Prefix “Re-cognition” as Prelude to Fixing Sustainability — “Pro” vs “Con”?


Anthony Judge | Laetus in Praesens – TRANSCEND Media Service

Speculative Review of Missing Emphases Potentially Vital for Psychosocial Balance


The contrasting roles of “pro” and “con” in the English discourse so characteristic of the current global civilization call for particular attention. One justification is the ambiguity of the association of “pro” with “positive” (and supportive, as in “for”) in contrast with “con” as “negative” (and resistant, as in “against”). Also puzzling, as a contrast in its own right, is the association of “con” with a variety of processes implying consensus and gathering together, as with configuration and conference.

More puzzling is the questionable expectation that there should be some balance between such associations governed by the contrasting prefixes. Is it to be expected that there should be a sense of “pro” for every function in which there is an active sense of “con” — or a sense of “con” for every sense of “pro”? If not, why not? The question is especially pertinent in those cases where discourse attaches considerable significance to a term prefixed by “con”, but seemingly none to the “pro” variant — whilst possibly stressing the need for progress and concern about problems. The point is illustrated in the previous sentence by the term “considerable” — in the absence of any sense of “prosiderable”. Is some psychosocial functionality neglected or missing? Is this of any significance to any dynamic balance expected in the quest for sustainability

Of relevance to this review is the existence of the California-based ProCon website — presented as the leading source for pros and cons of controversial issues. A somewhat similar approach has been used in profiling potentially questionable presentations of problems and strategies by international constituencies in the online Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential. Such controversy acquires a particular focus in foreign policy framed by a binary “us or them” logic. There is the expectation that either countries are “for” (understood as “pro”) a particular strategic agenda or “against” it (framed in terms of “con”), as previously discussed (Us and Them: relating to challenging others, 2009).

This inquiry follows an interest in the role of “con” in its association with the confluence and consensus sought through conferences in anticipation of an integrative resolution of the crises of the times (Considerable Conglomeration of “Cons” of Global Concern: eightfold constraint on constructive conflict control? 2010; Exploration of Prefixes of Global Discourse: implications for sustainable confidelity, 2011). This had derived from an earlier assumption that any requisite paradigm shift might be associated with a new set of prefixes (New Paradigms via a Renewed Set of Prefixes? Dependence of international policy-making on an array of operational terms, 2003). The inquiry was taken further in exploring the cognitive role of “con” with respect to the configuration implied by a consensual mandala beyond the focus on conviction and conquest (Checklist of words prefixed by “con” with frequency of usage, 2016) — notably with respect to the fundamental role of confidence as the basis for any future global currency (Primary Global Reserve Currency: the Con?, 2011).

As developed further here, the argument was originally inspired by the Committee on Conceptual and Terminological Analysis (COCTA) — as a research committee of the International Political Science Association, and later of the International Sociological Association. Central to the early activity of that committee was the role of Fred W. Riggs (Concepts, Words, and Terminology, 1971; Proceedings of the Conference on Conceptual and Terminological Analysis in the Social Sciences, 1982). Riggs had notably highlighted the apparent absence of any term that could signal any form of reconciliation between extremes — such as “pro” vs “con” in this instance. This is otherwise understood in terms of an “excluded middle“.

A related interest was the possibility that the implications might be otherwise in languages other than English, notably in the contrast between positive and negative descriptors, as with the controversy associated with “nongovernmental” (Conceptual Distortions from Negative Descriptors: the possibility that “non-governmental” may be comprehended as “anti-governmental” in some languages, 1974). Such alternative insights have since been highlighted in various compilations (Howard Rheingold, They Have a Word for It: a lighthearted lexicon of untranslatable words and phrases, 2000; Guy Deutscher, Through the Language Glass: why the world looks different in other languages, 2010; Adam Jacot de Boinod, The Meaning of Tingo: and other extraordinary words from around the world, 2007). These possibilities were associated with an earlier concern at the absence of any ordered inventory of concepts, irrespective of their linguistic formulation (Toward a Concept Inventory, 1971).

The following review endeavours to highlight complementarities which may be interesting, recognizing that a proportion may indeed be trivial, merely an irrelevant consequence of diverse etymological derivations, or for which other terms are typically preferred. Some without conventional significance may indeed be exploited as commercial trademarks because of an implied significance that they carry. However the question is whether some senses that are missing are potentially highly significant. For example, given that “pro” normally has a positive connotation, when is it negative (as in problem). Conversely, given the negative connotation of “con”, why is it considered to be so fundamental to so many positive aspirations (such as congress, conciliation, and contemplation) and the transcendence of the constraints of binary thinking? Irrespective of any excluded middle, are there inappropriately neglected antonyms?

Ironically there is also the question as to whether the comprehension of any ultimate desirable (“heavenly”) unity or solidarity (“singing from the same hymn sheet”) is the fundamental implication of “con”, or whether this assumption also merits challenge as a fundamental form of confidence trickery — a “con” (The Consensus Delusion: mysterious attractor undermining global civilization as currently imagined, 2011). How is unity in diversity to be better understood in a multipolar society?

The review concludes with the suggestion that the current confusion in discourse derives from a conflation of three dimensions — each of which has binary extremes associated with contrasting interpretations of “pro” and “con”. Discourse effectively dances backwards and forwards along these three dimensions — between the six extremes. These distinctive modalities are consistent with the variously articulated arguments of Edward de Bono (Six Frames For Thinking About Information, 2008). However, by configuring these dimensions as mutually orthogonal, the argument suggests that global discourse is unfortunately confined to a “cognitive cage” whose recognition potentially enables its constraints to be transcended.

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