The Mediatized Co-Mediatizer, or Homo medialis

In “The Mediatized Co-Mediatizer: Anthropology in Niklas Luhmann’s World,” published in Zygon: Journal or Religion and Science (2012), Young Bin Moon proposes to

rename everything in terms of media; such an enterprise I name media theology and its underlying framework an extended media paradigm. Considering the powerful impact of media and the fundamental significance of mediation in science, religion, and theology, there is a dire need for a full-blown, rigorous assimilation of media theory in science-and religion and theology.  (439, I’ve omitted the author’s in-text references for easier reading)

With the term media, the author, who is Professor of Christian Studies, Seoul Women’s University, does not refer just to technology or mass media, but media in the Luhmannian sense , which includes symbolic media such as money, power, truth, etc.  He also discusses media in a theological sense, as in Christ being a Mediator between God and humans. Moon argues,

The terms media and mediatization reconfigure the key theological/biblical terms mediator and mediation, whose significance has been highlighted by many. For example, Hans Urs von Balthasar ([1967] 1982) conceived Christ as the form of evelation and highlighted the mediating function of the scripture and the church. Walter Brueggemann (1997) placed, under the category of mediator, key biblical terms such as Torah, king, prophet, cult, and sage. Recently Graham Ward (2005) underscored the centrality of mimetic mediation in Christology, soteriology, ecclesiology, and theological anthropology.

Though I disagree with parts of Moon’s argument, my intention is to discuss his article in a respectful manner, trying first of all to understand his argument rather than tear it apart. In fact, I have not offered many comments at all, and this post in little more that a collection of quotes. It is ambitious, well-argued paper and deserves to be read  and discussed. 

In discussing his concept of extended medium, Moon writes,

Focus on technological media as is usually carried out today is not enough; what is needed is to excavate the deep-seated connections between mediation/media, religion/theology, and science—this new way of seeing is media theology (and/or science-and-theology of media) and an extended media paradigm. With this goal in mind, this essay focuses on its anthropological basis and I wish to offer a new vision of ourselves immersed in the media world and the world media. (439)

 

Moon is particularly concerned with information media, or infomedia, and the place of the human in an infomedia context or media world.  He defends the human against the onslaught of global media. As he writes,

This essay is about naming us humans aptly in the context of information media (infomedia hereafter) that is assailing us. . . .  The advent of an age of infomedia confronts us with this urgent question: What is the meaning of being human vis-a-vis infomedia? (438-39)

Given the concern with the place of the human being in Luhmannian theory, this article might be profitably read alongside Francis Halsall’s paper on “Niklas Luhmann and the Body.” Both authors deal with the apparent erasure or marginalization of the human body in Luhmann’s work.

A key point is that Moon considers modern society in terms of fragmentation, rather than differentiation. As he writes,

[A] challenge that . . . has not received due attention in theological anthropology is social fragmentation manifest in terms of differentiated social systems—“two cultures” (science/religion) being a prime example . . . This post/modern challenge poses this question: What is the meaning of being human vis-a-vis fragmented social reality? (440)

If one thinks in terms of social fragmentation, the assumption is that society has a unitary foundation. And late in his article, Moon does argue that religion is the most fundamental function system.

Moon discusses the “trauma” inflicted on Western theology by Darwinian theory, and he poses the question,

What is the meaning of being human vis-`a-vis other species in the baffling trajectories of evolution?  (440)

Moon makes a “post-Luhmannian” argument. As he writes,

My proposal is post-Luhmannian in the sense that Luhmann would not endorse the ascription of the term anthropology in association with his social theory as he famously repudiates anthropologically based social theories. Luhmann exorcized the human from the social domain . . .  In this regard, I go beyond or contra Luhmann by explicitly holding that the social is not only an indispensible but also the most definitive dimension characterizing the human, tending toward a sociological anthropology. (440)

Moon argues that Luhmann has diminished human reality, and this move has consequences. As he writes,

[This] move has been made at the cost of truncating (if not erasing) human reality—dispersed and complex but still concrete reality (or realities). This consequence is the cost Luhmann was willing to pay as a sociologist, but it is too grave a cost for anthropologists or theologians. In this sense Luhmannian anthropology is an oxymoron. (441)

It’s worth noting that Moon does not argue for a human reality as such, but rather human realities, as he writes “reality (or realities).” Nonetheless, Luhmann (and others, such as Moeller) persuasively argues that placing humans in the environment of social systems need not be taken as a diminishment.

