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Varieties of the Unsaid

In sustaining psycho-social community (Part #1)

Annex to Global Strategic Implications of the "Unsaid": from myth-making towards a "wisdom society"

The "unsaid" in politics and international relations
The "unsaid" in social systems
The "unsaid" in security and the "war against terrorism"
The "unsaid" in business and the corporate world
The "unsaid" in the legal system
The "unsaid" in psychoanalysis and psychotherapy
The "unsaid" in personal relationships
The "unsaid" in the arts and aesthetics
The "unsaid" in philosophy and theology
The "unsaid" in research
Variants of the "unsaid" from other cultures
Non-verbal knowledge
Implicit and unstated obligations
Implicit requirements for respect
Conversational implicature
Hidden agendas and conspiracy theories
Deception and lies
Secrecy and codes of silence
Ignorance, unknowing and nescience
Via negativa and mysticism
The unmentionable and the unsayable
Unasked and unanswered questions
Repression of memory
Open secret: partial acknowledgement of the "unsaid"
Denial of the "unsaid"

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The following sections explore various threads relating to the "unsaid" that might be usefully interwoven. The "unsaid" in politics and international relations

The term is frequently applied in evaluating an address by a politician -- and most notably in relation to any justification for the war on terrorism (for example, E J Dionne's commentary, President's speech on Iraq left too much unsaid: Little candor about who will pay. Concord Monitor, 10 September 2003).

The term may be used with reference to a highly asymmetric relationship between political factions or governments, such as the assumption of the equality of the largest and smaller member states of the United Nations.

With respect to the major UNCED Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, 1992, one critique was expressed under the heading of the Unsaid Summit. To what extent are intergovernmental initiatives systematically undermined by the unpublicized creation of bodies like the secret "Brussels group" of governments (Belgium, Germany, Italy, UK, USA) in 1971, with the objective of limiting the effectiveness of the UN environment conference that created UNEP (New Scientist, 5 January 2002) (more)?

There is an extensive literature on the "implicit assumptions" associated with international relations (see K.M. Fierke. Links Across the Abyss: Language and Logic in International Relations. International Studies Quarterly, 46, 3, September 2002 Thinking About Thinking. Center for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency 1999 ). Implicit assumptions undergird the different ways in which peace is conceptualized, and these assumptions impact on the effectiveness of various strategies developed for realizing peace [more].

Iver B. Neumann (The Double Arrival of Russia in International Society International Studies Association, New Orleans 2002) has explored the role of the "implicit" in relation to the corps diplomatique:

The area of the corps diplomatique or society of diplomats at the court of a specific sovereign may serve as an example. It is true and central that, with the institutional breakthrough of the doyen, the representatives of sovereigns no longer needed to bustle for pride of place at every single function that they attended. Instead, one agreed on a technical solution to the question of precedence, so that pride of place was given to the longest-serving diplomat. But this, of course, in no way implied that questions of prestige emerged altogether. They were still tangible though often implicit facts of the informal social life of the corps diplomatique. To pick another example, with the expansion of international society, the question of a 'standard of civilisation' quickly gained a central place in international law as a prerequisite of rights. Of course, the fact that it had not been formally central to international law before that time, did not mean that it had not been implicitly present.

The "unsaid" is often articulated in the political sphere in terms of "silence":

A useful discussion of the "unsaid" within the context of the French political system -- and with implications for global governance -- is provided in relation to the accusations against Dominque Strauss-Kahn. Director of the International Monetary Fund and potential French presidential candidate (Angelique Christakis, France questions itself over Dominique Strauss-Kahn's 'open secret', The Guardian, 17 May 2011):

Everyone in French political and media circles knew Strauss-Kahn's achilles heel was his attitude to women. Even his closest political allies admitted he was an inveterate seducer, an unashamed libertine.... It raises the uncomfortable question in the French media and politics of two parallel worlds: what is printed, and what is behind it, gossip, and what must officially remain "unsaid".

Johan Galtung (US "Negotiation" Style -- and the six-party talks over over Korea, 2007) clearly identifies a policy of secrecy in diplomacy:

So there has to be a back channel. And it has to be secret that The Extraordinary One engages in such ordinary activities as negotiations; willingness to meet, yes, but with no details. The extent to which this happens is unknown. But some rules can be surmised from the Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam war, Iran-hostages, Iraq I-Kuwait, Iraq II-Saddam and Iran-nuclear:

-- keep negotiations secret, not necessarily that they take place but what is on the table;
-- give the impression that the talks are about face-to-face communication of the US stand, supplemented by threat and possibly "incentives", little or no mention of any quid pro quo;
-- keep what the Other demands and/or offers secret or general, referred to as rhetorical, efforts to deflect the issue, etc;
-- present agreement and compliance by Other as a triumph for US diplomacy, keep any quid pro quo secret;
-- present non-agreement and non-compliance by Other as proof that Other does not want any agreement = peace;-- conceal, play down US non-compliance, put all burden on Other;
-- make the media willing parties through access to sources, stories and embedded journalism, and censorship if needed.

There is also a case for recognizing the extent to which relations within the international system are based on patterns of agreement and understanding -- the "giving of one's word". Reneging on such agreements, and derogating from treaties, may be seen as a form of "unsaying" of what has been said and agreed. The "unsaid" may then be seen as the result of the increasing practice of governments, notably the USA, to set aside international treaty provisions.

A related phenomenon of "unspeak" -- a mode of speech that "persuades by stealth" -- has been documented by Steven Poole (Unspeak, 2006), notably as a means whereby government its policy behind its language:

What is unspeak? It represents an attempt to say something without saying it, without getting into an argument and so having to justify itself. At the same time, it tries to unspeak - in the sense of erasing, or silencing - any possible opposing point of view, by laying a claim right at the start to only one way of looking at a problem.(War of the words, The Guardian, 18 February 2006)

The Unconscious Civilization
Who among the leaders of our elites does not fear living with the conscious realization that they do not know? John Ralston Saul, 1995
s realization that they do not know? John Ralston Saul, 1995

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