Habermas and Bateson in a World Gone M.A.D.: Metacommunication, Paradox, and the Inverted Speech Situation


Corresponding author: Marc Howard Rich; e-mail: richmh@colorado.edu (M.H.D.)


This study compares the applicability of 2 normative theories, Habermas's theory of communicative action and Bateson's ecology of communication, by applying them to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Habermas's theory of communicative action observes how communication is strategically distorted into an extreme version of what we call the inverted speech situation. This paradoxical form of systematically distorted communication does not explain the successful outcome of a deterrence situation such as the Cuban Missile Crisis. Bateson's ecology of communication shows how metacommunicative messages can affect the relations between nations, generating potentially catastrophic relational dynamics but also opportunities for constructive change. Bateson's theory explains the communicative dynamics and ultimate resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis in terms of metacommunication, paradox, and schismogenesis.