Moon goes on to write,

But could there be a way to save the human (both reality and term/concept) in a Luhmannian framework? Is there a way to “humanize” Luhmann’s systems theory?My answer is in the affirmative: We cannot find the human within systems (organic, psychic, social), but we find the human emerging out of their boundaries or interpenetrating fields where meaning arises. (441)

Moon reads Luhmann critically, and he does demonstrate a thorough understanding Luhmann’s work. For instance, he has a very nice discussing of meaning and media in the middle of the essay. He simply disagrees with Luhmann when it come to theorizing human experience. Moon considers human reality a “blind spot” in Luhmann’s work. He argues,

Luhmann certainly did not overlook this vital dimension: “Interpenetration involves human bodies as well as psychic systems” (244). He articulated schematic symbolization in psychic systems and ritualization in organic systems (240–251) . . . But he failed to provide a sufficient account of the interpenetrating fields involving body, mind, society, and technology all at once; as I see it, this is a major blind spot of his systems theory with a dire result of the human being torn apart. It is in and out of the interpenetrating fields that fully embodied, fully contextualized human meanings emerge—this is the crux of my post-Luhmannian anthropology. (450)

To Luhmann’s three system classes–living, psychic, and social–Moon adds technology. He argues,

The human is not body, nor mind, nor society; but it is all of that and beyond that; the human is an emergent collective phenomenon arising from body-mind-society-technology interpenetrations. This is precisely what I have in mind with my proposal of a fully embodied, fully contextualized soft posthumanist anthropology, sharply distinct from radical antihumanist one such as Luhmann’s version or disembodied Artificial Intelligence (AI) versions that consider humans as computers. (441, my italics)

Moon outlines his argument as follows:

The human signifies the interpenetrating codifying fields in which complex meaning-making activities take place across body, mind, society, and technology, incessantly producing emergent collective meanings that interfuse organic, psychic, social, and technological meanings with unparalleled sophistication and creativity.

In brief:

The human signifies distinct emergent collective phenomena of complex meaning production via body-mind-society-technology medium couplings.

Or:

The human signifies the media sui generis—Homo medialis (cf. Pirner and Rath 2003). (441-42)

In fleshing out his post-Luhmannian paradigm, Moon writes,

the world systems are operative in terms of diverse kinds of world media—physical, organic, psychic, social, and technological media. The world is the dynamic totality of the formations, operations, and interpenetrations/couplings of the world multimedia; and evolution is the world multimedia in the making or the (multi)mediatization of the world. Here mediatization refers to a media-in-the-making process. (452)

Moon argues for an “extended media paradigm.”

This extended media paradigm implies an extended meaning paradigm that expands the concept of meaning beyond the psychic and social systems—domains designated by Luhmann as meaning systems—to encompass all kinds of systems, including physical, organic, and technological systems, which are not usually deemed relevant to meaning.As such this paradigm deconstructs the anthropocentric conception of meaning, a view that has long been taken for granted. Also, it deconstructs the still-dominant materialist paradigm which maintains that physical or organic systems have nothing to do with meaning. (453)

Moon characterizes Luhmann’s theory of meaning as “still anthropocentric.”

