Critical Ideography
Denis Maksimov | Avenir Institute

In this episode of Pythi­an School of Futures, Denis Mak­si­mov presents crit­i­cal ideog­ra­phy, a method with eman­ci­pa­to­ry poten­tial to build lan­guages with­in lan­guages. Ana­lyz­ing the impact of lin­guis­tics and semi­otics on sub­jec­tive think­ing, Mak­si­mov dis­avows tak­ing estab­lished mean­ings of the words and images for grant­ed. As a form of insur­gency against a pre­de­ter­mined future built by what is deemed fixed or giv­en, he pro­pos­es to employ lan­guage as a hack­ing tool to sub­vert our col­lec­tive mind­set. The episode is a call to coin new words, gen­er­ate alter­na­tive mean­ings, and mod­i­fy exist­ing ones to lib­er­ate lan­guages and there­fore ourselves.

Episode Notes:

Ideog­ra­phy is a graph­ic sym­bol that rep­re­sents an idea or con­cept, inde­pen­dent of any par­tic­u­lar lan­guage, and spe­cif­ic words or phras­es. McGee uses the term in his sem­i­nal arti­cle “The ‘Ideo­graph’: A Link Between Rhetoric and Ide­ol­o­gy” which appeared in the Quar­ter­ly Jour­nal of Speech in 1980. McGee explains ideog­ra­phy as “polit­i­cal lan­guage which man­i­fests ide­ol­o­gy seems char­ac­ter­ized by slo­gans, a vocab­u­lary of ‘ideo­graphs’ eas­i­ly mis­tak­en for the tech­ni­cal ter­mi­nol­o­gy of polit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy.” An ideo­graph or rhetoric is a word fre­quent­ly used in polit­i­cal dis­course that uses an abstract con­cept to devel­op sup­port for polit­i­cal posi­tions. An ideo­graph in rhetoric often exists as a build­ing block or sim­ply one term or short phrase that sum­ma­rizes the ori­en­ta­tion or atti­tude of an ide­ol­o­gy. Such exam­ples notably include lib­er­ty, free­dom, democ­ra­cy, justice.



Rhetoric aims to study the tech­niques writ­ers or speak­ers uti­lize to inform, per­suade, or moti­vate par­tic­u­lar audi­ences in spe­cif­ic sit­u­a­tions. Aris­to­tle defines rhetoric as “the fac­ul­ty of observ­ing in any giv­en case the avail­able means of per­sua­sion.” From Ancient Greece to the late 19th cen­tu­ry, rhetoric played a cen­tral role in West­ern edu­ca­tion in train­ing ora­tors, lawyers, coun­selors, his­to­ri­ans, states­men, and poets. Rhetoric is also used in the con­struc­tion of true argu­ments, or in iden­ti­fy­ing what is rel­e­vant, the crux of the mat­ter, in a selec­tion of true but oth­er­wise triv­ial statements.



Rhetor­i­cal crit­i­cism is a prac­tice that involves the rhetori­cian devel­op­ing strong rea­son­ing for their judge­ment. The rhetori­cian must act as a rhetor­i­cal crit­ic of their own work, they must exam­ine the neces­si­ty of their research as well as the analy­sis. Rhetor­i­cal crit­i­cism ana­lyzes the sym­bol­ic arti­facts of discourse—the words, phras­es, images, ges­tures, per­for­mances, texts, films that peo­ple use to communicate. 



Michael Calvin McGee was the first rhetor­i­cal the­o­rist to pro­pose the con­cept of ideo­graph, which he described as, “an ordi­nary-lan­guage term found in polit­i­cal dis­course. McGee had many major con­tri­bu­tions in the realm of rhetoric and in cul­tur­al stud­ies. He pub­lished three major works: Rhetoric in Post­mod­ern Amer­i­ca, The Ideo­graph: A Link between Rhetoric and Ide­ol­o­gy, and Text, Con­text, and the Frag­men­ta­tion of Con­tem­po­rary Culture.



Geog­ra­phy is the study of places and the rela­tion­ships between peo­ple and their envi­ron­ments. Geo­g­ra­phers explore both the phys­i­cal prop­er­ties of Earth’s sur­face and the human soci­eties spread across it. They also exam­ine how human cul­ture inter­acts with the nat­ur­al envi­ron­ment and the way that loca­tions and places can have an impact on peo­ple. Geog­ra­phy seeks to under­stand where things are found, why they are there, and how they devel­op and change over time.



The Unit­ed States Con­gress or U.S. Con­gress is the bicam­er­al leg­is­la­ture of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment of the Unit­ed States and con­sists of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and the Sen­ate. The Con­gress meet­ings take place in the Unit­ed States Capi­tol in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. Both sen­a­tors and rep­re­sen­ta­tives are cho­sen through direct elec­tion, though vacan­cies in the Sen­ate may be filled by a gov­er­nor’s appointment. 



Don­ald John Trump is an Amer­i­can media per­son­al­i­ty and busi­ness­man who served as the 45th pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States from 2017 to 2021. He entered the 2016 pres­i­den­tial race as a Repub­li­can and was elect­ed in a close vic­to­ry over Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­nee Hillary Clin­ton while los­ing the pop­u­lar vote. He was the first U.S. pres­i­dent with­out pri­or mil­i­tary or gov­ern­ment service.



Kellyanne Eliz­a­beth Con­way is an Amer­i­can polit­i­cal con­sul­tant and poll­ster, who served as Senior Coun­selor to the Pres­i­dent in the admin­is­tra­tion of Don­ald Trump from 2017 to 2020. She was pre­vi­ous­ly Trump’s cam­paign man­ag­er, hav­ing been appoint­ed in August 2016; Con­way is the first woman to have run a suc­cess­ful U.S. pres­i­den­tial campaign.



Black Lives Mat­ter (BLM) is a decen­tral­ized polit­i­cal and social move­ment protest­ing against inci­dents of police bru­tal­i­ty and all racial­ly moti­vat­ed vio­lence against black peo­ple. Since 2013, the move­ment has played an active role in many rights-based social crit­i­cal inci­dents and strug­gles with racist treatment. 

The move­ment returned to nation­al head­lines in the U.S.and gained fur­ther inter­na­tion­al atten­tion dur­ing the glob­al George Floyd protests in 2020 fol­low­ing the killing of George Floyd by Min­neapo­lis police offi­cer Derek Chau­vin. An esti­mat­ed 15 mil­lion to 26 mil­lion peo­ple par­tic­i­pat­ed in the 2020 Black Lives Mat­ter protests in the Unit­ed States, mak­ing it one of the largest move­ments in the coun­try’s his­to­ry. The move­ment com­pris­es many views and a broad array of demands but they cen­ter on crim­i­nal jus­tice reform.