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:

1. 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, and justice.



2. 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.



3. 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. 



4. 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.



5. 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.



6. 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. 



7. 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.



8. 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.



9. 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.