This extended media paradigm implies an extended meaning paradigm that expands the concept of meaning beyond the psychic and social systems—domains designated by Luhmann as meaning systems—to encompass all kinds of systems, including physical, organic, and technological systems, which are not usually deemed relevant to meaning. As such this paradigm deconstructs the anthropocentric conception of meaning, a view that has long been taken for granted. Also, it deconstructs the still-dominant materialist paradigm which maintains that physical or organic systems have nothing to do with meaning. To recall, it is Luhmann who has paved this path by conceiving meaning in close connection with information (although his view is still anthropocentric). (253)

Moon argues for physical systems and technological systems in addition to living, psychic, and social systems. This is what Moon means when he speaks of going beyond anthropocentrism. But Luhmann also suggested that other kinds of system probably exist, such as a climate system. Moon argues that considering physical systems.

somewhat alleviates the problem of (natural) evil by challenging anthropocentrism: Storms, earthquakes, or tsunamis are evil in our human eyes but they could be “meaningful” in the “eyes” of nature to our grief; as such this paradigm constantly reminds us that we humans are not the only ones making meanings although we (sentient beings) are the only ones making high-level (abstract, symbolic, transcendent) meanings, being able to say, “Where is God in this?” ((455-56)

Moon argues that laws of nature serve as the media of physical systems. He writes,

Physical systems process physical meanings via physical media (the laws of nature)—this view resonates with Whitehead’s process philosophy . .  . and Peirce’ semiotics. (453)

Speaking of “high-level (abstract, symbolic, transcendent) meanings” implies hierarchy rather than functional differentiation. It suggests that there is a possible highest level of meaning, which would be a appropriate for an theological anthropology.  Thus, we might interpret Moon’s list of five system types–physical, organic, psychic, social, technological–as a hierarchy.  Yet, Moon speaks of these five systems as “world multimedia [that are] hyperrichly coupled” (454).

He defines mediatization in the following passage:

Given our Luhmannian conception of media as the interpenetrating codifying
fields of meaning processing, mediatization can be defined as the dynamic
process of actualization, virtualization, and proliferation of such codifying
fields. This paradigm extends the concept of media so as to encompass
the entire world systems—this I name an extended media paradigm. (453)

Moon argues that all kinds of systems communicate, and at the top lies divine communication. In discussing his concept of mediatization, he writes

The proposed term is based on a post-Luhmannian paradigm without theological considerations—thus viable for diverse contexts. However, a theological reading is also possible as an option: that is, the world systems were created to serve ultimately as the external media for divine communication, and the evolutionary process is an ongoing recursive process of actualization/virtualization of the divinely intended potentiality of the world systems, a process I name divine mediatization. (457)

In arguing for the foundational position of religion, Moon argues that “nonreligious systems, with no exception, latently share the function of religion.” See the extended quote below:

According to Luhmann, religion functions to solve a specific problem that concerns society as a whole; it carries the task of managing social contingencies by appealing to God or the sacred/transcendent/ultimate (1984, 7). To put concretely, religion tries to make sense of incomprehensible phenomena such as death in terms of divine acts. Not only religion but other social systems also employ such schemes of managing contingencies and Luhmann names such schemes contingency formulas (10). All codifying systems participate in the task of managing contingency, a task that ultimately belongs to religion with its ultimate contingency formula, namely, God. Natural science, for instance, attempts to manage natural contingencies by codifying nature in terms of the laws of nature, but the laws of nature beg the question about their origin—an ultimate question pertinent to religion. Politics attempts to manage social contingencies by codifying society in terms of power, but power also begs the question about political legitimacy, ultimately pertinent to religion. In such ways nonreligious systems, with no exception, latently share the function of religion. Nonreligious codifying systems have the latent dimension of transcendence, which implies their latent observations of and latent participation in divine manifestations or transcendent meaning making. The religious system is unique and more fundamental than any other systems because of its manifest transcendent code or ultimate contingency formula, which makes possible its manifest codifications of divine manifestations (say, “God acts.”) and manifest participation in them (say, “We are caregivers of nature.”). (461)

If you are interested, here is another publication by Moon:

Moon, Young Bin. (2010) “God as a Communicative System Sui Generis: Beyond the Psychic, Social, Process Models of the Trinity.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 45:105–126.

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