. It also depends on whether people are aware that other people also receive it. In other words, it is not just about people’s knowledge of the message; it is also about people knowing that other people know about it, the “metaknowledge” of the message… just one “level” of metaknowledge is not enough… every level of metaknowledge is necessary: I must know about the yell, you must know, I must know that you know, you must know that I know, I must know that you know that I know, and so on… We say that an event or fact is common knowledge among a group of people if everyone knows it, everyone knows that everyone knows it, everyone knows that everyone knows that everyone knows it, and so on…

Per rendere la cosa meno astratta pensiamo a qualche situazione concreta:

  …Two people can create these many levels of metaknowledge simply through eye contact

Uno dei casi più studiati riguarda le ribellioni politiche al potere e le misure, a volte solo all’apparenza assurde, per contrastarle:

… Rebelling against a regime is a coordination problem: each person is more willing to show up at a demonstration if many others do, perhaps because success is more likely and getting arrested is less likely… Regimes in their censorship thus target public communications such as mass meetings, publications, flags, and even graffiti, by which people not only get a message but know that others get it also (Sluka 1992, Diehl 1992)… Anwar el-Sadat’s attempt in 1977 to raise the price was met with major riots. Since then, one government tactic has been to make the loaves smaller gradually; another has been to replace quietly a fraction of the wheat flour with cheaper corn flour…

Tanto per cambiare ambito, pensiamo alla storia commerciale dell’Apple:

… In January 1984 Apple Computer introduced its new Macintosh computer with a visually stunning sixty-second commercial during the Super Bowl, the most popular regularly scheduled television program each year. The Macintosh was completely incompatible with existing personal computers: Macintosh users could easily exchange data only with other Macintosh users, and if few people bought the Macintosh, there would be little available software….

I casi dove il nodo della conoscenza comune emerge sono molti. Come sottotitolare le opere liriche al Metropolitan?

… The New York Metropolitan Opera finally decided in 1995 to display translations of the libretto during performances. However, instead of “supertitles,” in which translations are projected on a screen above the stage, the Met developed its own “Met Titles,” in which each member of the audience has her own small electronic screen, which she can turn on or off. According to one reviewer, “ ‘Met Titles’ are markedly superior to the systems of most theatres: … they don’t become part of the performance’s public discourse” (Griffiths 1995). Even if most people turned their screens on, the translations would not be common knowledge…

Come usare la mail “per conoscenza”?

… For users of electronic mail, common knowledge is nicely described as the difference between cc: (“carbon copy”) and bcc: (“blind carbon copy”). When one sends a message to several people at the same time via the To: address line or via carbon copy, each receiver gets the list of people to whom the message is sent. With blind carbon copy, however, each receiver gets a message such as “recipient list suppressed.”…

L’outing dei gay:

… common knowledge is affected not only by technology, but also by how people choose to communicate. Brian McNaught (1993, p. 53) tells of an accountant friend who says “I’m sure my boss knows I’m gay … but I’m also sure he doesn’t want to talk about it and doesn’t want me to talk about it.”…. Common knowledge is in some sense the opposite of a secret. George describes how he came out as a gay man: “I told Peter first … then I told Fred … and told them not to tell anyone else or talk about it with anyone else until I did.… After I talked with other people in our circles, then they did, so after a while everyone was talking with everyone else about it instead of having this big secret that everyone bottled up inside” (Signorile 1995, p. 76)…

 

La scuola per maggiordomi:

… Common knowledge is not always desirable; sometimes people deliberately avoid it. A male hotel butler who intrudes upon a naked female guest, instead of acting embarrassed and thereby letting the guest know that he knows, might say loudly, “Pardon me, sir.” Dissimulation can prevent common knowledge…

Oltre alla conoscenza comune c’ è l’ignoranza comune, un fenomeno non meno gravido di conseguenze per l’ordine sociale:

  … Social psychologists developed the concept of “pluralistic ignorance,” which refers to a situation in which people hold very incorrect beliefs about the beliefs of others, and is in this sense the absence of common knowledge. To take one of many examples, in a 1972 survey 15 percent of white Americans favored racial segregation, but 72 percent believed that a majority of the whites in their area favored segregation (O’Gorman 1979; see also Shamir 1993).

CONCLUSIONI PERSONALI

In questo libro reperisco la miglior difesa del rito come procedura razionale ma soprattutto comprendomi come dietro certe guerre sulle parole che potrebbero sembrare sterili diatribe terminologiche si celino in realtà vere guerre per imporre il paradigma culturale preferito. Capisco meglio anche cosa anima quelle persone sempre pronte a riprendere un innocuo errore ortografico che non inficia la comprensione del discorso: costoro vedono la sintassi come una liturgia più che come un elemento al servizio della chiarezza. Inoltre, facendo apparire chiaramente la differenza tra “meaning” e “content”, dà da meditare anche in tema di “disobbedienza civile”: una regola, per quanto sbagliata nel contenuto, ha pur sempre un suo valore legato al coordinamento che realizza e che resta comunque un bene sociale in sé.

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