Semiofest meets Biosemiotics

Semiofest, the largest meeting and organization professional semioticians (working commercially rather than academically) just had a session biosemiotics. In many ways, it was also sustainability 2.0, tackling the issues of performativity and power in how we make sense of our social and natural world.

My own presentation urged commercial semioticians to “select wider” than advertising to our parasites, suggesting that we can get better results (for whom? over what time span?) advertising to holobionts.

What does select wider mean? It means focusing less on whatever we think the problem is and more on contexts, environments. As Mazzy Cameron puts it: “Companies looking to send their employees to a one-hour training to promote joy, only to return their employees to their toxic environment will fail fast.” Fixing localized symptoms can never do justice to the diffused, far-reaching genesis of disease. To do otherwise that address systemic, long-term, and diffuse sources of health and disease is to offer snake oil, to sell false promises and cures that don’t work. Desperate people will sometimes fall for grift. But eventually such grifting runs out of new markets. It is a self-undermining business model. Sustainable semiotics isn’t just about sustaining profit, though that comes along the way too, as a positive side-effect. Sustainable semiotics is about creating the conditions for continued sensemaking, not just leeching on epistemic commons as a form of extended sensetaking.