Double Contingency

The late German sociologist Niklas Luhmann did a lot of work on what is known as the problem of "double contingency." The idea is that every communication must take into account the way that it is received, and the speaker knows that whatever he says will be received in light of the receiver's estimation of the speaker. This forms an impossible situation; the speaker depends on the receiver, and the receiver depends on the speaker. It's about expectations. The less you know about each other's expectations, the greater the problem of double contingency, and the less likely we are to be understood correctly - and nutty hijinks ensue.

Luhmann went on to posit that the social system based on communication creates social structures in order to solve this problem. Because of social structure, we usually know quite a bit about both speaker and receiver, thus it is more likely that we will be understood. The individual, then, wants to make sure that others have a proper estimation of him. In that vein, let's go over this list of traits you should take into account when estimating me...

I am sinful. A given, I know, but I think it bears repeating. At the very least, I should get bonus points for honesty. These days, my sins are based largely in pride. In the bad old days, rage was my constant companion.

I love oddly. Irritating for those around me, but true. My heart does not move in the conventional way. There are levels and processes and twists and turns - it is a maze for which I don't have the cheat code.

I am observant. While I don't have the powers of Sherlock Holmes, I do frequently catch things that others miss. Don't think I didn't see that startled look on your face - but just because I saw it, don't assume I know what it means. This leads nicely into our next point...

I am frequently baffled by others. I have come to accept the fact that I do not think like others. I have tried for years to put myself in the shoes of others, to no avail. I can now, after decades of trial and error, sometimes guess what another will do, but I assure you that it's not because they are doing what I would do in the same situation. In fact, I have come to expect people to react as stupidly as possible, most of the time. Call me a cynic.

I am filled with remorse. Note that I did not say "regret." Remorse is something all together different - the effect, in my case, of being deeply in touch with your sins, but not believing in external absolution for them. I'm a religion scholar, and familiarity breeds contempt.

I am committed. I want fervently to be something more than I am today. Right or wrong, I have chosen to have faith that the path that I am on will lead to that. I am trying to have faith in the paths that others around me have chosen as well, but that is proving quite difficult at times.

I have hope. Perhaps it is simply that it makes getting out of bed easier each morning. Perhaps it's that I am blind to the reality around me. Whatever the reason, I believe that we can make better times for all. Somehow, I am cynic and optimist at once.

I hope this helps ease our circle of contingencies. Read/hear me as truly as you can.


fleur said...

Well, it is good to know I have been estimating you correctly, for the most part...

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