The Age of Disinformation and Kierkegaard at St. John’s University

As the age of disinformation is overwhelming the average citizen across the globe, one is left to ponder: what is truth? where truth is to be found? The enigmatic Kierkegaard presents himself as the touchstone for inquiry, reflection, deliberation and to make sense of the prevailing instantaneously ubiquitous presence of “disinformation.” Attempts at deliberate disinformation are as old as human history; they have become sophisticated and pernicious with the passing of time.
Scholars from various countries gathered for two days last November at St. John’s University to make sense of the present calamity of disinformation by looking through Kierkegaard’s philosophical musings.

Group photo

Kierkegaard’s whole life was a cauldron of communication challenges: his tyrannical but pietistic father, his beloved fiancée Regine Olsen and the trauma of the breaking-off his engagement with her, the malicious attack and lampooning by the satirical journal The Corsair. His agonized life and philosophical mind led him to develop the art of indirect communication. The Corsair affair got under his skin as the line between satire and disinformation got blurred; the Regine Olsen’s “engagement crisis” turned into the hotbed of conceptual tensions, which informed his thinking and shaped his communicative philosophy of the art of indirect communication. Kierkegaard, ever the adversarial, who was educated in Romantic Irony, was self-conscious and self- reflective, maintains an attitude of detached skepticism. As Poul Martin Moller’s scathing article on Gaea about Kierkegaard and the biting caricature by Keastrup on The Corsair, which evoked characteristic “The Copenhagen Laugh” of the Danes as an act of revenge for Kierkegaard’s constant attacks in Danish insensitivity and intellectual insincerity (R. Poole), Kierkegaard engages in the art of indirect communication.  The fact, that he wrote his doctoral dissertation in Danish, instead of Latin, with due permission from the Danish King, indicates how he used his native language so skillfully to develop the puns and the jokes in his dissertation. Some authors have considered his thesis The Concept of Irony as an “extended joke on the lectures that Kierkegaard has been subjected to while at the University in the 1830s” (R. Poole, Kierkegaard: Indirect Communication). Kierkegaard, the grandfather of deconstructionism (later given a name by Derrida) writes “text after text whose aim is not to state a truth, not to clarify an issue, not to propose a definite doctrine, not to offer some “meaning” that could be directly appropriated” (R. Poole, Ibidem).
Kierkegaard challenges the idea of univocal communication or univocal meaning and opens up opportunities to examine the phenomenon of modern disinformation propagated in the world of mass media.  Is hostility the breeding place for disinformation? And thus, is disinformation necessarily a weapon to bring upon a coup de grace or even a coup d’état?
Kierkegaard offers a wealth of insights to plow through the miasma of disinformation drowning the citizens of the world. The Institute for International Communication of the College of Professional Studies at St. John’s University took the initiative to examine the current anxiety disorder brought upon by the malaise of pernicious disinformation.
The keynote speaker Dr. Samuel McCormick, Associate Professor of Communication Studies at San Francisco State University, CA, “focused on Søren Kierkegaard’s development of “chatter” (snak) in the mid-1840s, paying special attention to the concept’s early entanglement with the social arithmetic of modern democratic culture. His keynote was an extension of his latest book project, The Chattering Mind (to be published by University of Chicago Press in 2019), in which he examines how the modern world became anxious about everyday talk” (Samuel McCormick).
Other speakers explored pertinent topics under the supervision of Kierkegaard: fake News then and now: The Sun and the Moon and the great hoax of 1830s by Dr. Robert Tomes (St. John’s University, NY), Fake News as Weapon of Persuasion by Dr. Pier Paolo Pedrini (University of Lugano, Switzerland), Fake News and Ritualization of Self by Dr. Eleni Karasavvidou, (University of Joannina, Greece), The Relationship Between Communication and Truth by Ignasi Boada, (Universitat Ramon llull, Catalonia); Kierkegaard to Cronkite to Cable News: The Blurring of Journalism to Commentary by Michael Rizzo, (St. John’s University, NY); Kierkegaard on Sad Memes as a Response to Fake News by Dr. Karl Aho, (Tarleton State University, Stephenville, TX), and Dr. Katherine Schmidt, (Molloy College, NY); The Power Perspective on True/False Rhetoric by Dr. Mark Juszczak and Edrex Fontanilla, (St. John’s University, NY); Fading Ethics of Authorship and the Emerging Imperative of Ethics of Reception, Dr. Victor Ferrao, (Rachol Seminary, Goa, India); Fake News Analysis Using Data Mining and Natural Language Processing Techniques by Neelesh Rastogi and Dr. Fazel Keshtkar, (St. John’s University, NY; Kierkegaard): Truth and Communication in the Age of Fake News by Dr. Ingrid Basso, (Universitta Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan, Italy); Patterns and Perspectives for Creating and Detecting Fake News Using Artificial Intelligence, Dr. Nikhil Yadav, (St. John’s University, NY); Global Village and Online Tribes: an Analysis of Group Polarization and Diffusion of Misinformation in Online Political Debate by Simonetta Primario, (University of Naples Frederco II, Italy); Loquor Ergo Est: Does Saying it Make so? By William Cipolla, (St. John’s University, NY); Misinformation or Equivocation: Risk Communication of Metabolic Diseases in the Mainstream Internet Platforms, (Dr. Angela Chang, University of Macau, China); Objectivity of the Media as an Example of Ill-structured Problem Used to Diagnose Student’s Reflective Judgment by Dr. Anna Perkowska-Klejman and Dr. Anna Odrowaz-Coates, (The Maria Grzegorzewska University, Poland).
We are grateful to Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan, Italy, and particularly to Dr. Fausto Colombo and Dr. Ingrid Basso, for their partnership in this exciting venture to examine the phenomenon of DISINFORMATION.
The conversation must and will continue…
A very special thanks to Nicola Cerbino, Fondazione Policlinico A. Gemelli IRCCS, Rome, Italy, for facilitating publicity throughout Italy in print, audio and TV press. Please take a look at this special program on RAI-Italia, and special thanks to Andrea Fumagalli for developing this documentary: https://www.raiplay.it/ricerca.htmlq=l%27italia%20con%20voi
Basilio G. Monteiro

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